No one seemed to know for certain what was going to happen, although there was plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking about how the Arab Spring was entirely predictable in light of the world-wide financial meltdown in 2008-09 and a growing restiveness in the Arab world. (See also our recent article about a correlation between skyrocketing food prices and the revolts.)
But while it may take years to put the Arab Spring in its proper perspective, it surely had begun to occur to foreign policy elites that NATO’s plans for a militarized Mediterranean would be susceptible to unraveling if Libya’s unpredictable Qaddafi remained…unpredictable. Especially with the NATO-allied dictator Mubarak on his way out and Egypt destabilized.
A mere glance at the map reveals the strategic location of Libya. Right next to Egypt. Large. Unlike Egypt, full of oil. And of a particularly sought-after grade of sweet crude oil. (If you had momentarily forgotten how incredibly important oil is to Western government and corporations, consider this news item: Exxon Mobil reported second quarter profits of $10.7 billion, up 41 percent from the previous year.)
In other words, Libya is both sitting on gobs of oil and perfectly, strategically located for military bases to protect that oil and the oil of nearby countries, including Saudi Arabia, whose citizens have expressed hostility to the siting of American troops there. Almost nobody could stand Qaddafi. So if he were pushed out, who would complain?, By getting behind the rebels (or, even better, helping to create and fortify the rebels) the forces of the West might be able to have their own Arab Spring.
WHAT? IT’S ALL ABOUT OIL?
In an inexcusable affront to the public, the media (with notable exceptions such as The Guardian) has largely waited until Qaddafi was destroyed to begin focusing on this incredibly obvious oil factor. One example is a piece just published by the New York Times. How useful is it to allow the one-sided demonization of this man, and then, when he is on his way out, to begin saying, Oh, by the way, it was always about oil?
The piece focuses on the rebels’ plans to favor the countries who backed them over those who preferred a negotiated settlement with Qaddafi:
“We don’t have a problem with Western countries like Italians, French and U.K. companies,” Abdeljalil Mayouf, a spokesman for the Libyan rebel oil company Agoco, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”
Russia, China and Brazil did not back strong sanctions on the Qaddafi regime, and they generally supported a negotiated end to the uprising. All three countries have large oil companies that are seeking deals in Africa.
This feels like Iraq Redux, only with different players and, so far, a different outcome. In 2003, Germany and “Freedom-fries” France refused to join the “Coalition of the Willing” in George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Why? Because they had pending oil deals with Saddam Hussein.
There are other possible factors, including Qaddafi’s unique influence as an uncontrollable, Castro/Chavez-style independent nationalist with influence throughout the region. Qaddafi was an avid promoter of African unity, of governments that would remain free from the influence of the major powers. He poured a lot of money into South Africa, for instance, when it was struggling to free itself from Western influence after the fall of the apartheid regime there. As Qaddafi was going down to defeat, the West began pressuring South Africa to turn over frozen Libyan funds. (Not incidentally, there’s more than $35 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the U.S., and a comparable sum in Europe.)
African nationalism remains a big concern for Western mining, banking and industrial interests. Though the people of Africa remain desperately poor, the continent is the earth’s richest potential source of precious and strategic metals, minerals and resources of every stripe.
In hindsight, the Libyan “revolution” may be viewed as a clever effort to harness genuine domestic discontent to a global competition for the resources necessary to sustain the industrial West as well as newly emerging industrial countries like China, India and Brazil. Refracted this way, the whole NATO involvement in Libya appears to be, at root, business as usual. As they say in law enforcement, follow the money. In the midst of a severe fiscal crisis, Pentagon spending alone on Libya through the end of July was $896 million. Will everyone who believes that the Western military establishment is spending such vast sums to further the “aspirations of the Libyan people,” please raise their hands?
At this juncture, it seems realistic to expect the US and its allies to settle in, nice and comfortable, on Libyan “assets” for a very long time. Anyone who doubts that might want to check out US statements, not widely discussed, of intent for US troops to remain in Iraq well past the original troop departure date. Or a proposal for the same thing in Afghanistan—see this report about a desire to keep substantial military personnel there through 2024. Then do a little reading on the potentially $1 trillion worth of minerals in Afghanistan which the US says it only recently learned about. (Wink, wink.) As The New York Times reported in June, 2010 (the story generated little public reaction):
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
Some will say that ascribing solely selfish motives to Western “liberators” is too cynical. For one thing, aren’t the rebels at least an improvement on Qaddafi in terms of human rights, liberties, and so forth?
For a possible answer, it’s worth reading the British journalist Patrick Cockburn. He nicely sums up the craziness, brutality and internecine murder taking place in the rebels’ ranks without proper Western media attention. They appear to have killed one or possibly two of their own commanding generals on suspicion of treachery—or at least being partial to the wrong faction. For example, we’ve been hearing—in part via a seemingly well-informed individual inside Libya—that the reason the rebels killed their own commander-in-chief General Abdul Fatah Younis was his advocacy of negotiations with Qaddafi. If that’s correct—and these subjects need more reporting by the news organizations there on the ground—then we’d like to know what position all those Western spooks took on the ouster and killing of this man.
Continuing on this score, we have the plight of black Libyans, generally among the poorest in the country. We’ve seen a steady stream of indications that, almost by definition, anyone black in Libya (many African migrant workers but also some Libyan citizens) has been lumped in with Qaddafi’s non-Libyan African mercenaries, considered a suspected Qaddafi loyalist and therefore targeted for harassment, physical violence and death.
Meanwhile, the rebels have released, en masse, prisoners linked to extremist Islamic movements. And one analyst is currently asserting that an Al Qaeda-linked figure is the new military commander of post-Qaddafi Tripoli.
Here’s another twist: The Libyan convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, released in 2009 from jail in Scotland and allowed to return home for health reasons, is now, according to CNN, on his death bed, said to be deprived of medicines due to the recent looting of Libyan pharmacies. Once the rebels had consolidated their hold over Tripoli, CNN found Abdel Basset al-Megrahi comatose, and while he has consistently maintained his innocence, it is unlikely the world will ever learn what he knows. With him and Qaddafi disappearing from the scene, any demand for a deeper inquiry into the bombing will likely evaporate.
But where is the West in all of this? A leaked plan for post-Qaddafi Libya shows how elaborately involved NATO has been in the entire operation. It includes a carefully thought-out proposal for avoiding the mistakes made in the Iraq occupation—including embracing most of Qaddafi’s security forces, and an initial occupying force “resourced and supported” by the United Arab Emirates, with essentially no (visible) Western “boots on the ground.”
Doesn’t this sound more and more like an invasion, for spoils? And one that could—notwithstanding lessons supposedly learned—quickly get very messy?
— Additional research by Charlotte Dennett
— Editor: Gerald Jonas
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