How the West empowered Gaddafi and undermined the Arab democratic revolution

“I am very worried about #Libya. I do not want #Gaddafi to win this, and the complicity of the international community is allowing him to.” @Sandmonkey (Mahmoud Salem), Cairo, March 16.

“The fierce urgency of now” is a concept that Obama abandoned the day he got elected. The Decider got replaced with The Deliberator.

For this president, no decision has ever been so urgent that it couldn’t be mulled over for weeks or months. Meanwhile, what for Obama was empty campaign rhetoric, has for Muammer Gaddafi become his means of survival. As the US and Europe have dawdled and deliberated, the Libyan uprising has effectively been crushed.

The New York Times now reports:

With the advances made by loyalists, there is growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-flight zone over Libya would no longer make much of a difference, a senior official said. Just moving the ships and planes into place to impose an effective no-flight zone, the official said, would take until April, too late to help rebels hunkered down in Benghazi. While administration officials said the United States would not obstruct efforts by other countries to build support for a no-flight zone in the United Nations, President Obama met with his National Security Council on Tuesday to consider a variety of other options to respond to the deteriorating situation. Among those options are jamming Libyan government radio signals and financing the rebel forces with $32 billion in Libyan government and Qaddafi family funds frozen by the United States. That money could be used either for weapons or relief. The meeting broke without a decision, the official said.

“This is another indication of the constant exploration of different options that we have to increase the pressure on the Qaddafi regime as we go forward,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Tuesday.

But in fact, the administration’s options have narrowed with the dwindling viability of a no-flight zone. The White House is considering more aggressive airstrikes, which would make targets of Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery — an option sometimes referred to as a “no-drive zone.” The United States or its allies could also send military personnel to advise and train the rebels, an official said.

But given the lack of consensus behind a no-flight zone, these options are viewed as even less likely.

Simon Tisdall writes:

Disagreement between European countries over Libya has moved from the merely embarrassing to the wholly humiliating, after Germany again blocked Anglo-French no-fly zone proposals at a G8 meeting in Paris. The EU’s Libya debacle is now the foreign policy equivalent of last year’s eurozone meltdown, and similarly damaging to its global credibility and influence. Once again, Europe is being forced to confront an unpalatable truth: unless the US takes the lead, nothing gets done. Europe has not been entirely passive in the face of Muammar Gaddafi’s accelerating counter-attack on rebel forces. The EU has imposed sanctions, frozen the assets of leading figures and backed an arms embargo. It has also loudly proclaimed that Gaddafi must go. But these measures have made no appreciable difference on the ground.

On the question of military intervention, there are almost as many opinions as there are EU members. Britain and France are the most outspoken advocates of a no-fly zone. Germany has been the most vocal opponent. Italy – Libya’s former colonial power – havers and trims like a Berlusconi defence lawyer. Last week’s EU summit refused to back a no-fly zone. So did Nato. Today’s G8 communique does not even mention it.

Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, suggested Europe had left it too late to stop Gaddafi winning. “If we had used military force last week to neutralise some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition wouldn’t have happened,” Juppé told Europe-1 radio. “But that’s the past. What is happening today shows us that we may have let slip by a chance.”

With outright victory now close at hand, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, in an interview on Euronews, said that a UN decision on a no-fly zone would be of no consequence: “Military operations are over. Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi. Whatever the decision, it will be too late.”

Since France was the first country to recognize the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, he was asked his opinion of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy:

Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything. The first thing we want this clown to do is to give the money back to the Libyan people. He was given assistance so that he could help them. But he’s disappointed us: give us back our money. We have all the bank details and documents for the transfer operations and we will make everything public soon.

Al Jazeera reports:

Members of the European Parliament have blasted the European Union for a weak response to the crisis.

Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, said, to repeated rounds of applause: “This makes me sick!”

In Libya we can change the course of events. There are thousands of heroes. We know who they are but Gaddafi knows as well. He knows their names and their families. If he takes Benghazi it will be nothing more than a massacre, a new Srbrenica, a new Rwanda, a new Darfur.

This makes me sick of the EU. We have learnt nothing at all of history. When Gaddafi is back shall we say business as usual? Are we going to close our eyes again? Will we add one black page more to European history?

Rebecca Harms, a German MEP, said the EU was “refusing to line up on the right side, on the side of the just, and the Arab world will not forget or pardon this weakness from Europe”.

One piece of commentary effectively sums up the Obama administration’s role in what is becoming a disaster for the people of Libya:

New administrations anticipate foreign policy as if it will be baseball or football—a complicated team sport, bound by rules, at which they will succeed by dint of individual skill, clever plays and their all-knowing coach. They suit up, only to discover that their sport will be rafting on a uncharted river in full flood, filled with rocks and whirlpools, through which the frantic crew paddles in opposite directions.

Thus too the Obama administration. It came into office planning resets, nuclear zeroes and Israeli-Palestinian peace. It finds itself instead coping with a vast revolution of politics, society and thought in the Arab world—unforeseen and unforeseeable, fraught with opportunity and danger.

For the moment, the administration has survived several rapids—ditching Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in some confusion and with embarrassing but not indecent haste; nudging the ruler of Bahrain into reform without quite pitching him overboard; and, thus far, avoiding a complete capsizing of the boat in Yemen.

But with regard to Libya it has made mistakes that could haunt this country for years to come. The administration prides itself on the president’s unhurried deliberation, his reluctance to act before considering all the angles, his strategic silences and extended consultations. But steer a raft on a wild river that way, and you end up in the water.

From the outset there were three possible outcomes in Libya: Moammar Gadhafi could go quickly, he could go slowly, or he could stay. The best chance of helping him go quickly would have been an unambiguous declaration of intent to see him off, and the willingness to lead a military effort—most likely a no-fly zone—to help Libyan rebels overthrow his regime.

There was momentum a few weeks ago as one town after another fell to enemies of the regime. A stream of defections, betrayals and surrenders seemed to spell Gadhafi’s doom. The time to intervene is when a small push can have the greatest psychological effect, even if military planners would prefer to do it only after orchestrating a three-week air-defense suppression campaign.

Instead of seizing the opportunity, the administration made cumulative mistakes. It was slow in insisting that Gadhafi had to go—but is now committed to that end, exposing itself to humiliation if he does not. It allowed the Pentagon to publicly disparage military measures, reassuring Gadhafi and dispiriting the rebels, when a discreet and menacing silence would have done far less harm. It called for an international effort when the lesson of decades is that NATO and the United Nations find it impossible to act without American leadership. And when the French government showed strategic initiative and pluck, it undercut a major ally.

The moment has passed. The only question now is whether Gadhafi goes slowly, over months, or not at all. Senior American intelligence officials inconveniently observed the other day in front of Congress that the latter seems the likely outcome. What will happen if they are right?

The administration will have put itself in the position of willing the ends, but not the means—a humiliating position for a great power. Gadhafi will need to recover access to European resources to rebuild his oil industry and regain access to his country’s plundered wealth. He can do that in any of a number of ways. He could threaten to open up the spigot of massive African emigration through Libya, to resume work on weapons of mass destruction, or to sponsor terror—all of which he has done in the past. A divided Europe, which includes a timorous Germany and an Italy preoccupied with the prime minister’s bunga bunga parties, will yield.

The administration is teaching dictators, and the populations they oppress, that you can get away with large-scale mayhem if you avoid YouTube. Instead, let the hard men do their work with assault rifles in alleys and soldering irons in lonely cellars. The thuggish leaders will be emboldened, the populations either despairing or desperate. If one hopes to aid the Arab awakening in the direction of more open and just societies, rather than to empower Islamist terror, this policy is perverse. And, finally, the U. S. has provided cover and reassurance for other unsavory actors—a deafening silence, for example, as Iran arrests leaders of the opposition.

This is a disaster for the people of Libya. It is a moral and political calamity for a generation of Western leaders whose reactions to Rwanda and Srebrenica consisted of ineffectual squeaks of dismay. It may deflect the Arab awakening into directions that will horrify us. And it says dangerous things about American foreign policy. Unless it is reversed, the administration’s Libya policy will convince the world that the U.S. is a feeble friend and an ineffectual foe, paralyzed by its own ambivalence.

That this analysis would come from, Elliot Cohen — a neoconservative proponent of military intervention — is hardly surprising. But to those who have warned about the dire implications of Western involvement in a no-fly zone, I would simply ask: who has been well-served by the West’s non-involvement in what will soon be declared a failed revolution?

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13 thoughts on “How the West empowered Gaddafi and undermined the Arab democratic revolution

  1. Ian Arbuckle

    “Germany again blocked Anglo-French no-fly zone proposals at a G8 meeting in Paris…..”

    “This is a disaster for the people of Libya. It is a moral and political calamity for a generation of Western leaders whose reactions to Rwanda and Srebrenica consisted of ineffectual squeaks of dismay…..”

    And you ask “who has been well-served by the West’s non-involvement in what will soon be declared a failed revolution?”

    Another roaring success for Israel no less.

  2. Colm O' Toole

    This is by far the most shoddy piece I have seen appear in War In Context. Quoting both Elliot Cohen and Saif Gaddafi is unforgiveable. Elliot Cohen helped write the Israel policy paper “Securing the Realm” for Netanyahu’s first administration and was an adviser to Paul Wolfowitz in the Bush Admin. Are we to believe that Elliot Cohen suddenly cares about Arabs getting killed in the streets?

    Also why should we care about Saif Gaddaffi’s predictions on how the war is going? Not exactly a neutral person or someone who doesn’t regularly spout propaganda. Just last week Saif Gaddaffi claimed that he personally freed detained Muslims from Guantanamo Bay and they have now turned on the regime thus causing the protests. This the person you quote to assert that the revolution will be over in 48 hours ? ? ?

    Quoting the New York Times is not great either. But I’ll let it slide. The main point however is quoting Simon Tisdall at The Guardian. Firstly the whole Tisdall article is concerned not with the rights or wrongs of a No Fly Zone but on the EU, again like in Bosnia, showing it is paralysed and cannot get a consensus. Secondly Simon Tisdall actually thinks a No Fly Zone is a dangerous idea. This is what he wrote 5 days ago on the idea of a NFZ.

    “If the great powers do intervene militarily, the Libyan revolt may swiftly be transformed into a western war in the Middle East. Freedom from oppression, democratic self-determination and the defenestration of a hated dictator could take second place to western imperatives: ensuring regional stability, pursuing counter-terrorism, safeguarding oil supplies, and stemming a new surge of sub-Saharan immigration into southern Europe. This would be less a revolution, more a recolonisation.”

    Regardless of the people you quote you final line is the most infuriating. “who has been well-served by the West’s non-involvement in what will soon be declared a failed revolution?”

    A) The West has got involved. Gaddaffi’s assets in Europe and the US have been frozen. The West has imposed an arms embargo in record time. It has recognised the rebels. It has also given complete public support in speeches insisting that Gaddaffi has got to go. In short the West has been involved and has done alot.

    B) In what will soon be declared a failed revolution. That statement just reeks of defeatism. This is far from over and I resent the implication that Libyans cannot succeed without there old occupiers in the west helping them out.

    C) As for the question of who is well served by the West role the answer isn’t clear yet. A No Fly Zone could have been a major boost to Gaddaffi’s propaganda.

  3. Colm O' Toole

    Another thing I don’t get is seemingly smart people thinking that the US Military is responsible enough to manage this NFZ. I honestly wonder what basis they are working on?

    Remember Somalia in 1993 the US went in with a simple mission, deliver food supplies and humanitarian relief to the people. We all know that ended in typical US cowboy gunfights against the very population they were supposed to be feeding.

    But nevermind history lets send the US and NATO into Libya and hope that they don’t get dragged into a protracted war involving Gaddaffi thugs, Revolutionaries, Islamists, African Mercanaries and the various tribes.

  4. Vince J.

    Tell the War Criminal Obama to go to Cairo and make another speech… instead his going to Brazil??!!!!!!!!!! What is this criminal is going to say to Brazil?????????? Is he going to mention what Colombia/US military bases are doing in Latin America? Is he going to praise Honduras “democracy”??? Is he going to mention the coup atempts in Bolivia and Equador?
    Tell this War Crimianl to stay away from Brazil! Gringo, you are not wellcome! We in Brazil call you “Babaca” Obama. “Babaca” is a slang word for F…wit.

  5. Paul Woodward

    Colm – It sounds as though you believe this site needs a censor. I guess editing can be viewed as a kind of censorship in as much as it involves discarding a huge amount of material that with my editorial eye I deem unworthy of attention. But as I engage in that process of selection, I don’t employ a blacklist identifying individuals who under no circumstances must ever be quoted. Limiting ones attention to the ideas and observations one agrees with is a circular process of no particular value.

    The idea that we can understand what’s going on in Libya without referring to anything coming out of the mouths of the Gaddafi family is absurd. The point of quoting Saif Gaddafi is to get a sense of the degree to which the Gaddafis have become emboldened and have used to their advantage the inability of the international community to take any action that might have an immediate effect. An arms embargo has no immediate effect. Recognizing the rebels doesn’t help much if their requests are ignored — it is they who have been calling insistently for the swift implementation of a NFZ (yes to a NFZ and no to troops on the ground). And insisting the Gaddafi goes even as his forces sweep under-equipped and inexperienced rebels out of the way, makes the so-called “demands” of world leaders sound utterly ineffectual.

    In the Tisdall commentary that you cited he said this:

    If the west does not intervene, and the revolution is bloodily suppressed, leaders who spoke out boldly and bravely in support will be ridiculed as impotent charlatans. They will not be trusted again. They may be forced, in time, to deal with a triumphant and unpredictably vengeful Gaddafi. And democratic uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world will be set back, perhaps fatally.

    A report in The Guardian yesterday included this paragraph:

    Washington is facing accusations, particularly from the rebels, that delay had given the Libyan leader the space he needed. “They have betrayed us,” Ahmed Malen, one of the revolutionary volunteers pasting anti-Gaddafi posters on walls in Benghazi. “If they kill us all, the west will have blood on its hands. They do not believe in freedom. They are cowards.”

    Maybe The Guardian is not a Colm-approved news source, but such assessments coming from the mouths of Libyans have become increasingly common in the last few days.

    Ever since this became an armed conflict, the revolutionaries have been at a serious disadvantage. It has been a contest between unrestrained optimism and enthusiasm, buoyed by the examples of Tunisia and Egypt, versus unrestrained brutality — an adversary that neither the Tunisians nor the Egyptians faced.

    If there were any credible reports suggesting that the revolutionaries were poised to make a come back, I’d be posting such reports here. And if you think there are important reports on where things stand now that I’ve missed, post them in a comment.

  6. Christopher Hoare

    The Dog with two Tails.

    Without becoming apoplectic, one must accept the truth of Elliot Cohen’s analysis — a token fly zone established when Libyans were trying to decide which horse to back would have resulted in far fewer of his military elements joining him, as well as less underhand assistance from Algeria. His recovery would never have got this far.

    As for Qaddhafi Junior boasting about 48 hrs, I’d suggest it’s a gambler’s bluff — even at this late stage. Qaddhafi’s forces are perilously few to attempt to take a city of 800,000. The degree of force thinning to cover the approaches will make them vulnerable to any well led counter attack from the hills. (As I remember from flying over them on my way to the desert to work in the 60s you could hide a whole army corps in there.) With a no fly zone to prevent Qaddhafi forces seeing such a counterattack coming the rebels would still have a chance.

    And the ‘dog’ thing? It was clear before that the US was the dog being wagged by an Israeli tail, but just look at the other tail Obama has grown. The House of Saud is equally terrified of self determination in the Arab world. Right now both tails are terrified of the same outcome and are easily having their way in Washington (Israel clearly wagging Berlin as well) but just wait until their needs do not coincide.

  7. Dieter Heymann

    Anyone who talks or writes about THE Libyan people does not understand the civil war in that land because there is no such entity as THE Libyan people. There are SEVERAL Libyan people today. Anyone who believes that the Kadaffi regime does not have substantial support from the inhabitants of Western Libya should have his or her head investigated as the Secretary of Defense, who knows better, is wont to say. Anyone who does not understand that the inhabitants of Tripoli are just as fearful of the insurgents as the inhabitants of Benghazi are of Kadaffi’s henchmen will continue to propose “quixotic solutions” among which the foremost is the recognition of the insurgents as the future government for all of Libya, the “French folly”.
    Anyone who holds on to the fiction of a unified, democratic, and stable Libya ruled either by the Tripolitanians of the West 0r the Cyrenaicans of the East or both jointly a la Lebanon also believes in the tooth fairy.
    I am not an expert. I only have a hunch that all so-called “solutions” will turn out to be messy. I am racking my brain to come up with what I believe might be the least messy outcome. Note the word “believe” because unlike numerous commentators I am not “cock-sure” at all. Well, here is what I believe to be the least messy outcome namely an eventual divorce of the shotgun marriage of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. In other words, a two-state solution. Any thinking outside the box must accept that Kadaffi must be allowed to rule Tripolitania if the people of that land want him to. Calls for his step-down by outsiders must therefore cease. If the overwhelming majority of Tripolitanians want Kadaffi out he is toast but then the issue will have been decided by these people themselves without outside interference and without a no-fly zone.
    The best turn of events will be that Kadaffi cannot take Benghazi and that he will be faced with a guerrilla warfare in the remainder of Cyrenaica. There might then be a limited window of opportunity to call for a cease fire, to warn the insurgents not to try to march on Tripoli again, and to begin the messy process of a Libyan divorce.

  8. richard01

    Everyone has missed the elephant in the room.

    Gaddafi has been stashing away funds (untouchable by sanctions) in Libya itself, so he has plenty available to pay for mercenaries, etc.

    “the Israeli government has authorized the Israeli company, Global CST [an Israeli security firm owned by Major General (res.) Israel Ziv and Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, both reservists in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)], to finance and arm and supply Gaddafi with 50,000 African Mercenaries (from Uganda, Chad and other nations).

    The US is fully complicit in this:

  9. Norman

    As I said yesterday to another post/comment, if the rebels/army/whoever, were equipped with those shoulder fired missals, then the airplanes & helicopters and the tanks/armored personnel carriers could be taken out, without the use of a so called N.F.Z. Then, I believe the split of the country could be achieved perhaps being the objective, desired in the first place. Of course, we don’t really know whether or not such missals exist in Libya at the moment.

  10. M. Smith

    I am trying to educate myself as much as possible on the extremely complex and nefarious goings on of US/European business interests that have plagued Africa just since the end of the colonial period. But it surely is something that all of us should be trying get a grip on as we offer our opinions on the fast moving events in the northern and central part of that tortured continent. So far my comments have focused on the principle of the lunacy of supporting yet more military action by the US.

    I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb by proclaiming we don’t know the half of the background of US/European oil/gas/uranium/defense etc. interests and their involvement with Gaddafi AND various rebel factions. One recent part of the story is Bush and Blair the tweedle dee and dum of illegal agressive wars bribing the evil guy into coming over to their side of the “War On Terror” in 2004. This was when much of the press and neo-con pundits were screaming about Libya’s support for terrorism and desire for WMD’s and the like. Suddenly Bush dropped the sanctions and the big boys in the form of the US-Libya Business Association (USBLA) comprised of the usual suspects BP, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Chevron, Conoco and Marathon Oil, and defense giants like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, and other corporations like Dow Chemical and Fluor all swooped in to gobble at the trough. There was $2.7 billion in bilateral trade between US/Libya in 2010 up from near zero in 2004. We should also be asking some hard questions about the billions of petro-dollars the Resplendent One funneled into US banks of which Obama has now been forced to freeze. So I think your heading for this piece has more meaning than you intended, Paul. I think it is also very important that we dig deep into the opposition groups to decipher their relationships with US business/defense interests. Once again (when will we learn?) we have the US/Western media buying into a story that seems to beg credulity, namely that the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) for instance, are democratic good guys that sprung from nowhere to lead a rebellion against Gaddafi. We all need to look at their origins going back to the early 80’s with connections to Sudan’s Col Nimeiry, a CIA operative not to mention conferences and support in London, Washington and Paris. The murky world of the US/European natural resources crowd and their nasty battle with China and Russia and others over Africa’s booty is a tangled web that no one that I’ve read on your site let alone in the corporate media are talking about. This is the underlying dynamic that feeds into the National Security State and we’re fools not to make the effort to understand its significance in the case of Libya. To frantically call for the services of the 800 pound gorilla in some foggy NFZ operation leading to some impossible to define conclusion is the epitome of naiveté.

    Now obviously the situation is far more complex than most of us are informed enough to understand. But what must be plain to even casual observers is there is disagreement among western elites (depending on the country) in the military, intelligence and business classes over how to deal with the situation but you can be damn sure that US attitude toward Libya since Gaddafi kicked it out has not a goddamned thing to do with democracy there, the region or anywhere else (it never does). I think I have it right that your opinion is noble intentions are not required. And further that you and I agree that a NFZ is now off the table. But I think it’s worth it to hash this out as it will be before us in some manner somewhere in the very near future.

    As for Mr. Cohen, how many times are we going to have Srbrenica thrown in our faces as reason to start dropping bombs on yet another country out of favor?? That ruse helped with Iraq and Afghanistan. How long can war mongers continue to cite it? I seriously suggest to you (if you haven’t already) and your readers who might still be in thrall to this story to dig further into this grossly overstated massacre because like all “standard narratives” dissembled by the powerful and Christiane Amanpour it is far more complicated than commonly understood. (I have provided several sources previously) But at the risk of repeating myself on this site –for the fifth time now?– imagine the shit we’d have to listen to in the future when war drums start banging again about how we overthrew the evil dictator Gaddafi? But I tarry. I pretty much side with Colm in so far as I can’t stomach the twisted logic of the depraved neocon turds who are responsible for so much death and destruction. Why give these sick goons a platform, Paul? They’re despicable men and women guilty of propagandizing for the “supreme” crime of aggressive war. Common courtesy forces me to give them the choice of either spending the rest of their days wandering the towns and cities of Iraq giving succor to the people left bereaved and insane by their little invasion or spend the rest of eternity roasting in hell.

  11. Vince J.

    M. Smith,
    Watch “The War on Democracy”, “Stealing a Nation” and “Breaking the silence” by John Pilger and “The Panama deception” on YouTube.
    Also read “The open vains of Latin America”, “The up side down World”, “Memmories of Fire” by Eduardo Galeano.
    “Failed Satets” by Noam Chomsky
    Also by John Pilger, “Freedom next time”.
    They are not about Africa, however, they are very enlightening on US/UK/israel crimes around the globe, which are identical of those crimes commited by the same goons in that continent.

  12. M. Smith

    Thanks Vince. I’ll check out the youtube videos. I know Pilger’s work pretty well and am well versed in NC including Failed States. And we’ll miss Chalmers Johnson. But I think too many of us well educated in the matters of the US empire are seriously deficient in our knowledge and understanding of Africa. Ed Herman touches on Rwanda in his Politics of Genocide and he personally referred me to Keith Harmon Snow who has been a treasure trove of info on Africa though I think his intensity sometimes slips into theories not backed up by evidence. But he is a great help.


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