The Libyan challenge: U.S. and NATO support proxies but avoid war

March 8, 2011 - 0:0

As the wave of revolution and unrest in the Arab world continues to roll, Libya’s bizarre and brutal dictator Qaddafi seems to pose a stronger obstacle than expected.

A few basic facts distinguish the Libyan case from others: Firstly, Gaddafi has never belonged to the majority of those Arab leaders, who had bowed deeply to U.S. influence and pressure in the past. His decision to abandon former plans to build up a nuclear program based on Pakistan’s “Khan network” secured him stable contacts to NATO countries – and a contract with French partners for construction of a nuclear power plant.
Secondly, the dictator saw to it, that free medical care, schooling and housing made sure, that opponents and their clans stood to lose some comfort, should they openly turn against him – apart from risking imprisonment and torture or even death.
Thirdly, the largely tribal nature of power brokering in Libya, with mutual interdependence artfully counter-balanced by the Gaddafi power center of political gravity.
Last not least, one should notice, that the Libyan opposition did not waste time with large peaceful gatherings and detailed political aims – the whole “revolutionary scenario” unfolded with armed clashes from day one, in a village close to the Eastern port town Benghazi, and comparatively few people involved in the demonstrations. In spite of historical experience with anti-Gaddafi violence, that fact alone bears a smell of early foreign involvement.
And fact is: Through the CIA-guided “National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL)”, which played a role in a National Conference for the Libyan Opposition held in London in 2005 and is represented by its unchecked and possibly CIA-backed official Ibrahim Abdelaziz Sahad in the U.S. media – as well as by their comrades of Freedom House or National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the U.S. is deeply involved in the battle for power. On the table we see military bases reinforced on the Mediterranean island of Crete.
Consuming NATO countries’ media in the last weeks, one is wondering, how Gaddafi could survive so long. Its first and unprofessional TV appearances were accompanied in western media by blurred pictures of war footage and rebellion mostly by hundreds, not often thousands - while refugee figures reach up to 200.000, which would be a lot for a country of a mere 6.5 million.
NATO media is as bellicose as can be. Quite obviously the public is being mouth fed and prepared to the idea of some kind of military intervention. Somewhat contradictory to this kind of pro-active PsyOps, most NATO politicians caution against this ultimate and highly unpopular step.
U.S. Defense Secretary Gates in his opposition to a “no-fly zone” (mainly because of problems in enforcement) was openly challenged by his President Obama, who tried to appear as keeping “all options on the table”, whereas unhappy adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq plus the approaching next financial crisis suggest otherwise: In fact Obama is keeping all options under the table.
The peace movement here warns of violations of UN resolution No. 3314 (1974) or the Kampala catalogue of definitions of international aggression, as accepted by member states of the International Court last year. But the latter institution is neither wholly supported nor accepted by the U.S. – much to the contrary: The U.S. has openly denied authority over U.S. citizens and its readiness to intervene by force to free any U.S. detainees held by the court for legal procedures, no matter the kind and measure of violations of international law.
Any announcement of chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo should be judged in the light of this credibility gap.
And it is both the U.S. and UK lobbying for military “steps”, which does not sit so well with other allies, such as Germans, French and Italians.
Latest development is the idea of deploying small airborne mobile phone base stations to enable the uprising to communicate with the outside world, with relay stations installed on nearby war ships … quite openly it is being discussed, that any appearance of “too much” Western or U.S. involvement is to be avoided at any cost, because of potential backfiring against the revolutionary process and U.S. interests in the region.
However, of course, civilian suffering may open up doors of opportunity for interventionists. Again, to be sure, this much-quoted civilian suffering is not at the center of all deliberation – its importance has been scaled down instead: to the role of an argument for military or political falcons. Little wonder, that the helpful suggestion of talks by Venezuelan President Chavez was not picked up by NATO countries.
On paper, Libya as an important oil exporter could well be subject to military intervention – as all NATO members have stated in their respective “white books” on defense, which allow applying military force to help “secure stable supply” of natural energy and other “vital resources.”
All of NATO is posed to lend all kinds of support to the anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya, parts of which were quick to invite foreign intervention - but were contradicted by others. The latter picked up a British special forces (SAS) team recently, complete with espionage equipment and weapons, according to press reports.
Think tank comments here underline, that governments are already buying influence with the tribal system. Again it must be stated, that sending out armies to occupy countries holding valuable natural resources is old style.
Under the new system a kind of controlled chaos is installed or allowed to settle in, so as to make sure that no international competitor (China, whose workers are being expelled) is able to take over the source easily. Big global players like AGIP, ELF and others could well operate from chunks of “liberated” land in Libya – and have plans to do so.
One precedent for military steps was the use of German air force planes to pick up German personnel from Libyan industrial project locations. That decision was taken by Germany’s young minister of defense, Guttenberg, who lost his job due to heavy plagiarism in his doctorate thesis.
A moment of uncertainty, whether his successor, former interior minister de Maizière, would continue pro-active obedience to U.S. wishes for military engagement, is cleared now. Germany continues with war ships calling on Tunisian ports.
The unwitting observer may ask himself, whether these ships (or planes, for that matter) carry military supply, taking in human cargo for return – as was the covert French policy in the case of the mass slaughter of Rwandan Tutsies - in support of the Hutu butchers. The more so, since war ships are not really best suited for transporting people – and their deployment appears unnecessary, since nobody, even not Gaddafi, is planning attacks on refugees.
Gaddafi’s difficulties in coming to grips with present challenges is best demonstrated by the successful freezing of 20-30 billions of his dollar accounts in Western banks.
The future may bring a prolonged proxy war, with a few countries discreetly supplying Gaddafi – and a majority of others siding with his Libyan opponents. U.S.-led NATO is implicitly hoping for later reimbursement by cheap access to oil exploitation deals with any new and hopefully weak government, even a regional one.
Gaddafi’s days still appear numbered, but that number may be higher than the Libyan people’s tolerance for stalemate and suffering.
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*The author is a government and business consultant in Germany, multiple book author and expert since 25 years on issues of Central Asia, the Middle East and security-related questions