When NATO started bombing Libya in March 2011, the justification given was that bombing was essential to protect civilians. More specifically, it was essential to prevent the Libyan armed forces overrunning Benghazi, and carrying out a massacre.
Hillary Clinton explicitly invoked the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia to try and drum up support for military intervention in Libya.
However, last year, Sarah Leah-Whitson, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Times that ‘we did not see the imminence of massacres that would rise to genocide like levels’, and that while ‘there were threats of Libyan forces approaching Benghazi . . . we didn’t feel that rose to the level of imminent genocide like atrocities’.
The Washington Times article also states that, according to officials, ‘defense intelligence officials could not corroborate’ the claims of an impending, large scale massacre in Benghazi, and thought that ‘Gadaffi was unlikely to risk world outrage by inflicting mass casualties’.
Personally, I always thought that justification was propaganda, or, to use the technical term, flagrant bullshit. The idea that the same people who’d spent years killing and mistreating civilians in large numbers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen suddenly cared about protecting civilians in Libya was absurd.
I suspected that the real goal in Libya was regime change – and this was of course subsequently borne out by events. France, the U.K. and the U.S. saw an opportunity to use the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings as cover to get rid of Gadaffi, and took it.
While some people dismiss the argument that wars and invasions in the middle east and north Africa are motivated to a substantial degree by oil interests as overly simplistic, if not completely wrong, I think it’s one that has plenty evidence to back it up. And I thought oil was probably a main motivating factor in Libya as well.
For example, classified U.S. diplomatic cables from November 2007, published by Wikileaks, had demonstrated the the U.S. government was concerned that Libya was implementing ‘increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya’s extensive oil and gas reserves’.
Can’t have these incompetent third world upstarts getting funny ideas about being in charge of their own oil, eh?
We now have clear confirmation that oil was indeed a motivating factor. A declassified e-mail to Hilary Clinton, sent on April 2nd 2011 from her political advisor Sidney Blumenthal, lays out what France’s motivations in bombing Libya were (and you can reasonably assume that British and U.S. motivations weren’t very different).
Blumenthal says that ‘knowledgeable individuals’ had told him ‘Sarkozy’s plans’ for Libya were ‘driven by the following issues’. He then sets out the issues as:
‘a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
b. Increase French influence in North Africa,
c. Improve his intenal political situation in France,
d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,
e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa’.
Note the near exclusive focus on France’s strategic and economic interests in Africa – oil, power, influence, allowing the French military to re-assert itself in the world – and the complete lack of focus on the well being of Libyan civilians.
That humanitarianism wasn’t NATO’s motive in Libya quickly became obvious at the time, if it hadn’t been already, as NATO and the rebel forces they were backing started to commit and facilitate mass atrocity crimes themselves. These included, but were by no means limited to, the complete destruction of whole towns (Tawergha, Tomina, Kararim, Sirte), massacres, widespread torture, racist persecution and the bombing of schools.
These things can not be described as ‘humane’ in any meaningful sense of the word.
Libya is now, of course, racked by internecine violence, with lawless militias – the loveable ‘rebel’ rascals of 2011 – continuing to kill, torture and generally persecute anyone who gets in their way, and the country is split between two rival governments.
If those troops are sent, we will no doubt be told by politicians and the corporate press that the mission is solely about fighting terrorism and helping the Libyan people stabilise their country.
Don’t believe it for a second. Just as in 2011 ‘preventing a massacre’ was used as the pretext to pursue oil and other economic and strategic interests, with massive crimes committed in the course of that, so in 2016 ‘fighting ISIS’ will be used as the pretext to pursue them the same.