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The Myth of Libyan Liberation

Refuting Juan Cole
The Myth of Libyan Liberation

In his essay, “Top Ten Myths about the Libyan War,” Juan Cole argues
that U.S. interests in the conflict consisted of stopping “massacres of
people,” a “lawful world order,” “the NATO alliance,” and oddly, “the
fate of Egypt.” It is worth taking a moment to look at each of these
arguments, as well as his dismissal of the idea that the U.S./NATO
intervention had anything to do with oil as “daft.”

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Massacres are bad things, but the U.S. has never demonstrated a concern
for them unless its interests were at stake. It made up the “massacre”
of Kosovo Albanians in order to launch the Yugoslav War, and ended up
acquiring one of the largest U.S. bases in the world, Camp Bond Steel.
It has resolutely ignored the massacre of Palestinians and Shiites in
Bahrain because it is not in Washington’s interests to concern itself
with those things. Israel is an ally, and Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth
Fleet. Cole accepts the fact that Qaddafi would have “massacred” his
people, but his evidence for that is thin, and he chooses to completely
ignore the deaths and casualties resulting from the NATO bombing.

The U.S. is interested in a “lawful world order.” That would certainly
come as a surprise to the Palestinians, the Shiites in the Gulf, and
peasants in Colombia who suffer the deprivations of death squads aided
by the U.S. (see the Washington Post story of 8/20/11) etc. The U.S,
supports international law when it is in its interests to do so,
undermines it when it is not, and ignores it when it is inconvenient. I
wish Cole were correct but he is not. The record speaks for itself.

Okay, spot on for the NATO alliance, which is exactly the problem.
Africa has increasingly become a chess piece in a global competition for
resources and cheap labor. It is no accident that the U.S. recently
formed an African Command (Africom)—the Libyan War was the
organization’s coming out party—and is training troops in countries that
border the Sahara. It is already intervening in Somalia, and a recent
story in the New York Times about an “al-Qaeda threat” in Northern
Nigeria should send a collective chill down all our spines. NATO has
already “war gamed” the possibility of intervention in the Gulf of
Guinea to insure oil supplies in the advent of “civil disturbances” that
might affect the flow of energy resources.

NATO represents western economic and political interests, which rarely
coincide with the interests of either the alliance’s own people, or
those of the countries it occupies. The Libyan intervention sets a very
dangerous precedent for the entire continent, which is why the African
Union opposed it. Who will be next?

Ummm, Egypt? Certainly the U.S. has “a deep interest in the fate of
Egypt,” which ought to scare hell out of the Egyptians. But overthrowing
Qaddafi was important because he had “high Egyptian officials on his
payroll”? Is Cole seriously suggesting that Libya’s 6.4 million people
have anything to do with determining the fate of 83 million Egyptians?

Opposition to the Libyan War is not based on supporting Qaddafi,
although Cole’s portrait of the man is one-sided. For instance, Libya
played an important role in financing the African Bank, thus allowing
African nations to avoid the tender mercies of the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund. Libya also financed a continent-wide
telecommunications system that saved African countries hundreds of
millions of dollars by allowing them to bypass western-controlled
networks. He also raised living standards. This does not make him a
good guy, but it does say that Libya’s role in Africa cannot be reduced
to simply “sinister.”

Lastly, the charge that this was about Libya’s oil is “daft”? Libya is
the largest producer of oil in Africa, and the 12th largest in the
world. Its resources are very important for NATO’s European allies, and
over the past several years there has been competition over these
supplies. The Chinese have made major investments. During the war China,
Russia, and Brazil supported the African Union’s call for a ceasefire
and talks, and pointed out that UN Resolution 1973 did not call for
regime change. One of the first statements out of the Transitional
National Council following Qaddafi’s collapse was that China, Russia and
Brazil were going to be sidelined in favor of French, Spanish, and
Italian companies. Quid pro quo?

The war was not just over oil, but how can anyone dismiss the importance
of energy supplies at a time of worldwide competition over their
control? The U.S. is currently fighting several wars in a region that
contains more than 65 percent of the world’s oil supplies. Does he think
this is a coincidence? Sure, the companies that invested in Libya will
take some initial losses, but does Cole think those Libyans beholden to
NATO for their new positions will drive a hard bargain with the likes of
Total SA and Repso when it comes to making deals? If I were those
companies I would see the war as a very lucrative investment in futures.
In any case, when the U.S., China, and Russia are locked in a bitter
worldwide battle over energy resources, to dismiss the role of oil in
the Libyan War is, well, daft.

Special Forces are taking over the U.S. military. Africom is
increasingly active on the continent. NATO has just finished its first
intervention in Africa. With Qaddafi gone, every country that borders
the Mediterranean is now associated with NATO, essentially turning this
sea into an alliance lake.

This is not a good thing.