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Monday, May 23, 2011

Take the Pawn - Have Western Powers again Misunderstood Libya?

The Western allies, in particular France, Britain, and the United States have completely been taken aback by events in Tunis, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and across the entire Arab world in recent months.

Nicholas Sarkozy has had to reverse France's policies most of all, since only recently he feted Libya's Gaddafi, Egypt's Mubarak, and Tunisia's Ben Ali, as southern friends who enjoy an economic alliance with France.

Events in all these countries forced European leaders to play catch-up at understanding the psychology and minds of peoples not more than a few hundred kilometers from their borders.

Now that the revolutions of the Arab spring have transformed the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, revolutions are transforming Syria and Yemen as well. But does the West have an accurate understanding of the forces at play in Libya? Are we on the 'right' side of events there, as we think we were for instance, in Egypt?

Armed with UN Security Council Resolution 1973, European airstrikes supported by American cruise missile attacks in March 2011 made haste to deal with the impending threat of Colonel Gaddafi's forces against the East Libyan city of Bengazi.

While NATO claims a 'pragmatic approach' is now being taken - NATO is managing the implementation of that resolution, to 'protect the citizenry' of Libya - might I interject the question, which citizenry is being protected?

Secretary General Rasmussen of NATO explains why it is quite obvious that the same rules cannot be applied to Syria for example. Syria is intricately woven into a much more incendiary legacy of Shia-Sunni blood feuds, and tensions with bordering nations Israel and Iran. Western leaders, while applauding moves towards democracy in Tunis, though not anticipated, are secretly keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that the Syrian dictatorship stays in power. After all, if it falls, all hell may break loose.

Libya is a theatre of action, because it is one place where action is possible. The Arab spring, though long awaited, has the oil hungry West quaking in its boots.

In chess, as in many games, the board of play often becomes locked up by many layers of impending reciprocal action. Only a genius, or computer program can look ahead past the many permutations of moves, and predict the sum of outcomes. When novices play the game, rather than risk the impending trade of pieces with an uncertain result, beginners often play out a move by taking an unprotected piece at the periphery of the opponent's board of play.

You go for the pawn.

Gaddafi is neither powerful enough, nor the consequences of attacking him far reaching enough to bring jeopardy to his attackers. It is wise to note that Britain and France, as early as March 2010, held war games, presupposing that there would in fact be a need to conduct a military strike against a southern aggressor. In this case, history has played out exactly as planned.

Was it planned?

Or was the lone pawn always at risk of being fair game? Despite Sarkozy's loyalty reversals on old friends Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali, there is no doubt that the West is intervening in Libya simply because it is possible. The dangers are lowest.

The reasons for that intervention has many inputs. (cf. Al Jazeera, Empire May 11, 2011):

Re-election of Sarkozy may only be one of the smaller reasons. Yes, oil is a reason. Yes, protecting citizenry, helped sell the project. Yes stimulating our broken economies is a reason.

So why not rush to the aid of Syria's citizens where over a thousand innocents have been murdered in the two months since the protests began?  I ask the question only to expose the hypocrisy - all recognize that Syria is a powder keg preparing to blow up, and that the deaths to 'citizenry' (that's the hot word bandied about by political leaders posing as doers of good) will be much higher than in Libya. What shall we do then? Perhaps bringing stability to Libya might in some way rub off on other regions.

Not likely. But securing the stability of Libya might secure the supplies of some of the oil!

It appears more than ever that the West, sprang into action in a theater that as it turns out, bears little resemblance to the rest of the Arab world.

The gravity of world events disguised any true understanding of what was happening in Libya. It is completely the opposite situation to that of Tunis, Egypt, and even Syria and Yemen as I shall show.

In each of these states there is first and foremost, a nation state, where a united populace with a substantial middle class agrees on the need for a change of power. Libya on the other hand is a loose confederation of five Berber tribes, most of them poor, that historically have hated each other. This confederation has been welded together through the bulwarking of a strongman. Gaddafi shared the wealth, some of it anyway, (more than most Middle Eastern despots), kept his military strong, and ruled with an iron fist. He retained the hearts of the poorest by lashing out periodically at his monied customers to the North, subsidizing terrorist acts.

Gaddafi has always been a problem. Mubarak? Only briefly. Mostly he was a loved friend of the West. So was Ben Ali.

In recent events monied interests from the East of Libya have made a bid to form a free state, and defect from Gaddafi's control. It would be oil rich, with close allies to the north. This opportunity came as a result of the Arab spring, and at the provocation of Gaddafi's government signing long term contracts to supply oil to the Chinese.

Europe, and the United States, have all aided this effort towards 'freedom' for East Libya in more ways than military. Large numbers of rebel fighters of different provenance, and previous political alliances, have journeyed to join the rebel cause. Professors of economics from the US have returned to their Libyan homeland to take posts in the new transitional government.

On the face, it appears that the West is aiding and abetting a move towards democracy by a significant percentage of the Libyan population, by a people that is craving the attributes of free government. The reality is that the 'people' of Libya that we are rushing to aid financially and militarily, are but a fraction of the country.

And so as with so many efforts on the side of 'right', it is conveniently assumed that the Libyan government will collapse once Gaddafi is removed from power. This is supposed to be a short-lived war. It's a structure that's all head. Remove the head and the Libyan government will fall.

But in this last assumption I believe the West has again erred gravely.

Gaddafi's strength does not come from oil wealth, or from military aid. Unlike the dictators of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Gaddafi never did have enough of a take from the oil riches of East Libya to ever depend on them. True, oil enriched his power. And his sons have no doubt enjoyed the obscene and ostentatious wealth that oil always provides. Gaddafi, like the strongmen of Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia, who are / were despised by the West, receives his mandate from the poor of that land, from his own tribe and a few clans that are friendly. He is universally despised by those that are well off.

Gaddafi's base, psychologically, (this is important), is desert Africa, and that includes countries outside Libya itself. This has always been so. Just a few generations ago they were desert horsemen, warriors. They also were ocean pirates. The North Sahara is a very tough place to live, and these tribes have a culture of war, bravery, and fighting. This is true across the Sahara.

Poverty rules. It all changed in Libya when oil was discovered during the 1950's.

Many of Gaddafi's troops are composed of poorly paid mercenaries, essentially 'volunteers' from Chad and Niger. I say mercenaries and volunteers in the same breath only to draw a distinction. These countries are so poor that any employment offerred is taken, even if the wage is a square meal a day the cause may be worth travelling a long distance to to take up.

It is ironic that Gaddafi views himself as a champion of North Africa's dispossessed. He certainly uses them; their support he does have, else he wouldn't  be putting up such a fight.

Of course these people don't count in the radar of the West which has sympathies almost uniquely to city dwellers, to those that speak some Western languages, have a middle and upper class, and are willing to partake in Western commerce. It is natural that we should seek relations with parties most like ourselves. Gaddafi strength has historically come from the poorest tribes of the region, who haven't shared in the oil development as much, and poor neighbors, in particular Chad and Niger.

He is equally despised by many tribes in the region.

He gets enormous support from sharing crumbs from his table. So it is with every wretched nation. The  poor suffer, and the boss guy lives in a palace.

By fighting Gaddafi we actually have chosen the Libyans with the least hopes, as our adversaries, and those who are most patterned after our way of doing things, as our friends.

But by intervening we have set up the same pattern that is being played out in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is profitable to send young men to go and fight, and die against foreign agressors. America is so wasteful with its funds abroad that the very poor will always choose a job fighting us over trying to eke a living from the most arid soil on earth. Because if the very poor can't farm the land, they become slaves of a kind.

Is this not the chain of command, the formula if you like, that gives rise to the most terrorism?

'Volunteers', have rushed to fight for the cause of the East Libyan transitional government, though many of these foreign rebels may have suspect motives. It is after all, where the oil is.

Unlike isolated leadership in countries that have modernized, and are integrally aligned with forces of modernity, and are peoples that wish to self-govern, the war with Libya is a war against the face of the most extreme poverty, led by the most extreme dictatorships, since extreme dictatorships always rule the extremely poor.

This beleaguered point is not being made to suggest that we bolster Gaddafi, or prop up the fragile walls of his state.

On the contrary, the story cannot end happily if we intervene in any way at all. The greatest myth fostered on the democratic public today is that intervention achieves any objectives at all. It cannot, ever, in fact intervention always creates a movement equal and opposite, and against the interlocutor.

The terrible irony in all this is that Gaddafi, his family, and regime, are irreparably corrupt. The supporters of this dictator are poor. The wealthy ones have left, escaped, or defected. Yet Gaddafi surprises us with the strength of his fighters. This was supposed to be long over!

The West miscalculated, assuming that it entered a war with a short life. We've sided with Libya's aspiring well-to-do, against Libya's poor, and while short-term that decision may prevail, and may build a 'Modern Libya' to the East, it will always be an adolescent propped up by the West.

Like Israel where we've created a situation that will haunt the West for generations.

For these reasons I estimate that the Libyan conflict will drag on indefinitely. A new face of terrorism will emerge, and dangers to Western allies, beset by the conflict of self interest vs. trying to 'doing good', will enlarge into a theater of conflict against the poorest but sparsely populated regions of North Africa, which have nothing to loose by attacking strongholds of European colonialism - in places where oil wealth abounds.

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