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Libya: a Western redemption
Firstly, despite the rhetoric of 'democracy promotion', to prop-up and give diplomatic support to the regimes that still appear stable, and where protests have not so far got out of hand. As examples, Joe Biden's statement of reassurance to Egypt's dictator Mubarak, and David Cameron's encouraging remarks to the Kingdom of Kuwait- in which he described Kuwait as a democracy, although 75% of the people who live in Kuwait do not have the right to vote.
Secondly, where mass unrest has developed, to urge limited 'reforms', encourage dialogue and negotiations, and, where necessary, to exert influence to facilitate an orderly transition within the existing regime; eg. in Egypt, where the initial favourite for succession was the chief torturer and CIA pointman Omar Suleiman, who had later to be replaced by the collective junta of US-financed and trained Egyptian army officers.
Thirdly, to engage with both the protestors and the regimes, offering US and European advice and funding to create new democratic institutions to replace the old undemocratic institutions which they have hitherto armed, funded and advised- in order to bring the political process in the region back under Western control and ensure that Western priorities- including the 'free market' economic process, the profits of the oil companies, and of course the supremacy of Israel over the Palestinians- are protected.
On March 5th, the Wall Street Journal reported:
After weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world, the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait.
Instead of pushing for immediate regime change [...] the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling "regime alteration."
The article noted that representations by Arab regimes- principally those of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait- along with pressure from Israel, had been readily received in Washington:
The approach has emerged amid furious lobbying of the administration by Arab governments, who were alarmed that President Barack Obama had abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and worried that, if the U.S. did the same to the beleaguered king of Bahrain, a chain of revolts could sweep them from power, too, and further upend the region's stability...
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged as leading voices inside the administration urging greater U.S. support for the Bahraini king coupled with a reform agenda that Washington insisted would be have to be credible to street protesters. Instead of backing cries for the king's removal, Mr. Obama asked protesters to negotiate with the ruling family, which is promising major changes.
Israel was also making its voice heard. As Mr. Mubarak's grip on power slipped away in Egypt, Israeli officials lobbied Washington to move cautiously and reassure Mideast allies that they were not being abandoned. Israeli leaders have made clear that they fear extremist forces could try to exploit new-found freedoms and undercut Israel's security, diplomats said.
"Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule," said a U.S. official. "Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail."
...On Sunday, Feb. 27, the White House threw its support behind King Khalifa [of Bahrain]. The same day, William Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, delivered a similar message to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, another key Arab ally facing unrest, calling the North African country "a model of economic, social, and political reform."
No fact zone
There is of course the notable exception to these subtle US and Western tactics, now entitled 'regime alteration'. As soon as the rebellion gathered momentum in Libya, a campaign began for the imposition of international sanctions and US military intervention. Anti-Gaddafi demontrations became mass events on 17th February; on 21st February, it was reported that anti-regime protestors had taken control of Benghazi; and within 24 hours influential politicians and organisations- including Senator John Kerry and the International Crisis Group- were demanding sanctions and the creation of a 'no fly zone'.
As Jim Lobe detailed in an article for IPS, the neo-conservatives in the USA have also played a key role in the drive for sanctions and Western military action against Libya.
By 26th February the Western countries had persuaded the UN Security Council to agree to a referral of the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes.
The USA and its allies had aimed for stronger measures against Libya to be adopted by the UNSC, but the content of the resolution was toned down as a result of the reluctance of Russia, China, India and Brazil; Turkey was also vocal in opposing sanctions.
Since then, two warships of the USA's Sixth Fleet, the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce, passed through the Suez Canal towards the Libyan coast, with the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise waiting in the Red Sea in case it would be required; while the debate in the West has revolved around the technical and political problems of the proposed no fly zone.
Among the NATO countries, Britain and France- formerly the main colonial powers in the Arab region, both now itching to regain control and influence- are pushing hardest for air strikes against Libya; only to be matched in their enthusiasm for Western military action by the states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the other kingdoms of the Persain Gulf.
Noting the keen support by Arab princes for the proposed no fly zone against Libya, Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi remarked on 9th March:
"...we have the right to ask the GCC brothers about the reasons for this enthusiasm for the no-fly zone, which we saw nothing like when Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon for more than 34 days, during which Israeli planes bombed the southern suburbs of Beirut and razed every village and city in southern Lebanon.
"Perhaps there was a sectarian motive since the southern Lebanese majority is Shi'a. So what, then, about the Sunni Gaza strip, which was bombed by Israeli aircraft for more than three weeks and during which were committed war crimes that were well documented, and afterwards identified as such by the Jewish South African Judge Goldstone; why did we not see a meeting of Arab foreign ministers demanding that the United States and NATO move fleets and aircraft carriers to stop the Israeli raids and the protection of unarmed civilians from the white phosphorus bombs?"
Meanwhile, the three most lurid and widely publicised allegations against the Libyan regime have not been substantiated. The assertion that Gaddafi was employing hordes of foriegn African mercenaries to attack the Libyan people was discredited by a report from Human Rights Watch. The claims by the BBC and Al Jazeera that Libyan government forces used aircraft to bomb and strafe peaceful demontrators were untrue, according to satellite monitoring by the Russian military.
And it now emerges that the allegations that 2,000 or more unarmed protestors had been massacred by pro-regime forces were also false. As AFP reported on 10th March:
At least 400 people have died and 2,000 been wounded in eastern Libya since the uprising broke out against Moammar Gaddafi, medics told reporters in the rebels' Benghazi base."There have been 400 dead since the beginning in Derna, Baida, Brega, Benghazi, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad," Salah Jabar, a medical coordinator for cities held by the rebels in the east, told reporters."We counted the people who are dead and wounded in our hospitals," said colleague Jibril Huwaidi, asked about higher death tolls given by the United Nations and rights groups since the Libyan conflict began.He said there was only one woman among the dead, killed by a stray bullet while on her balcony in Benghazi during clashes between rebels and loyalists.
Four hundred dead in eastern Libya- this is an appalling figure (but tellingly, only one woman among them) and although, since the anti-Gaddafi forces took power in Benghazi, both sides have been armed and shooting, taking, losing and re-taking towns and other strategic locations.
Had the Western countries any interest in saving lives in Libya, they could have supported Hugo Chavez's proposal for a peace commission instead of rejecting it out of hand; or even put forward their own proposals for negotiation. But they are doing nothing of the kind.
Syria has not, so far, been swept into the revolts in the region; and Lebanon is a different case. Hence, among the Arab states engulfed by protests, Libya is the only one whose ruling clique is not a Western puppet. Gaddafi is a maverick, a former radical anti-imperialist leader who kicked out the US base in Libya and distributed the oil wealth among the people. Irrespective of Gaddafi's erratic statements and actions, and despite the increasing unemployment and inequality since Libya began to privatise and marketise its economy as part of its deal with Bush and Blair to return to the 'international fold' - Libya is still the most egalitarian of all the Arab oil-producing countries, and has the lowest rate of poverty in Africa.
Though in the last decade he extensively compromised with the West, and though his forces were armed by the West, Gaddafi was still not controlled by the West. And despite signing up to the War on Terror, in the eyes of the Western media, Gaddafi never lost his demonised status.
So, while every other revolt in the Arab countries has put the USA and Western Europe on the defensive, exposing their shoddy manipulations, the rebellion in Libya provided the opportunity for the West to grab the moral high ground.
In a perspicacious article for Reuters on 11th March, headlined 'France sees Libya as way to diplomatic redemption', John Irish noted:
Paris is playing a trail-blazing role in the international response to the Libyan uprising in the hope it can make a mark on whatever emerges from upheaval across the Arab world, and make up for lost diplomatic confidence.
In the latest move, France on Thursday recognized the rebel Libyan National Council, the first country to formally reject the government in Tripoli led by Muammar Gaddafi...
In a country that boasts one of the world's most extensive networks of diplomats, it is a question of pride, fueled by the fear that globalization and the rise of other economic powers may have a flipside -- waning French clout.
"What is happening is that France is once again taking the initiative as it has in the past," said Axel Poniatowski, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. "There was a period of turbulence in which everybody was taken by surprise and waiting to see what happens."
...[France] called for sanctions early on and with Britain is driving efforts to secure U.N. support for a resolution that would allow the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations says Paris has stuck its neck out and needed to.
"We can't accept the status quo (in Libya) and have gone too far to step back," Moisi said. "The question now is what we can really do beyond words. For France, it is a way to get credibility in the international community and its citizens."
The cynical position adopted by France and Britain mirrors that of the other Western powers. By condemnation, sanctions, refusing to encourage or support mediation, and readying for air strikes, they envisage that they can reinstate their tattered image as promoters of democracy and human rights, rehabilitate the concept of colonial intervention, and compete with each other for economic gains and strategic advantage in the 'new Middle East'.
Thus they aim to achieve Western redemption, by washing their hands in the blood of Libyans.