The imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya has been sold publicly as a “humanitarian” military intervention to attempt to stop Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s bloody slaughter of the rebels who were cornered in the eastern city of Benghazi. President Obama defended U.S. involvement in the operation as being taken to avoid a massacre that would have “stained the conscience of the world,” (Huffington Post, 3/28/11).
What it really represents, however, is an opportunistic ploy by embattled imperialist powers to defend their strategic and economic interests in the region. They aim to regain the initiative and bolster their damaged prestige in the face of revolutionary upsurges they cannot control and disastrous occupations that have exposed their impotence and made them reviled throughout the Arab world.
Unfortunately, many liberals in the U.S., and even some on the far left, are buying this act hook, line, and sinker. The New Republic, for instance, published an editorial the day after the intervention began entitled “In Libya, Obama Finally Did the Right Thing,” in which the editors out-hawk Obama by arguing that military intervention should have begun weeks earlier.
In another article, John B. Judis attempts to differentiate this military intervention from the Iraq War, claiming “the United States is supporting an active revolt; it is preventing carnage; and it is encouraging real, rather than imagined, democratic movements across the region,” (“How the Left Got Libya Wrong,” 3/22/11).
The reality is that these claims are not substantiated by the facts on the ground. U.S. military intervention will make things worse for the Libyan people, not better. Here’s why.
The Lie of “Humanitarian” Intervention
Simply put, the U.S./ NATO intervention has nothing whatsoever to do with supporting and backing up a revolutionary upsurge of the Libyan people. Just the opposite, their key goal is to strategically enhance their imperialist position in the region against the influence of the revolutionary uprisings shaking North Africa and the Middle East.
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the wider revolt sweeping the region have seriously weakened U.S. and Western control. In this context, the U.S. and NATO see the intervention in Libya as a way to reassert their power in the region through a show of force, as well as using it to co-opt the Libyan revolt and bring to power a pro-U.S. regime. Their ultimate hope is to use this as a way to halt – or, if possible, reverse – the revolutionary process that has been unfolding.
That is exactly why the U.S. has hypocritically remained silent about the bloody massacre carried out in Bahrain by Saudi Arabian troops and Pakistani mercenaries – because this particular carnage favors their interests in the region. Their silence is all the more telling amidst revelations in the press of widespread murder gangs linked to the monarchy and deliberate attempts at fostering divide-and-rule ethnic sectarianism amongst the demonstrators, who have so far been largely unified.
Of course, Libya’s oil also plays a role in motivating the intervention. Though this fact has been explicitly denied by U.S. and NATO officials, it was also just as vehemently denied at the onset of the Iraq War, even though documents have subsequently been unearthed that prove oil was on the minds of the politicians and their corporate backers from the beginning.
The Libyan Masses Have the Power to Win
Another central flaw in the argument for intervention is the idea that the Libyan people are helpless and doomed, that they have no hope of defeating Gaddafi unless outside forces do it for them.
This is strikingly similar to the arguments that were made with respect to Iraq in order to justify the U.S. coming in and toppling Saddam Hussein at the price of countless innocent lives and hundreds of billions of public dollars. Yet this argument has already been disproven by the mass uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, which show conclusively that regular working people do have the power to overthrow their dictators without any “help” from the imperialist powers.
This is also shown by the early days of the uprising in Libya itself, when the people of Benghazi rose up in massive numbers and drove Gaddafi’s forces out of the city. The instincts of the masses of workers and poor were, correctly, to oppose imperialist military intervention from the start, with slogans emblazoned on the walls that read “No to foreign intervention, the Libyans can do it themselves.”
On the basis of mass committees of workers, a revolutionary army could have been built to take control of all the eastern cities and make a class-based appeal to the people in Tripoli and the rest of the west, where two-thirds of the population live.
Unfortunately, this movement has instead been largely taken over by an unelected leadership that is made up of corrupt rulingclass defectors betting against Gaddafi and hoping to achieve power for themselves, many of whom used to be leaders in the Gaddafi regime itself – like Abdul Fattah Younis, the former head of Gaddafi’s special forces.
This had the effect of demobilizing the masses and weakening the independent class position of the workers, reducing the opposition to a rag-tag bunch of poorly trained guerrilla warriors in support of this unelected leadership that presumes to call itself the “Transitional National Council” (TNC). The influx of ambitious older politicians and ex-Gaddafi leaders into the TNC has effectively sidelined and disempowered the elements of revolutionary committees of workers and youth that were formed out of the initial February 17 uprising.
It was after this corrupt bourgeois leadership consolidated itself that the rebels’ call for Western military intervention was taken up, not in the midst of the empowered revolutionary action by workers, youth, and poor. And it is no accident that it was not until this leadership took over that the U.S. was interested in intervening against Gaddafi.
It is telling that rebel leaders were recently invited to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. political leaders and have now been offered to open a representative office there, which they have accepted. A number of capitalist and imperialist governments, including France, Qatar and Italy, have already recognized the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, and this seems to put the U.S. on track to do the same in a more official capacity.
Down With the Gaddafi Regime! For Democracy and Social Liberation!
Unfortunately, there are some on the left – such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and the Workers World Party (WWP) – who also oppose Western intervention, but on the basis of support for Gaddafi. These groups call for support for the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, as well.
The basic argument is that because these regimes have at times been a thorn in the side of the U.S. and other imperialists and have employed radical rhetoric, they are anti-imperialist forces that deserve the support of workers around the world. In actuality, however, both are utterly brutal, dictatorial, pro-capitalist, corrupt regimes bitterly hostile to the interests of the Libyan and Syrian people – not to mention those of the international working class.
This flawed outlook of the PSL and WWP stems from a failure to adopt an independent working-class position. Rather than basing themselves on the workers and poor leading the fight against capitalism and throwing off their oppressors, they desperately look for other forces to fight capitalism. This inclination is exemplified by their largely uncritical support for regimes such as North Korea and Venezuela, despite the absence of real working-class democratic control.
It is true that both the Libyan and Syrian regimes once did have a “left” face to them and did carry out anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist measures, but this was always done in a top-down, dictatorial fashion in order to advance their own narrow interests.
It was never based on any kind of genuine socialist or revolutionary position, and it was never carried out with the participation and leadership of the working class. Furthermore, since the collapse of the USSR both regimes have turned decisively to capitalism and imperialism, carrying out privatization schemes and seeking to accommodate the Western powers.
To equate opposition to imperialist attacks on Libya with support for Gaddafi is to act as an obstacle to the development of an antiwar movement in the U.S. and elsewhere. It makes it more difficult to mobilize opposition to the attacks, and it plays right into the hands of Obama and NATO leaders, given that their key strategy for winning public support for intervention is to point out the brutality and oppression of the Gaddafi regime.
For antiwar activists in the U.S., our first task is to unambiguously oppose the U.S./NATO war in Libya, to expose the real class interests of the imperialist powers, and to give support and solidarity in every way possible to the development of independent mass movements by the working class, youth and poor of Libya in their struggle for democracy and liberation. But we also have to be honest about the nature of the regime and the current rebel leadership. Liberation will not come from Gaddafi, nor will it come from foreign military intervention: It can only come from the Libyan masses themselves.
For further debates about Libya, see Peter Taaffe’s articles on SocialistWorld.net.