Imperialism: Judge it by results
Despite the cover provided by various social-imperialists, British and French intervention has produced hell on earth, argues Eddie Ford
As the fighting intensified last week between rival militias in Tripoli, British embassy officials fled the capital - not on the skids of helicopters, but rather under naval protection. The embassy is being “temporarily” relocated to the safety of Tunisia. A few days earlier, on July 29, the foreign office issued a statement saying Britons should leave the country “immediately”. Meanwhile, British Airways suspended all flights to and from Tripoli: obviously not risking another Malaysia flight MH17. Then, on August 4, the HMS Enterprise evacuated over 100 people, mainly British, to Malta in what was called an “assisted departure” - the foreign office warns, however, that it will be unable to provide more such assistance to distressed nationals from now on.
Seeing the writing on the wall, most western countries, including the United States, have already withdrawn their diplomats from Libya. At the end of July, in almost Hollywood fashion, military officials drove US diplomats at breakneck speed across the border into Tunisia, using F16 fighter jets for air cover. It must be nice to be loved. Needless to say, Tripoli international airport has been closed after clashes between two rival brigades of former anti-Gaddafi fighters - one established by the outgoing parliament and one controlled by the defence ministry. Anarchy reigns and hundreds have been killed. There are chronic fuel and power shortages. At the same time, Islamist militias have overrun several army bases in the eastern city of Benghazi, the centre of the 2011 revolt against Muammar Gaddafi.
Showing the seriousness of the situation, Egypt is now worried by the spiralling violence taking place in its western neighbour. For instance, last month 21 Egyptian soldiers were killed near the border with Libya; and violence broke out on August 1 at the border crossing of Ras Jdir, as police fired tear gas to stop a group of Egyptians trying to storm the border in their desperation to escape. Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former foreign minister and ex-secretary-general of the Arab League, expressed the fear on August 3 that “statelets, sects and extremist factions” in Libya “directly threaten Egypt’s national security” - in which case, he added, “we have to exercise our right to self-defence”. Moussa’s prominence and closeness to president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, the former head of Egypt’s armed forces, has fuelled speculation that some sort of Egyptian military intervention in Libya is being considered. As for the new Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives, only elected in June - it was due to convene in Tripoli on August 4, but was forced to switch to Tobruk because of the worsening violence.
Libya is rapidly becoming another failed state, with ‘Made in the west’ stamped all over it. Imperialist representatives may have promised freedom and democracy, but they are no longer willing even to remain in the country. A real vote of confidence. If privileged embassy officials felt they had to get out quick, just imagine what life must be like for ordinary civilians - pure hell on earth. Just like Iraq, oddly.
Remember the non-stop propaganda three years ago about the monster, Gaddafi? A demon, a man who would stop at nothing to keep himself in power (we shall leave aside for now the fact that he had previously been regarded as an “important ally” in the global ‘war on terror’). How the west had to intervene and set up ‘no fly’ zones in order to save the inhabitants of Benghazi, for example, from being butchered almost to the very last man or woman.
Such was the terrible urgency of the situation, declared president Barack Obama in a March 2011 address, that “if we waited one more day” then Benghazi “could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world”.1 Similarly, in a joint letter dated April 15 2011, Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy asserted that only by “responding immediately” had they prevented a “bloodbath” that Gaddafi had “promised to inflict on the citizens” of the besieged city.2 Hence the desperate need for United Nations resolution 1973, giving the green light to western military intervention, ostensibly to ‘protect’ innocent civilians.
All total bullshit, of course. Communists, it goes without saying, opposed the Gaddafi regime. But we rejected the west’s anti-Gaddafi propaganda. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Benghazi would have suffered such a fate. Even Soliman Bouchuiguir, secretary-general of the Libyan League for Human Rights, who made the claim of an impending massacre at the UN, later admitted he had nothing to go on except the words of dubious Libyan oppositionists. With regard to Gaddafi’s “no mercy” warning or promise, that was just the standard overblown rhetoric you would expect from a demagogue in such a situation - and it obviously only applied to the rebels anyway, not ordinary citizens, as noted at the time by The New York Times and other more rational journals.
So much for the imperialist myth of the ‘mad dog’, Gaddafi. On the other hand, if we look at what actually happened rather than imagine what might have happened, anti-Gaddafi forces in Tripoli and Benghazi engaged in numerous revenge killings - including the wholesale slaughter of black Libyans and Sub-Saharan African migrants with a distinctly racist undertone (all ‘mercenaries’ presumably, who deserved their gruesome fate).
But none of this stopped British and French fighter bombers from effortlessly annihilating retreating columns that included trucks and ambulances, and was quite clearly not a force that could have occupied Benghazi in any real sense, let alone wipe it off the face of the planet.3 The Anglo-French ‘no fly’ zone had nothing to do with ‘protecting’ civilians or preventing massacres: it was about blasting the other side to kingdom come and securing western hegemony. And it is worth mentioning the transparent lie that a ‘no fly’ zone had to be imposed because Gaddafi was using his air force to bomb “his own people” - this all came straight from the Iraqi copybook for the demonisation of Saddam Hussein. Yet again it turned out to be pure fabrication, but an important one, since the idea of atrocities carried out from the air formed a central plank of the case for foreign military intervention. Beyond contempt, however, was the talk about Rwanda-style “genocide”, the word - and concept - hideously twisted to act as a trigger for imperialist intervention, invoking the UN’s doctrine of the ‘responsibility to protect’, and so on.4 Complete hypocrisy.
None of this can disguise the fact that western intervention in Libya was a total failure, even on its own terms. Doubtlessly imperialism dreamed of creating a ‘stable’ Libya, but it has in reality created the exact opposite: chaos threatens regional stability - not to mention the damning fact that various Islamist forces, when they are not fighting each other, are on the verge of taking over Benghazi and perhaps the entire country (insofar as Libya can still be described as a country at all).
Yes, the Libyan intervention was supposed to show the civilising influence of western power. Anglo-French bombs bring peace. Apparently, a very dead Gaddafi - his bloody corpse on public display in a cold storage unit - heralded peace, prosperity and a “strong and democratic future”, at least according to David Cameron. A job well done. Grotesquely, Cameron and Sarkozy paraded around Tripoli pretending to be ‘liberators’.5
Well, the Libyan nightmare unfolding before us is the answer to that - and to those on the left who supported imperialist intervention, either as a ‘lesser evil’ or a positive good in its own right. Hence we have the usual social-imperialist suspects in the shape of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which at the time (as part of an attack on the essentially principled position of the Stop the War Coalition and Socialist Workers Party) told us in a headline to “have no illusions in west, but ‘anti-intervention’ opposition is abandoning rebels” - before going on to argue: “But what issue of principle should make us demonstrate against the one thing which might prevent untold slaughter, prevent Gaddafi’s immediate bloody victory, and therefore a crushing defeat for the wave of revolutions?”6
In other words, the AWL was actively promoting illusions about the progressive role of imperialism - made even clearer when it argued that socialists “should not denounce intervention in Libya”, but actually support the west’s “limited police action” to stop the “immediate full-scale massacre” that Gaddafi “threatened to inflict on his opponents”.7 This was to commit exactly the same folly as in Iraq, where the AWL believed that imperialism would somehow create a ‘breathing space’ for the development of independent working class forces.
Nor should we forget Gilbert Achcar, who wrote in relation to Libya: “Every general rule admits of exceptions. This includes the general rule that UN-authorised military interventions by imperialist powers are purely reactionary ones, and can never achieve a humanitarian or positive purpose” - meaning that Achcar supported (or refused to oppose, in AWL-speak) UN-authorised ‘humanitarian intervention’.8 Giving the game away, Achcar posited the hypothetical question - “just for the sake of argument”, of course - that if we could step into a time machine and “go back to the period immediately preceding the Rwandan genocide”, would we then “oppose a UN-authorised, western-led military intervention deployed in order to prevent it?” Many would say, he commented, that such an intervention “risks making a lot of victims” - but “can anyone in their right mind believe that western powers would have massacred between half a million and a million human beings in 100 days?”
His conjecture is entirely based, of course, on the standard but false narrative that the western powers are active agents against slaughter. Tell that to the people of Gaza. In reality imperialism everywhere is part of the problem, if not the problem.
Communists remain steadfastly opposed to all imperialist interventions and adventures - they can serve no progressive purpose. It should be more than obvious that any western involvement in so-called ‘hot spots’ serves only imperialist interests and thus stands in direct opposition to those of the working class.
8. G Achcar, ‘A legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective’ ZNet March 25 2011.