21 March 2010. A World to Win News Service. *The Western powers now
bombarding Libya like to pretend that their so-called humanitarian
intervention is something new in the world. It would be something new and
amazing if the US and Europe were fighting to liberate an oppressed people,
but that’s not what’s happening.
What has now been rebranded as ”humanitarian intervention” is just as old
as what apologists for nineteenth-century colonialism called the ”white
man’s burden”. And it is no more new than the invasions of Afghanistan and
Iraq, similarly touted as acts taken to rid the people of tyrants, which in
fact just brought those peoples even more misery and on top of that foreign
Our indictment of the Western powers rests on two main arguments based on
evidence whose truth would be difficult to deny: what these powers have done
in the past, from the late nineteenth century through now, and why they have
decided to respond to the Arab spring by singling out Libya for attack.
Taken together, an examination of these two questions demonstrates that the
West’s current actions represent not a break with their colonial past but a
To start out with the present, without upholding Gaddafi in any way, what
has he done to Libyans that other Arab rulers have not done to their own
The repression in Bahrain is at least as vicious as in Libya. We are
talking, after all, about a movement that initially demanded nothing but
legal reforms and not the dismantlement of a regime. Yet Bahrain’s security
forces have responded with a viciousness rarely seen anywhere else, opening
fire on crowds with pistols, rifles and .50 caliber machine guns. Their
speciality has been the use of shotguns firing bird shot pellets, so that
the number of seriously wounded people is enormous.
People everywhere were rightly outraged when Gaddafi’s forces drove up to a
Tripoli demonstration in an ambulance and then jumped out shooting. The same
thing has happened on an even larger scale in Manama, Bahrain. The security
forces there surrounded and burst into the main hospital complex, beating
and shooting patients, threatening and beating medical staff, and even
arresting a surgeon as he operated on a wounded patient. They are still
occupying that hospital and preventing anyone from entering or leaving.
What kind of ”humanitarian intervention” did the world witness in Bahrain?
Troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates poured across the
border in tanks and armoured vehicles to support the beleaguered monarchy.
US President Obama rang up the Saudi and Bahraini monarchs and gave them
some personal advice. What he told them is not known publicly, but we do
know what his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: she called for *both
sides* in Bahrain to abstain from violence and when asked, specifically
refused to oppose the Saudi invasion. While she called for ”dialogue”, she
refused to criticize the regime for arresting the leadership of what used to
be the legal opposition, or for banning demonstrations and any other
political activity. She didn’t even threaten to cut off US military aid to
Why? Because of Bahrain’s strategic importance at the mouth of the Persian
Gulf, the dependability of its rulers from the point of view of Western
interests, and especially the importance of Saudi Arabia in keeping the
region backward and American-dominated.
The very fact that the Bahraini royal family represents a privileged Sunni
elite ruling over and against a Shia majority makes this regime extremely
dependent on US and British support and therefore pliable to their wishes.
This kind of ethnic politics in the interests of empire is much like what
the British did in South Asia and Africa.
Even the Western media gives the Bahraini rulers the kind of free pass it
never gives Gaddafi. Parroting the US and UK official narrative, the Shia
movement for their rights is presented as a ”sectarian conflict”,
completely ignoring the question of justice. This is not very different than
portraying the Sri Lanka Tamil struggle against being crushed by the
Sinhalese rulers or the Black South African struggle against white apartheid
as simply unfortunate ethnic rivalries.
The West’s pretext is that if they didn’t support this absolute monarchy
where all major government posts are in the hands of the royal family and
there isn’t even a parliament, then the majority might be susceptible to
Iranian influence, which would be a threat to the Saudi royal family
(eastern Saudi Arabia, where the oil is concentrated, is largely Shia) and
therefore American and Western interests.
Why is it right for the US and the UK to dominate Bahrain and wrong for Iran
to do so (if that were the only alternative, which it isn’t)?
The main reason why Bahrain exists as an independent country in the first
place is because Britain took it from Iran and allied with the clan that has
ruled it for more than two centuries.
And exactly how ”independent” is a country that is little more than a
parking lot for the US Fifth Fleet? What is that fleet even doing there in
the first place? It’s not “containing” Iranian ambitions since it was put
there when Iran was still run by a US client regime. How independent is a
place where the Saudis explicitly have the last word, a place whose separate
existence seems to be useful above all because it provides an environment
where the religious fanatics of the Saudi elite, like their counterparts in
Iran and the US, can enjoy the prostitution that is the inevitable
accompaniment of their imprisonment of women in their homes, and the alcohol
that helps make military service tolerable for American sailors?
And why, exactly, does Saudi Arabia exist, if not because Britain found it
useful to bring into existence and because it has been of such service to
the UK and US? And why is the rule of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia by god’s
earthly representatives any better than the same kind of rule in Iran?
In short, for the West, right and wrong are defined by interests –
Regimes like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are not necessarily what the US and UK
would like to have. Clinton said she was “alarmed” by Bahrain events, and
that’s probably true, not because of the loss of life but because they make
for unwelcome political instability and come at an inconvenient time for the
In fact, as seen in Libya, not necessarily every US-friendly despot of today
will necessarily be around tomorrow. To paraphrase a nineteenth-century
British politician, the imperialists have no permanent allies, only
But what kind of society does the US & Co seek to perpetuate throughout the
Middle East, including Libya?
Clinton said she was “thrilled” to be in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the
referendum held by the military, which doesn’t mind letting people get
distracted by the choice of making minor adjustments to the legal order.
Most of the clauses in question had to do with limits on a president’s term
in office, largely irrelevant now that history has vetoed Mubarak’s bid to
be president for life. The military also added to the constitution a ban on
any president marrying a non-Egyptian woman. This is a stinking expression
of male chauvinism (it means that a woman president is unthinkable) and
religious intolerance, as if what was wrong with Mubarak and his predecessor
Anwar Sadat was that they were married to women whose mothers were English
Christians. One thing the military did not put up to a vote is the
constitutional clause defining Sharia as the main basis for Egyptian law.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the military’s choices for this
referendum gave its seal of approval for the vile male attacks on women who
gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women’s Day and
call for women’s rights a week before Clinton’s visit. Is this what
“thrilled” Clinton? Or was it the fact that the junta hasn’t dropped the
generations-old state of emergency or released all political prisoners?
Who is claiming to “liberate” Libya?
To look at the other leg of our indictment, look at just who it is that is
The attack leader was France, which already had its warplanes in the air
when the Western nations met to consider a course of action. They started
bombing even before the 19 March meeting was finished.
France immediately ignored the stated aim of the UN Security Council
resolution authorizing the establishment of a no-fly zone and instead
attacked Gaddafi’s armoured vehicles. Complaints by some Arab League
members, Russia, China and others that this wasn’t what they voted to
authorize are not to be taken seriously, since France said openly that this
is what it planned to do when it called for that resolution.
France previously demonstrated its regard for humanitarian values when its
aircraft and troops killed as many as a million Algerians during its war to
prevent Algerian independence only 50 years ago. While piously proclaiming
the need for “international intervention” in Libya today, France vigorously
opposed that independence movement’s calls for UN intervention to stop
French bombardments of Algerians.
In today’s France, only the most ignorant or wilfully blind would argue that
President Nicolas Sarkozy has any respect for the lives and rights of Arabs
in Libya when he has deliberately expressed flagrant contempt for those of
Arab and African immigrants or their children in France.
Some youth in Paris’s heavily-immigrant suburbs compare Sarkozy’s
undisguised lust for blood in Libya to his infamous threat to “clean out the
scum with a power hose” in the country’s ghettoized housing estates where
the hopelessness produced by French society is most ruthlessly enforced by
the police. Sarkozy’s declaration of war against immigrant youth helped
spark the 2005 ghetto rebellion. For all the confusion that reigns among
these youth today, there is a stark truth in the connection they see between
what the French rulers are doing to them and what they are trying to achieve
in the Arab world. (See the Web forum bondyblog. com)
If Sarkozy is so anxious to take the lead in Libya, it is at least partly
because France has been weakened in its former colonies and neocolonies in
Africa and the Middle East.
The same logic applies to the UK, much of whose empire has been absorbed by
the US, despite a record of violence against the world’s peoples whose
extent and length in Asia and Africa has no parallel in human history.
This relationship with the US has both allowed the UK to retain more of the
benefits of empire than might have otherwise been the case, and also made it
have to settle for less than what it might otherwise want. Libya is a
particularly promising morsel for Britain, whose leading enterprise, BP
(formerly known as British Petroleum), purchased the rights to extensive
offshore exploration and drilling from Gaddafi. Having a strong hand in
deciding what kind of regime will be set up next in Libya is of great
importance to the UK, even while it is also paying much attention to
regaining political influence in neighbouring Egypt.
While Sarkozy has talked the loudest, UK British leaders have been the most
active in visiting Egypt and the Persian Gulf to pick up the threads of
British influence that have been somewhat frayed by American domination of
these countries. While France had the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia in its
pocket, backed the Moroccan monarchy and had a strong hand in Algeria, and
the US had Mubarak, the UK was reduced to competing with Italy for Gaddafi.
Britain’s three governmental parties may disagree on how to handle the
treatment of various sectors of society at home, but they all agree that
Britain’s particular part of the world financial crisis requires deeper and
more extensive exploitation of the third world.
As for the US, its slightly ambivalent position reflects its complicated
interests in today’s Middle East and its already overextended involvement in
two wars. While American politicians and pundits (especially during the Bush
government) have recognised that most of the regimes the US’s regional
domination depends on are unsustainable in the long run, Washington has
become wary that big changes, especially in the context of today’s popular
upheaval, may be unfavourable to its interests, both in its conflict with
Islamic fundamentalism and in allowing the European powers – who are both
allies and rivals – to advance at the expense of a weakening American
Further, as we have analysed previously, the US has its own broader
interests in the region and in the world, and its logical, reactionary
reasons for wanting to avoid being seen even more than ever as the invader
and occupier it really is, especially because of a country it does not
consider strategic. This explains the US formulation that the US will be the
“leading edge” of the attack on Libya – asserting the leadership that comes
from the fact that no other country or even group of countries can match its
military strength – while also trying to avoid being at the centre and
differing with the UK and even more France about both the publicly
admissible and real aims of this war.
Given the complexity of US interests, the relative unity among the American
ruling class is just as remarkable as that in the UK. Regardless of what
they might prefer, they mostly seem to agree that the worst scenario, from
the point of view of the empire, is one which might see further instability
and challenges to US domination in the region and the world.
In a word, what the West wants in Libya is control. The interests the
monopoly capitalist rulers of all of these powers are pursing have nothing
to do with those of the Libyan and other Arab peoples or the world’s people
– or the most basic and long-term interests of the people in the
“homelands”. Just the opposite: the aims of this war are the same ones that
have motivated European and American policy and actions in the Middle East
and elsewhere since the late nineteenth century: the establishment of
spheres of influence to monopolize the exploitation of the peoples and their
resources, and the establishment or defence of pliant regimes representing
exploiting classes whose interests accord with their countries’ economic and
21 March 2010. A World to Win News Service. *The Western powers now