Articles on Libyan Civil War from around the world page 2

China's unusual decision to deploy its navy off Libya's coast

March 2nd, 2011  |  Source: Economist

FOR a fast rising power, China remains unusually shy about military deployment beyond its shores. But its decision to dispatch four military transport aircraft to Libya and a guided-missile frigate to waters nearby suggests that it might be rethinking its posture. The Ilyushin-76 aircraft took off from the far western region of Xinjiang on February 28th bound for the Libyan city of Sabha. The ship, Xuzhou, which had been engaged in anti-piracy duties in the Gulf of Aden, set sail for the north African coast on February 24th. 


The assignments could prove little more than symbolic. Of the 30,000 Chinese estimated to have been in Libya when the unrest began there, some 29,000 are said to have already left the country. China’s defence ministry says Xuzhou will not arrive until March 2nd. It is not clear when the aircraft will reach their destination. Gabriel Collins and Andrew Erickson of China SignPost say they will have to stop for refuelling.  

The deployments are a sign that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which includes the air force and navy, is gaining a bit in confidence following its dispatch of a small flotilla in December 2008 to join international operations in the Gulf of Aden. That was a turning point in China’s military history: the PLA navy’s first active-duty deployment beyond East Asia. China had long been diffident about long-range engagements, fearing they might stir anxiety about China’s military ambitions while at the same time revealing frailties to its potential enemies (America being the biggest concern). 

Western powers have long been trying to cajole the PLA into playing a more dynamic role, both in UN peacekeeping (China is a big contributor of troops, but not of front-line ones) and disaster relief (the PLA did not send forces to help out after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004). The PLA’s decision to get involved this time, however, is likely far more to do with domestic considerations than a desire to show solidarity with the West. A perceived failure by the PLA to show concern for Chinese lives in Libya would not have gone down well with the country’s fiery online nationalists (to whom the country’s leaders appear to pay considerable attention). 

In 1998, when riots targeting ethnic Chinese broke out in Indonesia, nationalists in China accused the government of a limp-wristed response (see  this analysis of the event by Christopher Hughes of the London School of Economics). The Communist Party does not want a repeat of that, especially at a time when it is already worried about possible contagion from the pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East. Nationalism and anti-government sentiment can be a powerful cocktail in China. 

China’s propaganda machinery has been playing up the significance of the deployments. What the state-run media call the biggest operation in China’s history – which includes the dispatch of civilian aircraft—to rescue Chinese overseas is being touted as a sign of the country’s emergence as a “responsible great power” (see this dispatch, in Chinese, on the website of Guangming Daily, a Beijing newspaper). The term echoes the appeal made in 2005 by Robert Zoellick, then America’s deputy secretary of state, for China to play its part as a “responsible stakeholder”. It is one aimed at pleasing nationalists at home while trying to show the outside world that China is merely doing what is expected of it. 

China’s vote on February 26th in favour of a UN resolution imposing sanctions on Muammar Qaddafi and calling for an international war-crimes investigation will certainly be looked at with favour by the West. It too appeared to mark a shift, China having usually avoided punishing countries for behaviour within their borders (sanctions imposed on North Korea for its testing of nuclear devices being a notable recent exception). Again, the reasons for China’s actions are likely to be domestic. Mr Qaddafi’s political control appears tenuous and Chinese lives are at risk. The Communist Party does not want to appear to be propping up the man endangering them. 

China has long condemned what it describes as “interfering in other countries’ internal affairs”. Since 1989 it has been particularly fearful of setting a precedent for international action against itself should it stage another bloody crackdown on dissent such as on the Tiananmen Square protests that year. But China sees the situation in Libya as very different from that in China after Tiananmen—when the Chinese leadership, despite its squabbles, maintained a firm grip on power and largely kept the armed forces on side. 

A blog entry published on February 27th on the website of Caijing, a Beijing magazine, (here, in Chinese), suggested that it was time to give up the non-interference policy in the case of Libya. The article, boldly titled “Support the dispatch of American troops to Libya”, argued that “human rights come before sovereignty”. Its author, a Chinese journalist, said that when “a tyrant enslaves his country and tyrannises and massacres his citizens” talk of non-interference is “dog farts”. That, very probably, is going further than the party would like.

The Middle East Revolution: The Empire Strikes Back: Libya Attacked by the US and NATO

By Asad Ismi

Global Research, May 18, 2011

No sooner had the popular revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia overthrown corrupt and repressive U.S.-backed dictatorships than Washington and NATO (led by a Canadian general) attacked Libya on March 19 with jet fighters and hundreds of missiles and bombs. The reason given by this coalition of the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and Canada (among others) for the attack was that they were protecting civilians from Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Considering that the U.S. has killed two million civilians in Iraq, 70,000 in Afghanistan, and about 2,000 in Pakistan, it strains credulity to believe that this was the real reason for its intervention in Libya.

In fact, if we look at the imperial records of the U.S., Britain, France, and Spain (another NATO member) and count the number of civilians they have slaughtered in the last 500 years (and continuing), we can conclude that these countries are the biggest killers of civilians in human history.

The West's bombing of Libya has already led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and destroyed crucial civilian infrastructure such as airports, roads, seaports, and communication centers, along with military targets. The bombings have also caused economic disaster by displacing hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from Asia, Eastern Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa (in an economy dependent on migrant labour) who are desperately scrambling to return home. As Professor James Petras puts it, "The current imperial warmongers leading the attack on Libya… are not engaged in anything remotely resembling a humanitarian mission: they are destroying the fundamental basis of the civilian lives they claim to be saving."

The Western attack on Libya is motivated mainly by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions taking those countries out of Washington's control. This created the need for a military base from which to contain those revolutions, which Libya is perfect for, since it borders both of these countries. Gaddafi has been ruling Libya as a dictator for 41 years, after overthrowing the U.S. puppet government of King Idris in 1969. Under Idris, Washington was able to set up its biggest military air base in the Middle East in Libya. Gaddafi closed the base and nationalized Libyan oil resources, ensuring that the country's people benefited from the wealth the oil generated. He redistributed this wealth widely, implementing progressive social welfare and employment policies that gave Libya the highest per capita income in Africa. He ended widespread illiteracy, made higher education free, created jobs and housing, and provided food subsidies. Under Gaddafi, Libya became the highest ranked among African countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, which assesses living conditions, life expectancy, and education.

Since 2003, however, these social gains have been eroded as Gaddafi started moving closer to the U.S., Britain, France, and Italy. Before this, Washington considered Gaddafi an enemy and had labelled him a terrorist. Blaming him for the bombing of a disco in Berlin, the U.S. bombed Gaddafi's residence in April 1986, killing Hanna, his adopted baby daughter, and 100 other people, most of them civilians. The U.S. and the U.N. had also imposed economic sanctions on Libya. In exchange for removal of these sanctions and normalized relations with the West, Gaddafi shut down Libya's nuclear weapons program, joined the U.S. "War on Terror," opened up Libya's oil sector to foreign investment, implemented regressive neoliberal reforms, and paid compensation for the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Western companies thereupon invested in the Libyan oil sector on a huge scale, including companies from the U.S. such as Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum, and Haliburton; the biggest investor was British Petroleum and also prominent were Italy's Eni Gas, Royal Dutch Shell (Britain and Holland), and Total (France).

The Bush administration enjoyed good relations with Gaddafi, as did Tony Blair, Britain's former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President. According to The Guardian (U.K.), Italy, Germany, France, and Britain were Libya's leading arms suppliers in 2009, providing Gaddafi's armed forces with military planes, guns, ammunition, tear gas, and chemical weapons. Gaddafi's relations with Sarkozy were so close that the Libyan leader's son, Saif al-Islam, announced on March 16 that Libya had financed Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign and now wanted the money back.

To further please the West, Gaddafi implemented neoliberal economic reforms, including launching a major privatization program. As one observer explained: "In September 2003, the United Nations lifted all economic sanctions against Libya, in exchange for an economic package which included plans to privatize 360 state enterprises, and in 2006 Libya even requested entry to the World Trade Organization." The neoliberal reforms also included cutting social programs and subsidies for the poor, which have increased poverty and inequality in Libya. Partly due to these regressive reforms, Libya's unemployment rate rose to 20% while the prices of rice, flour, and sugar have soared by 85% since 2008. At the same time, Libya's oil wealth was being given to foreign corporations.

Gaddafi was thus moving away from the progressive aspects of his rule and towards becoming a client of the Western countries. There was one crucial concession, however, that he was not willing to grant the West and that was making Libya a military base for the U.S., as Iraq, Bahrain, and Qatar had become. Since a military base in Libya was considered vital by Washington once the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions succeeded, Gaddafi therefore had to be removed, despite his extensive catering to the West since 2003. As another pro-Western dictator, Saddam Hussein, had earlier discovered, to maintain close relations with the West a local leader must comply with and support important Western objectives. Otherwise such an uncooperative leader can become a target for regime change.

Unlike the largely peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the revolt against Gaddafi started as an armed uprising. Its disorganized participants were a mixture of Islamic fundamentalists, monarchists who supported King Idris centred in the city of Benghazi, tribal groups (Libya has about 140 tribes and clans), disaffected military officers, and neoliberal privatizers (ones even more ardent than Gaddafi himself). A few CIA agents were undoubtedly also involved in the insurrection. The rebels do not offer a progressive alternative to Gaddafi and would probably be even more subservient to Western demands than he has been. They would certainly allow Libya to be turned into a U.S. military base. The rebels' calls for Western military intervention discredits them, as does the almost complete lack of public support from their fellow citizens.

The rebels' links to the CIA and U.S. involvement in the Libyan "uprising" have been noted by several commentators, including mainstream news sources. Discussing a March 30 New York Times article by reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, Professor David Bromwich of Yale University pointed out on The Huffington Post website the next day that "One thing is clear, thanks to Mazzetti and Schmitt [who state that] 'Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the CIA to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels.' "The timing is interesting," Bromwich notes. "The order was signed just about the moment that President Obama was lauding the triumph of non-violence in Egypt… The upshot is this: An event that we Americans were led to believe was an autonomous rising on the model of Egypt turns out to have been deeply compromised from the start, and compromised by American meddling."

Bromwich adds that "The meaning of the Times report can be fully grasped only if one augments its findings with a March 26 McClatchy [Press] story by Chris Adams." Adams's article presents the career of Khalifa Hifter, the former chief military officer of Gaddafi's army, who has been appointed to lead the rebel Libyan army now based in Benghazi. According to Adams, after leading Gaddafi's war against Chad in the late 1980s, General Hifter retired to suburban Virginia, where he has lived for the last 20 years in Vienna (a small town) which is five minutes from CIA headquarters in Langley. So this close associate of Gaddafi's, whom U.S. officials regarded as a terrorist until eight years ago, was allowed into the U.S. two decades ago and, as Bromwich puts it, "his safe return to Libya was facilitated at a remarkably opportune moment." Bromwich concludes from this that "It seems then that a long train of earlier commitments in Libya was set in motion as soon as the Egyptian uprising began."

Manipulations Africaines, a book published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2001, traces Hifter's CIA connection back to 1987, stating that he was then a colonel in Gaddafi's army and was captured fighting in Chad against the U.S.-backed government of Hissène Habré. Hifter defected to the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF), the main anti-Gaddafi group, which was CIA-backed. He organized his own militia, which stopped functioning once Habré was defeated by Idriss Déby (supported by France) in 1990.

The book adds: "The Hifter force, created and financed by the CIA in Chad, vanished into thin air with the help of the CIA shortly after the government was overthrown by Idriss Déby." The book quotes a U.S. Congressional Research Service report dated December 19, 1996, to the effect that "the U.S. government was providing financial and military aid to the LNSF, and that a number of LNSF members were relocated to the United States."

The result of such machinations are clear in Libya today. A once fairly progressive country with a relatively high standard of living and education is being destroyed by a Western coalition that has already laid waste to two other countries where it could not win wars, either (Iraq and Afghanistan). Not only are the purported "rebels" supported by the Western imperialist countries, but they are also amazingly incompetent and have proven themselves incapable of fighting Gaddafi's far more effective army, leading to a stalemate. Still disunited and disorganized to such an extent that they are not even sure who is commanding them, the rebels have failed to take advantage of the U.S. and NATO bombings of Gaddafi's forces.

This latest disastrous failure of Western imperialism should lead to NATO's withdrawal from Libya, but instead Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron recently expressed their determination to overthrow Gaddafi, setting the stage for a Western ground invasion of Libya. They hope that the threat of such drastic action will make Gaddafi capitulate. But the Western leaders seem to be as incompetent as their rebel puppets on the ground. They should know that whatever happens in Libya is not going to stop or reverse the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. The people of those countries didn't have (and didn't need) military force to overthrow well-armed Western-backed regimes. These brave people are the real power in the Middle East today, and they have shown that they cannot be cowed by bombs and bullets.

Published in: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, May 2011  

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Dan Simpson
Shame on us for pulverizing Libya
The war may have started with good intentions, but now we're just wrecking the place
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
By Dan Simpson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two questions troubled me over Memorial Day: Why is the United States destroying Libya, and why do I care?

For nearly three months America and its pony pal Pokeys -- Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom -- have been busily destroying Libya.

The war started out as at least vaguely comprehensible and well-meaning. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had responded to the Arab Spring stirrings against his government with furious threats against the Libyan population. The U.N. Security Council, at the urging of three permanent members (France, the United Kingdom and the United States) but with significant abstentions by Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia, agreed to military action to protect Libyan civilians from the potential ravages of the government's armed forces. That limited objective made some sense in humanitarian terms.

Libyan rebels launched an effort to oust Mr. Gadhafi from power but quickly ran out of gas. The allies began fighting under the banner of NATO, with the United States in principle having handed over leadership of the effort -- which became, clearly, aimed at regime change, allegedly a "no, no" for the regime of President Barack Obama because it saw this as a major fault of the preceding administration of President George W. Bush. The allies, having eliminated Mr. Gadhafi's air power, began bombing not only government military targets but also making parts of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, look like Joplin, Missouri, after the tornado. This was done in the name of hitting military installations, although it has become evident that Mr. Gadhafi himself was their real target.

The U.S. role moved into semi-clandestine mode. CIA and special operations forces were on the ground, helping with targeting and providing other intelligence support to NATO air forces as they demolished targets in Libya.

In the meantime, the rebels' provisional "government" in eastern Libya -- in Benghazi, formerly known as Cyrenaica -- continued to take an informal approach to military action, in principle taking advantage of the NATO air strikes to move westward toward Tripoli. In fact, it remains divided by tribe, ill-disciplined, indifferently led and, in the end, lightly motivated, in spite of all the bold talk about fighting for freedom. The "government" now has 40 ministers and has eliminated women from all significant positions of leadership.

When preparing to go to Libya in 1963 one of the first books I read was on the tribes of Cyrenaica. The Cyrenaicans still operate on a tribal basis. They oppose the tribes of western and southern Libya.

I haven't figured out yet whether the geniuses who run U.S. foreign policy don't know that, or whether their reasons for proceeding to destroy Libya as a nation were so compelling that they were willing to put their nickels on the eastern Libyans in spite of the legendary divisions among their tribes and the problems these present.

Mr. Obama is moving ahead even though he is in clear violation of the terms of the U.S. War Powers Act. So what is behind his adherence to a policy of pounding Libya?

It is oil, to a degree. Even though Libya produces only 2 percent of the world's oil, the companies that Libya nationalized after Mr. Gadhafi took power in 1969 were owned in part by British and American companies with long memories and a lot of lobbying clout in Washington due to their political contributions to parties and congressmen. France, the United Kingdom and the United States would just love to get their concessions back.

It is also clear that Mr. Gadhafi is not anyone's idea of an enlightened ruler. Even though he handed over his nascent nuclear weapons program during the Bush years, winning big points, he also took down Pan Am 103 in 1988. He paid compensation to victims' families but that tragedy remains an unsettled score between the United States and Libya. But is he worse than some of the Persian Gulf emirs -- not to mention Saudi Arabia's royalty -- that we cuddle up to for oil, arms sales, military bases and whatever else?

Which leaves the fundamental question, what business is it of the United States to decide who should rule Libya or any other country in the world that poses no threat to us? Do we see no conflict of principles between taking the greatest of pride in our own independence, glorifying our founding fathers and praising our troops who fight and die to preserve that independence, while at the same time bombing into rubble some other country's capital to try to change its current leaders?

My own personal question is, why do I care? Or at least, why do I care more than most Americans? There is no noticeable resistance among Americans or in Congress to the destruction we are bringing to Libya.

The answer is, I think, because I have seen and lived in the Libya that U.S. and NATO armaments are now pulverizing. It is hard for Americans to imagine Libya. There are places where robed women and men with donkeys raise water from wells just like the pictures in the books in Sunday school. There are green hills of Cyrenaica where it is possible to wander through Greek and Roman ruins alone.

It is also hard for Americans to imagine the destruction that modern arms can bring to a city. The videos of Joplin and eastern Japan give us some idea. Grainy black-and-white footage of post-war Europe shows us more. But why Libya? In the name of exactly what?

We as a people are acting in Libya like some maddened pit bull that just has to attack something. It is shameful.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (, 412 263-1976). More articles by this author
First published on June 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

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