By Pater Tenebrarum at Acting Man blog
The interventionist success stories really keep piling up in recent months. It is no wonder that a solid and growing majority of Americans is recently saying the US should stop taking sides in foreign conflicts. In Ukraine, there is a civil war (and it isn't going well from what one hears). Iraq has de facto split into three smaller states, one of which is under the control of Sunni extremists, and one of which is under the control of some of Iran's most loyal allies in the region (the third is the already quasi-independent Kurdish state in North-Eastern Iraq).
In Yemen, Al Qaeda has just proclaimed the third independent fundamentalist emirate in the Middle East (the first was proclaimed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the second by the radical Jabhat al-Nusra Front in Syria in the region of Aleppo).
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are reconquering the country's Southern provinces and are threatening to take over Kandahar again, which they temporarily lost in 2010.
And now, Libya is burning – literally:
A fire at the oil depot for the airport in Libya’s capital raged out of control Monday after being struck in the crossfire of warring militias battling for control of the airfield, the latest violence to plague the country as foreigners flee the chaos.
Libya’s interim government said in a statement posted that the fire could trigger a “humanitarian and environmental disaster” in Tripoli, appealing for “international help” to extinguish the inferno. It did not say what it specifically needed. The blaze had spread to a second depot by Monday afternoon, the government said. It was unclear if there were any injuries from the fire.
“The government appeals to all concerned parties to immediately stop firing as the situation has become very grave,” the government said.
Libyan television stations called on residents to evacuate areas within a five-kilometer radius of the airport. Many Libyan families scrambled to leave. Black smoke billowed over the Tripoli skyline.
Mohammed al-Harari, the spokesman for the Libyan National Oil Company, said the oil depot had a capacity of 6 million litres and that if the fire was not brought under control, it could ignite liquid gas nearby.
Fire trucks from several nearby cities and towns have been deployed to help extinguish the blaze, said a Libyan security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to journalists.
The battle for control of the airport began two weeks ago when Islamist-led militias — mostly from the western city of Misrata — launched a surprise assault on the airport, which has been under control of a rival militia from the western mountain town of Zintan. It wasn’t clear whose fire started the oil depot blaze. The Health Ministry said Sunday that the fighting has so far killed 79 people and wounded more than 400.
More than three years after dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s downfall, Libya is witnessing one of the worst bouts of violence amid growing lawlessness in the country. Libya’s interim government, which relies on militias filled with rebels who battled Gadhafi’s forces for security, now finds itself unable to rein them in.
Western diplomats are fleeing Libya in droves as the country threatens to disintegrate. As the New York Times reports:
“The country is coming undone. Relentless factional fighting in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi has left dozens of people dead. Well-known political activists have been killed, diplomats have been kidnapped, and ordinary citizens fear bandits on the roads.
Water and electricity shutdowns have become more frequent than at any time since the chaos after Colonel Qaddafi’s fall, and fuel has disappeared from Tripoli’s gas stations. On Sunday, several Western nations advised their citizens to leave immediately. Gunmen attacked a convoy of British diplomats.”
A plume of smoke rising from the burning oil depot at Tripoli's airport
In 2011, interventionists were crowing that the “Libya skeptics have been proved wrong” and that a brutal dictator had been removed with “surgical strikes and a minimum of collateral damage”, at very little cost to Western tax payers. Compared to other interventionist success stories like Iraq, that is.
John McCain, evidently happy that finally one of the endless wars he has been promoting in the course of his career appeared to have worked out as advertised, declared that “the Obama administration deserves great credit,” adding, “I had different ideas on the tactical side, but the world is a better place.” The New York Times applauded as well. The Atlantic moreover reports:
“ […] in the April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, U.S. officials Ivo H. Daalder and James G. Stavridis published an even more celebratory endorsement of the campaign by the U.S. and its European allies.
"By any measure, NATO succeeded in Libya," they wrote. "It saved tens of thousands of lives from almost certain destruction. It conducted an air campaign of unparalleled precision, which, although not perfect, greatly minimized collateral damage. It enabled the Libyan opposition to overthrow one of the world's longest-ruling dictators. And it accomplished all of this without a single allied casualty and at a cost–$1.1 billion for the U.S. and several billion dollars overall–that was a fraction of that spent on previous interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq."
It is widely assumed to be a given that the eccentric colonel Muammar Gadaffi was a brutal dictator. Note though that the assumption that “tens of thousands of lives were saved from almost certain destruction” is just a supposition, as we simply cannot know what might have happened.
Libya's Oil-Funded Socialism
Gadaffi certainly was a dictator and a slightly loopy one at that. It was not possible to remove him by election, but it is erroneous to assert that Libya was a purely authoritarian state. It had instituted a complex form of “direct democracy” that included a great deal of regional autonomy, the so-called Jamahiriya system. This system reportedly occasionally overruled Gadaffi's decisions. A very sympathetic description of Libya's former political system can be found here. However, the author is unnecessarily romanticizing the system due to his evident personal pro-socialism bias. Gadaffi himself mainly used the Jamahiriya system as a “political temperature gauge”, so as to ensure his continued control of the country. However, the system was also an attempt to reconcile various tribal interests in Libya and it likely contributed to Gadaffi accepting compromises on a number of issues.
Libya also enjoyed very high living standards compared to the rest of Africa. Due to its low population density and large oil revenues, Gadaffi was able to “afford” socialism and the government inter alia provided free health care and free education to its citizens. As a result, both life expectancy and literacy in Libya had actually reached a level similar to that of developed nations (the average life expectancy was 77 years, only one year below that of the US. The literacy rate was at 90% overall and even higher among youth).
Gadaffi's government also provided other free goodies, such as low cost housing, land for cultivation including subsidies for seeds, and under an oil revenue sharing program, every Libyan reportedly received $500 per month (note that there are many articles on the internet making this claim, but we were unable to find reliable confirmation). Regardless of the details, it is certain that Libyans enjoyed a noteworthy degree of prosperity as a result of Gadaffi spreading the nation's oil wealth around. So Libya actually had a few things going for it.
However, Gadaffi also attempted to establish other aspects of socialism, by means of coercion and expropriation. According to Wikipedia:
“A property law was passed that forbade ownership of more than one private dwelling, and Libyan workers took control of a large number of companies, turning them into state-run enterprises. Retail and wholesale trading operations were replaced by state-owned "people's supermarkets", where Libyans in theory could purchase whatever they needed at low prices...
However, the measures created resentment and opposition among the newly dispossessed. The latter joined those already alienated, some of whom had begun to leave the country. By 1982, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 Libyans had gone abroad; because many of the emigrants were among the enterprising and better educated Libyans, they represented a significant loss of managerial and technical expertise.”
As a result of these policies, Libya suffered from a permanent shortage of skilled labor. This problem was countered by importing foreign workers, as well as most consumer goods, and paying for them with oil revenues.
It is a good bet that similar to what has happened in Venezuela, this system wouldn't have worked smoothly forever. However, due to its relatively small population of approximately 6.3 million people, it likely would have worked for a good while.
In summary one could state that Libya's citizens were under the thumbs of a dictatorial socialist system, but were at the same time economically fairly secure. Today, they are theoretically free, but their former economic security is gone and the peaceful coexistence of the various groups in the country is most definitely a thing of the past. The freedom of Libya's citizens is hanging by a thread, as the country is now besieged by a number of warlords. Among these are Islamic fundamentalist factions that will most definitely erase many of these newly-won liberties if they emerge as the winners of the conflict. So far there is of course no winner – instead, there is simply growing chaos.
A picture taken in Benghazi recently – there is heavy fighting there as well.
Was It Done on Purpose?
Are the people supporting interventions really so naïve as to believe that their actions won't have unintended consequences? After all, history shows over and over again that these consequences cannot be avoided, and quite a bit of that history is fairly recent.
There is currently a growing arc of instability stretching from Mali all the way to Ukraine. The countries that have been subject to interventions generally have certain major characteristics in common: they are either important sources of fossil fuels, or they are held to have geo-strategic importance due to their geographical location, or both.
For instance, no-one thought it necessary to intervene in Rwanda when several hundred thousand people were brutally murdered in the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. There is also rarely as much as a whisper of complaint about the rulers of Saudi Arabia, where uppity journalists get sentenced to up to 15 years in jail plus 1,000 lashes with the whip, for daring to criticize the ruling elite and pointing out its human rights violations. Are these not “brutal dictators”?
The new junta ruling Egypt not only seems quite alright with our vaunted “democracy spreaders”, it even spits openly in their face if they dare to say anything about the methods employed in suppressing political dissent in “post Arab spring” Egypt.
We can conclude from this that the official reasons cited for interventions almost always conceal their true motives. Humanitarian considerations or the alleged need to “spread democracy” are merely used as pretexts so as to sell interventions to an increasingly skeptical public. The reality is that commercial and/or big power geopolitical interests are pursued.
Given that it is very hard to believe that the decision makers don't realize what the outcome of their interventions will be, one must conclude that the sowing of chaos and instability are in fact intended. An old saying that has been wrongly attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt springs to mind in this context: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” Although FDR actually never said this, it nevertheless rings true. Mind, we don't want to overestimate the planners and meddlers either. Many of them strike us as dumb as fence posts, but one must not forget that it is often difficult for an outsider to judge who the movers and shakers really are and who is merely a useful idiot tagging along.
Why would instability and chaos be desired outcomes? There are two possible reasons that come to mind. One is that in some regions a kind of divide et impera (divide and rule) strategy is pursued. After all, who cares if Iraq falls apart and its citizens are living in mortal terror as the average daily death toll soars ever higher (1,372 confirmed deaths over just the past six days), as long as we have access to its oil?
The warring parties all need income, so they will continue to sell crude oil. It has been quite noteworthy that ISIS has taken great care not to damage any of the oil installations it has conquered. The group is evidently signaling that its doors are open to business.
The other reason is even more sinister: the more chaos and instability there is, the more likely there will be “blow-back” and the louder the calls to “impose order” will become. From the point of view of the ruling elite, this is highly desirable. First the State creates a problem, and then a statist “solution” to the problem is offered. The average citizen always ends up poorer and less free as a result, usually without realizing it at first. We can observe a similar tactic in central banking, although it may not be by design in this case, but merely a welcome side effect. First, central banks promote massive financial bubbles; once they burst, it is a certainty that the clamor for even more central bank intervention will become deafening. In every iteration of the boom-bust cycle, they tend to end up more powerful than before.
In the context of growing chaos in the world (and what appears to be a worrisome drive toward war with Russia), one would do well to keep in mind what pacifist philosopher Randolph Bourne once said:
“War is the health of the State”.
Randolph Bourne, life-long anti-war activist. His strange looks are due to the fact that he suffered from tuberculosis of the spine. His mind was sharp as a tack though and he saw through the war racket with great clarity.
(Photo credit: Columbia University)
Wherever one looks, interventionism has resulted in more death and destruction, with chaos spreading across ever more regions. Superficially, it looks like a case of ignorance and major incompetence, but that may be only partly true. One simply cannot rule out that the outcome of these interventions is precisely what was intended in the first place.
Given that the official reasons forwarded in favor of interventions rarely hold up to scrutiny, there is very good reason to speculate on the true motives. It has been quite astonishing to watch the developed world move toward ever more statism after the collapse of the Soviet system (the opposite of what one would have normally expected). The cycle of war and military/political intervention in foreign lands in recent years must probably be viewed through this lens. It inevitably leads to the further aggrandizement of the State.