By Ben Schreiner
After six protracted months, and well over 7,000 sorties, the NATO “humanitarian” mission in Libya has finally achieved its principal objective: the deposing of Colonel Mohmar Gaddafi. The ousting of Gaddafi—who once upon a time was heralded as an anti-imperialist—is definitely not to be mourned. Gaddafi ruled Libya with an iron fist, having readily succumbed to the corruption of unchecked power long ago. However, his overthrow at the hands of Libyan rebels (the title bestowed upon all “good-guy” insurgents) and their NATO backers is not to be celebrated either. For the downfall of the Gaddafi regime signals not a victory for democracy, but rather one for imperialism.
Although the international community (defined, of course, as the US, European powers, and their puppet states) went to great lengths to portray the NATO mission as one solely for the protection of civilians, this was always a rather thinly veiled ruse. After all, if NATO was truly concerned about the fate of innocent civilians, the Alliance would assuredly pull its contingent of forces out of Afghanistan, where the blood of innocent civilians daily drips from its hands. Moreover, although Gaddafi did indeed respond with brutal force against his own people, can one imagine even a single head of state from a NATO nation responding any differently to an armed insurrection in their own country?
So then, if not for the protection of civilians, what purpose did NATO’s Libyan mission truly serve?
As Alexander Cockburn has written, the Libyan intervention will come to be understood in the annals of history as nothing less than an old fashion colonial smash and grab. And producing roughly 3-percent of the world’s ever-dwindling supply of oil, and harboring an estimated 46 billion barrels in reserves (the largest in Africa), Libya possesses much for Western imperial powers to grab. And even though Gaddafi had indeed signed oil deals with the likes of Exxon and Chevron, the nationalist prone dictator still demanded tough contractual terms so as to better placate the Libyan populace and further enrich his inner circle. But with Gaddafi now deposed, the lucrative Libyan oil spigot is assured to flow unimpeded. In fact, as the business press is eager to tell, expect oil interests from NATO nations to be handsomely rewarded in this post-Gaddafi windfall. To the victor go the spoils.
The NATO mission, though, was about more than simply oil. The West, if forced, could ultimately make due without Libyan oil. But what couldn’t be tolerated was further assertion of Libyan and, in turn, greater African independence.
Although Gaddafi was indeed far from a stalwart anti-imperialist in the waning years of his 42-year reign (Gaddafi signed onto the “war on terror,” and supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq), President Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog of the Middle East” still had some bit left in him. Most notably, Gaddafi had aggressively pushed for the formation of an African central bank (to be backed by Libya’s vast gold reserves), and for the formation of a unified African currency akin to the Euro. Such developments were deeply troubling for Western powers. French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy even went so far as to call the prospect of a unified African currency a threat to Western civilization. A threat indeed, for if such African financial independence were to come to fruition, the resource rich continent would certainly break free from the yoke of the Western controlled International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In the end, as we have come to learn, this was simply an unacceptable proposition.
What's more, NATO’s Libyan mission and seeming victory has also served to thwart the Arab Spring from inflicting a potentially fatal wound to the hegemony of Western powers in the region. After losing two prized clients in Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak, the US and Europe have been able to save a measure of face with the replacement of a nationalist Libyan regime with one that promises to be decidedly pro-Western. Moreover, by helping to militarize the Arab Spring, NATO has seemingly stemmed the contagion—for the moment—from threatening the reign of other Western backed despots in the region. And now with Libya moving back under the Western sphere of influence, the West can turn its attention to co-opting the ongoing revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, while continuing to ferment revolt in Syria.
Lastly, the NATO success has functioned to provide a viable template from which to implement future military interventions in the region. US and NATO planners are now assuredly casting their eyes to the “protection” of civilians in Syria and, undoubtedly, the crown jewel of Western colonial ambitions—Iran. The imperial lust has no bounds.
Thus, although another despot has been toppled, the supposed democratic victory triumphed in Libya by NATO and the Western press is merely a shroud masking the victorious forces of imperialism. The 500-year long conquest continues apace: a true triumph of NATO.