In the crinkled, crumpled little walnut that constitutes America’s political discourse, the question of Libya has been reduced to the petty, bitter political wranglings over “Benghazi,” where American officials were killed in a FUBAR of covert ops and clueless incompetence. (Then again, covert ops and clueless incompetence are the M.O. of American foreign policy in general, so it’s hard to see what’s particularly ‘scandalous’ about the Benghazi incident. This deadly combination kills innocent people all over the world on an almost daily basis.)
Indeed, the hyper-partisan focus on Benghazi actually reflects the thoroughly bipartisan nature of America’s fubarish foreign policy. We should be having long, heated, intense hearings on the US-NATO military intervention itself — an illegal and utterly foolish assault which has plunged the country into violent chaos, empowered violent religious extremism and destabilized large swaths of Africa. It sparked violent civil war in Mali, for example; and even the dreaded Boko Haram in Nigeria have acquired copious arms from the flood of weaponry released by Western intervention, as well as funds and training from the extremist groups empowered by (and sometimes directly supported by) the Western powers in the regime change operation.
But we hear nothing of all this. It’s just “Benghazi” — a convenient ‘controversy’ for all involved, as it save them from any examination of the dirty reality of the intervention and its dirty aftermath. Fortunately, Patrick Cockburn is on the case, with an excellent article in CounterPunch detailing the “slow-motion coup” now being attempted in Libya by an American-backed general, and the larger context around it. The article is worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:
The image of the Libyan revolution in 2011 was something of a fabrication in which the decisive role of Nato air power was understated. The same may be true of the counter-revolution in Libya that is being ushered in by ex-general Kalifa Hifter’s slow-motion coup which gathered support last week but without making a decisive breakthrough. …
Polarisation is happening throughout the country, but it has some way to go. Hifter’s support is stronger than expected but ramshackle, even if it is in keeping with the mood of much of the country. Thousands joined demonstrations across Libya on Friday in the biggest mass rallies since 2011 in support of Hifter, against the Islamic militias and in favour of the suspension of the Islamist-led parliament. The problem here is that Hifter may be able to tap mass resentment against the militias and in favour of a reconstituted police and national army, but his own Libyan National Army is itself a militia.
A crisis is clearly coming, but the Hifter coup still feels like the first act of a drama which will have more episodes, many of them violent, but without any final winner necessarily emerging. The present situation feels more like Lebanon, with its many power centres and no strong central state, than Egypt or Syria with their tradition of an all-powerful central authority. And in Libya, as in Lebanon during the civil war, it is foreign intervention that is likely to break the stalemate and determine the speed and direction of events as it did in 2011.
Foreign intervention is as likely to precipitate a civil war as prevent one. In Syria it led the opposition to imagine that they could win a military conflict. It is worth keeping in mind that, bad though the situation is in Libya, so far there is nothing like the violence of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Lebanon during the civil war. Arbitrary and authoritarian though Gaddafi’s rule was, it was never as violent as that of the Baathist dictatorships in Baghdad and Damascus. With no tradition of extreme violence, up to now Libya’s road to ruin has been relatively low on casualties, but this could change very swiftly if present stand-offs switch to military confrontations.
In Libya, as in the other so-called Arab Spring states, hopes of a better tomorrow have melted away over the past three years. In the outside world, those who fully believed foreign media reports of the Libyan people’s uprising of 2011 as being primarily secular and democratic will have been dismayed and mystified. In reality, the Libyan revolution was rather different from the way it presented itself. From the beginning, the so-called Arab Spring revolts were a peculiar mix of revolution, counter-revolution and foreign intervention. It is worth recalling the shock felt by those who had lauded the Libyan revolt as progressive to discover that one of the first acts of Libya’s National Transitional Council in October 2011 was to lift the law banning polygamy, on the grounds that it was in conflict with sharia.
This should not have been quite so surprising, given that among the main backers of the rebels in Libya were Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states who saw the revolts of 2011 as a battle for their own survival. It was always absurd and hypocritical for the West to pretend that these absolute monarchies with extreme Islamic ideologies were interested in spreading secular democracy.
These are of course the same monarchies supporting the rebels in Syria (along with copious overt and covert support from the West). Here too we have seen massive propaganda efforts in the Western media to portray the Syrian uprising as “as being primarily secular and democratic.” As’ad AbuKhalil, the “Angry Arab,” does a good job of skewering this propaganda on a regular basis, particularly the Western media’s unconscionable contortions to mitigate, justify or simply cover up atrocities committed by the rebels.