Opposition to war on Libya grows

Opposing war on 26 March demonstration

By Jane West

Twelve days into its bombing campaign on Libya, imperialism’s air offensive has intensified, military coordination tightened and the US and Britain are openly discussing greater involvement in the ground offensive.

The ebbs and flows in the progress of the opposition forces on the ground are clearly totally determined by the intensity of the imperialist air assault on the government forces. The ‘no fly zone’ became concerted bombing raids on the government ground forces from day one. But despite this the opposition has not been able to make decisive progress. The opposition calls for imperialism to step up its engagement with the supply of arms and the provision of military ‘advisors’ are growing, and the urging of the imperialist hawks to deploy ground troops is becoming more vocal.

The imperialists in the US and Europe are united on this war. The disagreements over command structure and deployment of missiles do not reflect a more profound divergence on war aims. It is now openly acknowledged that the aim is ‘regime change’, not defending civilians from harm. Hague, Sarkozy and Obama all openly discuss the endgame being the end of Gaddafi.

The tensions that do exist – due to concerns about becoming over-extended in the context of the unfolding situation in the Middle East and the ongoing military offensive in Afghanistan – are minor compared to the sharp US/Europe divisions over the 2003 Iraq war.

But the lasting political impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the fact this war is taking place in the context of falling living standards and austerity policies, means that support for this war in Britain is not strong. Popular support for the military interventions, in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to decline, while on Libya opinion divides pretty evenly.

However, this lack of support and general level of public concern about the war in Libya has not yet turned into mass opposition on the streets. Both the Stop The War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are leading the movement against the war, and each event has pulled in a broader section of opinion. Building each of these protests is a crucial task if the passive opposition to the war is to be turned into an active anti-war movement capable of influencing government.


Internationally there is growing opposition to the imperialists’ intervention.

The action was opposed by Cuba from the outset. The most prescient contribution by anyone was that of Fidel Castro, who drew attention to NATO’s planned attack one month before it started. Since the action started he has graphically described the barbarism that is unfolding, pointing out that:

‘Never before was a large or small country, in this case of barely 5 million inhabitants, the victim of such a brutal attack by the air force of a military organisation which has at its disposal thousands of fighter planes, more than 100 submarines, nuclear aircraft carriers and sufficient arsenal to destroy the planet countless times over.’

Chávez and Venezuela have also been quick to point out the imperialist and brutal nature of the war. Referring to the US as ‘the empire’, Chávez said:

‘More death, more war. They are the masters of war… They want to seize Libya’s oil. The lives of Libya’s people don’t matter to them at all. It is deplorable that once again the warmongering policy of the Yankee empire and its allies is being imposed, and it is deplorable that the United Nations lends itself to supporting war, infringing on its fundamental principles instead of urgently forming a commission to go to Libya.’

Other Latin and Central American countries have also opposed the war. Brazil, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, abstained in the vote authorizing the action against Libya. Since then, its opposition has hardened.  Brazil’s foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the loss of civilian lives and calling for the start of dialogue. Lula, the previous president of Brazil, endorsed the position of current president Dilma Roussef saying:

‘If we had twenty-first-century representation [in the Security Council], instead of sending a plane to drop bombs, the UN would send its secretary-general to negotiate.’  

Argentina and Uruguay have also voiced strong disapproval of the intervention. This reflects the regions own strong reasons – following a 20th century history of numerous US covert and open interventions – for supporting the principles of non-intervention and national sovereignty.  Uruguayan President José Mujica is reported as saying:

‘This attack implies a setback in the current international order. The remedy is much worse than the illness. This business of saving lives by bombing is an inexplicable contradiction.’

Similarly, the positions of both China and Russia – permanent members of the Security Council that could have vetoed the UN motion – have hardened since their initial wrong decision to abstain. Sarkozy, who has been in China this week on a trade mission, was greeted by president Hu Jintao saying that the UN resolution on a no-fly zone in Libya was meant to end violence and protect civilians. Any military action that causes a greater humanitarian crisis runs counter to the ‘original intention’ of the resolution. He said that:

‘History has repeatedly proved that the use of force is no answer to any problem. Instead, it will only make the problem more complicated,’

The harder line of Russian Prime Minister Putin, who described NATO ‘crusaders’, compared to President Medvedev has been reported since the beginning of the action against Libya. However, this week Russia began to make official representations to NATO against the direction that the action is taking. Moscow’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin said:

‘It’s not up to NATO to decide the future of Libya. If someone in NATO thinks otherwise, they are deeply mistaken.’

Interviewed by Russia Today he said:

‘The coalition has taken sides. It’s only targeting Gaddafi’s forces, including those that aren’t in direct action against the rebels. We have reports of air strikes against convoys far from the front line. This is a far cry from the UN Security Council resolution.’

He went on to express concern over the ‘creative’ interpretation of the UN Security Council’s resolution which only approves a naval blockade enforcing the arms embargo, and a ‘no fly zone’ to prevent the bombing of civilians:

‘Moscow has many questions about how the UN Security Council’s resolution is being carried out,’ he said. ‘First of all, there are reports that civilians have been killed in the air strikes. This is odd if you consider the message of the resolution, which says that the foreign forces’ actions should protect civilians. So it’s hard to comprehend how you can protect civilians by killing them.’


Within Britain voices on the left have become more and more vocal in opposition to the war.

The Morning Star opposed the war from the outset, and has understood how the opposition is fatally compromised by its dependence on imperialism to advance against Gaddafi. Andrew Murray’s piece, penned prior to the UN Security Council vote sets out clear arguments against the aggression including:

‘It is also about pressure on Egyptian revolution – the biggest threat to imperial interests in the region. A NATO garrison next door would be a base for pressure at least, and intervention at worst, if Egyptian freedom flowers to the point where it challenges Western interests in the region. NATO will only ever intervene to strangle genuine social revolution, never to support it. Military aggression in Libya…will be used to revive the blood-soaked policy of “liberal interventionism”.’

Likewise Tariq Ali explains that imperialism is seeking to ‘bring the Arab rebellions to an end’ and ‘restore the status quo ante’. Dispelling any illusion in imperialism he states:

‘The frontiers of the squalid protectorate that the west is going to create are being decided in Washington. Even those Libyans who, out of desperation, are backing NATO’s bomber jets, might – like their Iraqi equivalents – regret their choice.’

Mike Marqusee unmasks the deception that ‘liberal interventionism’ bares any relation to genuine humanitarianism. Drawing the parallels with other imperialist aggressions he says:

‘as a youngster I watched liberals launch the Vietnam War on a sea of “good intentions”. The gulf widened when, despite the ensuing nightmare, liberals continued to believe in the benign nature of US (or British or French) world intentions.’

Imperialism clearly differentiates between the Middle Eastern regimes it wants to bolster and those it prefers overthrown and Marqusee points out:

‘The critical point about the hypocrisy, double-standards and selectivity is that they unveil the real motive forces driving the intervention. And motives here are anything but incidental factors; they guide and shape the intervention and therefore tell us a great deal about its likely impact. What the double standards reveal, ironically, is a very clear and consistent policy standard, i.e. western elite interests (or lack of them). Where oil is at stake, behaviour is strikingly uniform – whatever is necessary to control and/ or keep others from controlling its supply.’

Kevin Ovenden tackles the issue of whether an imperialist bombing campaign against a local autocrat can assist the Arab revolution. Regardless of what the initial intentions of some of the rebels were, he explains that NATO is not providing an air force to the rebels, in reality the rebels have become NATO’s ground troops. The opposition is not determining the course of this war. He writes, of imperialism’s regional aims:

‘..the overall aim is …to corral the revolutionary process and ensure it is steered along a path which is stable and compatible with the interests of the Western powers and whichever safe pairs of hands they can identify in each state. ‘

The aims of the imperialist aggressors in Libya have nothing to do with democracy. They hypocritically support ‘democracy’ or not depending on what they see is the most politically expedient route to maintain control over the region, especially its oil. That is why the 20th century history of the region is that of Britain, France and the US in particular artificially dividing up the region into small states that could not challenge their power, installing client regimes, supporting brutal repression of the populations, fomenting wars (such as between Iran and Iraq), arming Israel to facilitate its repression of the Palestinians and prevent any regional action to support them and setting up extensive Western naval and other bases in the region. Their action to overturn the Libyan regime – as in Iraq and Afghanistan – is pursued solely in the interests of their influence in the region, not to support the rights of the Arab masses. As Kevin Ovenden remarks:

‘It might be objected that it is an uphill struggle for popular Arab movements to force a retreat in Western policy, and to frustrate their and the regional rulers’ interests. That’s true. But it is far preferable, and infinitely more realistic, than lobbying for the imperial powers to become something which they cannot be: a force for progress…’

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