By Andrew Williams
The uprisings that have spread across the Middle East have alarmed the US and its regional allies as a series of autocratic pro-Western regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen, have become vulnerable. As the pro-democracy mobilisations have continued their momentum, the US is determined that the ground it has already had to cede in Egypt and Tunisia will not spread further – and is, of course, working hard behind the scenes to limit the extent of the reforms in Egypt and Tunisia.
Hence a determined counter-revolutionary offensive, including military action, has now been launched. Fidel Castro has been quite correct to warn that imperialism is resorting to military intervention to try to halt the revolutionary wave sweeping the region. This has already begun, acting through its regional lackeys, with the despatch of Saudi Arabian troops and United Arab Emirate’s police to Bahrain to crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.
The imperialists’ increasingly urgent discussions of military action against Libya are similarly to promote Western interests, including getting greater control over Libya’s oil, not from any concerns about democracy. If they do take military action the aim will be straightforwardly to tie the opposition closely to imperialism’s coat-tails, and a price will be later exacted in some form.
The imperialist discussions are becoming more shrill and urgent as it becomes clear that the Gaddafi regime has taken back control of parts of the country. Among the imperialists France and Britain are leading the push for the imposition of a so called ‘no-fly zone’. There should be no doubt what this would actually mean. As US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has pointed out, such a step is tantamount to declaring war.
The proposal for a ‘no-fly zone’ is being pushed in international fora – most recently raised at the emergency European summit in Brussels on 11th March and at the 15th March G8 meeting. Efforts continue to persuade United Nations Security Council members to back such military action and Britain has indicated it again (as with the invasion of Iraq) would support intervening without UN backing. So far the bullish position of France and Britain has not prevailed, but preparations for intervention continue.
The military special forces of a number of countries have been reported as engaged inside Libya, including the bungled British mission in the East. Member countries of NATO are moving warships to the Mediterranean; one US aircraft carrier has already arrived and a second one is on its way.
The US is reportedly debating what next military steps to take, but contrary to the hypocrisy of its rhetoric, options are not considered from the point of view of humanitarian merit. What matters to the US is whether with its current deployments in Afghanistan and elsewhere it has the capacity to militarily defeat Gaddafi’s regime. The US fully appreciates that – whatever is said now by the opposition or whatever imperialism agrees to in terms of limiting its action to say a ‘no-fly zone’ – the calculation has to be that in order to defeat Gaddafi a ground conflict i.e. invasion will probably be necessary. Moreover, if a ‘no-fly zone’ failed to halt Gaddafi, the US would feel obliged to intervene more strongly as it cannot afford to be seen to be defeated.
In an opinion piece, Philip Stephens the Financial Times’s Associate Editor, put the issue clearly:
‘Talk of grounding the Libyan air force has become a smokescreen…There is nothing to be gained from clearing the skies if Col Gaddafi’s tanks and rocket-launchers can continue to race across the desert…’ In other words, talk of a ‘no-fly zone’ is a cover for the real discussion about intervention. It can ‘soften up’ the opposition to imperialist intervention by implying there can be an ‘arms’ length’ intervention that leaves the opposition free of imperialist control. This is a complete illusion. Already by entering into direct discussion with the US about their military role the opposition are becoming fatally compromised by their reliance on imperialism to resist.
Like the Iraq war unleashed in 2003 by the US and British invasion, a Western war on Libya would throw the country and the region backward. Moreover imperialism, as in Iraq, would find itself not just fighting the regime it had come to overthrow, but sections of the opposition would resist imperialist intervention as well. It is likely the country would either be divided – with the West seizing control over Libya’s oil-rich East – or descend into chaos for an extensive period.
The Middle East has much experience of the mayhem and slaughter that accompanies such imperialist intervention. And Iraq and Afghanistan should provide ample evidence that such intervention does not lead to progress for ‘democracy’.
The absolutely fundamental issue at stake in Libya today is to ensure that there is no intervention by Western imperialism in any form.