Workers Vanguard No. 979
29 April 2011
Under Humanitarian Guise
Imperialists Escalate War on Libya
APRIL 25—With the month-long aerial bombing campaign by NATO failing to topple the regime of bourgeois strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi, the imperialist powers are taking new steps to ratchet up death and destruction in Libya. In rapid succession last week, Britain, France and Italy—North Africa’s former colonial rulers—dispatched military officers to Benghazi to shore up the opposition forces that have acted as the imperialists’ ground troops and whip them into shape. Today Italy announced that it would join in the bombing raids. The Obama administration, which claims to have ruled out “boots on the ground” in Libya, on April 22 ordered additional firepower into the skies in the form of remotely piloted Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles.
The murderous purpose of the imperialists’ “humanitarian” mission in Libya was highlighted early today when at least two large bombs destroyed a building in central Tripoli containing a library frequented by Qaddafi and another where he had recently hosted an African Union delegation. This was the second attempt to assassinate Qaddafi by air attack in three days. Last week, missiles struck his personal compound, recalling the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya, during which his infant daughter was killed in a similar assassination attempt.
The escalation of the war against Libya further exposes the lies spread by the imperialists and their media mouthpieces to justify the bombing campaign. Presented as a short-term action to establish a “no-fly zone” and “protect civilians”—the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution giving cover to the terror bombing—the intervention is a drive by the imperialists to impose their diktat on this oil-rich country. From the outset, NATO was bombing Libyan government forces and, soon afterward, such Qaddafi strongholds as his hometown of Surt (Sirte). The only civilians at risk there were those near exploding NATO ordnance.
Since the Obama administration handed off control of military operations to NATO in late March, U.S. warplanes have continued to fly hundreds of sorties along with their British and French partners. With drone attacks now taking place in Misurata, the site of fierce urban fighting, greater U.S.-inflicted carnage is in the offing. In Pakistan, where the White House has leaned heavily on CIA-directed drone aircraft to launch missile attacks against Taliban fighters, more than 1,500 people, overwhelmingly civilians, have been slaughtered by Predators since August 2008. The most recent such strike on April 22 claimed 25 lives, among them at least five children.
Before the imperialist attack on Libya, the country was being torn apart by a low-level civil war between the Qaddafi government, which had been playing ball with the imperialists, and an imperialist-backed opposition. In the fight between these two bourgeois forces the proletariat had no side. But once the U.S.-led bombing began, the civil war became subordinated to imperialist military intervention. As we declared in “War Against Qaddafi’s Libya: Imperialist Terror and Lies” (WV No. 977, 1 April): “In the present conflict, the workers of the world have a side: military defense of semicolonial Libya against imperialism and the opposition forces, which are acting on the imperialists’ behalf.”
For Marxists, military defense of Libya against the imperialists does not imply the slightest political support to Qaddafi’s bloody capitalist rule. It is necessary to oppose every military occupation and attack waged by the imperialists to further their domination of the planet. Every setback they suffer weakens the class enemy of the world proletariat and assists the struggles of working people and the oppressed. It is the proletariat in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in North Africa and the Near East that has the potential social power and class interest to lead all of the impoverished and oppressed in socialist revolution against all the murderous regimes of the region. Revolutionary workers parties must be built that will link the fight for socialist federations of North Africa and the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist centers.
Imperialist Terror and Intrigue
A Libyan government spokesman denounced the latest attack on Tripoli as “an act of terrorism, an act worthy of mafia gangs not governments.” The imperialist gangsters made clear early on that their intent was to oust Qaddafi one way or another. A joint letter issued on April 15 by Barack Obama, British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy declared that any outcome short of Qaddafi’s removal would be an “unconscionable betrayal.” Every offer of a cease-fire from Qaddafi has been met with flat rejection. As if to hammer home this point, today’s bombing attack laid waste to the building where South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and two other African presidents held talks with Qaddafi earlier this month to try to work out a peace deal!
For all their overwhelming military might, the imperialist powers are between a rock and a hard place when dealing with Libya, particularly as the U.S. is mired in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Libyan opposition forces are a motley crew with no unified command, and the Western powers themselves are far from united on where to take this, reflecting their divergent interests.
Germany abstained on the March UN Security Council vote and withdrew its ships from the NATO mission enforcing the arms embargo on Libya. More recently, it volunteered troops for a proposed 1,000-strong combat force approved by the European Union (EU) on April 1 whose mission, if called upon by the UN, would ostensibly be for “humanitarian assistance” for the western port city of Misurata. What the imperialists have done in Misurata—besides helping lay waste to it—is to make a show of ferrying several thousand migrant workers out of the besieged city to Benghazi. But such concern for the desperate plight of North African refugees dries up the moment they make it to the shores of Europe, where a renewed border clampdown is under way. The International Communist League says: Down with racist “Fortress Europe”! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
As Britain, France and Italy were rushing military officers to Benghazi, the Financial Times (22 April) reported that a senior British Ministry of Defense official dismissed the possibility of ground forces under EU command being placed in Libya. Paris, which has been flexing its military muscle in Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa, continues to voice support for the EU plan. In the London Guardian (19 April), Simon Tisdall plainly laid out the situation:
“Britain is now publicly doing what it expressly said it would not do when the no-fly intervention began: putting boots on the ground in Libya. France is taking similar action . Escalation is in the air—and on the ground. The EU is discussing what it says is an approved ‘concept of operations’ for sending European troops to Libya to protect refugees and humanitarian relief efforts. Nato strike aircraft, unsuited to killing alleyway snipers, are instead widening their target range to include Gaddafi’s communication lines and his home town of Sirte. And off the record, nobody bothers to deny that British and other special forces are already operating in theatre.”
The British Independent (20 April) described the British advisers as “a team hand-picked for their track records in their specialist fields,” including “one of the most battle-hardened commanders in the British Army, with extensive experience of combat in Afghanistan.” However they are dressed up, these trained killers clearly are no advance team for the Red Cross—and neither are their French or Italian counterparts. One historical example of the havoc caused by such agents is the mid 1960s civil war in Yemen, the southern part of which had a longstanding British presence. Between 1963 and 1967, a contingent of no more than 50 British mercenaries, mostly veteran officers, trained royalist forces and planned ambushes in the course of a civil war fought against Yemeni republicans backed by the Egyptian army of Gamal Abdel Nasser. In this period, over 20,000 of Nasser’s troops were killed, as against 5,000 on the other side.
Reformists Dance to Imperialists’ Tune
The Libyan opposition forces never made a secret of their desire for imperialist intervention to back up their drive to oust Qaddafi. As to be expected, the capitalist media in the U.S. and elsewhere spewed pages of unsubstantiated reports of massacres of civilians by the Qaddafi regime. Qaddafi’s opponents—monarchists, disaffected tribal groups, regime defectors and others (some of them recipients of CIA funding)—were portrayed as the Libyan component of the “Arab Spring.” Following suit, self-styled “socialists”—from the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France and the British Socialist Workers Party to the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S.—early on became cheerleaders for the Libyan opposition.
Just two days before the imperialists began their bombing, the ISO’s Socialist Worker (17 March) featured an article on its Web site headlined “Qaddafi’s Barbaric War on the Uprising” that enthused over the Libyan “rebellion” as “by far the broadest and deepest” challenge ever to the regime. Through the looking glass, as it were, the ISO informed us that the U.S. & Co. might intervene militarily “when the uprising was winning as an excuse to squelch dissent and confront the tide of revolution in the Arab world.” To be sure, Qaddafi’s bourgeois dictatorship has never shown much restraint in putting down any challenges to its rule. But anyone could see that in the current conflict the imperialists were backing up the motley opposition forces aiming to drive out Qaddafi. Indeed, the bombing began when it was clear they were losing. At that point, the ISO was forced to engage in some cover-up, admitting, for example, that the National Salvation Front—a component of the opposition—had long been a CIA asset.
In covering its tracks, the ISO actually provided a service by posting on its Web site a Boston Globe (14 April) op-ed piece by University of Texas professor Alan Kuperman, who points out that “President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya.” Kuperman notes that if Qaddafi were “indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties,” but data released by Human Rights Watch indicates that less than 3 percent of the wounded in Misurata were women. He continues: “By emboldening rebellion, US interference has prolonged Libya’s civil war and the resultant suffering of innocents.”
We will not hold our breath waiting for the ISO to cop to its own “exaggerations” in service to the Commander-in-Chief. As for its call “Victory to the Arab Revolutions,” which the ISO emblazoned on a banner at an April 9 antiwar protest in New York City, this is but an expression of the bourgeois nationalism the ISO promotes that serves to bind the exploited and oppressed to the capitalist ruling classes of the Near East and North Africa. In Egypt, that slogan translates into ostensible socialists pandering to the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood and reinforcing deadly illusions in the military as the “friend of the people.” In Libya, it means apologizing for an opposition whose wagon is directly hitched to the imperialists. At the NYC protest, the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club raised a program of class struggle against the imperialists, with a banner reading: “Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attacks! Break with the Democrats! Build a Workers Party That Fights for Socialist Revolution!”
The Workers World Party (WWP) opposed the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya from the start. But it did so as champions of the nationalist Qaddafi dictatorship, which has long presented its brutal rule as “anti-imperialist.” In the 1980s, the country was high on the imperialists’ hit list mainly because it was a military client of the former Soviet Union. But the regime subsequently sought to make its peace with the U.S., as seen in its collaboration with the imperialists in their “war on terror.”
In the context of the current wars, the WWP’s International Action Center and the ISO have joined hands with various liberal pacifist groups in the United National Antiwar Committee (UNAC), which called the NYC protest and one the next day in the Bay Area. Calling to “bring the troops home now” from Afghanistan and Iraq, UNAC raised the timeworn appeal for money for jobs and education, not war. At an earlier NYC protest, the ANSWER coalition run by the WWP’s cousins in the Party for Socialism and Liberation rendered this appeal as “Money for jobs and education—not for war and occupation.”
The role of all of these reformists is to hide the reality that imperialist war is a necessary part of the same capitalist system that grinds down the working class, black people, immigrants and most everybody else at home. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin taught, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, marked by the concentration, domination and export of finance capital. In their insatiable drive for profit, the imperialist bourgeoisies exploit the world’s backward countries for raw materials, cheap labor and new markets. At the dawn of the modern imperialist epoch in the late 19th century, this exploitation was accomplished largely through direct colonial occupation and territorial annexation. Today, almost every last Third World country has won formal independence but remains subordinated to the imperialist powers, with the exception of the deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos.
The peoples of Libya are no strangers to the ravages of imperialism. The Turko-Italian war of 1911, in which thousands of Arabs were butchered, was a conflict over the possession of what would become Libya. That conflict in turn set off a 20-year resistance struggle against the Italian imperialists, who dropped poison gas on civilians and imprisoned more than 100,000 in concentration camps. After World War II, during which both Axis and Allied forces wreaked havoc on the country and its people, the imperialists patched together the state of Libya, replacing Italian rule with a British-imposed monarchy. That monarchy was in turn deposed in 1969 by the Free Officers’ Movement that installed Qaddafi in power.
Ever since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the U.S. and other dominant capitalist countries have felt less constraint in carrying out their military adventures abroad. Today, with the capitalist world still mired in an economic crisis, those military attacks are combined with a concerted campaign against unions and the wage and benefit gains workers have won through struggle. Such evils are endemic to the system of capitalism in its decay. The only way out is the one blazed by the workers revolution of October 1917 led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party. The International Communist League is dedicated to building workers parties of the Bolshevik type that can infuse the proletariat with an understanding of its historic task of overturning the imperialist order and reorganizing society worldwide on an egalitarian socialist basis.