04/26/2011, 00.00
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The war in Libya, another Vietnam

by Maurizio d'Orlando
The military escalation appears to be going beyond the initial UN mandate. Appeals by the Pope and the bishop of Tripoli to give diplomacy rather than weapons a chance have been ignored. The war between Libyan rebels and Italy (in the early part of the 20th century) lasted about 20 years. The military intervention marks the end of the Peace of Westphalia as well as Western democracy.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The ghost of another Vietnam is haunting the Mediterranean. What a month ago was still called a “humanitarian action” to save Libyans from Gaddafi’s violence has become a war. Despite appeals by Benedict XVI (on Easter Sunday for instance) in favour of diplomacy against the use of weapons, Italy has opted for escalation, agreeing to bomb “targets in Libya”. A few days ago, the United States approved the use of drones against military objectives (the same drones that kill civilians in Pakistan).

The turning point came on 20 April, when the Defence ministers of Great Britain and Italy decided to send ten military instructors each to train rebels Libya. They would join those already officially deployed in the North African country by France after Paris recognised in March the Benghazi-based Libyan National Council, the political body representing Libyan rebels, as the sole governing authority of Libya. Italian and British instructors will thus link up with French and UK Special Forces already unofficially in the country.

The decision was taken the day before, 19 April, when Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa was summoned to Washington for talks with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. The decision represents a turning point in the war in Libya. It comes ahead of Eufor Libya, officially an operation that would see land troops deployed to Libya to establish a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the city of Misrata, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said. The European action is on stand-by, waiting for a formal request from the United Nations or the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), he added.

The Libyan conflict is still presented as a humanitarian action even though it is not clear how humanitarian it actually is. So far, no evidence of a humanitarian crisis has presented despite the initial propaganda campaign launched by some media and TV networks. Indeed, in the first weeks of the war, some reports claimed that up to 10,000 people had been killed. Al-Jazeera (the Qatar-based Islamic satellite network) said that Libyan planes had bombed civilians protesting against the government. This report, which later turned out to be false, gave the UN Security Council the pretext to pass Resolution 1973, which was adopted without China or Russia exercising their veto power. Based on the resolution, the United Nations authorised member nations to institute a Libyan no-fly zone to stop planes loyal to the Tripoli government from taking off to crush the uprising.

The BBC, once highly regarded as an independence voice, adapted to the needs of war propaganda. In order to justify the use of ground troops, it claimed that troops loyal to Gaddafi used cluster bombs against civilians in Misrata, a heinous action against the population. Even though such action does not constitute a “war crime” because it was not used against enemy territory, it was powerful enough to give credence to the “humanitarian” arguments for military action.

The government in Tripoli easily dismissed the claim. A Libyan official said that not only  they are not criminals who use cluster bombs against civilians, but they are certainly not that stupid. Cluster bombs leave traces for days and months, something which the BBC did not show. It would also be stupid to give those bombing Libya such a propaganda tool.

Likewise, the situation in Misrata appears different from what is shown in many media. The city’s hospitals report that the number of women with war-related injuries constitutes only 3 per cent of the total, which suggests that most of those wounded are armed fighters, not civilians.

As for the United Nations, its turnaround verges on hypocrisy. Until a few months ago, it viewed Gaddafi’s Libya as one of the best nations in Africa in terms of wealth distribution, education, and health care.

What justifies a military humanitarian intervention? We may never find out, as we did not in the case of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, ostensibly the official motive for the invasion of Iraq.

Of course, Gaddafi is not blameless or beyond criticism. However, what started in Libya was not a peaceful mass protest, but an armed uprising or an attempted secession that no state can allow if it wants to preserve its national independence and sovereignty. Cracking down on military sedition or secession entails the use of force. Gaddafi may not be Abraham Lincoln, but the United States did fight a civil war, not over slavery since some northern states still allowed slavery but over the secession of southern (Confederate) states (not all of them slave-owning).

In Gaddafi’s case, when clashes had just started and it was not yet clear what was happening, an international warrant for his arrest had already been issued for “crimes against humanity”. NATO announced that Gaddafi had to go, which is the goal of the war. Where he would go, no one knows. Perhaps, those who had instigated and pushed for an insurrection hoped it would be over quickly with Gaddafi’s departure or capture. This did not happen. What was supposed to be a quick victory has instead turned into a civil war, caused, funded and armed by outside forces.

This “humanitarian” intervention in Libya is in fact a war, a neo-colonial war by any definition. According to Bloomberg,[1] the first thing the rebels did after their uprising was to set up a central bank and the Libyan Oil Company in Benghazi.

Anyone embarking on a war must consider its cost and duration. Like the “spontaneous” insurrections in Egypt and Tunisia, Franco-British air strikes against Libya were planned well ahead, as early as 2 November of last year, when “France and Great Britain signed an unprecedented agreement on defence and security.” [2] The exercise, called “Southern Mistral 2011”, included a response against a dictatorship code-named Southland ostensibly attacking France’s national interests, a not-so-veiled reference to Libya. Probably, decision-makers had realised that, unlike Ben Ali and of Hosni Mubarak, Gaddafi had his own political agenda and would not easily step aside. Perhaps they thought that a few bombs might remove him. Instead, it appears that Europe’s arsenals are running low on bombs whilst Gaddafi is still there.

Since the start of the conflict, Mgr Giovanni Martinelli, bishop of Tripoli, called for talks, but neither NATO nor the Benghazi-based Libyan National Council showed any interest in them. We are, apparently, back to the Great War, and the Franco-British Entente Cordiale of 1904.

In 1914, the French and the British thought that the war would be short, but just a few months later, ammunitions had to be imported from the United States. In 1917, the Western allies, who by then had run out of men as well as ammunitions, turned down a peace proposal by Charles I of Austria, later beatified by John Paul II. On that occasion, no one listened to the Church nor heeded Pope Benedict XV’s pleas against the “useless massacre”. After that, a million US soldiers arrived in Europe and the Western allies had their victory unsullied by any compromises. At the same time though, the Bolshevik Revolution broke out in Russia, plunging the country into 73 years of Soviet dictatorship that cost 60 to 80 million people at home, and many more around the world, especially in China.

Unlike 1917, the United States is for now against sending ground troops. The Europeans will thus have to act on their own. Italy’s colonial experience shows that they will have to do it for a long time. After Italy invaded the country in 1911, Libyan resistance lasted about 20 years.

Libya thus appears to herald another guerrilla war, the way Vietnam was for the United States. Sending instructors brings back ominous memories, suggesting that Europe might have found its own Vietnam. At the start, the war in the Southeast Asian nation was low key but then things began escalating. President Kennedy’s initial deployment of 900 military instructors in 1961 jumped to 11,000 by 1962. At its peak, US troop deployment in 1969 was 543,000.

The prospect that Islamist and extremist (Salafis and al-Qaeda) leaders could replace Nasserite nationalist Arab leaders (Hosni Mubarak, Gaddafi and Ben Ali) in the Mediterranean and the Arab world is a source of real concern. If that should pass, a world wide clash clash between secularist and Islamist fronts would be a real possibility.

What is also of great concern is the fact that the military involvement in Libya is not only a neo-colonial war, but also the death warrant for the era that began with the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. Thus, United Nations Resolutions 1970 and 1973 mark the end of the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs (based on the principle ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’) of an internationally recognised sovereign and independent nation. A world directory or government and a world central bank thus appear to be real possibilities. If this were the case, the war in Libya would mean the end of Western democracy and the system that developed in the past 300-400 years.



[1] See Bill Varner, “Libyan Rebel Council Forms Oil Company to Replace Qaddafi’s,” in Bloomberg, 21 March 2011.

[2]  See Southern Mistral Scenario, by Air Defence and Air Operations Command, 4 March 2011.



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