Joe Thorne looks at the evidence, and draws some conclusions
The calamity of a people is beneficial to others
Libyan Proverb 
The NATO powers are not intervening in Syria or Bahrain, where pro-democracy movements are also subject to brutal suppression. They did not intervene in Gaza during Cast Lead, or in Tamil Eelam during the offensive which wiped out thousands of Tamils. While millions of dollars are spent on cruise missiles and aerial bombing, UNICEF, the same powers in their guise as protectors of children, say they are worried that because of insufficient resources to deal with famine “65,000 children in Kenya alone are at acute risk of dying.” Indeed, “Britain trained and equipped some of the Libyan special forces who inflicted such horrors on cities like Misrata. Western states continue to train Saudi forces, and this may well have much the same effect.”
We don’t need to labour the point: the NATO powers are not ‘humanitarians’, their motives are not ‘humanitarian’, and what they do has nothing to do with the defence of human life. Could it be the case that their malign motives are a given, but the objective outcome of their policy may nonetheless be welcome? It was not the case in Kosovo or Iraq. The point of reminding ourselves of NATO’s hypocrisy is not just that they are hypocrites: it is to understand how the specific, very much non-humanitarian, objectives of the NATO powers will play out in their actual policy in the coming weeks, months, and years.
There are two important contexts which explain the NATO powers’ decision to intervene in Libya, but not Syria or Bahrain: oil, and the Arab Spring. With respect to oil, prior to the rebellion, Libya supplied around 2% of global oil, the 13th largest exporter worldwide. That doesn’t sound impressive, but its reserves are slightly more important, being the ninth largest in the world (the largest in Africa), and particularly high quality. Although relatively small, the knock-on price impact of a disruption of Libya’s supply could be significant – but then again, it is not clear that intervention against Gaddafi was obviously the best way to prevent that. The most active NATO powers are not those (like Ireland, Italy, Austria and Switzerland) most dependent on Libyan oil. Oil, therefore, is an important issue, but not an overwhelming one.
With respect to the Arab Spring, the dynamics are twofold. First, US imperialism is intervening in between Egypt and Tunisia to shape the direction of events, in a manner conducive to US interests. Both rebellions contain dynamics potentially harmful to US interests, including sympathy with Palestinians and opposition to neoliberal economic arrangements. Egypt is particularly important to the US, such that it has consistently been the second largest recipient of foreign aid for the last forty years or so, just behind Israel. Second, the US are involved in a reciprocal arrangement with Saudi Arabia to suppress the democratic uprising in Bahrain. Journalist Pepe Escobar, writing for the Asia Times, put it like this:
You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck between the Barack Obama administration and the House of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a “yes” vote by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya – the main rationale that led to United Nations Security Council resolution 1973. 
This said, neither side likely needed much encouragement. The US has an important naval base in Bahrain which it will want to protect. Saudi Arabia, which has a long standing relationship with the al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain, has not forgotten that Gaddafi tried to assassinate then-Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003. In this sense, it is not that NATO is hypocritical for doing nothing about Bahrain, it is that the repression in Bahrain is itself the flipside of the intervention in Libya. 
What does NATO want to achieve in Libya? They are not being particularly coy about it. A senior British diplomat told Sky News that they were planning to rebuild the “nation’s economy and society”:
Preparations for maintaining law and order, resuming oil production and the potential deployment of UN peacekeepers as ceasefire monitors have all been drafted during talks over the last month, which have also discussed how officials currently tied to Gaddafi’s regime could be integrated into an interim administration.
The potential deployment of UN peacekeepers? That should ring alarm bells: such a provision was apparently ruled out in the UN resolution which mandated the intervention. And, if the NATO powers are determined to get rid of Gaddafi wholesale, surely there would be no ceasefire to be monitored. So what are they talking about?
UN peacekeepers are not the only way international armed forces could maintain a presence on the ground – the other possibility is a US base in Libya. In early July, there was an interesting indication that ground was being prepared for this possibility in advance. The idea, mooted by Mustafa Abdel Jalil – Gaddafi’s former justice minister and head of the Transitional National Council – was that Gaddafi would be allowed to stay in Libya, albeit not at full liberty. “If he desires to stay in Libya,” Jalil suggested, “we will determine the place and it will be under international supervision. And there will be international supervision of all his movements”. Gaddafi would be “under guard in a military barracks”. In as many words: there would be a UN or NATO force on the ground in Libya after the civil war. In fact, the particular proposal appears to have been dropped for several reasons, including in the ICC warrant for Gadaffi’s arrest, and mass outcry against the idea in Benghazi. But it is still plausible that the US sees a new military base in Libya (to replace the one they lost when Gaddafi came to power) as one desirable outcome of the intervention process. Such a base would come under the aegis of AFRICOM (the African Command of the US military), which has apparently had some trouble finding hosts for its bases on the continent. 
So it looks as though either UN peacekeepers or a foreign military base may be on NATO’s agenda. What sort of role could such a force play? As far as the role of UN peacekeepers goes, it is worth turning a cursory eye to Haiti, where the blue helmets are keeping order. As we reported in the last issue of The Commune, the sort of order they are keeping is one where candidates not conducive to imperial interests are excluded from presidential elections. Just as Haiti is mainly policed by UN troops from Latin American countries, it is possible that Turkey would be enlisted to provide Muslim troops for Libya, just as it does in Afghanistan.
But what NATO wants, NATO does not necessarily get. It looks like they want boots on the ground, ideally a military base, and a regime leavened with ex-Gaddafi-regime thugs. Such an arrangement would provide a bulwark against further mass radicalism in the region and facilitate the imposition of a neo-liberal regime conducive to Western interests, oil companies in particular. However, it is far from assured that it will be possible. UN resolution 1973, which authorises the intervention, “exclud[es] a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. Other parts of the resolution have been summarily broken however: NATO is secretly permitting rebel flights to carry troops between East and West (which violates the No Fly Zone), and France (at least) has been supplying weapons directly to rebels (which violates the arms embargo). Evidently, they can break the terms of their own resolution, as well as the domestic laws of their own countries, if they want to.
A more major problem is the rebel Libyans themselves. Contrary to the perceptions of many Western leftists, Libyans are not stupid. They are well aware that NATO has its own interests. Whenever Libyans are asked what they think that NATO wants, and what that will mean, their answers tend to be a mix of “even if they take all the oil, it’ll still have been worth it for us”, and “we won’t let them”. They see the protests which took place against the proposal to allow Gaddafi to stay in Libya a harbinger of the resistance which will greet any attempt to implant foreign troops on Libyan soil. However, such a development is very far from guaranteed, especially if the war drags on, and some sort of compromise looks like the quickest route to peace.
How is NATO’s long-term strategy playing out at the moment? More or less, in the form of the managed advance of the rebels at such a slow pace it is becoming commonplace to refer to it as a stalemate. The Guardian reports from near Misrata reflect those from round the country: “rebel forces face a difficult task without sufficient firepower to make a decisive breakthrough, lacking tanks and artillery, and with Nato apparently unwilling to use its jets and attack helicopters in co-ordinated air support roles.” It’s much the same in the West. “Nato could turn this situation upside down in one day,” says a rebel commander. “It hits one tank a day and goes home. I don’t know why it does that.” “Maybe Nato has a plan,” says a rebel Colonel. “But that plan is strange.” Another: “Nato isn’t helping . . . the revolutionaries have lost confidence in Nato, it’s clear that they are serving their own interests.” This is not an individual experience: on the ground, it’s clear to rebels on every front that NATO is not helping them to win as quickly as it could do. In fact, it is letting things drag out. 
Why is it doing so? How does this relate to its objectives for post-Gadaffi Libya? How would such a strategy tend to increase the chances of a UN force, foreign-military base, pro-Western policies and “officials currently tied to Gaddafi’s regime . . . integrated into an interim administration”? One obvious answer would be that if the rebels win too quickly they will have fewer needs to make concessions to the NATO powers along the way, less need to compromise with remaining Gaddafi-regime officials, and that there will be no ceasefire to be policed. But once ordinary Libyan rebels have been worn down by months of fighting, they may be more willing to make concessions on the future of their country. In this scenario, a post-conflict neo-liberal regime stacked with former Gaddafi apparatchiks (who NATO presumably believes to be guarantors of strong – if not liberal – rule and stability) is not incidental to the current NATO strategy; it is a crucial object of it. 
The nature of such analysis is that it is somewhat speculative. We cannot know exactly what the intentions of the different NATO powers are. We cannot know how able ordinary Libyans will be to resist their predations. We cannot know if Gaddafi will hang on for many months, or if his armies will run out of petrol and fall by the end of August. We will see, in the coming months, how far developments reflect the above hypotheses. What we can say, beyond reasonable doubt, is that NATO’s plans for Libya have nothing to do with humanitarianism, and nothing to do with the interests of the Libyan working class: their interests are their own, and their strategy, at every stage, will reflect that.
The following are three separate, short essays on the situation in Libya
The Transitional National Council and Libya after Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi will go, very likely by the end of the year, perhaps by the end of the summer. What will happen then? Even if there is an outright victory by the rebel forces under the Transitional National Council, the resultant administration will hardly be revolutionary. No complete list of its members is available, apparently for security reasons. Those we do know about are a combination of defectors from Gaddafi (typically somewhat reform-minded, but conservative, and sympathetic to the “US perspective”), and those involved in the original uprising, including a number of Benghazi based lawyers.
Politically, there are differing ideologies which motivate rebels. Some (typically older) have the idea that they are on a holy mission to remove a tyrant who has squandered the chances God has given him. Others (more, in my perception) want a western-style liberal democracy –and several have spent time abroad, including in the UK. Obviously they know that our society isn’t perfect, but basic freedom of assembly, of language, to read and discuss at will, to vote, etc. – all these things are enough of a motivation. So there’s two different perspectives at work: a positively democratic one, which I think is probably the stronger, but also a more conservative one which sees the rebels as God’s agents in providing a check to tyranny – more like a typical ancien regime peasant’s view of an anti-monarchical insurrection.
There is very little evidence emerging from the ground that tribalism is a major motivating factor in the rebellion at present, although there are some exceptional cases. However, there is every possibility that tribal politics will return after the civil war is over. As Nicolas Pelham warns:
The carve-up of spoils has yet to begin. In the past, the strongman dominated; but with a more consensual politics each faction will demand its share. Oil workers will likely form unions, the army will want its reward for switching sides, and the tribes seek royalties for using their land for drilling and piping oil. They all want a greater proportion of the wealth that Qaddafi hitherto kept for himself and his allies. If any of the constituencies is dissatisfied, a central authority is likely to be too weak to prevent them from resorting to force to further their claims. Thanks, after all, to their looted caches of weapons.
The Libyan diaspora, NATO, and the left
The more conscious and radical elements amongst the Libyan rebels (the few who are neither ideologically sympathetic to NATO’s plans, nor naive enough not to understand them) decided to dance with the devil. They have gambled the future of Libya, and perhaps the future of the regional working class, on the outcome of this dance. They want nothing more radical than liberal democracy, and are willing to die in their thousands to get it. And, really, with their backs against the wall, who could blame them for trying? Whether they will end up thinking the deal worthwhile – like the many Iraqis who initially welcomed the US invasion – is another question altogether.
What do Libyans think about the attitude adopted by the left to the NATO intervention? A former convenor of Stop the War in Manchester, home to the largest Libyan diaspora community of any city in the world (around 10,000), now refuses to attend Stop the War demonstrations.
They now treat me as if I’m a neocon. The trouble is that they aren’t capable of having a debate. We don’t ask them to accept the bombing, but the problem is that they say nothing about Gaddafi. They have Gaddafi supporters waving green flags on demos. I can’t go on them now.
Another Libyan told me that the Stop the War figures have claimed that they have no choice other than to let any individual come on the demo who wishes to. He correctly pointed out to them that this was total nonsense. Apparently other Stop the War people are rolling out the usual line: it’s necessary to “keep it broad” – quasi-fascists no exception! So let’s take this as a starting point: absolute political separation from the Gaddafists, and open political condemnation of Gaddafi is necessary in principle, and failure to uphold this principle has been divisive in practice – it’s no good asking Libyans to “keep it broad” by marching alongside supporters of the tyrant who has, in many cases, driven them into exile.
A similar dynamic, albeit worse, is apparently at work in the US, where the ANSWER coalition is heavily propagandising on behalf of Gaddafi. As one (pro-intervention) Libyan American put it “There is a difference between being against intervention and standing with a murderer. I can respect if you are anti-intervention, but what I cannot respect is that you spread Qaddafi’s lies, saying he is for the Libyan people. He is not for the Libyan people!”
The economic base of the rebellion
Within Western Libya, the every-day economy is not currently organised in a capitalist way (although by no means a communist one either). Around 80% of the population have fled to refugee camps in Tunisia, and there are hardly any commercial businesses operating – perhaps a small shop selling cigarettes here and there. All food is provided by international aid organisations or imported centrally by the rebels, and distributed for free. Basics, such as petrol, are allocated centrally by the military council. Hardly anyone works for money now: all those who have stayed are staying to fight, tend to the injured, do media or humanitarian work, or simply – as in the case of many older people – to stay in solidarity with those who are doing those things.
I can’t give a complete overview over how, more generally, the rebel economy is working. My understanding is something like as follows. The National Transitional Council has created its own bank, a high-street or commercial bank rather than a central bank. Libyans who are still economically active (including, apparently, many who are living by selling capital goods such as farm animals in Tunisia) are depositing the proceeds in this bank, which is then lending this money to support the rebellion, on the basis that it will be repaid once it has won.
Meanwhile, within Western Libya, the old Libyan high-street banks are closed, except one branch which is open once a week and from which people can withdraw limited amounts of money on production of proof of identity. The bank which is operating this scheme has no way of checking anyone’s balance, so is keeping a running total of what has been ‘withdrawn’. When the banking system resurrects itself, this sum will be subtracted from people’s prior balance, and if there is a deficit they will apparently have to make it up.
Things are different in the East, where a much lower proportion of Libyans have fled. Apparently life in Benghazi functions on a more or less normal basis. In the West there is obviously no material basis for class struggle – in a real sense, Gaddafi is the main threat – and in the East it is likely that there is no subjective base for it at present. In the West, however wealthy they were before, everyone eats the same food now. It’s a war economy. The same is not necessarily true of the diaspora in Tunisia. Some drive nice cars, others are staying in refugee camps. However, I am not aware of any conflict that has followed from this.
 Transliteration of the Arabic: Masaa-yeb qoumin indah qoumin fawaa-ido. From Ahmed Ashiurakis (1978:53) Libyan Proverbs
 Escobar is hardly an objective analyst, invective being his genre of choice, but the outline conforms sufficiently well to the alignment of basic interests in the region at the moment to make it plausible that he hasn’t lied about his sources.
 If all this sounds vague, consider that the US obviously felt it worthwhile intervening to secure a friendly government in Haiti, despite the fact that there is even less to be said for the strategic importance of that country than Libya.
 “So far, AFRICOM’s push to establish itself hasn’t gone smoothly. American efforts to find a place on the continent for an AFRICOM headquarters have all ran afoul of the anti-colonial sensibilities of African governments, forcing the command to remain in Stuttgart, Germany. The very same dynamic continues to derail ongoing efforts to establish FOLs in North, South, and West Africa.” (2009) See here for more recent articles on Africom and Libya: Global Research; Common Dreams
 It is not plausible that NATO’s objective is to prevent the loss of life, nor that it is constrained by the wording of the UN resolution, for reasons described elsewhere in the article. The remaining explanation is that the US military is over-stretched at present, and there are budgetary and logistical reasons for not flying more sorties, which in turn impact on domestic politics. But obviously the US could afford to commit more resources if it really wanted to. So this explanation cannot be true if we assume that the US has a serious interest in Libya. In this connection, it is worth pointing out that it took the Western powers almost 5 months to the day from the first outbreak of the rebellion to recognise the Transitional National Council. In the past – for example, following the coup against Hugo Chavez – the US has found itself able to grant recognition to a new administration overnight. International recognition has brought access to much-needed funds. So it’s legitimate to ask – what purpose does the delay serve?
 For a while there was speculation on the left that the NATO strategy was to divide Libya in two. It has been clear for a long time that this is not on the cards, and it’s clear why: such a situation would be conducive to long-term instability, the opposite of what the NATO powers want.
 ‘Naive’ may seem a harsh term here. In conversation, diaspora Libyans tend to be far more radical: more anti-NATO, more anti- the ex-Gaddafi apparatchiks than most Libyans in Libya. They have been exposed to a political culture which has encouraged cynicism about power, and critical reflection on the honesty of even those politicians operating under a liberal democratic framework.