After the end of the East-West-conflict, the countries of the West saw themselves as winners. Subsequently, they made war – limited local wars against weaker countries – into a “normal” means of politics again. Western powers began conducting war-like actions against targets in Libya on March 19, 2011; a sea-blockade followed on March 22. On March 24, they announced that Gaddafi’s air force had been destroyed and “Phase I” of the war was completed. For “Phase II”, NATO took over command. Thus, the attempts by the African Union, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Russia and the Turkish government to act as mediators between the Libyan civil war parties and to prevent the war threatened by outside powers were forcibly thwarted.
It was an “asymmetrical” war. “The pilot of a fighter-bomber or the crew of a warship from which the Tomahawk cruise missiles are fired are beyond the reach of enemy fire. In such a situation, war loses all of the characteristics of the classical duel situation and rather resembles – to speak cynically – certain forms of pest control (Herfried Muenkler). This time, the vermin was Muammar al-Gaddafi. But, in the end, it is not (only) the rulers who die, but innocent people. Right from the start the forces of aggression had not aimed at establishing a “No-Fly-Zone” to protect the Libyan civilians, as stated in Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council of March 17, 2011, but at regime change. But this goal is not sanctioned by international law. Moreover, this war waged by the West had more innocent victims than the Western media would have us believe, and it presented a breach of international law, even if its instigators invoked UN Security Council resolutions. After the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the third war the West had waged since 2001 in the Muslim world.
Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya’s ruler since 1969, was murdered in Sirte at the end of the war. First, his convoy was bombarded by NATO-aeroplanes, and then he and his companions were seized by troops of the administration which had meanwhile been installed in Benghazi. Gaddafi suffered a head injury, was shot in the stomach and lost ever more blood until someone rammed a stick up his anus – in order for his humiliation to be complete. Eventually he died of severe blood loss. Subsequently, on October 31, 2011, NATO declared the war over and itself as the winner.
TheBerliner Zeitung (October 21, 2011) stated that Gaddafi’s murder was “a reason to celebrate” and that it was good he could not be taken to court: “Gaddafi in prison and on trial certainly would not have missed any opportunity to go on wreaking havoc and causing confusion. If anything, he would have settled in in his role of the accused and would have used the dock as a stage for his notorious speeches. In the logic of war propaganda, moral and constitutional principles are quickly thrown overboard, if only the enemy can be defamed. It is true that this time Gaddafi was not declared Hitler’s ghost like Milosevic in the Yugoslav war or Saddam Hussein in the Iraq war, but nothing less was settled for than calling him a despot and a tyrant, which meant he did not deserve a trial.
In the Roman Empire, the chiefs of defeated peoples were led through the streets of the capital in a triumphal pageant led, in chains or in a cage, like wild animals. In the present case the ending of the war was accompanied by video pictures spread throughout the whole world of a man bleeding to death – as the great triumph of the West after the imperial war. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the West’s war against Libya “a very successful mission” and explained that it had not only been a humanitarian action but that it “served the strategic interests of the alliance” (Die Zeit, November 3, 2011). It was about oil, power and geo-politics.
Now, in international politics, the course is being set to wars against Syria and Iran. All three countries, Libya, Syria and Iran, had been blacklisted by the US government under President George W. Bush as countries whose governments and systems had to be overthrown to integrate them into the direct sphere of control of the USA or the West. Officially, Barack Obama and his administration abandoned Bush’s list of “rogue states”, but is continuing the geopolitics of “system change”.
For many decades it had been claimed that the Arab peoples were “incapable of democracy”. Since January 2011, whole populations have been rising, first in Tunisia and Egypt, then in Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. After, in the beginning of March 2011, political unrest and police intervention had also been reported from the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, this gave rise in the West to visible worries about the security of oil supplies, the stability of oil prices, of stock prices and financial markets and about a looming threat of a huge “wave of refugees”. When Saudi Arabia intervened with its army in Bahrain, where the Fifth US Fleet is headquartered, to suppress the demonstrations, the West’s reaction was one of secret consent; when Gaddafi did the same, the West resorted to war. As far as Syria is concerned, the intervention plans of Western powers have so far been checked by Russia and China having vetoed a respective resolution in the UN Security Council – pointing to the misuse of such a resolution in the case of Libya.
The people in the Arab countries demand freedom, democracy, constitutional legality and the respect of their human rights, but at the same time are also asking for work and a life of self-determination and existential security. The social and political situation can help to explain why in many Arab countries big demonstrations have taken place to overthrow the regimes. In Tunisia and Egypt, a decisive precondition for the “peaceful revolution” was that the army is an independent factor in domestic policies and – for whatever reasons – was not prepared to shoot at the demonstrators. In Libya, the government continued to control important parts of the army. Gaddafi was the first to order the army brutally to fire on sections of his own population. Units loyal to him followed his command. The presidents of Yemen and eventually Syria did the same.
Representing a strategic and not merely a symbolic connection between the upheavals in Tunisia and those in Egypt, a democratically motivated process of change in Libya after Gaddafi’s fall would have strengthened the case of the Arab revolution and improved the conditions for its further advancement. The war in Libya guaranteed that the revolutions in both its neighbouring countries remained isolated from each other, which makes it easier to channel the political conflicts in both countries to suit the wishes of the West in establishing a democratic façade behind which the old world order and property relations continue.
In their co-operation with the USA and NATO, the absolutist, pre-democratic monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have further buttressed their positions of power within the Arab world, including in Northern Africa, thus seeing to it that the revolutionary pressure is diverted in the Arab Peninsula.
In the African and Middle Eastern context, Libya had in past decades achieved a high level of social security and established a highly developed education and a comparatively modern health system available to all. From 1970, when Gaddafi took power, the population has grown in numbers from 1.9 million to 6.5 million, which means that it has more than tripled. 90 % of Libyans live in cities, with two million inhabitants in the capital of Tripoli alone and one million in Benghazi. The Human Development Index (HDI), which the UN regards as a benchmark for the degree of development of countries, is seen as indicative of the welfare enjoyed by the population of a particular country. It includes factors such as life expectancy, literacy, education, health care and pro capita income. According to this index, Libya belonged to the group of countries with a high level of development (ranking 53rd worldwide), higher in the list than the EU countries Bulgaria and Russia, so that compared to all other African and to Arab countries in the Mediterranean area it was the most highly developed. During Gaddafi’s rule, Libya had developed from one of the poorest countries in the world into the richest country of Africa.
Despite this, mass protests also took place in Libya, with protesters demanding Gaddafi step down. The reasons for this were manifold. The country was the eighth largest producer of oil in the world reaping high incomes from oil and gas production, with about 70% of the Gross Domestic Product deriving from this sector, while all other economic branches played a rather minor role. Basically, there is no domestic industry. Due to temporarily slumping oil prices on the global market, earlier programmes for industrial development were stopped and investments realised with the help of foreign workers. This made Libya a country with huge incomes from oil export and at the same time a high unemployment rate, which hit young people in particular; about 28% of the population are between 15 and 24 years old, with 30% of them being unemployed. In spite of a comparatively high level of support by the state, they not only lacked jobs but also future prospects. In this there is no difference between them and their peers in Tunisia or Egypt. The domestic political system which had developed throughout the years was authoritarian; any opposition was rigidly suppressed, and the media were controlled by the government. Again and again, there were assassinations, attempted coups and uprisings of officers who once had been Gaddafi’s comrades-in-arms, of students, fundamentalist Islamists, among them the Muslim Brothers or tribal formations, all of which were brutally put down.
Behind the façade of modernisation traditional tribal structures continued to exist. A considerable part of the state budget in Libya was allotted according to existing tribal structures, with a major part of it going to recipients in the Western part of the country with the capital of Tripoli at its centre, in which the population continued to support Gaddafi; the smaller portion flowed to the Eastern part of the country with the city of Benghazi, which was the stronghold of the rebels. Decisions about how the money was to be used were made by Gaddafi himself. Thus a system of personal dependencies was created through the chiefs of Gaddafi’s tribes who handed down the money within their tribes. Therefore the uprising against Gaddafi was regarded as that of the disadvantaged regions of the country vs. the privileged ones, that is, against those who administered this distribution.
Altogether more than 26,300 airborne operations took place; 9,600 are said to have been actual air raids. Again ammunition with depleted uranium was used, whose toxic radioactivity is particularly harmful for the civilian population and the environment. NATO claims that civilians have not been injured. But even the low numbers claimed and the sparse data bear witness to the opposite. When NATO entered the war, the number of estimated casualties amounted to about 1,000. Nadji Barakat, the last minister of health of the Gaddafi government, told the AP news agency that there had been 30,000 casualties and 50,000 injured persons (Neues Deutschland, October 27, 2011). This was a long time before cities such as Misratah, Bani Walid or Sirte were largely destroyed in the final battles of the war by NATO bombs and missiles fired from planes and by the artillery fire and heavy arms of the ground troops on both sides. Therefore the entire number of dead and injured, in particular among the civilian population, must actually be much higher. After the acts of war had ceased in November 2011, 60,000 deaths were spoken of, in February 2012 the estimated number of casualties as an immediate consequence of the war was 90,000, that is, without the victims that the continuing civil war situation have been producing.
“Gaddafi was not good, but the revolutionaries are worse”, inhabitants of the city of Sirte said to journalists from the West (www.zeit.de, March 1, 2012). The city was not only largely destroyed in attacks with heavy arms by the militias of the so-called Transitional Council but was systematically looted, including the apartments of civilians. Most inhabitants are unemployed and do not get any support. There are about 40 different militias more or less in control of the different parts of the country, and the transitional government is incapable of putting a stop to their actions. Jihadists with links to Al Qaeda are gaining ground. The shari’ah was declared the basis of the law. Black Africans who worked in the country during Gaddafi’s days are now persecuted on racist grounds. The UN is criticising the continuation of daily arbitrary arrests, torture, murder and lootings without these violations being punished (www.spiegel.de, March 2, 2012). The Eastern part of the country with its rich oil resources, the Cyrenaica, has meanwhile declared its autonomy, and other regions have followed suit. Already in January 2012, the USA moved 12,000 troops from Malta to Libya to guarantee the uninterrupted flow of oil. Combat is continually flaring up in different parts of the country, claiming new victims.
The results of the war are not democracy and human rights, but a continued and progressive deterioration of the state, accompanied by suffering, injustice and misery. The greater part of the modern urban infrastructure has been destroyed and reconstruction is taking place only very slowly. The moneys of the Libyan State Fund which were kept in Western accounts and were frozen at the outbreak of the war are being released only step by step. How the Traditional Council, which has access to these funds, will use them cannot be effectively checked. Compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, the West has not suffered any losses of its own in Libya. As far as the political and social consequences of the war are concerned, the war against Libya is like the other wars: War is not an adequate means of solving the problems and conflicts of the 21st century, but only increases the suffering and the number of victims. There is nothing to indicate that this could be any different in the case of an intervention in Syria or an attack on Iran.