Since the demise of the last great counterforce – the Soviet Union – the US and its allies have used their domination of all major sources of information to posture their many aggressions as altruistic efforts to secure stability, peace, democratic change and support for human rights.
Of course there is nothing new in this posture. Since the birth of imperialism, powerful developed countries have striven to shape the world in such a way that it benefits their economic and geo-political interests. They have sought to explain these interventions by offering transparent, but morally seductive, accounts of their motives. From the “civilizing” mission of British imperialism through the rabidly anti-Communist demonology of US administrations, imperialists have sought to mold the world in a way that best advances the narrow interests of their national bourgeoisie, especially its supra-national interests.
What is new is the incredible gullibility of so many to swallow the lame justifications for aggression against weaker, more vulnerable countries. When you slather great power intervention with noble-sounding homage to democracy and human rights, it remains imperialism. When powerful countries use their resources to fashion the world – regardless of their pretended motives – the result never serves either democracy or the interests of the subjected peoples.
I have in mind, of course, Libya.
While the media assiduously portrays the Libyan civil war as a popular rising and part of the so-called “Arab Spring,” they calculatedly avoid the obvious differences. Unlike the mass risings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and some other Middle Eastern countries, the opposition to the Gaddafi government quickly took the form of an armed uprising. Within a month, a shadowy alternative government and armed resistance was established. In less than another month, US and NATO intervention occurred, sanctioned by a hasty UN resolution ostensibly passed to “protect innocent civilians” with a vigilant umbrella of air power, a “no-fly zone.”
Despite the pretext of the resolution, NATO intervention has been decisive in determining the outcome of the civil war. Air Power, arms, advisers and covert operations have wholly shaped every engagement, as well as terrorizing the Gaddafi loyalists. In addition, Qatar, Jordan, and the Emirates have supplied resources to the anti-Gaddafi cause, which certainly include advisors and might well involve combatants. What may have begun as an expression of political opposition was quickly transformed into a military action fronted by a surrogate regime and its rag-tag military, all serving the interests of the leading NATO countries.
The media portrays the Gaddafi government as Satin incarnate. This characterization is most agreeable to those in the West who trust no one but white guys in business suits. But even many of the left and most liberals fall prey to their own cultural biases by seeing Colonel Gaddafi as alien and unpredictable, without any reference point to the culture or social context from which he sprang. They are much more comfortable with “rebels” in Nike shoes and Western T-shirts.
But the issue is not whether Gaddafi is a good guy or bad guy, as simple minds in the West so often characterize conflicts. I confess that I know far too little about conditions in Libya, its history and its political life. I’m confident that pundits like Juan Cole or Stephen Zunes who have jumped out emphatically in support of NATO’s “humanitarian mission” know little more beyond uncritical internet research, anecdotes and hunches. The real issue is whether or not non-Libyans should have a say or, more urgently, a hand, in determining the fate of this North African country. Surely, those with the most at stake, those living in Tripoli, Benghazi and other cities or villages in Libya are both best equipped and most deserving to decide these matters without the eager “helping hand” of NATO.
This, of course, is the principle of self-determination enshrined in the United Nations charter and declarations of rights, a principle that has been shamefully abused since the post-Soviet domination of the UN by the US and its allies.
Self-determination is also a guiding principle, a core element, in the anti-imperialist posture. Anti-imperialists reject any actions or policies that restrain a people from determining their own course of action. But anti-imperialism is much more. It is also to confront and resist those great powers that overtly or covertly shape the fate of weaker nations for their own economic and political interests. For those living in those great powers – in this case, the US and other NATO countries – it is a special duty to vigorously and militantly support and advocate for the victims. The ideological softness fostered since the disappearance of a principled socialist bloc has sown confusion, luring many to side with imperialism in the several great-power encroachments and wars contrived since that time. The Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and many other areas have experienced imperialist meddling, even military actions, all under the banner of human rights and democracy.
Blindness to imperial maneuvers produced little outcry when the G-8 countries – the primary imperialist countries – pledged $40 billion in “aid” for the “Arab Spring” countries in late May of this year. While few details were offered, the G-8 leaders stressed economic and social “reforms,” “transparency” and private sector development, all code words for fostering regimes amicable to imperialist penetration.
To Egypt’s credit, it emphatically turned down a US offer to supply the newly liberated people with $165 million to support “democratic and economic development” through the stealth imperialist agency, USAID. Egyptian officials were stunned when Hilary Clinton announced that these funds would come from existing aid programs and were to be administered directly by USAID and without the consent or involvement of Egyptian representatives. Egyptians wisely saw this as US interference in their internal affairs in order to influence the course of its ongoing revolutionary process.
On the Libyan question, skeptics point to the cozy relations Gaddafi has enjoyed with the West since 2003 as counter to the claim that the US and NATO are operating out of imperial hostility. Further, they cite economic ties as erasing any possible self-interestedness – energy resources, for example – that would motivate imperialist aggression.
For sure, recent releases from Wikileaks and other sources demonstrate warm, bilateral relations between US officials and Gaddafi right up to the January events. Even closer ties are now known between Libyan officials and the CIA. But this only demonstrates incredible hypocrisy on the part of the aggressors.
Even more revealing of imperial cynicism is the strange story of the rebels’ military commander, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj. In a recent AP story, Belhaj is identified as a CIA target swept off the streets of Bangkok in 2004 by the CIA, tortured, and rendered to Libya where he was imprisoned by pre-arrangement with Libyan authorities. The fact that Belhaj -- labeled a “terrorist” only a few years ago -- is now acceptable to the West as the principal military leader of the anti-Gaddafi forces seems to cause no discomfort.
But do the US and its NATO powers have an economic interest in seeing Gaddafi removed from power in Libya?
Contrary to the skeptics, the NATO aggressors have a major and telling interest in seeing Gaddafi removed. In a little noticed article in the back pages of the April 15, 2011 Wall Street Journal, author Guy Chazan lays out the case for the major oil companies in seeking Gaddafi’s departure (For West’s Oil Firms, No Love Lost in Libya). Chazan notes that foreign companies enthusiastically “poured in” to Libya after 2003; he cites a major player: “Libya was very fashionable… [e]veryone saw it as a great opportunity.”
But despite some major early deals, things turned sour. “Under a stringent new system known as EPSA-4, the regime judged companies’ bids on how large a share of future production they would let Libya have. Winners routinely promised more than 90% of their oil output to Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corp., or NOC.”
In addition, Libya kept its “crown jewels”—the onshore oil fields producing most of its oil – in the hands of state-owned companies. In 2007, even long engaged “friendly” companies were made to renegotiate their contracts to conform to EPSA-4. Foreign companies were forced to hire Libyans for jobs, including top managers.
One big loser was Italian oil firm, Eni SpA, which had to pay $1 billion to extend its contract with the Libyan government. Even more painfully, the Libyans reduced Eni’s share of production from 35-50% to a mere 12%. It’s no wonder that the Italian government was the most enthusiastic supporter of the NATO aggression. Nor is it anything more than a bitter irony that Eni CEO Paulo Scaroni pronounced the NATO assault on Gaddafi’s government “a lucky outcome.”
Chazan reports that “A clutch of companies left Libya as their five-year contracts began to expire, among them Chevron Corporation, BG Group PLC, and Australia’s Woodside Petroleum LTD.”
No doubt they are now eager to return with a more favorable regime on the verge of taking power under NATO’s protective arm.
In the last week of August, Eni SpA signed a contract with the “interim” government of Libya to fulfill all of the natural gas and petroleum needs of the Libyan people, a suitable reward for the fulsome efforts of Italian imperialism. No one in the capitalist media saw this naked payoff as shameless.
When the “friends of Libya” conference convened in Paris on September 1, 2011, the 63 countries representing themselves as “friends” spoiled their celebration by feuding over the disposition of the Libyan oil resources. “French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he thought it would only be reasonable if French companies benefited from preferential access to Libyan contracts, given that Paris, together with the UK, led the foreign military offensive in Libya”, as reported in The Wall Street Journal (Amid Harmony on Libya, a Spat Over Its Oil, 9-2-2011). So now the scramble for Libyan oil begins.
Convincing some that NATO intervention in Libya was an act of imperialist aggression may well be a hopeless task. Many are blind to capitalist motives, just as they are ignorant of historical patterns. Yet, imperialist aggression continues as blatantly and arrogantly as it has for well over a hundred years.
V.I. Lenin, writing in 1900 of the naked aggression against China by the “Great Powers,” presages the imperialism of 2011:
And now the European capitalists have placed their rapacious paws upon China, and almost the first to do so was the Russian Government, which now so loudly proclaims its “disinterestedness.” It “disinterestedly” took Port Arthur away from China and began to build a railway to Manchuria under the protection of Russian troops. One after another, the European governments began feverishly to loot, or, as they put it, to “rent,” Chinese territory, giving good grounds for the talk of the partition of China. If we are to call things by their right names, we must say that the European governments (the Russian Government among the very first) have already started to partition China. However, they have not begun this partitioning openly, but stealthily, like thieves. They began to rob China as ghouls rob corpses, and when the seeming corpse attempted to resist, they flung themselves upon it like savage beasts, burning down whole villages, shooting, bayonetting, and drowning in the Amur River unarmed inhabitants, their wives, and their children. And all these Christian exploits are accompanied by howls against the Chinese barbarians who dared to raise their hands against the civilised Europeans…
How is our government’s senseless policy in China to be explained? Who benefits by it? The benefit goes to a handful of capitalist magnates who carry on trade with China, to a handful of factory owners who manufacture goods for the Asian market, to a handful of contractors who are now piling up huge profits on urgent war orders (factories producing war equipment, supplies for the troops, etc., are now operating at full capacity and are engaging hundreds of new workers). In the interests of this handful of capitalists and bureaucratic scoundrels, our government unhesitatingly sacrifices the interests of the entire people. And in this case, as always, the autocratic tsarist government has proved itself to be a government of irresponsible bureaucrats servilely cringing before the capitalist magnates and nobles. (The Chinese War)
That was the ugly face of imperialism in China, this is the ugly face of imperialism in Libya today.