As PN goes to press, the airwaves are filled with slightly-troubled self-congratulation at the death of Muammar Gaddafi, former ruler of Libya. As the retrospectives begin, there is one fact that is undeniable. While it is commonly said that this NATO military action was authorised by the UN, security council resolution 1973 only actually authorised military action (a) to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya (paragraph 8) and (b) “to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack” (paragraph 4).
What NATO actually did, in March, was mount a military campaign in support of the anti-Gaddafi rebels, immediately and repeatedly striking Gaddafi’s personal compound in the Libyan capital Tripoli, among other actions unrelated to the no-fly zone or the protection of civilians under the threat of attack.
NATO offered itself as a strategic strike force, as close air support for the rebel ground offensives, and as the provider of the equipment, weapons and training that may have turned the tide of the war.
As always, the great powers chose to interpret the UN authorisation as they saw fit, and pursued victory for their favoured clients, blocking possible negotiated solutions to the conflict (see PN 2533).
After the Second World War, there were sharp struggles in many European nations between local anti-fascist resistance movements and the (US/UK-sponsored) governments-in-exile that arrived to take control.
We see something similar in Libya today. Alongside friction between secularists and fundamentalists, between tribes, and between rural and urban folk, there is a complex struggle between the local committees and militias (that actually govern much of Libya and that carried out much of the fighting) and the national transitional council (NTC).
After the Second World War, Britain helped exile governments in France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere to disarm and dissolve their politically-radical local anti-fascist resistance movements. In Libya today, a similar process is taking place. For example, the NTC is attempting to dissolve the neighbourhood-based Tripoli revolution council and impose the rule of the externally-constructed Tripoli military council.
In postwar France, Greece and Italy and elsewhere, the returning exile governments provoked revulsion by their willingness to accept figures who had collaborated with fascism into the new/old power structures. Something similar is happening in Libya – indeed many members of the NTC were themselves members of Gadaffi’s government not long ago. Emad Almbsoot, 31, an anti-Gadaffi activist and engineer in Benghazi, said in the Washington Post on 19 October: “They [the NTC] killed Gaddafi’s regime, but Gaddafi’s culture, Gaddafi’s mentality, is still in their mind.... they don’t listen. If they keep doing like this, ignoring the people’s demands, I think they will lead Libya into civil war.”
Anti-Gadaffi rapper MC Swat, 23, also criticised the new bosses, saying: “The revolution has been stolen from the public.”