Friday, June 17, 2011

NATO Has Already Lost In Libya

I'm certainly not one to believe that imperialist agendas, hideous in life, won't rise zombie-like from the grave. The present air war by NATO to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is proof enough of that. The failure of NATO in Afghanistan, after ten years, to defeat the ragtag guerilla forces of the Taliban was surely more than enough proof that the cold war alliance was both American sock-puppet and a paper tiger. Heck, even the outgoing US Defence Secretary thinks so, saying that NATO has a "dim, if not dismal" future in his final policy speech.

And, yet, NATO managed to rouse its sickly self to attack Libya. First of all, if anyone has any illusions that NATO has any interest in Arab democracy, I would point to the fact that the west has supported every dictator in the region, no matter how brutal. They continue to support the Saudi monarchy that is so repressive it can't even bring itself to let women drive cars. The US gave Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak close to $3 billion every single year - not for economic aid or food or to help build schools - but directly to the security apparatus that beat and tortured any democratic movements that dared to show their face in public.

No, the only reason that NATO is in Libya is the attempt to get ahead of the wave of revolutions, the redirect and control them with an eye to turning to the advantage of the US and its allies. They saw the upheavals in unreliable allies like Libya and ostensible enemies like Syria as an opportunity to replace those regimes with ones that would be more pliant to western wishes and corporate control - as well as to opening space for Israel, widely despised as a colonial usurper, oppressor and racist state. Meantime, they have bent their efforts to sparing as much of the dictatorships that are America's consistent allies, like Bahrain and, up to the last minute, Yemen.

Libya's embattled uprising seemed a perfect opportunity, with memories of the demonization of Gaddafi still strong in the western mind from the 80s and early 90s. And the uprising's "official" organs very quickly came to be dominated by regime defectors who, only the day before, were happily repressing the Libya people as part of the Gaddafi regime. This domination was ensured with air support from the west and money from the Gulf dictatorships, including the enlightened despotism in Qatar.

And yet, this attempt to subvert the revolutions through military intervention is already a dismal failure. Even if, some months from now, Gaddafi is defeated and the Transitional National Council takes power with NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council's blessing, what movement in the middle east is going to want the kind of "help" that has been visited upon Libya. It will take years of rebuilding to repair the infrastructure destroyed by NATO bombs. And people will look to Tunisia and Egypt and see revolutions that proceeded without having to disintegrate into civil war. Even in Yemen, where Saleh has held on most tenaciously, the destruction and death has been at a much more modest level than in Libya.

The proof of this wariness is clear from Syria where the opposition movement has been clear that it has no interest in NATO "help" in overthrowing Assad. In fact, while Assad is no less entrenched than Gaddafi and civil society no less truncated by the dictatorship, the tenacity and bravery of the movement is clearly eroding the regime and its military apparatus bit by bit. And the movement isn't under the control of opportunist former regime figures but, rather, local coordinating committees that have real popular support and participation.

It's likely true, as commentators like Pepe Escobar have argued, that the Saudi regime is funnelling money to friendly Sunni groups in Syria to strengthen the hand of sectarian opposition to the Allawite (Shia) Assad's control of Syria. But this is not the driving nor dominant force in the Syrian movement that is marked by slogans calling for inter-faith, regional and ethnic solidarity.

The result is that NATO faces a lose-lose situation in Libya. The possibility of appearing as an attractive alternative for the restive populations of North Africa and the Middle East has been dissipated by the failure to win a clear and quick victory in Libya. NATO's political credibility has also been undermined by the murderous and repressive actions of Israel against the Palestinian Arab population over which it rules with carte blanche by the Americans. And, yet, if NATO pulls out of Libya it will face an even bigger defeat than the one ever looming in Afghanistan: Libya is closer to Italy than Toronto is to Buffalo, New York. If NATO can't win a war in its own backyard what good is it? This will be compounded if the Syrians overthrow their regime without "help" from NATO.

With the Egyptian revolt spreading to Greece and Spain, it's quite possible that the debacle in Libya will turn what western leaders thought was an opportunity into further crisis. And that is good news for the Arab people of the Middle East and the cause of democracy.

Defiant Gaddafi vows to defeat NATO - Africa - Al Jazeera English
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