Monday, August 22, 2011

Goodbye Gaddafi, Hello NATO

There will be much celebrating across Libya over the next several days even as the mop-up operations get under way. Of course, there's no guarantee that this will be over for a while. It's hard to know what kind of resistance to the rebel victory will remain - amongst regime elements and Libyan tribes that weren't allied with the rebels. But for the moment there seems to be euphoria and you can't really begrudge Libyans that excitement - their dictator has just been overthrown.

But who will replace him? That is the question that now burns in Libya. All indications are that the National Transition Council led by Mahmoud Jabril - a CIA man - will have the support of NATO in consolidating a new Libya regime. As a pre-condition to winning the military support of NATO and political recognition by NATO countries and their allies, the TNC has already agreed to maintain the central policies that had previously endeared Gaddafi to the US and Europe. Oil contracts will all be respected (though I wonder about those of China and, to a lesser extent Russia), as will treaties that make Libya the immigration gendarme of northern Africa, keeping Africans from fleeing poverty and war.

Some will want to turn the enthusiasm for the deposing of Gaddafi into a picture of revolution and liberation - a further deepening of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. But this is to miss some fundamentally different dynamics. Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt were supported by imperialism until the end. Now, of course, the US is in favour of democracy in Egypt - or rather, supports the Egyptian military council that runs the country in the name of future democracy (while jailing pro-democracy activists, trade unionists, and others). In Libya, a section of the ruling class - ironically, the one most aligned with Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam - broke from the regime early. No doubt this was rooted in the more fractious and regionalized Libyan context, whereas in Egypt tribalism plays almost no part in politics. But it mean that before the revolution could establish independent organizations the initiative was seized by opportunists, Gaddafi insiders and, ultimately, CIA/NATO bagmen.

The independent initiative of the early days was snuffed out as the revolution was subordinated to the command structures of the TNC and, in the west, those of Misurata. Even here some on the left have tried to suggest that the rivalry between Tripolitania-based Misurata and Cyrenaica-based Benghazi has some political basis, that perhaps the Misurata leadership have asserted their independence from the TNC based upon some principled opposition to imperialism or cronyism. But this is without any evidence. It is more likely part of the emerging dynamic of regional and tribal power-brokering. Certainly, the leadership in Misurata were happy to accept NATO advisors and air support. There were no complaints about the conditions imposed by NATO.

All of this means that the likely course of action now will be that a NATO-brokered agreement, using the carrot of frozen Gaddafi funds and market access along with the stick of being excluded, will establish a unified state under the control of a national unity government of various groups. If they don't fall out - as has already been happening to a certain extent, evidenced by the assassination of rebel military commander Younis - they will turn their attention to disarming the irregular militias or incorporating them into the military command structure. The norms of daily life will be resumed as quickly as possible and the state structure - minus some of the authoritarian police apparatus, which is not an insignificant thing - will remain largely intact. The TNC will continue the program of privatizations that Gaddafi had already started and will probably move to implement a more even distribution of resources across the country (Cyrenaica suffered discrimination in this regard under Gaddafi). I expect that the US military will quietly move their African Command (Africom) from West Germany to Libya now that they have a regime that is in their debt. That is an advance for imperialism. It will also increase tensions with China on the continent where it was making gains at the expense of the USA and NATO countries. I imagine that this will impact the ways in which China engages with African governments, encouraging them to strengthen the military component to counter any temptation by the west to displace China through proxies.

Will there be deeper changes - a truly free press, trade union rights, freedom of assembly and the right to form political parties? Some concessions will be expected by the population, for certain. But all of the political training and experience of the TNC & Misurata council has been in the authoritarian practices of the old Libyan regime (or of the CIA). The only guarantee will be if the Libyan people's enthusiasm for the overthrow of Gaddafi finds expression in independent organizations and mobilizations - little evidence of which presently exists. In Iraq the overthrow of Hussein has not won many of the democratic rights noted above - protesters are shot and killed, independent trade unions are outlawed, there are secret police and political prisoners aplenty. It would be naive to think that the Libyan ruling class is any nicer or that NATO has changed its stripes.

Of course, one hopes that the revolutionary councils and initiative of the early days re-emerges. But NATO and the TNC will be doing everything in their power to ensure that this doesn't happen - and they now have the initiative.

Pockets of resistance as rebels claim Tripoli - Africa - Al Jazeera English
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