It is extremely dangerous to pronounce conclusions about a Libyan war, which may not even be over, just entering a different phase. What can be said is that the re-colonization of Libya by the former colonial powers is underway in the name of nation-building.
A dictator has fallen, and the NATO powers are taking his place. The past is over, and the future only beginning. According to neo-con Max Boot, the casualties are enormous. In April alone, he writes, death tolls ranged from 10,000 to three times that number (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 24). One million Libyans—out of a six million population—were driven out of the country. Another quarter-million were internally displaced—all in the name of protecting civilians. At least one former top CIA analyst, Paul Pillar, now says, “there simply was no indication that [a mass slaughter] was going to take place” in Benghazi (The Nation, September 12).
“What Libya does have going for it, of course, is oil,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek (August 29). But it will take several years to push the industry from its present 60,000 barrels a day back to the 2010 level of 1.6 million barrels (Bloomberg). Multinational oil companies are hoping to raise their royalties to 30 percent from the ten percent Qaddafi allowed while keeping the rest for his government. Meanwhile, Italy’s Eni is being challenged by France’s Total for the spoils of war; “Sarkozy invested a lot in this venture, and now he needs to show his voters France will get something out of this,” an Italian analyst told Bloomberg. All observers note the possibility of insurgency, civil war or humanitarian catastrophe, which for Boot means the necessity of an “international stabilization force.”
The White House has leaked the view that this was an important “win” for Obama, further politicizing the issue. There is “euphoria” in Beltway circles, Steve Clemons reports, while personally expressing caution on his blog. For a thoughtful version of the euphoria, one can turn to the several commentaries on Juan Cole’s website, or to the insightful perspective on the Libyan social movement by Steven Zunes.
But I believe the euphoria is premature given the way the NATO bombings exceeded the UN mandate to protect civilians and the weakening of Congressional authority under the American war powers act. The Libyan operation’s costs, casualties and long-term consequences are unclear. In addition to thousands of air strikes, the CIA has been on the ground, and still is searching for Qaddafi. The rebel forces in Benghazi seem to be from the old centers of the Sanusi monarchy, which Qaddafi overthrew in 1969, suggesting that a long civil war is resurfacing.
It is possible that Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and Turkey will demand and diplomatically foster a more independent Libya down the road. According to the respected national security website, Stratfor:
‘It is possible that the most highly trained Libyan soldiers in Tripoli have retreated to entrenched urban positions from which they plan to conduct an urban insurgency. Were this to happen, it would be very difficult for NTC forces to pacify them, as the Gadhafi forces have access to large amounts of heavy weaponry and know the city’s terrain...[or] rather than an Iraqi-style insurgency, perhaps a bigger concern is that the situation in Libya could become similar to those seen after the overthrow of the regimes in Somalia in 1991 and Afghanistan in 1992. In those cases, the factions that took down the incumbent governments began fighting with one another — and some of the remnants of the former regimes — in a free-for-all battle for control after failing to agree on a power-sharing formula.”
Congressional authority is a casualty of this war, because it has been waged in violation of the War Powers Act, as a near-majority of the House and the key lawyers in the executive branch have contended. Future wars waged by the White House with NATO will be easier to implement as long as the violence is inflicted from the air.
No sane person can defend Col. Qaddafi. But according to the New York Times account, the “moral clarity” of the original mission has been “muddled” (Aug. 14). Violent splits have erupted within the anti-Qaddafi movement. Some of its top leaders come from the ranks of the Qaddafi regime itself: Qaddafi’s former development minister, his former minister of justice, and his former interior minister, at least until that person was killed by other rebel leaders not long ago. A brittle coalition indeed, fueled by hatred of Qaddafi’s repression, glued together by Western funding, European troops and power in the sky.