Glenn Greenwald tells the left what it wants to hear on Libya

Glenn Greenwald (who, as we have noted, has become rather annoying of late) has a sneeringly sarcastic screed in his Salon column of June 11, “In a pure coincidence, Gaddafi impeded U.S. oil interests before the war,” the crux of which is a lengthy quote from a story in the Washington Post of the previous day, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold.” After fulminating about how the US is really seeking “regime change” in Libya (which, as Greenwald himself says, is obvious), he presents the following text from the WP story (Greenwald’s emphasis):

The relationship between Gaddafi and the U.S. oil industry as a whole was odd. In 2004, President George W. Bush unexpectedly lifted economic sanctions on Libya in return for its renunciation of nuclear weapons and terrorism. There was a burst of optimism among American oil executives eager to return to the Libyan oil fields they had been forced to abandon two decades earlier. . . .

Yet even before armed conflict drove the U.S. companies out of Libya this year, their relations with Gaddafi had soured. The Libyan leader demanded tough contract terms. He sought big bonus payments up front. Moreover, upset that he was not getting more U.S. government respect and recognition for his earlier concessions, he pressured the oil companies to influence U.S. policies. . . .

When Gaddafi made his deal with Bush in 2004, he had hoped that returning foreign oil companies would help boost Libya’s output… The U.S. government also encouraged American oil companies to go back to Libya…

The companies needed little encouragement. Libya has some of the biggest and most proven oil reserves—43.6 billion barrels—outside Saudi Arabia, and some of the best drilling prospects… Throughout this time, oil prices kept rising, whetting the appetite for greater supplies of Libya’s unusually “sweet” and “light,” or high-quality, crude oil.

By the time Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited in 2008, U.S. joint ventures accounted for 510,000 of Libya’s 1.7 million barrels a day of production, a State Department cable said. ..

But all was not well. By November 2007, a State Department cable noted “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism.” It noted that in his 2006 speech marking the founding of his regime, Gaddafi said: “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.” His son made similar remarks in 2007.

Oil companies had been forced to give their local subsidiaries Libyan names, the cable said….

For starters, it smells to us like some oil companies lubricated this journalism to help ease their entry into Libya with promises of a bonanza. According to the CIA World Factbook, Libya ranks ninth in global proven reserves, with 47 billion barrels to Saudi Arabia’s 264 billion (and Canada’s 175 billion, Iran’s 138 billion, Iraq’s 115 billion and Kuwait’s 104 billion). As we have pointed out, Libya contributed about 2% of global production before the crisis broke out. This is hardly Iraq, where US control of the world’s most strategic oil could afford a globally privileged position. So does Greenwald think the Libya intervention is only intended to let US oil companies make a mint? You’d think so from how he writes (his emphasis):

Is there anyone—anywhere—who actually believes that these aren’t the driving considerations in why we’re waging this war in Libya? After almost three months of fighting and bombing—when we’re so far from the original justifications and commitments that they’re barely a distant memory—is there anyone who still believes that humanitarian concerns are what brought us and other Western powers to the war in Libya? Is there anything more obvious—as the world’s oil supplies rapidly diminish—than the fact that our prime objective is to remove Gaddafi and install a regime that is a far more reliable servant to Western oil interests, and that protecting civilians was the justifying pretext for this war, not the purpose?

Well, it depends what you mean by “these” driving considerations. Greenwald writes as if the only two options were the “humanitarian intervention” hype or the Big Oil conspiracy. Do we think this intervention is solely about an Exxon windfall? No. Do we think the US wants to install a neoliberal regime that will grant Exxon and their ilk free(r) access to Libya’s oil? Yes. But that has less to do with helping Exxon make a buck than controlling the political trajectory of the Arab Spring—creating an example in which freedom and “free trade” are neatly conflated, and making sure that at least one revolutionary movement in the region will be politically beholden to Western imperialism upon taking power. Greenwald seems to miss this bigger and more fundamental picture. He goes on:

If (as is quite possible) the new regime turns out to be as oppressive as Gaddafi but far more subservient to Western corporations (like, say, our good Saudi friends), does anyone think we’re going to care in the slightest or (at most) do anything other than pay occasional lip service to protesting it? Does anyone think we’re going to care about The Libyan People if they’re being oppressed or brutalized by a reliably pro-Western successor to Gaddafi?

This touches on a deeper contradiction in Greenwald’s (and the left’s) general position on Libya. From his opening paragraph, Greenwald writes as if “regime change” in Libya would be a bad thing. Entirely apart from whether “we” (what’s with this use of the first-person plural to describe the US government?) have the moral credibility to bring it about, Libyans are fighting and dying for “regime change” at the moment, and Greenwald might want to offer them some encouragement, rather than implicitly loaning comfort to the dictator by dissing “regime change.” And what makes it particularly tricky is that (as previously noted) there is clear rank-and-file support from the rebels—and the populace of Bengahzi, at the very least—for military intervention (see AlJazeera, March 18; SMH, March 11). Whatever US motives may be, the bombardment does seem to have saved Benghazi from a general slaughter back in March—or at least that is how it is pretty evidently and universally perceived on the ground in eastern Libya. Just yesterday, the rebels were demanding more aggressive air support from NATO in their effort to break the siege of Misrata. While Qaddafi clings to power in Tripoli, the rebels don’t seem particularly concerned with what Western motivations are. We’d be interested in hearing Greenwald’s answer to them.

As for the notion that the Saudis are “as oppressive as Gaddafi”—well, we wish to cut no slack for the utterly oppressive Saudi regime. But we hadn’t heard that the Saudi rulers are under investigation by The Hague for crimes against humanity, as Qaddafi and his key henchmen are. Playing a little fast and loose with the hyperbole, are we, Glenn?

Greenwald also can’t resist joining the uncritical WikiLeaks-glorification chorus:

The reason—the only reason—we know about any of this is because WikiLeaks (and, allegedly, Bradley Manning) disclosed to the world the diplomatic cables which detail these conflicts. Virtually the entirety of the Post article—like most significant revelations over the last 12 months, especially in the Middle East and North Africa—are based exclusively on WikiLeaks disclosures. That’s why we know about Gaddafi’s increasingly strident demands for the “Libyanization” of his country’s resource exploitation. That’s how we know about most of the things we’ve learned about the world’s most powerful political and corporate factions over the last 12 months. Is there anything easier to understand than why U.S. Government officials are so eager to punish WikiLeaks and deter future transparency projects of this sort?

What, it is supposed to be some great revelation that Western oil companies want as favorable a business environment as possible, and that Qaddafi had statist and nationalist predilections? Who didn’t know that? When are the lefties going to call out WikiLeaks on its apparent collaboration with the repressive Lukashenko regime in Belarus, and evident embrace of the notorious anti-Semite Israel Shamir? Oh, never mind…

See our last posts on Libya, the WikiLeaks scandals, and the global struggle for control of oil.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.