Libya: oil conspiracies behind bombardment; Berber rebels don’t care

Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) is on the brink of bankruptcy, media reports indicate (e.g. . LAT, July 14)—and this despite the fact that it is sitting on a proverbial sea of oil. The NTC has actually been buying fuel in Europe on credit. Last week, an unnamed “European financial company” that had provided $500 million in loans “told the council that it could no longer shoulder the risk and shut down the credit line.” About $100 million donated by Qatar has nearly been spent, and $200 million promised by Turkey has yet to arrive. Several tankers loaded with fuel from Europe have left the Benghazi port without unloading after the NTC couldn’t pay cash. The sprawling petrochemical complexes at Port Brega and Ras Lanuf, seized from the rebels by Qaddafi forces this spring, have been shut down. Also closed is the natural gas pipeline that normally fuels electricity production in Benghazi and other eastern cities. “That means that rebel leaders in the country that is the world’s 17th-largest producer of oil must import all their fuel,” the LA TImes states.

The NTC has rejected talks with the Qaddafi regime proposed by the African Union. Tripoli’s Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi this week broached for the first time talks without Qaddafi. “The Guide will not take part in these discussions,” he told France’s Le Figaro. “Everything must be open. We are ready to negotiate unconditionally.” French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet suggested that Qaddafi could remain “in another room in his palace” while the talks are underway and NATO would stop its bombing campaign. A halt to the bombing is a prerequisite for talks, al-Mahmudi emphasized: “We cannot talk as bombs rain down.” In comments to a UN envoy, he called the NATO air-strikes “crimes against humanity and an act of genocide.” (Middle East Online, July 12)

Recent moves by Western governments point to imperial imperatives for extending the Libya war related to the global struggle for control of oil. An analysis in the Globe & Mail June 29 notes that both the United States and the International Energy Agency (IEA) had decided to release a combined 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves, citing the loss of 1.5 million barrels of Libyan daily production. But noting that Libyan production has been effectively halted since February, the analysis sees ulterior motives in the move. “Some will see the IEA’s move as a much needed slap in the face to OPEC price hawks such as Iran and Venezuela, which stymied a recent agreement to raise production quotas… Perhaps it is a vote of non–confidence in Saudi Arabia’s ability to ramp up production to its new 10 million barrel per day target… Still others will point to the use of the strategic reserves as nothing less than a macroeconomic stimulus measure akin to a tax cut, conveniently timed for an upcoming US presidential campaign.” We would go further and argue that an obvious war aim is having a compliant regime in Libya that will counter-balance the OPEC price hawks with 1.5 million barrels of daily production.

The Independent reported July 8 that for the first time in the bombing campaign, NATO has started targeting Libya’s oil infrastructure, including the Brega complex. Said Rear Adm.l Russ Harding, the British commander in the Libya campaign: “This was not done lightly, we looked at the pattern of life on the ground, and we decided that the only ones benefiting from the fuel were the Gaddafi forces and not local people. And they were using that fuel to carry out attacks on civilians.” He said that the actual oil tanks were not hit, to avoid health and environmental impacts. He added: “There are commercial aspects to this. Brega and Ras Lanuf could provide a revenue stream for the TNC. But that was not something in our consideration, the decision was taken solely to protect civilians.” This comment ironically ignores the fact that the facilities are not in TNC hands—but we can surmise that the eventuality of their falling back into rebel hands was also a concern in the decision not to bomb the tanks.

The rebels have not responded to al-Mahmudi’s proposal for Qaddafi-free talks (which nothing indicates has been put formally to them yet), but idiot left factions in the US (like the vile Workers World Party) have wasted no time in dissing the rebels as “US/NATO puppets” for rejecting the African Union plan—blind to what their own imperatives and interests may be. Just as al-Mahmudi has posed a halt to the bombing as a prerequisite for talks, so has the NTC posed Qaddafi’s ouster.

The reasons for this demand are not hard to see. We have noted how the Berber rebels in Libya’s western Nafusa Mountains (actually a separate front from the main NTC rebel force in the east) have been free to carry out a cultural renaissance in their zone of control, for the first time establishing education and media in their own language, which was harshly prohibited by Qaddafi. If Qaddafi prevails and re-takes their territory, they can expect not only to have this renaissance radically repealed, but a general massacre of the population. These Berber rebels have openly accepted French air-drops of weapons, and coordinated their offensives with NATO air-strikes.

So, from the perspective of Libya’s Berbers, NATO’s motivations in the war are probably—for now—beside the point. As we have argued, once Qaddafi is removed there will be the potential for a moment of reckoning between the rebels and Western imperialism. But just as the neo-interventionists who support the war (and despite Obama’s Orwellian denials, it is a war) have got to grapple with the manifest imperial imperatives for intervention that have nothing to do with Libyan freedom, so do the anti-war forces have to grapple with the rebels’ own imperatives in supporting the bombing in spite of NATO motivations. We are still waiting for progressives in the US and the West to have the honest debate that needs to be had on this question.

See our last posts on Libya and the Arab Spring.