Moammar Qaddafi’s forces gained ground against rebels in the battle over the oil port of Ras Lanuf on March 7, with his fighter jets targeting rebel defenses on the edge of town. Fierce fighting was also reported in the western city of Misrata, with the UN demanding urgent access to scores of “injured and dying.” (Middle East Online, March 7)
Speaking with France 24 TV, Qaddafi defended his military’s right to put down the rebels by invoking (apparently without irony) Israel’s operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip! The dictator said that “even the Israelis in Gaza, when they moved into the Gaza Strip, they moved in with tanks to fight such extremists. It’s the same thing here! We have small armed groups who are fighting us. We did not use force from the outset… Armed units of the Libyan army have had to fight small armed al-Qaeda bands. That is what’s happened.”
Bizarrely, Qaddafi asserted that his government continues to have “very good relations with the United States, with the European Union and with African countries,” adding that “Libya plays a crucial role in regional and world peace.”
Even as Qaddafi played the al-Qaeda card in a bid to convince the United States that it still supports him (huh?), his apparats played the US imperialism card in a bid to convince the Libyan people that they still support Qaddafi. Jadallah Azous al-Talhi, one of Qaddafi’s ex-prime ministers who is originally from eastern Libya, appeared on state TV reading an address to elders in rebel-held Benghazi, asking them to “give a chance to national dialogue to resolve this crisis, to help stop the bloodshed, and not give a chance to foreigners to come and capture our country again.” (Ha’aretz, March 7)
Desperate to avoid US military involvement in Libya in the event of a prolonged struggle between the Gaddafi regime and its opponents, the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. The Saudi Kingdom…has so far failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request, although King Abdullah personally loathes the Libyan leader, who tried to assassinate him just over a year ago.
Not only are no sources revealed (not even with such vague locutions as “anonymous officials”), but we are left wondering why the US would have to appeal to the Saudis as proxies when it has plenty of arms of its own. The closest he comes to even addressing this point is this:
[T]the Saudis remain the only US Arab ally strategically placed and capable of furnishing weapons to the guerrillas of Libya. Their assistance would allow Washington to disclaim any military involvement in the supply chain—even though the arms would be American and paid for by the Saudis.
But this begs the question of why would the US feel the need to hide its involvement—unless some in Washington are betting that Qaddafi could come out on top after all, and could once again be groomed as a proxy to guard against (real rather than fictional) Islamist subversion in North Africa, as a buffer to protect Europe from swarthy hordes of economic migrants from points south, and as a partner in delivering his country’s hydrocarbon resources to Western markets (with little return to Libya’s own people outside the colonel’s nepotistic circle, of course—but, hey, who cares?)?
In other words, maybe the colonel’s claims of Western support aren’t all that wacky after all. Maybe Washington really is divided on which horse to bet on, and is at least willing to wait and see which side is winning before placing in its wager one way or the other.
Fidel Castro has meanwhile issued a “second part” to his screed “NATO’s Inevitable War” (online at CubaDebate, March 4), this one more openly critical of Qaddafi. He writes that “it is an undeniable fact that the relations between the US and its NATO allies with Libya in the recent years were excellent,” adding that Libya “opened up strategic sectors as the production and distribution of oil to foreign investment” and that “many state-owned companies were privatized. The IMF played its role in implementing these policies.” And as a result, European leaders rushed to embrace the Libyan despot:
Aznar was full of praise for Qaddafi, and he was followed by Blair, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Zapatero, and even my friend the King of Spain; they all queued up under the mocking smile of the Libyan leader. They were pleased… I simply ask why they now want to invade Libya and send Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. [Our translation.]
Well, there isn’t necessarily that much evidence that they do want to invade Libya, and the question seems to ignore the massive bloodshed in the country. But he does address this in the next paragraph:
They accuse him 24 hours a day of firing on unarmed civilian protesters. Why don’t they explain to the world that the arms and nearly all the sophisticated equipment of repression that Libya posses were supplied by the United States, Great Britain and other illustrious hosts of Qaddafi? I oppose the cynicism and lies with which they now seek to justify the invasion and occupation of Libya. [Our translation again.]
Yes, the US armed Qaddafi when it was attempting to groom him as a proxy. It has now apparently dumped him because he has become (at least) a public relations problem for the Empire. And it goes without saying that if the US now arms the rebels, it will be attempting to groom them as proxies, and assure their loyalty and domestication after they take power. But after having already armed Qaddafi, is it fair for the US to now allow him to use those arms to crush the rebels without at least evening up the balance on the other side, in the name of a hypocritical “neutrality” or “non-interference”? It’s a legitimate political and ethical dilemma—akin to that faced in Bosnia nearly 15 years ago.