The 2011 war in Libya

The United States responded to the eruption of revolutionary upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 by stepping up its intervention in the region through the stoking of civil wars, first in Libya, and then in Syria.

In both cases, CIA intervention and the arming of Islamist forces—including groups associated with Al Qaeda—were accompanied by a campaign among pseudo-left groups aimed at fraudulently presenting these imperialist interventions as a continuation of the “Arab Spring” movements in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Gaddafi regime in Libya had collaborated with the United States since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, including by permitting the US to use the country as a destination for “rendition flights” and torture. Nevertheless, Washington and its European allies saw that protests in the country could be used as a cover for the installation of a government more directly under their control. This would facilitate the seizure of Libya’s oil resources at the expense of their rivals, China in particular.

During the weeks leading up to war, the WSWS outlined the basic aims of US and European imperialism in Libya, opposing any US intervention and explaining that the overthrow of Gaddafi was the task of the working class and could not be entrusted to imperialism. In a Perspective published March 1, “Imperialist hands off Libya!”, the WSWS wrote:

As in every US operation in the region, the driving forces are twofold: a grab for the resources of one of the major oil-producing countries and the pursuit of the broader strategic interests of American imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa. Imperialist military forces on the ground in Libya would be in a position to influence the future course of events in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, all now in turmoil, as well as across the Sahara in Sudan, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Opposition to the US-NATO war did not mean political support for Muammar Gaddafi. The WSWS made clear that only the working class could overthrow Gaddafi and replace him with a democratic and genuinely popular government, in alliance with the masses throughout North Africa.

Once the NATO bombing of Libya had begun—symbolically, eight years to the day of the Bush administration’s criminal invasion of Iraq—the WSWS analyzed Obama’s justifications, which became the occasion for a vast extension of the grounds for US imperialist intervention all over the world.

The war in Libya was part of a new scramble for Africa. All the imperialist powers of Europe—Germany, France, Spain and Britain—as well as Australia and Canada supported the war as a means of advancing their own interests in the region. This included Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler.

Throughout the six months of military action, including saturation bombing, the creation and arming of a council of imperialist stooges in Benghazi, and the ebb and flow of ground combat until the ultimate collapse of the Gaddafi regime, the WSWS exposed the barbaric atrocities being carried out in the name of democracy, as well as the rapacious motives of the imperialist powers. The Libyan campaign culminated in the murder of Gaddafi and members of his family in October.

Pseudo-left and liberal groups throughout Europe and the United States backed the war, claiming that US-NATO bombing was necessary to protect the Libyan people and promote democracy. These included the Left Party and Greens in Germany, the French New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), the Italian ex-Stalinist “lefts”, the Catalan Greens and Canada’s New Democratic Party.

The WSWS denounced the attempts of these groups to portray the imperialist war against Libya as an extension of the mass popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Of the NPA’s conference with its sister parties around the Mediterranean, the WSWS wrote:

As workers in North Africa enter into political struggle with dictatorial regimes, the social content of [the NPA’s] orientation is ever more clearly exposed. It is bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. It defends the basic class interests of the capitalists and of imperialism against the threat of an independent revolutionary movement of the working class leading all of the oppressed masses.

Particularly significant was a polemic between the WSWS and Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, a prominent liberal critic of the war in Iraq under the Bush administration who became a cheerleader for war in Libya under the Obama administration. On March 27, Cole published “An Open Letter to the Left,” in which the professor declared that the left should “avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo.”

In “Libya, imperialism and the prostration of the ‘left’ intellectuals: The case of Professor Juan Cole,” the WSWS noted that Cole was representative of a layer of intellectuals that, through the mechanism of the Obama administration, had reconciled itself to imperialist war:

Among the most striking features of the US-NATO onslaught against Libya has been the widespread support that this “war of choice” has evoked among left-liberal parties and the affluent middle-class milieu that comprise an important part of their constituency. Waving the banner of “human rights”—the most hypocritical and deceitful of all justifications for imperialist war—the liberal left embraced this war as their own. One would imagine that this was the first time in history that imperialism had proclaimed the cause of “human rights” and democracy as a cloak for its predatory interests!

Cole attacked the WSWS publicly on his widely read blog Informed Comment, equating opposition to the US-NATO war with support for Gaddafi. In “An open letter to Professor Juan Cole: A reply to a slander” and a subsequent comment on Cole’s response to the WSWS critique, Bill Van Auken explained the role of liberal and pseudo-left elements in providing a cover and justification for imperialist war.

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