A Response to Clay Claiborne’s “On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On” by Diana Barahona

There is so much to rebut in Clay Claiborne’s prolific writings in favor of NATO/U.S. military intervention that it’s hard to know where to begin. Claiborne, who has no academic credentials making him a Middle East expert, has published 95 opinion pieces supporting the overthrow of the Libyan government [1]. This wouldn’t matter now except that he has moved on to supporting the NATO/U.S./Gulf Cooperation Council efforts to do the same thing to Syria.

First to address is his assessment of the human cost of the war. He throws around the figure of 30,000 dead without citing reliable sources. This figure is problematic since it comes from the new government, which has an interest in both emphasizing casualties suffered by government troops (half of the 30,000) and attributing the rest to civilians who allegedly died at the hands of the Ghadafi government [1].

None of this can be taken on face value.

Yes, thousands of people were killed in this war, and I consider government soldiers and police doing their job in repelling a foreign-backed overthrow to be victims as well. How many civilians did government forces intentionally kill? We don’t know, because many of these kinds of claims made by the opposition turned out to be complete fabrications after human rights organizations went in and investigated. We do know for a fact that NATO bombing deliberately targeted the families of government officials, which is a war crime, and that the opposition militias also murdered many civilians (approximately 300 in Sirte alone), either because they were seen as pro-government or because they were black-skinned foreign workers.

Yet, in spite of the claims of the new government that half of the dead were government troops, Claiborne claims that “Most of those 30,000 souls were Libyan civilians killed by Ghadafi with artillery, tanks, snipers and cluster bombs.” Making things up in order to justify one’s political position has no place in journalism, much less in left journalism.

In fact, the NATO war was not only more violent than Claiborne wants to admit, but the scope of foreign intervention was much more intensive. According to Manlio Dinucci, a geographer and geopolitical scientist and frequent contributor to Global Research:

“Over seven months, U.S. and NATO air forces carried out 30,000 missions of which 10,000 were offensive air strikes, using more than 40,000 bombs and missiles. Additionally, Special Forces were infiltrated into Libya, among them thousands of easily concealed Qatari commandos. They also financed and armed tribal groups hostile to the Tripoli government and supported Islamic groups what only months earlier were watchlisted as terrorists. The operation in its entirety was directed by Washington, according to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, first under the rubric of AFRICOM and then of NATO, but always under direct U.S. command.”

The fact that anti-Ghadafi militias murdered many civilians, including the killing, torture and forced expulsion of up to 250,000 of African workers living in the country with their families, is not mentioned by Claiborne, even though these things are well documented. According to Al Jazeera:

“As fighting slows down in parts of the country, black Libyans and African labourers face chronic accusations of being Gaddafi’s hired mercenaries. NTC fighters have reportedly been rounding up and detaining accused mercenaries even if they are found unarmed.

“By some estimates, more than 5,000 black migrants have been detained in makeshift jails around the country, and others have faced beatings, revenge killings, and even mass execution. Mercenary fighters found armed have been summarily executed, according to reports.

“Most detainees maintain that they were not involved in fighting and are simply migrant workers detained without evidence.

“Black women in refugee camps reported night-time kidnappings and rapes by fighters though to be associated with the NTC. Officials with the National Transitional Council deny such reports.

“Partially in response to reports of race-based violence and detention in Libya, the African Union has refused to recognize the legitimacy of Libya’s interim government. It alleges that the persecution of blacks in the country amounts to human rights violations that fully delegitimise the post-Gaddafi leadership. …

“Before the Libyan uprising broke out earlier this year, the country hosted about a million black African workers, many of them employed in domestic work, construction, trash collection, and other low-wage jobs. Even before the fighting began, these workers faced widespread racism and discrimination.”

Second to address is Claiborne’s rosy picture of the outcome of the violent change of regime, since the outcome is what matters the most. Claiborne wrote:

“The post war violence in Libya is nothing like it was in Iraq, and for that matter still is eight years latter. The electricity is still on in Libya. Schools are back in session, mail is being delivered, oil production is back up, Internet is back up, and people are getting back to work.”

He also makes a big deal about people registering to vote, as if being allowed to choose only among candidates acceptable to the global capitalist elites meant anything.

However, Libya today remains fragmented, with tribal militias unwilling to put down their arms and accept the authority of the technocratic central government [2]. This was entirely forseeable–in fact, the tribal structure of Libyan society was one factor that made it easy to overthrow the government, which had been in the sights of the U.S. global capitalist bloc for years. The article by Dinucci cited above concludes that, “The Jamahiriya of Gadhafi’s time, a strange hybrid of Proudhonian anarchy and autocracy, has given way to a liberal chaos where torture and murder have become the norm while the multinationals are on a permanent binge.”

The giveaway of Libya’s oil, the principal objective of the NATO powers, is no small matter. Libya’s oil was privatized in short order, with contracts allotted according to the number of bombing runs each country had made—France on behalf of Total, Spain on behalf of Repsol, Italy on behalf of Eni, England on behalf of BP and the U.S. on behalf on Marathon, Hess and ConocoPhillips. This will have the effect of reducing revenues to the new government, which will have to fill the funding gap by cutting social spending to the bone and taking out loans from the international financial institutions, like every other neoliberal state.

Finally, Claiborne’s “analysis” has absolutely no basis in sociology, Marxism, or even recent history. The United States is the leader of a global capitalist bloc of its own creation . It operates according to a game plan by which all countries are targeted for incorporation into this bloc, and if they don’t restructure through internal means, through the election of neoliberal governments that do the bidding of transnational corporations, they are incorporated by violence. High on the list of countries to assimilate are those with valuable natural resources.

This is not to say that sectors of the Libyan population (or the Syrian or Iranian population for that matter) don’t have legitimate grievances against their nationalist dictatorships. However, when their countries are targeted for regime change by foreign transnational capital and their own emerging domestic transnational capitalist class, any military alliance that government opponents make with these globalizing interests is an act of treason against their own people. This is a global class war and the United States and other NATO powers represent the interests of the transnational capitalist class, not the Libyan working class. Following is a quote from one aspiring transnational capitalist:

“So Saddam wanted to prove to the whole world he was strong? Well, we’re stronger- he’s out! He’s finished. And Iran’s going to be finished and every single Arab regime that’s like this will be finished. Because there is no room for us capitalists and multinationalists in the world to operate with regimes like this. It’s all about money. And power. And wealth… and democracy has to be spread around the world. Those who want to espouse globalization are going to make a lot of money, be happy, their families will be happy. And those who aren’t going to play this game are going to be crushed, whether they like it or not!”

When Cynthia McKinney came to Los Angeles after witnessing the destruction of the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, it fell to a group of us to form a cordon outside to prevent Libyans from entering the event and disrupting it. One University of Southern California student, who claimed to be a socialist, repeatedly told me that “they” had been forced to “make a deal with the devil” (invite NATO to bomb) because Gaddafi was threatening a massacre in her parents’ native city of Benghazi. When I asked her how they were going to renationalize the oil once it had been privatized by the rebels, all she could say was that they would deal with that later. That is, the Libyan people were going to have to worry about getting rid of a foreign-backed, well-armed neoliberal government after the country’s only source of revenues had been given away to foreign oil companies.

This is the infantile thinking of those who claim to be on the left yet join in with the transnational capitalist class when it comes to “humanitarian intervention.”

Diana Barahona has a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in sociology from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Editor notes:

[1] This is an incorrect term as the Libyan Jamahiriya government has been a government by the people and therefore should not be referred to as “the Libyan government” or “the Gadhafi government”.

[2] NATO-imposed rebel government which hasn't been chosen or wanted by the Libyans