As Solidarity goes to press the Western powers, under the banner of the UN, have started a massive bombing campaign on Libya. More than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched in the first strike on March 20.
This action is meant to defend the revolutionary opposition against Colonel Gaddafi’s brutally repressive security forces. The decision to use “all means necessary” against Gaddafi has been widely welcomed by the Libyan opposition and has the support of many anti-war pro-democracy activists around the world, including Bob Brown from The Greens.
But this is not the way to protect an unarmed population against a heavily armed and ruthless regime.
The struggle against Gaddafi is not a military struggle, but a political struggle and the involvement of the Western powers can only derail or destroy the process.
The revolution in Libya can succeed if the opposition broadens their mobilisations and successfully convince army units not to follow orders.
This was how Benghazi and Misurata, Libya’s second and third city, and many other towns and cities across Libya, were liberated. When the people first took to the streets they had no guns. Their response to the violence of the regime was to broaden the mobilisations. These defiant mass mobilisations created schisms within the military and gave soldiers questioning their orders an alternative—to join the revolution.
The heavily armed and authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, too, were defeated with mobilisations and arguments, not by regular armies or outside intervention.
Gaddafi might control Tripoli but the vast majority of the population there are either sympathetic to the revolution or open to arguments. Gaddafi can only maintain his rule though sheer intimidation. This is a weakness not a strength. By raising demands like ending corruption and using Libya’s oil wealth to raise living standards for all Libyans, the revolutionaries could win their support.
Western intervention might weaken Gaddafi militarily but it will strengthen him politically. His argument that the insurrection is a “colonialist plot” will be confirmed. Because of the long history of imperialist intervention into Libya and the region, this argument has real bite.
The West say they are attacking military targets, but as has been shown in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, civilians will inevitably be killed. Gaddafi will blame every civilian death on the opposition and will try to rally people to defending Libya’s independence.
The air attacks take the initiative away from the revolution. It will be the West’s military machine versus Gaddafi’s military machine. The role of the Libyan masses will be to observe from the sidelines.
If any negotiations take place, it will be the West pushing across its demands.
Liberation is not on the West’s agenda. They are concerned about “stability”, access to oil profits for western multinationals, and see intervention as a means of having some control over the revolutionary movement sweeping across the region.
During the Balkans conflict in the 1990s the West negotiated a settlement that saw the region carved up into ethnically dominated statelets. A divided Libya could be the outcome of Western intervention, with a state based in Benghazi acting as an imperialist outpost.
Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t deliver liberation. It delivered the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the displacement of millions; the wrecking of whole economies; corrupt governments; and the continued dominance of the Western powers.
Intervention in Libya will be no different. The West is not just striking Gaddafi’s air power and wishing the opposition luck. They have already been attacking ground troops and if this isn’t enough to achieve their aims, they could well intervene with their own ground troops.
Because the West is intervening on the side of a people’s movement, some will say “at last” the West is using its military might for good. But a leopard never changes its spots. Until about a month ago the West was welcoming Gaddafi into their “community of nations” and selling him arms.
Today the West holds up the Arab League’s endorsement of their attack on Libya as legitimisation, but fails to mention the Arab League is full of corrupt dictatorships that are currently shooting down their own citizens.
The future of the revolutions throughout the region must be determined by the people living there. The best assistance activists in the West can deliver is to support the revolutionary movements in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere and to oppose the meddling of our own governments.
By Mark Gillespie