THE REAL political agenda behind the West’s so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya becomes clearer by the day. NATO’s bombing campaign has been relentless. More than 2700 bombs were dropped on Libya during April and May. On May 24, twenty-eight bunker bombs were dropped on Colonel Gaddafi’s compound alone.
France and Britain have committed attack helicopters to boost NATO’s drive to remove Gaddafi. As NATO escalates the military campaign, it seems to be only a matter of time before Gaddafi is forced from power. G8 leaders, too, have threatened to threaten to intensify military action. Despite Barack Obama’s initial statements that NATO’s mission was not about regime change, he now says that the US is resolved to “finish the job” and that “Gaddafi must step down immediately.”
It’s now clear the West’s strategy is to pound Tripoli in an attempt to kill Gaddafi or force an internal coup to remove him.
Defectors from Gaddafi’s regime already have prominent places in the rebel-led Transitional National Council (TNC) established in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began. The list of defections from Gaddafi’s regime is growing. Libya’s former central bank governor, Farhat Omar Bin Guidara, declared in May that he had defected from the Gaddafi regime and would be joining the rebels. France’s Foreign Minister told the Wall Street Journal that France’s goal was to convince Gaddafi to leave power and to wind up military operations within the next three months.
The future of the uprising against Gaddafi is now at risk from the increasing stranglehold of Western intervention. The UN resolution on Libya in March was meant to be about “protecting civilians”, but the Western bombing campaign shows as little concern for civilian casualties as the remnants of Gaddafi’s regime.
The European Union has opened an office in Benghazi, saying they are in Libya for “the long run”, while the US has invited the Transitional National Council (TNC) to open an office in Washington. US Assistant Secretary of State, Jeffrey Feltman, declared that the rebel TNC was the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
While France and Italy and a growing number of small African countries have granted recognition to the TNC, the US has stopped short of giving full diplomatic recognition to it while it assesses how compliant any future Libyan government is going to be. Meanwhile, Feltman says, the US is talking to “members of the council who are considered by our fellows [to be] credible and legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.”
According to The Economist the TNC is “tidying itself up”—read—making itself more acceptable to the West. Chairperson for the TNC is Mustafa Abdel Jalil is a former justice minister for Gaddafi. Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril ran Gaddafi’s economic development board. The deputy Prime Minsiter, Ali Essawi, also held a senior economic post in the Gaddafi regime, while Ali Tarhouni, who is running the oil portfolio, is a former professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. Gaddafi’s former interior minister, Abdel Younis, is commander in chief of the TNC’s military operations.
But there are divisions over future elections. The deputy leader of the TNC, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, says that a one to two-year transition period would be needed to write a constitution, hold a referendum and form political parties before elections would be possible. However, others such as Yousif Sherif, the TNC member in charge of town councils and culture, says that elections can be held within six months.
The West is also keeping strict financial constraints on the TNC. While the US is holding $34 billion US dollars in frozen assets, Congress is quibbling about releasing even $150 million to the TNC. In March, the rebel government in Benghazi had to break into the local branch of Central Bank of Libya, to extract $505 million from the bank vaults to keep the uprising going.
In the early days of the uprising, the anti-Gaddafi movement spread as military and security forces, either deserted or defected in the face of mass unrest. But since the uprising turned into a military campaign, it has stalled. The “no-fly zone” that was meant to protect civilians in the east of Libya gave the green light for NATO to assert control.
The NATO campaign has reduced the possibilities of any sweeping anti-Gaddafi uprising in Tripoli. The West has made it clear that while it wants to remove Gaddafi and his sons from Libya, it is quite willing to negotiate with others from Gaddafi’s regime.
Real freedom for Libya will depend on the rebels (and the international solidarity movement) implacably opposing Western intervention.