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What's going on in Libya? The answer in one sense is very simple: revolution. However, the long-term results are complex and unknown.
The U.S., Britain, and France are the main foreign principals attempting, among other deeper goals, to end the Gaddafi regime and replace it with a new state, a new constitution, and a new form of government. They are predominantly using air power. Their boots on the ground consist of their own special forces (including CIA forces) and an assortment of other forces native to the region that are rebelling.
The revolution in Libya is a joint operation of Libyan rebels and forces of the West. The country in one sense was ripe for revolution because of 42 years of Gaddafi's dictatorial rule in which civil society and opposition were suppressed. But, on the other hand, economic discontent was not a probable factor fanning revolutionary flames. Libya's standard of living was high with about 61 percent of the world's countries ranking below it. Libya ranks 83rd in per capita GDP (out of 213 countries) as compared with China's ranking of 126. Its per capita annual income of $14,000 is almost double that of China and more than double that of Egypt.
Although the revolution from the West's perspective is something like many CIA-instigated coups of the past, it differs in three respects. The West has as one of its aims not merely to replace a government but to change the governing structure. It is taking a war and a rather long time period to accomplish this aim. The revolution is relying on Western air power, without which it cannot succeed and with which the degree of success is not yet clear.
Importantly, the Libyan revolution has large effects. It creates large displacements of civilians, alters economic activity, and reshapes the country's politics. The hostilities reshape the lives of many, ending some.
Uncertainties of revolution
Revolution opens up unforseen and unintended consequences. Longer-term results are unknown. This is necessarily true because people are involved. Their ideas, sentiments, interests, and values are constantly changing, and this makes their actions unpredictable. Revolution is not a chemical reaction in which combining two molecules is known to produce another molecule under known conditions. Revolution is complex even when external forces and interests are not involved.
The personal reactions of Libyans affected by the revolution are many and varied and they are bound to keep changing. At present the National Transitional Council (NTC) is a coalition united by resistance to the Gaddafi regime. It contains some who want a parliamentary democracy, others who are former members of Gaddafi's government and want power for themselves, some who want to restore the monarchy, and others who want to institute an Islamic state.
Libya's tribes are important to the country and the state. Attitudes of tribal leaders to the revolution vary. The attitudes of the NTC members to the tribes and tribalism itself in Libya vary. This adds still more complexity.
The legal cover for the West's military operations against Gaddafi is U.N. Security Council resolution 1973 (March 17, 2011). It allows regional organizations to participate. That provides the legal cover for NATO's participation.
The legal cover is so that Libya, which is being attacked, cannot claim that aggression against it is occurring, which it is. And it is so that the attackers can claim that they are attacking for humanitarian reasons, which they are not. Additionally resolution 1973 contradicts the clear language of the U.N. charter which forbids such international attacks on its members, of which Libya is one.
The West's overt military attack began on March 19, 2011 (Operation Odyssey Dawn) with the launching of air attacks by the U.S., Great Britain, and France from submarines and ships. The U.S. commanded the initial operations for several weeks. NATO subsequently took over, but only in name. A U.S. admiral is the Supreme Allied Commander, and the U.S. provides 70 percent of the reconnaissance, 75 percent of the refueling, and 27 percent of all air sorties. NATO also imposed a blockade by sea.
These operations took time to prepare. They took planning and coordination. The initial targets had to be recognized and selected. The ships had to be brought into position. The U.S. had to have been instrumental in these operations.
The U.S. had to have been the leader in the decision to remove Gaddafi, because of its role in these preparations and its subsequent dominant role. The U.S. needed only the right sparks within Libya to have fanned them into a full-fledged revolution. It needed only a pretext or two in order to decide that the time had come to end the Gaddafi regime.
The initial uprising in Benghazi began on February 15. By February 22, Gaddafi was suppressing the revolt in Tripoli. This resulted in an estimated 200-400 deaths. Gaddafi threatened a house to house intensive search for armed protestors, warning them that execution lay in store for them. He said “Any Libyan who carries arms against Libyans will be punished by death.”
The critical moment of U.S. decision became public when Obama said on February 26 that Gaddafi had "lost legitimacy" and must "leave now". On March 3, he repeated that Gaddafi had lost legitimacy and should step down. He revealed that he was considering a range of military options to make this happen. It's very likely that Obama had already directed military forces into the region in February, given that the attack came on March 19 and that reports of ships headed for Libya through Suez had surfaced by March 1.
What the timing of these movements and statements suggests is that the U.S. had decided very early on to remove Gaddafi when the opportunity presented itself, or to create the opportunity. A firmer degree of planning probably goes back into 2010, before the uprisings began in January in Egypt. Contingency planning probably goes back further than that.
Each foreign state that has been participating in this revolution has its own interests in bringing it about. A politician who cites humanitarian concerns is either terminally naive or lying. The haste with which a number of countries have recognized the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people tells us that state interests predominate.
In the U.S. case, the reasons for removing Gaddafi include reducing Chinese influence in Libya and Africa, removing an independent voice who can encourage African nations to keep their distance from the U.S., removing someone who is moving to abandon the use of dollars in pricing oil, access to a high quality crude oil and abundant potential reserves, removing an antagonist of Saudi Arabia, and the U.S.’s general policy of creating western-style democracies.
By March 16, Gaddafi's superior forces were on the doorstep of Benghazi. The U.S. was in the last stages of obtaining legal cover and making attack preparations. It was at this point that the West's propaganda machine went into high gear with the suggestion that Gaddafi was going to massacre the population of Benghazi. This was a physical impossibility. Gaddafi's heated and pugnacious rhetoric at what he thought was his moment of complete triumph played into the West's hands. A more balanced report at the time quoted a Libyan army source to the more sensible effect that the government wanted to retake Benghazi without attacking the city, and that the message it wanted to convey on Libyan state television was that "The idea is to surround Benghazi but to leave one exit open for the rebels. If we can get the rebels to leave the city then we will move troops in between them and the city and fight them in the open desert."
Propaganda has been a significant element in the strategy of the rebels and their foreign partners. This has included the highly implausible charge that Gaddafi was using rape and Viagra as a weapon.
The CIA is surely integral to U.S. operations inside Libya. It takes only a brief look at the CIA's history to realize that this must be the case.
One of the CIA's methods is the secret war. The CIA waged a secret war for some 13 to 20 years in Laos between 1955 and 1974. The CIA itself tells its story of this covert war on its web site.
Another of the CIA's methods is the coup d'état. For example, Nixon directed the CIA to create a coup against Allende in Chile. The CIA published a prize-winning article about this that says
"So sure were senior US officials that Salvador Allende and his coalition would be defeated in the September 1970 election, as he had been three times previously, that, despite CIA warnings, they were caught off-guard when he won a plurality. Undeterred by the voters' preference, President Richard Nixon delivered a clear and forceful Directive calling for expanded CIA operations in Chile. In the weeks between Allende's election and his inauguration planned for 3 November, the CIA actively sought to foment a coup in Chile. Washington was unequivocal about its desire to keep Allende from power."
More such cases can be found here.
Consider also the U.S. coup activity in Syria that stretched over many years. Adam Curtis has an informative blog on CIA machinations in Syria. What is more, he tells the story of some pre-CIA government-led 1947 attempts to influence Syrian politics as explained by CIA agent Miles Copeland in his 1968 book The Game of Nations.
An extensive treatment of the U.S. coup attempts in Syria appears in historian Douglas Little's article "Cold War and Covert Action: The United States and Syria, 1945-58." This 25-page article will not be accessible to most readers. Brief summaries appear here and here.
Prof. Little writes, for example, of Operation Straggle in 1956. The CIA cooperated with the British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) in this (as they are doing in Libya now). The U.S. ambassador suggested an anti-communist coup engineered by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). Plans for a coup were subsequently discussed in the White House. The Secretary of State communicated about these prospects with his British counterparts. Within two months, they had developed covert plans (in the words of the British Foreign Secretary) "to establish in Syria a Government more friendly to the West". Subsequently the CIA chief flew to London to work out details with the SIS.
We read that
"The original CIA-SIS plan appears to have called for Turkey to stage border incidents, British operatives to stir up the desert tribes, and American agents to mobilize SSNP guerrillas, all of which would trigger a pro-Western coup by u2018indigenous anticommunist elements within Syria' supported, if necessary, by Iraqi troops."
False flag events are a common technique used in coups.
The CIA in Libya
The CIA's role in fomenting, assisting, and furthering the Libyan revolution has received relatively little attention. As usual, the public information is sparse. We have to make inferences and piece together a complete picture. The margin of error goes up, but maybe not that much in view of the past record of the CIA and what we know from the public record..
On March 30, 2011 the LA Times reported White House comments that "CIA officers on the ground in Libya are coordinating with rebels and sharing intelligence." The White House refused comment on a Reuters report of a secret memo that two weeks earlier had authorized secret aid to the rebels.
The time frame for these decisions lines up well with Obama's March 3 revelation that he was considering military options. In order to spot targets for bombing and report them to NATO, CIA and other intelligence services of Great Britain and possibly France are essential. In order to train rebels in weapons and advise on military operations on the ground, such forces are essential. The CIA has deep experience in inserting operatives on foreign grounds. It is safe to assume that CIA operatives for these military purposes were in place in Libya in February and certainly by March 3. That was the date on which a team of British special forces fouled up and were captured by some rebels in Libya.
As of May, the commander of the rebel forces is Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. He has close ties to the CIA, which financed his militia years ago. He lived a number of years in Langley, Virginia.
Military-oriented CIA personnel are likely only a portion of the full array of CIA people with a hand in this revolution. Sooner or later, if the West ousts Gaddafi, it will try to control the new government. It will choose whom to back and support and whom to marginalize. The CIA will be critical in making these decisions.
No doubt the CIA and other western intelligence operations are now connected to a number of persons on the National Transitional Council, either directly or indirectly. This affords them the means to control or influence the direction of the revolution, or the hope of doing so. Members of the council's executive team have toured western capitols and have been constantly seeking assistance, both military and financial. This is bound to have exposed them to western diplomats, politicians, and intelligence operatives.
Specifically, one contingent of the NTC is affiliated with the Libyan League for Human Rights, which has a number of branches in the West. It was founded in 1989. Another contingent is the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, founded in 1981. It has been supported by Saudi Arabia and the CIA. A third element is separatist and goes back to the Senoussis Brotherhood that was the de facto government of Cyrenaica. This element is monarchist. (See also here.) Also on the NTC are liberals with links to human rights organizations, persons who are ex-Gaddafi government officials, and finally persons who favor a radical Islamic state.
The CIA would not at all have minded in the 1990s that Gaddafi would be battling terrorism within Libya . They would have been pleased that Gaddafi reconciled with the West. These activities led to cooperation with the West. That brought the CIA close to Gaddafi’s intelligence operatives and members of his regime. That allowed the CIA to infiltrate and turn some Libyan agents into double agents. That allowed the CIA to identify and cultivate elements in Gaddafi's government that were anti-Gaddafi. The same goes for the SIS.
In other words, the CIA and SIS have had sources within Gaddafi’s intelligence operation and government for a long time. They had double agents. There are Libyan government officials who are on the NTC who deserted Gaddafi that are seeking power. Some of these are likely to be closely attached to the SIS and CIA. The CIA always infiltrates. It has its fingers on as many of the NTC contingents as it can.
At the opportune time, the U.S. will push aside certain revolutionary elements and support others. It did this for years in Syria in its failed attempt to control that country's politics. It has been doing this for years in Iraq and Afghanistan. CIA influence on these decisions will be important.
The CIA agrees with its critics that its early efforts in Syria and elsewhere were failures. CIA historian and veteran intelligence analyst Nicholas Dujmovic writes on the CIA web site "It is no surprise to anyone knowledgeable about early CIA covert operations that, in the first years of the Cold War [1945-53], most of this activity met with failure."
CIA failures are really broader U.S. policy failures. Later efforts of the CIA have failed again and again, in places like Syria, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There are many reasons why.
A big reason is that the U.S. is unable to control a country's politics by any means and certainly not by military means. There are too many dynamic unknowns. Unintended consequences occur because the U.S. cannot foresee and therefore cannot control all the possible events that can happen, and that's because it cannot foresee what the political players are going to do. Very many actions of human beings come from within. As such they are uncaused, frequently being uncertain and unpredictable. Human beings have the capacity to break into reality and alter it. Multiple actions of multiple parties create new conditions that could not have been foreseen. Human beings can lie and deceive. They can give out false information. They can uses ruses and stratagems. They can switch sides. They can bluff.
In international politics, communications are cloudy. Intentions are unclear. Trust is lacking. Crises can erupt. Definite information about how far others will go and what they will do is not available.
The games that are being played are dangerous games, and they are games that are being played with people's lives.
The Syrian case illustrates these points. American-Syrian relations were friendly for over a century after 1820. The U.S. supported Syria's removal of the French control over the country. Syrians looked upon America as friendly. This altered dramatically when the U.S. supported the creation of Israel.
In November of 1948, Stephen Meade, a CIA political action specialist, contacted right-wing Syrian army officers. This led to a coup in March 1949 in which Husni Zaim took power. At first, this was wildly successful from the U.S. perspective. Zaim rooted out communists, approved an ARAMCO oil pipeline, began to improve relations with Turkey and Israel, and planned to resettle Palestinian refugees. However, on August 14, 1949, Zaim was overthrown in another coup that the CIA and the U.S. had not foreseen. This led to political instability and rule that was not conducive to U.S. aims. After seven civilian cabinets in 23 months, Colonel Shishakli became dictator. About two years later, he was overthrown. The next leader lasted 14 months before he was assassinated. In August 1955, Syria elected Shukri Quwatly as president.
The next U.S. coup attempt nearly led to a superpower confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. All during 1956 and most of 1957, the U.S. planned various coups in Syria. Operation Wappen was approved in August of 1957. This led to a fiasco. The Operation was penetrated by Syrian intelligence. As soon as the CIA approached Syrian officers, they reported to their authorities. Syria expelled several CIA agents and placed the U.S. embassy under constant surveillance. Contrary to the CIA's designs, a left-wing colonel now gained control over his moderate rivals. This alarmed Turkey which massed 50,000 troops on the Syrian border. John Foster Dulles was prepared to go to war in Syria. He viewed Khrushchev "as more like Hitler than any Russian leader we have previously seen." Khrushchev emitted a clear message that "if Turkey starts hostilities against Syria, this can lead to very grave consequences, and for Turkey, too." The U.S. then had to provide aid and assurances to Turkey so that it would de-mobilize.
The U.S. foreign policy goals have been and are large. Too large. Anti-Communism was seen as a worldwide confrontation of huge proportions. Anti-terrorism is now seen as a huge matter of global scale. The U.S. government pushes democracy, not just here but everywhere on earth
The U.S. government is too ambitious, too utopian, and too domineering. When it catches hold of one of these causes, it goes whole hog. It thinks it has found truth. It thinks it's necessary to implement it everywhere. It tries to spread it everywhere.
Domestically, it's the same. Utopia is the goal. No area of life shall be left untouched in the government's quest to make life wonderfully perfect for all persons and from all angles. Everyone shall be made happy. Does it ever occur to anyone that maybe happiness is not a good goal for one's life or for every single aspect of life? Does it ever occur to anyone that Jefferson maybe had it wrong? Does the government not realize that suffering is an ineradicable part of living and dying? Does no one in government realize that in the quest for unending happiness, we may create a great deal of unhappiness for ourselves? Does no one in government realize that they do not know what constitutes the happiness of a given person? Does no one realize that happiness may deaden creativity, or that many worthwhile endeavors are not happy experiences, or that unhappiness may bring about many good results? Life is not so simple.
We have presidents and Congressmen who want to eliminate poverty, eradicate disease, provide everyone with health care, make sure anyone can buy a house, make sure that Americans have jobs, make sure that the planet doesn't get too warm, make sure that no child is left behind, and make sure that no one takes "bad" drugs and all those who should have "good" drugs be made to take them. We have governments that want to make sure we don't waste energy and that every bottle has a tamper proof seal. Every toy should be ultra safe. Children shall never point their fingers at each other. Women shall be paid the same as men. No one shall touch a creek, a swamp, a marsh, a stream or a river without permission. No one shall kill certain bugs or critters.
No parent shall strike a child. What would have happened to my parents if this had been the rule when my father took a razor strap to my behind or my mother slapped me across the face? Isolated instances to be sure, but in those particular cases my behavior called for it. Can a man slap an hysterical person these days? It's still shown in the movies. In those same movies, travelers often pack guns as they board airplanes or place them in suitcases. Can a person exercise reasonable judgment and precautions in all sorts of situations without running afoul of laws? Not any more. One has to have permission. It's grade school extended to life.
It's all insane. The U.S. is a nuthouse. It once prohibited alcohol nationwide. This shows how nutty American government can be. Americans then went on a very large Prohibition binge. Insane.
Plain old living seems increasingly to be beyond the capacity of human beings in modern life, at least that with which I am familiar in the U.S. Living and let living increasingly are falling by the wayside.
The nuttiness isn't only in the overambitious goals. It's also in the knee-jerk resort to force to bring them about. Do we actually believe that force is the answer to everything? To health care, shelter, education, drugs, foreign relations, food, unfriendly governments, product safety, and money? It appears we do. Such a belief is insane.
The government's overambitious foreign goals are made even more improper when they are implemented in secretive, unaccountable, and violent ways that constantly interfere in the internal workings of other nations. How can the U.S. maintain that it stands for freedom and for democracy when here at home the people are kept in the dark about the CIA? The public doesn't know the amount of funding of the CIA much less its activities. The CIA is a secret arm of the Executive branch. It routinely violates any semblance of constitutional and international law. How can any of that be reconciled with the idea that the U.S. government is a government of a free people who control its actions?
On paper, the U.S. is a constitutional republic with limited powers. In reality, it goes around the world seeking to make and unmake the governments of other countries. This is currently the case in Libya.
The U.S. government believes in governing not only its own citizens but anyone else it can. Its ideal is to regulate behavior so as to produce what it will call happiness and security of a person. Its laws and regulations are merely a crude form of programming, because they require external monitoring and enforcement.
For government, the (science-fiction) ideal would be something like this. The government would determine how to make every person be "happy" all day long. It would determine what behaviors, thoughts, and actions are consistent with this and what are not. It would program all of this onto a chip that would be implanted in a newborn baby. The chip would then control the baby, thereby ending the baby's will and humanity. The baby would be turned into a robot that always obeys the commands and impulses brought about by the instructions on the chip. Once the government had fastened upon a set of "happiness instructions" and programmed them, the human race would simply reproduce itself and live happily ever after. A high degree of stasis would occur. Certain amusements might be programmed in. Work would be made the occasion of pleasure by appropriate drugs.
The U.S. would prefer Gaddafi to be dead so that the Libyans can achieve a higher measure of "happiness" with a new form of government. The U.S. had the same wish for Saddam Hussein. In the brave new world of perfect government by implanted chips, any potential Gaddafis, Saddam Husseins, and Hannibal Lecters will be eliminated long before they can damage others. The chip will automatically release deadly poison if certain limits of violent behavior are surpassed. Punishments will be automatic.
In this world, human creativity would cease. Human personality would be suppressed. Freedom would be non-existent. This is the limit to which existing government is tending. The result of this is the death or near-death of the human race. Without freedom and creativity, human beings will be unable to cope with environmental changes. Climate changes alone will doom them, but so may new species of other animals, crop failures, floods, etc. The chip-makers will be unable to foresee all contingencies in the same way that the U.S. government never foresees the results of its intrusions in other nations. Perfect chip-government will kill everyone. Utopia will be the death of us.