Wednesday 6 April 2011

The Libyan “Liberation”

Greek public television channel NET aired a programme called “Ανταποκριτές“ (“Correspondents”) yesterday night dedicated to the conflict in Libya. The guests included NET’s correspondents in Libya and Egypt Panos Haritos (who covered both events) and Giorgos Alpogiannis.

The segment led off with an interesting statement, which I translate and summarise here:

“The first symptoms of the manufacture of news occurred three weeks ago, when we arrived in the town of Ras Lanuf. We were informed that Quaddafi’s forces were about to attack Brega, about 100 km behind us. Since this would have left us exposed on the front line, we got back in the car and returned to Brega. Colleagues in Benghazi informed us that international media were reporting that Brega had fallen to Quaddafi, and that his air power had played a major role in the attacks. I told them that we were in Brega: the situation was calm, the rebels were there, and that what I was reporting was in front of me.

Brega certainly did not fall that day. However, on that day, the UN Security Council began the imposition of a no fly zone on Libya.

On March 19th, another incident took place. A large media channel reported that Qaddafi forces were attacking Tobruk during the night. After hard fighting in the early morning hours, the town was recaptured by the rebels. Together with my colleagues at the hotel [in Tobruk], we waited to hear a reconfirmation of the news, because we didn’t believe our ears. Tobruk was taken and recaptured in an all-night battle, which none of us heard.

On March 22nd, the following digital video footage was released, showing a Grad rocket attack on Benghazi. The foot was purportedly taken from the cell phone of a Qaddafi soldier, killed in the air strikes of March 19th. Where this was filmed, we cannot tell: it could be anywhere. What is certain is that Benghazi was attacked with mortars, tank guns, anti-aircraft guns and automatic weapons. Grad missiles were never used against Benghazi. If they had, buildings would have been levelled, and the city would have looked like Grozny in the second half of the 1990s.”

Obviously, I am in no position to confirm their statements. The fog of war means that inevitably mistakes will be made by journalists and generals everywhere. I therefore won’t repeat or endorse their conclusions about the Libyan conflict, although I believe they are worth listening to. Unfortunately, NET does not publish archives, but you can see the introductory fragment of the show on Youtube for as long as it remains posted there.

What I will do here is list some of my own impressions of this conflict:

·         The alacrity with which France and then the UK determined that Qaddafi “must go” was remarkable, and in great contrast to their responses in other cases.

·         During the critical time period when it was reported that Qaddafi was “massacring” Libyan civilians there was no footage such massacres or their aftermath, in contrast to Rwanda, Srebrenica or Kosovo, and despite the presence of hundreds of journalists on the ground.

·         The evidence on which the Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone on Libya (on the basis of a humanitarian intervention to prevent a dictator attacking his own people) has never been publicised.

·         During the entire conflict, I have yet to see TV footage of a “pro-Qaddafi” military-strength formation in action. This is despite the hundreds of Western journalists and TV crews embedded on both sides of the conflict.

·         Apart from the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and a range of other countries have had nothing but praise for Muammar Qaddafi recently. A US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks (and published in the Asia Tribune) describing a 2009 meeting between Senators John McCain and Joseph Liebermann describes this relationship:

3.(C) Characterizing the overall pace of the bilateral relationship as excellent, CODEL McCain opened its August 14 meeting with National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi by noting the drastic change that the relationship had undergone over the last five years. "We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi," remarked Senator Lieberman. He stated that the situation demonstrated that change is possible and expressed appreciation that Libya had kept its promises to give up its WMD program and renounce terrorism. Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends. The Senators recognized Libya's cooperation on counterterrorism and conveyed that it was in the interest of both countries to make the relationship stronger. They encouraged Libya to sign the Highly Enriched Uranium transfer agreement by August 15 in order to fulfill its obligation to transfer its nuclear spent fuel to Russia for treatment and disposal. [Note: The Libyan Government subsequently informed us of its intent to sign the agreement on August 17 and has begun taking good-faith steps to do so

·         According to The Telegraph (24.11.2010), it appears that BP has influenced the al-Megrahi prisoner release in the influence of a Libyan deepwater oil deal. BP signed a $ 900 million exploration and production deal, initially believed to be worth $ 20 billion. Since the initial deals, however, progress in oil development has proved slow. As reported in the Financial Times (23.08.2010):

Recent exploration efforts have, however, proved disappointing and have dented the optimism that accompanied the return of international oil companies to Libya after the final lifting of sanctions in 2004.

“We are coming up to the end of a five-year period where there has not been a lot of notable exploration success to point to,” said Ross Cassidy,
Libya analyst at Wood Mackenzie, the oil consultancy. “Results have been poor when you compare with what was expected and hoped for.”

Big oil companies piled into Libya, competing for blocks in four licensing rounds held between 2005 and 2007, lured by the promise of an under-explored country that has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa. So far they have little to show for their huge investments in recent years. Offshore, only Hess reported finding hydrocarbons that can be developed commercially, in its Arous el Bahr well.

·         Most of Libya’s oil and refining infrastructure was or is in rebel-controlled areas.

·         There is no apparent exit strategy for this conflict. The fact that Muammar Qaddafi is not being actively targeted, and that a future political settlement may include both a rebel-held territory in the east and a pro-Qaddafi territory in the west, makes little sense on ethical or humanitarian grounds. It may make some sense in looking at the map of oilfields in the previous point.

·         NATO is a military and political alliance which historically and traditionally has been developed for the defence of Europe. None of its Member States face a material threat from Libya. It’s involvement in this conflict, apart from its obvious capabilities, is questionable.

I do not have an opinion as to who is right or wrong on the Libyan invasion; nor do I have evidence of a conspiracy or anything else which might explain things. Whether Libya was invaded to save Libyan civilians or President Sarkozy’s poll ratings or BP’s oil leases is unknown to me. Certainly, I am no supporter of Colonel Qaddafi, and have no business interests in Libya.

What I am certain of is that this intervention is one of the strangest I’ve seen in the last 20 years. Together with the 2003 Iraq invasion, there appear to be a confluence of motivating factors which are perhaps only tangentially related to the supposed cause of protecting civilians from Qaddafi’s air attacks.

Where this leaves a world struggling to deal with vital issues of human rights, national sovereignty or the rule of law is beyond my capacity to understand. The logical and legal conflicts of interest in this case are self-evident. As more and more such precedents build up (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya), it becomes painfully apparent that these will be used or misused in the years to come.

And at the end, it appears that only one rule remains: that of survival of the fittest. Colonel Qaddafi and his oil and arms contracts were feted in Paris, London, Rome and elsewhere for years. In February-March 2011, he was apparently no longer sufficiently useful, and Libya was invaded under the guise of a no fly zone. Where this adventure will end, and what consequences it will have 5 or 10 years from now, remains to be seen. 

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