On March 17, 2011 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution which declared a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized the “international community” to take whatever additional measures necessary to “…protect the country’s population” (UN Security Council Resolution 1973) short of sending ground troops. Ever since, the “international community” has displayed an utter inability to come to any agreement on the next steps to take. The divisions and hesitations on what approach to take to the chaos in Libya run deep even at home, among the US ruling class itself. Richard N. Haass of the US Council on Foreign Relations told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the future will require boots on the ground in an “enormous, multi-year effort to help Libya become a functioning country.” Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ruled out US ground forces, and Haass himself agrees that, “US interests in Libya simply do not warrant such an investment.” At the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the chaos that has engulfed Libya. Indeed, the divisions within factions of the US bourgeoisie and their hesitations vis-à-vis the situation in Libya point to a new development in the convulsions of a ruling class less and less capable of having any coherent strategy. We see this at the level of the economic crisis, and now, clearly so, also at the level of imperialist decision making. Why has the US decided to intervene in a conflict where it doesn’t know who the opposition are? What’s at the root of the divisions and hesitancy as to what to do next? What are the perspectives ahead for this latest imperialist adventure? Above all, what does this all mean to the working class in Libya and elsewhere?
Imperialism is a necessity for the world bourgeoisie
Eight years of the Bush administration wreaked so much havoc to US international relations and tarnished its image as a ‘fair’, ‘democratic’ world leader so seriously that when Obama campaigned for the presidential election in 2008 he rejected outright the Bush administration’s notions of unilateral military intervention. But intervene it must. The notion that the US should overthrow regimes it considers reprehensible even when they do not present an immediate threat to it, or that it should forcibly bring democracy to other nations not so… blessed, has given way to the rhetoric of “international cooperation”. In the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “When the earth shakes or rivers overflow their banks, when pandemics rage or simmering tensions burst into violence, the world looks at us.” This means that in spite of its rhetoric of “international cooperation” the US cannot renounce its position as world cop. Its reluctance or hesitance regarding the present intervention in Libya has nothing to do with the US slouching toward any degree of humility and everything to do with the imperative of struggling to defend its position of hegemony in the world. This is why from dragging its feet regarding the possibility of intervention in Libya, the US resolved in its favor almost overnight when France decided to move in support of the rebels. It is clear that the strongest stimulus toward intervention has been the fact that France first, followed immediately by Great Britain –who even sent an incognito diplomatic envoy to discuss policies with the anti-Qaddafi forces – rushed to scene, proclaiming their full support for the ‘revolt’. This is the single most powerful reason for the US to intervene. Of course the outcry of disapproval for the ‘madman’ Qaddafi is complete hypocrisy, all the major imperialist powers, including the US went along with his 42-year long dictatorship and terror against his population. Qaddafi has been a force capable of imposing some kind of order in an area where “jihadist” extremism threatens to rip apart the already fragile and volatile balance of imperialisms. The can of worms opened by the destabilizing effect of the civil war in Libya may not grant the necessity for intervention but there are other considerations.
Why the US bourgeoisie’s divisions and hesitancy?
The world imperialist situation since the collapse of the Eastern bloc has been characterized by a volatility and precariousness in the alliances between the imperialist gangsters. The predictability and relative stability of the Cold War years have been replaced by a tendency toward ‘each for themselves’. The economic crisis can only aggravate this already explosive situation. This situation of fragility at the international level is what best explains the divisions and hesitations of the US bourgeoisie. In Libya, these centrifugal tendencies are, and have been, at work both at the level of this country’s internal stability and cohesion, and that of the impact the present civil war is having on the western imperialist powers which have historically played a role in the area. Libya is essentially made up of two provinces, one in the north-west, where Tripoli is located, and the other in the east, where Benghazi is located. These two provinces are divided by long-standing tensions. Qaddafi has historically neglected the eastern province because he judged the tribes there to be potentially disloyal. At the same time, Qaddafi exacerbated the divisions between the two provinces by playing each off the other in order to stay in power and gain the approval and tacit support of the “international community”. The situation of utter dejection, lack of a future, unemployment, and repression opened the door to the influence of jihadist forces and Al-Qaida-influenced groups in the eastern part of the country. The weapons that flowed through Libya’s porous border during the anti-Qaddafi campaign have left the region’s tribes more powerful and emboldened by Western intervention on their behalf. As the US is pondering whether to intervene on the ground or not, it is making calculations as to whether it really wants to get involved in a situation that risks bogging it down in yet another drawn out conflict in which the perspective is one of all-out intertribal and interprovincial warfare. This is because although there is as yet no other opposition group, none among the council representatives of the Interim Libyan National Council –the provisional government officially recognized by France and Italy, among others-- can command allegiance in all provinces and across all tribes. Neither does it have the ability to bring the different sides together in a post-conflict situation. In addition, displacing Qaddafi would give a number of groups, including Al-Qaida, the opportunity to use the current chaos in Libya to extend their influence. On the other hand, leaving Qaddafi in control would leave the country unstable. The alternative of a divided Libya would not resolve this situation. In the context of this utter chaos, the US may conclude that Libya is not important enough, nor Qaddafi dangerous enough, to command a long-drawn intervention with troops on the ground. Indeed, it may even be better, after all, to leave Qaddafi in power or find other, less ‘radical’ solutions, such as a cease fire followed by some kind of sanctions. These calculations, however, rather than reflecting a coherent strategy, are an expression of the chaotic nature of the current period, and why instead the imperialist powers increasingly have to react to the events of the day.
What perspectives ahead?
The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 –“to protect the country’s population”—is shown up for what it is: the usual hypocritical rubbish spouted by a bourgeoisie utterly uninterested in the well-being and safety of any population and mired in the contradictions wrought by the decay of its system. As the unrest spiked in Libya, all the imperialist gangsters engaged in a furious race as they each tried to beat the other to the scene, attentive to how the mess was disrupting their interests in the region or whether there were any possibilities for new alliances, new trade agreements that could give them an advantage over their opponents. Their own divisions, their fight for ‘the survival of the fittest’ makes them incapable of having a coherent, unified strategy capable of bringing lasting peace to any conflict. Instead, it is their self-interest in the context of a dying system that causes them to become the motor force of the spreading of further chaos, hurling humanity as a whole in a maddening spiral of violence. Thousands upon thousands of people have fled the area, in many cases either by giving themselves to the desert or drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Those who survive are directed to ‘welcoming centers’ or refugees shelters, veritable jails with sub-human living conditions. Those left behind, among whom teenagers, often fall prey to jihadist ideology and embrace violence. This is the future that capitalism has to offer. This is the ‘protection’ humanity can hope to gain from it. Indeed, the situation in Libya opens up a real perspective for utter chaos in the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya, a weak and inexperienced working class could not impose its will on the historic scene and sustain the struggle it had timidly started. However, it is the working class worldwide that is the only force in society capable of giving society a different direction and offer a real solution to the problems facing humanity. The timid, weak, clumsy struggles that the working class in Libya first waged at the beginning of the ‘anti-Qaddafi movement’ can find again their initial élan when they are inscribed in the larger historical struggles of the world proletariat.