Libya: NATO’s Gateway to the Arab Revolts

Co-opting the Revolts: The New Intervention Order

By Basheer al-Baker
Al–Akhbar, Cairo, August 24, 2011

This article is translated from the Arabic Edition

NATO’s successful role in overthrowing Colonel Gaddafi’s regime opens the door for replicating the Libyan model in other countries of the region. The alliance’s new strategy is aimed at redefining its image and strategy while expanding its traditional area of operation towards the Middle East and the Gulf Region.

Current events in Libya will have consequences and repercussions well beyond the country’s borders and across the Arab World. This is the second most vitally important event in this decade after the occupation of Iraq. Arab and international reactions to NATO’s involvement in Libya suggests that what happened in Libya could happen in most Arab countries, particularly those experiencing massive protest movements amid growing rifts between ruler and ruled.

On Facebook, reactions to Gaddafi’s ouster are mixed: Many feel elated by the defeat of Tripoli’s ruler, while many others believe that the Arab region is rapidly entering a phase of foreign intervention. In both camps, the main focus is Syria. The former group believes that the downfall of Gaddafi paves the way for ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad. Those in the second group insist that NATO’s role in overthrowing Gaddafi proves that the Arab revolutions have become a vehicle for Western intervention in the region. The chasm between these positions calls for a better understanding of NATO’s vision for the region.

Bush Doctrine: Mission Unaccomplished

Long before the winds of the Arab Spring began to blow in Tunisia, and for the past decade, NATO had special designs for the Middle East and the Gulf. The emergent Western interest in Arab geography is not new and surfaced when former US President George W. Bush took office in 2001. In 2002, former US Secretary of State General Colin Powell launched the Middle East Initiative (paving the way for the Greater Middle East Project) that preceded the American invasion of Iraq. At the time, the US allocated USD 200 million to the initiative, and tried to implement it through a number of political, security, and defense agencies. Washington also sought to engage civil society and several Arab governments, including those of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, and Bahrain, in the initiative. Two ‘Forums for the Future’ were held in Morocco (2004) and Bahrain (2005) among representatives of G8 countries, Middle East leaders, and business and civil society groups.

However, the project did not advance very far, stumbling for financial reasons. In practice, the region was not prepared to accept this project, because of the shadows cast by the 9/11 bombings, as well as the global ‘War on Terror’ launched by Bush in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In 2004, earlier efforts were reformulated into the Greater Middle East Project, described as an ambitious initiative to promote democracy in the region. The Project’s approach was based on the model used in prior decades to pressure the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to promote freedom. The US drew up a comprehensive plan and presented it to the summit meetings of the G8, NATO, and the EU. These summits solidified commitments from Middle Eastern and East Asian countries to implement wide ranging political and economic reforms, and attempted to institute processes to hold these countries accountable for their human rights records.

Regime change was also part of this strategy. Bush saw the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a model for political change, and expressed his belief that the experience could be repeated in other countries through the establishment of democratic institutions. He saw this as part of his legacy to help change what he termed as the traditions of violence, fear, and frustration — what he viewed as the seeds from which terrorism grew in the Middle East. He insisted that it was necessary to set up democratic institutions to respond to the people’s aspirations.

Coordination for the project was then established with Europe. The G8, the US, Europe, and NATO adopted the the Greater Middle East Project during summits held in June 2004. They envisioned the Middle East at a crossroads and concluded that it needed to be placed on a pathway towards economic and social reform, thereby preserving "the United States’ and its allies’ security interests.”

The project failed shortly thereafter and was completely abandoned during Bush’s second term. It did not succeed largely because of the security failures in Afghanistan and growing resistance against American occupation in Iraq. In light of the surprises encountered after the invasion of Iraq, Washington changed many of its priorities. At the very least, it wanted to pressure the Syrian regime in order to influence events in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iran. The Syrian regime offered actual concessions in that regard. However, the Bush administration realized that its recipe for installing democracy was flawed, and instead pursued UN resolution 1559, which called for, among other things, Syrian political and military withdrawal from Lebanon. This resolution was to preempt a move against the Syrian regime, but the July 2006 victory against Israel in Lebanon ended the siege on Damascus.

The New NATO Doctrine

Arab and international reactions to NATO’s involvement in Libya suggests that what happened in Libya could happen in most Arab countries, particularly those experiencing massive protest movements amid growing rifts between ruler and ruled.The Bush administration’s abandonment of the project did not lead to its complete dismemberment. It remained, in the eyes of many, the perfect ready–made recipe for interfering in the region under the pretense of democratic reform. It now took on a multinational dimension. Many governments did not notice that the US plan was adopted internationally, and, in particular, as a joint American–European project. Many European leaders actively obscured American initiatives by offering more practical alternatives. As an example of this, Europe and NATO began a joint defense strategy where European security and military forces were placed at the disposal of NATO. At the same time, the alliance began to enjoy a prime position in European regional exploits.

Meanwhile, the project’s critics failed to recognize that it sought more than regime change. The project identified strategies and proposed solutions based on an analysis provided in a UN Human Development Report written by several Arab intellectuals and experts.

In this context, those who hailed the American failure in Iraq believed it was due to a lack of stability in that country. They did not suspect that other countries in the region would be the target of foreign intervention. Only Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh took notice. He summarized the situation through a Bedouin proverb, “If you see that they have shaved your brother’s hair, get ready by wetting yours.” The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a lesson to his ruling Arab brethren that their turn will come. However, Arab regimes sat back and enjoyed their existing security and stability.

The latest developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen show that security measures alone cannot keep people under check and sustain the rule of countries. Long before the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction, the dictatorial regime in Iraq and the absence of freedom had paved the way for the occupation of the country by a foreign force.

Despite the presence of dictatorship in Iraq, Washington failed to convince the people of the region that US intentions were indeed noble and the Greater Middle East Project failed to materialize. Rather, the latter was viewed as part of a foreign agenda imposed by force on the region.

Co–opting the Revolts: The New Intervention Order

Three things have changed since then. Today the domestic protest agenda exists of its own accord independently of foreign factors. The Americans have been quick to ride that wave. They absorbed the shock what happened in Tunisia and avoided falling into the same traps they fell into in the case of Egypt. This is why they distanced themselves from Hosni Mubarak and his regime, behaved like a patron for peace in Yemen, and adopted the protest movement in Syria to such an extent that they were the first among the international community to call for Asad’s resignation. Whatever the context and difference of motives, a foundation now exists for domestic and foreign agendas to coincide towards one goal: regime change.

Current events have also ushered a new military precedent: intervention no longer requires the cover of the UN nor faces any effective global protest. As far as NATO’s rules of engagement are concerned, the alliance has become a Western tool of choice for foreign intervention. Europe and the US no longer need to send their forces directly to fight missions outside of Europe. The international division fostered by the American invasion of Iraq will not be repeated, as the Libyan model offers a clear alternative for what awaits the region. Foreign intervention may follow if there is no resolution to the current intractable crises between the people calling for the downfall of their rulers and the latter’s stalling significant reforms while relying on security measures instead.

Libya, The Ruined Revolution

By Asad Abu Khalil
Al–Akhbar, Cairo, August 26, 2011

This is no revolution. This is not even a popular uprising. This is a ruined revolution. Who but NATO can turn a popular uprising with revolutionary potential into a reactionary political puppet movement headed by former lieutenants of Gaddafi? Who but NATO can smash the concrete revolutionary actions of Arab youths? The dreams of those who expected a real revolutionary moment in which the entire bizarre model of government of Jamahiriyyah were trampled upon by the boots of French and British special forces.

Here was the brave people of Libya acting on their own to throw off the shackles of Gaddafi's tyranny before sinister forces with colonial nostalgia interfered. There Western forces were the same one totally infatuated with Gaddafi. The "freedom" president, George W. Bush, was paradoxically––the paradox of rhetoric only––the US president who earned the honor of normalizing relations between the Libyan dictator and Western powers. A Saudi prince, the notorious Bandar Bin Sultan, had aided Libya in reaching out to Western countries.

How could this be a revolution when NATO is now in charge?

If Egypt and Tunisia can't be said to constitute a real "revolution" in a Marxist sense, in which political and social powers are dismantled, the Libyan situation falls far short of such a criterion.

Liberals and conservatives (and former leftists) who utter NATO and “revolution” in the same sentence seem to take little note of this fact. But it is not the first time they come together to bless yet another Western military intervention. Hillary Clinton went––in a matter of weeks really––from meeting with the head of the Libyan secret police, Mu`tasim––one of Gaddafi's sons, to counting the regime’s the human rights violations, and reminding he world of its brutal nature. Obama did the same. Both flip–flopped because they have utter contempt for their Arab audiences. They really don't think that Arabs are smart enough to notice or to recall their recent stances from weeks ago, when they embraced the dictator.

The Libyan people deserve congratulations for overthrowing a dictator, but they deserve truthful warnings: that the new Libya may not fulfil the promises of freedom and prosperity. Western oil companies are scrambling to get a foothold in the new Libya, just as they competed to win favor with Qaddafi’s's regime. The Libyan Transitional Council does not bode well: it is headed by Qaddafi's Minister of Justice and his second–in–command is the former mentor of none other than Gaddafi’s son Sayf Al–Islam.

The Gaddafi era may have ended, but with NATO in charge, it is likely that the new leader of Libya is another Hamid Karzai or an even more compliant client of Western powers. Mustafa Abd al–Jalil will be the weakest leader of any Middle East country; With NATO in charge, it is certain that Libya won't be free. For that to happen, the Libyan people have to rise up again, this time against the external forces of colonial powers, and against the reactionary ideologies that the new Libyan government will bring along with it.