Friday, 9 December 2011

The West aims to turn the entire global South into a failed state.

Private security is one of the few industries in which the Western world still has a competitive advantage

The economic collapse that began in 2008, that was duly declared unpredictable and thoroughly unforeseen across the entire Western media, was in fact anything but. Indeed, the capitalist cycle of expansion and collapse has repeated itself so often, over hundreds of years, that its existence is openly accepted across the whole spectrum of economic thought, including in the mainstream - which refers to it, in deliberately understated terms, as the “business cycle”. Only those who profit from our ignorance of this dynamic – the billionaire profiteers and their paid stooges in media and government – try to deny it.

A slump occurs when “capacity outstrips demand” – that is to say, when people can no longer afford to buy all that is being produced. This is inevitable in a capitalist system, where productive capacity is privately owned, because the global working class as a whole are never paid enough to purchase all that they collectively produce. As a result, unsold goods begin to pile up, and production facilities – factories and the like – are closed down. People are thrown out of work as a result, their incomes decline, and the problem gets worse. This is exactly what we are seeing happen today.

In these circumstances, avenues for profitable investment dry up - the holders of capital can find nowhere safe to invest their money. For them, this is the crisis – not the unemployment, the famine, the poverty etc (which, after all, remain an endemic feature of the global capitalist economy even during the ‘boom times’, albeit on a somewhat reduced scale). The governments under their control – through ownership of the media, currency manipulation and control of the economy – must then set to work creating new profitable investment opportunities.

One way they do this is by killing off public services, and thus creating opportunities for investment in the private companies that replace them. In 1980s Britain, Margaret Thatcher privatised steel, coal, gas, electricity, water, and much else besides. In the short term, this plunged millions into unemployment, as factories and mines were closed down, and in the long term it resulted in massive price rises for basic services. But it had its intended effect – it provided valuable investment opportunities (for those with capital to spare) at a time when such opportunities were scarce, and created a long term source of fabulous profits. This summer, for example, saw the formerly publicly owned gas company Centrica hiking its prices by another 18% to bring in a £1.3billion profit. The raised prices will see many thousands more pensioners than usual die from the cold this winter as a result, but gas – like all commodities in capitalist society – is not there to provide heat, but to increase capital.

In the global South, privatisation was harsher still. Bodies like the IMF and the World Bank used the leverage provided by the debt-extortion mechanism (whereby interest rates were hiked on unpayable loans that had rarely benefited the population, often taken out by corrupt rulers imposed by Western governments in the first place) to force governments across Asia, Africa and Latin America to cut public spending on even basics such as health and education, along with agricultural subsidies. This contributed massively to the staggering rates of infant mortality and deaths from preventable disease, as well as to the AIDS epidemic now raging across Africa. But again the desired end for those imposing the policies was achieved, as new markets were created and holders of giant capital reserves could now invest in private companies to provide the services no longer available from the state. The profit system was given a new lease of life, its collapse staved off once again.

The World Bank’s closure of the Indian government’s grain rationing and distribution service, for example, meant that a scheme providing affordable grain to all Indian citizens was closed down, allowing private companies to come in and sell grain at massively increased prices (sometimes up to ten times higher). Whilst this has led to huge numbers of Indians being priced out of the market, and a resulting 200 million people now facing starvation in India, it has also led to record profits for the giant private companies now holding the world’s grain stocks – which is the whole point.

This round of global privatisation from the 1980s onwards, however, was so thorough that when the 2008 crisis hit, there were few state functions left to privatise. Creating investment opportunities now is much trickier than it was thirty years ago, because so much of what is potentially profitable is already being thoroughly exploited as it is.

In Europe, what is left of public services is hastily being dismantled, as right wing political leaders happily privatise what is left of the public sector, and currency speculators use their firepower to pick off any country that attempts to resist. David Cameron, following the path forced on the global South over recent decades, for example, is busy opening up Britain’s National Health Service to private companies, and massively cutting back on public service provision for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the jobless.

In the global South, however, there is little left for the West to privatise, as successive IMF policies have long ago forced those countries in their grip to strip their public services to the bone (and beyond) already.

But there is one state function which, if fully privatised across the world, would make the profits made even from essentials such as healthcare and education look like peanuts. That is the most basic and essential state function of all, indeed the whole raison d’etre for the state: security.

Private security companies are one of the few growth areas during times of global recession, as growing unemployment and poverty leads to increased social unrest and chaos, and those with wealth become more nervous about protecting both themselves, and their assets. Furthermore, as the Chinese economy advances at a rate of knots, military superiority is fast becoming the West’s only “competitive advantage” – the one area in which it’s expertise remains significantly ahead of its rivals. Turning this advantage, therefore, into an opportunity for investment and profit on a large-scale is now one of the chief tasks facing the rulers of Western economies.

A recent article in the Guardian noted that British private security firm Group 4 is now “Europe's largest private sector employer”, employing 600,000 people - 50% more than make up the total armed forces of Britain and France combined. With growth last year of 9% in their “new markets” division, the company have “already benefited from the unrest in north Africa and the Middle East.” Group 4 are set to make a killing in Libya, following the total breakdown of security, likely to last for decades, resulting from NATO’s incineration of the country’s armed forces and wholesale destruction of its state apparatus. With the rule of law replaced by warfare between rival gangs of rebels, and no realistic prospect of a functioning police force for the foreseeable future, those Libyans able to manoeuvre themselves into positions of wealth and power will likely have to rely on private security for many years to come.

When Philip Hammond, Britain’s new Defence Secretary and a multi-millionaire businessman himself, suggested that British companies “pack their suitcases and head to Libya”, it was not only oil and construction companies he had in mind, but private security companies.

Private military companies are also becoming huge business – most famously, the US company Blackwater, renamed Xe Services after its original name became synonymous with the massacres committed by its forces in Iraq. In the USA, Blackwater has already taken over many of the security functions of the state – charging the Department of Homeland Security $1000 per day per head in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, for example. “When you ship overnight, do you use the postal service or do you use FedEx?” asked Erik Prince, founder and chairman of Blackwater. “Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service”. Another Blackwater official commented that “None of us loves the idea that devastation became a business opportunity. It’s a distasteful fact. But that’s what it is. Doctors, lawyers, funeral directors, even newspapers – they all make a living off of bad things happening. So do we, because somebody’s got to handle it.”

The danger comes when the economic climate is such that the world’s most powerful governments feel they must do all they can to create such business opportunities. During the Cold War, the US military acted (as indeed it still does) to keep the global South in a state of poverty by attacking any government that seriously sought to challenge this poverty, and imposing governments that would crush trade unions and keep the population cowed. This created investment opportunities because it kept the majority of the world’s labour force in conditions so desperate they were willing to work for peanuts. But now this is not enough. In slump conditions, it doesn’t matter how cheap your workforce is if nobody is buying your products. To create the requisite business opportunities today – a large global market for its military expertise - Western governments must impose not only poverty, but also devastation. Devastation is the quickest route to converting the West’s military prowess into a genuine business opportunity that can create a huge new avenue for investment when all others are drying up. And this is precisely what is happening.  David Cameron is, for once, telling the truth, when he says “Whatever it takes to help our businesses take on the world – we’ll do it.”

As The Times put it recently, “In Iraq, the postwar business boom is not oil. It is security.” In both Iraq and Afghanistan, a situation of chronic and enduring instability and civil war has been created by a very precise method. Firstly, the existing state power is totally destroyed. Next, the possibility of utilising the country’s domestic expertise to rebuild state capacity is undermined against by barring former officials from working for the new government (a process known in Iraq as “de-Ba’athification”). Linked to this, the former ruling party is banned from playing any part in the political process, effectively ensuring that the largest and most organised political formation in each country has no option but to resort to armed struggle to gain influence, and thereby condemning the country to civil war. Next, vicious sectarianism is encouraged along whatever religious, ethnic and tribal divisions are available, often goaded by the covert actions of Western intelligence services. Finally, the wholesale privatisation of resources ensures chronically destabilising levels of unemployment and inequality.  The whole process is self-perpetuating, as the skilled and professional sections of the workforce – those with the means and connections – emigrate, leaving behind a dire skills shortage and even less chance of a functioning society emerging from the chaos.

This instability is not confined to the borders of the state which has been destroyed. In a masterfully cynical domino effect, for example, the aggression against Iraq has also helped to destabilise Syria. Three quarters of the 2 million Iraqi refugees fleeing the war in their own country have ended up in Syria, thus contributing to the pressure on the Syrian economy which is a major factor in the current unrest there. 

The destruction of Libya will also have far reaching destabilising consequences across the region. As the recent United Nations Support Mission in Libya stated, “Libya had accumulated the largest known stockpile of Manpads [surface-to-air missiles] of any non-Manpad-producing country. Although thousands were destroyed during the seven-month Nato operations, there are increasing concerns over the looting and likely proliferation of these portable defence systems, as well as munitions and mines, highlighting the potential risk to local and regional stability.” Furthermore, a large number of volatile African countries are currently experiencing a fragile peace secured by peacekeeping forces in which Libyan troops had been playing a vital role. The withdrawal of these troops may well be damaging to the maintenance of the peace. Similarly, Libya, under Gaddafi’s rule, had contributed generously to African development projects; a policy which will certainly be ended under the NTC – again, with potentially destabilising consequences.

Clearly, a policy of devastation and destabilisation fuels not only the market for private security, but also for arms sales – where, again, the US, Britain and France remain market leaders. And a policy of devastation through blitzkrieg fits in clearly with the big three current long term strategic objectives of Western policy planners:

  1. To corner as large a share as possible of the world’s diminishing resources, most importantly oil, gas and water. A government of a devastated country is at the mercy of the occupying country when it comes to contracts. Gaddafi’s Libya, for example, drove a notoriously hard bargain with the Western powers over oil contracts – acting as a key force in the 1973 oil price spike, and still in 2009 being accused by the Financial Times of “resource nationalism”. But the new NTC government in Libya have been hand picked for their subservience to foreign interests – and know that their continued positions depend on their willingness to continue in this role.
  2. To prevent the rise of the global South, primarily through the destruction of any independent regional powers (such as Iran, Libya, Syria etc) and the destabilisation, isolation and encirclement of the rising global powers (in particular China and Russia).
  3. To overcome or limit the impact of economic collapse by using superior military force to create and conquer new markets through the destruction and rebuilding of infrastructure and the elimination of competition.

This policy of total devastation represents a departure from the Cold War policies of the Western powers. During the Cold War, whilst the major strategic aims remained the same, the methods were different. Independent regional powers in the global South were still destabilised and invaded – and regularly – but generally with the aim of installing ‘compliant dictatorships’. Thus, Lumumba was overthrown and replaced with Mobutu; Sukarno with Suharto; Allende with Pinochet; etc etc. But the danger with this ‘imposed strongmen’ policy was that strongmen can become defiant. Saddam Hussein illustrated this perfectly. After having been backed for over a decade by the West, he turned on their stooge monarchy in Kuwait. Governments that are in control can easily get out of control. However, for as long as these strongmen were needed for the services provided by their armies (protecting investments, repressing workers struggles, etc), they were supported. The crisis now underway in the economies of the West, however, calls for more drastic measures. And the development of private security and private mercenary companies mean that the armies provided by these strongmen are starting to be deemed no longer necessary.

Congo is a case in point. For three decades, the Western powers had supported Mobutu Sese-Seko’s iron rule of the Congo. But then, in the mid-90s, they allowed him to be overthrown. However, rather than allowing the Congolese resistance forces to take power and establish an effective government, they then sponsored an invasion of the country by Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Although these countries have now largely withdrawn their militias, they continue to sponsor proxy militias which have prevented the country seeing a moment’s peace for nearly fifteen years, resulting in the biggest slaughter since the end of the Second World War, with over 5 million killed. One result of this total breakdown of functioning government has been that the Western companies that loot Congo’s resources have been able to do so virtually for free. Despite being the world’s largest supplier of both coltan and copper, amongst many other precious minerals, the total tax revenue on these products in 2006-7 amounted to a puny £32 million. This is surely far less than what even the most useless neo-colonial puppet would have demanded. 

This completely changes the meaning of the word ‘government’. In the Congo, the government’s best efforts to stabilise and develop the country have so far proved no match for the destabilisation strategies of the West and its stooges. In Afghanistan, it is well known that the government’s writ has no authority outside of Kabul, if there. But then, that is the point. The role of the governments imposed on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, like the one they are trying to impose on Syria, is not to govern or provide for the population at all - even that most basic of functions, security. It is simply to provide a figleaf of legitimacy for the occupation of the country and to award business contracts to the colonial powers. They literally have no other function, as far as their sponsors are concerned.

It goes without saying that this policy of devastation is turning the victimised countries into a living hell. After now more than thirty years of Western destabilisation, and ten years of outright occupation, Afghanistan is at or very hear the bottom of nearly every human development indicator available, with life expectancy at 44 years and an under-five mortality rate of over one in four. Mathew White, a history professor who has recently completed a detailed survey of the humanity’s worst atrocities throughout history, concluded that, without doubt, “chaos is far deadlier than tyranny”. It is a truth to which many Iraqis can testify.

This article originally appeared in Dissident Voice.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chomsky interview: full transcript

Professor Chomsky, it’s great to meet you. You were the first to really open my eyes to the reality of class power on a global scale and for that I’m very grateful. But I also take to heart your injunction to hold public intellectuals to account, so I hope to do a little of that today as well.

Firstly, on Libya, a few days before the NATO bombing started, you were interviewed on the BBC. You said you thought the rebellion was “wonderful”; you claimed that it was “initially non-violent” and you called the rebel takeover of Benghazi “liberation”. Now that groups such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are reporting that the rebels were armed from the very first day of the uprising  and have been rounding up and executing innocent African migrants and black Libyans in droves ever since, do you feel ashamed of your public support for them in those crucial days before the NATO aggression began?

“No. I mean, what Amnesty International reports I am sure is correct, that there were armed elements among them, but notice they didn’t say that the rebellion was an armed rebellion; in fact the large majority were probably people like us [sic], middle class opponents of Gaddafi. It was mostly an unarmed uprising. It turned into a violent uprising and the killings you are describing indeed are going on, but it didn’t start like that. As soon as it became a civil war, that happened. In fact, right now at this moment NATO is bombing a home base of the largest tribe in Libya – Libya’s a tribal country. Benghazi is not Libya, its separate from the country, quite separate in fact, historically. Now they’re bombing the base of the largest tribe, it’s not getting reported much, but if you read the Red Cross reports they’re describing a horrifying humanitarian crisis in the city that’s under attack, with hospitals collapsing, no drugs, people dying, people fleeing on foot into the desert on foot to try to get away from it and so on. That’s happening under the NATO mandate of protecting civilians. That’s something we should think about it. And if we want to talk about Libya, we should remember that there were two interventions, not one, by NATO. One of them lasted about five minutes. That’s the one I was thinking about, the one that was taken under the UNSC resolution 1973, which actually came after that discussion, and that one called for a no fly zone over Benghazi when there was the threat of a serious massacre there, and the longer term mandate of protecting civilians, and that one lasted almost no time. Almost immediately, not NATO but the three traditional imperial powers, France, Britain and the United States carried out a second intervention which had nothing to do with protecting civilians and certainly wasn’t a no fly zone, but was participation in a rebel uprising, and that’s the one we’ve been witnessing. You can think what you like about it, but it’s almost isolated internationally. Libya’s an Adfrican country and the African countries are strongly opposed – they called for negotiations and diplomacy from the very beginning. The main independent countries – the BRICS countries – they had a major meeting right during this and again opposed the second intervention and called for efforts at negotiations and diplomacy. Even within NATO’s limited participation outside of the triumvirate, in the Arab world – almost nothing – Qatar sent a couple of planes, Egypt next door, very heavily armed, didn’t do a thing, Turkey held back for quite a while, and finally participated weakly in the triumvirate operation. So it’s a very isolated operation. They claim that it was under an Arab League request - that’s mostly fraud. First of all the AL request was extremely limited and the AL participation was a minority, mainly just Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. They issued a request for a no fly zone – actually two no fly zones – one over Libya, the other over Gaza. We don’t have to talk about what happened to that one. And after that, it kind of backed off(?)

Q2: But nevertheless it seems like you say that the attacks on black Libyans and migrant workers happened later o., but actually its been documented that50 African migrants were executed on the second day of the rebellion, February 18th.

The rebels, the armed rebels?


They were a part of the uprising, but they weren’t the uprising.

But nevertheless, this has been something that has really characterised a large,  significant chunk of the uprising

In the West, where it was taken over by the Western tribes – not Benghazi - there have been serious attacks against black Libyans and black migrants. That’s basically what there is of a Libyan working class. Like other oil dictatorships, there’s not much of a working class, but there was is very substantially black, and they’ve been under attack, that’s true.

But what I’m saying is that when you were doing this interview at crucial moment before NATO’s aggression, these things were already clear.

These things were absolutely not clear, and they weren’t reported, and even afterwards when they are reported, they’re not talking about the uprising, they’re talking about an element within it, which we now know is correct.

But it’s quite substantial

NOW it is.

And Jabril has given his support to the ethnic cleansing of Tawarga

Now it is, but that wasn’t

So this is not a minor sect within the rebellion

You’re talking about what happened after the civil war took place and the NATO intervention.

And on the second day of the uprising, long before the NATO intervention

Two points, which I’ll repeat. First of all, it wasn’t known and secondly it was a very small part of the uprising. The uprising was overwhelmingly middle class nonviolent opposition. We now know there was an armed element and that quickly became prominent after the civil war started. But it didn’t have to, so if that second intervention hadn’t taken place, it might not have happened.  

But surely it was clear that UNSC 1973, from the beginning when Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama were pressing for it, that it was only ever going to be a figleaf for an invasion, surely that was clear.

You’re talking about things that happened after the interview, even the resolution, and it wasn’t clear, even for those five minutes that the imperial powers accepted the resolution. It became clear a coupe of days later when they immediately started bombing in support of the rebels. And it didn’t have to happen. It could have been that world opinion, most of it – BRICS, Africa, Turkey and so on - could have prevailed.

I wanted to touch on an article you wrote, published on 4th April. In the past you’ve been very critical of intellectuals who have used their platform to focus on the real or alleged crimes of official enemies rather than on the crimes of their own government. But in this article, you focussed mainly on the alleged crime of Gaddafi in the nineties, that’s how it opened, when this a few weeks into the aggression when NATO had already killed thousands, possibly tens of thousands…

You remember how the article started?


How did it start?

By talking about Gaddafi’s alleged involvement in Sierra Leone.

No, it didn’t start like that. It started talking about US and British support for Gaddafi’s crimes, practically up to the moment of the invasion. It talked about an article which appeared in the London Times about the Sierra Leone tribunal – that’s how it started – right at the time of this article, the prosecution had rested in the Sierra Leone tribunal and a London Times reporter had interviewed the prosecution lawyers, an American Law Professor and an English barrister – and they complained bitterly, they said that they had wanted to prosecute Gaddafi because of his training and arming of Taylor forces that they’d charged with killing about a million people, but Britain and the US according to them threatened to defund the tribunal if they went after Gaddafi and when the American law professor was asked by the reporter why, he said “welcome to the world of oil”. That was the opening of the article, then it went on to talk about the involvement of the Harvard Business School in support for Gaddafi – writing the dissertation for his son, which led to the (lawsuit, early) retirement and so on. And he did commit – he was a terrible person in my view, he committed plenty of crimes, and some of the worst of them were supported by the US and Britain right up to the moment when they decided they could do better by turning against him. That’s what the article was about and I think it’s right to write about that.

Surely, at the moment of this NATO colonial aggression, surely focussing – albeit on US and British support for Gaddafi’s crimes – focussing primarily on the evils of the Gaddafi regime is to a certain extent playing into hands of – even manufacturing consent for – the aggression.

Supporting – pointing out the – I don’t describe it the way you do, so don’t accept your description so I won’t comment on it – but criticising the imperial triumvirate for having supported the worst crimes, I think is exactly the point. And the crimes are real, there’s no reason not to describe them. Look, I’ve written about Gaddafi plenty of times before. I wrote very harshly criticising the Reagan bombing in 1986, which incidentally is extremely interesting in ways that have never been acknowledged by the media, I don’t know if you followed that much, but that bombing was the first in history that was timed specifically for prime time television and it was carried off effectively. Kind of an important fact, and there’s a lot more to say about that; nevertheless I would never question his crimes, they’re terrible.

You said that Libya was used as a punch bag to deflect from domestic problems.

Yeah, it was. But that doesn’t mean that it was a nice place.

But do you not accept the possibility that your helping to demonise, I would say, the Libyan government and whitewashing the rebels may have helped facilitate the invasion?

Of course I didn’t whitewash the rebels, I said almost nothing about them. But it couldn’t facilitate the invasion a month after the invasion took place.

But the interview four days before.

The interview was before any of this – it was in the period when a decision had to be made about whether even to introduce a UN resolution to call for a no fly zone – and incidentally I said after that was passed that I think a case could be made for it, and I would still say that.

So what would you say in general terms should be the role of intellectuals during the period before NATO or Western aggression starts, the period of demonization, the period of manufacturing consent?

First of all, I don’t accept your description –

Which description?

I wouldn’t call it NATO aggression, it’s more complex that that. The initial step – first intervention, the five minute one – I think was justifiable. There was a chance – a significant chance – of a very serious massacre in Benghazi. Gaddafi had a horrible record of slaughtering people, and that should be known – but at that point, I think the proper reaction should have been to tell the truth about what’s happening. In that interview, if I had known about the US-UK blocking of the prosecution of Gaddafi, I would have brought that up too. I happened to find it out a couple of weeks later.

Many thanks for your time, and great to meet you.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Libya and the manufacture of consent – an interview with Noam Chomsky

This is a difficult interview for me. It was Noam Chomsky who first opened my eyes to the basic neo-colonial structure of the world, and to the role of the corporate media in both disguising and legitimising this structure. Chomsky has consistently demonstrated how, ever since the end of the Second World War, military regimes have been imposed on the third world by the US and its European allies with an ascribed role to keep wages low (and thus investment opportunities high) by wiping out communists, trade unionists, and anyone else deemed a potential threat to Empire. He has been at the forefront of exposing the lies and real motives behind the aggression against Iraq, Afghanistan, and Serbia in recent years, and against Central America and South East Asia before that. But on Libya, in my opinion, he has been terrible. 

Don’t get me wrong; now the conquest is nearly over, Chomsky can be quite forthright in his denunciation of it, as he makes clear during the interview: “right now at this moment NATO is bombing a home base of the largest tribe in Libya” he tells me, “It’s not getting reported much, but if you read the Red Cross reports they’re describing a horrifying humanitarian crisis in the city that’s under attack, with hospitals collapsing, no drugs, people dying, people fleeing on foot into the desert to try to get away from it and so on. That’s happening under the NATO mandate of protecting civilians.” What bothers me is that this was precisely the mandate that Chomsky supported.

Wesley Clark, NATO commander during the bombing of Serbia, revealed on US television seven years ago that the Pentagon had drawn up a ‘hitlist’ in 2001 of seven states they wanted to “take out” within five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Thanks to the Iraqi and Afghan resistance, the plan has been delayed – but clearly not abandoned. We should, therefore, have been fully expecting the invasion of Libya. Given Bush’s cack-handedness over winning global support for the war on Iraq, and Obama’s declared commitment to multilateralism and ‘soft power’, we should have been expecting this invasion to have been meticulously planned in order to give it a veneer of legitimacy. Given the CIA’s growing fondness for instigating ‘colour revolutions’ to cause headaches for governments it dislikes, we should have been expecting something similar as part of the build-up to the invasion in Libya. And given Obama’s close working relationship with the Clintons, we might have expected this invasion to follow the highly successful pattern established by Bill Clinton in Kosovo: cajoling rebel movements on the ground into making violent provocations against the state, and then screaming genocide at the state’s response in order to terrorise world opinion into supporting intervention. 

In other words, we should have seen it coming, and prominent and widely respected intellectuals such as Chomsky should have used their platform to publicise Wesley Clark’s revelations, to warn of the coming aggression, and to draw attention to the racist and sectarian nature of the ‘rebel movements’ the US and British governments have traditionally employed to topple non-compliant governments. Chomsky certainly did not need reminding of the unhinged atrocities of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the Nicaraguan Contras, or the Afghan Northern Alliance. Indeed, it was he who helped alert the world to many of them. 

But Chomsky did not use his platform to make these points. Instead, in an interview with the BBC one month into the rebellion – and, crucially, just four days before the passing of UN Security Council 1973 and the beginning of the NATO blitzkrieg – he chose to characterise the rebellion as “wonderful”. Elsewhere he referred to Benghazi’s takeover by racist gangs as “liberation” and to the rebellion as “initially non-violent”. In an interview with the BBC, he even claimed that “Libya is the one place [in North Africa] where there was a very violent state reaction repressing the popular uprisings”, a claim so divorced from the truth it is hard to know where to begin; Mubarak is currently being prosecuted for the murder of 850 protesters, whereas, according to Amnesty International, only 110 deaths could be confirmed in Benghazi before NATO operations began – and this included pro-government people killed by rebel militia. What really makes Libya exceptional in the North African ‘Arab Spring’ is that it was the only country in which the rebellion was armed, violent, and openly aimed at facilitating a foreign invasion. 

Now that Amnesty have confirmed that rebels have been using violence since the very start, and have been rounding up and executing innocent black Libyans and African migrants in droves ever since, I begin by asking him whether he now regrets at his initial public support for them. 

He shrugs: “No. I’m sure what Amnesty International reports is correct - that there were armed elements among them, but notice they didn’t say that the rebellion was an armed rebellion; in fact the large majority were probably people like us [sic], middle class opponents of Gaddafi. It was mostly an unarmed uprising. It turned into a violent uprising and the killings you are describing indeed are going on, but it didn’t start like that. As soon as it became a civil war, that happened.” 

In fact, it did start like that. The true colours of the rebels were made clear on the second day of the rebellion, February 18th, when they rounded up and executed a group of fifty African migrant workers in Bayda. A week later, a terrified eyewitness told the BBC of another seventy or eighty migrant workers chopped to pieces in front of his eyes by rebel forces. These incidents – and many others like them - had made clear the racist character of the rebel militias well before his BBC interview on March 15th. But Chomsky rejects this: “These things were absolutely not clear, and they weren’t reported, and even afterwards when they are reported, they’re not talking about the uprising, they’re talking about an element within it.” 

This may be how Chomsky sees it, but both incidents I mentioned were carried by mainstream media outlets like the BBC, the NPR and the Guardian at the time. Admittedly, they were hidden away behind reams of anti-Gaddafi bile and justified with the usual pretext of the migrants being “suspected mercenaries” - but that’s nothing that someone with Chomsky’s expertise in analysing media could not have seen through. Moreover, the forcing out last month of the entire population of the black Libyan town of Tawarga - by Misrata militias with names like “the brigade for purging black skins” - was recently given the official blessing of NTC President Mahmoud Jibril. To present these widespread racial crimes as some kind of insignificant element seems wilfully disingenuous. But Chomsky continues to stick to his guns: 

“You’re talking about what happened after the civil war took place and the NATO intervention. [I’m not]. Two points, which I’ll repeat. First of all, it wasn’t known and secondly it was a very small part of the uprising. The uprising was overwhelmingly middle class nonviolent opposition. We now know there was an armed element and that quickly became prominent after the civil war started. But it didn’t have to, so if that second intervention hadn’t taken place, it might not have turned out that way.” 

Chomsky characterises the NATO intervention as having two parts. The initial intervention, authorised by the UN Security Council to prevent a massacre in Benghazi he argues, was legitimate - but the ‘second’ intervention – where the ‘imperial triumvirate’ of US, Britain and France acted as an airforce for the militias of Misrata and Benghazi in their conquest of the rest of the country – was wrong and illegal: “We should remember that there were two interventions, not one, by NATO. One of them lasted about five minutes. That’s the one that was taken under the UNSC resolution 1973, that called for a no fly zone over Benghazi when there was the threat of a serious massacre there, along with a longer term mandate of protecting civilians, and that one lasted almost no time. Almost immediately, not NATO but the three traditional imperial powers, France, Britain and the United States carried out a second intervention which had nothing to do with protecting civilians and certainly wasn’t a no fly zone, but was participation in a rebel uprising, and that’s the one we’ve been witnessing. It’s almost isolated internationally. The African countries are strongly opposed – they called for negotiations and diplomacy from the very beginning. The main independent countries – the BRICS countries – also opposed the second intervention and called for efforts at negotiations and diplomacy. Even within NATO’s limited participation outside of the triumvirate, in the Arab world, there was almost nothing; Qatar sent a couple of planes, and Egypt next door - very heavily armed - didn’t do a thing, Turkey held back for quite a while, and finally participated weakly in the triumvirate operation. So it’s a very isolated operation. They claim that it was under an Arab League request, but that’s mostly fraud. First of all the Arab League request was extremely limited and only a minority participated - just Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. They actually issued a request for two no fly zones – one over Libya, the other over Gaza. We don’t have to talk about what happened to that one.” 

On most of this we agree. My argument, however, is that it was painfully clear that UNSC 1973 was intended (by the ‘imperial triumvirate’) as a figleaf for precisely the “second intervention” he decries. 

“It wasn’t clear, even for those five minutes that the imperial powers accepted the resolution. It became clear a couple of days later when they immediately started bombing in support of the rebels. And it didn’t have to happen. It could have been that world opinion, most of it – BRICS, Africa, Turkey and so on - could have prevailed.” 

It seems bizarrely naïve for a man of Chomsky’s insight to feign surprise when the imperial powers used UNSC 1973 for their own purposes to topple one of the governments on their hitlist. What else would they have used it for? It is somewhat exasperating; if it was anyone else I was talking to, I’d tell them to go and read some Chomsky. He would tell you that the imperial powers don’t act out of humanitarian but totalitarian impulses – to defend and extend their dominance of the world and its resources. He would tell you – I would have thought – not to expect them to implement measures designed to save civilians, because they would only take advantage and do the opposite. But apparently not. 

I try again: Does Chomsky accept that his whitewashing of the rebels, and demonising of Gaddafi, in the days and weeks before the invasion was launched, may have helped to facilitate it? 

“Of course I didn’t whitewash the rebels, I said almost nothing about them. The interview was before any of this – it was in the period when a decision had to be made about whether even to introduce a UN resolution to call for a no fly zone – and incidentally I said after that was passed that I think a case could be made for it, and I would still say that.” 

Even after British, French and US aggression had become abundantly clear, however – on April 5th – Chomsky published another article on Libya. By this time thousands - if not tens of thousands - of Libyans had been killed by NATO bombs. This time his piece did open by criticising the British and American governments – not for their blitzkrieg, however – but for their alleged support for Gaddafi ‘and his crimes’. Does this not all feed into the demonisation that justifies and perpetuates NATO’s aggression? 

“First of all, I don’t accept your description – I wouldn’t call it NATO aggression, it’s more complex that that. The initial step – the first intervention, the five minute one – I think was justifiable. There was a chance – a significant chance – of a very serious massacre in Benghazi. Gaddafi had a horrible record of slaughtering people, and that should be known – but at that point, I think the proper reaction should have been to tell the truth about what’s happening.” 

I can’t help wondering why the responsibility to “tell the truth about what’s happening” only applies to Libya. Should we not also tell the truth about what is happening in the West? About its unquenchable thirst for diminishing oil and gas reserves, about its fear of an independent Africa, about its long track record of supporting and arming the most brutal gangsters against governments it wants removed – and god knows, Chomsky is familiar enough with the examples – and most importantly, about the crisis and chaos currently enveloping the entire Western economic system and leading its elites increasingly to rely on fascistic warmongering to maintain their crumbling world dominance? Isn’t all this actually a lot more pertinent to the war on Libya than recounting alleged ‘crimes’ of Gaddafi from twenty years ago?

Chomsky had an argument with James Petras in 2003 over Chomsky’s public condemnation of Cuba’s arrest of several dozen paid US agents and execution of three hijackers. Petras argued then that “Intellectuals have a responsibility to distinguish between the defensive measures taken by countries and peoples under imperial attack and the offensive methods of imperial powers bent on conquest. It is the height of cant and hypocrisy to engage in moral equivalences between the violence and repression of imperial countries bent on conquest with that of Third World countries under military and terrorist attacks.” But Chomsky has done worse than this – far from painting moral equivalences, for a long time he simply airbrushed out of the picture ALL crimes of NATO’s Libyan allies, whilst amplifying and distorting the defensive measures taken by Libya’s government in dealing with an armed US-backed rebellion. 

I remind Chomsky of his comment some years back that Libya was used as a punchbag by US politicians to deflect public attention away from domestic problems: “Yeah, it was. But that doesn’t mean that it was a nice place.” 

It’s a lot less “nice” now.

This article first appeared in Al Ahram Weekly. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Leaflet for the "Occupy" demonstrations

The problem is not lack of money

According to the Sunday Times “Rich List”, the 1000 wealthiest individuals in Britain increased their wealth by £60billion between May 2010 and April 2011. This is not on the back of economic growth; the economy, as we all know only too well, has been stagnant. Therefore, this money has come directly from other sections of society; a redistribution of wealth from the working and middle classes to the very richest (75% of British people saw their real incomes decline in the same time period). Warren Buffet, the world’s third richest man, put it very clearly: “It’s class warfare. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war. And we’re winning.”

Three years ago, the banks were bailed out with public money, to the tune of hundreds of billions of pounds. We are now told that we need to lose the bulk of our hard-won public services in order to pay off the huge debt this bailout incurred. Cameron said “frontline services” would not be affected, but this was a lie, as is now becoming more and more obvious. Bristol Council has already announced plans to close ten of its twelve residential nursing homes, and to abolish homecare services for the elderly completely. Even the NHS, who Cameron told us would be exempt from cuts, has now been told to find £20billion “efficiency savings”.

We are often told that there is “no alternative” to public spending cuts, because we need to “reduce the deficit”. This is nonsense. The total private wealth in Britain amounts to £9000 billion (£9 trillion). Just under half of this - £4trillion – is owned by the richest 10% of the population. A one-off wealth tax of just 20%, to be paid only by the richest 10%, would pay off the entire national debt of the country (£800billion) in one go. A Yougov poll commissioned by the Glasgow Media Group found that 74% of the British population supported this idea. But this alternative does not even get an airing anywhere in the mainstream media. Instead, we are told that public spending cuts are the only solution, despite the fact that they will not only cause misery and unemployment to millions, but will not even begin to pay off the national debt, and will in fact plunge the economy into an even deeper recession.

So why is the establishment (all three mainstream parties and the entire media circus) so committed to this path, and so deaf to the calls to do something to challenge the power of the banks? In a word, because they are all owned by the banks (in the case of the media) or sponsored by them (in the case of the politicians). They rely on them for election campaign donations and for advertising income. They will not bite the hand that feeds them. But they do not feed us; they rob us – and we most definitely should be biting their hand.

The problem is too much capital

So why do the banks want the government to close down all our public services? The big problem for the banks at the moment is that they have more money than they know what to do with. If money cannot be profitably invested, it loses its value. But in a recession, there are very few places to profitably invest. They are nervous of investing in the housing market, because another big crash is looming. There is no point investing in manufacturing (e.g. the car industry etc), because markets are already glutted- there are already too many products that cannot be sold. This is where public spending cuts come in. Cameron says he expects the private sector to step in where the public sector gets cuts back. Put into plain English, this means you will increasingly have to pay private companies to do what you used to get for free from the state (good quality schooling, weekly rubbish collections, a local library, decent healthcare provision, etc). All of this will open up whole new avenues of investment for those billionaires desperately looking for somewhere to invest their money, as once-public services are turned into profit-making concerns.

This is the first part of the strategy. The other big problem now facing the owners of massive wealth is that their use of the third world as a source of dirt cheap labour and raw materials is seriously threatened by the shifting balance of power in the world. For five hundred years, the ruling elites running the Western world have been able to use their overwhelming firepower and technical superiority to force their own terms of trade onto the nations they impoverished in Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, this period of history is now coming to an end with the rise of places like China, India and Brazil as powerful, economically developed countries. They are not only less reliant on the export markets of the West to sell their goods, but are also increasingly demanding higher wages and fairer prices for their raw materials – and giving a lead to the rest of the global South in doing so. This threatens the ability of the world’s richest to continue making money out of global poverty in the way they have been doing for generations.
All this is increasingly pushing the billionaire bankers and the governments to which they dictate policy in the direction of war. Only war can reverse the tide of economic development in the third world, and ultimately only war can destroy enough of the world’s surplus capital (products, housing, factories etc) to pave the way for a successful new round of profitable investment.

We have been here before. Capitalism always has periodic booms and crashes, but there have only been two crashes gigantic enough to bring about the near total collapse of the world economy similar to that we face today. The first was the “Great Depression” of 1870 – 1896, and the second the “Great Depression” of the 1930s. Both had the same causes as today’s crisis – the drying up of profitable avenues for investment – and both were ultimately ‘solved’ by colonialism and world war, the second of which was so successful a solution, that it paved the way for the “golden era” of capitalism – an unprecedented two-decade long boom period of growth based on rebuilding what had been destroyed in the world’s biggest ever mass slaughter.

Sirte, Libya, after pounding from NATO's "hellfire" missiles

This is the context in which we have to see Britain, the USA and France’s destruction of Libya. Anyone who thinks the British ruling class was momentarily distracted from dealing with its profitability crisis by a small group of Arabs in distress is living in cloud cuckoo land. 50,000 bombing raids were carried out against Libya, totally destroying huge swathes of advanced infrastructure, not to mention entire cities (in the case of Sirte) and at least 35,000 people. Within days of the conquest of Tripoli, Britain’s Defence Minister Philip Hammond was calling on British companies to “pack their suitcases and head for Libya” in search of the lucrative “reconstruction” contracts that will soon be dished out by NATO’s puppet government. Furthermore, in destroying Libya – a wealthy oil state which was continent’s leading force pushing for African unity and economic independence, and had $30billion set aside for African development and a new African currency – the old imperial states are intending to put the clock back on African development for generations. Most importantly of all, Libya will soon host the first sizable African base for the USA’s new AFRICOM section of the US army, set up in 2007 to invade African countries. This is part of the overall drive to use war in order to resolve this crisis of profitability, a war ultimately aimed at China, but likely to take in Syria, Iran, Algeria, South Africa and Venezuela along the way.

David Cameron is, for once, telling the truth, when he says “Whatever it takes to help our businesses take on the world – we’ll do it.” ‘Whatever it takes’ means not only the destruction of our public services; it also means the destruction of entire countries. We need to recognise that the attacks on public services and living standards here in Britain is part of a much bigger picture - the class warfare being waged by the rich against the poor, and especially against the most organised and independent sections of the third world. The constant warfare waged by the Western world for the last ten years has all been part of this struggle to maintain the class power and privilege of the dominant elites.

Their only solution is poverty and war

There are many in the third world who are resisting this onslaught, and we need to make common cause with them. When the next victim is being lined up for destruction by the media propaganda machine, we need to stand in solidarity with those under attack. We should learn the lessons of the destruction of Libya, a war which was sold to us with lies even more preposterous than those used to justify the destruction of Iraq. Do you remember the stories about 10,000 killed by Gaddafi in Benghazi? According to Amnesty International, the true figure was 110 - including those killed by the rebels - who we now know were armed from the first day of the insurrection. Do you remember the claims that Gaddafi was feeding his soldiers Viagra so they could carry out mass rape? Again, after looking into these allegations for months, Amnesty could not find a single credible case of rape by government troops. Do you remember the claims that Gaddafi had carried out aerial assaults against Tripoli? This too was false – as later verified by Russian satellite pictures. Do you remember the reports about rebel militias rounding up and lynching innocent African migrant workers by the dozen, from the very start of the revolt? Of course you don’t – although true, they were rarely reported. “But surely Gaddafi was a bad man” many people say. Even if this were true – and there are millions of Libyans who would dispute this – it is surely better to live in a functioning, peaceful and prosperous country with a bad leader, than in a dysfunctional wreck of a society like those that have been created in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But there is plenty of hope in the world. Latin America has been at the forefront of a successful, popular and organised rejection of the rape of their continent by the financial institutions of the Western world. Every major economy on the continent – with the sole exception of Colombia – is now governed by popular movements committed to the use of their natural wealth and labour to raise living standards for all, rather than simply as sources of profit for financial vampires. Venezuela’s slum dwellers now have free healthcare and education – and a constitution they actually helped to draft – for the first time ever. These governments have been involved in discussions with other independent-minded third world countries – including China, Iran and Libya before the invasion - about how to defend themselves against the war and poverty long imposed on them. We need to learn from and unite with these movements – and, above all, to reject any attempts by our own government to try to destroy them by force.

The views expressed here are only those of myself and (sadly!) do not necessarily represent those of the movement as a whole…

The Occupy movement provides a forum for all those disgusted with the exploitation, degradation and war they see being imposed by the world’s financial elites to come together and share their thoughts, analyses and strategies. Get involved and join the movement to end the dictatorship of capital.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Rebellious Media Conference, London, October 8-9 – A Reflection.


Who better to open a conference on “Rebellious Media” than Noam Chomsky? The arch-rebel of US academia and proponent of the ‘propaganda model’ of the media, at 82 years old he is now not only the best-known but probably also the longest-serving celebrity critic of US foreign policy in the world. And unlike many academics, he is not scared to ‘get his hands dirty’ by discussing – and critiquing – strategy with the resistance movements of which he most definitely considers himself to be a part.
            So it should perhaps be no surprise that his talk today focuses on the weaknesses of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Whilst overall, of course, he considers the protest, and its rapid, ‘wildcat’ spread around the US, to be a good thing, he is not so enamoured with its public demands. “Here are some of the phrases that are missing from the Occupy Wall Street programme”, he explains: “Iraq. Afghanistan. War. Industry. Factory. Women. Healthcare.”
            But there was another word that was missing – not only from the protesters’ programme, but from Chomsky’s critique, the questions from his audience, and indeed from almost the entire conference. Libya.
            As the conference opened, the Libyan town of Sirte was experiencing its 30th successive day of full scale bombardment and siege from NATO and their Libyan allies, leaving the population “dying from lack of water, medicine and electricity”, according to the Telegraph. Into the town’s housing blocks, “rebels were pouring rocket after rocket from launchers mounted on pickup trucks” it continued, whilst “gunmen assured reporters that there were few families left inside”. Indeed, 20,000 are reported to have fled the city. This leaves 80,000 to face the rockets and enforced malnutrition. 
            John Pilger does touch on this later in the proceedings, in response to a question from the audience: “As we speak”, he says, “Sirte is being blasted with iron fragmentation bombs and hellfire missiles in an attack comparable to that on Fallujah”. He has been vitriolic in his condemnation of NATO atrocities against Libya ever since his excellent article on the subject, published on April 6th,, two weeks after NATO began their blitzkrieg and six weeks after the Libyan contras lynched their first group of fifty unarmed African migrant workers. But until then, he – and many others – had been silent. When it was most important to speak out was before the invasion, when the die was being cast, when “consent” was being “manufactured” (to use Chomsky’s phrase) with lies about ten thousand dead, mass rape, mercenaries and the aerial bombing of demonstrators. As it turned out, none of these were actions perpetrated by Gaddafi’s forces, but were the fantasies of NATO and their Libyan allies about what they themselves were about to unleash. But neither Pilger nor Chomsky warned of this nor exposed these lies during that crucial phase.
            So the question I want, urgently, to discuss at the conference is – what is the role of radical media during the demonization phase - the inevitable prelude to any war? I brought it up at every session I went to, and when I did, many people were eager to discuss it. But, sadly, it was never discussed on any of the panels. 
            Later in the day, Zahera Harb gave an excellent presentation on Hezbollah’s media tactics, most effective of which was their use of what they termed “media traps”. After the 1996 Israeli bombardment and occupation of Lebanon, Hezbollah devised a new strategy aimed at appealing to the Israeli public. But to do this, they needed to gain credibility. They began by taking professional cameramen, with hi-tech equipment, with them on each of their operations. After an operation, they would then release a press release saying how many Israeli soldiers they had killed and injured. The Israeli government would inevitably issue their own statement denying the story. Hezbollah would then release some grainy, far off footage of the attack in support of their claims, which Israel would again rebuff. Then came the trap. The high quality footage would finally be released, proving that Hezbollah had been telling the truth – and the Israelis lying – all along. They successfully used this tactic no less than four separate times. Harb argued that it played an important role in undermining support for the occupation amongst the Israeli public, and thus in persuading Israel to eventually pull out almost all its forces in 2000.
            It occurs to me that we too have been caught in a media trap, albeit an unintentional one of our own making, borne of our own prejudices. Almost all of Gaddafi’s claims – of Al Qaeda involvement in the uprising, of systematic racist atrocities carried out by rebel forces, of the rebels being in the pay of foreign interests aiming to destabilise and conquer the country – have been proven correct. And we, including a huge number on the left, have been caught lying – that the uprising was essentially a liberal democratic one, that the rebels were a nonviolent protest movement, that Gaddafi was a genocidal rapist and on and on.
            An insight into why so many journalists were so ready to credulously repeat these lies was provided by Andy Williams’ presentation on the growing influence of Public Relations companies in the media. His research found that the amount of copy expected from journalists has tripled in recent years, with half of those interviewed reporting less time to properly check facts. As a result, they are becoming increasingly reliant on press releases, often from Public Relations firms working for private companies (and, we can safely assume, for governments, intelligence agencies, and military forces). Of the 2000 articles he analysed, 1 in 5 were wholly plagiarised from press releases, with no additional information whatsoever. A further 1 in 3 relied on press releases for more than half of the copy. Only 1 in 10 contained no obvious “pre-packaged” material. His conclusion was that mainstream journalism was increasingly being reduced to “cutting and pasting press releases” – and therefore increasingly manufactured by political and business elites. In the case of Libya this was absolutely clear, with even easily checkable (dis)information – such as Gaddafi’s supposed bombing of parts of Tripoli, easily disproved by a simple visit to the areas in question – being reported as ‘fact’.
            Elsewhere, Greg Philo summarised the findings of the Glasgow Media Group’s meticulous research into media presentation of the Palestine-Israel conflict. “There are a great range of positions [on the conflict] amongst journalists”, he explained, “but when you look at their output, this is not reflected”. The reasons are pretty clear; the power of the Israeli lobby, the prejudices of the Murdoch press, and the geostrategic interests of British ruling elites all dictate a heavily pro-Israeli bias.  So where does that leave mainstream journalists personally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? Presenting the actual Palestinian point of view – documenting the daily reality of life under military occupation, explaining how the Israeli army broke the 2008 ceasefire, or, god forbid, talking about a genuine ‘national liberation struggle’ – is simply “too dangerous” for their careers. So, in place of this, journalists showed what one called an “endless procession of grief”. This effectively served as a proxy in place of the “Palestinian side of the argument” that was simply not allowed an airing. In other words, during the Gaza massacre of 2008-9, viewers were treated to pictures of Palestinian suffering – but the analysis was consistently pro-Israeli, emphasising the themes favoured by their spokesmen (rocket fire, the obligation to protect its citizens, Hamas breaking the ceasefire, etc). As a result, the focus groups used in Philo’s research, whilst horrified by the tragedy of the Palestinian situation, dutifully trotted out the Israeli propaganda that had been their staple diet from the news coverage – that the Palestinians had brought it all on themselves.
            Again, this seems to be true of the war on Libya – but this time, it is not only true of the mainstream media, but a substantial portion of the “radical” media and intelligentsia as well. Once the bombing is well underway, the liberal left – who had been either applauding or silent about the outbreak of the pro-NATO contra rebellion – were happy enough condemning the resulting atrocities. But the analysis (albeit often implicit on the left) remains – as with Palestine – that the pro-Gaddafi forces had “brought it on themselves” by being intolerably repressive, or using violence on peaceful protesters, etc etc. Where is the actual analysis from the other point of view? Where is the explanation of the serious material and financial contribution that Gaddafi was making to African unity, or to keeping the continent free of US bases? Where are the comments pointing out that all 700 imprisoned members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group involved in previous violent uprisings against the Libyan state had been freed in a process of reconciliation in the eighteen months preceding the rebellion - the last batch being released even as the early stages of the uprising was already underway? Where were the voices explaining that the neo-liberal credentials of all leading NTC members would surely sign the death knell for Libya’s four decades history of generous social provision, that had resulted in the highest life expectancy on the continent?
            Cameron has said the Libya intervention was the “model” for the coming colonial wars (he called them humanitarian interventions of course). Knowing this, radical media has a duty to learn the lessons. Will we be fooled into supporting contra rebellions in Syria, Iran, Algeria, China, too? Or will we reject the media’s duty to “keep people ignorant” and defend the sovereignty of independent nations threatened by imperial aggression?

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Morning Star

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril have been paving the way for NATO’s conquest since 2007

Mark Allen - BP's MI6 man in Libya. Did he arrange Jibril and Abdul-Jalil's positions in Gaddafi's government?
A violent rebellion broke out in Benghazi, Libya on February 15th this year (1). Six days later, Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil resigned to set up an alternative government. On February 27th, the Transitional National Council was established, and on March 5th, this body had declared itself the “sole representative of all Libya”, with Abdul-Jalil at its head. France recognised the TNC as the legitimate Libyan government on March 10th and Britain offered them a diplomatic office on UK soil the same day. Nine days later, the Council set up a new Libyan Central Bank and National Oil Company (2). In barely a month from the start of the rebellion, Abdul-Jalil had positioned himself as head not only of the rebels, but of the new government in waiting, with control of Libyan resources and monetary policy and the blessing of the West. On March 17th, NATO began its mass slaughter of Libyan soldiers in order to install his regime.

Clearly, seasoned imperial powers such as Britain, France and the US, would not commit to the huge expenditure of a months-long air campaign to bring somebody to power in such a strategically important, oil rich state, unless they were already a tried and trusted asset. So who exactly is Abdul Jalil?

Abdul-Jalil gained his job in the Libyan government in January 2007, when he was named Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Justice (the equivalent of Justice Minister). He has been paving the way for NATO’s military and economic conquest of Libya ever since.  

First, as head of the judiciary, he oversaw the release from prison of the hundreds of anti-Gaddafi fighters who went on to form the core of the insurgency. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (Muamar’s son) was leading the prisoner release programme – a move he now publicly regrets as being naïve in the extreme – but faced stiff opposition from powerful elements within his own government. Having a sympathetic Justice Minister was therefore crucial to allowing the releases to go ahead smoothly. Hundreds of members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – including its founder Abdulhakim Belhadj, now military chief of Tripoli - were released in 2009 and 2010 (3), and went on to form the only trained and experienced indigenous fighting units of the rebellion. In January 2010, Abdul-Jalil threatened to resign unless the prisoner release programme was sped up (4). On the second day of the insurgency, the final batch of 110 members of the LIFG were released; his work done, Abdul-Jalil quit his role of Justice Minister soon after to set up the TNC.

Second, Abdul-Jalil was able to use his position to help prepare the legal framework for the corporate takeover of Libyan resources that was enacted so swiftly after the creation of the TNC. Although his official role was head of the judiciary, a large part of the dialogue between Abdul-Jalil and US officials recorded in leaked US diplomatic cables focused on privatisation of the economy. These reported Abdul-Jalil’s enthusiasm for “private sector involvement”, and revealed his belief that this would require regime change, or as the cables euphemistically put it, “international assistance”, to fully achieve. The cables also reported Abdul-Jalil’s ominous comment that, on the matter of creating a “sound commercial legal environment” and improving relations between Libya and the US, “less talk and more action was needed” (5).  
Thirdly, Abdul-Jalil was able to arrange ‘below-the-radar’ covert meetings between the pro-privatisation Libyans in the ‘Commercial Law Development Programme’ and US officials, both in the US and in Libya. The leaked US cables praised his “willingness to allow his staff to communicate with emboffs [Embassy officials] outside of official channels” and noted that “his organization seems to have a parallel track in securing visa approvals, bypassing Protocol and the MFA [Ministry for Foreign Affairs]” (6).

Shortly after Abdul-Jalil’s appointment in 2007, the other key player in today’s TNC – President Mahmoud Jibril – was also given a government job in Libya. Jibril was made Head of the National Planning Council and later Head of the National Economic Development Board where, according to the US cables, he too helped to “pave the way” for the privatisation of Libya’s economy and “welcomed American companies”. US officials were positively ecstatic about Jibril after their meeting in May 2009, concluding that “With a PhD in strategic planning from the University of Pittsburgh, Jibril is a serious interlocutor who "gets" the U.S. perspective.” Very revealing given the spate of ambassador defections that followed the Benghazi rebellion was the additional revelation that Jibril had been helping to facilitate six US training programmes for diplomats (7).

 2007 also turned out to be a crucial year for the other big player in today’s TNC, Head of Tripoli’s Military Council, Abdulhakim Belhadj. Belhadj was the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Al-Qaeda affiliate which launched an armed insurrection against the Libyan state in 1995 lasting for two years. His release from prison in Libya in March 2010, along with hundreds of other LIFG fighters, was the culmination of a process that began with an open letter published in November 2007 by Norman Benotman – one of the group’s many fighters who had been given a safe haven in the UK since the failed uprising. His letter renounced violence and, according to the London Times, “asked Al-Qaeda to give up all its operations in the Islamic world and in the West, adding that ordinary westerners were blameless and should not be attacked”. The letter led to a process of dialogue between the LIFG and the Libyan government, and was followed up two years later by an apology by the LIFG for their anti-government violence in the past, and a statement that “the reduction of jihad to fighting with the sword is an error and shortcoming” (8). Someone had obviously hinted to them that drones and B52 bombers would be far more effective.

So 2007 was the year that launched these three men on the path towards their current role as NATO’s proxy rulers in Libya. Benotman’s letter made NATO support for a violent Al-Qaeda affiliate politically possible, and helped to sucker Saif al-Islam into releasing the very people who would become the ground forces in the overthrow of his government. Abdul-Jalil’s appointment as Justice Minister smoothed over the fighters’ release, and prepared the legal framework for an economic takeover by Western corporations. Jibril’s appointment as Planning Minister prepared, at a micro-level, the detail of how this takeover would come about, and cultivated the relationships with the Western companies that would be invited in.

So why did all this come about? Who was pulling the strings?

In the case of Benotman’s letter, this would have been a fairly simple matter of MI6 contacting him in London, where he lived, and putting him in touch with a decent PR firm to help draft the letter that would make it politically possible for NATO to set itself up as the LIFG’s airforce.

As for the two government appointments, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was ultimately responsible, but he was clearly not intending the outcome that resulted. He was implementing political and economic reforms driven by both genuine belief, and a naïve desire to improve relations between his government and the West; he did not realise that he was unwittingly laying the ground for the political and economic destruction of his country. So the question is – was he acting on somebody else’s advice?

If he was, the most likely candidate is Mark Allen.

Mark Allen was the MI6 agent who had facilitated Libya’s ‘rapprochement’ with the West in 2003. Saif al-Islam had led the negotiations on the Libyan side, so by 2007, the two men knew each other quite well. But by then, Allen was no longer officially employed by MI6. In 2004, he had been fast tracked by the British Cabinet Office, bypassing the usual security procedures, to work for BP (9) and in 2007, he successfully concluded a massive £15billion oil deal between BP and the Libyan government. Could the appointment of Abdul-Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril have been part of this deal? In hindsight, given their subsequent roles, it seems highly likely that MI6 would have used whatever leverage it could to manoeuvre willing accomplices into positions inside the Libyan government.

According to the Daily Mail, Allen was also actively involved in pressuring the UK government to support the prisoner release programme (10). Of course, the tone of their article, as with the current media furore about MI6 complicitity in Belhadj’s torture, all fit in with the overall narrative that Gaddafi and the West had a great relationship until the rebellion started and forced NATO to conduct a humanitarian intervention. It is all designed to obscure the reality that Libya under Gaddafi’s leadership was an obstacle to Western domination and subordination of Africa, and that MI6 has been plotting his removal ever since he came to power.

Friday, 2 September 2011


“Africa the key to global economic growth”; this was a refreshingly honest recent headline from the Washington Post, but hardly one that qualifies as ‘news’. African labour and resources- as any decent economic historian will tell you - has been key to global economic growth for centuries.

When the Europeans discovered America five hundred years ago, their economic system went viral. Increasingly, European powers realised that the balance of power at home would be dictated by the strength they were able to draw from their colonies abroad. Imperialism (aka capitalism) has been the fundamental hallmark of the world’s economic structure ever since.

For Africa, this has meant nonstop subjection to an increasingly systematic plunder of people and resources that has been unrelenting to this day. First was the brutal kidnapping of tens of millions of Africans to replace the indigenous American workforce that had been wiped out by the Europeans. The slave trade was devastating for African economies, which were rarely able to withstand the population collapse; but the capital it created for plantation owners in the Caribbean laid the foundations for Europe’s industrial revolution (1). Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as more and more precious materials were found in Africa (especially tin, rubber, gold and silver), the theft of land and resources ultimately resulted in the so-called “Scramble for Africa” of the 1870s, when, over the course of a few years, Europeans divided up the entire continent (with the exception of Ethiopia) amongst themselves. By this point, the world’s economy was increasingly becoming an integrated whole, with Africa continuing to provide the basis for European industrial development as Africans were stripped of their land and forced down gold mines and onto rubber plantations.

After the Second World War, the European powers - weakened by years of industrial scale slaughter of one another - contrived to adapt colonialism to fit the new conditions. As liberation movements grew in strength, the European powers confronted a new economic reality: the cost of subduing the 'restless natives' was approaching the value of the wealth that could be extracted from them. Their favoured solution was what Kwame Nkrumah termed ‘neo-colonialism’ – handing over the formal attributes of political sovereignty to a trusted bunch of hand-picked cronies who would allow the economic exploitation of their countries to continue unabated. In other words, adapting colonialism so that Africans themselves were forced to shoulder the burden and cost of policing their own populations.

In practice, it wasn’t that simple. All across Asia, Africa and Latin America, mass movements began to demand control of their own resources, and in many places, these movements managed to gain power – sometimes through guerrilla struggle, sometimes through the ballot box. This led to vicious wars by the European powers – now under the leadership of their upstart protege, the USA - to destroy such movements. This struggle, not the so-called “Cold War”, is what defined the history of post-war international relations.

So far, neo-colonialism has largely been a successful project for the Europeans and the US. Africa’s role as provider of cheap, often slave, labour and minerals has largely continued unabated. Poverty and disunity have been the essential ingredients that have allowed this exploitation to continue. However both are now under serious threat.

Chinese investment in Africa over the past ten years has been building up African industry and infrastructure in a way that may begin to seriously tackle the continent's poverty. In China, these policies have brought about unprecedented reductions in poverty (2) and are helping to lift the country into the position it will shortly hold as the world’s leading economic power (3). If Africa follows this model, or anything like it, the West’s five hundred year plunder of Africa’s wealth may be nearing an end.

To prevent this ‘threat of African development’, the Europeans and the USA have responded in the only way they know how – militarily. Four years ago, the US set up a new “command and control centre” for the military subjugation of Africa, called AFRICOM. The problem for the US was that no African country wanted to host it; indeed, until very recently, Africa was unique in being the only continent in the world without a US military base. And this fact is in no small part thanks to the efforts of the Libyan government.

Before Gaddafi’s revolution deposed the British-backed King Idris in 1969, Libya had hosted one of the world’s biggest US airbases, the Wheelus Air Base; but within a year of the revolution, it had been closed down and all foreign military personnel expelled.

More recently, Gaddafi had been actively working to scupper AFRICOM. African governments that were offered money by the US to host a base were typically offered double by Gaddafi to refuse it, and in 2008 this ad-hoc opposition crystallised into a formal rejection of AFRICOM by the African Union (4).

Perhaps even more worrying for US and European domination of the continent were the huge resources that Gaddafi was channelling into African development. The Libyan government was by far the largest investor in Africa’s first ever satellite, launched in 2007, which freed Africa from $500million per year in payments to European satellite companies. Even worse for the colonial powers, Libya had allocated $30billion for the African Union's three big financial projects (5), aimed at ending African dependence on Western finance. The African Investment Bank - with its headquarters in Libya - was to invest in African development at no interest, which would have seriously threatened the International Monetary Fund’s domination of Africa - a crucial pillar for keeping Africa in its impoverished position (6). And Gaddafi was leading the AU's development of a new gold-backed African currency, which would have cut yet another of the strings that keep Africa at the mercy of the West, with $42billion already allocated to this project - again, much of it by Libya.

NATO’s war is aimed at ending Libya’s trajectory as a socialist, anti-imperialist, pan-Africanist nation at the forefront of moves to strengthen African unity and independence. The rebels have made clear their virulent racism from the very start of their insurrection, rounding up or executing thousands of black African workers and students(7). All the African development funds for the projects described above have been ‘frozen’ by the NATO countries and are to be handed over to their hand-picked buddies in the National Tranistional Council (NTC) to spend instead on weapons to facilitate their war.

For Africa, the war is far from over. The African continent must recognise that NATO's lashing out is a sign of desperation, of impotence, of its inability to stop the inevitable rise of Africa on the world stage. Africa must learn the lessons from Libya, continue the drive towards pan-African unity, and continue to resist AFRICOM. Plenty of Libyans will still be with them when they do so.

By Rebel Griot


Gold, Oil, Africa and Why the West wants Gaddafi Dead
by Brian E Muhammed for the Final Call  

Why the West wants Gaddafi Out
by Jean-Paul Pougala for the Southern Times