Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
BRQ Network

The debates raging at the highest levels of the US National Security establishment and NATO over the military ‘stalemate’ in Libya conceal an even more competitive effort on the ground in Libya, by petroleum interests keen to divide up the territory to ensure access to the country’s vast oil resources, writes Horace Campbell.

The raging debates at the highest levels of the US National Security establishment and various interests within NATO over the current military ‘stalemate’ in Libya conceals an even more competitive effort on the ground in Libya by petroleum interests who are keen on dividing up the territory to ensure access to the vast oil resources of Libya. At the forefront of this aggressive partitioning effort is the French military, political and oil establishment that has not only recognised the transitional government in Benghazi but has also been the most pushy on advancing military options even in the face of opposition from other NATO members such as Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey. Although in public the US military and the opportunistic force of the US Africa Command are supporting the military option, in Congressional testimony and in press reports in the United States, the secretary of defense, Robert Gates has stated that any oresident who would commit ground troops to a place such as Libya ought to have his head examined. Gates has also noted that the events in Libya were ‘a real formula for insecurity.’ These comments were restated by the ‘New York Times’ in the same paragraph where the paper stated that ‘Mr. Obama’s decision to join the military intervention in Libya may well be judged a failure if the initial result is a muddle or a partition of the country.’

Who will benefit from partitioning Libya? Why did the same US foreign policy establishment pour cold water on the peace initiatives of the African Union? Why did the head of the CIA proclaim early after the start of the rebellion that Gaddafi and his family will prevail? These questions are urgent in the face of the clear political and ideological weaknesses of the transitional authority of Benghazi who have failed to inspire the urban oppressed inside Tripoli to rise up and demand freedom. Instead, this political leadership continues to call for support from the military forces of NATO, even after NATO bombed their convoy, claiming ‘mistaken identity.’ Some sections of this rebellion hope to overcome inexperience and disorganisation through the involvement of ground troops and Special Forces from NATO. These ‘rebel’ leaders have forgotten the most recent history of the Chalabis and those Iraqis who pushed vigorously for US military involvement in Iraq. Those sections of the US military who understand clearly that the United States cannot afford to be seduced into another creeping war are opposed to the current NATO military exercise while those sections of the military/intelligence forces allied to Israel and the oil interests view the Libya operation as forward planning to be able to thwart the maturation of the Egyptian revolutionary process as it unfolds.

The tinderbox of the evolution of the changed politics of Africa and the Middle East contain the seeds of a wider conflagration if peace and justice forces do not actively oppose the partitioning of Libya and the planning for war and counter-revolution. I will join with those forces in Africa calling for the African Union to be more forthright in its initiatives for peace and call upon Brazil, Russia, India, China and Vietnam to press the Security Council to withdraw the open ended mandate of Resolution 1973 that called for ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians.’ France, Britain and the USA have gone beyond the mandate and Africans at home and abroad must rein in the NATO forces and call on the UN Secretary General to replace NATO with UN peacekeepers that are not compromised by petroleum interests. This secretary general is coming up for re-election and should be aware that European and US political interests are not the same as those who want peace. The partitioning of Libya will not support peace and reconstruction in Africa and it is in the face of this partitioning where the forces of pan African unity and peace must advance the ideas of people centered unity to isolate militarists within and outside Africa.


At the same time while the French political establishment was pretending to support democratization and rebellion against injustice in Libya, the French society was in the midst of implementing laws that targeted the dress of women who followed the Islamic faith. President Sarkozy who has not hidden his racist ideas about Africans and Arabs had given the green light to the neo-conservative and far right elements within France by courting the support of the neo-fascist National Front electorate. In a society where the impact of the economic recession was taking its toll on French workers with manifestations all over the country, Sarkozy was championing anti-immigrant sentiments and claiming that French involvement in Libya was to prevent a flood of Africans from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Sarkozy is facing re-election in the coming year and is setting out a robust domestic and foreign policy based on xenophobia and French imperialism in Africa and the Middle East.

In his vision of Grandeur, France had proposed a Mediterranean Union to counter the growing influence of the United States in North Africa after Libya moved dramatically to cooperate with the neo-conservatives in Britain and the United States. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had brought in Gaddafi on behalf of the US oil company Chevron to thwart German and Italian influence, and after 2005 US oil companies were awarded most of the contracts on offer at the first open license auction in Libya. France seethed in the face of this competition and sought to build an alliance with Lebanon in the east and Morocco in the West to counter the United States. France proclaimed to the Islamic world that it could end the Israeli-Palestine struggles. This posture belied the fact that France was the most forceful in opposing the independence of the peoples of the Western Sahara. In order to buy Morocco’s support, France opposed all efforts of the UN to bring an end to the colonial status of the Western Sahara also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The United States on the other side remained neutral on the question of full independence for the peoples of Western Sahara because the US wanted cooperation from Algeria in the claims to fabricate terrorism in the Maghreb. With a firm foothold in Tunisia, France wanted to achieve more influence in both Egypt and Libya. In order to curry favor with Libya, Sarkozy had invited Gadaffi to France for a grand state visit with the ‘brother leader’ shining in pomp and grandeur with a delegation of more than 500 strong.


But the diplomatic issues over the proposed Mediterranean Union paled into insignificance when compared to the urgency of French oil companied to get a bigger share of the oil from Libya. As a former colonial exploiter, the Italians had maintained close ties with the Gaddafi regime even during the years when Gaddafi was accused of being a sponsor of terrorism. Oil was discovered in Libya in 1959 and Italian capitalists were never far from the exploitation of the oil resources. Ten years later, King Idris was overthrown in a coup led by the 27-year-old Muammar Gaddafi, and the Italians showed clearly what their permanent interests were. These interests were based on oil and commercial ties. During the rise of the semi-fascist Berlusconi government, Libya embarked on a radically new chapter in its history of relationship with the former colonial power. Gadded visited Italy on 8 state visits and the Italians emerged with the largest stake in Libyan oil. By the time of the rebellion in February there were estimates that 32 per cent of Libyan oil went to Italy, 14 per cent to Germany, 10 per cent to France and China, 5 per cent to the United States with smaller percentages going to Austria, Canada, Norway, Spain, Brazil, India, Australia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and others. Other writers have written extensively on the skillful ways in which the Libyan National Oil Company learnt from the Malaysians and Indonesians to play different countries in the oil business.

Berlusconi worked hard to ensure that Italian capitalists remained a force within Libya to the point where Italy publicly apologised for the crimes committed by Italians during the colonial era. In 2008, this was a small price to pay when US oil companies were gaining most of the contracts for new explorations. The Berlusconi regime not only apologised for the crimes of colonialism, it returned stolen artifacts and pledged US$5 billion for infrastructural and housing projects in Libya. The Italian prime minister could pledge this US$5 billion with the full knowledge that this was a pittance compared to what was being reaped from the Italian oil companies in the Libyan desert. Moreover, as soon as Libya earned the money, it was recycled back to Europe with Italian companies being the beneficiaries of the wealth of its former colony. This recycle was through the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a ‘sovereign wealth fund’ set up in 2006 to spend the country's oil money, which has an estimated US$70 billion of assets. Italy received more opportunities to glean wealth out of Africa. Gaddafi and his family ploughed billions into strategic Italian enterprises. It is not yet known how much stake the Libyans had in Italy's biggest oil company, Eni. The LIA invested in the Italian aerospace and defense group, Finmeccanica; Lafico is thought to retain more than 2 per cent of Fiat and almost 15 per cent of a quoted telecommunications company, Retelit. Before the rebellion, the Libyan state capitalists also owned 22 per cent of the capital of a textile firm, Olcese, with the best known investment as a 7.5 per cent stake in the Serie A soccerside Juventus. There was also s another 7.5 per cent interest in Italy’s largest bank, Unicredit.

Anglo-American capital salivated as they worked vigorously to compete with Italy in Libya and Tony Blair, former British prime minister, became the emissary for BP, construction and university enterprises. US hedge fund managers also joined the queue to Tripoli as Gaddafi signaled preference for US oil companies so that after 2005 US oil majors were the most successful in the bids to enter the Libyan oil market. Occidental, in conjunction with different consortiums, had a total of nine successful bids, while Chevron (the company associated with Condoleezza Rice) was not far behind. Other US oil companies, including Marathon, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental were busy bidding even though the Libyan leaders made it clear that the promised compensation for the families of the Lockerbie plane bombing would be paid from monies from US oil companies.

France under Sarkozy watched and seethed as Gaddafi supported a robust African Union while opposing the Mediterranean Union. When the Tunisian revolution removed the Ben Ali family, the political leadership was caught on the wrong side of history by promising early to send reinforcements to crush the revolution. Conservative and counter-revolutionary forces in France represented the revolution in North Africa as the openings of floodgates of immigrants from Africa in order to counter the inspirational images and lessons that were coming from Tahrir Square. When the rebellion in Libya exploded seven days after the departure of the Mubarak family, France jumped in to support the rebellion and was the first and only country to recognise the government in the east.


French forward planners and strategists had been in touch with opposition elements in Libya and it was the calculation of Sarkozy that a quick application of power from the air would tip the balance, and the Libyan rebels would do the drive triumphantly into Tripoli. Britain succumbed to French activism not wanting to be left out and tried to find a middle ground between the Pentagon and France. Inside Europe, German, Turkey, Spain, Greece and Austria seethed and dithered as Italy supported the aerial bombardment while at the same time supporting the Gaddafi family with logistics and other forms of support under the radar. When it was reported that the Transitional Council was starting to export oil from terminals on the East at Tobruk, Italian oil interests not wanting to be left behind traveled to Benghazi to secure the dominance of the Italian companies in the oil business. Eni chief Paolo Scaroni flew to Benghazi, where he ‘had contacts with the Libyan National Transitional Council to restart cooperation in the energy sector and get going again the collaboration with Italy in the oil sector.’ After the start of the bombing campaign on March 18, an interim government was formed by the council on 23 March 2011. This interim government has so far been officially recognised by France, Qatar, The Maldives and Italy.

The Italians had to move swiftly because the US Treasury had made clear that opposition oil sales would not be subject to the sanctions imposed on Col Gaddafi’s government. With the full understanding of the potential from France to seek to have oil from the east sold in the Euro currency, US Treasury officials have cautioned leaders of the Transitional Council that the dollar should be the currency for the oil trade. Of course, the US Treasury was too sophisticated to say this openly, instead used language that ‘the rebels would have to create a payment mechanism’ that was acceptable.

The Obama administration was caught between three competing interests. The first was represented by the oil forces that have experience in working on both sides of partitioned societies. Their position had been echoed quite early by the head of the CIA who had contradicted Obama when he said that Gaddafi had to go. James Clapper told the US Senate that Gaddafi's superior military force would prevail over the long term. Also, Mr Clapper said one possible outcome could be the splitting of Libya into three autonomous states. The same CIA that was deploying Special Forces to Libya to fight beside the ‘rebels’ was sending a signal to its assets in the Gaddafi circles that the CIA would still be keeping in close touch with them. The head of the CIA predicted that Gaddafi would prevail even while the head of Obama’s NSC was on the phone every day calling on Moussa Koussa to defect. The anticipation was that this defection would trigger internal opposition to Gaddafi. Moussa Koussa predicted a Somali type partitioning if there was no political solution to the uprising.

The second position of the Obama administration came from the sectors of the Pentagon who did not want to fight for oil companies. The opposition to the US involvement came clearly from chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen and Robert Gates, who had testified before Congress that he US military capabilities were too high to be involved with the training of the opposition army. Yet, nearly a week after boasting of their satellite capabilities, the NATO forces bombed a convoy of tanks that had been used by the transitional authority in the East. After boasting of their capabilities there were attacks on the rebels involving at least two deadly friendly-fire airstrikes. Rear Admiral Russ Harding from NATO Joint Force Command ‘apologised’ and said ‘it was hard to tell rebel fighters apart from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's troops - after all, they generally wear the same uniforms and have similar weaponry and vehicles.’

The third position of the US administration came from the Humanitarian hardliners, Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hilary Clinton. These were the forces who have been trumpeting the call for the exit of Gaddafi even though the US does not have a mandate for ‘regime change’ under the UN resolution. The Obama administration in the absence of leadership to oppose the partitioning of Libya gave publicity to professors who warned that, ‘Humanitarian wars, like all wars, tend to escalate.’ From inside Africa Mahmood Mamdani underlined the farce of this so called humanitarian bombing and pointed to the farce of the NATO position. He rightly noted:

‘Iraq and Afghanistan teach us that humanitarian intervention does not end with the removal of the danger it purports to target. It only begins with it.

‘Having removed the target, the intervention grows and turns into the real problem. This is why to limit the discussion of the Libyan intervention to its stated rationale - saving civilian lives - is barely scratching the political surface.

‘The political and diplomatic leadership offered by the Africa Union must now be supported in light of the partitioning of Libya between Western oil companies, especially in the struggles between France and Italy.’


At the outset of the uprising in Libya the Africa Union was divided over its response, primarily because many of the leaders feared rebellions in their own societies while others had been compromised by their close and fawning relationship with Gaddafi. As the rebellion changed its form and character from urban street protests to armed confrontation, peace forces in Africa sought answers to the question of the ideological and political orientation of the would be revolutionaries. Answers were not far off when there was no organisation, no clarity of ideas or clear leadership lines as emerged from the ranks of the workers and students in Egypt. Because of the treatment of millions of workers from sub-Saharan Africa who worked in all parts of Libya, there was soon clarity that those fighting to remove Gaddafi were not anti-racist in their own ranks. African workers who were caught in the crosshairs of this battle between Gaddafi and his opponents were labelled as ‘mercenaries’ and persecuted. Tales of this persecution percolated across Africa as those who were fortunate to leave reached their homes from Nairobi to Accra.

Despite this information, the peace and justice forces opposed the massacres by Gaddafi and called for humanitarian assistance in the cities that were under siege. It was this call for assistance that persuaded the African Union Peace and Security Council to support efforts by the United Nations to offer humanitarian assistance even while deliberating a collective African response. When France called the meeting in Paris to give diplomatic cover for the impending military bombing campaign, the AU Commission chairman Jean Ping refused to participate in the meeting, stating in public that he was not going to Paris for a photo opportunity.

This was a clear criticism of the stamp of approval given by the Arab League to the Paris meeting. Days after the massive bombing campaign of the British, French and US forces; even the Arab League recoiled from its earlier endorsement of the open ended UN Security Council Resolution. Those members of the UN Security Council such as Brazil, Russia, India and China who had abstained during the discussion of ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians’ belatedly opposed the bombing campaign without offering concrete alternatives for humanitarian assistance.

The Peace and Security Commission of the African Union did not retreat but worked patiently to deliver an alternative to the NATO military campaign that led to the (permanency of the military stalemate between the forces of Gaddafi and those of the Transitional National Council in reality) a de facto partition of Libya. Initially when the rosy images of NATO military missions were being sold to the world, the forces of NATO opposed the request of the African Union to fly into Libya to mediate. However, as the partitioning became clearer with the implications for creeping war, sections of the US National Security Council overrode the objections of France and gave permission for the AU mission to fly to Libya. This they did on 10 April 2010. At once, the Libyan leadership that had been desperate in the hour of isolation accepted the African Union plan. The plan called for: The cessation of hostilities, stoppage of the aerial bombardment of Libya, opening of safe corridors for delivery of humanitarian aid and talks between Libyan authorities and the rebels.

The roadmap had been drawn up following a meeting Saturday 9 April in Nouakchott, Mauritania, after which the delegation proceeded to Libya. The delegation included presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa ,Denis Sassou N'Guessou (Congo), Amadou Toumani Toure (Mali), Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz (Mauritania), Ugandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping, and the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ramadan Lamamra. After discussions in Tripoli, the delegation flew to meet the leaders of the Transitional National Council in Benghazi. The political leaders of the rebellion rejected the African Union saying it did not meet their basic demand that Muammar Gaddafi, his sons and his inner circle leave immediately. These same leaders did not demonstrate what mechanisms other than Western military involvement that they were going to mobilise to ensure the immediate departure of Gaddafi and his lieutenants. The French press gave publicity to this rejection as France continued to be the only state that gave diplomatic recognition to the Transitional National Council.

Despite the rejection of the AU mediation efforts, the permanent members of the Security Council, especially Russia and China, along with the other non-permanent members such as Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa can collectively act to end the disproportionate bombings and the so called ‘mistakes. If Gaddafi is to be removed because of his oppression of the Libyan people, it is the task of the Libyans to lead their own rebellion.

Obama must lead the opposition to the partitioning of Libya and support the United Nations to pursue diplomatic and political alternatives to the NATO bombing campaign. Obama was reminded by one section of the media that hope is not a strategy.

A strategy for peace will undermine the forward planners who are deadly afraid of the outcomes of successful revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East.


* Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and Twenty First Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.