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In NATO’s hands, UN Security Council resolution 1973 has morphed into a clear attempt at regime change in Libya, writes Alexander Cockburn. He stresses: ‘A hundred years down the road the UN–NATO Libyan intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair.’

The alleged purpose of UN Security Council resolution 1973, passed on 17 March, was to seek to protect Libyan civilians from violent attacks by both sides. In NATO’s (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) eager hands, cosseted by uncritical Western press coverage, it has rapidly mutated into an overt bid to destroy Gaddafi’s regime, specifically to murder Gaddafi, by missile or bombardment with land-based teams of Special Force assassins doubtless deployed in the desert, assigned the same task.

NATO says more than 10,000 sorties have been flown over Libya since operations began. This includes 3,794 ‘strike’ bombing raids across country. In the heaviest strikes yet, concentrating on attacks in Tripoli, NATO launched 157 strike missions on Tuesday, more than three times the previous daily average.

In fact, in NATO's first 30 days they flew about 5,000 sorties. Since then, nearly another two months, they have flown another 5,000, so despite the trumpeting about intensifying the campaign, the tempo of operations has actually been falling over time. This, as one seasoned observer remarks, is ‘not a surprise, considering what we know about readiness, spare parts inventories, and the capacity to ramp up spares production’.

Pierre Sprey, one of the design team that produced the F-16 and A-10, remarks acidly that ‘the flea bites inflicted on Gaddafi's army by the all-out efforts of the entire NATO air armada are a lovely demonstration of the fruits of our overarching strategic principle of pursuing Unilateral Disarmament at Maximum Expense.’

Sprey continues: ‘Libya also provides empirical verification of the most expensive component of the Principle of Unilateral Disarmament at Maximum Expense: bombing the enemy's homeland lengthens every war in which it is attempted. There have been no documented exceptions in the hundred years since Sottotenente Giulio Gavotti's heroic first bombing of a Libyan oasis in 1911.[1] Clearly, 2011's equally heroic bombing of Tripoli is no exception.’

It is clear that despite Homeric paeans by Western journalists to their zeal and prowess, the rebels headquartered in Benghazi are an ineffective rabble, whose prime activity is to complain that NATO is not fighting the war hard enough on their behalf. Gaddafi faces NATO’s tinpot bombardiers acting with no legal mandate and with barely a whisper of criticism in the Western press about the absurd pretence that they are operating within the terms of UN Security Council resolutions. The rebels have been unable to make any effective military showing.

On 6 June the independent International Crisis Group (ICG), stocked with well-informed regional experts and former diplomats, issued a report ‘Making sense of Libya’. It stated forthrightly that NATO was in the business of ‘regime change’ and was strongly critical of NATO’s refusal to respond to calls for ceasefire and negotiation, a stance which the ICG says is guaranteed to prolong the conflict and the tribulations of all Libyans.

The ICG then address the topic of Gaddafi’s alleged ‘crimes against humanity’, even genocide. Remember that the relevant UN resolutions that led to NATO’s current onslaughts were rushed through the Security Council powered by fierce rhetoric about Gaddafi’s ‘massacre of his own people’, and his ‘crimes against humanity’, even genocide. The diffuse and mostly vague allegations were usually studded with adverbs like ‘reportedly’.

On the issue of Gaddafi’s alleged war crimes the International Crisis Group notes reports of mass rapes by government militias, but declares that at the same time:

‘much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on … there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term “genocide”.’

In this context, since the International Criminal Court’s record of ductility to NATO’s requirements is one of near 100 per cent compliance, one can view with reasonable cynicism its timing in issuing accusations of mass Viagra-assisted rape against Gaddafi’s militias immediately in the wake of NATO bombing onslaughts on Tripoli on Tuesday. On the issue of systematic mass rapes, Amnesty International said on Thursday that its researchers in eastern Libya, Misurata and in refugee camps along the Tunisian border ‘have not to date turned up significant hard evidence to support this allegation’.

A hundred years down the road the UN–NATO Libyan intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair. There may even be a paragraph or two about the collapse of the US left in mounting any powerful show of protest.


* Alexander Cockburn edits CounterPunch.
* This article was first published by CounterPunch.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] A footnote here from Sprey: ‘Amateur historians and think tank pundits love to quote Hiroshima as the first and most obvious exception. Far from being an exception, the nuclear bombing of Japan actually confirms that bombing lengthens wars. The historical record shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Truman and Byrnes deliberately delayed the acceptance of the urgently-proffered Japanese surrender offer (and of the Potsdam Peace Conference) by at least a month in order to make sure the war would not end before we had impressed the world (mainly the Russians) with the power of a nuclear bomb unleashed on Japanese civilians. Thousands of American soldiers, sailors and airman died unnecessarily because of that profoundly stupid--and profoundly immoral--strategic blunder.’