As Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s power reaches its final hour, Libyans and Arabs around the world celebrate. With the fall of Tunisia’s Ben Ali, followed by Egypt’s Mubarak, and now Gaddafi, the imagination of Arabs everywhere has been captured once again. The unraveling of decades of repressive dictatorship has inspired and empowered the Arab masses to see what they are capable of accomplishing.
But some outside of the Arab world are not happy about the toppling of Gaddafi. NATO’s intervention, combined with Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist sentiment, has given way to support of the Libyan dictator among certain leftist circles who have painted him as some archetypal “anti-imperialist” hero.
Over the past few months, anti-imperialist leaders have defended Gaddafi. Just last week, Gaddafi supporter Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, along with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, jointly denounced the West’s “imperialist aggression” in Libya. Since the beginning of NATO’s presence in Libya months ago, Chavez had denounced the operation, claiming it to be an oil grab by Western powers. Back in February, Castro also claimed that NATO would invade Libya for oil.
But where was the outspokenness of these men years ago when Western leaders were in bed with Gaddafi making deals in exchange for Libyan oil?
Despite Gaddafi’s history of strong anti-imperialist rhetoric, he was no anti-imperialist. In fact, since 2001, he was arguably becoming one of the most important tools of Western imperialism in the Arab world.
Libya was declared a state sponsor of terrorism by the US in 1979, during the Carter administration. However, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Gaddafi rushed to support the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Former CIA agent and State Department anti-terrorism chief Henry Crumpton claimed Libya’s “cooperation on intelligence is strong and getting stronger” and that the Libyan government had helped track operatives of al-Qaeda and allied terror groups. Ever since, US intelligence officials have conducted information-sharing sessions with their Libyan counterparts on a regular basis, continuing through the Obama administration.
The end of the US’s long break in diplomatic relations is attributed to Gaddafi’s decision to abandon a nuclear weapons program, renounce terrorism, and pay compensation for the Lockerbie bombing.
By 2006, the US dropped Libya from a State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism and restored full diplomatic ties. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held up the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as “a model” for others to follow. Rice also praised Gaddafi’s “excellent cooperation in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.”
As a result of the shift in US policy toward Libya, trade between Libya and the US, Britain, Germany and Italy shot up. Gaddafi welcomed oil companies such as Occidental Petroleum Corp. and ChevronTexaco Corp. to begin or resume exploration in Libya. In November 2007, Exxon Mobil Corp signed an agreement to execute an Exploration and Production Sharing Agreement (EPSA) with Libya’s National Oil Corporation to initiate exploration activity offshore Libya in the Sirte Basin, which included a commitment of at least five years.
Other major Western oil corporations like Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC committed billions of dollars in exploration projects in Libya through bilateral agreements. Petro-Canada, Italy’s ENI SpA, and Norway’s StatoilHydro ASA also worked in the country.
In recent years, Western leaders visited Libya and developed close relationships with Gaddafi. In 2007, following French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Libya, the European Aeronautic Defense & Space (EADS) signed two weapons contracts to supply an unspecified number of MBDA anti-tank missiles and communications systems to Libya. MBDA is a joint-venture of EADS, BAE Systems of Britain and Finmeccanica of Italy.
Another friend of Gaddafi was Premier Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler. Berlusconi worked with Gaddafi to combat illegal immigration to Italy. Gaddafi also engaged in business ventures in Itay. Just less than a year ago, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund—the Libyan Investment Authority—was the eighth largest shareholder in the Italian Bank UniCredit. The Libyan Central Bank was the third largest.
The Libyan Investment Authority, which was believed to be worth approximately $100 billion, reportedly flexed its muscle in London as well as in Italy.
In August 2009, a delegation of US senators led by John McCain met with Gaddafi to discuss the possibility of non-lethal defense equipment. McCain reported on Twitter that he had met Gaddafi, whom he described as “an interesting man”. The Libyan news agency reported that McCain praised Gaddafi’s “peace-making efforts” in Africa and called for expanded US ties with Libya.
Clearly, Gaddafi’s relationship with the West was going well…until the Arab Spring made its way to Libya.
In the beginning, as Gaddafi ordered the mass murder of anti-government protestors, Obama and other Western leaders remained silent. But the West saw what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. It saw how the people of the Arab world were growing weary of their repressive governments and were hungry for change. And it saw how unstoppable the people were in the face of brutal crackdowns by their governments. There would be no way that the Libyan people, after 42 years, would let Gaddafi continue his dictatorship. It was over for him.
No matter what Western leaders say, the NATO intervention in Libya was not a humanitarian one. If NATO was a humanitarian body, it would have intervened in the Horn of Africa, where millions of children are starving from famine. More likely, Western nations felt the need to move in, protect their assets, and attempt to assert their influence over the opposition movement. In any case, the West knew the Arab revolutions weren’t going away any time soon. They wanted to get on the “right side of history” in Libya by finally doing something that was genuinely in tune with popular public sentiment.
So on March 19, over a month after the Libyan uprising began, a Western-led NATO intervened in Libya. NATO effectively prevented Gaddafi’s forces from completely crushing the opposition movement, which eventually liberated Eastern Libya and after months reached the capital, Tripoli. The fighting continues, but it is clear that Gaddafi’s forces are quickly losing power.
Without NATO’s help, it would have been much more difficult for the opposition movement to be as successful as it has been. However, the notion that the uprising in Libya is somehow just a Western plot to get oil is not only a gross distortion of the truth; it is a huge slap in the face to Libyans who have died fighting for freedom. Libyans started the uprising. And Libya will soon be free not because of NATO or the US but because of the continuous courage and steadfastness of the Libyan people.
Moreover, Gaddafi supporters who attempt to portray the National Transitional Council (NTC)— the Libyan “rebel government”—as a sellout to Western imperialism completely ignore the fact that Gaddafi sold himself to the West years ago.
The difference with NTC is that they have not yet had the chance to show exactly what they stand for, nor have not been given the benefit of the doubt. We still have yet to see.
A promising statement came Monday from a NTC envoy to the Cairo-based Arab League. “Libya is an Arab and Islamic nation before NATO and after NATO,” he said, adding, “the Libyans revolted from the 1970s against Western bases and there will be no non-Libyan bases.”
The first step for Libya is nearly complete: Gaddafi’s fall from power. The next step is to rebuild Libya. Hopefully, the new Libya will reverse Gaddafi’s doings and break away from Western imperialistic interests so that Libyans can finally take back their nation and reinvent it for the better.