Was the West's Intervention in Libya Justified?
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This is not something that could have been done in most situations. I mean, you were bringing up places like Yemen. Bombing Yemen would produce no result whatsoever, and I don’t think anybody has asked for Yemen to be bombed. But in Libya, it made a difference. It saved Benghazi. It saved this popular protest movement, which, by the way, includes so many workers and ordinary people. Some of the cities which have thrown off Gaddafi, like Misurata, were known, for instance, for their steel mill. These are progressive forces who were fighting a wretched secret police regime.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Vijay Prashad. You are opposed to the intervention. Why?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s a long story, and it should go back to a particular kind of understanding of Libyan history, where Libya, from the Ottoman period, has had a divide between the east and the west.
Certainly, Gaddafi, since the 1980s, has been a reactionary leader in Libya, and I have never, ever felt—and I’ve written from the ’80s onward—that Gaddafi is on the side of reaction, rather than a progressive. So let there be no mistake that what I would like to suggest is not a defense of Gaddafi by any means.
On the other hand, there has been a protest movement in the east, as I said, that goes back several decades. Most recently, on February 17th, 2006, there was an uprising in Benghazi. It was put down. And then, the anniversary came on February 17th of this year. There was an attempt to revive the protest, taking inspiration from other parts of North Africa and the Gulf. So, yes, indeed, there was a popular uprising. It was stronger in the east than in the west, although in working-class areas in Tripoli, there was some sporadic rising that was observed, in Tajura and other neighborhoods. So, that is correct.
But very quickly, the French and the United States government came in and attempted to, I think, transform the Arab spring to their advantage. So, for instance, when we talk about the rebel leadership in Benghazi, one should keep in mind that the two principal military leaders, one of whom was a former interior minister in the Gaddafi regime, and the second gentleman was a general who led troops in Chad in the 1980s and was then taken up with the Libyan National Salvation Front, went off to live in Vienna, Virginia, for 30 years, about a 10-minute drive from Langley, and returned to Benghazi to, in a sense, I think, hijack the rebellion on behalf of the forces of reaction. It’s very important to recognize, as Juan said quite correctly, that it’s Qatar and the UAE and the Gulf—the GCC, the Gulf—what is it?—Coordination Council that is behind this—you know, which is the principal Arab support for the humanitarian intervention, as it were, and these are the same places where—the same organization, which has attempted and has now put down the uprising in Bahrain. You had the Saudi Prince Faisal Al Turki talking about the GCC becoming perhaps a NATO of the Gulf region. So, I would like to suggest that, you know, even by February 26th, 27th, when NATO—when the United Nations first took up the Libyan case, the rebellion was not quite a rebel army as it was in Tahrir Square. It had already been substantially co-opted by the people who were on behalf of NATO and the United States.
So the first thing I would say is we should be very careful when we think of the rebels. We should not confuse all the rebellions across the Arab world and consider them all to be the same. There are some important differences. And secondly, the United States and NATO has its own agenda here. And when one supports an intervention, I think one should be very careful to see whose intervention we are supporting. Is this on behalf of those young people, the workers and others, with whom we have, you know, allegiances and alliances? Is it going to be on their behalf? Or is it going to be on behalf of people like Khalifa Hifter, the colonel who has returned from Vienna, Virginia, to lead the troops in Benghazi? So I would just like to say that my sense of dismay at this intervention is precisely because I think it’s for the bad side of history, and in some ways it is a measure to clamp down on the Arab spring, to take attention away, as well, from Bahrain and other places, rather than a part of the Arab spring.