Lies, slaughter, capital: The 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, part two

Lies, slaughter, capital: The 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, part two

As discussed in part 1, the intervention was not undertaken for humanitarian reasons, but then why? Here I will try and explain the purpose of the intervention, how the Great Powers felt there was much to be gained, and only human lives to lose.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration wanted to reassert itself as a powerful player in the Middle East. Feeling threatened by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the United States felt a need to flex its muscles in the Middle East thereby retaining dominant power status. By 1981, the country that was picked for this purpose by the National Security Council (NSC) was Libya. Libya was an OPEC country with few powerful connections, lots of nearby enemies, and a small population. In short, the perfect target. Once Libya was chosen by a few higher ups in the NSC, what was needed was to get the president, Ronald Reagan, on board. Seymour Hersh details in his New York Times report, Target Gaddafi, how the NSC and the CIA quickly accomplished this goal. “'It was clear early in the Administration,' one former White House aide recalls, 'that the best way to get the President's attention was through visual means.'” This led to the creation of a 15 minute long video, “to show the nature of the beast. If you saw it, there's little doubt that [Gaddafi] had to go.” Once the president was on their side, the NSC, in cooperation with the CIA, began to leak reports endorsed by Reagan that Libyan hit squads were roaming the United States, planning assassinations on diplomats and even the president. “One involved official recalls, ‘we came out with this big terrorist threat to the U.S. Government. The whole thing was a complete fabrication.’” After provocations in 1981 and 1982 failed to elicit an armed Gaddafi response that could lead to a pretext for a U.S. attack, in 1984, two groups of Libyan exiles armed and trained by the U.S. and Israel, were sent into Libya via Tunisia to kill Gaddafi. Unfortunately for the U.S., which as this episode shows is a country clearly not devoted to the concepts of international law, the attempts on Gaddafi’s life failed. In March 1986, Reagan launched Operation Prarie Fire. The intent yet again was to elicit a large scale Libyan response that could serve as a pretext for bombing Libya. The U.S. Navy was sent to attack Libyan patrol boats, and as Donald Fortier from the State Department insisted, any U.S. response to subsequent fighting, “should be disproportionate.”1 Two Libyan patrol boats were sunk by the U.S. Navy, killing 70. Unfortunately for the U.S. government, yet again, Gaddafi failed to attack the U.S. military in any significant way. On April 5th 1986, a Berlin discotheque was bombed, leading to the death of an American serviceman. The U.S. government, claiming that they had irrefutable evidence of Libya’s complicity in the bombing, then launched Operation El Dorado Canyon which sent nine F-111s from British airbases to Libya with the intention of either killing Gaddafi or sparking a revolution that would overthrow him. The U.S. bombed targets in Tripoli, including Gaddafi’s compound Bab al-Azziziyya. However, the bombings failed to either kill Gaddafi or spark a rebellion. They did succeed, however, in slaughtering over 100 civilians, including one of Gaddafi’s adopted children, Hanna, who was just 15 months old.2 “It was the greatest thrill of my life to have been involved,’ one of the pilots later told the Chicago Tribune.” A Pentagon report would later read, “in terms of equipment performance, the strike was a success.”3 As it turns out, even this was not true, as it is believed Gaddafi may have been killed if the U.S. had not suffered major equipment malfunctions during the operation.4 As for Libya’s involvement in the Berlin discotheque bombings, “evidence of direct Libyan involvement in the Berlin bombing was never disclosed and greatly contested, including by the German investigators of the attack.”5

Libya and the West enter into close relations

“He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist?”

Between the 1986 bombings and 2011, relations between the West and Libya underwent a major shift. As the West struggled in the 1990s to reign in the radical Islamic forces it had put into play in Afghanistan during the 1980s, it found itself cooperating heavily with Moussa Koussa, head of Gaddafi’s intelligence services. Libya itself was undergoing fallout from the CIA creation of the Mujahedeen, in the form of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). This led Libyan officials to desire cooperation with Western intelligence services thereby creating a win-win situation. The high levels of cooperation between NATO and Libyan intelligence during this period is evidenced by the case of Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq. Al-Sadiq is a former LIFG member and current high level NTC member who claims that while he was imprisoned for six years in Libya under Gaddafi, he was interrogated partially by British officers.6

Indeed, the growing ties between the West and Libya seemed to have little to do with any change in Gaddafi’s human rights record. In fact, it was during this time that one of the most brutal episodes of the Gaddafi regime’s history occurred.

One incident apparently illustrative regarding the nature of Gaddafi’s rule is the Abu Salim massacre of June 1996. Abu Salim is a major prison in Tripoli, and at the time of the incident it was reported to hold approximately 1,600 – 1,700 inmates. Following a revolt by prisoners over detention conditions, and subsequent to apparently successful negotiations, the prisoners were assembled in the prison’s courtyards. It is reported that security forces under the command of Abdullah Al-Senussi then opened fire on the prisoners, killing approximately 1,200 inmates. Families of the prisoners were not informed of the death of their relatives, and many continued to visit the prison, leaving gifts and provisions, for many years.7

This incident seemed to have no impact on Gaddafi’s relations with the West. What followed in the late 1990s and 2000s, was a series of pro-Western neoliberal market reforms to which the West, eager to lift sanctions and resume widespread investment in Libya, responded amicably. In 1999, Britain restored diplomatic ties with Libya. Between 2000-2002, the Libyan National Oil Company (LNOC) organized international oil and gas conferences and announced a new round of concessions contracting under very attractive conditions. In 2002, Libya pegged its currency to the IMF’s special drawing rights, causing devaluation of the Libyan Dinar, but enhancing the investment climate. Simultaneously, customs duties were cut by 50 percent. In March 2003, Gaddafi authorized privatization initiatives and subscribed to the IMF’s Article VIII agreements and appointed an advocate of neoliberalism, Shukri Ghanem, as his Prime Minister. In December 2003, Libya publicly announced an end to its nuclear weapons program (which was pretty much non-existent anyway). In 2004, the U.S. ended the travel ban on Libya and ended its unilateral sanctions. Ties between the U.S. intelligence community and Libya grew even tighter by 2004, with the Bush administration indirectly offering “military, law enforcement, political and financial tools,” in order to assist the Libyan government in the elimination of the LIFG.8 Also in 2004, British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Libya, becoming the first British Prime Minister to visit the country since Winston Churchill in 1943. While in Libya, Blair secured a $513 million gas exploration deal for Royal Dutch Shell. In 2006, full diplomatic ties were resumed and Libya was deleted from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In 2007, BP signed a $900 million exploration deal, signaling BPs return after its expulsion in the 1970s. British exports increased to Libya by more than 50% between 2008-2009. Also in 2007, Gaddafi visited French President Nicholas Sarkozy to shore up “$4.5 billion in business agreements, over and above those worth $10 billion that had been signed earlier that summer (in July, Nicolas Sarkozy had flown to Tripoli to meet with Gaddafi and had signed agreements including a deal on building a French nuclear reactor in Libya).”9

Italy certainly enjoyed the closest ties with Gaddafi.

Only three years before the rebels and NATO forced out Gaddafi, [Italian Prime Minister] Berlusconi had signed a ‘Friendship and Cooperation Pact’ with the Libyan leader. The Pact was presented as the initiation of a ‘special relationship’, but more than that, it was aimed at confirming and safeguarding the long-standing mutually beneficial ties Italy and Libya enjoyed…The Pact came into force in June 2009 and was celebrated with the first official visit of Gaddafi to Italy in forty years…Italy promised to pay Libya 5 billion dollars over the next twenty years as an ill-disguised alternative for colonial reparations. To create a win-win situation, the money nonetheless was earmarked to have Italian companies reconstruct Libyan infrastructure…Gaddafi, at his turn, offered a helping hand in issues ranging from the recapitalization of the Italian bank UniCredit to accepting illegal immigrants trying to make their way from the Libyan to the Italian coast, to be send [sic] back to (rather inhumane) immigration camps on Libyan soil…The symbolic apex of the Friendship Pact was probably the Italian presence at the celebrations surrounding Gaddafi’s fortieth anniversary of the ‘Day of Revolution’ –1 September 2009. All over Tripoli, Libyan billboards praised the enhanced bilateral ties, with the national museum dedicating an entire room to the signing of the Pact as well as having large displays of both Berlusconi and D’Alema embracing Gaddafi at the entrance of the museum. The Italian air force was flying over Tripoli, leaving plumes of smoke behind in the colors of the Italian flag...The relations between Berlusconi and Gaddafi, who together certainly made for an extravagant couple, often became topic of discussion and criticism. In October 2010, the Italian popular magazine Chi dedicated five full pages to Gaddafi, in which he stated among other things that Berlusconi was one of the strongest leaders of Europe and the two had no problems being seen in an intimate embrace or kissing each other’s hand.10

Most embarrassingly, documents revealed that only weeks before the uprisings in Libya gathered momentum, the UK Ambassador in Tripoli conducted talks with the Libyan army about weapons sales and trade in other military equipment that only a little later would be used for disproportionate crackdowns on rebel forces. Tear gas and riot equipment were also sold in great numbers.” “In the EU’s report on arms exports covering 2009, EU member states are said to have written out €343.7 million worth of arms licenses to Libya.11


While it is true that between the 1990s and 2011 Gaddafi was making close ties to NATO member states and was instituting pro-West neoliberal reforms, despite their show of friendly ties, NATO countries still had a number of issues with Gaddafi. First of all, Gaddafi had proven himself time and again a notoriously untrustworthy business partner. He was not afraid to renegotiate contracts on a whim, knowing that if one EU member state or one oil company did not like the terms, another one would. For example, Gaddafi often threatened, as he did in 2009, to nationalize the oil industry in order to scare international oil companies into renegotiating contracts.12 Additionally, Gaddafi seemed to have aspirations of his own. As far back as the 1969 seizure of power, intended to preempt a British supported military coup, Gaddafi seemed to believe he was capable of acting independently on the world stage. In 2009, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, (convicted of being) one of the Lockerbie bombers, was released from prison due to British pressure on Scotland. Britain, fearing PR fallout, conditioned the al-Megrahi release on him having a low-key reception in Libya. To Britain’s outrage, al-Megrahi was given an extremely public hero's welcome upon his return to Libya. A similar incident occurred with France after it had been unsuccessful in securing the extradition of Abdullah el-Senussi – one of the suspects of the Tenere-bombing. Gaddafi had agreed to have el-Senussi keep a low profile in Libya after France had been unsuccessful in getting him extradited but had instead made “el-Senussi the chief of military intelligence, thereby outraging France.”13 Through these moves, Gaddafi had angered two powers, France and Britain, which currently feel insecure on a world stage that is becoming pluralistic.

Of all NATO countries, France especially was irked by the relationship it had with Gaddafi. In addition to prior fighting between Libya, and French supported Chadian forces, France had never been able to secure the economic relations it had wanted with Libya. In 2004, after a lucrative round of bidding on Libyan oil contracts, French companies failed entirely to secure contracts.14 There was also the matter of Libya’s vast water reserves which have become increasingly valuable as water becomes a more sought after resource. “Libya sits on the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, which is an immensely vast underground sea of fresh water. The government of Libya has invested $25 billion in the Great Manmade River Project, a complex, 4000 kilometers-long (approximately 2,485 miles) water pipeline buried beneath the desert that could transport two million cubic meters of water a day.” These were by a good margin the largest reserves of water in North Africa.15 When taking into account the fact that, “French companies such as Suez, Ondeo, and Saur control more than 45 percent of the world’s water market,”16 we can see how much these water resources meant to France. To add insult to injury, Italian companies were currently receiving 40% of the investments by the Libyan Investment Authority while nothing was going to French companies. In an EU still dominated by fierce competition between member states, France was especially earnest to shake up the cards in Libya.

The order of bombing

Predictably, the first country to begin bombing in Libya was France. France, whose “socialist” president in 1995 told an aide while talking about Rwanda, “in countries like that genocide doesn’t really matter,”17 was now taking the lead in bringing democracy and human rights to Libya. To add to France’s economic interests in Libya, Sarkozy wanted to shore up domestic support at home after having supported the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali for an embarrassingly long period of time.18 Britain, still sore from the insult suffered by the hero's welcome given to al-Megrahi, and whose North Sea oil reserves were dwindling, soon joined the fight. All parties, including of course the U.S. who also joined France and Britain, understood that Libya had massive high quality oil reserves and some natural gas reserves and a close proximity to shipping lanes, and would be a valuable resource in a region now being wrought with social upheaval. Italy, which economically and politically enjoyed the highest privileges in Libya, was predictably at first staunchly opposed to bombings even going so far as to export gas to Libya via Tunisia in April 2011.19 However, when it became clear that Gaddafi was going to fall, Italy quickly hopped on board the NATO mission and became a base for intelligence operations during Unified Protector.20

As the bombs started to drop, the EU member states worked quickly to get business contracts for their companies. “To be sure of its case, seven days after the passing of Resolution 1973, France is said to have concluded a deal with the NTC stipulating that, together with Qatar, France would be guaranteed 35 percent of the oil contracts ‘in exchange for its total and permanent support of the Council.’”21 As for Libyan assets currently stored in the LIA, these are still frozen and are trickled out often only when they are earmarked for development contracts. Additionally, French companies soon secured contracts for the water in the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, water that Gaddafi was intending to send to other countries in Africa suffering from drought.22

That a real policy change remains unlikely, is illustrated by the fact that on a recent Middle East tour, [British Prime Minister] Cameron decided to bring Ian King, CEO of top British arms firm BAe Systems, as part of his delegation, as well as executives from dual usage firms such as Rolls Royce and Thales… The UK Department of Trade and Investment estimates that, to rebuild Libya, over the next ten years, contracts worth around $300 billion are expected to be up for grasps. British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond in October 2011 said ‘I would expect British companies…[to be] packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that country as soon as they can.’23

Gaddafi did what he could to forge alliances in the West while playing each country’s interests off of each other, but countries such as France and Britain simply did not feel like playing this game any more. They wanted more of a stake in Libya’s economy, and with U.S. military power backing them up, they could punch above their weight and simultaneously prove to the world that they were still a force to be reckoned with.24 Unfortunately for the Libyan people, what started out as a legitimate uprising against the repressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi, ended with foreign powers dictating the course of Libya’s history. Tens of thousands have died and there is no sign that any good will come of it. The conflict is still continuing in other forms as many of the militias simply refuse to disarm. The future is bleak for this country, and instead of pursuing peaceful alternatives to this conflict our leaders have instead chosen bloodshed and misery for humanity, as they always do.

  • 1. Hersh, Seymour. "Target Qaddafi." The New York Times, February 22, 1987. (accessed January 12, 2014).
  • 2. van Genugten, Saskia M. "Italian and British Relations with Libya Pride and Privileges 1911--2011." Order No. 3532688, The Johns Hopkins University, 2012, (accessed December 19, 2013).
  • 3. Fisk, Robert. The Great War for civilization: the conquest of the Middle East. London: Fourth Estate, 2005.
  • 4. Hersh
  • 5. van Genugten, 269
  • 6. van Genugten, 328
  • 7. See Report of the Independent Civil Society Fact-Finding Mission to Libya, January 2012, based upon a fact-finding mission to Libya conducted by the Arab Organization for Human Rights together with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the International Legal Assistance Consortium.
  • 8. van Genugten, 326
  • 9. Campbell, Horace. "France and Libya" In Global NATO and the catastrophic failure in Libya: lessons for Africa in the forging of African unity. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013. 102.
  • 10. van Genugten, 352-359
  • 11. van Genugten, 361
  • 12. Young, Randel and Richard Devine. A VERY REAL RISK. Energy Risk, 04, 2009. 36, (accessed January 12, 2014).
  • 13. van Genugten, 365-366
  • 14. Campbell
  • 15. Campbell
  • 16. Campbell
  • 17. Prunier, Gerard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. Hong Kong: Columbia University Press, 1995.
  • 18. van Genugten, 363
  • 19. van Genugten, 342
  • 20. Campbell
  • 21. van Genugten, 363
  • 22. Prashad, Vijay. Arab spring, Libyan winter. Oakland, CA: AK Press Pub., 2012.
  • 23. van Genugten, 344-345
  • 24. van Genugten

Posted By

Jan 13 2014 00:33


  • He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist?

Attached files


Jan 13 2014 00:39

yayyy, i finished!

Jan 13 2014 04:41


Jan 15 2014 18:49

Good text and I have no fundamental disagreements with it. Good on capitalism's "humanitarian" wars generally and on the specifics of Libya and the imperialist manoeuvres around it. The text is particularly revealing about the role of the secret services, in this case the CIA, in fomenting wars and their blatent, breathtaking lies in bringing them about. I think that the role of the secret services is generally underestimated within revolutionary circles in order not to appear "conspiratorial" or supporting some lizard-like theory.

Like all wars during capitalism's decay there are beneficiaries. From what I understand Germany has benefitted economically the most from the war in Libya and it wasn't any sort of combatant. But globally capital has suffered (let alone the death and misery in Libya). Almost the whole region of northern Africa, down to Kenya, has now been further destabilised from events arising directly from the war in Libya and this will require further militarisation and the further destruction of capital (again, let alone the human cost).

Jan 16 2014 05:54

Couldn't resist, I'm sorry

Jan 22 2014 21:02
Jan 22 2014 21:34

Haven't gotten to read the article proletarian but oddly enough it reminded me of something truly bizarre which is that apparently Gaddafi was bankrolling the miners in the 1980s in order to get back at Thatcher.

Jan 23 2014 20:35

"Bankrolling" sounds a bit much but it's possible it was in the Libyan states interest to materially support them. Frankly though, I think much more damage could have been done through OPEC.

Similarly, you reminded me of something I read ages ago in a Stalinist publication, it sounds possible but who knows...

Miners in the USSR even voted to send a portion of their salaries to Britain to help support the strikers until such time as the strike was over. Only the Gorbachevite leadership, which was intensifying its efforts to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union, prevented these vast sums of money reaching the needy British miners.

Jan 24 2014 19:49
Soapy wrote:
Haven't gotten to read the article proletarian but oddly enough it reminded me of something truly bizarre which is that apparently Gaddafi was bankrolling the miners in the 1980s in order to get back at Thatcher.

this is true, and it was used widely in the press to discredit the miners. However, it turned out one of the key NUM officials involved (IIRC, the one who went to meet with him) was actually an agent of the security services.

Gaddafi also funded Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party.

May 2 2014 16:49

Actually was just recently reminded of a great example of how propaganda spreads unquestioningly and ubiquitously

Once the president was on their side, the NSC, in cooperation with the CIA, began to leak reports endorsed by Reagan that Libyan hit squads were roaming the United States, planning assassinations on diplomats and even the president. “One involved official recalls, ‘we came out with this big terrorist threat to the U.S. Government. The whole thing was a complete fabrication.’”

May 3 2014 05:13
Soapy wrote:
Actually was just recently reminded of a great example of how propaganda spreads unquestioningly and ubiquitously

Once the president was on their side, the NSC, in cooperation with the CIA, began to leak reports endorsed by Reagan that Libyan hit squads were roaming the United States, planning assassinations on diplomats and even the president. “One involved official recalls, ‘we came out with this big terrorist threat to the U.S. Government. The whole thing was a complete fabrication.’”

Reminds me of that ridiculous story a few years back in the American media about an apparent plot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to have an Iranian used car salesman in the US travel to Mexico and hire a drug cartel hit squad to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US via restaurant bombing and also bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies.