Friday, 25 May 2012

Libya, Africa, and Africom: an ongoing disaster

The destruction of Libya as an independent regional power has paved the way for the military re-conquest of Africa.
NATO's Libyan mercenaries demonstrate whose side they are on in the struggle between white power colonialism and African liberation.

The scale of the ongoing tragedy visited on Libya by NATO and its allies is becoming horribly clearer with each passing day. Estimates of those killed so far vary, but 50,000 seems like a low estimate; indeed the British Ministry of Defence was boasting that the onslaught had killed 35,000 as early as last May. But this number is constantly growing. The destruction of the state’s forces by British, French and American blitzkrieg has left the country in a state of total anarchy - in the worst possible sense of the word. Having had nothing to unite them other than a temporary willingness to act as NATO’s foot soldiers, the former ‘rebels’ are now turning on each other. 147 were killed in in-fighting in Southern Libya in a single week earlier this year, and in recent weeks government buildings – including the Prime Ministerial compound – have come under fire by ‘rebels’ demanding cash payment for their services. $1.4billion has been paid out already – demonstrating once again that it was the forces of NATO colonialism, not Gaddafi, who were reliant on ‘mercenaries’- but payments were suspended last month due to widespread nepotism. Corruption is becoming endemic – a further $2.5billion in oil revenues that was supposed to have been transferred to the national treasury remains unaccounted for. Libyan resources are now being jointly plundered by the oil multinationals and a handful of chosen families from amongst the country’s new elites; a classic neo-colonial stitch-up. The use of these resources for giant infrastructure projects such as the Great Manmade River, and the massive raising of living standards over the past four decades (Libyan life expectancy rose from 51 to 77 since Gaddafi came to power in 1969) sadly looks to have already become a thing of the past.
            But woe betide anyone who mentions that now. It was decided long ago that no supporters of Gaddafi would be allowed to stand in the upcoming elections, but recent changes have gone even further. Law 37, passed by the new NATO-imposed government last month, has created a new crime of ‘glorifying’ the former government or its leader – subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Would this include a passing comment that things were better under Gaddafi? The law is cleverly vague enough to be open to interpretation. It is a recipe for institutionalised political persecution.
            Even more indicative of the contempt for the rule of law amongst the new government – a government, remember, which has yet to receive any semblance of popular mandate, and whose only power base remains the colonial armed forces – is Law 38. This law has now guaranteed immunity from prosecution for anyone who committed crimes aimed at “promoting or protecting the revolution”. Those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha – such as Misrata’s self-proclaimed “brigade for the purging of black skins” - can continue their hunting down of that cities’ refugees in the full knowledge that they have the new ‘law’ on their side. Those responsible for the massacres in Sirte and elsewhere have nothing to fear. Those involved in the widespread torture of detainees can continue without repercussions – so long as it is aimed at “protecting the revolution” – i.e. maintaining NATO-TNC dictatorship.
            This is the reality of the new Libya: civil war, squandered resources, and societal collapse, where voicing preference for the days when Libya was prosperous and at peace is a crime, but lynching and torture is not only permitted but encouraged.
            Nor has the disaster remained a national one. Libya’s destabilisation has already spread to Mali, prompting a coup, and huge numbers of refugees – especially amongst Libya’s large black migrant population - have fled to neighbouring countries in a desperate attempt to escape both aerial destruction and lynch mob rampage, putting further pressure on resources elsewhere. Many Libyan fighters, their work done in Libya, have now been shipped by their imperial masters to Syria to spread their sectarian violence there too.
            Most worrying for the African continent, however, is the forward march of AFRICOM – the US military’s African command – in the wake of the aggression against Libya. It is no coincidence that barely a month after the fall of Tripoli – and in the same month Gaddafi was murdered (October 2011) - the US announced it was sending troops to no less than four more African countries – the Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. AFRICOM have now announced an unprecedented fourteen major joint military exercises in African countries for 2012. The military re-conquest of Africa is rolling steadily on.
            None of this would have been possible whilst Gaddafi was still in power. As founder of the African Union, its biggest donor, and its one-time elected Chairman, he wielded serious influence on the continent. It was partly thanks to him that the US was forced to establish AFRICOM’s HQ in Stuttgart in Germany when it was established in February 2008, rather than in Africa itself; he offered cash and investments to African governments who rejected US requests for bases. Libya under his leadership had an estimated $150 billion of investments in Africa, and the Libyan proposal, backed with £30billion cash, for an African Union Development Bank would have seriously reduced African financial dependence on the West. In short, Gaddafi’s Libya was the single biggest obstacle to AFRICOM penetration of the continent.
            Now he has gone, AFRICOM is stepping up its work. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan showed the West that wars in which their own citizens get killed are not popular; AFRICOM is designed to ensure that in the coming colonial wars against Africa, it will be Africans who do the fighting and dying, not Westerners. The forces of the African Union are to become integrated into AFRICOM under a US-led chain of command. Gaddafi would never have stood for it; that is why he had to go.
            And if you want a vision of Africa under AFRICOM tutelage, look no further than Libya, NATO’s model of an African state: condemned to decades of violence and trauma, and utterly incapable of either providing for its people, or contributing to regional or continental independence. The new military colonialism in Africa must not be allowed to advance another inch.

This article first appeared in Counterpunch.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


Another 20 killed in Idlib by NATO's proxy forces, 31 April 2012

 The strategy was simple, clear, tried and tested. It had been used successfully not only against Libya, but also Kosovo (in 1999), and was rapidly under way in Syria. It was to run as follows: train proxies to launch armed provocations; label the state’s response to these provocations as genocide; intimidate the UN Security Council into agreeing that “something must be done”; incinerate the entire army and any other resistance with fragmentation bombs and Hellfire missiles; and finally install a weak, compliant government to sign off new contracts and alliances drawn up in London, Paris and Washington, whilst the country tears itself apart. Result: the heart torn out of the ‘axis of resistance’ between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, leaving Iran isolated and the West with a free hand to attack the Islamic republic without fear of regional repercussions.

This was to be Syria’s fate, drawn up years ago in the high level planning committees of US, British and French defence departments and intelligence services. But this time, unlike in Libya, it has not all gone according to plan.

First, there was Russia and China’s veto of the 'regime change' resolution at the UN Security Council in October 2011, followed by a second veto in February of this year. This meant that any NATO attack on Syria would be denied the figleaf of UN approval, and seen instead as a unilateral act of aggression - not just against Syria, but potentially against China and Russia as well. Vicious and reckless as they are, even Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama do not necessarily have the stomach for that kind of a fight. That left the burden of destroying the Syrian state to NATO’s proxy forces on the ground, the ‘Free Syria Army’ – a collection of domestic and (increasingly) foreign rival armed militias, mostly ultra-sectarian Salafi extremists, along with a smattering of defectors and Western special forces. 

However, this army was not created to actually defeat the Syrian state; that was always supposed to be NATO’s job. As in Libya, the role of the militias was simply to provoke reprisals from the state in order to justify a NATO blitzkrieg. Left to their own devices, they have no chance of gaining power militarily, as many in the opposition realise. "We don't believe the Free Syrian Army is a project that can help the Syrian revolution," said the leader of the internal peaceful Syrian resistance movement, Haytham Al-Manna, recently, "we don't have an example where an armed struggle against a dictatorial regime won." Of course, one could cite Cuba, South Vietnam, and many others; but what is certainly true is that internal armed struggle alone has never succeeded when the government is the only single party in the struggle with any significant mass support - such as in Syria. 

This reality was brutally driven home in early March, in the decisive battle for the Baba Amr district of Homs. This was supposedly one of the Free Syrian Army’s strongholds, yet they were roundly defeated, leaving them facing the prospect of similar defeats in their last few remaining territories as well. The opposition are increasingly aware that their best chance of meaningful change is not through a military fight that they will almost certainly lose – and which will get them killed in the process, along with their support and credibility – but through negotiations and participation in the reform process and dialogue which the government has offered. 

This prospect – of an end to the civil war, and a negotiated peace which brings about a reform process without destabilising the country – has led to desperation amongst the imperial powers. Despite their claims to the contrary, a stable Syrian-led process is the last thing they want, as it leaves open the possibility of Syria remaining a strong, independent, anti-imperialist state – exactly the possibility they had sought to eliminate.

Hence, within days of Kofi Annan’s peace plan gaining a positive response from both sides in late March, the imperial powers openly pledged, for the first time, millions of dollars for the Free Syrian Army: for military equipment, to provide salaries to its soldiers, and to bribe government forces to defect. In other words, terrified that the civil war is starting to die down, they are setting about institutionalising it. If violent regime change is starting to look unlikely, the hope instead is to keep the country weak and on its knees by keeping its energy sucked into civil war.

At the risk of making the Syrian National Council appear even more out of touch with ordinary Syrians than it does already, its Western backers have increased the pressure for them to fall into line with this strategy, leading to open calls from the SNC leadership for both the full scale arming of the rebellion, and for aerial bombardment from the West. This has caused huge rifts in the organisation, with three leading members defecting last month, because they did not want to be "accomplices to the massacre of the Syrian people through delaying, cheating, lies, one-upmanship and monopolisation of decision-making." The SNC, according to one of the three, Kamal al-Labwani , was "linked to foreign agendas which aim to prolong the battle while waiting ... for the country to be dragged into a civil war."

This month one of the very few SNC leaders actually based in Syria, Riad Turk, called on the opposition to accept the Annan peace plan, “stop the bloodshed” and enter dialogue with the government – a call not echoed by his fellow SNC colleagues abroad. Likewise, the main peaceful opposition grouping based within Syria – the National Co-ordinating Committee – has fallen out with the SNC over the latters’ increasingly belligerent role as a mouthpiece of foreign powers. NCC leader Haytham Al-Manna spoke out publicly against the Free Syrian Army recently, saying, "The militarization of the Syrian revolution signifies the death of the internal revolution…We know that the Turkish government plays an important role in the political decisions of the Free Syrian Army. We don't believe that an armed group can be on Turkish territory and remain independent of Turkish decisions."

So there is a growing perception, even amongst the Syrian opposition movement itself, that both the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council are working in the interests of foreign powers to prolong a pointless civil war. 

Western policy makers are playing a dangerous game. Short of a NATO attack, their best option for the destabilisation and emasculation of Syria is to ensure that the ceasefire fails and the fighting continues. To this end, they are encouraging their proxy militias to step up their provocations; the purpose of Clinton and Juppe’s statements about “other measures” still being on the table is to keep the idea of a NATO attack alive in the heads of the rebels so that they continue to fight. Indeed, many more foreign fighters have been shipped into the country in recent weeks according to the Washington Post, and have been launching devastating bomb attacks in Damascus and Aleppo. US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford is a protégé of John Negroponte, who organised contra death squads to destabilise Nicaragua in the 1980s; he will almost certainly have been organising similar groups in Syria during his time there last year, for similar purposes. 

Nevertheless, the destabilisation agenda is not going according to plan. The internal opposition are becoming increasingly frustrated with the way things are progressing, and a clear split is emerging between those based outside the country, happy to see Syria consigned to oblivion in order to please their paymasters and further their careers, and those who actually have to live with the consequences. The reckless attacks of the armed militias are increasingly alienating even those who once had some sympathy for them, especially as their foreign membership and direction is exposed ever more clearly. Having been proven decisively unable to win and hold territory, these militias are turning to hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. But the guerrilla, as Mao put it, is like a fish, which can only survive in a sea of popular support. And that sea is rapidly drying up.