Once upon a time, I thought Moammar Qadhafi was cool, a twentieth century Barbary pirate who gleefully steered an independent course, used his country’s oil money to benefit the Libyan people, and thumbed his nose at Moscow and Washington alike. I soured on him a long time ago, though, as it became apparent that he was pocketing most of the oil money himself, and his regime was blowing up airliners and assassinating exiled Libyan dissidents. His visit to Rome in February was little short of bizarre, as he suggested that Europeans should convert en masse to Islam, abolish all political parties, and that the etymology of the word “democracy” had to do with people sitting on chairs, not to mention quotes like these:
I am not a dictator to close facebook… But I will be arresting anyone who enters it!
Demonstrate all you want, but do not go to the streets and squares!!
So, I was thrilled when a revolt broke out in Libya that seemed to have the strength to kick his crazy ass out of the country. I mean, the guy reminds me of Michael Jackson–way cool in the eighties, nuts in the twenty-first century. But Qadhafi, while he may be as crazy as Michael Jackson, is a lot less musically talented and a lot more dangerous. It became obvious that he was going to use every means at his disposal to destroy the rebellion, and he definitely had the resources to do it: modern weaponry, 6.5 billion dollars worth of gold to buy supplies, and a porous southern border with sub-Saharan Africa, a region where money talks and anything goes. It looked like ol’ Qadhafi Duck was gonna crush the rebellion and give any rebels who survived reason to envy the dead. But then, but then–instead of hanging these rebels out to dry, as the West has almost invariably done, NATO came to their aid. Wow! The empire was doing the right thing for a change!
It didn’t take long for the truth to come out. First came the disclosure that there had been a quid pro quo to gain Arab support for the intervention: the U.S. agreed not to squawk about suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain in exchange for co-operation. It was fine with the Saudis–Qadhafi Duck has long been a loose cannon in the Middle East, and they would be happy to see him replaced with someone more tractable. Second, I found out that Qadhafi had recently decided to start selling Libya’s oil to India and China, rather than the West. As Saddam Hussein found out when he tried to ask for Euros instead of dollars for his oil, defections will not be tolerated.
Think of all the oppressive situations the Empire has ignored. Repression in Iran, Syria, Turkish actions against the Kurds, the civil wars in Sudan and the Congo, the genocide in Rwanda, brutal regimes in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, the concentration camps known as North Korea and Burma, China’s crushing of Tibet and Tiananmen Square, “dirty wars” in Chile and Argentina–the list goes on and on. The US has tsk-tsked, turned a blind eye to, or actively assisted in the crushing of one popular revolt after another–but Libya–Libya we can, and will, do something about–and why? It’s small enough to beat and rich enough to be worth taking. This is not about freedom and democracy, it’s about greed and hypocrisy, about getting our people in there and taking over from the amateurs who started the revolt. I would like to see those amateurs succeed, but it’s not about freedom any more, it’s about their blood for our oil–again.
My bad, Ms. Sheehan. You called it right.
The Clash: “Rock the Casbah“