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Senator Levin and the “use of force” in Libya

March 10, 2011

The ongoing uprising in Libya has resulted in greater repression from the state under the direction of Muammar Qaddafi. Recent reports show that numerous civilians are being attacked and killed as the long-time leader of Libya is using the military to prevent his country from following Egypt and Tunisia on the road to democracy.

The levels of state repression have caused some in the international community and particularly in the US government to consider military engagement. On Sunday, Senator John Kerry called for a “No Fly-Zone” to be imposed on Libya, with other Senators quickly coming on board.

On Wednesday, Michigan Senator Carl Levin also weighed in on the matter when he addressed the issue in a statement for the Armed Services Committee. Levin said, “Two ships with a Marine Expeditionary Unit of over 1,000 Marines aboard are in the Mediterranean.  Missile-launching ships are available should the President choose to use them to strike Libyan targets, including military aircraft, air defenses, airstrips, command centers, and bases.  Before exercising any use-of-force option, the President is appropriately seeking support from the international community, in particular the support of other countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in the region.

Now the statement from Levin doesn’t read as a strong endorsement for US military intervention in Libya, but it does demonstrate that the US already has the military capability to intervene if the Obama administration decides to take such action.

Much of the commercial media reporting in the US on the political repression in Libya presents Qaddafi as a brutal dictator, which the historical record would support. However, like much of the recent coverage of popular uprisings throughout the Middle East, there hasn’t been much historical context about the US relationship with Libya and Qaddafi.

Even the most rudimentary reading of the historical relationship between the US and Libya shows that the US supported a plan for the British, French and Italian governments to control Libya after WWII. This plan called for installing a puppet monarch, King Idris, who supported US/NATO strategic interests and access to Libya’s oil after the 1959 discovery of vast oil reserves.

In the 1960s growing civil unrest directed against the King led to a 1969 coup that landed Muammar Qaddafi as the new leader of Libya. Qaddafi has always ruled with an iron fist, but the US has not always objected to his repressive policies. In fact, according to Mark Zepezauer’s book Boomerang, the CIA supported Qaddafi against numerous attempted coups in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration pushed Qaddafi on his role in regional politics and even bombed the country on numerous occasions in an attempt to take the Libyan leader out. One of those bombing raids resulted in the death of Qaddafi’s daughter. For more on the historical relationship between the US and Libya, particularly during Qaddafi’s reign, check out the chapter on Lybia in Bill Blum’s Killing Hope: US Military and CIA
Interventions Since World War II.

Besides having a better historical analysis it is also important to think about what a No Fly-Zone would mean for Libya. Middle East policy analysis Phyllis Bennis has an important article, which provides sound analysis. Bennis argues that while there is some call from within Libya for international intervention that many on the ground don’t want military intervention as it may result in strengthening Qaddafi’s power. Bennis also points out that while the United Nations has imposed targeted sanctions on Libya it did not endorse the use of force.

Another point that Bennis makes is that while US political leaders are using language like “humanitarian intervention” we should not believe that the US interests are with the fate of Libya’s civilian population. This point has also been raised by author Jean Bricmont, who says that the last time the US used “humanitarian intervention” was in Kosovo. That intervention was disastrous for civilians and Bricmont argues caused more of a humanitarian crisis. Bricmont, in a recent article, argues that if the US intervenes in Libya it should more accurately be called humanitarian imperialism.

As the events in Libya unfold we should keep a close eye on what actions the US will take and pay close attention to how they frame those actions so as not to be swayed by their appeals to “humanitarian intervention.”


2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 9:24 pm

    Is it generally accepted that Libya’s intelligence agency had a hand in the 80’s bombing of the Berlin disco and the Pan AM 103 Lockerbie bombing? It seems from what I have read, yes. If not could you provide other info on this.

    I assume the sanctions that were imposed on Libya after the late 80’s bombings was harmful on the general population, but Qaddafi and his sons still lived very comfortably, much like the Iraq sanctions.

    It seems in the 90’s Qaddafi begin to feel threatened by Islamic radicals and began to cooperate with the U.S. In the late 90’s Qaddafi issued an international arrest warrant for Osama Bin laden.

    Qadaffi saw Islamic extremists a threat to his power much in the same way Saddam Hussein did. Al qaeda was/is an enemy to Qaddafi and Hussein. I still can’t believe the U.S. tried to tie Hussein to Al Qaeda.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    March 10, 2011 9:36 pm

    r, you comment/question is pretty much accurate. If you wanted more information I would suggest you read the chapter on Libya from Bill Blum’s book I cite in the article or Chomsky’s book Rogue States for details on the Lockerbie bombing, etc.

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