COMMENTARY: Libya: Backing the Destructiveness of Military Power Again

By Ian Harris

People should not be surprised that the United States has put itself in line to dictate the nature of the next head of state in Libya.

After all, in 1954 this country replaced an elected leader in Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, who had promised to nationalize the oil in his country. Look what happened to Saddam Hussein after he nationalized the oil in Iraq! In 2009 Moammar Quadhafi mentioned nationalizing the oil industry in Libya, where the largest oil company was already state owned. This made Gaddafi a dangerous mad dog renegade who needed to be replaced. Do you see a pattern here?


What does it mean when a country nationalizes its oil? It means many things. The government controls the oil wealth. The three rulers mentioned above were socialists. They promised to use their control of oil resources to build up the standard of living for people in their countries by providing schools, sewage systems, roads, hospitals, clean water, electricity, internet access, etc. Under the privatized model of Saudi Arabia the oil wealth pours into the pockets of the royal family, Western oil brokers, and the banks that invest in oil rich countries.


Under a privatized approach, as opposed to a nationalist approach, oil is sold for a profit in supposedly free capitalist markets that can be controlled by oil barons who have imposed a cartel on the world to protect their profits. States that have nationalized their oil resources like Venezuela and Russia control revenues from oil sales. They could start trading oil in euros instead of dollars or some other currency—a fatal move by Saddam Hussein that led to his early demise.


Whether or not the government that Moammar Quadhafi imposed upon the Libyan people when he lead a coup in 1969 to dethrone the king, Idris, has done a good job of distributing the revenues from the National Oil company to Libyans is beyond the scope of this essay, but be aware that we have for decades been fed anti-Quadhafi messages from the various governments of the West, going back to 1986 when Ronald Reagan killed Quadhafi’s three year old daughter in a bombing raid.


The blowback from this act of aggression was the Lockerbie bombing by Libyans intent on inflicting revenge upon the American people. Who knows what the blowback will be from this more extensive round of bombs plus cruise missiles? Remember the blowback when cruise missiles and pinpoint bombing destroyed the infrastructure that Saddam Hussein had built up for the people of Iraq. That country devolved into lawless chaos and still ten years later the electric grid has not been restored.



All this doesn’t excuse the alleged atrocities that Hussein waged upon his people or the forty plus years that Quadhafi has ruled in his country. But there are, and have been, vicious dictators throughout the world, like the late Mobutu in Zaire and Mugabe in Zimbabwe, whom the U.S. does not threaten to remove forcefully. President Obama argued that the U.S.A. has the responsibility to protect innocent victims in Libya who were being slaughtered because they opposed the Quadhafi dictatorship. This is a slight argument because the U.S. enforces this right for protection so selectively, e.g. when has the U.S. applied this right for protection to the Palestinian people during the last 50 years? Aren’t rights supposed to apply to all people?



We should also oppose this latest bombing campaign because it was not authorized by Congress. The cost of another war cannot be absorbed by a state that already has out of control debts. The United States of America is waging two wars that we haven’t and cannot pay for. Why sink further into a cesspool of unfunded military campaigns, especially in this budget climate where it is impossible to raise taxes to pay for wars? We need our funds to support people here in the United States who have had the rug pulled out from under them in the latest fiscal crisis.



Another reason to oppose these current forays into creating a mad max zone in another Middle East country is that this current strategy to create a no fly zone does not have a clear mission. Are we to bomb the Libyans until Quadhafi dies? Libya is a tribal society. There are many political problems in Libya. What resistance are we supporting? Who is going to replace Quadhafi? There is no democratic constitution to spell out a succession. There is always the chance that the next leaders of Libya will be hostile to U.S. interests just like the Mullahs in Iran opposed U.S. interests when they came to power in 1979. The reality of bombing is that it tears apart civil society. Bombing is not the correct way to build a new democratic society.



Fortunately, we know that there is a way to build a democratic state, just like what happened in Libya’s two neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt. Nonviolent revolutions like those carried out in the Philippines in 1986 when Corazon Aquino became president, in Poland when Lech Walesa became president in 1990 and that nation declared its independence from the Soviet Union and communist control, and in South Africa in 1994 when Nelson Mandala became president, pull people together and contribute to nation building. These leaders relied on a nonviolent movement to bring about regime change.



A bombing campaign tears nations apart. Unfortunately, by relying upon air power in Northern Africa, the United States has chosen a deadly path to regime change that probably will support more tyranny. We should oppose this most recent military campaign because bombing will not encourage reconciliation. It is antithetical to the peace building processes required to build a new democratic Libya.


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Ian Harris is professor emeritus from the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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