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Jurgen Tannenbaum

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  • Berube on Libya and the Left
    • Jurgen Tannenbaum 11/07/2011 at 5:11 am

      Well Sigil, without being inside the heads of the movers and shakers or a fly on the wall during their meetings, it's hard to do much more than speculate. But you must admit that the facts I have pointed out (and supported with a certain amount of evidence)are troubling to say the least. Your interpretation is also an interpretation. The point you make is sensible, but my recollection is that right from the start, France and Britain wanted Gaddafi's head on a platter and regime change (the contradictory statements Cameron, Hague, Obama and Sarkozy kept making were hilarious : "Nato's mission is not regime change, but to protect civilians" in one breath, "Gaddafi must step down" in the next) which is why they spent so much time trying to engineer a wording of the resolution that would allow them to do more than simply prevent Gadaffi's thugs from carrying out a massacre. And the bombing of Gaddafi's personal residences (claimed to be command and control centers), began from the word go.
      You say so clearly yourself "they had to intervene to give the rebels a chance" (to win). Yep, they wanted the rebels to win. And that was clearly not part of the UN resolution - which was simply a mandate to protect civilians and impose a no-fly zone - it was never about helping the rebels to win the war.

    • Well,Berube is not entirely wrong in his critique of the left, but he seems to ignore a number or rather obvious facts.

      Ostensibly, the UN resolution's purpose was to protect the civilian population in the East from Gaddafi's thugs - and NATO's intervention was timely and succesful in that respect. We should all applaud that aspect of NATO's intervention. But NATO didn't stop there, despite all the promises to the contrary - it very rapidly became the airforce and intelligence arm of the rebellion, with an increasingly clear objective - the deposing or physical elimination of Gaddafi and his clan - which was never authorised by the UN mandate. Special forces were sent into Lybia, the rebels were provided arms and cash and valuable intelligence. Gaddafi's command and control systems, military installations and family homes were bombed repeatedly, obviously to try to kill him and fast forward regime change - in short, "mission creep" was so pervasive, that the ostensible objective : "protecting civilians" or "saving lives" revealed itself to be not much more than a rather transparent fig-leaf to provide cover for a very different agenda.
      The big question is of course : what was the real agenda (or agendas) being pursued here by those driving the intervention? Considering past experience (the case of Irak comes to mind, but there are plenty of others in recent history), it is hardly surprising that many should have legitimate grounds for concern about the real intentions of this coalition led by Britain and France (in passing, two of Lybia's biggest clients for oil supplies, alongside Italy, as well as the number 4 and 5 global arms merchants - with BAE systems, Britain's producer, the word's leading developer).

      This is important because if their real intentions are not quite as pure as they claim to be, the consequences in terms of Lybia's future development could be far-reaching and possibly devastating for Lybia's population, which enjoyed a relatively prosperous lifestyle in comparison with neighbouring countries, though living under constant threat of retribution from Gaddafi's ruthless thugs (the comparison with Irak again comes to mind). If the result is a more open, prosperous society, with the wealth from oil revenues fairly shared among the population and democratic institutions, then who can complain? However, the consequences of the West's previous military interventions in this part of the world are less than encouraging on this score, primarily because the real objectives were very different from those trumpeted accross the media.

      So what might those objectives be, in the case of Lybia?
      In these cases, there is never just one objective - they are often multiple, sometimes contradictory, the product of a balance of the conflicting interests of the ad-hoc coalitions that are cobbled together to carry out projects of this kind. Absent a smoking gun, no one can say for sure, but as in all investigations, there are a number of clues that can help to clarify the possible unstated motives of this intervention.

      Oil? Juan, both you and Berube apparently scoff at this notion, but I'm not so sure. After all, the need to secure the oil supply has been one of the principal drivers of the West's foreign policies for nigh on two centuries and despite nuclear power, our societies remain heavily dependent on it for energy, as well as for a myriad other industrial by-products. We are in the middle of an accelerating global resource war, with oil still the key prize that both industrialised and industrialising nations are scrabbling to control, at a time when cheaply accessible sources are becoming increasingly scarce. Lybia still has enormous untapped reserves of the stuff - much of it high quality (light sweet crude) and easily accessible (the same is true in Irak). Gaddafi was a tough negotiator and had his eye increasingly on China among others - the new regime, still very weak and heavily indebted to France and the UK, may not be quite so demanding - and has openly promised that those nations who led the onslaught will be the prime beneficiaries of new contracts. Here's an article dated August 22nd from the NYT "The Scramble for Access to Libya’s Oil Wealth Begins" link to nytimes.com . The information in this article, sourced mostly from spokesment of oil companies such as ENI, BP, Total, etc.. confirms that yes, oil was never far from anyone’s mind here.

      These "humanitarian" interventions always come with a price tag - is it pure coincidence that the British forces stationed in Irak were concentrated in Basra and that - surprise, surprise, the contracts for the Basra oilfields were awarded to...BP? Or is this just the wild imagination of a conspiracy theorist?

      What about arms ? Well, as stated earlier, both Britain and France are two of the world's leading producers of military systems, right behind the US (in Britain's case, over a hundred thousand people are employed by the defense industry, which has a turnover of £22 billion, £9,5 billion in exports). Successive defense ministers in both countries never tire of extolling this industry's value and of supporting its export effort (Liam Fox being the latest). And what did we witness in Lybia ?
      Unending media coverage of Typhoons and Dassault Rafales (both of which were suffering from empty order books at the time) taking off and landing, dropping "intelligent" bombs, detailed descriptions of their amazing capabilities and weapons systems (Brimstone missiles have now become a household name), guided tours of the equipment....there was a point when perhaps the best way to describe it was "The Lybian Air Show". The Americans were also provided with plenty of promotional material : I shall never forget certain surreal headlines in the institutional press, when helicopters were the stars of the day. From the BBC :
      Title : " "How Apaches could aid Libya mission" (capabilities)
      "Misrata rebels' hopes for Apaches" ("humanitarian" fig-leaf")
      "Tour of Apache attack helicopter" (operation seduction)
      link to bbc.co.uk
      The same day, Le Monde published an article in similar vein, extolling the “kills” carried out by “Alouette” Dassault helicopters...with only a passing reference to the Apaches.

      This of course just a week or two before the Bourget air show….and since then, orders have been piling in, mostly from Gulf states threatened with unrest. Interesting that while our politicians encourage Arab populations to revolt against their tyrants, they are actively lobbying with those same tyrants to provide them with the hardware they need to suppress the popular revolt they are fomenting –revolting being the operative word here.
      And once the Bourget Air show was in full swing, we had articles such as this one appearing « Arms firms eye Paris air show order bonanza » link to bbc.co.uk
      An extract : "Military conflict obviously bolsters arms sales, because it uses up weapons and ammunition, and there has been plenty of it in recent months.

      Conflict uses up weapons and ammunition, which need to be replaced In particular, several countries that are normally not actively involved in armed conflicts are now in a position where they will need to restock bombs, ammunition and weapons following months of action in Libya and conflict elsewhere in the region, an executive at an international arms company told BBC News.

      Orders from these countries could top several hundred millions - and perhaps even billions - of dollars, industry officials predict.

      At the same time, many procurement officers have been impressed by the accuracy of some of the weapons used in Libya, an officer involved in bombing missions told BBC News.

      These include laser-guided bombs designed to hit and destroy armoured vehicles without causing much collateral damage, he said, predicting demand for such hi-tech weaponry to be strong at this year's show.
      But demand for weapons from the Middle East and North Africa is also expected to remain strong in the wake of the Arab Spring...."

      "Interstate and internal tensions provide drivers for demand," according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

      And if this doesn’t ring a certain number of alarm bells, how about this latest article from the Independent :
      . « British delegation will visit Libya in effort to kick-start arms deals ». link to independent.co.uk
      An extract « The Independent has learned that a defence industry trade delegation is planning to travel to Libya early next year in the hope the country's new pro-western National Transition Council will become lucrative customers.

      UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the government department which promotes British business interests abroad, is planning to take defence manufacturers to Tripoli in February for a series of meetings with senior government officials. The news will alarm human rights campaigners, who have spent the past nine months documenting the readiness of autocratic Middle Eastern regimes to use imported equipment to violently quell popular opposition movements. » … » Last month Lord Green, minister for Trade and Investment, visited Tripoli to see what role Britain could play in rebuilding Libya's infrastructure and economy. After months of internecine conflict in a country with vast energy reserves, international businesses are well aware of the vast sums of money to be made.

      Those nations that took part in the Nato airstrikes against Gaddafi's regime – notably Britain and France – are determined to reap the rewards of backing the National Transition Council and claw back some of the money spent on their costly bombing campaign. Some have estimated the value of contracts in oil, infrastructure and education to be worth as much as £200bn.

      Kaye Stearman, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, criticised the delegation plans and its timing. "The UK government professes to support a democratic and peaceful future for Libya, yet, even before the dead and injured have been counted, it is mounting trade missions to sell arms to a damaged and traumatised people," she said. "They show no shame at their past record on arms sales and no willingness to change."

      So, is it really all a conspiracy theory ? Just how clean are the motivations of our liberal interventionists ? (the shiny new brand name which seems to have replaced the discredited « neoconservatives » of the New American Century). Because the same agenda seems to be at work. In their plans at the time, described more or less as « using our superior military capabilities to kick over the anthills, drive democratic change and extract lucrative pickings » the primary targeted regimes were Irak, Iran, Syria, Lybia, Lebanon, the Sudan, according of course to opportunity. Well, it would appear we are headed on the same course.

      Other motivations of the coalition of actors involved may well include : protecting Israel by pre-emptively bombing or dislocating regimes that could pose a future threat or get in the way of the settlement agenda (a key concern for the neoconservatives), furthering the neo-liberal « free market » agenda touted by the European Union and the USA by imposing IMF policies in those countries (with a massive drop in living standards for local populations and an open market for Western multinationals, as we have seen time and again). In this respect, listen carefully to William Hague’s declarations extolling popular revolt against undemocratic regimes in Africa and the Middle East – every few sentences, the leitmotiv « free markets » keeps popping curiously up….. pre-empting the growing competition for the resources of the « developing » world from the emerging economies of China, Russia, Brasil, India, diverting what is likely to be growing unrest among the populations of Western countries as the crisis bites deeper and living standards fall (a classical motivation for foreign adventures), neutralising dissent by whipping up popular support for the military and branding protesters as traitors… the list is endless.

      And now, as we have seen, Iran is unsurprisingly in the cross-hairs, though the eventuality of a military campaign is yet uncertain, considering the opposition within certain establishment circles.

      So no smoking gun perhaps, but plenty of disturbing evidence that the virtuous motives so loudly proclaimed are only a minor part of the story. I am happy to see the end of Gaddafi, of Saddam Hussein, of the Iranian Mullahs and hopefully in the future of Assad and his nightmare regime, but at what price for the populations of these countries, once « Western friendly » regimes have been installed ? How much of this is a genuine desire to improve people’s lives and freedoms in the developing world, how much will it benefit our own populations and how much is simply a further example of neo-colonialism at work, with the prime beneficiaries being the increasingly wealthy global financial and multinational elite ?

      It’s an open question and everyone will draw their own conclusions, but in the light of all this admittedly circumstantial evidence, I for one remain to be convinced.

  • Would Obama Greenlight an Israeli Attack on Iran?
    • Jurgen Tannenbaum 11/04/2011 at 10:52 pm

      As in all these issues, several factors seem to be at play at the same time. There is clearly a tug-of-war in progress within the circles of power between - on one side : partisans of a strike on Iran (the neoconservatives in their latest disguise as liberal interventionists, backed up by financial, nationalist and business interest groups on the lookout for new opportunities); on the other : the opponents (most of the traditional establishment, particularly in the military and security apparatus and among corporations not thriving off the manna of arms and energy contracts). The opponents seem to be leaking information to forestall a strike, but also perhaps attempting to intimidate Teheran - increasing the pressure on Iran's divided power circles might eventually create confusion or even a serious rift at the top that could be gainfully exploited, without resorting to a messy military conflict. There might even be a deliberate distribution of the good policeman/bad policeman roles at play. No doubt there are other motivations: for the partisans of Greater Israel, the marshalling of the population behind their bellicose agenda and the hope that in the chaos and confusion of a protracted conflict, the last natives "squatting" on future Israeli-marked territory might be legitimately removed in the war against "Iranian agents and inflitrators". For certain energy interests, perhaps a future bonanza on Iranian resources and during the chaotic interval, a dramatic increase in profits (ie: dividends) due to spiralling prices. For the arms merchants, whose shareholders are perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the recent wars waged in the name of peace and democracy, a propitious increase in sales, both to replenish stocks and to shore up panicky Arab regimes attempting to protect themselves from Iranian retaliation. No doubt there is also the desire to militarise the population and remove "undesirable" elements to forestall the serious unrest which is likely to sweep the West as the economic crisis deepens and people used to a comfortable consumerist lifestyle suddenly find themselves destitute en masse. These are of course only some of the variables, so predicting what will happen with any degree of certainty is probably a fruitless exercise - and depends very little on what Obama may or may not decide. But if I were to take a guess, I would opt for a scenario involving a deliberate provocation, sometime next Spring, designed, by one clan or other, to engineer an escalation into all-out war between Iran and the West. Indeed, there is little chance today of getting China or Russia to accept UN support for any future military adventure - on the contrary they are likely this time to cause very serious trouble should the West go ahead without international support - China might even pull the rug under the dollar. On the other hand, so much could happen between now and next Spring that all these schemes, plots and calculations may simply be washed away before they have even begun to take form. Perhaps that is the best hope for the world today?

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