Top Ten Myths about the Libya War

The Libyan Revolution has largely succeeded, and this is a moment of celebration, not only for Libyans but for a youth generation in the Arab world that has pursued a political opening across the region. The secret of the uprising’s final days of success lay in a popular revolt in the working-class districts of the capital, which did most of the hard work of throwing off the rule of secret police and military cliques. It succeeded so well that when revolutionary brigades entered the city from the west, many encountered little or no resistance, and they walked right into the center of the capital. Muammar Qaddafi was in hiding as I went to press, and three of his sons were in custody. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi had apparently been the de facto ruler of the country in recent years, so his capture signaled a checkmate. (Checkmate is a corruption of the Persian “shah maat,” the “king is confounded,” since chess came west from India via Iran). Checkmate.

The end game, wherein the people of Tripoli overthrew the Qaddafis and joined the opposition Transitional National Council, is the best case scenario that I had suggested was the most likely denouement for the revolution. I have been making this argument for some time, and it evoked a certain amount of incredulity when I said it in a lecture in the Netherlands in mid-June, but it has all along been my best guess that things would end the way they have. I got it right where others did not because my premises turned out to be sounder, i.e., that Qaddafi had lost popular support across the board and was in power only through main force. Once enough of his heavy weapons capability was disrupted, and his fuel and ammunition supplies blocked, the underlying hostility of the common people to the regime could again manifest itself, as it had in February. I was moreover convinced that the generality of Libyans were attracted by the revolution and by the idea of a political opening, and that there was no great danger to national unity here.

I do not mean to underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead– mopping up operations against regime loyalists, reestablishing law and order in cities that have seen popular revolutions, reconstituting police and the national army, moving the Transitional National Council to Tripoli, founding political parties, and building a new, parliamentary regime. Even in much more institutionalized and less clan-based societies such as Tunisia and Egypt, these tasks have proved anything but easy. But it would be wrong, in this moment of triumph for the Libyan Second Republic, to dwell on the difficulties to come. Libyans deserve a moment of exultation.

I have taken a lot of heat for my support of the revolution and of the United Nations-authorized intervention by the Arab League and NATO that kept it from being crushed. I haven’t taken nearly as much heat as the youth of Misrata who fought off Qaddafi’s tank barrages, though, so it is OK. I hate war, having actually lived through one in Lebanon, and I hate the idea of people being killed. My critics who imagined me thrilling at NATO bombing raids were just being cruel. But here I agree with President Obama and his citation of Reinhold Niebuhr. You can’t protect all victims of mass murder everywhere all the time. But where you can do some good, you should do it, even if you cannot do all good. I mourn the deaths of all the people who died in this revolution, especially since many of the Qaddafi brigades were clearly coerced (they deserted in large numbers as soon as they felt it safe). But it was clear to me that Qaddafi was not a man to compromise, and that his military machine would mow down the revolutionaries if it were allowed to.

Moreover, those who question whether there were US interests in Libya seem to me a little blind. The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly. The US has an interest in a lawful world order, and therefore in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Libyans be protected from their murderous government. The US has an interest in its NATO alliance, and NATO allies France and Britain felt strongly about this intervention. The US has a deep interest in the fate of Egypt, and what happened in Libya would have affected Egypt (Qaddafi allegedly had high Egyptian officials on his payroll).

Given the controversies about the revolution, it is worthwhile reviewing the myths about the Libyan Revolution that led so many observers to make so many fantastic or just mistaken assertions about it.

1. Qaddafi was a progressive in his domestic policies. While back in the 1970s, Qaddafi was probably more generous in sharing around the oil wealth with the population, buying tractors for farmers, etc., in the past couple of decades that policy changed. He became vindictive against tribes in the east and in the southwest that had crossed him politically, depriving them of their fair share in the country’s resources. And in the past decade and a half, extreme corruption and the rise of post-Soviet-style oligarchs, including Qaddafi and his sons, have discouraged investment and blighted the economy. Workers were strictly controlled and unable to collectively bargain for improvements in their conditions. There was much more poverty and poor infrastructure in Libya than there should have been in an oil state.

2. Qaddafi was a progressive in his foreign policy. Again, he traded for decades on positions, or postures, he took in the 1970s. In contrast, in recent years he played a sinister role in Africa, bankrolling brutal dictators and helping foment ruinous wars. In 1996 the supposed champion of the Palestinian cause expelled 30,000 stateless Palestinians from the country. After he came in from the cold, ending European and US sanctions, he began buddying around with George W. Bush, Silvio Berlusconi and other right wing figures. Berlusconi has even said that he considered resigning as Italian prime minister once NATO began its intervention, given his close personal relationship to Qaddafi. Such a progressive.

3. It was only natural that Qaddafi sent his military against the protesters and revolutionaries; any country would have done the same. No, it wouldn’t, and this is the argument of a moral cretin. In fact, the Tunisian officer corps refused to fire on Tunisian crowds for dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the Egyptian officer corps refused to fire on Egyptian crowds for Hosni Mubarak. The willingness of the Libyan officer corps to visit macabre violence on protesting crowds derived from the centrality of the Qaddafi sons and cronies at the top of the military hierarchy and from the lack of connection between the people and the professional soldiers and mercenaries. Deploying the military against non-combatants was a war crime, and doing so in a widespread and systematic way was a crime against humanity. Qaddafi and his sons will be tried for this crime, which is not “perfectly natural.”

4. There was a long stalemate in the fighting between the revolutionaries and the Qaddafi military. There was not. This idea was fostered by the vantage point of many Western observers, in Benghazi. It is true that there was a long stalemate at Brega, which ended yesterday when the pro-Qaddafi troops there surrendered. But the two most active fronts in the war were Misrata and its environs, and the Western Mountain region. Misrata fought an epic, Stalingrad-style, struggle of self-defense against attacking Qaddafi armor and troops, finally proving victorious with NATO help, and then they gradually fought to the west toward Tripoli. The most dramatic battles and advances were in the largely Berber Western Mountain region, where, again, Qaddafi armored units relentlessly shelled small towns and villages but were fought off (with less help from NATO initially, which I think did not recognize the importance of this theater). It was the revolutionary volunteers from this region who eventually took Zawiya, with the help of the people of Zawiya, last Friday and who thereby cut Tripoli off from fuel and ammunition coming from Tunisia and made the fall of the capital possible. Any close observer of the war since April has seen constant movement, first at Misrata and then in the Western Mountains, and there was never an over-all stalemate.

5. The Libyan Revolution was a civil war. It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic. There was nothing like the vicious sectarian civilian-on-civilian fighting in Baghdad in 2006. The revolution began as peaceful public protests, and only when the urban crowds were subjected to artillery, tank, mortar and cluster bomb barrages did the revolutionaries begin arming themselves. When fighting began, it was volunteer combatants representing their city quarters taking on trained regular army troops and mercenaries. That is a revolution, not a civil war. Only in a few small pockets of territory, such as Sirte and its environs, did pro-Qaddafi civilians oppose the revolutionaries, but it would be wrong to magnify a handful of skirmishes of that sort into a civil war. Qaddafi’s support was too limited, too thin, and too centered in the professional military, to allow us to speak of a civil war.

6. Libya is not a real country and could have been partitioned between east and west.
Alexander Cockburn wrote,

“It requites no great prescience to see that this will all end up badly. Qaddafi’s failure to collapse on schedule is prompting increasing pressure to start a ground war, since the NATO operation is, in terms of prestige, like the banks Obama has bailed out, Too Big to Fail. Libya will probably be balkanized.”

I don’t understand the propensity of Western analysts to keep pronouncing nations in the global south “artificial” and on the verge of splitting up. It is a kind of Orientalism. All nations are artificial. Benedict Anderson dates the nation-state to the late 1700s, and even if it were a bit earlier, it is a new thing in history. Moreover, most nation-states are multi-ethnic, and many long-established ones have sub-nationalisms that threaten their unity. Thus, the Catalans and Basque are uneasy inside Spain, the Scottish may bolt Britain any moment, etc., etc. In contrast, Libya does not have any well-organized, popular separatist movements. It does have tribal divisions, but these are not the basis for nationalist separatism, and tribal alliances and fissures are more fluid than ethnicity (which is itself less fixed than people assume). Everyone speaks Arabic, though for Berbers it is the public language; Berbers were among the central Libyan heroes of the revolution, and will be rewarded with a more pluralist Libya. This generation of young Libyans, who waged the revolution, have mostly been through state schools and have a strong allegiance to the idea of Libya. Throughout the revolution, the people of Benghazi insisted that Tripoli was and would remain the capital. Westerners looking for break-ups after dictatorships are fixated on the Balkan events after 1989, but there most often isn’t an exact analogue to those in the contemporary Arab world.

7. There had to be NATO infantry brigades on the ground for the revolution to succeed. Everyone from Cockburn to Max Boot (scary when those two agree) put forward this idea. But there are not any foreign infantry brigades in Libya, and there are unlikely to be any. Libyans are very nationalistic and they made this clear from the beginning. Likewise the Arab League. NATO had some intelligence assets on the ground, but they were small in number, were requested behind the scenes for liaison and spotting by the revolutionaries, and did not amount to an invasion force. The Libyan people never needed foreign ground brigades to succeed in their revolution.

8. The United States led the charge to war. There is no evidence for this allegation whatsoever. When I asked Glenn Greenwald whether a US refusal to join France and Britain in a NATO united front might not have destroyed NATO, he replied that NATO would never have gone forward unless the US had plumped for the intervention in the first place. I fear that answer was less fact-based and more doctrinaire than we are accustomed to hearing from Mr. Greenwald, whose research and analysis on domestic issues is generally first-rate. As someone not a stranger to diplomatic history, and who has actually heard briefings in Europe from foreign ministries and officers of NATO members, I’m offended at the glibness of an answer given with no more substantiation than an idee fixe. The excellent McClatchy wire service reported on the reasons for which then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Pentagon, and Obama himself were extremely reluctant to become involved in yet another war in the Muslim world. It is obvious that the French and the British led the charge on this intervention, likely because they believed that a protracted struggle over years between the opposition and Qaddafi in Libya would radicalize it and give an opening to al-Qaeda and so pose various threats to Europe. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been politically mauled, as well, by the offer of his defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, to send French troops to assist Ben Ali in Tunisia (Alliot-Marie had been Ben Ali’s guest on fancy vacations), and may have wanted to restore traditional French cachet in the Arab world as well as to look decisive to his electorate. Whatever Western Europe’s motivations, they were the decisive ones, and the Obama administration clearly came along as a junior partner (something Sen. John McCain is complaining bitterly about).

9. Qaddafi would not have killed or imprisoned large numbers of dissidents in Benghazi, Derna, al-Bayda and Tobruk if he had been allowed to pursue his March Blitzkrieg toward the eastern cities that had defied him. But we have real-world examples of how he would have behaved, in Zawiya, Tawargha, Misrata and elsewhere. His indiscriminate shelling of Misrata had already killed between 1000 and 2000 by last April,, and it continued all summer. At least one Qaddafi mass grave with 150 bodies in it has been discovered. And the full story of the horrors in Zawiya and elsewhere in the west has yet to emerge, but it will not be pretty. The opposition claims Qaddafi’s forces killed tens of thousands. Public health studies may eventually settle this issue, but we know definitively what Qaddafi was capable of.

10. This was a war for Libya’s oil. That is daft. Libya was already integrated into the international oil markets, and had done billions of deals with BP, ENI, etc., etc. None of those companies would have wanted to endanger their contracts by getting rid of the ruler who had signed them. They had often already had the trauma of having to compete for post-war Iraqi contracts, a process in which many did less well than they would have liked. ENI’s profits were hurt by the Libyan revolution, as were those of Total SA. and Repsol. Moreover, taking Libyan oil off the market through a NATO military intervention could have been foreseen to put up oil prices, which no Western elected leader would have wanted to see, especially Barack Obama, with the danger that a spike in energy prices could prolong the economic doldrums. An economic argument for imperialism is fine if it makes sense, but this one does not, and there is no good evidence for it (that Qaddafi was erratic is not enough), and is therefore just a conspiracy theory.

Posted in Libya | 212 Responses | Print |

212 Responses

  1. Juan, I just want to tell you that I believed in what you said all along. My congratulations to you on staying strong during all of the crap you have taken for your views and reporting. Pragmatism is most often respected too late (in the annals of history and retrospect). It definitely has its place in journalism and in policy.

    • I’m sure a number of us had this experience. Many colleagues supposedly on the left, thought very poorly of those of us who said that the UN intervention was necessary and right.

      As a person who lived in East Timor during its transitional period, I was glad to see that the international community again realised the need for humanitarian intervention.

      I hope we never see another Rwanda. When a government is attacking civilians they have failed their responsibility to protect. Then the international community must step in. That is the only way to stop such slaughter.

      Oh, and if there ever was a case for a no-fly zone and international peacekeepers, it’s Gaza.

      • East Timor wasn’t liberated by “Humanitarian intervention”.
        After decades of direct support for Indonesia’s murderous agression, the US finally ordered its Indonesian clients to pull out. Australian led troops went into East Tinmor as Indonesian troops were pulling out. Comparing that to Libya is like comparing a nasty phone call to a drive-by shooting.

  2. Juan, you were right (as usual dammed ) . as Ann said congratulations . It is a great day for Libya , and they should really be proud of their results. As you said the challenge ahead is still a big one , may be , and in a different way , a bigger one . Setting up a Democratic government out of the rubble of revolution , the meddling of other states actor and the tribal nature of Libya. Only time will tell and we should everything we can to assist them. Hopefully the western media (and some politicians ) will stop agitating the red flag of ALQ or Islamic rules . Despite all this positive results ,so far at least , i still have a sour taste about the western intervention, (BTW I think you are on the dot here regarding Sarko ) and i still wish a more level handed reaction from NATO , UN , USA etc on all the other issues of the middle east and other part of the world. May be not bombs or boots on the ground but at least more unbiased reactions. May be i am too much of a dreamer :-)

  3. Yes, the overthrow of the Libyan regime is to be welcomed. I also agree with your contention that though the US is incapable of “protecting all victims of mass murder”, it does have an obligation to “do good” where and when it can do it.

    Which is why, on moral grounds, the US should have first ceased participating in or contributing to acts of mass murder in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain, Gaza, etc. It is of no credit to the US that they were willing to contribute forces to the eradication of a Libyan regime – however brutal – which they previously held little strategic interest in preserving.

    It speaks volumes about the moral disinterest of the US state, however, that it ignores or perpetuates atrocities in the those areas where it has a significant geo-political stake. This is unsurprising, as this is how all states (inside and outside of the Western orbit) behave.

    Perhaps the leadership of NATO was motivated by humanitarian concerns when they took action in Libya, or perhaps they were not. It really doesn’t matter. We can learn much more about the extent to which moral considerations influence the political calculus of a state by the extent to which that state is willing to let moral concerns trump narrow elite interests.

    As of yet, I have seen nothing to suggest that NATO in general, or the US in particular, has been so willing to restrain their hand in their military involvement in South Asia or elsewhere, where their narrow collective interests are much deeper. Their moral concerns end precisely where their strategic concerns begin.

    So, yes, let us celebrate the downfall of a brutal despot in Libya, just as we did the downfall of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. But let us restrain the temptation to credit the West with a degree of moral feeling which it has thus far demonstrated it does not possess.

    • Emile, consider the possibility that even the most draconian of people / groups can occasionally act out of character and do some that has honorable intentions.

      • During the same time period as the Libyan war, we indicated we’ll be extending our defense pact with Bahrain (which had its own shockingly brutal crackdown.)

        • And I’m curious what that death toll (per capita) would be after a 5 month war in which NATO flew tens of thousands of sorties.

        • The estimated death toll from NATO strikes before this weekend is about 3500 Qaddafi troops killed, less than 200 civilians. They weren’t mostly bombing things that had people in them.

        • I failed to clearly make the point I wanted to make (I was, perhaps, stunned that Joe glibly dismissed Bahrain’s opening fire on its unarmed citizens.) Hypothetically, if the rebellion in Bahrain had not been immediately crushed, and instead lasted several months, would the regime not be willing to kill as many as Qaddafi did (relative to population size) to maintain power? I think the Bahrainian government proved it would, which is why I’m cynical that we intervened for humanitarian reasons in Libya, given that we’re not even pulling our troops out of Bahrain.

  4. Bravo, Professor Cole! Your excellent analysis coincides with the information I gathered from Italian newspapers since the very beginning of the rebellion.

  5. The big losers of the Libya imperialism debates: Greenwald, Cockburn, and other pro-Qadafi “postcolonial” leftists, and pro-fascism rightists.

    The big winners: Juan Cole & the people of Libya.

    • I wouldn’t describe Greenwald as pro-Qadafi. “Reflexively anti-military action” will do better. And given the Iraq debacle and the disaster in Afghanistan after its promising first month, we can cut him some slack, given his usually spot-on reporting and analysis.

      • @KFritz – then can you explain why Greenwald adamantly refuses to support the Libyan aspiration for liberation, or at least make his position clear? This is unrelated to anti-military sentiment.

        • I’m sure he supports everyone’s aspiration for liberation, it’s just that Americans have become so cynical about their government based on that government’s actions in the past. The Libyan involvement seems more of the same:

          link to

          Paragraph 5 of Juan Cole’s article will seem heartbreakingly naive to many in the West.

        • Greenwald has certainly expressed a great deal more hostility and suspicion towards the Free Libya Forces than towards Gadhaffi.

  6. Its interesting that for No.9 you take such a short term perspective on your pressumed financial results one would achieve from a war for oil. In the short term, of course prices will go up. The long term possesses many many more possible advantages, including political short term, and economic long term. The political trait is enough to be a ‘carrot’ for the western leaders!

    • The capitalist West is now in such a deep economic crisis that it’s fighting to keep afloat on a week by week basis. Long-term means November 2012. That’s it.

  7. Disagree with #8 It probably had less to do with France and Britain being worried about Islamic radicalization and more to do with Gadhafi history of supporting the IRA and a pro-independence movement in French New Caledonia.

    • Possibly but radicalisation was a big issue especially as Libya is on our doorstep.

    • @Raphael – I quickly reviewed the Wikileaks link. It is about LIFG and not oil. The word “oil” is not even used in there. That link is irrelevant to the discussion.

      The other link is an opinion piece – dime a dozen in the oil conspiracy circles. Hardly evidence.

      • Mazlum reading this and other posts, what is so sad is so much of your personal identity is wrapped up in conflict.

        Since you are attaching labels to those who disagree with you, why not we start calling those who refuse to even consider this war was for oil “APOLOGIST”. Indeed, every war needs its apologists, to influence the rest of society that the war is just and right.

        Clearly there is no evidence which will sway your opinion about the benign nature of western forces in Libya.

        Why is it when Americans discuss the Hundred Year War, the Rome Empire, the British Empire, Americans easily, naturally explain the reason for these countries expansions of power as a quest for more resources, and yet you personally can never describe our current wars as a quest for more resources? This selective, biased, dangerous interpenetration of history is what is “daft”.

        “…in Britain, empire was justified as a benevolent “white man’s burden. And in the United States, empire does not even exist; “we” are merely protecting the causes of freedom, democracy, and justice worldwide.”

    • Here is the actual cable described in that opinion pieces:


      IOC’s have accepted stiffer terms based on their high expectations of LIBYA’s HYDROCARBON PRODUCING POTENTIAL, the comparatively low cost of oil recovery in LIBYA, the generally high quality of LIBYAn crude, LIBYA’s close proximity to European markets and rapidly rising oil and gas prices.

      • @John – You don’t prove anything. In actual business deals, especially non-market bilateral deals, it is very common for one side to stiffen or loosen the conditions depending on what they can fetch.

        To say that IOCs are plotting a Libyan takeover because their business deals becomes less favorable is utterly sophomoric.

        Furthermore, the cable is saying just the opposite. The cable says that since the Libyan deals are quite attractive, due to Libya’s potentials & rising oil prices, the IOCs are accepting stiffer terms.

        So the cable is actually disproving your ideological thesis. It is saying the IOCs are just too happy to accept stiffer conditions.

      • IOC’s have accepted stiffer terms based on their high expectations of LIBYA’s HYDROCARBON PRODUCING POTENTIAL, the comparatively low cost of oil recovery in LIBYA, the generally high quality of LIBYAn crude, LIBYA’s close proximity to European markets and rapidly rising oil and gas prices.

        In soccer, they call this an ‘own goal.’

  8. Thanks you for this intelligent and insightful piece. It is has always amazed that good and right thinking people in the UK and US were willing to tolerate the proposed mass slaughter of Benghazi and Misrata in the name of anti-imperialism.

    It must feel good to be vindicated.

  9. Bravo for getting it right on Libya!

    Now if you can only convince Alexander Cockburn about anthropogenic global warning….

  10. I caution that the third phase of this Libyan civil war may be concluding. However, it remains to be seen if a fourth phase to the conflict emerges and/or an Islamic republic (or Emirate) develops.

    • I share your skepticism.

      The NTC Interim Constitution Article 1 says: “Sharia law will be the principal source for legislation.”

      Does not sound good. I wounder what Juan’s interpretation of the Interim Constitution is, and if we can get an article on this topic.

      Also: You can see the new “Libya Charter of Rights and Freedoms” that is proposed here: link to

      • @Mazlum – in the link you provided to the LCRF, Article 1, has no mention of Sharia Law, nor indeed does any other article.

        • #Phil D – sorry for the confusion. The Interim Constitution of the NTC sets up Sharia Law in Article 1.

          The Libya Charter of Rights and Freedoms link to is an ALTERNATE proposed Bill of Rights (and NOT a Constitution) for Libya.

          Bill of Rights would take precedence of the Constitution.

    • So what if an Islamic republic emerges, are you Libyan? If not, frankly it’s none of your business what the Libyan people decide they want for a government. No one in there right mind can say “democracy” is faultless, or communism or any other ism that’s been tried. I say if the Libyan people want an Islamic republic, good fo them and good fir the rest of the world too

      • @Yusuf – The gun barrel has not cooled yet, and we have examples of Islamist jingoism emerging.

        Before the UN/ NATO intervention, it was “we are all Libyans now”.

        As soon as power is in hand, it becomes: “you are not Libyan, so remain quiet”.

        Just to edify Yusuf – no it is not correct for Libyans to choose an Islamic Republic because it will discriminate against unbelievers, minorities, women, apostates, other religious sects, & other religions. Even if 99% of Libyans want a dictatorship, they will NOT get it, as it will terminate freedoms and the human rights of all Libyans, not to mention dissidents and minorities.

        Yusuf – maybe you can read the Libya Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and see there is no place for a religious state: link to

        • Mazlum, here is an example of how an Islamic state would discriminate against other religions. When Jerusalem first fell to the Muslims the bishop of Jerusalem invited the Muslim leader (I think it was Omar or Othman) to pray at the church of the holy sepelcur (sp?). He refused because he was afraid it would signal to future hot heads that Xian houses of worship were fair game for Muslims. They are not!

        • Mazlum, I don’t know how much you know about sharia but there’s not much in that document that conflicts with Islamic legal principals. There are a few minor changes such as the right to publicly criticize could be interpreted to allow blasphemy which serves no purpose and causes problems, so it could be tweaked a bit, and the fact that you cannot separate Islam the religion from Islam the ideology because they are one and the same. I personally have no problem with that. If non muslems

        • Islamist jingoism

          Oh, please. The boilerplate language about Sharia being a source for law is not “Islamist jingoism.”

          What a load of hysteria.

        • @Yusef – you are harking back to one 1400 year old parable (there is no record of the details of your parable) that has absolutely no relevance today.

          If what you say about Omar is true, then why did Omar destroy Persia’s Zoroastrianism by banning it and killing dissidents?

          No, I don’t wan’t a 1400 year old questionable parable for assurance. What I want is assurance TODAY that you will not discriminate against unbelievers, atheists, and women, and that you will uphold freedom of speech, including criticism of Islam.

          Pls. take a look at the Libya Charter of Rights and Freedoms (link above) and tell me if you accept it. This provides me a lot more assurance than some 3rd hand idealistic parable from fourteen centuries ago.

      • Yusuf, you feel that way about Sharia Law because your name is Yusuf. If your name was Ana, or another female name, I think you would feel differently about Sharia Law being the basis of the new government; four witnesses required in the case of rape, if a woman is raped SHE is punished for “sex outside of marriage”, a woman’s testimony is not equal to a man’s, her inheritance is a fraction of his, the fact that men are almost never punished with prison for beating their women, it goes on and on. Please don’t tell me this “doesn’t happen in all countries” No, it doesn’t. But it happens in too many. Please don’t tell me I have been influenced by Western Media. I watch Al-Jazeera and many Eastern channels. When Sharia Law takes over Libya, as it will, the oppression will increase, not decrease from Qadaffi’s time. But then, what do you care? You’re not a woman, so all this is irrelevant to you…..

        • Jon, just off the top of my head here is an example of your ignorance. A man dies leaving one son, one unmarried daughter. The son receives twice the inheritance of the daughter. The son is then required to provide a place for his sister to live, to feed her, pay for her education and maintain her lifestyle as close as possible to what it was when her father was living. The daughter can keep her money or spend it or give it away or any combination thereof. She is not required to spend one penny on her upkeep. THAT sir is shariah and you are welcome to look it up. I fail to see how that is an injustice to women. If you want to see how women can be treated in the west, read a book called “life with billy” or simply read the statistics on violent crime against women in the US or Canada. Your other points are equally misinformed.

  11. Excellent article! Needs to be widely promoted. If you could also address the ‘tribes’ aspect that would be a fantastic job!

  12. I think you underestimate the mendacity of the main US factions supporting this. Obama (you know) is no idealist. Still, may be Libyan people fly free!

  13. When events like the Libyan revolution take place, we often discover that there are those among the intelligentsia — left, right, or center — who have an ill-concealed passion for dictatorship and for the ‘order’ (i.e., unrelieved oppression) that dictators stand for. When faced with the prospect of a dictator losing power, all they can consider are scenarios of doom arising therefrom.

    While certainly the overthrow of a dictator *can* go awry, there is nothing intrinsic in the overthrow itself that will lead to worse consequences. If things do go wrong, it is usually due to the leading presence of a powerful, ruthless, anti-democratic faction — like the Bolsheviks in Russia or the theocrats in Iran. That does not mean that if we could rewrite history we should prefer that the Czar or the Shah should remain in power.

    But in any case there doesn’t seem to be any ideology behind the so-called ‘rebels’, just a passionate detestation of the Qadhdhafi régime. We won’t know how Libya will develop for years, as it will take a while for people to even start *thinking* about the political questions which have been suppressed by the Qadhdhafis, let alone to form factions which will move the country one way or another. But it is for the Libyans to take the initiative in establishing a normal political evolution, not for outsiders to dictate to the Libyans the form and content of their government. The Libyans have had enough of dictating for a good long while.

    • I don’t think that an affinity for dictatorship explains why do many liberals and leftists ended up taking such a morally-indefensible stance on this operation. They were certainly on the side of the Libyan protesters before the UN protective mission began.

      Rather, I think it goes back to a lazy habit of substituting anti-Americanism for anti-imperialist, pro-democracy principles.

      • Well, speaking as more or less such a leftist, I found myself grappling with two basic questions.

        First, the question of which was likely to end up having killed more people, Qaddafi or NATO. Given the track record of NATO bombings, even if one accepts that Qaddafi was a decidedly brutal ruler, that was far from a slam-dunk. I was initially undecided and as time passed I leaned more and more to the “NATO will have ended up killing more people” side of the question. I’m not sure that question is a settled one. Glad it’s probably over for now, though.

        Second, the question of how heavily beholden to NATO and hence to NATO ideas on the subject of privatization, austerity, renewed police state and so forth, a new regime would turn out to be. And, should the answer be “pretty heavily”, the further question would be how democratic the regime could be or remain given that such policies tend to be unpopular, and how much support the regime would end up with, and how bad a resulting insurgency would eventually be. My suspicions remain that the genuine “Arab Spring” elements in this whole thing, the people wanting real democracy and public participation in government, will be sidelined as NATO sets up a government along the lines of Hamid Karzai II, and then props up that government against gradually growing resistance. Will such a result genuinely be better than Qaddafi?
        If this suspicion comes true the best that can be expected is that in the end the democratic elements that started all this will finally defeat NATO plus puppet/s. But if they become strong enough to manage that, I would have to figure they would also have been able to defeat Qaddafi without NATO support–not instantly, not even fast, but still probably quicker and with less loss of life than it will take them to run out NATO.
        Now, this may not happen. Time will tell. But the issues are certainly not as simple as “Supporting a dictator”. Sure, I’m happy to see him taken down. But NATO has a track record of installing nasty satraps and ruining countries where their militaries get involved. I think it’s a bit much to ask that we simply ignore this track record.

        Nonetheless, Mr. Cole’s article is instructive on many elements. The one line that I find utterly wrongheaded is “The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly”.
        Um, sure, glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read that line. When people write fluff like that it makes me doubt even the apparently well fact-checked and soundly reasoned parts of their writing.

        • The question of how many people NATO killed has to be asked in two parts. How many combatants did it kill, who were trying to kill other Libyans with indiscriminate shelling? One web site says 3500.

          How many innocent noncombatants did NATO bombings inadvertently kill? Figures I’ve seen suggest less than 200

          No comparison to Qaddafi brigades, who are accused of killing 10,000 – 20,000 or more, with very large numbers of them noncombatants.

        • And if the democratic elements spent 20 years overthrowing Gaddafi, besides the massive effects on infrastructure and the creation of a generation of refugee camp survivors (which has deformed Afghanistan and other societies), how much would those democratic elements have been mutated by their long struggle? It was the problem of Ho Chi Minh and his successors that the longer they fought, the more doctrinaire and authoritarian they got – when he first declared independence in 1945, he simply translated the US Declaration of Independence and read it from a balcony.

          But the problem is not NATO, it is the United States. NATO did not create Karzai’s regime; that was entirely our doing. The problem is getting NATO away from the corrupting influence of a desperate, declining empire, and Obama’s lack of enthusiasm for this operation provides an opening, which the troubles in Afghanistan could open into a chasm. Essentially, Europe should be a federal republic with a real national economic policy (instead of the chaos that the southern tier visited upon the Euro) and a real military, a democratic superpower with a sphere of influence in the Mediterranean. NATO was the logical precursor to that, but the Bush administration perverted it into an organization that has very little to do with European interests. It’s time for Europeans to stop abdicating their sovereign responsibilities and stand up to us before our right-wing whackos get back in the White House and realize that our remaining nuclear arsenal is the only thing left that America can use to extort a living from the world.

        • @Purple Library Guy writes “NATO has a track record of installing nasty satraps and ruining countries where their militaries get involved”

          Rubbish, NATO has helped create more democracies than the combined efforts of the UN, AU, ASEAN, AL, OSA, GCC etc etc. Examples – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Rep, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Serbia …

          I can’t think of a single satrap that has been installed by NATO, you can’t blame nor can you credit the institution for the actions of its individual member states – such as the US in Chile or Iraq, the UK in Sierra Leone or France in Cote d’Ivoire.

          Sure these democracies are not perfect – but as Churchill said “… democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

      • I think this is right. Regrettably, some of my friends on the Left are inclined to oppose any policy action that benefits anyone in a position of economic or political power — regardless of any other consequences. So if the removal of Gaddhafi somehow redounds to America’s benefit or the benefit of some oil company somewhere, then regardless of the humanitarian interests and democratic values at stake, they oppose the removal of Gaddhafi. This stance is frequently accompanied by a related view, which seems to hold that if a policy intervention benefits someone in a position of economic power, then that must necessarily be the motivation for the policy intervention. This allows for the requisite moral outrage. Slap the dreaded NEOLIBERAL label onto this prepackaged set of arguments, and voila.

        It’s distressingly formulaic, unnuanced, and deaf.

        • So what’s your alternative view? If a policy intervention happens to benefit someone in a position of economic power, it must be a matter of pure chance and humanitarianism? Because of course their campaign donations, lobbyists, media influence and old boys’ networks have no impact on what policy interventions are favoured or seen as politically possible.
          Distressingly formulaic? It’s called paying attention to structure. Deaf? To what, exactly? The deep reservoir of disinterested idealism among American policymakers?

          I haven’t seen anyone suggest a plausible alternative model. It’s funny, when people on the left say idealist things about how stuff should be done, it’s always “Oh, so naive”. And when people on the left say realist things about how stuff in fact is done, it’s always “Oh, so cynical”, in both cases for lack of any real counter. Make up your flippin’ minds, or better yet argue with substance.

  14. Your points regarding Libya are well taken. It is possible to agree with most of them. What emerges from the wreckage will be interesting to watch.

    Sure, the US and NATO can’t root out evil everywhere it rears its ugly head. But they are selective in a sinister way where and when they use hard power.

    US (and NATO) duplicity is illustrated most clearly in Bahrain. The king there is a sonofabitch, but he’s OUR sonofabitch. We could have been on the side of democracy but with a wink and nod, the Saudis came to “rescue” the monarchy. Hundreds, if not thousands have been murdered and the dirty war continues unabated.

    Like everything the US touches in MENA, it is all about oil.

    • NPR constantly reminds me weekly that people are struggling, getting imprisoned, loosing jobs and dying in Bahrain for their fight for freedom. Why is there press silence on AP, Reuters and all major news networks?
      But hey, watch your post get ignored here on “Informed Comment”. The only good dictator is the one the West supports.

      • @Janeey – the press essentially ignored Libya from May to July. Even though there were massive shelling and rocketing of civilians committed by Qadafi, and many battle fronts were active. Compared to Bahrain, the scale of Libya was twenty to a hundred times larger.

        If anything NPR & Amnesty International are biased that they report people “losing jobs” in Bahrain, but fail to report children being targetted by cluster bombs in Misrata Libya.

    • You’re right. Bahrain was a disgrace. God knows what is happening to what is left of the protestors there…. with the aid of the Saudi thugs who came to back up the dictatorship.

  15. Juan,

    you wrote that “French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been politically mauled, as well, by the offer of his defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, to send French troops to assist Ben Ali in Tunisia (Alliot-Marie had been Ben Ali’s guest on fancy vacations)”

    This is not entirely correct. What she said was bad enough, but not that bad !

    As a matter of fact, Michèle Alliot-Marie did not offer to send troops to Tunisia, she only offered advice about how to maintain order,saying the french police know how to do that without spilling blood.

  16. Myth 11: There was no constructive action that NATO countries could have taken to promote democracy and human rights in Lybia – or to avoid a potential massacre in Benghazi other than bombing.

    NATO countries have removed their crucial support from the neighboring dictators (and the Egytian military) in the region – and its support for Israeli Apratheid – thereby generating a tidal wave of revolutionary momentum that would have flushed Gaddafi out of power. If a poor fruit vendor in Tunisia set off a such tidal wave , imagine what NATO could have done – and could still do.

    While doing that NATO could also have imposed an oil emargo on Lybia to dissuade Gaddafi from perpetrating a massacre in Benghazi.

    As a last resort (rather than a first) they could have used very limited force to keep Gaddafi’s troops out of Benghazi.

    Of course, none of these suggestions provide an excuse for bloated military budgets in NATO countries, or leaves in place western support for friendly despots (as Gaddafi was once considered).

    • The UN Protective Mission was a last resort. Gadhafi had been slaughtering protesters for weeks, and his forces were right on the doorstep of Benghazi, hours away from a great massacre and the end of the uprising.

      As for “an excuse for bloated military budgets,” the American contribution cost 0.147% of last year’s military budget. There have been no appropriations bills sent to Congress, because we paid for the operations out of the Pentagon’s petty cash fund.

      • Hi Joe From Lowell:
        You naturally avoided the point about the Arab uprisings being linked – and about the awesome contribution NATO could have made to not only overthrowing Gaddafi but all the other tyrants they support – with no bombing required at all.

        You second point about US ccntribtion to the Libya as percentage of it war budget is irrelevant to my point. What Libya’s crimbling dictatorship handed the US and its rich allies (who are also major arms merchants – the world’s leading arms merchants are the self proclaimed “civilized” countries) is an opportunity to pass off their military might as a force for good. Hard to justify massive military expenditures if you never use your military. “Humanitarian intervention ” is a way – liberals expecially – want to sell militarism. The doctrine has taken a beating in recent years and Libya obviously offered an opportunity to revive it.

        • You naturally avoided the point about the Arab uprisings being linked – and about the awesome contribution NATO could have made to not only overthrowing Gaddafi but all the other tyrants they support – with no bombing required at all.

          I thought I’d start with your errors of fact, get those straight, and then go onto your errors or interpretation.

          Hard to justify massive military expenditures if you never use your military.

          Jimmy Carter when his entire term without using the military, and then launched a big increase in military spending, to popular acclaim.

          “Humanitarian intervention ” is a way – liberals expecially – want to sell militarism.

          What an odd thing to write about Juan Cole, and all of the Iraq War opponents on this site who, somehow, found that their liberal principles led them to support the Libyan uprising even when the UN supported it, too.

          But I take your point: you’re the only one who is actually honest and has values, while the rest of us mere adopted the pretense of humanitarian concern in order to “sell militarism.”

          That’s an expecially good point.

    • dude, don’t kid yourself. remember, this deluded man’s number 10 reason says the war was not about oil.

      • Hi Again Joe from Lowell:

        You’re still ignoring the fact that the US (and its rich allies) could easily strike major blow for democracy and human rights in the region by simply removing support for dictators in the region – and for Israeli apartheid – no bombing required. That is especially true now when the regimes are tottering under their own weight. And frankly, it does call pose serious questions about the “values” – or perhaps the ability to perceive reality – of anyone who evades this obvious point.

        It speak volumes that you have to go back over 30 years – to Jimmy Carter – to find a president who didn’t engage in bombing a poor country. By the way, you may recall that Carter’s term lasted only four years and took place while the US political class was still significantly hampered by the dreaded “Vietnam syndrome” and the Watergate scandal.
        You might also want to read up on the slaughter in East Timor which was perpetrated by Indonesia with the Carter Admin’s strong military and political support. Carter still found ways to support bloodbaths by proxy.

        I believe that you are quite right that Carter presided over a massive increase in military spending just before Reagan took over. That bolsters one of my points. MIlitarizaton is extremely important to the US elites (and their rich allies) for various reasons. Whether a liberal or conservative sits in the White House, they are always on the prowl for ways to justify it.

        • “You’re still ignoring the fact that the US (and its rich allies) could easily strike major blow for democracy and human rights in the region by simply removing support for dictators in the region – and for Israeli apartheid – no bombing required”

          By support i presume you mean diplomatic, economic and military relations.

          If these were removed the effect is not likely to be substantial, many oppressive countries such as iran get on by without the support of the US and a number of its allies, if anything the US sanctions as a whole just hurt the people of iran. What makes you think that sanctions would not just hurt the populations of other nations while failing to lodge the oppressive governments from power?

  17. Juan,

    An excellent piece. I have been unaware of your comments on Libya before today, but as a supporter of the intervention, I am delighted to find such reasoned and sensible comments.

    Since NATO’s involvement too many people have ignored what was apparent in the initial stages of the revolution in February. It was clear then that the vast majority of Libyians wanted regime change and were only silenced by the brutal crack-down instigated before NATO’s introduction.

    Claims that this was a civil war or that the regime enjoyed wide-spread support were clearly bogus provided a memory of the events of February was retained. Unfortunately, it seems that, perhaps in a effort to appear impartial, too much credence was given to the regime’s propoganda about the support it enjoyed in Tripoli and beyond.

    Last night’s events showed what those words were worth.

  18. What about an eleven “Myth”: The Libya War was manufactured by the hidden hand of the Mossad to de-stabilize Libya?

    • Nel, it probably comes from reports Blackwater (XE) trainees are on the ground with the rebels, the mercenaries are from Dubai and the Libyan rebels are routing their oil to Dubai, where Eric Prince when into exile and is training mercenaries.

      Something has been brewing for years, about five years ago an Italian mob boss was arrested for an arms deal involving million arms from China, Type 56 rifle, to some Libyan officers, that would be arming one in eight Libyans.

  19. Juan, the analysis you provide is priceless. Keep up the good work.

  20. As for oil being the driving force for NATO’s intervention, I never bought that argument and here is what I wrote to Greenwald back in June

    link to

    I have a small disagrement with Glenn Greenwald (whose work I can’t praise highly enough) over his latest about the war in Libya.

    In a pure coincidence, Gaddafi impeded U.S. oil interests before the war

    link to

    In response to Greenwald I say

    1) US puppets sometimes drive a hard bargain behind the scenes (i.e tweak the boss’s nose a bit). Francois Duvalier did a lot of this – and the US did toy with the idea of deposing him for this reason- but they didn’t. I
    don’t see the kind of “pain in the ass” behaviour Gaddafi demonstrated being the major driving force behind the war though I don’t deny it was a factor.

    2) The Arab Spring was showing up the complete irrelevance of western military might for any liberatory purpose. Militarization is crucial to the West
    for numerous reasons and they will jump at any chance to pass off their military might as a force for good. Of course they will not do this by driving Israel out of Palestine – or Saudi Arabia out of Bahrain. The West will
    choose targets that make sense from its imperial point of view. Gaddafi was a disposable and annoying employee. However, I think it is wrong – based on what Greenwald presents – to suggest Gaddafi’s rule posed any serious or even significant threat to Western interests.

    Instead, I would argue Gaddafi’s(seemingly) imminent collapse provided an irresistible opportunity for the West to restore credibility to the idea of “humanitarian intervention” which has taken a severe beating in Iraq and
    Afghanistan. Of course, the fact that Gaddafi was a pain in the ass, and easy to demonize (without need for much lying) contributed to making this an irresistible opportunity.

    You can’t steal/control foreign resources – or maintain incredibly bloated military budgets at home – if you can’t use your military. The West has a huge incentive to jump at anything that looks like a good opportunity to use its

    • In agreement – Just Canada in the form of oil sands has 45 times more oil than Libya. Production cost is about $50 /b and production is expanding rapidly. The globe is awash in oil. Any oil-imperialism theory is immediately suspect when the economics is considered.

      • Awash with oil? Sorry to disappoint you but not all oil is the same, costs the same to mine, or the same to transport to a given country. Look up the quality of Libyan oil.

        • I could never deny that oil ia part of what makes Libya an attractive target for Western “liberation”, but the fact is the West has often intervened in areas of the world with minimal natural wealth – certainly not nearly enough to explain the inerventions. Consider Vietnamm, Granada, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador.

          Read the Wikileaks on Haiti – poorest country in the western Hemisphere – where the US has been very thorough in its efforst to squash a vibrant pro-deomcacy movement and prop up an incredibly brutal and rapacious elite.

        • @Jeneey – what a vacuous counter-economic argument. Of course it does not cost the same to extract oil – but the end result is the same – $100 dollars a barrel at the market. That is what the buyer pays (a little more for sweet & light crude) and little less for bitumen crude.

          Do you really believe oil companies are pocketing the difference in oil price and oil cost in Libya? That Libya is not the sole benefactor of low Libyan oil costs?

          So the FACT that this is a viable business for the oil company to extract oil sand and sell to the market, shows that your argument is wrong. As long as the cost of oil sand extraction is less than lets say $75 /b, this oil will compete with Libyan oil and the world can be supplied with oil from this humongous Canadian resource.

      • Indeed, last time I checked Canada was the number one oil supplier to the United States. To the list I posted a little ways below – of places where the West has intervened with tremendous brutality despite the lack of any significant resource wealth incentive – I should the Balkans. Apologists for those bombings just love to point out how their noble intentions were proven by the absence of natural wealth in the Balkans. Few pointed out that many of the most brutal Western interventions have been in such areas.

        • But now we see the least brutal intervention – indeed, and intervention that saved tens of thousands of lives – being carried out in a country with a great deal of oil.

          So, no. Your lazy appeals to vastly different episodes from history aren’t going to help you here. If you can’t understand that something rather dramatic happened in American foreign policy this past spring, you’ll be forever wandering in a haze, making inapt comparisons.

    • some facts regarding current oil prices, current spot prices in $US / barrel on 3 mid quality products are

      West Texas Crude – $85
      Brent Crude – $109
      Tapis Crude – $118

      That’s a spread of nearly 40%, the spread across the whole range would probably be more like 80%.

      • Hi yet again Joe from Lowell

        You say that my “lazy appeals to vastly different episodes from history aren’t going to help you here. If you can’t understand that something rather dramatic happened in American foreign policy this past spring, you’ll be forever wandering in a haze, making inapt comparisons.”

        Actually, I appeal to the present – not just to history. The US continues to provide crucial military, economic and political support to neighboring dictators – and to Israeli apartheid. That is the same policy as usual – no “dramatic” change at all. Care to guess how many hundreds of thousands of lives are crushed because of those utterly indefensible policies? Care to explain how removing such polices woud not have led – not only to Gaddafi faling of his his own weight – but to several other tyrants falling who are teetering despite US support?

        When Duvalier fell in Haiti, Somoza in Naircagua, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippes – the US used the same ploy as they did with Mubarak in Egypt. Welcome the change only when it was impossible to do otherwise and then sweep aside decades of support for the tyrants citing a “dramatic” “change of course”. Incredibly people fall for this even when US affection for the tyrant is openly displayed in his last days – as when Joe Biden, comically, refused to call Mabarak a dictator Another part of the playbook is to manouvre to keep the old order in place. We’re seeing all of that in the US response to the Arab Spring.

        Look for the leaders of any new government in Libya to speedily go from being heroes to zeroes if they dare to seriously challenge any US priorities in the region.

  21. Absolutely correct on all ten points. Thank you Juan for a sober and objective assessment of how things came to where they are now.

  22. Perhaps not a major criticism, but your examples in #3 are not to the point, depending on how you define the word “country” – whether the country is the army officer class, or, more normally, the ruling government. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the military was sent against the revolutionaries by the then presiding dictator. That those two officer corps refused to follow orders doesn’t disappear the order given. So perhaps it is normal for governments to order their military against a revolutionary uprising.

    The American government used its military to suppress an uprising at Wounded Knee, SD in 1973. It also used units of the army to suppress anti-war demonstrations, and to suppress labor unrest (class war).

  23. Good work. There’s been so much misinformation, it’s been difficult to even start a conversation on Libya.

  24. The United States government does not care about the lives of civilians, not just in other countries but in our own country. To think that the president and his administration all the sudden developed a conscience is absurd. States don’t have consciences; they have strategic and economic interests. This US-led military intervention in Libya is not about humanitarianism; it’s about oil, despite what you write, Professor Cole. If Libya didn’t have oil, the US would’ve done what it did in another African country, Rwanda. It would’ve done nothing. In Rwanda, close to a million people were killed. But did the US intervene? No. Why? Because that country meant nothing to the US, strategically or economically, and so the people also meant nothing.

    President Obama can cite Christian theologians all he wants. The man is a hypocrite, saying he’s worried about civilians being slaughtered in Libya while slaughtering scores of civilians himself in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Looking at history, from Vietnam to Iraq, it is absolutely absurd to think that the US government cares a whit about protecting civilians. Our government cares about one thing only: power and wealth.

  25. The primary reason the rebels were able to advance so dramatically in the last three weeks is that NATO ran out of time, and they changed policy. NATO started coordinating closely with the rebels, and dilligently acted as their air force. The addition of more drones didn’t hurt either.

    Juan, this is the point where I take issue with you. NATO policy was tentative and flawed through most of this campaign, although I agree it worked in the main. The end could have come sooner.

    I’d like to offer a special award for idiocy in punditry to KT McFarland. On Friday she publishes an article describing Obama’s policy in Libya as an abject failure that hamstrings us in Syria:
    link to
    On Sunday she is on TV celebrating the downfall of Libya, she saw it coming. She adds the strange, expert insight that U.S. special forces will now be operating on the ground in Libya, hunting remaining “guerrillas”, who she conflates as Gaddaffy supporters and Islamists.

    I have observed KT McFarland’s foreign policy expertise for a couple years now. Ideology aside, that woman is not operating with a full deck.

    • the strange, expert insight that U.S. special forces will now be operating on the ground in Libya, hunting remaining “guerrillas”, who she conflates as Gaddaffy supporters and Islamists.


      I can feel my brain melting.

  26. There are som myths(?) missing: plase also talk about China in Libya!

  27. Dear Juan,

    I have been reading your posts over the last couple of years with much admiration [especially your level-headed approach to Israel-Palestine issue]. On Libya, I have previously found your optimism refreshing; however, today your optimism seems to have clouded your beliefs on Libya and NATO. Please find the following comments on your “Myths” written with the greatest respect to your abilities and intent. If they come off as disrespectful, it is just my disillusion that you could write such government propaganda on your site (nonetheless, I will not run away from here).

    “The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly. The US has an interest in a lawful world order, and therefore in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Libyans be protected from their murderous government.”
    — Since when does the US spend political resources for the sake of “people.” To American (and EU) policy makers Libyan civilians have and always will be “unpeople” (term borrowed from Chomsky). Why else was Gaddhafi allowed to stay in power for so long, _unless_ he provided something in return to the ruling nations (US+EU). That can only be two things: vacation organize or gas/oil exports. I am sure you know which one I find most likely to keep him in power for so long. He stayed in power so long because he provided the “West” with a stable source of energy.

    “It is obvious that the French and the British led the charge on this intervention, likely because they believed that a protracted struggle over years between the opposition and Qaddafi in Libya would radicalize it and give an opening to al-Qaeda and so pose various threats to Europe.”
    — Not sure how you can say this with a straight face. Sure, the Brits and French and even Danes (who ‘proudly’ killed on of Gaddhafi’s sons) were involved in the war. But from the beginning, the US dominated airstrikes in Libya and continued so until July at least [according to USAF: link to The Al-Queda claims are vacuous and neither Gaddhafi nor the “unpeople” care for those low-lifes.

    “This was a war for Libya’s oil. That is daft.”
    — Surely this was a freudian slip. To claim that Libya’s resources were not a factor is evidence that your optimism has overtaken you. Libya has the_largest_proven oil reserves in Africa with 42 billion barrels of oil and over 1.3 trillion cubic metres of gas. Libya is Europe’s_single_largest_oil supplier, the second largest oil producer in Africa and the continent’s fourth largest gas supplier [see link to

    I just cannot see past the “war for oil/gas”… maybe it’s because I have read too much Chomsky and not enough Juan Cole :) Or maybe because the patterns of US+EU supporting/placing dictators around the globe and completely disregarding the lives of the “unpeople”

    Best Regards

    • Looks like auto-linking also removed part of my paragraph:

      The Al-Queda claims are vacuous and neither Gaddhafi nor the “unpeople” care for those lowlifes.

      “This was a war for Libya’s oil. That is daft”
      – Surely this was a freudian slip. To claim that Libya’s resources were not a factor is evidence that your optimism has overtaken you rationality. Libya has the_largest_proven oil reserves in Africa. Libya is Europe’s_single_largest_oil and the second largest oil producer in Africa and the continent’s fourth largest gas supplier [see Libya Oil Link].

    • Since when does the US spend political resources for the sake of “people.”

      Since when does the US toss aside a longtime ally whose regime was the cornerstone of our regional security interests? And yet, the Obama administration’s reaction to Arab Spring coming to Cairo was to help ease him out of power. Since when do we do that?

      Since the Spring of 2011, that’s when. Something changed, and it’s time to revisit some cherished narratives.

      • Oil does not state intentions, just like Iraq had WMDs. Oil (and resources) is the only reason to be interested in Libyan desert lands.

        Obama did not toss aside any ally in this Spring. He clung onto Mubarak until the point of no return and chose to side with those in power (rebels, in this case). He is still siding with Bahrain’s and Yemen’s dictators and Saudi King who all brutalized their own rebels — these guys all give the US what they want. Same with Syria, where Assad has been worse than Qaddhafi, yet he just receives verbal warnings — because he might be a troll to Syrians but he is a dove to Israel and Iraq (unlike Iranians).

        In short, when there is no pattern of freeing people from misery (even under the same conditions), you should probably ask why. And the reason is dirty and sticky and starts with “O” and ends with “il.”

        • Obama did not toss aside any ally in this Spring. He clung onto Mubarak until the point of no return

          This is nonsense. Obama was calling for Mubarak to step aside long before it was obvious what the outcome would be, and the administration actually had our military officers call their peers in Egypt to try to convince them not to fire on the protesters.

          He is still siding with Bahrain’s and Yemen’s dictators

          Actually, he’s called on Yemen’s dictator to step down.

          Same with Syria, where Assad has been worse than Qaddhafi

          No, not even Assad has been “worse than Qaddhafi.” Things are plenty bad in Syria, but it is gross hyperbole to claim they are worse than the impending doom of Benghasi, or the rocketing of Misurata.

          You are making up facts to fit your narrative, and then concluding that your narrative proves the facts you want to believe.

          Oh, btw, where’s the oil in Ivory Coast? You might remember, it was the last poster child for why the UN Protective Mission in Libya couldn’t possibly be an example of humanitarianism, right up until the French went in.

        • I can’t believe I’m constantly having to remind so-called-anti-war people that the use of force is only for the most extreme circumstances, and after all else has failed.

          Isn’t this supposed to be one of their foundational beliefs?

  28. This is a very good I told you so. Not only is it civil, but it’s analytically useful for the future.

    The strongest point on the side of people who thought the odds were low this would work was that it had never happened before. (If one correctly analyzed Kosovo, it proved the opposite — that boots on the ground were necessary. (Unless you tricked the Russians into betraying the Serbs into letting you in.)) Now that it has happened, it proves it can again, and your list highlights the key points people should look for when judging the next case. Well done on all counts.

    And congrats on being right. It’s a moment of both theoretical and moral vindication, and neither were easy. Well done indeed.

  29. Juan,
    I just came across your post and apparently we might agree on the same things. I started a new website back in May, so few people know of my work. Unfortunately I’m still in the “learning web design” stage. Anyway I look forward to reading more of your material.

    It’s also refreshing to read the comments I find here. Not a single chest thumping, USA chanting, We’re the greatest. I feel like I’ve just found my way home. 

    If your interested in checking my work, click on over. Today I will be celebrating the downfall of 1 more dictator. Tomorrow, it’s back to work I promise.

    Scott Eaton

  30. For the first time in a long while I disagreed with you about the intervention in Libya professor. I don’t disagree that Qaddafi could be brutal in the East but it shouldn’t have been the imperial West who tried to assassinate him in the past decades that deposed him.

    Unlike Egypt where a pro-Western dictator was deposed it seems by an active youth that included workers and students, I am still unsure of who it is that will be replacing Qaddafi and his sons in Libya. I suspect it will be another corrupt regime that will possible be less stable until it can buy enough tribal alliances in the country. If that will be the case I will be able to say it was no business of anybody to replace Qaddafi. I hope I am wrong and this operation deposed the world of an aging and brutal dictator.

  31. Professor Cole, thank you so much for this. This has got to be the best writeup I’ve read about Libya, and it goes a long way to punching holes in the specious arguments made by people on the right and the left.

    Excellent job, sir.

  32. A fine summary, but does the United States, in general, greatly concern itself with “a lawful world order”? That looks doubtful if you run down the list of illegal and immoral acts we have committed, from Chile to Iran, not to mention, among other things, our rejection of a World Criminal Court. I also note that the spike in gas prices in the US is due to private profiteering, as little of Libyan’s oil is actually purchased by us.

    • Does the United States, in general, greatly concern itself with “a lawful world order”?

      That varies from administration to administration. This one seems particularly to value international law. A President Dukakis, for instance, would have done so as well. President Carter scored pretty highly in this regard.

      Others, as you say, not so much.

    • “A fine summary, but does the United States, in general, greatly concern itself with “a lawful world order”? That looks doubtful if you run down the list of illegal and immoral acts we have committed, from Chile to Iran.”

      I am amused by those who present a kneejerk list of supposed U.S. misdeeds throughout history and around the world. No need to justify their examples with actual details of what happened. Just whip out the list to demonstrate one’s Leftist bonafides, as demonstrated by the quote cited above.

      Take Chile, for example. I’m sure the poster above is “certain” of U.S. misdeeds in Chile. I’m equally sure that there is a 90 percent probablility that he does not really know what happened and has never done any research other than read the same, tired Leftists tracts on the subject.

      One of the Left’s enduring myths is that the United States was behind the planning and execution of General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup in Chile that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende. As was brought out in Senator Frank Church’s 1975 Senate hearings on the CIA’s intelligence activities, the CIA did provide $8 million over a three-year period to various opposition groups in Chile to keep them going, including labor unions, the anti-Allende newspaper El Mercurio (which Allende was attempting to shut down by having the nationalized banks withhold credit for newsprint), and others. Nevertheless, the U.S. provided neither funding nor assistance in the planning and execution of the coup itself. Although Embassy officials had evidence that something was afoot, they were not privy to the timing and actual plan itself.

      Anyone who has served in Chile and studied the 1973 coup would find it laughable to hear someone insist that the Chilean military would need assistance from the U.S. The Chilean military was based on the Prussian model, was (and is) a very professional military, and was perfectly capable of planning and executing the coup on its own.

      That the United States was glad to see Allende overthrown is undeniable. It does not follow, however, that the United States engineered the action that led to his overthrow. As in the case of the Greek colonels’ coup, the Left’s narrative of General Pinochet’s coup in Chile is one more example of the mental and ideological prison in which it dwells.

      • I’m happy to learn that the Chilean military in 1973 was based on the Prussian model and was therefore perfectly capable of executing a coup, which, of course, we would never, and did never, help them with. After all, the only evidence for that would have been the personal phone logs of un-indicted war criminal Henry Kissinger (those records were strangely not recounted by their author) or those published State Department/CIA cables indicating “our wishes and interests” in the matter of Mr. Allende. This evidence has been used by several authors, including Christopher Hitchens, who has documented Kissinger’s personal involvement, planned and executed, of course, with the usual denability. Based on what I have read Kissinger should be tried as an direct accessory to the murder of General Renee Schneider.

        I can’t imagine what makes my knee keep jerking except the published facts, all of which which lead straight to Henry Kissinger.

        • Of course the U.S. wanted Allende out, and you mention “our wishes and interests” in the matter of Allende, but that does not add up to our assisting in the planning and execution of the coup. You offer not one iota of evidence to back up your assertion. The Church Committee of 1975, which conducted a thorough study of the coup, found no U.S. involvement. I know something about it, having spent three years at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, and the facts I cited are just that, the facts. You really need to distinguish between “wishes and interests” and execution. And when you throw around the usual unsubstantiated claims, you might want to be a bit more discerning. I would be particularly careful about using Christopher Hitchens as a source. Last time I checked, he was nowhere near Santiago before, during, and after the coup. And Kissinger’s phone logs prove nothing more than the U.S. wanted Allende out. What’s new?!

  33. MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) – Italian oil company Eni led the charge back into Libya on Monday as rebels swept into capital Tripoli, hailing the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule and warning Russian and Chinese firms of contract revisions.

    Gaddafi’s fall will reopen the doors to the country with Africa’s largest oil reserves. New players such as Qatar’s national oil company and trading house Vitol are set to compete with established European and U.S. majors.

    “We don’t have a problem with western countries like Italians, French and UK companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil,” Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at Libyan rebel oil firm AGOCO, told Reuters.

    The comment signals the potential for a major setback for Russia, China and Brazil, which opposed tough sanctions on Gaddafi or pressed for more talks, and could mean a loss of billions of dollars worth of oil exploration and construction contracts in the African nation.

    • New players such as Qatar’s national oil company and trading house Vitol are set to compete with established European and U.S. majors.

      Damn this war of western oil imperialism!

  34. I’ve never read something naive than this.

    1.When the western countries only intervented because of their surprsing and urgent wish of supporting democracy and human rights, why haven’t they stopped the mass slaughter of protesters in Bharain too? Why do they still support authorian regimes like Saudi Arabia.

    2.It’s most likely that the old dictatorship will be replaced by a another one – but with tighter bounds to the western governments.

    3.The so called rebels are more divided by tribal and ethnics differencies than by their hate of Quaddafi.

    4.Quaddafi hasn’t been overthrown by a popular revolt, but by NATO bombings. That’s it! Neither you or me have any idea about the tru feelings within the libyan population.

    5.Of course they did it because of the oil! Even when the relationsships were good Quaddafi was always a risk in some way because of his anti-colonial attitude.

    • “why haven’t they stopped the mass slaughter of protesters in Bharain too?”

      The level of violence in bahrain wasnt even close to the level of violence in libya, also their was no UN mandate or arab league support for it, also the protesters in bahrain never in mass supported a NATO no fly zone.

      Also from a practical stand point a no fly zone was unlikely to achieve much.

      Aside from that, well done juan for your excellent analysis of the situation and for doing you’re best not to adopt a simplistic automatic pro or anti western position (which many people seem to do regardless of the situation and whether it is right or wrong to do so),instead you adopted a pro-human rights position and argued coherently for what is in the best interests of the majority of the libyan people.

    • I love it when internet commenters use the word “naive” to try to make themselves sound more worldly and informed than, say, Juan Cole.

      1. why haven’t they stopped the mass slaughter of protesters in Bharain too? Why do they still support authorian regimes like Saudi Arabia.

      Because war is a last resort, and the situations in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia don’t even begin to rise to the level of what was happening in Libya.

      2. You have absolutely nothing on which to base such a slur against the Transitional Nation Council – link to – except a wish not to be proven wrong.

      3, 4, and 5 are mere assertions, assumed to be true based on nothing but their adherence to a predetermined ideological stance.

      • I accidantly replied to your comment in my reply above too. Sorry for this. But you both got the same point anyway.

  35. By the way: Every damn war is a defeature for peace. And NATO winnig this war by mass bombing do not prove your pretences true. Because this was to expected in any way. The time will show that you were only one fool of many.

    • Every damn war is a defeature for peace.

      People who say things like this don’t have a whole lot to add to a discussion about whether a particularly military action is or is not wise.

      It’s like asking a vegan if you should use a certain recipe for ribs. Their answer is useless; they’re just going to try to make a point.

      • Maybe this is just the general difference between integrity and opportunism? History of mankind proved me right and I fear the future of mankind will do the same.

        But you’re right in some way: Because I reject any war wich is not waged to protect it’s own borders and people against a direct (!) attack (like Israel have to protect itself all the time). War should be only the last – and unlike you if I say “last” I mean “last” – mean of policy.

  36. I’m not sure why anyone ever takes Glenn Greenwald seriously, particularly when discussing complicated geopolitical issues. The man is ideologically blinkered, impractical, and allows angry sneering to overwhelm his writing. He gets attention by essentially yelling his points very loudly and overwhelming opponents with tides of snark and insults. I don’t find him to be a clear-headed thinker at all. From what little I’ve read of his commentary on Libya, he seems to have been too busy with his usual “the U.S. is an imperialist monster” spiel to make any sort of cogent argument against intervention.

    • That’s all fine, but the US *is* an imperialist monster. Now and then it may do things that happen to work out for the best, and so it’s still worth looking at any given US, or NATO, action to see what the consequences are likely to be. One can’t simply assume they will be bad, even if much of the time they are. This Libyan intervention, for example, may be an exception.
      But one can certainly assume that the motivations behind them are selfish, dedicated to the advantage of fairly narrow elites within the US and the NATO countries involved. Taking that as a basis for one’s judgments is just common sense backed by massive documentary evidence as well as the dominant theories of state interaction in political science.

      • America is an empire with interests. As empires go, we are far from the worst. You should go over to War Nerd’s stuff at and see him rake Britain over the coals for massive war crimes as recently as the 1950s – they didn’t really get much nicer as they declined, and I guess we won’t either.

        What makes us monstrous is that we won’t admit that we’re an empire. That’s a decision that all of us participate in, and thus removes all moral restraint – as long as the public thinks it’s getting what it secretly wants – and also makes it impossible to have useful conversations about policy, because we’re all speaking in code words. The most important policy of all is, who is the primary beneficiary of the empire? The public does not want to know what a poor return it gets for its tax dollars in exchange for a taste of conqueror’s pride.

        But if I’d been raised as a citizen of an honest empire, I’d probably approve of some pretty horrific acts to perpetuate it. Now all that’s left is to decide which of the two fates of declining empires the United States will suffer – Sweden, or Spain?

    • But the Right in America has been extremely successful with ideological blinkers, angry sneering, loud yelling, snark and unclear thinking. Why shouldn’t we have some of those guys working on our side for a change?

  37. While the mainstream media tries to catch up with the situation in Libya you as usual were miles ahead. Great post.

  38. Very interesting, thanks. Good luck to all Libyan’s, I do agree with the comment above that perhaps their biggest challenge is yet to begin, but lets hope they tackle it admirably and with our support.

    I don’t really think you need congratulating though, at least not as above! I’m glad your right, but I don’t think your success is quite on a par with that of the Libyan people. You are just a man Aurelius…

    And lastly, as a Scot who is not completely opposed to independence, I would like to point out that leaving the UK is entirely possible, Britain less so!

  39. I wonder if this example of the differences between voices that shared a critical view of the Afghanistan/Iraq adventure post 9/11 will lead to some self reflection. Clearly the events in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya together with the incredible courage and tenacity of people in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain to continue to resist in the face of this now formula response of tanks and heavy weapons against demonstrators has a message for the west.

    We have grown too comfortable with our choice of words, too lazy in our analysis to challenge the plutocrats and their phoney politics in North America effectively so we invent new horrors to lay at their feet, invest them with god-like powers of prescience and actual control over our democracy so that we can look from afar at others and opine but do nothing here. Rather than try to react nimbly to the unexpected outburst that is the Arab spring, to mobilize in support of this hopeful development, some have tried to force it into an unnatural and doctrinaire framework that, as usual, has some all knowing and malevolent intelligence guiding world events in the direction that the capitalists wish. In their heart of hearts people in this camp know they cannot win here. On the fringes perhaps Caesar’s empire can be whittled away but here in Rome it is hopeless.

    Bah! Let us surround the plutocrats and the billionaire boys club! Let us mobilize our young and disenfranchised, resist the heavy weapons of the propaganda war and prevail in the struggle for the future! Let us banish the horrible vision of the degradation of the natural world and vast slums of poor surrounding the gated communities of the rich that is being prepared for us! If the people of Tripoli can be free maybe we can too!

  40. There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.

    John Heywood 1546

  41. I am wondering what was the role of organized labor in the Arab Spring uprisings? I remember hearing about their importance in passing in regards to Egypt but no specifics on how they made a difference. One thing we have forgotten in America is how unions make a huge difference in promoting democracy.

  42. Oh puhlease. Maybe ya’ll don’t remember April/May ’03 and how we heard all of this same stuff about Iraq. Or earlier about Afghanistan. I would have thought those burned in earlier explosions of triumphalism would be more circumspect here, or at least more prudent. Was it a surprise that Qaddafi was beaten by a coalition of industrial powers and their high tech, capital intensive militaries? The only surprise was that Qaddafi managed to hang on as long as he did.

    The NATO powers did not bomb the bejesus out of Libya to do Libyans any favors, any more than the French and Americans invaded Haiti to protect Haitians. While Libya was indeed a contributor to the world’s petroleum market, there is no doubt that different people will now determine its policies on pricing, and access, and distribution of profits. Who are those people? That remains to be seen. But somehow, I suspect they will be vetted and limited to those friendly to the Western Powers that install them, and that will be the backbone against any pushback by indigenous elements (all of whom will now be doomed to identification as “old regime supporters”).

    In any case, whatever has been wrought has been wrought through the imposition of mass destruction by powerful men directed by their own interests. If anything good and lasting comes of this, it will be a first.

    But in any case, hooting around on this day seems at best premature and at worst self serving.

    • Was it a surprise that Qaddafi was beaten by a coalition of industrial powers and their high tech, capital intensive militaries?

      Given how often I read the words “quagmire” and “stalemate” over the past four months, I’d have to say yes, it was a great surprise to most of this operation’s opponents that the Free Libya Forces would win they way they won this war that they fought in their own country without foreign troops on the ground.

      bomb the bejesus out of Libya…the imposition of mass destruction

      These off-the-shelf descriptions demonstrate not only a profound ignorance about events in Libya, but the willful disregard of facts that comes from one who thinks that merely adopting the proper ideological narrative is all one needs to understand events, and the facts can just be assumed to fit it.

    • “If anything good and lasting comes of this, it will be a first.”

      Wow, where were you on V-E Day?

  43. This is the best piece I have read on Libya and American policy in Libya yet. The wall of naysayers you (and the rest of us) are up against, though, is astounding. Put another way, Libya has broken the Old Left in two for good. And it has done something similar with the right. Or call it a paradigm shift. How many PhDs are being rewritten – shelved – as we speak? And nobody seems to get it. You do, though. That’s pretty cool, Professor.

  44. Juan, thank you. I am also a liberal who supported military action by NATO on Libya, and I took a lot of heat as well. It’s sad that there is a liberal line that needs to be followed, lest one be considered an outcast.

    • Every ideology, no matter how vague, has lines that need to be followed lest one be considered an outcast. I don’t think this should have been one of them–people of good will with similar ideas were on all sides of this question (and in many cases may remain so for some time yet), based more on different evaluations of the facts than on different ethical beliefs.
      But of course in general there has to be a liberal line that needs to be followed lest one be considered an outcast. I hope you would quickly cast out any “liberal” who came out in favour of slavery, for instance.

  45. I’m glad that Professor Cole is getting this right on the most important points that Gadaffi is odious and his removal was justified and achievable. Still, there are some misleading statements in this myth busting– particularly #10. While it is reductionist to say intervention is exclusively about oil, the NY Times article “The Scramble for Access to Libya’s Oil Wealth Begins” clearly documents the fact that oil producers and consumers expect and expected to benefit greatly from Gaddafi’s fall. Obviously, that influenced the decision of NATO countries to invest in an expensive intervention in Libya while employing a very different strategy in Yemen, Bahrain, etc.

    The downside risk of a spike in oil prices was downplayed or underestimated in the early days of the war. Remember Obama’s “days not weeks” quote. That it has taken months means that there has been something of a stalemate (Myth #4), even if at this moment of triumph we can look back on a progressive march. It seems now that the short term price increase was worth a much greater control of oil production over the long term.

    On Greenwald’s claim (#8) that “NATO would never have gone forward unless the US had plumped for the intervention in the first place,” we should recall the complaints by the US that NATO allies were incapable of carrying out the mission without US expertise and hardware. Moreover, it remains ridiculous to think that NATO could undertake such a project without US approval, participation, and leadership. That said, I think credit should be given to Obama’s strategy of minimizing the appearance of US leadership, which has blunted the association of the Libyan intervention with our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. If there is a final accounting of the costs of the Libya intervention, the US’ share will be much more than that of a “junior partner.” See the Financial Times, June 9th, “Pentagon sees Libya military costs soar,” which states “Although it is working under Nato, the US is by far the largest contributor to operation Unified Protector.” It is (smart) PR to claim anything other than that the US is playing a leadership role.

    Let’s hope that Professor Cole is right that this is not a civil war and that it won’t become one following the fall of Tripoli. I can’t help but be skeptical of the articles popping up today claiming that the lessons of Iraq have been learned this time.

    • Remember Obama’s “days not weeks” quote.

      I remember it so well that I know it was not a prediction that the war would last that long, but that American forces would cease to play the leading role in commanding or carrying out the mission.

      And I further remember that, less than two weeks later, we were not playing the lead role.

      • Ah, good point. I see on a second look that the “days not weeks” quote was taken out of context by a bunch of media sources. But the US never became a “junior partner.”

        • Indeed, it was taken out of context by the media.

          I can’t even lay this off on the opponents – that really is how his statement was reported, and how those looking back through news reports a few weeks later would have seen it.

    • Very smart response with some thoughtful counterpoints (notwithstanding the factual error that Joe from Lowell noted).

  46. Excellent post Juan. Regarding #2, I think that actually shows the only good foreign policy in George W. Bush’s presidency (given hindsight). I’m not sure the US/NATO would have been in a position to help the rebels nearly to the extent they have if we hadn’t opened up relations with the Gaddafi regime. From what I know of the US diplomatic relations, opening up an embassy in the country over the last several years was essential in making connections to the people that ended up compromising the revolutionaries.

    PS. At least that’s all I can think of regarding W’s foreign policy successes. There are probably some more, but nothing of any huge importance, and definitely overshadowed by his failures.

  47. As much as I enjoy your insight and commentary and I agree with you that the NATO intervention was a good thing, I must say I disagree with you about your 10th myth: “This was a war for Libya’s oil.” Oil was certainly the motivator for NATO to intervene. Had it been a country without any important resources, this type of intervention would have never happened.

    No war has ever started that wasn’t about money…

    • “Had it been a country without any important resources, this type of intervention would have never happened.”

      It was right in the middle of the Libya operation that the French conducted another UN-authorized humanitarian intervention into Ivory Coast.

      Perhaps there’s a big French ivory trade that I’ve not heard about.

      • That ivory trade is called oil. The US does not get most of its oil, but Europe does.

    • “Had it been a country without any important resources, this type of intervention would have never happened.”

      I am truly indebted to you for dropping the scales from my eyes over why NATO went to war against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. I had always thought it was because the Serbs were committing ethnic cleansing and atrocities against Kosovars. Reading your trenchant analysis, a portion of which is cited above, I now know that it was to secure a lock on the enormous oil production and reserves in Kosovo, as well as their huge reserves of natural gas, and to lock in oil and gas service contracts. How naive of me to think otherwise.

  48. People make derogatory comments about Glenn Greenwald, although Greenwald’s geopolitical insights and moral consistency are light years ahead of Juan Cole’s. Professor Cole has freely admitted to do consulting work for the US gov and the Pentagon, if I remember correctly. So, why would anyone consider Cole an independent thinker? He plays his part in creating a kinder, friendlier empire, coming soon to your oil-rich neighborhood. If you want an independent thinker check out Asad AbuKhalil’s Asad has the advantage of being an actual Arab, thus, giving a fresh perspective on the ME, compared to these Western intellectuals who reek of white man’s burden.

    Unlike real hard science, social science does not have predictive capability, which explains the triumphalism and the told-you-so attitude that emanates from Cole’s blog post; whenever political ‘scientists’ get lucky and events, by chance, turn out the way they ‘predicted’ they claim they were ‘right’. BTW, why does anybody need a professor’s ‘brilliant’ analysis to realize that a country of 6.5 million people will be beaten by the combined armed forces of 29 or so NATO countries, which together represent well over half a billion people? Gee, who would have thought? The surprise is that Qaddafi held out that long.

    It’s also sad that Professor Cole and some of his cult members on this blog are unable to recognize principled opposition to Western aggression, and resort to slander and dragging people’s names into the mud. I guess it’s a sign of weakness of arguments. But hey, Professor Cole, I am sure, will get more consulting jobs from the Pentagon. Useful idiots come to one’s mind. I stopped paying any attention to Cole when he admitted where his money comes from. Unfortunately, Democracy Now still goes to Cole for ME analysis, instead of an actual flesh and blood Arab like AbuKhalil. I am tired of Westerners hijacking the narratives of even an supposedly Arab Spring. Yawn.

    • BTW, why does anybody need a professor’s ‘brilliant’ analysis to realize that a country of 6.5 million people will be beaten by the combined armed forces of 29 or so NATO countries, which together represent well over half a billion people? Gee, who would have thought?

      Because people like you spent the entire episode chortling about “quagmires” and “entrenched stalemate?”

      Because the Gadhafi regime wasn’t beaten by the combined military force of 29 nations, but by an “army” of d00ds who turned out to carry banners, and ended up trying to learn how to shoot a rifle?

      And since when did leftists begin to describe dictators and their hired guns as being “a country?” What were the Free Libya Forces – Belgian? Apparently so, because now their overthrow of their dictator is “western aggression.”

      • No. Cole set up a straw man. Most people no matter what they felt about the conflict did not expect the government to last this long. No government will last indefinitely against an opposition, however feckless,with uncontested air power.

      • I never spoke about quagmires and stalemate. I hardly comment on this site. I only did so yesterday because Cole was on Democracy Now, which I usually trust. Gadhafi was beaten by NATO, as even rebels admitted it on live BBC coverage. They said without NATO bombing they would have been wiped out. It is not to say that their struggle is not worth supporting, but get your facts strait. You are kidding nobody, NATO bombed the hell out of Libya, just like it did with Yugoslavia. Well, Gadhafi and his hired guns were considered the legitimate government of Libya by non others then the UN and your own US government. Before you accuse me of supporting a dictator you should look in the mirror and yell at your own gov, bro.

        • Harle. The current population of Vietnam is 87 million, compared to Libya’s 6.5 million. Vietnam is/was mostly jungle, hence, the use of agent orange. Libya is desert, where it’s difficult to hide. Vietnam was supported by the eastern block, Libya got much less outside help. These elementary facts alone could make a big difference in the military outcome. BTW, what’s your point with the tonnage dropped on Vietnam? Too much, enough, not enough? The 3 million dead Vietnames enough, not enough? The West’s first reaction to any crisis is brutal violence, well, at least when it’s not about its favorite dictators. I am tired of it.

        • This is in reply to Mr. Horvath.

          You couldn’t even be bothered to do the research to discover North Vietnam’s population during the war was only 17 million?! Or that Gadafy had 40 years of oil sales with which to build up his defenses, especially after 1986? He could have bought half the Soviet Army after 1990. Or that America had up to 500,000 troops in South Vietnam at one time, and was nowhere near being able to march to Hanoi, much less enter it on Toyota pickup trucks?

          You’re a fool if you claim Gadafy’s legitimacy among his people was even a tiny fraction that of the regime of Ho Chi Minh among the Vietnamese, though even he was a tyrant. Conventional bombing, in fact, is a proven failure in changing the political allegiance of citizens. The bombing did not break the will of the Libyan people to resist the rebels; there was no will to begin with.

    • It’s a bit odd to see someone basing so much of his comment on ad hominem credibility arguments, given that the Libyan people themselves seem quite pleased with the intervention. There is no blog as far as I know, but I hope we can agree that they don’t suffer from white man’s burden.

      It’s also sad that Professor Cole and some of his cult members on this blog are unable to recognize principled opposition to Western aggression, and resort to slander and dragging people’s names into the mud. I guess it’s a sign of weakness of arguments. But hey, Professor Cole, I am sure, will get more consulting jobs from the Pentagon. Useful idiots come to one’s mind. I stopped paying any attention to Cole when he admitted where his money comes from.

      The irony and lack of self-awareness here is pretty suffocating.

      • Look, nobody says that Gadhafi should give up power and there should be a transition to a more representative system. However, you are patently wrong when you talk in absolutes. The ‘Libyan people’ want this and that. All of them? There are no genuine Gadhafi supporters? You are a typical American who can only think in black and white, too many Hollywood movies. There are many interest groups in Libya, one of them is the supporters of Gadhafi. You ignore this reality at your won peril. I thought Americans learned something from the Mission Accomplished fiasco. The whole coverage of the Libyan civil war is reeks of hypocrisy and white man’s burden. The world was dealing with Gadhafi a few months ago, all of a sudden he became the root of all evil, very plausible. You only show your own naivety if you believe this. Tell me what ad hominem attack I made against Cole? Pointing out that by his own admission Cole consults for the Pentagon is a fact. It makes him one of those near-governmental think tank guys, as opposed to a truly independent academic.

    • Are you kidding me? I couldn’t buy a really nice home movie system with what I got in honoraria from speaking to Pentagon audiences. Where my money comes from, indeed.

  49. Thank you for this wrap-up. I have one question, Professor Cole. You wrote, and everyone seems to agree, that the liberation of Zawiya was crucial for cutting the supply line to Tripoli from Tunisia. What puzzles me is that Tunisia didn’t either cut this supply line itself out of solidarity with the rebels, or come under visible external pressure to do so. I also wonder how substantial supplies could travel over land in the face of NATO’s air supremacy? Were there simply not enough planes to handle the job, or were attacks on notionally civilian strategic targets deemed unacceptable–or some other reason?

    • Why would Tunisia do that?
      Not every country is as stupid as some Western nations or Qatar to take sides in an ungoing civil war.

  50. Dear Prof. Cole,

    I agree with almost all of your points. But there is one objection that you do not address, and it is a rather important one, since it cuts to the heart of the justification (in my view, pretext) for the NATO bombing of Libya.

    I believe this is a myth:

    “More people would have died than this if NATO had not bombed the Libyan forces.”

    It seems to me that if government troops had been allowed to kill the rebels within a week or two, *a* *lot* of lives would have been saved, as a six-month civil war would have been avoided.

    The following deaths would have been avoided:

    1-All the rebels and civilians killed by Libyan troops due to the prolongation of the war beyond a few weeks

    2-All the government soldiers killed by the Libyan rebels due to the prolongation of the war beyond a few weeks

    3-All those civilians killed in the villages that the rebels burned down to the ground, and the Blacks and migrant workers that they killed out of xenophobia.

    4-All the civilians caught in the cross-fire as the cities became a battleground between the warring parties

    5-Civilians killed as the Libyan TV stations were bombed

    6-“Collateral damage” in NATO bombing

    7-All the government soldiers killed by NATO.

    This last item alone, government soldiers killed by NATO, must include thousands of deaths! That is because there were thousands of NATO bombing operations.

    Best wishes,

  51. Thank you for an excellent post. My own focus has been on the operational aspects of the conflict; whereas criticisms of intervention all fixated on the supposed inability of Libyans to fight their own war (what Cole rightly calls “orientalism” in its most paternal form), my own observation has been that Libyans consistently pressed forward with dedication at every stage. They have written their own story, and it is a good one. All the Western allies have done is help.

  52. Several people have given the impression unrest in Libya is highly possible given what happened in Iraq. I would like to offer the following.

    It is now clear that Bush invaded Iraq not only with no post invasion plan, but with it appears a willingness to put people in charge, from the top to the bottom, who were obviously incompetent. Whose actions destroyed the participation of most of the Iraqi people who could have kept that country functioning equal to, or even superior to how they behaved during the Sadam era (since Sadam and his vicious, neanderthal, clique of advisors and hanger-ons had departed; those who remained could operate with far more of their potential then under Sadam).

    If Bush and his cronies had operated with common sense, who knows what would have been the behavior of the various Iraqi factions after the invasion? Since Bush and his crew were and still are obviously craven, mendacious to their core, self-centered, morally opposed to the slightest consideration for anyone who isn’t rich and amoral or immoral; and it is clear from world history that the context established by the people at the top can have a significant impact on the behaviors of all the citizens of a country (compare the behaviors of the typical German during Hitler’s reign to now), why isn’t it highly likely that Bush and his nefarious crew are primarily responsible for Iraq’s recent past and current interethnic (religious and cultural) antipathy?

    I personally hold Bush and his fellow criminals as the primary culprits. And from this regard, although I consider Obama to have a significant lack of integrity, and to be primarily oriented to creating the image of himself he prefers, he is vastly superior to Bush in terms of how the humans of the world are impacted by his actions.

  53. I do not agree with most of the opinions expressed above. The sole intervention in Libya has to do with the huge oil reserves it has. NATO spent billions of dollars to bombed Libya in the name of Humanitarian Intervention and the protection of civilian. That is a blatant lie. Look,the US and the EU could not afford to save the millions of people starving and dying in Somalia but they can afford to organise 20 thuosand operations in Libya which cost a lot of Billions. All the arguments put forward by NATO, UK, France and the rest is a camouflag smoke screen and a way to install a puppet government in Libya in order to control the Oil and Gas of the country. How long this gonna continue and when will there be equality for all? Will these attitude improve the relation between the west and the Arabs? my answer is no. The world is not blind. U lied in Iraq and in Libya as well. It is a shame

  54. Of course there were US interests in Libya, but it is farcical to pretend that these interests were a matter of promoting democracy or assisting the Libyan people against a tyrant. There were and are dozens of places around the world where such interests should exist, but the US has not intervened in those places. Depending on who actually gets power in Libya and how closely they cooperate with the US – not on how democratic they are – the intervention may not be nearly over.

    • There are a dozen reasons why we intervened in Libya rather than other situations. The fact that the U.S. does not intervene in other locations in no way proves bad intentions in Libya. You have to think critically, look at situations in detail rather than make simple, broad ideological leaps.

      a skeptic keeps an open mind, does not just sing from an alternative hymnal.

  55. Your theory that Greenwald is a better researcher or analyst in other fields is one that is sadly mistaken.

  56. Of course it was about the oil–about control over the oil. Why are so many so naive not to see this. Gadaffi was too erratic to be a trusted, subservient, oil-steward lackey. C’mon, why isn’t NATO bombing Syria?

  57. I thought you got it right but the fact that oil prices decreased today points to questions over oil management and potential for it being usurped by foreign interests just as NATO management was potentially usurped by Pentagon officials drilling the French and British.

    All in all a victory for a working class peoples revolution as you say.

  58. I am struck by one commonality in all the threads attacking the intervention:

    Their utter, absolute contempt for the rebels. They are continually characterized as Western henchmen, rats who scurried into power on the backs of bombing, traitors who will sell all their oil, scheming tribesmen who will betray other factions, and murderous marauders. One even implied that Libya would be better off if they had been killed off in the first weeks to prevent (all!) of the subsequent suffering.

    But mostly, they are portrayed as not having mattered in any way at all.

    I would have more respect for the hardline anti-war position if it had a single representative who would even admit that the rebels started this, and they finished it, at extreme danger to themselves and a sacrifice in comfort and well-being utterly unimaginable by modern Americans, despite thousands of them having come from ordinary jobs and backgrounds that we should be able to relate to as human beings.

    In other words, not that different than many of the people who rose against us in Iraq.

    But you folks must deprive them of any identity so as to give US bombing awesome, Godlike powers to break peoples’ real allegiances – which Iraq and Vietnam long ago disproved. Whatever the sins and conspiracies of their leaders, the rebels really were willing to die for a gamble at replacing their government with something they considered ordinary and reasonable. They didn’t all sign the Project for A New American Century manifesto, or buy oil stocks on Wall Street. They, not NATO mercenaries or US killer robots, got into those Toyotas on Friday morning bound and determined to end this war in a weekend before conditions got much worse, with no idea what bizarre defenses and traps might await them.

    Yeah, we Americans are hypocrites. But not all our allies are as low and cynical as we’ve become.

    • Vietnam and Iraq have populations much larger than Libya. The fact is that Iraq’s government fell within days. Vietnamese style guerilla war, totally unsuitable for Libya, gave the people the ability to hold out. Why have contempt toward the people who differ with you?

      • We bombed North Vietnamese cities relentlessly for years. And the fall of Iraq’s government was just the beginning of the war. What Cole’s critics are saying is that there ARE NO REBELS, just foreign mercenaries and CIA stooges (and even al-Qaeda), and that resistance collapsed because NATO bombing has completely destroyed the will of a population that still loves Muamar Gadafy.

  59. “And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”
    A. Lincoln-1863, Letter to James Conkling
    I thought of this after reading many of these comments.

  60. ‘Starting a war is always easy and is usually under control of those that begin it. Prediciting its outcome and controlling the sequence of its unfloding is the hard part’!

    The truth is that Quaddaffi was a brutal sociopath dictator who nevertheless was intelligent enough to stop tribal warfare and also made sure to see that his people were the least poor in the entire continent, if only to ensure a long period in power.
    His apparant fall from this power is not bad because the Libyan people don’t deserve or want power, as all people should want but because the UN is now a post Kofi Annan puppet entity, under a US appointed South Korean figurehead non entity (Annan and the UN were replaced by orders of Bushes white House ‘Fox’ UN ambassador John Bolton, as he so proudly admits in his recent autobiography).
    So instead of a UN sanctioned air cover campaign to protect ‘civilians’ from air attacks (the specific reason given) we get UK led SAS attempted ‘incursion’ followed by a Cameron Sarkossy initiated semi invasion through support to a provoked civil war that finally gets exasperated US help (gotta give back sometimes for EU support to the US anti-terror campaign) and hey presto we have ‘Regime Change’ with the costs limited to support for a rag tag group of warlords.
    Sounds depressingly familiar and I haven’t indicated any real support for the fruitcake ‘leader’ but just focused instead on the Wests actual behaviour. This is the oldest story in the world from the point of view of the West indeed one can read Julius Caeser’s own accound of how he went into Gaul to rescue an allied tribe from another and ended up ‘liberating’ all of France for the cost of 3 million Gauls.
    However naive many of us are, the other parts of the world do understand this all to well. Will things get better or worse? Who knows but my guess is that the West will get more access to cheap oil, there will be more ‘western freedoms’, that is a greater wealth gap between the classes, more prostitution, poverty, corruption etc.
    Why do I guess it will work out this way. Because in non western nations cursed with natural wealth that likelyhood for this outcome is a statistical fact.

  61. It is important to note that the US has two overwhelming priorities in ME/Africa: Israel and oil. Freedom for Libyans may be a pleasant side effect but the US has its eye on Egypt and how the February revolution is likely to affect Israel and Saudi Arabian oil. Bear in mind that Americans vote with taxes, entitlements and gas prices in mind, and all of those are effected by the current Middle Eastern political situation. The US can afford to lose Gadhafi, it can replace Saleh and al-Asad with tyrants friendly to American interests and quietly allow Saudi Arabia to put down the revolt in Bahrain. It cannot, however, allow an anti-Israel leader to take over in Egypt and risk another union with Syria or the Six Day War pt. II.

  62. I keep seeing people assert the oil canard, with nothing to back it up but their own incredulity that everyone else doesn’t believe them.

    That is the sign of a movement that has grown intellectually lazy.

  63. Great stuff. I disagree with one point though: “None of those companies would have wanted to endanger their contracts by getting rid of the ruler who had signed them.”

    That was true up until the point when Qaddafi acted to put down the protests with violence. That sealed his fate, because if he had successfully squashed the uprising and secured his position, strict sanctions would have been enacted and western oil companies would have had to leave Libya. Thus the only chance big oil had of staying was if the revolution succeeded.

    • if he had successfully squashed the uprising and secured his position, strict sanctions would have been enacted

      You mean the West would have acted against their own material interest in access to Libya’s oil, as a result of humanitarian interests?

      I agree.

  64. Count my post out of the need for patting on the back. Point #1 should be about the CIA in Libya. In fact, a list of myths without a mention of CIA involvement is highly suspect, especially when its a list of anything happening in the Middle East. Google “Hifter”.

  65. This is worth repeating, again and again:

    “I don’t understand the propensity of Western analysts to keep pronouncing nations in the global south “artificial” and on the verge of splitting up. It is a kind of Orientalism. All nations are artificial.”

    Orientalism is a polite word for it.

  66. Whoa, folks! Let’s not drink the Kool Aid yet. There are news reports that Saif al-Islam was seen speaking to crowds at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli. This is the same Saif al-Islam that the rebels said they had captured. It brings into question the veracity of the rebels’ claims to control 80 percent of Tripoli, as well as their other claims.

    • It brings into question the veracity of the rebels’ claims to control 80 percent of Tripoli, as well as their other claims.

      Western journalists in the country, such as the invaluable Richard Engel, are reporting that the rebels do indeed control 90% of Tripoli, with just of couple of pockets still controlled by Gadhafi forces, and that the rebels are now attacking those pockets.

  67. On a minor note, to quote Alexander Cockburn on anything is silly. The man is the left wing answer to Krauthammer. If either happens to get anything correct, it is because eventually blind squirrels do find acorns. Neither of them is living in this reality, but that doesn’t stop them from sounding off with no notion at all of what they’re talking about. I sometimes get the feeling that Patrick was the one who got all the brains in that family.

  68. I don’t think the war is nearly over. Ghadaffy and his cult following are going to punish the unbelievers with as much bloodshed as possible before they go to their graves.

    I see the Ghadaffy phenomena as something close to pure evil. Same as the cult of Saddam Hussein, or Idi Amin, or any of a hundred other despots.

  69. I hope Juan Cole is right about the outcome but it is tendentious to speak sarcasticly of the president of Italy for supporting Ghaddafi but to leave unquestioned the implied good intentions of Cameron and Sarkozy. Evem more so to leave unremarked that the primary supporters of the rebels in the area are feudal monarchies and their catspaw surrogates in the emirates.

  70. The reason AFRICOM’s headquarters are in Germany is because not one African state wants US bases. Gaddafi was an impediment to the US gaining a foot hold in sub-Saharan Africa. Hallelujah! Another lucrative arms market. And Washington isn’t happy about the greedy Chinese buying up all of the oil, strategic minerals and farm land. Gaddafi was also Europe’s cop on the beat, keeping African immigrants and drugs from flooding the continent. But these are only details.

    • I live in Germany. Believe me, most Germans want the yank soldiers, their Landstuhl hospital, their air force bases, and their nukes out of the country. But, this is a country whose political leadership still acts out its defeat in WWII. You want hear vocal opposition from the elite against any US machinations. But, even they had the courage to stay out of one more wild west shooting game in the ME.

      • On migrants, exactly. So Sarkozy, Cameron, Berlusconi just can’t sleep because of the plight of the poor Libyans, that’s whu they intervened there, right? The same Libyans they turn back or keep them on Lampeduse when they try to immigrate to Europe. Have any of you guys ever lived in Europe? The racism here towards Africans is huge. So, don’t tell me that Western Europe gives a toss about the plights of the Africans.

    • The rebels just announced that there will be no foreign military bases in Libya.

      American companies were in Libya, making a fortune drilling that oil – most of which went to western Europe.

      • The rebels’ announcement is just that, an announcement. I will believe it when the dust settles and there are really no foreign bases in Libya. Obama promised to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by year end and close Guantanamo, it doesn’t seem to be happening. It amazes me that people rush to make absolute statements and take the rebels’ or anyone else’s claims at face value. What you get right now is mostly noise, you have to wait long enough to pull out the signal from all this. Only time will tell. You confuse advocacy and wishful thinking with analysis.

  71. It is easy to kill or overthrow tin pot dictators. Dictators brutalize their people. These points are not disputed.

    The problem with the Libyan plan is the same as the Iraqi one. Once the government is overthrown, what follows? Nation building is a tough exercise, the lessons of Iraq, Lebanon all show that what comes next is not predictable, but the countries around inevitably engage in espionage and can make progress difficult.

    From the nation building argument alone, killing gadaffi, executing Saddam, these are not indications that peace will be achieved anytime soon.

    If this was a moral argument, where are people when KimJongIl brutalize and starved millions in his impoverished nation? Where were the bombs and.missiles when the students of TianAnMen were mowed down by machine guns on that June 4th day? The answer then is that only small dictatorships can be taken out, but big ones are safe.

    I really hope that Libya can enjoy a road to democracy and preferably a constitution that not only respects rule of law, but also respect women as equals, clear separation of religion and state.

    However, knowing how Egypt is moving. I suspect that the new Libya will use the Shariah as a template and what comes next will not be anything that we regard as fair or friendly to western liberal ideals.

    • The problem with the Libyan plan is the same as the Iraqi one. Once the government is overthrown, what follows?

      I’ll tell you what doesn’t follow: an occupation by foreign troops, an attempt to run the country by the conquering nation, thousands of foreign jihadists deliberately making the country ungovernable in order to mess with those foreign occupiers, the absence of an indigenous political force with credibility among the populace to guide the transition.

      This is a very different situation than Iraq.

  72. I am repeatedly struck by posters who insist that American foreign policy is exclusively about one point or another, such as ensuring oil supplies to the US. Our leaders may be incompetent, greedy, self-centered, power hungry, etc.. But they are each a human being. An NO human being ever has just one motivation for every situation in her life. Each of you posters knows that is true about you. You have a multitude of motivations for the various activities you do. Accept that is true about every leading person in each administration.

    Learn the facts of any one country’s actions. Ask what would be the benefit for a country that acted in that manner, in that situation, and you have their motivation for that situation. And repeat this for each country, in each situation. Use your mind repeatedly. Don’t become a one song person, and sing that song in every situation. That will just make you a biased, one note person.

  73. ‘Top Ten Myths about the Libya War’, while Juan Cole’s ‘top tens’ are something to look forward to, this one comes way early, the dynamics of Lybia (more then military) are not played out, have not peaked, in fact but germing.

    The reference to the naissance of nation-states, all well. just as a question up for debate: are not nation-states part of the culprits for world-views not functioning. are nation-states not contradictory to 21st. century earth, including ‘democracy’?

  74. Professor Cole & Groupies: you will surely excuse those of us who have witnessed America and NATOs good and humanitarian interventions from this orgy of fist-pumping. It is utterly beyond me how anyone could study the history of US involvement in Iraq dating from the 1980s and use the word ‘humanitarian’ to describe anything having to do with the Pentagon. In fact apart from the oft-cited Balkan conflict, which was a far more complex.situation than liberal interventionists dare recall, how often in the last century has the US military come down on the side of human rights and regional autonomy? Sorry, folks. As a student of ME history, I simply don’t see any cause for hope that the US will actively promote an independent democracy this time around. Countries invade other countries for interests, and this time is no different. But maybe the much smarter ones than me on this board would like to answer this one: Why did the GCC and especially Saudi Arabia throw so much at this war? Certainly it must have been their long-established commitments to democracy and human dignity.

  75. […] Acá un excelente post de Juan Cole, profesor de la Universidad de Michigan y experto muy confiable en Medio Oriente, con los diez mayores mitos sobre el conflicto. […]

  76. I agree with you sir, My question though, is this: WHY does the United States appear to see only Libya and ignore a weekend when over 100 rockets and missiles are launched from Gaza into Southern Israel’s CIVILIAN sector. Many of these rockets and missiles were launched AFTER an Egyptian brokered cease fire that HAMAS ignored. They struck a school, which had it not been summer vacation, would have killed scores of children. The American government and the American press completely IGNORES this. Why the tunnel vision on Libya?

  77. Here’s the thing : there is a largely held consensus that entering Iraq to get rid of Saddam is wrong, after vindication of the aftermath of the mess to clean up is visible to all.

    That’s it. Those who were into nation building in Iraq said nice things about justice, and even brought in WMD as an excuse. But the reality is that post-Saddam, Iraq is not developing along any enlightened path that most hoped. They are still heavily islamists in their thinking and how power is wielded, they still have requirements to cover their women in cloth from head to toe. And they still all covertly work to remove Israel from the map.

    Why is the post-Gadaffi Libya going to change this trajectory? Egypt is not even considering separation of church and state as open to discussion. Let’s be clear here, the most ferocious fighters in that region of the world are the religious, and they are fighting to establish islamic nations based on the Sharia.

    It’s just not conceivable that the secular thinkers are going to win out over the islamists backed by neighboring nations.

  78. Juan,
    You forget that the initiator of that war was Sarkozy. He was the first to bomb the country after his agents were in Libya since many weeks. France objective is to take the place of Italy economically in the country: this was explained (with other words) by the French government. The French televison is explainign already all the advantages for the French companies and an economic mission was sent recently in Libya, before the end of the war. In the same time, the war is very popular in France which is 200% profit for the candidate for French President next year. This is what Berlusconi in difficult situation. Finally he had no choice than giving the permission to use the NATO air bases in Italy but knowing that he was doing it against Italy interests. Trnaform this in love for Khadafi is a strong simplification, to remain polite.

    • It’s sad but not surprising that blatant neocolonialism is a popular foreign policy in France. To who ever mentioned the Ivory Coast above, the French are heavily invested there, responsible for 40-50% of all capital investment, which isn’t to say that intervention wasn’t justified. With Italy on the verge of a debt crisis (or at least closer to one than France), I suppose they are fairly limited in how autonomous their foreign policy can be. The Libyan people should be rich given their oil wealth; I hope they don’t get screwed in this aftermath.

  79. The rebels who drove rusted out Toyota pickup trucks began selling oil-tanker loads of oil to the U.S. months ago.

    A full tanker of oil takes hundreds of millions of dollars, involving international business transactions.

    Oh of course they arranged all of that themselves in-between racing down the road in the rusty Toyota trucks while shooting people.

    The most important thing to western civilization as we speak is the control of oil, because peak oil has happened in 2004 or thereabouts. Who controls oil controls civilization’s economic and security future.

    • @Dredd – do you have evidence that the rebel oil shipment was at below market prices ? If not, pls. explain what is wrong with selling oil at market prices ?

      Peak Oil is the #11 myth in this scenario. How do you explain 1,800 bbl of bitumen crude in Canada, 2,400 bbl of extra heavy oil in Venezuala, and 2,000 bbl of shale oil (extractable at $100 /b) in each of USA and Russia ?? And countless other oil sands and shale oil resources.

      This is about 27 times more oil than Saudi Arabia. Where is the Peak Oil?

  80. I really enjoyed Cole’s analysis of the ten myths about the Lybia war. Knowledgeable and thoughtful. I am looking forward towards his analysis of developments.

  81. OK, I’m sure Prof. Cole has received an avalanche of unfair, probably often nasty, criticism for his stance on this conflict, and taken in this light I can understand a self-congratulatory (I Told You So) type post like this as a big middle finger at the loudmouth doubters.

    However, taken at face value, it appears to be a hasty and naive post, both in terms of declaring the conflict all-but-over, and the high degree of optimism – almost certainty – about the rebels and incoming government.

    I’ve seen a lot of wise skepticism out of Prof. Cole over the years, and this is just so far from that mindset it was fairly stunning…..almost like it was written by a completely different person. Maybe being a punching bag for ignorants will do that to anyone.

    • It is isn’t about optimism or pessimism. It is about analysis. I wasn’t saying things are going or will go well. Revolutions are a mess. My point was that my analysis had been correct and its premises borne out. It isn’t important whether i am right or not. It is consequential if the analysis is

  82. It’s quite a plausible argument until we get to the part about “The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly. The US has an interest in a lawful world order, and therefore in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Libyans be protected from their murderous government”

    I find it puzzling why anyone’d this true in Libya. When it so obviously hasn’t been true elsewhere that the US has invaded. Look at the sectarian, theocratic nightmare they bequeathed to the people of Iraq. The hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians maimed & slaughtered there. Not to mention the toxic cancer riddled nuclear wasteland they left of Iraq’s Western deserts, with ‘depleted’ uranium munitions. They weren’t so keen on the United Nations there. Not once it was realised that they weren’t going to get the support for war they wanted.

    They haven’t been too concerned with the will of the UN when it comes to Israel either. Every motion & directive concerning Israel, that has been brought before the UN. Whether attempting to obey international laws regarding human rights, non-aggression, the obstructive “peace wall” the right of return for refugees, or the collective punishment, systematic destruction & blockade of the civilian population of Gaza. Every move by the UN has been “Veto’d” by either the USA or the UK. Using their UN PSC membership.

    I personally would also like to know more about MI6’s involvement on the farm in Beghazi. In the months before & leading up to the formation of the ‘Anti-Quaddafi uprising’. Around about the same time MI6 was accused by Iran of trying to preciptate a similar uprising there.

  83. I’ll call this a win ONLY after the dust has settled and there has been no attempts to impose neoliberal economic models upon the Libyan people (as a precondition for economic and reconstruction aid). Also, there must be NO attempt by the USA to locate AFRICOM in Libya, NO attempts to get basing rights there. Nada.

    Hands off. Only then is this a win and NOT a manipulation/subversion by the West.

  84. @Dmoloney
    You wrote that if NATO powers – in particular the US – withdrew their support for dictators in the ME and their support for Israeli Apartheid that

    “..the effect is not likely to be substantial, many oppressive countries such as iran get on by without the support of the US and a number of its allies, if anything the US sanctions as a whole just hurt the people of iran. What makes you think that sanctions would not just hurt the populations of other nations while failing to lodge the oppressive governments from power?”

    It is hard to credibly argue that the effects would be minor when the regimes are struggling DESPITE support from the US and other NATO powers.

    Please explain how canceling $6 billio per year in direct and indirect US assistance to Isaarli Apartheid would hurt Palestinians.

    Please explain how an arms embargo on the region – easily enforced by NATO powers who collectively dominate the arms trade – would be hurt the majority of people in the region or how it would bolster reactionary extremists (i.e as US and Israeli stance towards Iran has done)?

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