NATO Refuses Ground Troops for Libya as “Friends” Conference Opens

A NATO official has told Agence France Presse that it is the “firm view” of NATO member states that they reject the idea of sending any ground troops to Libya. And, they want the UN to authorize any extension of the no-fly zone.

Gee, it doesn’t sound to me as though NATO is the kind of grasping, occupying imperialist power it has been painted by opponents of the UN intervention.

The Friends of Libya are meeting to consider how best to help Libya move forward under the new government. Head of the Transitional National Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil will address the gathering, which includes Russia and China along with Western leaders that were more supportive of the revolution.

China is now moving vigorously to seek a position in post-Qaddafi Libya, even though it was lukewarm about the UN intervention against the former dictator.

The new government says it will honor all legal contracts entered into by the previous regime, which appears to be meant to reassure China and Russia about their investments in the country.

Critics of the Libyan revolution keep intimating that there is something sordid or crooked about business being done in that country by the US and Western Europe, but the eagerness of China to do business there is never mentioned.

Likewise, among the potentially big winners economically in Libya is South Korea, which is attending the “Friends” meeting, and which is planning many deals with the new Libyan government. Trade is generally a good thing and it would be weird if a major world economy did not want to trade with Libya; not everything is a conspiracy.

France is seeking permission to help the new government by turning over to it frozen assets of the Qaddafi regime in that country.. Britain and the US have already been given a green light by the UN Security Council and Britain flew out cash on Wednesday.

The conference will also discuss European Union training for Libyan police and army, as well as help with the judiciary system, education and financial management.

Nicolas Sarkozy, of all people, is trying to put to rest the controversy over Abdelhakim Belhadj, the head of Tripoli’s military council. Belhadj rings alarm bells because of his past association with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and later on fought in Iraq and again in Afghanistan. In other words, they had been among Ronald Reagan’s “Freedom Fighters.” Belhadj was captured by the CIA and reportedly turned against terrorism while imprisoned. The CIA helpfully released him to Qaddafi, which is surely a crime of some sort (civilized countries do not send even enemy prisoners to countries where they might be killed or tortured by the government on arrival).

Sarkozy has been anything but nice to French Muslims (who mostly voted for a Socialist woman in the last election precisely because Sarkozy he was the alternative), and he has been accused of legitimating the racist anti-Muslim discourse of Marie LePen. So if Sarkozy is vouching for Belhadj, then I’d bet that Belhadj is not a danger to the West.

And, of course, the members of the Transitional National Council, the leadership of the new Libya, have been carefully vetted by the US, Britain and France.

Qaddafi and his supporters continually beat the drumbeat of participation by LIFG in the uprising, characterizing the rebels generally as “al-Qaeda.” But since it was a broadly-based uprising encompassing virtually all sectors of society, it would be strange if hard line Muslim groups weren’t part of it– virtually everyone else was. The question is what proportion do radicals constitute of the rebels. The answer as far as I can see is “tiny.” And if it is true that Belhadj has had a major change of heart, then it is even tinier, since he is the one most often instanced by the “al-Qaeda taking over Libya” crowd.

There is a lot of Orientalism in these charges. Muslims, especially practicing ones, are under the sign of danger in the Western press in a way that Hindus and Buddhists are not (nor should any of them be). But Buddhist terrorist groups such as Om Shinrikyo (which sent poison gas into the Tokyo subway) and Hindu ones such as elements of the RSS and others, are never made to stand in for all their coreligionists the way radicalism is made to stand in for Islam.

A corollary is that radical Muslims are viewed in a static way unless they are authorized by Western authorities as “changed.” Thus, it is well known that Hamid Karzai had a six-month political deal with the Taliban in the late 1990s, and that Masoud Barzani briefly allied with Saddam Hussein against a rival Kurdish faction around the same time. Yet nowadays both are feted as strong allies of the US, one the president of Afghanistan and the other the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. It is unclear in what way Belhadj would be different from them if he in fact gave up radical violence toward the West. But from the point of view of the Neo-Orientalists, one rebel leader who used to be a radical can be used to discredit the whole movement, and no allowance can be made for the way in which former radicals often change.

It is worth noting that most of the leadership of the Egyptian al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, formerly led by the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdelrahman, has renounced violence across the board and the movement is preparing to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Egypt. People and movements change. So the attempt to tar the entire Libyan revolution with the brush of Belhadj is just propaganda, which we’ve seen a lot of surrounding the Libyan uprising. (This is because so many groups, from the Trotskyites to most of the Russian and Chinese publics and press outlets, supported Qaddafi, whether explicitly or latently.)

Propaganda is best combatted by coolly asking precisely the sort of questions I raised above, about proportionality and change over time. Propaganda is about unchanging essences and irrational appeal to emotions.

Posted in Libya | 28 Responses | Print |

28 Responses

  1. “The eagerness of China to do business there is never mentioned.”

    That is perhaps because the issue of the conflict of interest does not arise with China. It arises only with countries that overthrew Libya’s government.

    Best wishes,

    • Since China had substantial investments in Qaddafi’s Libya and some 20,000 workers there, the conflict of interest would have come in its earlier declining to vote for intervention. It is now scrambling to repair that damage.

      • Now I understand what you meant about China. But since China has never been keen about military intervention or even economic sanctions on a human rights pretext in the cases of other countries, one could say that its approach to Libya has been merely consistent with its attitude more generally. By pointing this out I’m not trying to dismiss your explanation. Different considerations may have independently pushed China in the same direction. There is no reason to believe that China is any more dis-interested and just than any other big power.

      • This is terribly disingenuous Juan. Everyone knows that China does not have a long history of overt and covert attempts to overthrow governments in order to secure their economic interests. Western powers have a long history of doing exactly that, which you have conveniently left out of your analysis.

    • That is perhaps because the issue of the conflict of interest does not arise with China. It arises only with countries that overthrew Libya’s government

      Huh? Countries advance their interests by protecting satellite states and allies, just as much as they protect their interests by being hostile to states. It was very much in China’s interest to look the other way while Gadhaffi carried out his massacres.

  2. The Oumu/Aum Shinrikyou was/is hardly a Buddhist terrorist group. It was an LSD-infused nut cult led by a deranged manipulator that committed an act of terror. Inform yourself before commenting.

    • No True Scotsman fallacy? Really?

      Let me guess: Aum Shinrikyou isn’t a Buddhist group, but al Qaeda are perfect examples of Muslims. Have I got that right?

  3. Once again, prescient assessment Juan. I never ceased to be amazed at the hypocrisy in the major governments of the world; example China now making nice just to get the oil it wants.

    On the Islamic note. It is true that there are groups of Hindus and Buddhists that create acts of terror. But to gain power in the societies in which they are located, not to take over the world, and run it; explicitly to force everyone to live in a society run by clergy, oriented to one religion; especially a religion whose basic theologies promote an elimination of all the basic rights considered intrinsic to western society for centuries.

    The history of Islam is one of conquer. So even though many a Muslim lives in free enterprise democracy, the underlying religion is one of conquer and subjugation. Therefore there is a element of reality when the jihad organizations of Islam are seen as particularly dangerous.

    • Speaking of informing oneself before commenting, I would love to know, Mr. Metzler, where you find authorities to support your assertions about the nature and history of Islam. And while you are at it, you might spend a few worthwhile minutes looking up the antecedents of the Tea Party and the so-called “Christian Right” in America, and think about their collective positions on the continuation of all the basic rights considered intrinsic to western society for centuries.

      And gee, there’s so much more to say about the actions of white-boy terrorists in America, and the activities of the CIA and other skulduggers here and there acting under color of presidential findings (or not bothering even with that kind of cover), and so little allowed space in the comments to Professor Cole’s observations. You think these creatures are “better” than those people you so conveniently assign to the category “jihadist?”

      Not to worry, though, as he notes, propaganda and identity groupings and “organizations” like the Afrikaners and the way they rose to power and wealth, are so much more powerful than “historical fact or what-ever.”

      • I am truly fascinated JT. If you assume space is limited, so you can’t list all the infractions of caucasian aggression, how is it that you get to determine I’m a White Supremacist bigot, purely and only because I didn’t mention every Western aggressive action???? I am fully aware that western powers have created havoc on most of the world for god knows how many centuries. I was commenting solely on Juan Cole’s assumption, that I interpreted as claiming there was a double standard in the concern people had about Islam, but not for Buddhism and Hinduism.

        I refer you to any accurate history book on Islam to become informed of its stated desire to establish a caliphate over the entire world, and its history of increasing the Muslim population through military actions.

      • Thanks JTMCPHEE, I wanted to respond to that ignorance but now, thanks to your,ore polite version, I don’t have to. Cheers

  4. [most of the Russian and Chinese publics and press outlets, supported Qaddafi, whether explicitly or latently.]

    Here is the Russian cartoon about the official Russian position on Libya: link to
    Translation: Rumors about the loss of Russian contracts in Libya are greatly exaggerated.

  5. It appears some in Washington also supported Ghazaffi as recently as august 20th (according to aje’s recent report) would that not be considered an act of treason in the good ol’ US of A?

  6. I’m a big fan of your blog and am sorry that I don’t offer more positive comments, but I’m compelled to object to your characterization of Aum Shinrikyo as a “Buddhist terrorist group.” That cult is based on a syncretic concoction that includes Hindu elements and a major dose of apocalyptic Christianity. The Buddhist influence – what there is of it – takes forms that few mainstream Buddhists would endorse, though the same kind of thing can be said, I suppose, about the Muslim influence on Al Qaeda or the Christian influence on Westboro Baptist Church. I’m just being a little picky here and in general consider your blog required daily reading.

  7. 1. I don’t understand how news about the new Libyan government wishing to sell oil is supposed to demonstrate anything about the motives of the West. If the intervention had been carried out under the direction of Mother Theresa, Ho Chi Minh, and Harriet Tubman for the most idealistic, humanitarian reasons, would the new government not be signing oil contracts? Would they not be more favorable to the countries that helped them than to the countries that didn’t? I keep seeing opponents of the intervention linking to stories about the Libyans – gasp! faint! – continuing to operate the country’s biggest industry, as if they’ve just definitively proven something.

    2. Does it make me a terrible person if I think that the Libyans who fought against the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan kind of had a point?

    3. Isn’t it funny how so many violent radicals move from violence to participation in democratic politics once there are democratic politics in which to participate?

  8. With its siege of the Libyan city of Sirte, NATO is carrying out precisely the kind of military assault on a civilian population center that it claimed its intervention was designed to prevent.

    • Except for the part about NATO carrying out a siege, and there being an assault on a civilian population center, this is a great comment.

      • So NATO is not involved and all the women and children of Sirte have evaporated… I don’t think so.

  9. I see the Al Qaeda/radical Muslim fundamentalist versus secular/pro-US Arabs or Muslims a false dichotomy. The USA has never had qualms about jumping into bed with the former. See “Devil’s Game” or this link – link to

    • Similarly, we’ve never had qualms about confronting the latter, such as our hostility to the secular regimes of Mossedegh and Saddam Hussein.

      • Respectfully, might I ask why so many laptop geopoliticians insist on propagating that Game of RISK! level of reification/personification/hypostatization that truncates the huge sets of greeds and behaviors of nation-sized creatures into itty bitty pronouns, “we” and “our” and “them,” and tacitly assumes that “interests” that embrace the whole “nation” actually exist on a nation-scale level, as opposed to the kind of “interests” that have Marines and CIA jackals “removing” elected governments or even “unfriendly” dictators? Leaders of other large groupings who happen to fall afoul of the desires of the United Fruit Company or Del Monte, or any of our extractive industrialists, or hey, just because they dissed our president’s daddy?

        I know it’s convenient, that lazy shorthand, and it fits the format of the blogspace and the usual narrative terms. But it invites the kind of desiccated, reductionist “analysis” and discourse that seems pretty inevitably to lead to a kind of dead end for the species. Not to mention its tendency to activate the tribalthink parts of the brain, and the not-very-nice parts and practices that are attached to them.

        “We” did not invade Iraq, either time. A subset of players with interests, if you have to call them that, that sure seem very much at odds with the old General Welfare, as opposed to the Welfare of the Generals, managed the procurement and logistics and deployment and the covering fire of “diplomacy” and the obfuscation and fog-of-warring that has “our all-volunteer military plus an equally large number of very much better paid contractors” still engaged in that futile, asymmetric, disjointed computer game in the Networked Battlespace over there in Notagainistan. How many trillions into the War Machine? What’s the mission, the goal, how do “we” know “we” have “won” something of value to “our national interests?” Sure looks to me like this is “about” wealth transfer, pure and simple, a flux in several directions and scales, justified purely and simply by reference to that stupidest of symbolisticisms, “they kill some of our Band of Brothers, so we kill us some Hajjis, so they kill some more of our Band of Brothers, so we kill us some more Hajjis, so…”

        But hey, it worked for that Vietnam thing, and hey, there’s still real wealth and borrowing capacity that have not been converted into militarizianationism at every possible scale and node on the planet, which by assertion of the Pentagram’s doctrine generators is all just part of that Grand Networked Battlespace. Which as far as “our” General Officers and the CEOs of the various war toy manufacturers are concerned, is all the “national interest” they need to squeak about to get the rest of us mice running faster on that stupid treadmill we so patriotically have set ourselves to spin.

        “We?” “Our?” I don’t think so, and if you scratch the surface of even a lapel-flagged Tea Bagger, and get past the powder-coated, made-in-China True Blue surface, you can usually get agreement that the whole exercise is futile.

        But of course the habits of discourse and the motions of the crowd pretty quickly drop them back into the Conventional Narrative, now don’t they? Ah, the magic of perpetual propaganda…

  10. Om Shinrikyo is not a Buddhist terrorist group. It is a religion(or cult) in and of itself which is a combination of several religions.

    I had never heard of the RSS before but it has a well referenced wikipedia article does not even allege it’s involvment in any terrorist activities. Many riots and a former member killed ghandi. But, for an organizaton of 2.5 to 6 million members this doesn’t sound like a terrorist organization.

    • It most certainly is a Buddhist terrorist group.

      Asahara said he was the first enlightened one since the Buddha, and they were trying to get the Maitreya Buddha to come.

      It bears the same relationship to Buddhism as al-Qaeda does to Islam.

      As for the RSS, you hadn’t heard of it and you still don’t know anything serious about it.

  11. the comment about torture and ‘civilised countries’ is particularly rich, considering that’s what happened to Belhaj after he was captured and sent to a CIA rent-a-dungeon.

    by the way, did this ‘freedom-fighter’ denounce terror before or after he was sent to Libya?

  12. “Gee, it doesn’t sound to me as though NATO is the kind of grasping, occupying imperialist power it has been painted by opponents of the UN intervention.”


    Right you are – as you have been from the start of the debate over NATO’s decision to support the rebels. I’m not in blanket favor of military interventions, but this one was appropriate and the chosen tactics were reasonable, given the circumstances. Qadaffi’s departure will be a plus for the people of Libya – and the world. (Glen Greenwald and his amen chorus of naysayers, nothwitstanding.)

  13. “A NATO official has told Agence France Presse that it is the “firm view” of NATO member states that they reject the idea of sending any ground troops to Libya. And, they want the UN to authorize any extension of the no-fly zone.

    Gee, it doesn’t sound to me as though NATO is the kind of grasping, occupying imperialist power it has been painted by opponents of the UN intervention.”

    Since just a day earlier you commented that the TNC did not want any NATO troops in Libya, i don’t think that statement has any meaning, besides, we already have special forces on the ground.

    • It’s meaningless to you when western powers accede to the desires of a developing world ally and don’t work to expand their military presence in a resource-rich country?


      There’s a large difference between special forces troops and ground forces. Just looking at the numbers, we’re talking about the difference between a handful of people and thousands.

      But just as important is the difference is in what they do. Ground units actually fight the battles, seize the territory, and occupy the population centers. Special forces train formations of local fighters, and maybe stage raids or target air strikes.

      In short, the footprint they leave, in terms of their intrusion upon the lives of the general population and in terms of their control over the battle space, is a couple orders of magnitude smaller.

Comments are closed.