The Coalition of the Willing had come to Libya to spare civilians from Gaddafi’s murderous madness. Four months later, the Libyan crowds have deserted “Liberated Benghazi” and are staging gigantic anti-NATO demonstrations. Confronted with an unexpected political reality, the Atlantic armada has been left without a strategy. The Italians have started to pull out while the French are seeking an exit.
111 days after the beginning of the intervention in Libya, no military solution is in sight and there is a consensus among experts that time is on the Libyan government’s side, barring a fluke or the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.
On July 7th, the Italian cabinet halved their country’s involvement in the war effort and withdrew its helicopter-carrier. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared he had always been against the conflict, but was compelled by Parliament to participate.
On July 10th, French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet referred to a political solution that would involve Gaddafi’s removal to “another room of his palace with another title.” Considering there is no palace left, the first condition is purely rhetorical; as for the second, nobody can make heads or tails of it and it was probably a pathetic way out.
The political and social structures in Libya stem from the authoctonous culture and are beyond the compehension of many Westerners. They are composed of a one-chamber system of participative democracy – which is particularly effective at the local level – in conjunction with a tribal forum, which is devoid of any legislative power but serves to integrate clan solidarities into political life. To this structure must be added “Leader” figure who exerts no legal power, only moral authority. No one is compelled to obey him, but the majority of the people do, just as they would spontaneously obey a senior member of their own family. On the whole, the political system runs smoothly and people display no fear of the police, except on occasions such as a coup attempt or the Abou Salim prison riot, both of which were violently repressed.
Such clarifications ought to shed light on the preposterous character of the war objectives set forth by the Coalition of the Willing.
Officially, the intervention of the Coalition was carried out in compliance with a Security Council decision to protect civilian victims from a massive crackdown. However, at present, the Libyan people are convinced that such a crackdown never took place and that the Libyan air force never attacked any residential area either in Benghazi or in Tripoli. That portion of the population who believed at first the information relayed through international television networks now thinks very differently. In the meantime, people have had the chance to obtain direct testimonies from family and friends scattered throughout the country and have reached the conclusion that it was all a disinformation campaign.
On this and other issues, world opinion is divided between those who believe the US version and those who do not. As far as I am concerned, I currently reside in a Tripoli neighborhood reputed for its hostility towards Gaddafi, which allegedly revolted against him and was bombarded by the national air force at the beginning of the conflict. I am in a position to attest that there is absolutely no evidence of such events … except for a charred vehicle. The only signs of any bombings concern government buildings which were destroyed by NATO missiles at a later stage.
Be that as it may, the principal NATO leaders have openly evoked another aim of this war, which certain members of the Coalition appear reluctant to endorse: Col. Gaddafi’s resignation, a euphemism for “regime change”. This has opened the door to a realm of confusion. On one hand, such a requirement has no legal foundation under the relevant UN resolutions nor is it in any way linked to the declared objective of protecting civilian populations. On the other hand, Col. Gaddafi’s resignation is neither here nor there since he does not exercise an institutional function, but only a moral authority derived from the social, and not political, structures. Finally, by what right are NATO members standing in the way of a democratic process and pretend to decide for the Libyan people that one of its leaders must be removed?
This confusion in fact reveals that the war is driven by unavowed motives which are not shared by all the members of the Coalition of the Willing.
The principle of simultaneously attacking Libya and Syria was rubberstamped by the US Government in the week that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. It was publicly announced for the first time by John Bolton, then Under-Secretary of State, in his 6 May 2002 speech entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil”. It was also subsequently confirmed by General Wesley Clark during a famous television interview on 2 March 2007, during which the former NATO chief presented the list of countries slated for successive US attacks over the coming years.
Within the framework of their strategy for “Remodeling the Greater Middle East”, the Straussians  had planned to start by attacking Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, then to extend the remodeling process to the Levant and North Africa by attacking Libya, Syria and Lebanon and, in the third stage, to take on Somalia and Sudan with a view to remodeling East Africa.
The attack against Iran having been deferred for obvious military considerations, they fast-forwarded to the second stage irrespective of the events in Benghazi, whether real or imaginary. The Coalition of the Willing is bogged down in an adventure that it did not want and which escapes its control.
The US strategy, put on track by France and the United Kingdom – again partners like in the good old days of the Suez expedition –, rests on a particularly acute analysis of the Libyan tribal system. Knowing that the members of certain tribes – particularly the Warfalla – had been barred from occupying high-ranking positions ever since the aborted coup of 1993, NATO was to fuel their frustrations, arm and use them as a lever to overthrow the regime and put in place a pro-western government. According to Silvio Berlusconi, during a meeting of allied members held on 19 March, Messrs. Sarkozy and Cameron allegedly stated that “the war would come to an end when, as was anticipated, the Tripoli population would rise up against the current regime”.
This strategy reached its zenith on 27 April when 61 tribal chiefs launched an appeal in favor of the National Transitional Council. It should be noted that already then it was no longer of question of massacres actually attributed to the “regime”, both in Beghazi and Tripoli, but of its intention to perpetrate them. The cosigners of the appeal thanked France and the European Union for having prevented a carnage foretold, not for having halted one in the making.
Since the appeal, in a continuous and uninterrupted manner, the tribes in the opposition have rallied around the government of Tripoli and their respective chiefs have vowed allegiance to Muammar Gaddafi in public. In reality, this process had already started much earlier and was showcased on 8 March when all the tribal chiefs went to pay tribute to the Libyan leader at the Hotel Rixos, in the midst of western journalists transformed into human shields and dumbfounded by this new provocation.
This situation can easily be explained : Gaddafi’s internal opposition had no motive for overthrowing the regime before the Benghazi incidents. The 27 April appeal was based on information that the authors now realize was tainted. As a result, each of them has joined the government in the struggle against foreign aggression. According to the Islamic culture, those rebels who demonstrated their sincerity were automatically pardoned and incorporated in the national forces.
For the purposes of this analysis, it makes no difference whether the repressive methods attributed to the Gaddafi regime is a historical fact or a fabrication of western propaganda. What matters is to know what is the stance of the Libyans as a soverign people at present.
At this point, a reminder about the balance of political power is called for. The National Transitional Council (NTC) has been incapable of constituting a social base. Its provisional capital Benghazi used to be a city of 800 000 inhabitants. In February, hundreds of thousands turned out to celebrate its creation. Today, the “city liberated by the rebels” and “protected by NATO” is virtually a lifeless agglomeration with barely 15 000 inhabitants left, most of whom are people who don’t have the means to leave. The Benghazis did not flee the fighting; they fled from the new regime.
On the contrary, the “Gaddafi regime” was capable of mobilizing 1.7 million people for a rally in Tripoli on 1 July and has recently pledged to get involved in the organization of regional demonstrations every Friday. Last week, more than 400 000 rallied in Sabha (in the South) and a similar crowd was expected to gather in Az Yawiyah (in the West). It should be noted that these demonstrations are staged against NATO which has so far killed more than one thousand of their compatriots, destroyed the country’s non-oil infrastructures and stopped all supplies through a naval blockade. They center around the support for Gaddafi as an anti-colonialist leader, but don’t necessarily signify a retroactive approval of all his policies.
In the final analysis, the Libyan people have pronounced themselves. For them, NATO did not come to protect them but to conquer their country. It is Gaddafi who protects them against Western aggression.
Under the circumstances, NATO is devoid of a strategy. Not even a “Plan B”. Nothing. NTC defections are so massive that, according to most experts, the number of “rebel forces” has dropped to between 800 and 1 000 combatants, armed to the teeth by NATO, but incapable of playing a significant role in the absence of popular support. It is very likely that there are more NATO Special Forces commandos on the ground than the number of Libyan combatants they are supposed to oversee.
The Italian retreat and the declarations of the French Defense Minister are not surprising. In spite of its military fire power without precedent in History, the NATO armada has lost this war. Not on the military level of course, but because it forgot that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” and that it was off the mark politically. The shrieks from Washington, which readily reprimanded the French minister who refuses to lose face, will not make the slightest difference.