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Glenn Greenwald explains why we're in Libya (and not Bahrain or Syria)

When the war in Libya began, the U.S. government convinced a large number of war supporters that we were there to achieve the very limited goal of creating a no-fly zone in Benghazi to protect civilians from air attacks, while President Obama specifically vowed that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”  This no-fly zone was created in the first week, yet now, almost three months later, the war drags on without any end in sight, and NATO is no longer even hiding what has long been obvious: that its real goal is exactly the one Obama vowed would not be pursued — regime change through the use of military force.  We’re in Libya to forcibly remove Gaddafi from power and replace him with a regime that we like better, i.e., one that is more accommodating to the interests of the West.  That’s not even a debatable proposition at this point.

What I suppose is debatable, in the most generous sense of that term, is our motive in doing this.  Why — at a time when American political leaders feel compelled to advocate politically radioactive budget cuts to reduce the deficit and when polls show Americans solidly and increasingly opposed to the war — would the U.S. Government continue to spend huge sums of money to fight this war?  Why is President Obama willing to endure self-evidently valid accusations — even from his own Party — that he’s fighting an illegal war by brazenly flouting the requirements for Congressional approval?  Why would Defense Secretary Gates risk fissures by so angrily and publicly chiding NATO allies for failing to build more Freedom Bombs to devote to the war?  And why would we, to use the President’s phrase, “stand idly by” while numerous other regimes — including our close allies in Bahrain and Yemen and the one in Syria — engage in attacks on their own people at least as heinous as those threatened by Gaddafi, yet be so devoted to targeting the Libyan leader?

Whatever the answers to those mysteries, no responsible or Serious person, by definition, would suggest that any of this  — from today’s Washington Post — has anything to do with it:

The relationship between Gaddafi and the U.S. oil industry as a whole was odd. In 2004, President George W. Bush unexpectedly lifted economic sanctions on Libya in return for its renunciation of nuclear weapons and terrorism. There was a burst of optimism among American oil executives eager to return to the Libyan oil fields they had been forced to abandon two decades earlier… .

Yet even before armed conflict drove the U.S. companies out of Libya this year, their relations with Gaddafi had soured. The Libyan leader demanded tough contract terms. He sought big bonus payments up front. Moreover, upset that he was not getting more U.S. government respect and recognition for his earlier concessions, he pressured the oil companies to influence U.S. policies… .

When Gaddafi made his deal with Bush in 2004, he had hoped that returning foreign oil companies would help boost Libya’s output … The U.S. government also encouraged American oil companies to go back to Libya… .

The companies needed little encouragement. Libya has some of the biggest and most proven oil reserves — 43.6 billion barrels — outside Saudi Arabia, and some of the best drilling prospects… . Throughout this time, oil prices kept rising, whetting the appetite for greater supplies of Libya’s unusually “sweet” and “light,” or high-quality, crude oil.

By the time Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited in 2008, U.S. joint ventures accounted for 510,000 of Libya’s 1.7 million barrels a day of production, a State Department cable said… .

But all was not well. By November 2007, a State Department cable noted “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism.” It noted that in his 2006 speech marking the founding of his regime, Gaddafi said: “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.” His son made similar remarks in 2007.

Oil companies had been forced to give their local subsidiaries Libyan names, the cable said… .

The entire article is worth reading, as it details how Gaddafi has progressively impeded the interests of U.S. and Western oil companies by demanding a greater share of profits and other concessions, to the point where some of those corporations were deciding that it may no longer be profitable or worthwhile to drill for oil there.  But now, in a pure coincidence, there is hope on the horizon for these Western oil companies, thanks to the warprofoundly humanitarian action being waged by the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner and his nation’s closest Western allies:

But Libya’s oil production has foundered, sagging to about 1.5 million barrels a day by early this year before unrest broke out. The big oil companies, several of which had drilled dry holes, felt that Libya was not making the best exploration prospects available. One major company privately said that it was on the verge of a discovery but that unrest cut short the project.

With the country torn by fighting, the big international oil companies are treading carefully, unwilling to throw their lot behind Gaddafi or the rebel coalition.

Yet when representatives of the rebel coalition in Benghazi spoke to the U.S.-Libya Business Council in Washington four weeks ago, representatives from ConocoPhillips and other oil firms attended, according to Richard Mintz, a public relations expert at the Harbour Group, which represents the Benghazi coalition. In another meeting in Washington, Ali Tarhouni, the lead economic policymaker in Benghazi, said oil contracts would be honored, Mintz said.

"Now you can figure out who’s going to win, and the name is not Gaddafi," Saleri said. Certain things about the mosaic are taking shape. The Western companies are positioning themselves.”

"Five years from now," he added, "Libyan production is going to be higher than right now and investments are going to come in.”

I have two points to make about all this:

(1) The reason — the only reason — we know about any of this is because WikiLeaks (and, allegedly, Bradley Manning) disclosed to the world the diplomatic cables which detail these conflicts.  Virtually the entirety of thePost article — like most significant revelations over the last 12 months, especially in the Middle East and North Africa — are based exclusively on WikiLeaks disclosures.  That’s why we know about Gaddafi’s increasingly strident demands for the “Libyanization” of his country’s resource exploitation.  That’s how we know about most of the things we’ve learned about the world’s most powerful political and corporate factions over the last 12 months.  Is there anything easier to understand than why U.S. Government officials are so eager to punish WikiLeaks and deter future transparency projects of this sort?

(2) Is there anyone — anywhere — who actually believes that these aren’t the driving considerations in why we’re waging this war in Libya?  After almost three months of fighting and bombing — when we’re so far from the original justifications and commitments that they’re barely a distant memory — is there anyone who still believes that humanitarian concerns are what brought us and other Western powers to the war in Libya?  Is there anything more obvious — as the world’s oil supplies rapidly diminish — than the fact that our prime objective is to remove Gaddafi and install a regime that is a far more reliable servant to Western oil interests, and thatprotecting civilians was the justifying pretext for this war, not the purpose?  If (as is quite possible) the new regime turns out to be as oppressive as Gaddafi but far more subservient to Western corporations (like, say, our good Saudi friends), does anyone think we’re going to care in the slightest or (at most) do anything other than pay occasional lip service to protesting it?  Does anyone think we’re going to care about The Libyan People if they’re being oppressed or brutalized by a reliably pro-Western successor to Gaddafi?

My favorite thing about Greenwald is how he makes a point that for many is obvious, and meticulously explains the details. Of course we didn’t go into Libya for purely humanitarian purposes: our passion for an oppressed people only lasts as long as they look like they can turn a profit.

Filed under libya glenn greenwald imperialism selective intervention

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The Illegal War in Libya- Greenwald

"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation" —candidate Barack Obama, December, 2007

"No more ignoring the law when it’s inconvenient. That is not who we are… . We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers" — candidate Barack Obama, August 1, 2007

When President Obama ordered the U.S. military to wage war in Libya without Congressional approval (even though, to use his words, it did “not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation”), the administration and its defenders claimed he had legal authority to do so for two reasons: (1) the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR) authorizes the President to wage war for 60 days without Congress, and (2) the “time-limited, well defined and discrete” nature of the mission meant that it was not really a “war” under the Constitution (Deputy NSA Adviser Ben Rhodes and the Obama OLC).  Those claims were specious from the start, but are unquestionably inapplicable now.

From the start, the WPR provided no such authority.  Section 1541(c) explicitly states that the war-making rights conferred by the statute apply only to “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”  That’s why Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman — in an article in Foreign Policy entitled “Obama’s Unconstitutional War” — wrote when the war started that the “The War Powers Resolution doesn’t authorize a single day of Libyan bombing” and that “in taking the country into a war with Libya, Barack Obama’s administration is breaking new ground in its construction of an imperial presidency.”  

Ackerman detailed why Obama’s sweeping claims of war powers exceeded that even of past controversial precedents, such as Clinton’s 1999 bombing of Kosovo, which at least had the excuse that Congress authorized funding for it: “but Obama can’t even take advantage of this same desperate expedient, since Congress has appropriated no funds for the Libyan war.”  The Nation's John Nichols explained that Obama’s unilateral decision “was a violation of the provision in the founding document that requires the executive to attain authorization from Congress before launching military adventures abroad.”  Put simply, as Daniel Larison concluded in an excellent analysis last week, ”the war was illegal from the start.”

But even for those who chose to cling to the fiction that the presidential war in Libya was authorized by the WPR, that fiction is now coming to a crashing end.  Friday will mark the 60th day of the war without Congress, and there are no plans for authorization to be provided.  By all appearances, the White House isn’t even bothering to pretend to seek one.  A handful of GOP Senators — ones who of course showed no interest whatsoever during the Bush years in demanding presidential adherence to the law — are now demanding a vote on Libya, but it’s highly likely that the Democrats who control the Senate won’t allow one.  Instead, the law will simply be ignored by the President who declared, when bashing George Bush on the campaign trail to throngs of cheering progressives: “No more ignoring the law when it’s inconvenient. That is not who we are.”

Obama is really passionate about going through the proper channels to enact change when the issues are progressive in nature, but in order to defend his expansive executive power he’s willing to completely ignore the law and the constitution.  He’s desperate to try to justify this clear violation of the law, and his “legal team is now trying to come up with a plausible theory for why continued participation by the United States does not violate the law”. The justifications are laughable- they include pretending that NATO rather than the US is responsible for the war (despite the fact that it’s US personnel, money, drones, bombs and planes being used), as well as a temporary end to the bombing, only to resume it the next day and pretend that ‘resets’ the 60-day clock (that isn’t even justified since Libya did not attack America). This is a more severe circumvention of the rule of law than Bush’s attack on Iraq, but the left is largely giving Obama a pass because he’s on team “blue”.

Filed under libya obama law war Executive Power

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If we begin at the eastern border of Libya with Egypt this morning and move west, we find the country is now divided in two, with the east largely in the hands of dissidents and the West still under the thumb of Qaddafi’s security forces. The border with Egypt is in the hands of the Youth Movement, and the Egyptian government at the Bedouin village of Sallum (pop. 14,000) is allowing the border to remain open, permitting supplies and medicine to flow into the eastern cities. This Egyptian policy is tacit support for the revolt.
Then Tobruk is in dissident hands, with what soldiers there are having joined the revolt and now directing traffic and keeping order for the new, civic leadership. Tobruk, a city of 300,000 (about 5% of Libya’s population), is the last major stop in the east on the way to the Egyptian border.

Juan Cole, Informed Comment: 30% of Libya in Hands of Youth Movement
It’s incredible to think that people opposing a militarized dictator in possession of modern weaponry and war machines can be so effective without violence. Inspiring, to say the least.

If we begin at the eastern border of Libya with Egypt this morning and move west, we find the country is now divided in two, with the east largely in the hands of dissidents and the West still under the thumb of Qaddafi’s security forces. The border with Egypt is in the hands of the Youth Movement, and the Egyptian government at the Bedouin village of Sallum (pop. 14,000) is allowing the border to remain open, permitting supplies and medicine to flow into the eastern cities. This Egyptian policy is tacit support for the revolt.

Then Tobruk is in dissident hands, with what soldiers there are having joined the revolt and now directing traffic and keeping order for the new, civic leadership. Tobruk, a city of 300,000 (about 5% of Libya’s population), is the last major stop in the east on the way to the Egyptian border.

Juan Cole, Informed Comment: 30% of Libya in Hands of Youth Movement

It’s incredible to think that people opposing a militarized dictator in possession of modern weaponry and war machines can be so effective without violence. Inspiring, to say the least.

Filed under libya