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Leaked UN and NATO Plans for Libya: Lessons for Iranians

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

03 Sep 2011 01:13Comments
TheOnionLibyaCrop.jpgWeek in Pictures photo and caption from The Onion.

Western intervention is seldom 'humanitarian.'

[ opinion ] The "liberation" of Libya is being celebrated by some Iranians in the diaspora as the dawn of a new era in which Iran will also be "liberated" soon with the help of foreign powers. Some are clearly advocating military intervention in Iran and have been doing so for years. Some are asking, "Why can we not be like the Libyans?" Others are justifying the horrific price that has been paid in terms of human casualties and economic damage as being "worth it" to get rid of Libya's dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, calling it a "humanitarian intervention" and claiming that the people of Libya are all in favor of it. The owner of an Iranian satellite television station in Los Angeles that has developed a fairly good reputation for the quality of its political programs was overheard by a friend saying, "We will ask the U.S. to unfreeze Iran's assets in the U.S. and give it to us to use it to topple the regime [in Tehran]."

A group of political activists and academics, among them some Iranians who have always claimed their unyielding support for the Green Movement, wrote a letter to President Obama applauding him for the U.S. intervention in Libya. An article posted on a website associated with the Iranian opposition National Front stated, "The invasion of Iran by the Allied forces in 1941 was bad, but it had one good result, and that was the removal of a dictator, Reza Shah, from power" -- implicitly advocating military attacks on Iran.

In its first statement after capturing the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebels' leadership group, promised that it would protect Western interests in Libya, while it pledged nothing specific to the country's own people. The question arises: Has the NTC come to power to develop democratic rule in Libya and protect, first and foremost, the interests of the Libyan people, or has it come to power with the help of bombing by NATO and Arab nations and Western military advisers to protect the West's interests? The NTC leaders have said that they intend to "reward" countries that were early to recognize the council as the legitimate representative of Libya, as well as those that were involved in the international military intervention to defeat Qaddafi's forces. They have offered such incentives as favorable oil contracts and other economic benefits.

I will not enter into a detailed examination here of the shady backgrounds of some of the NTC's most important figures, but just as an example, consider the following: Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar has reported that Abdel Hakim Belhadj, now the military commander of Tripoli, is a former al-Qaeda fighter. According to Escobar, Belhadj was trained in Afghanistan by a "very hardcore Islamist Libyan group," reportedly al-Jama al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi Libya -- known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, it was declared a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda. In the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA began tracking Belhadj, who was eventually captured in Malaysia in 2003. He was tortured in Bangkok and then transferred back to Libya and imprisoned until 2009. Another rebel leader, Abdel Hakim al-Hasidi (who is sometimes mistaken for Belhadj), has said that jihadists who fought in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Qaddafi's regime.

Call me old-fashioned. Call me a man with a Cold War-era mentality. But I believe in none of the "justifications" that have been offered for the NATO intervention in Libya. I have always been against such interventions, particularly when the United States and its allies are involved. The post-World War II era, not to mention the preceding era beginning in the late 19th century, is replete with too many such actions that ended up as nothing but naked aggression against the people of the countries for which the "help" -- they call it "humanitarian intervention" now -- was intended.

In addition, an "empirical correlation" with which I have been familiar ever since I became aware of politics tells me that when such people as Senator John "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" McCain support something so enthusiastically that they fly to rebel-controlled territory, and that when the Arab dictators of the Persian Gulf also support it to the extent that Qatar sends its air force to bomb Libya -- even as it backs the military intervention by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Bahrain to quell the uprising there for a more representative government -- something must be fundamentally wrong with what is being "sold" to the public.

There have been other occasions in which massacres of innocent and defenseless people occurred on a grand scale in which the United States and its allies either did not intervene at all -- if such interventions are justified under what their proponents call "extraordinary circumstances" -- or when they did, it was too late, simply because the United States and its allies were not prompted by any strategic interests to act in a timely fashion. The Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which 500,000 to one million people were murdered over a 100-day period, is one example. (These Human Rights Watch documents detail the full extent of the genocide.) French citizens played an active role in the Rwandan military, which was one of the main culprits behind the massacre of the Tutsis; Human Rights Watch reported on France's active support for the Rwandan regime:

Official deliveries of arms by the French government to other governments are regulated by well-defined rules, but in the case of Rwanda -- as in many others -- the rules were rarely followed. According to the National Assembly investigative commission, thirty-one of thirty-six deliveries of weapons to Rwanda during the years 1990 to 1994 were made "without following the rules."

A U.S. National Security Archive report noted five ways in which decisions made by the United States contributed to the slow international response to the genocide:

(i) The United States lobbied the U.N. for a total withdrawal of the forces that were operating the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in April 1994.

(ii) Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher did not authorize officials to use the term "genocide" until May 21, and even then, U.S. officials waited another three weeks before using the word in public.

(iii) Bureaucratic infighting hampered the U.S. response to the genocide.

(iv) The United States refused to jam extremist radio broadcasts inciting the killing, citing costs and concerns over international law.

(v) U.S. officials knew exactly who was directing the genocide and actually spoke with those leaders to urge an end to the violence, but did not follow up with concrete action.

Then President Bill Clinton claimed to have not fully understood the severity of the situation. I am certain that if, similar to Angola, Algeria, Nigeria, and Libya, Rwanda had major oil and natural gas resources, Bill Clinton would have understood the severity of the situation with a speed approaching that of light. In addition to Libya, just consider a few facts:

In the civil war in Angola, an oil-rich nation, not only did the United States materially support Jonas Savimbi, whose forces committed endless atrocities and murdered thousands, he was lionized by the American right.

In Algeria, another nation with significant oil and natural gas resources, the Islamic Salvation Front won democratic elections in 1991, but with direct U.S. and French support, Algeria's military annulled the vote. In response, the ISF took up arms and a civil war followed that lasted more than ten years and killed between 150,000 and 200,000 people.

And regarding Nigeria, the largest oil producer in Africa, just read this article in Vanity Fair.

We also had the Bosnian War of 1992-95 that killed at least 100,000 people, and in particular the Bosnian genocide of 1995 in the Srebrenica region in which 8,000 Muslims were killed and another 25-30,000 forcefully expelled from their homes. The United States and NATO -- which saw no strategic interest in getting involved -- intervened only when images of the massacre of innocent people provoked worldwide outrage. By then, thousands and thousands of people had already been killed by Serbian fascist forces. Call me anything you want. But I just do not see morality and true defense of human rights as the prime motivations for such interventions by the United States and its allies.

But let us, just for the sake of argument, accept at their face value the public justifications for the military intervention in Libya. In that case, I have major problems with two newly leaked documents concerning plans for Libya's future.

The first is a 70-page prospectus obtained by the Times of London that was drawn up by the NTC with NATO assistance. Foreseeing the "first months" after the fall of the Qaddafi regime, this blueprint for a post-Qaddafi Libya would retain much of the regime's security infrastructure. According to a description in the Australian,

The document includes proposals for a 10,000-15,000 strong "Tripoli task force", resourced and supported by the United Arab Emirates, to take over the Libyan capital, secure key sites and arrest high-level Gaddafi supporters.

It claims 800 serving Gaddafi government security officials have been recruited covertly to the rebel cause and are ready to form the "backbone" of a new security apparatus.

The blueprint contains plans for about 5000 police officers now serving in units not ideologically committed to the Gaddafi regime to be transferred immediately to the interim government's forces to prevent a security vacuum.

The plan also includes discussion of a new state radio network that will broadcast orders to the public to support the new government and warn anti-Qaddafi factions that have not supported the new regime to stand down. The assumption in the report is that these factions, termed a "fifth column," will also be arrested. The NTC confirmed the authenticity of the plan and expressed regret that it had been leaked.

Just try to imagine: The UAE has been penciled in as the "guardian of liberty" in Libya. The UAE, a nation ruled by corrupt Arab sheikhs whose citizens have never been given a chance to experience democracy. The UAE, whose Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed ibn Zayad al-Nahyan hired Erik Prince, founder and until last year sole owner of Blackwater Worldwide (now renamed Xe, referring to xenon and its position on the far right of the periodic table), whose mercenary forces committed terrible atrocities in Iraq. Prince and Blackwater were accused of wanting to eliminate all Muslims. And it is Prince who is now supposed to set up and train a special force for the UAE that, according to the New York Times, may be deployed to "liberate" the three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf -- the Greater and Lesser Tunb, and Abu Mousa -- over which the UAE has long claimed ownership. So this is how the NTC leaders are thinking.

Then there is a second leaked document that concerns Libya, which is in stark contrast to the first. It describes the United Nations' vision for the country's future and says in part, "The Security Council's 'protection of civilians' mandate implemented by NATO forces does not end with the fall of the Gaddafi government, and there, NATO would continue to have some responsibilities."

Perhaps Matthew Russell Lee, who publishes the Inner City Press website, which first posted the leaked document, put it best when he told Al Jazeera, "It's a very detailed plan, really spelling out [roles for] military observers, UN, police; it says things like NATO has an ongoing role and there's some things the UN can do without a mandate from the Security Council. So that's what seemed so extraordinary about [the report]. It doesn't set forward something like 'here's four different scenarios and let the Libyan people choose'; it very much says lines like 'we have developed principles for the transition in Libya.' And you have to ask yourself, on behalf of whom and to benefit whom [emphasis mine]?"

So the two leaked plans describe two visions for Libya: One drawn by NATO alone and the other by the U.N., in which the NATO members have a great say. The first envisions plans for the mass arrest of dissidents, while the second declares that there is an open-ended "mandate" for the "humanitarian" intervention to "protect the civilians." Call me old-fashioned. I simply do not believe this farce.

Even if we ignore the leaked plans and the bleak picture they paint for Libya, the fact is the jury is still out on this "humanitarian intervention." Ten years after its "liberation," Afghanistan is still soaked in blood. Eight years after Saddam Hussein's downfall, Iraq is still grappling with the aftermath of the invasion; not a week goes by without a bomb exploding somewhere and killing scores of innocent people.

Yes, Qaddafi was a terrible dictator, and all dictators eventually fall, but it will be a long time, if ever, before we again see some of the things that his regime did for the people of Libya: lowest rate of child mortality in all of Africa; loans to citizens at no interest; students paid the average salary of the profession for which they were studying; full salary for the unemployed; free apartment or house for newlyweds; college education anywhere in the world with monthly stipend plus accommodation and car allowance; automobiles sold at factory cost; absolutely no foreign creditors; free education and health care for all citizens; a population 25 percent of whom have university degrees; one of the highest rates of participation by women in social and economic affairs among all Arab states; and absolutely no homeless -- until, of course, the NATO bombing began. Never mind political freedom. If and when the NTC provides the same things to Libya's people, I will consider the "humanitarian intervention" a success. The point is that even if we naïvely and very optimistically accept everything that we have been told, Libya will not be stable for years to come and any positive thing that Qaddafi may have done for the country will be lost for that time.

So, what are the lessons for Iranians?

First and foremost is the lesson that if Iranians living in Iran, with support from Iranians living in the diaspora, do not take part in the struggle for a democratic political system and the rule of law, foreign powers that have wanted to control Iran for at least 200 years will exploit the situation and in the name of a "humanitarian intervention" will try to take that control.

Second, do not be deceived by all the deafening slogans and propaganda for the "humanitarian intervention" in Libya. There is nothing humanitarian about it.

Third, if you think that the war in Libya has been brutal, just think about what will happen in Iran if there is a "humanitarian intervention." A regime that is supported by about 20 percent of the population and is armed to the teeth can take advantage of Iran's vast territory and rugged landscape. Its military can wreck havoc in the region with its missiles and foreign proxies. And Iranians' sense of nationalism is extremely strong. The result will be a war of attrition that may last two decades, yielding widespread devastation and the loss of Iran's territorial integrity. If the illiterate people of the war-ravaged Afghanistan can pin down NATO forces for a decade, why does anyone think that the Islamic Republic cannot?

The road to the democratization of Iran passes through Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, the Alborz and Zagros Mountains, the central desert, and the forests of the north, not through Washington, London, and Paris.

This article was updated on September 4 at 4:20 a.m. IRDT.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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