Why Did We Really Bomb Libya?

Citing RAND Corporation political scientist Christopher S. Chivvis and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight, The National Interest‘s John Allen Gay asks “Did We Bomb Libya to Keep the Arab Spring Going?

In addition to the exaggerated humanitarian justifications for intervening in Libya’s civil war, Chivvis claims the Obama administration thought “that decisive support for the revolution would vividly demonstrate that the United States supported the uprisings across the region…Not acting in Libya, in other words, would put the United States on the wrong side of history, encourage other Arab leaders to choose violent repression over peaceful reform…” Gartenstein-Ross made the same point in his testimony last week. 

Gay correctly observes that this was tremendously naive on the part of the Obama administration. As we now know, and as Gay reminds us, the bombing campaign in Libya had numerous repercussions and unintended consequences, including destabilizing not just Libya but Egypt, Mali, Syria, Tunisia and beyond, bolstering al-Qaeda affiliated groups, and getting the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans killed, among other things.

If the Obama administration really thought encouraging the Arab Spring and discouraging authoritarian crackdowns would be beneficial to U.S. interests, they were wrong and overly confident in their ability to actually achieve those missions. Gay argues that maintaining the “status quo” order and “preserving our position should be our highest goal,” not encouraging revolution across an entire region of strategic importance. 

The error in this analysis is that it takes the Obama administration’s supposed motivations for intervening in Libya at face value. The Obama administration may have wanted to indicate their place on the “right side of history,”  – they may have intended to give this impression – but it is pretty clear they did not intend for it to actually work.

The Obama administration certainly did not encourage the protest movement in Egypt, where it continued to back Mubarak as he slaughtered more than 900 people in the streets, only calling for him to step down when that inevitability had already become obvious and then immediately backing Mubarak’s henchman, Omar Suleiman, who would not have been a democratic improvement but definitely would have been a loyal servant to Washington. Even throughout Egypt’s several transitions since Mubarak’s fall, the Obama administration has sent money and weapons to whatever regime was in power – and every regime has used force against protesters.

Similarly, the Obama administration has continued to lend support to the brutal Sunni monarchy in Bahrain, which has spent several years now trying to suffocate one of the most promising pro-democracy movements in the entire Arab Spring. Obama said nothing – and, I would think, likely gave approval – for Saudi Arabia to move troops into Bahrain and impose martial law to stave off the progress of the civilian opposition.

Across the Arab world – in Egypt, the Gulf states, Iraq, and even Syria – the administration has been clear about its position: revolutionary change that overthrows obedient dictators is worse than continuing to support those dictators. Libya wasn’t an exception to this rule; it was more likely a propaganda tool to counter the perception that the reality inspires.

Of all the countries experiencing apparently pro-democracy Arab Spring protest movements, Libya was one of the least strategically important. Unlike Syria which is more strategically located, far more urban and densely populated, and much more dangerous given its ethnic and religious cleavages, Libya was doable. A relatively limited intervention could be waged at relatively low cost and the pay off would not be to encourage region-wide democratic revolutions (which would undoubtedly end in those countries adopting policies contrary to Washington’s dominion) but to counter the perception in the Arab-Muslim world that the U.S. is the source of their misery and the prop of their authoritarian overlords.

In a way, I’m giving a bit more credit to the administration than Gay is. I find it unsurprising that they are incompetent. But stupid enough to genuinely want to encourage Arab Spring protest movements? I doubt it.

45 thoughts on “Why Did We Really Bomb Libya?”

  1. Excellent piece. I have read very little about the true motivations for our unjustifiable aggression against Libya. The lie spread at the time that we had to intervene because Qadhafi was about to level Benghazi due to anti-gov't protests never did pass the smell test (The ridiculous R2P doctrine). It's starting to look more and more like the US is doing Israel's bidding by keeping these Muslim countries in a constant state of war and turmoil. If they keep fighting and killing each other, isn't that all to Israel's benefit? But I do question Glaser's belief that the whole Obama admin. was "tremendously naïve" for thinking that bombing Libya to smithereens for its own good was a fine idea. Obama assumed office with no foreign policy creds, and, IMO, remains a lightweight. He may have been naïve, but to believe that his whole administration was doesn't pass the smell test either. There are much more sinister forces operating here.

  2. Like the bombing of what was left of Yugoslavia as part of the 'mission civilitrice' in Kosovo, there was enough 'surgery' involved in the strikes to ensure that anythging belonging to, of value that could later be exploited for the benefit of the US and its allies was, remarkably, omitted from the 'target list'. tthe old preeinciple of 'cui bono' highlights the real reasons for this stinkeroo.

    That it has yet to succeed, at any level, only points out the obvious dedication of ordinary Libyans to ensuring their nation isn't played for a patsy by the 'victors'.

  3. The motivation to overthrow Gaddafi was economic.

    In August of 2000, Saddam Hussein announced he was going to sell Iraq's oil for euros. In 2003, the first thing invading U.S. troops did was take over the Ministry of Oil and switch back to dollars. Even an article in the Economist mentioned this fact, but curiously buried it deep within a large article, and phrased it in a way designed to inoculate readers against its significance.

    Gaddafi was about to introduce a gold dinar.

    A tiny but powerful group of political and financial elite enjoy the exclusive privilege of creating dollars out of nothing and forcing the entire world to use them as money. They do this by requiring the use of dollars to buy natural resources and in general to participate in the global economy. The defense of this privilege explains much U.S. government foreign policy and belligerence. This explains not only why Iran is presented as a threat, but why Russia and China are the new big concerns.

    The role of the dollar as the world reserve currency is coming to an end, but the powers that be aren't letting it happen without a fight.

  4. Gaddafi's "crime" was attempting to help Africa evade the clutches of the IMF and Western corporations.

    "… the UN no-fly resolution 1973 of March 17 followed shortly on Gaddafi’s public threat of March 2 to throw western oil companies out of Libya, and his invitation on March 14 to Chinese, Russian, and Indian firms to produce Libyan oil in their place.
    Significantly China, Russia, and India (joined by their BRICS ally Brazil), all abstained on UN Resolution 1973.

    … If Qaddafi were to succeed in creating an African Union backed by Libya’s currency and gold reserves, France, still the predominant economic power in most of its former Central African colonies, would be the chief loser. …
    Obama moved swiftly to support French plans to frustrate Gaddafi’s African initiative with his unilateral declaration of a national emergency in order to freeze [steal] all of the Bank of Libya’s $30 billion of funds to which America had access.

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  6. Of course the throusands of deaths of Libyans caused by NATO bombing of civilians, civilian infrastructure and a Libyan Army valiently fighting to protect their country from Al Qaeda and the further thousands of the deaths in the chaos that followed damnably go unmentioned in this piece and the discussion that follows. Most of the talk here is about money and power. Who do you people think you are?

    1. The topic is 'Why did the US/EU attack Libya?'
      The underlying reason for the discussion is to examine whether that attack was a war crime from the get-go.
      The arguments/evidence here presented support that it was indeed a war crime motivated for "money and power".

      The sanctimonious contention that presenting such arguments equates to insufficient concern about the horrors of the crime is way off base.

  7. Ehud Barack Obama lied about Libya just as George Warmonger Bush and Tony Blair Witch Project lied about Iraq. There was no genocide going on in Libya. There were neither any "WMD's in Iraq nor any involvement in 9/11.

  8. USG hand in hand with the Swedish, French, the Italian and the English Neo mafia bombed Libya because Saudis had asked them to do so, the demanded by wanting to stop Gaddafi social economic and political influence in Africa, they bombed Libya because they want for Saudis-Wahhabis jihadist to keep wars here and there for African nations yo be engaged in wars were the western Neo colonialism can retake their colonials. Swedish government is even involved in Sudan, Somalia and other rich in natural resources promising them a heaven in Sweden while stealing their natural resources, the foreign minister of Sweden Carl Bildt and his engagement in oil business can testify to that. Over 6 million Congolese are killed since 1960 where Belgium, French, USG and England been stealing Congo's natural resources and you still want for people to believe that they bombed Libya for democracy, you either ignorant or don't know the African history.

    1. yes I know but one always hopes for something new. Was intervention in Bosnia and Kosova not humanitarian either then? And you don't say what the truth about Libya is. If you know, please tell us

  9. The USA, having suffered a coup by the Bilderberg/CFR cartels has become a warmonger. You may Google "General Wesley Clark" comments to hear of yet more plans of aggression

  10. if the news media would tell the truth to the public no more wars but if they did they would be out of business that's why . western governments are very crooked .and the public just goes along with it. that was to steal gold and save the us dollar and do away with a country Israel wanted to harm

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