‘Humanitarian intervention’ in Libya—on the ethics of the new American president


On the eve of the NATO air operation in Libya in 2011 I was invited by BNR radio station to debate it with Frits Huffnagel, a rightwing liberal celebrity and former alderman of Amsterdam. The issue was, intervene or not. My concern that we did not have that right to begin with, that after Iraq some reticence was in order, etc., was waved away by Huffnagel who did not provide arguments but kept bellowing, ‘Ah, come on now’, ‘What nonsense’, and so on. Shouldn’t Gaddafi simply be removed? 


Meanwhile we know how it all ended and because Hillary Clinton, thanks to the Trump candidacy, will probably be the next US president (and mind you, the debate will only be about the fact she is a woman, because we don’t talk about politics any longer), her e-mails concerning Libya remain important. 

Now to bring down Gaddafi was first of all a French (and British) enterprise, but it was Hillary who flew to Libya early October 2011 with the message to capture the dictator at short notice. And when that had happened on the 21st thanks to NATO intelligence and Gaddafi had been lynched, she made her staff roar with laughter with the words ‘we came, we saw, he died’ (paraphrasing Caesar’s ‘I came, I saw, I vanquished’).

What did she really know at the time?

Right from the start Clinton’s acquaintance Sidney Blumenthal kept her informed on Sarkozy’s plans on the basis of intelligence from a CIA agent, Tyler Drumheller, who had left the service in 2005 in protest over the way Bush Jr had abused the CIA to justify the invasion of Iraq.

On 20 March 2011 Hillary learned that Sarkozy was preparing an operation in Libya to restore French military prestige after the refusal of his predecessor, Chirac, to participate in the invasion of Iraq. The French intelligence service, DGSE, helped to set up a national council in Benghazi consisting of former Gaddafi ministers, in exchange for assurances that French companies would be welcome after regime change. There is literally a reference in the e-mail to a share of 35% of Libyan oil to which French companies would be entitled.

From the start it was clear that al Qaida elements were part of the uprising (so this was known to Clinton already in April 2011). French, British and Egyptian instructors were busy at the time training the rebels militarily and Blumenthal reports that weapons are streaming into the country. From the e-mails it also transpires that even then different groups within the uprising were fighting each other. In May, French representatives of Total, the construction conglomerate Vinci, Airbus, and the arms company, Thalys, yet flew to Libya to discuss contracts.

The arrival of the business representatives had been prepared by Bernard-Henri Lévy, the 1970s ‘new philosopher’ who had become a media celebrity as ‘BHL’ and who in every intervention since provides the ‘humanitarian narrative’. On 22 April he already flew to Benghazi as a personal emissary of Sarkozy to ensure preferential treatment of French companies.

In the meantime Cameron was making the case for contracts for BP as he feared that Sarkozy would run off with the loot. However, when a new government had been formed in Tripoli it turned out that the oil minister in that cabinet was a confidant of the Italian ENI and now real discord emerged. Therefore the French proposed to cut up Libya into autonomous areas and thus secure their share.

On the other hand, when a delegation of the International Criminal Court asked for extradition of the Gaddafi’s, they were told in strict confidentiality that the counter-government assumed that Colonel Gaddafi would be captured by militias and in that case, executed on the spot. Good news, because before a tribunal Gaddafi might be able to tell a lot that would not be very welcome in the West.

Thus the woman who in all probability will be the next American president in the spring of 2011 already knew that France and later, Britain, were after commercial gain arising from a regime change; that jihadists were part of the uprising from the start; that when internal discord led to a renewed access for Italian companies to the new authorities, France banked on the break-up of the country. Also she knew early on that Gaddafi would never be extradited but was slated to be killed on the spot, and early October she herself flew to Libya to insist that this would be done quickly.

In the meantime the media were making sure that the public only heard the humanitary story of business traveller BHL and his colleagues. About the real interests at stake—in the US case, in addition, Gaddafi’s successful resistance to an American military command for Africa (AfriCom), his plans for a gold dinar, and the large sums he had invested via Goldman Sachs but which had evaporated due to the crisis—Hillary of course did not have to learn via her e-mail, those were items on the agenda of her own State Department.

But that for the Europeans too, it was all about political and material gain, she also knew. So much for the ethics of the new American president.

Kees van der Pijl

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