Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 2, 2011

William Blum’s follies

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

William Blum

As they resemble in many ways most of the people who supported Obama against McCain in 2008, today’s defenders of Qaddafi seem well-meaning if ill-advised. I can understand why they would consider him a lesser evil when matched against what they see as a diabolical cabal consisting of Al-Qaida operatives backed by NATO who are interested in nothing except surrendering Libya’s oil to foreign multinationals. Whether or not this is exactly what Libya is facing is not so important. Once you enter into “lesser evil” territory, there is a driving necessity to make the “greater evil” look as bad as possible as anybody who watches MSNBC from 6 to 11 each evening can attest.

And just like Obama was turned into something he really wasn’t in 2008—a knight in shining armor—there is the same compulsion to depict Qaddafi as a heroic anti-imperialist in the style of Castro at the Bay of Pigs. To do this successfully, you need to cherry-pick your facts. I first heard the term cherry-picking in the run-up to the war in Iraq and always get a chuckle out of it.

My father had a fruit store when I was growing up and I would often see old Jewish men and women standing at the cherry bin spending sometimes up to five minutes picking out the “good” cherries. My father would always glare at them but never said a word. Too bad Harvey Pekar wasn’t around to open up his mouth.

Thinking about it a bit more, I would have to say that more than cherry-picking was involved. Since it was so difficult to find “anti-imperialist” credentials for a dictator who in recent years was pals with Berlusconi and kept a photo album of Condoleezza Rice in his bedroom that might remind you of the kind that a thirteen year girl kept of Justin Bieber, you sort of had to—how should I put this—make things up.

When the person making things up is William Blum, you really get a sense of regret. Here is someone whose reputation rests on a couple of excellent books on American foreign policy that match up well to anything that Chomsky ever wrote.Why he would jettison his journalistic standards to make Qaddafi something that he wasn’t is a mystery to me except that I understand how the herd mentality operates. As a member of the SWP for 11 years, I have seen peer pressure in action. Challenging the myth of Qaddafi as anti-imperialist is likely to earn you the reputation of NATO supporter, as I have learned. In my case, however, I could give less of shit what other people think of me. After 11 years of currying favor with the leadership of a sect, I am much more inclined to let the chips fall where they may nowadays.

Yesterday I got Blum’s latest Anti-Empire Report that can be read here. It contains an article titled “Libya and the world we live in” that makes some useful points about imperialist perfidy, but careens off the tracks in a series of bullet points that seek to turn Qaddafi into Washington’s worst nightmare. This version of Qaddafi can only be drawn by ignoring 5 years of newspaper reports that any serious journalist had to come to terms with. As I have told Blum in private email, you cannot take the notion of Qaddafi as anti-imperialist figure seriously when there are literally dozens of articles like this:

The Washington Post
January 3, 2008 Thursday

Libya Officially Welcomed Back To the U.S. Fold;

Foreign Minister to Meet Rice Today

By Robin Wright; Washington Post Staff Writer

Abdel-Rahman Shalqam and his wife received a personal tour of the White House, an official escort on Capitol Hill and a luncheon with executives from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Occidental Petroleum and Raytheon, as well as the U.S. trade representative’s office.

So began the official redemption of Libya yesterday, as the foreign minister of a country once equated with “barbarism” became that nation’s highest ranking official to visit Washington in 35 years.

Shalqam continues meetings today with the secretaries of state, homeland security and energy, as well as the deputy secretary of defense, about ways to deepen ties between Washington and Tripoli, according to both U.S. and Libyan officials. At lunch yesterday, he virtually gushed about the importance of Libyan students getting an American education and U.S. companies doing business in Libya.

Instead of accepting this version of Qaddafi, Blum prefers to invent a version based on half-truths and—more depressingly—falsification. Let me take up his points one by one.

1. Gaddafi’s plans to conduct Libya’s trading in Africa in raw materials and oil in a new currency — the gold African dinar, a change that could have delivered a serious blow to the US’s dominant position in the world economy. (In 2000, Saddam Hussein announced Iraqi oil would be traded in euros, not dollars; sanctions and an invasion followed.) For further discussion see here.

I find such explanations far-fetched and have to cringe at Blum’s link to back up this claim. It leads you to Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s newspaper. In case you weren’t aware of it, Qaddafi loaned the Nation $3 million in 1971. He tried to bribe African strong men over four decades, so this sop to the Black Muslims is par for the course.

The Final Call article states that the switch to the dinar would “finally swing the global economic pendulum” and break Western domination over Africa. The source of this quote is Gerald Perreira, who was interviewed in BayView, a Black newspaper based in San Francisco.  The BayView described him as having served in “the Green March, an international battalion for the defense of the Libyan revolution” and as an executive member of the World Mathaba based in Tripoli. An unimpeachably objective source, to be sure.

2. A host-country site for Africom, the US Africa Command, one of six regional commands the Pentagon has divided the world into. Many African countries approached to be the host have declined, at times in relatively strong terms. Africom at present is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. According to a State Department official: “We’ve got a big image problem down there. … Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the US. They just don’t trust the US.”5

Even after tipping Blum off that the business about AFRICOM was nonsense, he continues to stand by it. My article detailing AFRICOM’s chummy relationship with the Libyan military brass is here.

3. An American military base to replace the one closed down by Gaddafi after he took power in 1969. There’s only one such base in Africa, in Djibouti. Watch for one in Libya sometime after the dust has settled. It’ll perhaps be situated close to the American oil wells. Or perhaps the people of Libya will be given a choice — an American base or a NATO base. Another example of NATO desperate to find a raison d’être for its existence since the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact.

Blum doesn’t even bother to mention the fact that the TNC, whatever its other faults, has rejected such bases.

4. Gaddafi’s role in creating the African Union. The corporate bosses never like it when their wage slaves set up a union. The Libyan leader has also supported a United States of Africa for he knows that an Africa of 54 independent states will continue to be picked off one by one and abused and exploited by the members of the Triumvirate. Gaddafi has moreover demanded greater power for smaller countries in the United Nations.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this one. African Union troops have turned one country or another into a living hell since its inception. The Party of Liberation and Socialism, whose views on Libya are as diametrically opposed to mine as is imaginable, described the role of AU troops (AMISOM) in Somalia:

After duly plunging the country back into war, the United States and European Union have gone to great lengths to support increases in AMISOM forces and provide money, weapons and training to TFG troops. A recent report by The Nation details substantial CIA operations in Somalia, where it runs a secret prison and trains a secret police.

In fact, if Blum did a little bit of digging, he would still have discovered that AFRICOM, his bogeyman, and AMISOM worked closely together:

U.S.-European imperialists initiate joint military exercises

November 4, 2010

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Nov 3, 2010

A 10-day joint military exercise involving the European Union, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the African Union headquarters based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was recently uncovered in a series of press releases from the Pentagon and other sources. Labeled “Amani Africa,” the operation brought together the combined forces of the EU, the Pentagon and 120 African military components.

Ostensibly designed to enhance the military and security capacity of the 53-member African Union states, the fact that both the EU and the Pentagon were heavily involved in this process raises questions about the role of the leading imperialist states in usurping and misdirecting African political and military policy on the continent. The joint exercises culminated on Oct. 29 with a VIP ceremony in the U.S.-backed state of Ethiopia.

According to African Union Commission Chair Jean Ping of Gabon, “The command post exercise is the culmination of two years of engagement and partnership throughout the Amani Africa cycle of preparations and activities, designed to both contribute toward and validate the operational readiness of the African Standby Force. The ASF therefore lies at the very core of the efforts of the African Union to take ownership of and lead in matters related to peace, security and development in Africa.” (U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, Oct. 27)

5. The claim by Gaddafi’s son, Saif el Islam, that Libya had helped to fund Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign6 could have humiliated the French president and explain his obsessiveness and haste in wanting to be seen as playing the major role in implementing the “no fly zone” and other measures against Gaddafi.

This is too silly to bother refuting.

6. Gaddafi has been an outstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause and critic of Israeli policies; and on occasion has taken other African and Arab countries, as well as the West, to task for their not matching his policies or rhetoric; one more reason for his lack of popularity amongst world leaders of all stripes.

I really have to wonder about Blum’s state of mind on this one. Either he is not aware that Qaddafi tried to expel all Palestinians from Libya or is aware of it and decided that it didn’t matter. For those of you who are not aware of this blemish on Qaddafi’s reputation—one among millions—read this.

7. In January, 2009, Gaddafi made known that he was considering nationalizing the foreign oil companies in Libya.7

I dealt with Qaddafi’s “resource nationalism” here.

8. The American Empire is troubled by any threat to its hegemony. In the present historical period the empire is concerned mainly with Russia and China. China has extensive energy investments and construction investments in Libya and elsewhere in Africa.

Unlike the other points above, this one at least has a whiff of plausibility. I would say that the imperialists are concerned about China (Russia less so in my opinion) but as is typically the case it will find a way to adjust to new realities:

China has been slowly reaching out to Libya’s TNC. In June, it signaled its willingness to engage both sides when Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met the TNC leader Mahmoud Jibril. At the same time, China hosted Gadhafi’s foreign minister in Beijing.

On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry gave its clearest show of support yet when it issued a statement saying it respects the choice of the Libyan people and hopes for a stable transition of power.

One day later, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a stopover in Beijing and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Libya was one of several key topics the two discussed.

China’s Foreign Ministry also has urged Libya to protect its oil interests there. China is the world’s second biggest consumer of oil. Last year, three percent of its oil imports came from Libya.

As Kissinger once said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” The Chinese must have figured this out from his visit to their country–what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

17 Comments »

  1. He might be talking shit here, but I’d agree with Chomsky that Killing Hope was “Far and away the best book on the topic.”

    Comment by skidmarx — September 2, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

  2. Blum is an excellent example of what happens when humanity enters a new historic conjuncture: Some manage to hang on, others are thrown off. It is just one measure, one ramification, of the depth of the global capitalist crisis that opened in 2008. That is how something that seemed so right yesterday, seems so wrong today.

    Comment by Matt — September 2, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

  3. What will the “anti-imperialists” say about this?

    TRIPOLI, Libya — Documents found at the abandoned office of Libya’s former spymaster appear to provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agency shared with the Libyan intelligence service — most notably suggesting that the Americans sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya despite that country’s reputation for torture.

    Although it has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after it abandoned its program to build unconventional weapons in 2004, the files left behind as Tripoli fell to rebels show that the cooperation was much more extensive than generally known with both the C.I.A. and its British equivalent, MI-6.

    Some documents indicate that the British agency was even willing to trace phone numbers for the Libyans, and another appears to be a proposed speech written by the Americans for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi about renouncing unconventional weapons.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/03/world/africa/03libya.html

    Comment by justin — September 3, 2011 @ 2:07 am

  4. The Stalinists tried to systematize their opposition to the theory of permanent revolution during the Cold War projecting sophisticated Gramscian arguments against it and in defence of popular frontism to the international arena so that there are rich countries and poor countries and you don’t have to worry what they are like internally, you simply `black box’ them, and then you can argue that any conflict between the rich and the poor is black and white and unproblematic and you must of course back the regime in the poor country against the imperialist rich country. Normally this works except when there is a revolution going on in the country being intervened in then it shows its true counter-revolutionary content and it comes out in open support of the suppression of the revolt by the native feudalists and their national bourgeois allies. Three million people turned out to protest the war on Iraq. 200 StWC leaders joined a protest against NATO’s intervention ostensibly in support of the UN resolution. Most ordinary semi-class conscious individuals can tell the difference without for a second believing that imperialism has changed its spots or wouldn’t have been backing Gadaffi’s squashing of Benghazi if it hadn’t been for the wider Arab Spring and its global popularity putting their actions in Libya under the microscope.

    Comment by David Ellis — September 3, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  5. Just a frivolous comment – his photograph shows a remarkable resemblance to me = almost my double.
    !! (compare with (where, unusually,I am not wearing my spectacles).

    Comment by Paddy Apling — September 4, 2011 @ 8:05 am

  6. I meant to say – compare with my photo at my web-site wecome page.

    Comment by Paddy Apling — September 4, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  7. So in fact the recent bombing sorties were NATO’s way of showing solidarity for the Colonel–perhaps a more efficient way delivering more arms? And even to the extent the US did start to take a shine to Q it’s now apparent, from the haste with which the “international community” acted on its responsibility to protect, Uncle Sam never intended anything beyond kicking him (and the odd son) out of bed as soon as the fellatio was over.

    Comment by Peter Ward — September 6, 2011 @ 12:36 am

  8. So in fact the recent bombing sorties were NATO’s way of showing solidarity for the Colonel–perhaps a more efficient way delivering more arms?

    What the fuck does this have to do with what I wrote? This post was about an article by a well-respected journalist that was filled with crap. If you don’t mind, I’d like people commenting here to engage with what I write.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 6, 2011 @ 12:45 am

  9. In his September 1 commentary on the Libyan revolution, William Blum expressed skepticism about the types of people collectively labeled “the rebels.” Seeing these rebels as agents of foreign interests, and/or members of extreme and basically sociopath groups (e.g., al Qaeda), he questions if there would actually be a popular benefit to throwing Gaddafi out:

    The people of Libya are being “liberated”, whatever in the world that means…

    The following story in the NYT suggests just what that popular benefit is, as many individual types of liberating experiences occurring in Libya now.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/08/world/africa/08tripoli.html

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — September 8, 2011 @ 6:12 am

  10. Accepting that a dictator can be both rotten AND under the attack of imperialism seems beyond the conceptual horizon of a lot of leftists, who, upon hearing of the imperialist assault, will automatically pay tribute to the ”social and health care programs set up by [beleaguered dictator here]”. I remember some particularly vile creatures commenting in Dissident Voice (until the mud-slinging became so feverish that commenting was disabled on that site), insinuating that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were CIA and Mossad ”directed”. These supposed friends of Palestine and Arab peoples against Zionism and US imperialism think the same masses too stupid and inept to ever drive out dictators if not for the prodding happening behind the scenes from foreign intelligence agencies. Thoroughly repugnant clowns. Jealous and cynical, too.

    Comment by Luis Cayetano — September 8, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  11. Thoughts on this article in the NYT implicating Gaddafi’s disliking of western oil interests in Libya?: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/business/global/the-scramble-for-access-to-libyas-oil-wealth-begins.html?_r=1

    Comment by Jake Radowski — September 11, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

  12. Whatever Krauss’s opinion, the real question is whether Qaddafi’s demand for higher fees, etc. was the cause of war. If you go through 5 years of articles on Libya in major newspapers before Feb. 2011, as I did, you will find nothing about oil companies complaining. Mostly they were as happy as a pig in shit.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 11, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  13. What wrong with Black Muslim, Louis? it seems to be that you have a problem with Black people.

    Comment by deadbeat1000 — September 20, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  14. Louis is right that the oil companies were not complaining because the overthrow of Libya had nothing to do with oil or banking but was part of the Zionist plan for conquest as well as the fact that Libya was a thorn in the Zionist supremacy since they’ve long supported the Palestinian’s right of return. Libya has long supported the struggles of the African diaspora — hence the $3 million dollars in loans and grants to the African American community by Libya. Qaddafi was and still is revered within the African diaspora and within the African American community that Louis despises.

    No the destruction of Libya was good old Zionist RACISM that his concealed and diverted by its moles of the pseudo-Left.

    Comment by deadbeat1000 — September 20, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

  15. ‘Louis is right that the oil companies were not complaining because the overthrow of Libya had nothing to do with oil or banking but was part of the Zionist plan for conquest as well as the fact that Libya was a thorn in the Zionist supremacy since they’ve long supported the Palestinian’s right of return.”

    Weak. In the teenage parlance of our times: fake and gay.

    Libya wasn’t a ‘thorn’ on the side of Zionism, because Gaddafi opted out of involvement with the Middle East. And he also expelled 30,000 Palestinians from Libya.

    Ah yes, surely such a big threat to Zionism that the Zionist cable snapped its fingers and commanded NATO to attack Libya. That’s must be how the world works.

    Do you think you might do a bit better with originality? I mean, it’s clear that you’re not interested in accuracy. But at least feed us a story that doesn’t completely insult everyone’s intelligence.

    ”Libya has long supported the struggles of the African diaspora — hence the $3 million dollars in loans and grants to the African American community by Libya. Qaddafi was and still is revered within the African diaspora and within the African American community that Louis despises.”

    What has that to do with Israel? First you draw attention to ‘Zionist plans’ (on the flimsiest of bases; certainly you’ve provided no evidence, merely assertion that should somehow be taken at face value if we’re to avoid the designation of ‘pseudo-left’), then you switch to talking about Gaddafi’s support for the African diaspora. As for your cheap shot about supposed racism emanating from Louis, it’s just that: a cheap shot, to cover your tracks and deflect attention away from the fact that you’re just spouting gibberish. Didn’t work, I’m afraid.

    Try again.

    Comment by Luis Cayetano — September 20, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

  16. What’s wrong with Black Muslims, deadbeat1000 asks. How’s this for starters:

    1. It diverts Black Americans from political struggle into Booker T. Washington self-help dead-ends.
    2. They killed Malcolm X.
    3. The main leader squandered an opportunity to raise political consciousness at the Million Man March by indulging in a ridiculous numerology exercise.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 20, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

  17. Let’s not also forget the fact that religion is a filthy fucking lie.

    Comment by Luis Cayetano — September 20, 2011 @ 3:16 pm


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