Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 23, 2013

The PSL School of Falsification: A Libyan Rebel Sets the Record Straight

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 10:18 pm

The PSL School of Falsification: A Libyan Rebel Sets the Record Straight


Pham Binh’s “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong,” published on The North Star sparked acrimonious debate on the question of imperialist intervention in the Arab Spring. Mazda Majidi’s response to Binh in the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s newspaper, Liberation News, contained a number of false claims about events on the ground in Libya during 2011. What follows is Tripoli Brigade member’s response to those falsehoods.


“Immediately after the rebels took control in Benghazi, numerous dark-skinned Libyans and migrant sub-Saharan African workers were lynched in city streets in a wide-scale campaign of terror.”

The “dark-skinned” Libyans who were lynched in Benghazi were two or three Ghadafi mercenaries caught in their full military fatigue while committing atrocities in the city. Migrant workers? That’s a lie. It is true that many were treated badly but no one was killed simply for being dark skinned. Many were indeed paid by the regime to commit certain acts, and I have no doubt that some may have been mistaken. But saying that they were killed simply for being black is a sick, disgusting propaganda attempt. We had several black Libyan rebels in our brigade, some even martyrs.

“The NTC was a right-wing force even before it served as the ground forces of the NATO invaders…”

Don’t make me laugh. I wonder how NATO benefited from “its” NTC forces on the ground. Where’s NATO in Libya now?

“…to reverse the remaining elements of the nationalist process initiated by the 1969 progressive coup, also called the Al-Fateh Revolution, led by Gaddafi.”

Progressive? Has Majidi seen Libya before the February 17 revolution? It was in a state of constant, systematic deterioration for 42 years despite trillions of dollars in oil revenues. The destruction was social and economic, and we are suffering its consequences even now.

“The NTC did not enjoy the support of the entire Libyan population…”

Of course it didn’t; nor did Jesus nor Mohammad. There’s no doubt that many people supported Qaddafi but the majority was undoubtedly for the revolution. Otherwise how do you explain the victory? NATO? Where is NATO in Libya now? If the majority didn’t want imperialism and its resulting government, where are the anti-NATO protests after two years??! Qaddafi loyalists now live with dignity with full freedom of speech and no one bothers them.

“On July 1, 2011, in the midst of the massive NATO bombing, hundreds of thousands—perhaps as many as a million people—rallied in Tripoli against NATO. The corporate media gave the protest scant coverage.”

“Massive NATO bombing”? Again, I have to laugh. Only a few empty buildings were hit in Tripoli. Big explosions true, but they were pinpoint accurate. That the tyrant organized such an event was testament to the fact that NATO never targeted civilians in Libya (contrary to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places) and that was proven by numbers.

Ask anyone in Tripoli what was the response of Tripolitanians when the NATO bombs struck the tyrant’s compounds and they’ll tell you it was loud cheers, whistles, and “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). Most of the people in that rally were bussed in from other parts of the country, many not even knowing where they were going, some were forced to attend, and others were from tribes loyal to the tyrant. It was not a popular move in any way. And no, Libya’s population is not 6 million, that figure is 40 years old. Although unofficial, the number is closer 12 million today (thanks for the great census system setup by the “great” Al-Fateh Revolution).

“After the NATO bombing started, the Libyan leadership opened up arms depots in Tripoli to the population, urging everyone to defend the country against foreign attackers.”

This is a lie. The tyrant opened up arms depots as a media stunt. A few dozen AK-47s were handed out to people tied to the regime and their relatives and even those guns were closely monitored and controlled. That campaign lasted for just hours and the funny part is that many of those guns ended up being used against him in Tripoli. My cousin and many others were given those rifles by people who received them and used them to attack the tyrant’s forces. Many others were sold by the tyrant’s cronies to the rebels. That was a 100% media show and subsequent fail.

“…at least in Tripoli, the government enjoyed considerable popularity…“

Amusing. That’s why Tripoli was liberated by its people in one night on August 20 before any of us came in from outside. We found the city liberated and the tyrant’s thugs in shambles (devastated by IEDs, “galatina,” and snipers). His thugs were defeated and fled every part of Tripoli except for his compound and the loyalist (poorest, trashiest) neighborhood of Abu-Salim (those two places were where we [the rebels who came from outside] played an important role).

“Forces loyal to Gaddafi had been gaining control and rapidly moving towards Benghazi, having already made it past Brega.”

That’s true, but our respected author has forgotten that most of the ground they took in early 2011 was empty desert. The only significant populated region in the east is Benghazi and there was no way he would have taken it without flattening the whole city (which he was getting ready to do).

“Libyan rebels did not just receive military training and advice, but functioned under the operational command of NATO…”

Another blatant lie. The truth is that we were upset NATO was doing nothing to the dozens of rocket launchers that were wreaking havoc on civilians (mostly in Misurata and the Wwestern mountains). NATO only acted when we advanced, not the other way around. And the only coordination that went on was us giving NATO coordinates of regime command and control centers, mostly in Tripoli. There was no direct collaboration in battles; we drew up our own battle plans and acted upon them as we saw fit. NATO did its own thing much of the time, mostly bombing ammo dumps and heavy machinery (which was mostly old, rusty equipment that was of no use to the regime in the first place).

“NATO provided aerial support – that is, murdering pro-Gaddafi forces by bombing…”

Another big lie. The great majority of the tyrant’s convoys, compounds, and military formations were repeatedly warned by NATO to clear their positions, leave their convoys, and disengage. They were constantly informed of exactly when the strikes were going to take place and they always fled before that. We picked up the same warnings over our radios and knew exactly where and when NATO was going to strike. Very few of the tyrant’s forces were killed by NATO; I’d even venture to say that more rebels were killed by NATO than regime cronies.

“The pictures of the destroyed city of Sirte are worth a thousand more words than Binh’s reassurances.”

This stooge was obviously not following the battle of Sirte when it happened. Those buildings were destroyed one by one by the rebels themselves due to the presence of regime snipers in every corner.  Those holes are all from rocket-propelled grenade holes and 14.5mm AA fire, not NATO munitions. NATO’s role was extremely limited in Sirte. I visited the city and all the battle spots in July 2012 and saw one large building hit from the air which was was to take out a sniper (I have pictures of it actually).

“The Binhs of the future will undoubtedly look back and condemn the Libya intervention as a historic crime…”

The Mazdas of the future will look at how great of a nation Libya had become and regret their ignorant, paranoid, simplistic approach to analyzing the events and outcomes of the February 17 revolution.

In short, we never wanted NATO and we wanted no foreign intervention. We simply asked for our long-confiscated freedom and were met with savage slaughter. We could not sit and wait as the regime wiped out whole cities (as it threatened to do) and kill one-half of the population. We sought the aid of neighbors and of the Arab and Muslim world. They couldn’t help themselves let alone help us. We turned to the United Nations with a final plea and got the support we needed. Despite the imminent slaughter, we accepted only an air campaign and refused ground intervention from the first day. In a show of appreciation, we waved the flags of all the nations who stood with us, some of whom were undoubtedly imperialist powers. But in this case, and contrary to what they do best, the imperialist powers helped save hundreds of thousands of Libyan lives and we are ever-grateful for that. What did the imperialists get in return? Oil? They were already getting that and for very cheap. Military bases? Over our dead bodies. A puppet regime? This government is barely able to work due to the people protesting anything they believe does not represent the core values of the revolution. Plus we, the “rebels,” can take this government down at any moment, and there’s no imperialists in Libya to help it.

These anti-imperialists, although their cause is noble, have allowed their paranoia to blind them and wage an ignorant campaign that is exploited by tyrants to this hour. It is a sad reality but I hope my experience sheds some light on these issues.


August 17, 2012

The American Left and the Arab Spring

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:28 pm

Clay Claiborne


The American Left and the Arab Spring

by Clay Claiborne on August 17, 2012

For someone sitting on the very edge of survival, hope is extremely important. Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day. That is one of the reasons that religion has always found such a resonance among the lower classes, especially in times of great hardship or struggle. Cynicism is deadly for someone on the edge of survival. Even in the darkest night, he cannot afford to be cynical. That cynicism just might push him over the edge.

Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. In fact, one of the main objects of this practice of cynicism is to make the cynic more comfortable. He may not, as yet, be wanting for much personally, but he can see the growing misery all around him so he has to think or do something. The cynic solves this dilemma by thinking that nothing can be done!

Hope is entirely a question of subjective attitude. So is cynicism, but cynicism pulls off its master trick by masquerading as objective reality. The cynic always tends to think things really are the way he thinks they are. Time and again you will see him substitute his subjective understanding, even when he knows it is limited(!) for objective reality.

Read full article

August 13, 2012

Sending Lenin to Russia

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:23 pm

(posted to Marxmail and PEN-L by Michael Perelman)

Sending Lenin to Russia

I had not known about where the idea arose in Germany:

page 93: “German officials did their best to cook up plots among the German
barons in the Baltic provinces and among the Finns, Poles, and
Ukrainians. They brought to Berlin a Constantinople arms merchant,
Alexander Helphand, who had formerly been involved, sincerely, in the
Russian revolutionary socialist underground, under the name Parvus.
He sold them on the idea of a social revolution in Russia. He charted
the future mutiny in the Russian armies according to the model of
1904-5, citing the possibility of a mass strike that would engulf the
capitals according to the theory of Rosa Luxemburg. One week after the
revolution that overthrew the tsar in February 1917, Helphand got
permission from the general staff to provide a train that would send
Lenin and his coterie of exiled Bolshevik leaders to Russia.”

D’Agostino, Anthony. The Rise of Global Powers: International Politics
in the Era of the World Wars(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

August 5, 2012

Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:20 pm

Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp on August 5, 2012

in analysis, debate

A Reply to Comrade Ely

Mike Ely’s response to my argument that it is a mistake for Western leftists to try to stop U.S. imperialist airstrikes on counter-revolutionary military forces when revolutionaries abroad demand them out of desperation is in many ways typical of the Western anti-imperialist left’s reaction to this heresy.

Before I respond to Ely’s critique, I must commend him for republishing my piece on the Kasama Project Web site when he so vehemently disagrees with its content (not to mention tone).

If there is one thing he and I agree on (and that Kasama and The North Star have in common), it is that party-line echo chambers have not served the American left well; they lead to flat one-way “conversationsat best and, when political differences arise, personal sniping and “gotcha” polemics at worst.

Ely writes as if I argued for supporting or allying with the U.S. government or U.S. imperialism:

“Here is one of the most basic and important questions of any revolutionary movement: Do you support the government and this system or don’t you? Do you see what their interests are, and the criminal nature of their actions, or don’t you?”

“First, supporting the U.S. government (from here within the U.S.) is counterrevolutionary, because we intend to make a revolution against them.”

“But again no decision by anyone anywhere should lead revolutionaries in the U.S. to ally with U.S. imperialism.”

I’m not sure where or how he got such a mistaken idea since there was nothing along those lines either in my original piece or in my response to Socialist Worker‘s Paul D’amato.

U.S. imperialism is counter-revolutionary. No one is debating that.

But here is the rub: the Ghadafi government in Libya was also counter-revolutionary in the spring of 2011 when it mowed down peaceful demonstrators with machine gun fire. Given this, the question is: why would we in the U.S. try to stop a conflict between these two counter-revolutionary forces, a conflict that would help Libyan revolutionaries win? (Especially when they asked for that conflict?) Why should we oppose U.S. imperialism’s actions when such opposition would help counter-revolutionary governments smash and destroy revolutions in first Libya and now Syria?

read full article

July 23, 2012

Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia

Filed under: Islamophobia,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Pepe Escobar’s inspiration

In his brilliant analysis of leftist hostility to the revolutions in Libya and Syria titled Blanket Thinkers, Robin Yassin-Kassab described the way that the Syrian rebels are viewed in those quarters:

They are also depicted as wild Muslims, bearded and hijabbed, who do not deserve democracy or rights because they are too backward to use them properly. Give them democracy and they’ll vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, and slaughter the Alawis and drive the Christians to Beirut.


This has been on my radar screen ever since the struggle against Qaddafi got off the ground, but Yassin-Kassab’s article persuaded me to investigate a bit further. Basically what seems to be taking place is a hatred for Islamism that is reminiscent of what we heard from Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman during the heights of the war in Iraq, but deployed on behalf of an “anti-imperialist” narrative.

Perhaps the most prominent exponent of left Islamophobia is Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar. In an article on Libya titled How al-Qaeda got to rule in Tripoli,  Abdelhakim Belhaj became an object of hate:

Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, is a Libyan jihadi. Born in May 1966, he honed his skills with the mujahideen in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

He’s the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and its de facto emir – with Khaled Chrif and Sami Saadi as his deputies. After the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996, the LIFG kept two training camps in Afghanistan; one of them, 30 kilometers north of Kabul – run by Abu Yahya – was strictly for al-Qaeda-linked jihadis.

After 9/11, Belhaj moved to Pakistan and also to Iraq, where he befriended none other than ultra-nasty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – all this before al-Qaeda in Iraq pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and turbo-charged its gruesome practices.

(For what it is worth, Escobar’s article contains an ad for the Central Intelligence Agency. Talk about crowning ironies.)

Escobar adds that “In Iraq, Libyans happened to be the largest foreign Sunni jihadi contingent, only losing to the Saudis.” Well, how despicable, Libyans going to Iraq to fight against the American occupation. He also considers Belhaj a rather shifty sort, “not remotely interested in relinquishing control just to please NATO’s whims.” What an ingrate.

Not long after the overthrow of Qaddafi, left Islamophobes held up a magnifying glass to detect any evidence of Jihadist influence in the new Libya. Last November word went out that the al-Qaeda flag was flying over the Benghazi courthouse. Not surprisingly, this became a cause celebre for the rightwing but the vanguard of the “anti-imperialist” left got just as worked up. Voltairenet.org, a website devoted to 9/11 conspiracy-mongering and the defense of Qaddafi and al-Assad, alerted its readers through an article that included a graphic of the flag:

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former Justice Minister of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya who became chairman of the National Transitional Council, announced the rebels’ intention to turn Libya  into an Islamic state and implement Sharia as the only law.

For some odd reason, the Libyan people were never clued in that they were about to willingly accept such a state of affairs. As it turned out, the vote for the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was a paltry 130,000 nationally, just 21.3%. Today’s Australian  explained the low total:

But another reason for the strong “liberal” turnout is the “blood” factor. “I am not giving my family’s votes to the MB. Two of my cousins died because of them,” Mohamed Abdul Hakim, a voter from Benghazi, told me. He agrees that Islam should be the source for legislation, and his wife wears a niqab. Nonetheless, he voted liberal: his cousins were killed in a confrontation in the 1990s, most likely between the Martyrs Movement (a small jihadist group operating in his neighborhood at the time) and Gaddafi’s forces.

But many average Libyans, including Hakim, do not distinguish between Islamist organisations and their histories. For them, all Islamists are “Ikhwan” (MB). The “stain” of direct involvement in armed action, coupled with fear of Taliban-like laws or a civil war like Algeria’s in the 1990’s harmed Islamists of all brands.

A third reason for the Islamists’ defeat had to do with their campaign rhetoric. “It is offensive to tell me that I have to vote for an Islamic party,” Jamila Marzouki, an Islamic studies graduate, told me. Marzouki voted liberal, despite believing that Islam should be the ultimate reference for Libyan laws. “In Libya, we are Muslims. They can’t take away my identity and claim that it’s only theirs.”

So much for Libya turning into a Taliban state.

Without skipping a beat, the dreadful Pepe Escobar now has Syria in his sights, using the same hackneyed analysis:

Syria, the new Libya

A Kalashnikov in Iraq, until recently, sold for US$100. Now it’s at least $1,000, and most probably $1,500 (those were the days when Sunnis joining the resistance in 2003 could buy a fake Kalashnikov made in Romenia [sic] for $20).

Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Christopher Hitchens couldn’t have put it better.

For left Islamophobes, the idea of a secular, nationalistic and populist Syria serves as a kind of rallying point in the same way that “existing socialism” in the USSR once was for a gullible left, whether or not either proposition was true.

Syria Freedom Forever, an antidote to the stupidity found in Escobar’s columns, Global Research, MRZine, Voltairenet.com et al (Counterpunch fortunately never bought into this junk for the most part), had an article titled Understand the Syrian regime and the dialectics of the Syrian revolutionary process  that is most useful for separating the truth from bullshit.

It explains that al-Assad, just like Saddam Hussein, was not above catering to the needs of the Islamic clergy in the interests of wielding power Machiavelli-style:

The last important base of support for the Syrian regime is the high religious establishment of all sects, which has benefited the regime for the past twenty years and supported it since the beginning of the revolution. The Syrian regime and its security services established political and economic links with the religious establishment, especially from the Sunni community following the repression of the 1980s. The high religious establishments of all the sects have increasingly been presented by the regime as actors of the “Syrian civil society” in the past as soon as a foreign delegation would visit the country.

The State’s behavior these past years has been in total contradiction with the official picture of a secular country. A religious vocabulary appeared more often in political discourse, along with a massive increase in the building of religious sites from the eighties until now. These government measures were also accompanied by censorship of literary and artistic works, while promoting a religious literature filling more and more the shelves of libraries and Islamizing the field of higher education. This is true particularly in the humanities and expressed itself in the rather systematic referral to religious references of any scientific, social and cultural phenomenon. Around 10,000 mosques and hundreds of religious schools were built. More than 200 conferences headed by clerics were held in cultural centres of important towns during 2007.

Of course you wouldn’t know any of this if your reading material was limited to the Islamophobic left.

When you are dealing with a phobia, facts do little to change the mind of the stricken. No matter how many times you might have told Howard Hughes that washing one’s hands 2 or 3 times a day was sufficient, only 25 times would suffice. No matter how many times you tell the Islamophobic left that the purpose of the struggle in places like Libya and Syria is to get rid of an oppressive regime, it will not overcome the deep belief that the real purpose is to reestablish the Caliphate, sharia law and the cult of the suicide bomber.

Speaking for myself (and who else matters in the long run), this is what I think of when Islamic resistance to Bashar al-Assad is cited. I don’t find it threatening at all. In fact I am inspired by it:

July 18, 2012

Pham Binh responds to ISO attack

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

The Anti-Imperialism of Fools and the Syrian Spring

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp on July 18, 2012

in analysis, debate

Leave no tyrant behind, from Tripoli to Tehran.

Fresh off of arguing that North Korea is a live issue for American socialist organizing in the context of Occupy, Paul D’amato takes issue with my argument that the Western left puts itself at odds with revolutionary Syrians by opposing U.S. intervention full stop – no ifs, ands, or buts. Siding with revolutionary Syrians and Libyans regardless of their calls for foreign airstrikes since they do not have an air forces of their own to protect themselves hardly adds up to cheering the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” the United States military.

I side with the Arab Spring, no matter what country it spreads to, no matter what dictatorship comes under threat, and no matter what side the U.S. government eventually decides to back. As Clay Claiborne said elsewhere, I did not side with U.S. imperialism on the Libyan revolution, U.S. imperialism sided with me.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO), by contrast, quietly abandoned its support for the Libyan revolution once the going got tough and NATO’s F-16s got going and even went so far to argue that Ghadafi’s overthrow was a “blow to the Arab Spring.” Yes, you read that right! National elections, workers organizing and going on strike (in the oil industry, no less), people launching political parties and organizing protests in Libya are a huge, tremendous, staggering blow to the Arab Spring. Why? Because NATO did not follow the Western left’s example by standing meekly on the sidelines, twiddling its thumbs, while the conflict between revolution and counter-revolution raged.

continue reading

July 3, 2012

Libya: Better Off Than It Was!

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:34 am

Libya: Better Off Than It Was!

by admin on July 2, 2012

in debate

By Clay Claiborne

Ultimately this is the question by which the revolution will be judged. After all is said and done, did it actually result in an improvement in the quality of life for the Libyan people?

And today is a very good day to have that discussion because it is the 16th anniversary of the Abu Salim prison massacre. On June 29, 1996 the murder of 1270 prisoners was carried out by the Ghadafi regime. It was seven years before people found out, as family members continued to bring money and food for the dead prisoners, and the prison continued to accept them. This is the first year they will be able to openly commemorate that tragedy without fear of government repression. So it is a very good day to take on the views of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), Workers World Party (WWP) and others, as expressed by Diana Barahona, that thinks “Libya Worse Off After NATO Takeover”.

That is the title of a critique she has written of my “On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On.” Frankly, it reads less like a good critique of my work and more like an example of exactly what I was talking about. As a matter of fact, I might even say On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On,” for example we have Libya Worse Off After NATO Takeover from a comrade who has been writing about Libya for the PSL, because she takes on my paper with the same old, now well-debunked, pro-Ghadafi misinformation peddled by Cynthia McKinney and other supporters of Brother Leader during his reign.

She gets so involved in taking on my paper and me that she never really gets around to addressing the very important question raised in her title, so before we can delve into the minutia of her critique we must spend a little time addressing this question that she raised and then neglected.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1113

July 2, 2012

Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:27 pm

Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong

By Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

Reflexive opposition to Uncle Sam’s machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that progressively declined in the 1990s, as presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton deftly deployed the U.S. military to execute “humanitarian” missions in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans and progressively increased in the 2000s, as Bush Jr. lurched from quagmire to disaster in transparent empire-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, what is generally good is not good in every case. The progressive instinct to oppose anything the U.S. government does abroad became anything but progressive once the Arab Spring sprang up in Libya and Syria, countries ruled by dictatorships on Uncle Sam’s hit list. When American imperialism’s hostility to the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to the Ghadafi and Assad regimes (their collaboration with Bush Jr.’s international torture ring notwithstanding), the Western left’s support for the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to American imperialism.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1097

April 3, 2012

On Libya & Glenn Greenwald: Are the anti-interventionists becoming counter-revolutionaries?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 9:12 pm

On Libya & Glenn Greenwald: Are the anti-interventionists becoming counter-revolutionaries?

by Clay Claiborne

Anybody that has ever been in an abusive relationship or supported someone in an abusive relationship may find that the period immediately after ending the relationship can be a most dangerous one. This is a truth that it well known to homicide detectives.

Even though I know this, I’d nevertheless curse the advisors that would counsel staying in an abusive relationship because of the hazards that may attend ending it. Likewise, I will call out those ‘left’ anti-interventionists that are now promoting counter-revolution in Libya because for years they harbored certain western ‘left’ mis-conceptions about Mummar Qaddafi.

full article

March 30, 2012

Who made Libya’s revolution?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 1:52 pm


Who made Libya’s revolution?

by Renfrey Clark

If you want to get historical questions right, there’s nothing like going back to documentary sources. Conversely, if you neglect to do this, even when the sources are a mere mouse-click away, there’s no end to the silliness you can utter.

Latest to make an ass of himself? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote this on March 26 about the war in Libya: “…military victory was almost wholly due to the NATO air assault. The militiamen were a mopping-up force who occupied territory after air strikes had cleared the way…”

We have the chance to test this against the record. NATO provides a daily log of its air operations over Libya, including total overflights, “strike sorties”, and details of targets hit, for almost all of the period from March 31 last year, when the air assault officially became a NATO operation, through to late October. It’s at http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_71994.htm.

There aren’t figures for the first days from March 19 to March 30, when the attacks were particularly intense and consisted largely of cruise missile strikes designed to knock out Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft missile defences. These strikes against the ground-to-air defence system made things safer for the imperialist air crew (none of whom were lost), but weren’t of immediate help to the rebels on the ground.

From early April, operations most of the time were proceeding at the rate of 40-55 “strike sorties” per day. NATO says of these missions:

“Strike sorties are intended to identify and engage appropriate targets, but do not necessarily deploy munitions each time.”

If we compare “strike sorties” with targets recorded as hit, then it’s clear that on average, aircraft fired off ordnance on fewer than half the “strike sorties” flown. From mid-April through to late August, when Tripoli had fallen and Gaddafi was on the run, the number of discrete targets destroyed each day was generally in the range of 20 to 25.

Twenty to twenty-five effective air strikes per day, across three main fronts spread over some 800 km, is anything but an intensive bombardment. Also, we need to take account of the fact that a good deal of the bombing was still aimed at suppressing anti-aircraft defences, taking out targets recorded as “3 radars” ,“7 surface to air missile transloaders” or “9 surface to air missile launchers”.

Many of the targets were ammunition storage bunkers. Gaddafi, though, had laid up huge reserves of munitions. Press reports suggest strongly that shortages of ammunition were nowhere near as great a problem for his forces as they were for the insurgents.

For all that, my view is that for some months the bombing was an indispensable condition of the rebels surviving and carrying on their fight. Crucially, the air attacks in their first days forced the abandonment of Gaddafi’s assault on Benghazi, an assault which in my view the rebels could not otherwise have withstood.

A key lesson which the regime learnt early in the air war was the vulnerability of its armoured vehicles to modern laser-guided bombs. NATO’s “hits” during April, the record shows, included significant numbers of tanks. Gaddafi’s armour – international military experts in 2009 put it at more than 2000 tanks, plus more than a thousand armoured personnel carriers – was not significantly depleted. But a decision seems to have been made that with armoured vehicles so vulnerable to air attack, they had for the most part to be kept concealed and out of action.

On open desert terrain –and, for that matter, in the relatively open urban areas typical of Libyan cities – possession of armoured vehicles confers a crucial advantage. The bombing cost the regime this advantage. Press reports indicate that Gaddafi’s forces resorted to using armed pick-up trucks, which NATO was said to be reluctant to bomb because of the difficulty of distinguishing them from similar vehicles on the rebel side. The mobile skirmishing that made up much of the combat thus became relatively equal in strictly military terms.

Gaddafi nevertheless kept an important advantage in another key area of desert warfare – long-range heavy artillery, largely ground-to-ground missiles. The regime is estimated to have had more than 2400 multiple rocket launchers and other artillery pieces, which are only occasionally noted as having been destroyed by the bombing. Gaddafi’s forces had rockets in abundance, and used them effectively, until late in the war.

The air strikes were clearly significant in deciding the outcome of the siege of the city of Misrata between February and mid-May. Air raids on Misrata and its environs are recorded as having taken place on 30 of the 39 days between 12 April and 20 May. The crucial effect seems to have been in preventing the regime from mounting massed armoured assaults on rebel-held areas of the city; some 43 armoured vehicles are listed as having been destroyed, including 38 tanks. Meanwhile, the besiegers remained well able to bombard Misrata, keeping their artillery under cover in built-up areas.

Misrata, the evidence indicates, was liberated in very much the fashion the militias said it was: in fierce house-to-house combat.

I made a particular point of checking the NATO logs for the period in August that saw the rebels “break out” from the Nafusa mountains south of Tripoli and mount their decisive push on the capital. Wikipedia reports here:

“…due to an intense NATO bombing campaign of loyalist forces, pro-Gaddafi troops had to pull back from the mountains. This gave the chance for the rebels to go on the offensive toward the coast west of Tripoli.”

This “intense NATO bombing”, however, seems to have been mythical. There is no record of anything more than a few sporadic air strikes in the region of the mountains around the beginning of August. In general, the Nafusa front was only very sparsely bombed.

By August 5 the offensive was under way, focused on the strategic town of Bir al Ghanam, 85 km south of Tripoli. The NATO logs have the following record of targets struck “in the vicinity of Bir al Ghanam”:

5 Aug: 0

6 Aug: 1 ammunition storage facility, 1 command and control mode, 1 multiple rocket launcher system, 1 military vehicle.

7 Aug: 0

8 Aug: 0

9 Aug: 0

10 Aug: 1 multiple rocket launcher.

11 Aug: 2 armed vehicles.

12 Aug: 5 armed vehicles, 2 anti-aircraft guns.

13 Aug: 1 military vehicle.

Whoever routed Gaddafi’s forces from Bir al Ghanam during that week, it’s hard to believe it was NATO.

By 13 August rebel columns were inside the coastal city of Zawiya, 35 km west of Tripoli, and heavy fighting had begun. Targets destroyed by bombing in and around Zawiya on that and subsequent days are recorded as follows:

13 Aug: 2 tanks.

14 Aug: 1 anti-aircraft gun.

15 Aug: 3 tanks, 1 armed vehicle, 1 military vehicle.

17 Aug: 2 armed vehicles, 1 military boat.

18 Aug: 1 command and control node, 2 armed vehicles, 1 transloader, 5 tanks.

The bombing played a significant role here by knocking out Gaddafi’s tanks. But given the scale of the fighting and the forces involved, NATO’s contribution was not decisive.

Tripoli, apart from small enclaves, fell to the insurgents during three days of heavy fighting from the evening of 20 August. During the previous week, bombing “in the vicinity of Tripoli” had destroyed 5-10 targets most days, many of them anti-aircraft weapons and infrastructure. A peak was reached on 20 August, with the following targets hit:

“Three military facilities, 1military storage facility, 7 surface to air missile transloaders, 1 radar, 1 surface to surface missile, 2 armed vehicles, 2 armoured fighting vehicles, 3 command and control nodes, 2 multiple rocket launchers.”

For the main days of fighting in the capital, the targets destroyed by the bombing are given as follows:

21Aug: 3 command and control facilities, 1 military facility, 2 radar, 9 surface to air missile launchers, 1 tank, 2 armed vehicles.

22 Aug: No targets hit in Tripoli.

23 Aug: 2 armoured fighting vehicles, 2 military heavy equipment trucks, 3 surface to air missile systems, 1 radar.

24 Aug: 2 military storage facilities, 1 military heavy equipment truck, 2 anti-aircraft guns, 1 surface to air missile support vehicle, 1 multiple rocket launcher, 1 radar.

As indicated earlier, I regard the NATO military intervention, over some months and arguably as late as the “break-out” in the first half of August, as having been a condition for the success of the insurrection. Without the bombing, the tanks would have rolled and the outcomes on the various fronts would have been very different.

There’s a fundamental distinction to be made, though, between recognising NATO’s air strikes as a requirement for the rebel victory, and identifying imperialist intervention as the primary cause of Gaddafi’s overthrow. In my view, the key reasons for the revolutionary victory were political, lying in the hatred felt for the regime by the masses in most parts of Libya and the readiness of hundreds of thousands of Libyans to take part in armed struggle.

By offsetting at least partially Gaddafi’s advantages in terms of armaments and military organisation, and allowing the fighting to proceed on less unequal terms, NATO’s intervention allowed the revolution’s strengths in terms of popular allegiance and political will to act as determining factors.

The bombing didn’t need to be intensive for this to happen, and as the record of NATO’s operations shows, its actual scale was rather small. Very plainly, the main burden of grinding down Gaddafi’s forces was borne by the Libyan people in arms. As the Libyans see it, they’re the ones who made their revolution, not NATO. And that’s correct.

Sorry – I forgot. There’s been no revolution in Libya. Gaddafi is still alive and in power, and his thieving children are in their mansions. The press is still tightly censored. There’s no independent women’s movement. Democratic municipal elections are inconceivable. Trade unions are still banned, and the penalty for trying to set up a political party remains death by hanging.

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