June 23, 2011

Foreign intervention: bane or boon?

One aspect of the debate over what the Philippines can do in its territorial dispute with China over the Spratlys is the wisdom of inviting, nay imploring, the US, by invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty and waxing sentimental over “historic ties”, to back up the Philippine claims militarily.

Even assuming that the US has such obligations under the MDT (something which US officials have hemmed and hawed about for the longest time and which nationalists like Recto, Taňada and Diokno have categorically exposed as non-existent in the letter and spirit of the MDT) there is the more basic question: Would US military intervention be a good thing at all?

Much has been said about US involvement in Vietnam: the real and manufactured stakes for the US; US underestimation of the resilience of the Vietcong backed by the inexhaustible support of the Vietnamese people; how the war of attrition drained US resources, troop morale and public sympathy; the inherent instability and weakness of the successive US-backed – and discarded - puppet regimes.
Here we have, once more, another serious political conflict, this time in far-away North Africa. It has much of the hallmark of past foreign military adventures of the US and other imperialist countries.

This time the justification for US-NATO meddling is couched in “humanitarian” terms: Libya’s Moamar Gaddafi having been successfully demonized as a crazed, brutal and overstaying Strongman allegedly poised to commit a blood bath on protesting Libyans inspired by similar unrest in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

Nonetheless, the conflict inside Libya is indisputably an internal one with no “communist-backed external threat” as the North Vietnamese were depicted by US war propaganda.

There is the Gaddafi regime and its supporters on the one hand and motley anti-Gaddafi forces on the other, the most prominent and best-armed of whom having been organized and backed by the CIA and British MI-6. Not surprisingly, the latter have been cobbled together into a touted National Transition Council recognized by key NATO countries as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people through whom substantial military and financial support for the armed insurgency is being coursed.

Recently, from a returning Filipino priest who spent years in Libya ministering to Filipino OFWs (his name is withheld for his own safety) we gathered a fuller view of the situation inside Libya. Much of the information he shared are eye-openers that belie most of what has been dished out by the western-dominated media.

The recent uprisings in Benghazi and Tripoli and spreading to other parts of Libya are partly fueled by the brewing discontent among the new generation. The young people are restive over the lack of changes in the political sphere after more than 40 years of Gaddafi rule and the entrenchment of a socio-economic elite despite the eradication of mass poverty and universal access to state-guaranteed social services.

People are not complaining about poverty and hunger as we know it in the Philippines. Libyans can get cheap basic goods and there is an abundant food supply. All Libyans enjoy free schooling and hospitalization. Families with a newborn baby are given an S$100 state subsidy per month while the youth are subsidized with free meals and clothing

But the youth are demanding more tangible changes such as more democratic participation in the way government is run together with greater respect for human rights. While others, especially those in the lower strata are boldly calling for equitable distribution of their country’s wealth.

Some groups are demanding a republican constitution and form of government; some, seek greater transparency as to who benefit most from the oil revenue and an end to the Gaddafi family's control over the wealth of the land.

The "opposition" or "rebels" include the Al Qaeda who are “numerous”; followers of ousted ruler King Idris (who are highly organized in the US and the UK); elements of the Muslim Brotherhood (one of the largest and oldest Islamist groups in many Arab states); the First Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (an Islamic fundamentalist group with links to Al Qaeda); relatives of victims under the Gaddafi rule; and defectors from the Gaddafi cabinet and military (with the TNC headed by the erstwhile justice minister.)

Among the tribal groups - more than 130 in the whole of Libya – the anti-Gaddafi ones are the Warfllah, considered the biggest, and the Zuwayyax, both of which benefit from the oil refineries. The majority, more than 80 tribes, are for Gaddafi such as the relatively smaller Quaddasa, where Gaddafi himself originated and the Barasa, the tribe of the Gaddafi’s second wife.

According to our informant, although there are frictions and even divisions among Gaddafi’s followers, the core of officers in the Libyan armed forces are still loyal to him. The Libyan army has had hundreds killed and hundreds more injured since the US-NATO bombardment but are still a formidable force.

Clearly from the abovementioned, there is a wealth of legitimate issues that the people are raising against the Libyan government even as the more well-organized and funded anti-Gaddafi groups come from a disparate political spectrum including Islamists, moderate and radical; remnants of the pro-royalist, pro-Western groups identified with the anti-nationalist regime that Gaddafi ousted in the late 60s; and turncoats from the Gaddafi camp.

From all indications there exists a stalemate between the pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces even with the all-out backing of the imperialist powers for the latter and intensifying sanctions against Gaddafi, his family members and Cabinet apart from the daily bombings that have affected populated areas in Tripoli and elsewhere in the government-controlled West.

Military intervention by the US and NATO, even with UN legal sanction, has not resulted in its purported main aim, protection of civilians. In fact NATO has been forced to admit its responsibility for the recent mass killing of nine civilians in a building hit by an alleged wayward bomb.

It has not even resulted in its real objective, the overthrow of Gaddafi. Meantime the armed conflict is causing the destruction of lives and property while the economy of Libya takes a beating and all of Libya is suffering.

Calls for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid to all affected Libyans not just the rebels, diplomatic efforts and political negotiations to seek a peaceful way out of the civil war grow stronger even from those who had supported the initial call for “no-fly zone” and for Gaddafi to step down.

The Arab League head has backtracked and says now that a military solution is out of the question. Italy has broken away from NATO in calling for a ceasefire. Both in the UK and US there are stronger criticisms about the US-NATO war including those over ballooning cost, questionable legality, dubious justification and likely unsatisfactory outcome.

Such recent developments give all freedom- and peace-loving peoples more reason to renew the calls for an end to US-NATO bombings and a chance for Libyans to undertake political and social reform without interference from outside forces, least of all those with vested interests that are antithetical to those of the sovereign Libyan people.

The Gaddafi government might do well to heed calls for transparency, an end to the elite cornering the wealth of Libyan oil, greater democratic participation etc. The warring parties must be brought to the negotiating table through the mediation of acceptable third parties including the elders in Libyan society who reportedly exercise moral and political suasion in Libyan society.

Military interventionism by foreign powers under any guise, on any pretext, is a dangerous thing. History has shown this to be so and current events in the Middle East and North Africa continue to underscore the painful lesson. #

Published in Business World
24-25 June 2011


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