Book Review: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya – Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity, by Horace Campbell

Posted on 5 October 2013 by


libya-global-natoIn October 2011, days after the brutal murder of the Libyan Leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, NATO General Secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, declared that the NATO mission in Libya had been one of the most successful in NATO’s history. In his new book, Professor Horace Campbell sets out to analyse that claim, and to analyse the totality of NATO’s war against the Libyan people, in the context of African efforts to secure African political and economic unity.

Muammar al-Gaddafi was a military man. He came from a tradition of Third World armed struggle against imperialism. This was a tradition that, by its nature, has been one of secret plans and hidden alliances. Professor Campbell is a man of letters, a man who has devoted his life to a resistance against imperialism based in writing and open, public, activism. It is often difficult for these two traditions to understand each other. There is a tendency for each one of them to under-estimate the achievements of the other.

This misunderstanding leads Professor Campbell to repeat certain claims that have been current among the Western Left, such as that Al Gaddafi had made peace with imperialist forces and had adopted neo-liberalism. This despite the fact that the Professor himself quotes a Wikileaks cable, sent to Washington in 2008 from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which expressed the view that “there will be no real political or economic reforms in Libya until al-Gaddafi passes from the political scene.” It’s true that there were weak minded and corrupt people in the Libyan government, who had fallen for the lie of neo-liberalism, but that goes to show that Al Gaddafi was not the all-powerful tyrant that some would like to present him as – he had to fight his corner, and he didn’t always win.

Another unfortunate claim is that Al-Gaddafi referred to the people of Benghazi as “rats,” and threatened to massacre them. This is simply not true. Al-Gaddafi was referring to the racist lynch mobs, who, on the second day of their “peaceful demonstrations,” took fifty black migrant workers from a construction site, locked them in a shed, and burned them to death. He was not referring to the decent people of Benghazi–the vast majority. Even after these racist atrocities, Al Gaddafi offered peace to those who would lay down their weapons. He ordered his forces to withdraw from Benghazi and allowed an escape route into Egypt. As Professor Maximilian Forte has shown, in his Slouching Towards Sirte – NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, French military aircraft attacked a Libyan Army convoy–leaving Benghazi. Troops remaining in Benghazi had been ordered not to return fire, so much so, that when one military barracks was attacked by the “peaceful protestors,” who used a suicide bomber to blow in the gates, the soldiers allowed themselves to be captured rather than return fire. The black soldiers were separated out–and lynched. It’s true that the Libyan authorities made a mistake in Benghazi. But, the mistake was not in using too much force–it was in failing to quickly isolate the racist terrorists and using the full force of the state against them–as any state would and should.

There had been many of these “uprisings” in Benghazi over the years, initiated by Al Qaeda linked Jihadist groups. However, in largely tribal societies like Libya, these Jihadist groups are closely tied in with particular tribal groupings. Al Gaddafi had always handled these uprisings in a particularly tribal fashion. He would make a small display of state force to show the Jihadists that they had no prospect of success, and then allow them to escape – so as to avoid having to kill them. 2011 was different–the Al Qaeda leaders had been assured, by their MI6 and CIA handlers, that if they created enough murder and mayhem they would be virtually assured of NATO support.

I would mention one more misunderstanding in Professor Campbell’s book, before I move on to its many fine aspects. Al Gaddafi did not declare himself King of Kings. This was an honour conferred on him by Kenyan tribal elders. It did not mean that they regarded him as their ruler, but as first among equals. The conferral may be seen on You Tube, and anyone watching it will be struck by how humbly Al Gaddafi received the honour. I’m very sure that Professor Campbell would be the last to deny native peoples the right to honour their friends. The honour was particularly important to Al Gaddafi, as he knew that African unity could not happen without the support of the tribal leaders–who are generally more trusted by ordinary Africans than their elected leaders.

Because of these errors, and some I have not mentioned, I would advise anyone interested in Libya to first read Professor Maximilian Forte’s Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, which is impeccable in its research and analysis, and then read Professor Campbell’s book.

I mention these issues at the start of the review, so that I can now concentrate on the core of Professor Campbell’s book, which is not so much about Libya as about NATO and its ambitions. As Campbell makes clear, NATO’s war against Libya and Africa started long before 2011. It is, and always has been, a war to keep Africa disunited and weak, and thus unable to be the master of its own destiny. In effect, it is a war to undo the gains of the 1950s and 60s, and return Africa to the status quo of the late 19th century.

Even before the UN lifted its sanctions on Libya, in 2003, Al Gaddafi had conceived a grand plan–the unification of Africa. It was not a new idea, of course, but Al Gaddafi had a particular plan–to use the force of his own extraordinary personality, and the power of Libya’s oil revenues, to make the dream a reality. After decades of armed struggle against imperialism, by the 1990s, Al Gaddafi had become more interested in the possibilities of what is now referred to as “soft power.” He made peace with Chad and other neighbours he had been in conflict with, and gradually attracted them into a new sphere of influence that he was developing. When the sanctions ended, large sums of money became available to back up this soft power. The Libyan Jamahiriya built schools, hospitals, roads, hotels, communications systems, commercial farms, etc., all over Africa. It put Africa’s first telecommunications satellite in orbit–saving Africa billions of dollars that it had been paying to European satellite companies. In Slouching Towards Sirte, Professor Forte has compiled Wikileaks cables from U.S. embassies in Africa showing that U.S. diplomats were growing extremely concerned that Al Gaddafi’s soft power was beating them on every front. As a reaction to this beating, in 2007 the U.S. administration established United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), to direct U.S. military power in Africa. Here again, they faced defeat from Al Gaddafi. Libya came to the fore in insisting that AFRICOM should not be allowed to set up its Head Quarters on African soil. It had to shamefully slink off to Stuttgart, in Germany, to build its HQ. This was a slight that the US elite would not forget–or forgive.

Al Gaddafi knew that political unity must be grounded in economic unity. He was the main force behind the founding of the African Union (AU), and pressed for a single African currency and an African Central Bank. These plans would take colossal amounts of money–even more than Libya’s oil revenues were taking in. The only place to get that kind of money fast was to enter the shark pit itself–Wall Street–and the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) starting doing business with the most vicious shark of them all–Goldman Sachs. At first, Libya suffered tremendous losses, but then, as Professor Campbell puts it, Libya went for the jugular. The whole of the Wall Street Ponzi Scheme rests on the Petrodollar, and the laundering of Petrodollars through the “dark markets” of Dubai. Professor Campbell writes: “After December 2010, the Central Bank of Libya took a controlling position in Arab Banking Corporation, based in Bahrain. The Arab Banking Corporation was owned by the Kuwait Investment Authority, the Central Bank of Libya, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and other shareholders with minor shares. Any move for making independent decisions in the Arab Banking Corporation threatened the web of speculators in the derivatives industry that depended on the recycling of petrodollars from the oil-rich nations of Kuwait, Libya, and the Emirates. Libya had gone for the jugular, by seeking to capture the base of the Intercontinental Exchange.”

The whole saga of the Arab Banking Corporation and Wall Street will require a full volume in itself. This is a key issue for the understanding of why Libya was attacked in 2011, and badly needs a full academic analysis. Professor Campbell is to be commended for drawing the attention of the academic community to this need. Who will have the courage to wade deeply in such dangerous waters?

By early 2011, the Libyan Central Bank had amassed 144 tons of gold in Tripoli, and pressed ahead with plans to launch the Gold Dinar, which, if accepted by other African countries, with their unimaginable mineral wealth, would quickly become the most powerful currency in the world. Campbell quotes Sarkozi as saying, vis-à-vis the war against Libya: “We must protect the Euro.”  The Petrodollar too was under grave threat of losing its hegemonic position over energy markets.

Al Gaddafi had used soft power and “Dinar Diplomacy” to defeat the Anglo-Saxons and their French running dogs in Africa.  He had entered the shark pit of Wall Street, and beaten them there too.  But, the imperial powers had one more card to play–murder.

I hardly need recount the catalogue of lies poured down on Libya by a compliant Western media and their Gulf cohorts. Al Jazeera quickly turned from being a once respected news outlet to being the most gross and shameless purveyor of lies. Campbell goes into all these details. He joins Professor Forte in going into considerable detail regarding NATO’s gross disregard for civilian lives in Libya, and how NATO aided and abetted racist lynchings and the ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of black civilians; how NATO ships broke international maritime law, by watching over 1500 black people drown in the Mediterranean, as they attempted to escape the racist carnage, and refusing to offer the victims assistance; how the racist rebels proved themselves worthless against the Libyan Army (now dubbed “Gaddafi Forces” by the imperialist media), so that 6,000 Qatari troops, thousands of foreign mercenaries, and hundreds of NATO Special Forces had to be dressed up as “rebels” so that Tripoli could be captured. Even then, the citizens of Tripoli gathered, in their thousands, around Al Gaddafi’s compound, with nothing but their bodies to protect their nation’s honour. NATO showed its concern for civilians–by strafing the crowd with machine gun fire from Apache helicopters. One of those killed was 22 year old journalist, Mohanned Magam, who was shot in the back from an Apache Helicopter, as he tried to help other victims. Mohanned had been the principal organiser of the huge anti-NATO rally in Tripoli on June 1st, 2011, which most of the Western media had suppressed, but has since been recognised as a most extraordinary demonstration of civilian courage under the terror of bombing.

It was not long until the crowing lies about the great success in Libya started to fall apart–even in the eyes of Western audiences, who were already bored with Libya and looking forward to the next bombing campaign on their TV screens. On the night of September 11th, 2012, US Ambassador Chris Stevens joined the thousands who had already been tortured and lynched by NATO’s rebels. Stevens seems to have fancied himself as something of a Lawrence of Arabia type character. He loved being around violent men, and had little patience with the normal procedures that diplomatic staff must adhere to. He rejected the usual protection from U.S. Marines, and preferred to surround himself with mercenaries–some of them from the local Jihadist militias. During the so-called “uprising,” Stevens preferred to sleep in a hotel that was being used by the rebel militias, rather than stay in any sort of secure diplomatic structure. He took pride in the fact that the hotel room he now lived in had sometimes been used by the Head of Libyan Military Intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi. It was his little brush with celebrity. Following the murder of Al-Gaddafi, it seems he concentrated on recruiting young men to go to fight in Syria, and on doing arms deals with the militias to send weapons to Syria. It isn’t known precisely why one of these militias decided to attack him. It may have been an arms deal gone bad, or it may have been over the fact, which later emerged, that the CIA had been using what passed as a consulate in Benghazi as a “black prison” to hold militia members. These questions were to open a can of worms for the U.S. administration–and lead to several senior heads rolling, including that of CIA chief, David Petraeus.

If there’s a central character in this book, its General David H. Petraeus. So much of what’s wrong with NATO is reflected in the person of this one man–the megalomania, the rush to break all ties with reality, and the almost total lack of moral compass. Petraeus’ reputation as something of a military genius is based on his amazing discoveries in Iraq. For example, he discovered that if you pay “Military Contractors,” i.e. mercenaries, to do the fighting, the body count you have to report to the U.S. public dramatically decreases. The downside of this discovery is that mercenaries are very poor fighters against armed insurgents, but very good at committing atrocities against the unarmed civilian population. He also discovered that if you hijack the entire national revenue of an oil state, and use the money to bribe the insurgents not to attack your soldiers, as long as the payments are made on time, they probably will keep the peace. His other brilliant discovery was that the U.S. public really does not want the truth–or, at least, won’t make much effort to get it. The bigger and more exiting the lie, the more acceptable it will become. Obama was so impressed by Petraeus, that in June 2010, he made him commander of US Forces in Afghanistan. Things were not so easy here. The only national revenue worth hijacking was the drug money from opium. But, Petraeus still had some magic left. He promoted the idea that the CIA should become the front line of US offensive action. Not that CIA agents would be anywhere near the front line. From their easy chairs, they bomb homes, schools, weddings and even hospitals with their joysticks. Drone warfare is the name of the game. However, none of this was as exciting as Iraq, and Petraeus was spending more and more of his time trying to explain to his adoring fans in the Western media why the best armed and best trained army in the world was being beaten, on every front, by poorly armed tribesmen. Petraeus took refuge from his futile existence in the charms of his besotted biographer, Paula Broadwell. Campbell writes: “Petraeus understood the stakes of the legacy of a general, and it was based on his sense of history that he supported Paula Broadwell’s project to write his biography.” As we later understood, Paula had bigger ambitions than just writing a book–she wanted to make her own little bit of history.

Despite the failures in Afghanistan, by 2012, the star of General Petraeus was shining in its highest glory.  In 2011, Obama had appointed him Director General of the CIA, from which position he could continue his efforts to move the CIA into the role of the leading offensive weapon in the US imperial arsenal. His drone attacks continued to slaughter hundreds of innocent civilians–but that was no reason a man couldn’t become US President.  Professor Campbell writes: “In December 2012 it was finally revealed that Roger Ailes of Fox News had approached Petraeus to recruit him as the presidential candidate for the 2012 elections…Rupert Murdock would offer financial support for his presidential bid.” Petraeus, however, decided against such a leap, and could have expected to further his reputation in the CIA for at least another four years–if the lynching of Chris Stevens hadn’t intervened.

The U.S. media refer to this incident simply as “Benghazi.”  As if nothing had ever happened before, or since, in Benghazi.  As if Stevens was not just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands (NATO says it doesn’t do body counts) of people lynched in that city, since February 2011. Ms. Broadwell dropped her own bombshell in the lap of David Petraeus, when she revealed that the CIA had been running a secret prison in what was supposed to be a U.S. consulate. Questions were raised about Stevens’ activities in Benghazi, and why the usual procedures for the protection of diplomats had been thrown out the window. All of these questions, ultimately, related to the kind of military régime that Petraeus had been fostering all this time–the replacement of soldiers with mercenaries, the extensive use of assassination as a political weapon, the confusing of diplomatic and military roles, and the use of local gangs to carry out military operations. Perhaps, resigning over an extra-marital affair was easier than having to answer these questions.

Professor Campbell analyses the disposition of forces in NATO, and finds that far from proving the strength of NATO, the war against the Libyan people exposed its terminal weakness. Of twenty-eight NATO member states, only eight agreed to be part of the war on Libya. Campbell quotes Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, as saying: “Isn’t the Libyan case yet another example of European hypocrisy?” Poland refused to join in the oil grab. Of the eight, only the two Anglo-Saxon states and France took any real part in the bombing. Italy allowed its airbases to be used to launch the bombing raids. Of course, the reality of NATO is that it consists of the USA–plus its running dogs. The British and the French usually just tag along to lend some kind of political fig leaf to US imperial campaigns. However, in Libya’s case, the Brits and the French could smell the oil and were desperate to get at it. Campbell relates that it was particularly the French who wanted war, and drew the first blood–the Libyan Army convoy mentioned above, withdrawing from Benghazi.

One of the more entertaining sections of the book deals with the jockeying and pushing between the rogues themselves, as to who would get the biggest slice of the Libyan cake, once the bombing was done. Despite the smiles for the cameras, there was intense rivalry between Cameron and Sarkozi. Italy seemed to think it had historical precedence in any new oil carve-up, due to the fact that it was the former colonial power. The French have shown great interest in Libya’s water and the Great Man Made River, which some have valued at 70 trillion dollars–far more than the oil is worth. The U.S. government seemed less interested in the oil and water, and more interested in taking control of the Libyan Investment Authority and the Arab Banking Corporation–no doubt acting under orders from Wall Street.

So, what can we say has been the nature of NATO’s “success” in Libya?  Eight months of bombing by the combined air power of theU.S, Britain and France. 6,000 Qatari troops, thousands of mercenaries, and hundreds of NATO Special Forces, and all to defeat a country with the same population as Ireland!  Or, about half the population of “Gallant Little Belgium.” At the end of eight months, 150 bombing raids per day, most of NATO’s air fleet was grounded, due to lack of spare parts and the exhaustion of the air-crews. Only a liar or a madman would call this a “success” for NATO. As I write, the calls of the war-mongers for an attack on Syria have been blunted by the failure of a false flag chemical attack, deft diplomacy on the part of the Russian and Syrian governments–and a strong dose of Realpolitik. Those U.S. Generals, who have studied NATO’s war against the Libyan people, will be more reluctant to repeat the “success”–against the vastly more powerful, more prepared, and more battle hardened Syrian Arab Army and its allies in Iran, Lebanon, Russia and, perhaps, China too. After Libya, Russian and Chinese military analysts were not slow to read the implications–NATO is a weak force in the world, and getting weaker.

What is very striking about this book is the bit part played by the President of the U.S., Barack Obama. Nowhere does he come across as a main player. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has lamented that the Masters of Men have turned Obama into an assassin. Obama is not so much an assassin, as a man who stands up and does John Wayne impersonations, every time the U.S. military carries out some atrocity. The wheels of war, put in motion by the Bush presidency, kept growing faster and more destructive all during Obama’s time in office. If Obama wanted to reign in the “Crusaders” in the U.S. military (as Campbell calls Petraeus and his fellow Christian adventurers), appointing their poster boy to command in Afghanistan and then appointing him head of the CIA was a strange way to do it. It’s clear that Professor Campbell would not be nearly so hard on Obama as I am being here. He gives him the benefit of the doubt.

Once more, Western capitalism faces a devastating crisis, and once more, looks to Africa’s fabulous wealth as its only possible hope for survival. Campbell considers the political and economic dynamics in Africa, and finds that much has changed since the close of the 20th century. Colonel al-Gaddafi had sent shock waves through Europe when he convinced the Italian state to agree to war reparations of $200 million per year, for 25 years, for its past colonial crimes against the Libyan people, along with the return of cultural artifacts stolen during the colonial occupation. What if every African country did the same? How could Europe answer such a demand? How could the West present itself as Africa’s aid, when it fails to pay what it owes in reparations? Or even admit to them. And no more is Africa limited to doing business with the West. China, India and Brazil have been extremely active across Africa. While the West seems to have nothing to offer Africa but bombs, these countries offer development. It has often been said that the war on the Libyan people was really a proxy war against China. There is certainly some truth in that, but, perhaps, China also was not overly happy with Al Gaddafi’s ideas about a strong and united Africa.  It certainly didn’t do much to stop Libya being lynched.

Rasmussen’s “success” in Libya has been slow to yield the Western oil companies the prize they so coveted. Indeed, the pervasive atmosphere of violence and almost total lack of state security has meant that, far from there being more Western companies in Libya, those who had already been there during the Jamahiriya are now fleeing the country–trying to offload their investments at hugely discounted prices to anyone foolhardy enough to buy. A strike in the oil industry has brought the country to a virtual standstill. Eastern Libya threatens to set up an autonomous state, and demands its “its oil” be used only for Eastern Libya. In the south of the country, no element of any sort of state is to be found. Water supplies from Al Gaddafi’s Great Man Made River have been cut, in protest at the police kidnapping of a young women. Today, Libya is under the de facto control of approximately 1700 militias, who subject the people to whatever laws they want to make up –including public floggings for breaking Islamic codes. There are constant turf wars between these militias, which not only claim the lives of militia members, but also members of the public, who are often caught in the crossfire. Most political parties have withdrawn from the so-called National Congress, leaving the Muslim Brotherhood to keep up the pretense of a government.

Libya, Somalia, DR Congo, Mali–it seems that these broken states follow the AFRICOM/NATO paradigm for Africa. The hope now is that Syria can join the list of once-states that “we Westerners” can feel confident will stay put in the dark ages, and never raise their heads again. Perhaps, when Rasmussen described NATO’s war against the Libyan people as a success, he simply meant that Libya’s oil and water will no longer be used as a means to unite Africa. From now on, Libyan resources will be used as a weapon against Africa–to fund the further imperialist domination of Africa.

Despite all of this, Professor Campbell concludes on a note of hope, defiance, and respect for the African leader and martyr, Muammar al-Gaddafi, perhaps gained through the writing of this book. Africans, he believes, have come to the realization that the time has come when they must intensify their efforts for African Unity. Only a United Africa can secure the people of Africa the peace, justice and prosperity they so richly deserve, and which the great natural and human wealth of Africa should guarantee them. Campbell concludes: “It is now clearer that the decision to execute Muammar Gaddafi was made to silence one voice for anti-imperialism. Far from humiliating and silencing Africans, there is now a realization that the work for the freedom and unity of Africa must be engaged with even more clarity. The execution had the opposite effect, and the work of expelling foreign military forces from Africa will now be more intense.”