The Shape of Things to Come in Libya (Part 1 of 2)

There is another rush to war in Libya. Driven by US public alarmism over ISIS, and fronted by Italy, we are now being told by the Italian Defence Minister that war is coming before spring:

“We cannot imagine waiting until spring while the situation in Libya is still frozen. Efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis must be coordinated internationally…it is impossible for the international intervention to wait until the upcoming spring”.

Canada is being sleep-walked into rejoining another round of war in Libya, with a Defence Minister making strikingly oblique statements about Canada learning from its experience in Afghanistan—as if that were a measure of success—while not learning anything about Canada’s last military aggression against Libya. As if to add to the prevailing official dismissal of reality and history, Italy’s Defence Minister openly declares that the West needs to obtain a formal invitation—from the government the West manufactured and is trying to install in Libya—“to avoid fuelling ‘jihadist propaganda’ of yet another ‘Western invasion’”. The result is that three governments are simultaneously claiming the right to represent Libyans, except that one of them—the newest—is not even based in Libya, was manufactured by the UN, and is being imposed in a rush under the threat of international sanctions. Lost on the EU, the UN, NATO, and the US is the very basic fact that any agreement produced under duress, is not an agreement.

Good science fiction almost makes you believe the story is true; here, instead, we are being told up front that the soon to be official story is false from the start, and is mandated merely as propaganda.

The United Airmen Impose New Order on Libya

“Science Fiction Changes the World for the Better”—this is Rule #1 in a list of helpful tips for aspiring science fiction writers. “We live in a Science Fiction world,” we are told, with an added comment by Ray Bradbury: “Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science, the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction”. Rule #7 fits into this approach: “Science Fiction is Real”. It is not meant to be fantasy—it must be “plausible, realistic, possible and yes, it has to be real,” at least possible in some alternate world (which significantly widens the realm of the possible, making it limitless). Allegedly, as Rule #3 maintains, “good science fiction” is supposed to be “good science”. Good science should not be “mythical, magical or religious”. There seems to be a determined clinging to realism in these rules of fiction. In the fictions about Libyan politics spun by the US, NATO allies, and the UN—imposed as virtual reality (a third Libyan “national” government, installed undemocratically by the democracy-promoting UN, and based in Tunisia)—one has to ask: is it all just bad science fiction? It is difficult to argue that what follows is an example of “good science” in Western policy-making on Libya, but it certainly is saturated with fiction, with pure faith and wishful thinking masquerading as intelligent decision-making and practical action. However, if anyone thinks this new round of intervention is “good science,” then they are probably conditioned by what is in fact good science fiction, without understanding it.

things-to-comeHere we are dealing with a particular type of science fiction: social science fiction. I think it is an important subject of study, especially because in the US it seems that the only time that imperialism is conceptually grasped, is when it is deflected into films about alien invasions. In other words, the aliens shown in the standard alien invasion/abduction film, are a symbolic representation of US imperialists—it will be denied that Good Americans are anything like that, and the overt denial mixed with tacit agreement becomes science fiction. As a non-US cinema spectator, when I see films about aliens, I see them as coming from the US, I see reenactments of everything US troops have done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and so on: family members abducted at night, tortured or simply disappeared forever; homes penetrated by beams of light and shaken by thunderous noise; mysterious flying objects with overwhelming firepower; imperious alien commanders with instructions on how we will submit or die—I could continue.

The current “plan” for Libya is much like the old plan. Libya is a case where past intervention begets new intervention, but is even subject to the same form of intervention: a new Libya, dropped onto the country from the sky. The first time I encountered this notion of social engineering via a foreign air force, was in a science fiction film from 1936, Things to Come, based on the novel by H.G. Wells (The Shape of Things to Come). The film appeared to be chillingly prescient, as if predicting WWII and the bombing of London, to come a few years later. In the film we are shown a nation devastated by war, broken down into a caricature of the stone age, which is suddenly visited one day by an alien-like being flying a plane, in a world where planes had long ceased to fly. Here is an extract from the movie script (with the accompanying video clip; the full movie is on YouTube).

First, the newly arrived visitor from the sky (actually, from Basra of all places) declares in one of many speeches:

“Everywhere we find these little semi-military upstarts robbing and fighting. That’s what endless warfare has led to—brigandage. What else could happen? But we, who are all that are left of the old engineers and mechanics…have pledged ourselves to salvage the world. We have the airways—or what’s left of them. We have the seas. And we have ideas in common. The brotherhood of efficiencythe freemasonry of science. We’re the last trustees of civilization when everything else has failed”.

The visitor is then ushered in to be interrogated by the local warlord, the boss, when this exchange ensues:

Visitor: “Well, what do you want to see me about?”
—Warlord: “Who are you? Do you know this country’s at war?”
Visitor: “At war? Still at it, eh? We must clean that up.”
—Walord: “What do you mean ‘we must clean that up’? War’s war. Who are you, I say?”
Visitor: “The law. Law and sanity.”
—Walord: “I am the law here!”
Visitor: “I said: ‘law and sanity’.”
—Walord: “Where do you come from? Who are you?”
Visitor: “Wings Over the World.”
—Walord: “Well, you know, you can’t come into a country like this in this fashion.”
Visitor: “I’m here. Do you mind if I sit down?”
—Walord: “And now, for the fourth time, who are you?”
Visitor: “I tell you, ‘Wings Over the World’.”
—Walord: “That’s nothing. What government are you under?”
Visitor: “Common sense. I belong to World Communications. We just run ourselves.”
—Walord: “Eh? You’ll run into trouble if you try and land here in wartime. What’s the game?”
Visitor: “Order and trade.”
—Walord: “Trade, eh?”

Later on, a dispute over sovereignty and the new world order erupts between the two speakers:

Visitor: “…our new order has an objection to private aeroplanes.”
—Walord: “The impudence! I’m not talking about private aeroplanes. Our aeroplanes are public aeroplanes. This is an independent sovereign state at war. I know nothing about any old order. I’m the chief here…and I’m not taking any orders, old or new, from you.”

And while the visitor first proclaimed his order to be one against war, he is fairly quick to re-endorse war to conquer the recalcitrant savages:

—Walord: “This is an independent sovereign state.”
Visitor: “Yes, we must talk about that.”
—Walord: “We don’t discuss it.”
Visitor: “We don’t approve of independent sovereign states.”
—Walord: “You don’t approve?”
Visitor: “We mean to stop them.”
—Walord: “That’s war.”
Visitor: “If you will.”

Further on, Wings Over the World announces that he is a member of the “United Airmen”: “The new world of united airmen will finish you”.

H.G. Wells has produced “good science fiction” here, predicting not just the coming of WWII, but the coming of an age of a neoliberal and self-described civilizing reconquest. The warlord can be taken as a representative of one of Libya’s numerous ruling militias. The visitor from the sky, Mr. Wings Over the World, is a composite of the the US Air Force, NATO, the EU, the UN, and humanitarian imperialists. Wings Over the World in our time, the United Airmen of the film, dispel with sovereign independence—they mean to make war to end war, in the notorious circular logic of the humanitarian imperialists with their moral dualism. They will clean up the world, and impose order and trade, the rule of law and science. These are self-identified saviours, trustees of civilization, Freemasons of science, the bringers of efficiency, who own the skies and indeed “world communications”. It’s as if H.G. Wells was scripting the American Exceptionalism of the 21st century, the neoliberal New American Century. And this is what is being played out with Libya, against these “semi-military upstarts” who are nothing more than brigands, who are not entitled to airplanes of their own (thus the UN arms embargo remains in place, at least on paper).

Alpha and Omega in Libya

For Libya “the apocalypse” is not science fiction, it is not an imaginary future. It is a real, dystopian present. That all of us in the West to varying degrees helped to doom Libya by interfering in Libya, should teach us that we are not, and never have been, mere innocent spectators to an unfolding drama of ancient, local blood feuds, “tribalism,” or religious conflict. Now that would be very poor science fiction when it cannot even grasp or represent our recent past, let alone prognosticate about the future. Unfortunately, Western “pundits” have visions of the future while suffering from short-term memory loss, and they thus usually airbrush AFRICOM and NATO, along with the EU, out of the picture. “We liberated Libya,” they seem to claim, “while Libyans de-liberated themselves”. What is promoted in public as smart analysis, would fail an undergraduate social science course for creating a false argument based on a phony portrayal.

In Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), we are shown the ruins of a cathedral in the devastated “forbidden zone,” inhabited by mutated humans with telepathic powers in a post-apocalyptic future. In the cathedral, what appears to be a nuclear bomb is erected at an altar. The bomb is the object of worship and is hailed as the “divine bomb”—this is the “alpha and omega” bomb that is also referred to as a “doomsday bomb” in the movie. What is striking is the recurring motif of the glorification of the air-dropped “solution”. While not suggesting that the West plans to “nuke” Libya—the faith in solutions dropped from the sky is nevertheless both science fiction and a key theme in current public talk of renewed air attacks against Libyan targets, most notably Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, the site of the greatest destruction suffered by any urban area in the 2011 war, and now the so-called capital of ISIS in Libya.


There is then this negative relationship between “good science fiction” and “bad policy/practice”. Good science fiction of a futuristic bent might predict key aspects of the future by intuiting where present trends are leading us, but it is clearly not meant as a script to be followed. Understanding a warning means not doing what you are being warned against. Bad policy and practice, contrasted with science fiction, says “I will get burned if I play with fire, and therefore I will play with fire”. It thus validates science fiction, by doing what one should not: acting out our lines according to what is written in science fiction tales. What the West is bringing to Libya, yet again, is more social science fiction-based policy and practice, with a persistent wrong-headed and obstinate refusal to understand the invalidity of unsustainable, exogenous impositions. They simply will not listen. They will line up “Libya experts” for UN or EU policy consultations, who are carefully chosen from a population of prestigious repeaters. What follows is predictable: more of the same. Far from “globalization” bringing about increased global cultural consciousness and inter-cultural communication, it has in fact been marked by an entrenchment of the most abysmal ignorance, conceit, and regressive universalism, with a relentless desire to destroy difference in order to impose control through sameness.

Options Include: Airstrikes

Options being considered by the US government include “airstrikes, commando raids or advising vetted Libyan militias on the ground, as Special Operations forces are doing now in eastern Syria. Covert CIA paramilitary missions are also being considered”. The US might attack an unspecified wide range of targets, and could deploy “teams of commandos to work with Libyan fighters who promise to support a new Libyan government”—that is, using military coercion to forcibly create a political “reality” on the ground. The US claims there would be no troops on the ground—or “boots” as it calls them, sometimes referred to as “combat troops”—but then we read that this “would most likely be a Special Operations war”. In fact, the Pentagon has already confirmed that as of late January “a small number of [US] military personnel” are already on the ground in Libya, “to engage in conversations with local forces to get a clearer picture of exactly what’s happening there”.

Italy is working with France, the UK, and the US in preparing military action—once it receives an official “invitation” from the science fiction “government” that they helped to fabricate and install. Italy’s Ministry of Defence ordered the deployment of four AMX fighter aircraft and one Predator drone to its Birgi base near Trapani, Sicily, in building preparation for intervention in Libya.

The UK’s Royal Air Force has already openly resumed airstrikes against Libya, after months of signalling it would take such action, and with limited public debate ensuing. Meanwhile, British military sources briefed the media on the fact that, “US and British Special Forces were in Libya gathering intelligence to prepare for a possible deployment of up to 6,000 US and European troops”. Other sources say that UK special forces troops are in Libya in preparation for a major offensive: “they’re said to be preparing to spearhead an operation involving 1,000 British infantrymen, who’ll be sent there early this year to help train and support Libyan forces….the offensive will involve about 6,000 coalition soldiers and marines, with SAS troops working alongside Libyan forces to advise them on ‘battle-space management’”. The 6,000 US and European soldiers and marines will be led by Italian forces, and supported mainly by Britain and France, other sources suggested. The interventionists have learned from 2011 that the only time major advances were secured on the ground was once British SAS, US CIA, Western mercenaries, and Qatari and Sudanese troops were deployed, with hundreds of Qatari troops on the front lines in what some still amusingly call a “domestic conflict” and “local civil war”.

More Science Fiction: Interventionist Non-Interventionism

And yet the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond, claimed that the UK has ruled out sending British “combat troops” to Libya. This is part of a familiar, if tiresome, repetition of the semantic games played by politicians (aspiring to become science fiction writers perhaps). “Special Forces” are special, hence not those ordinary combat troops. Invasions are thus not invasions. Interventions are not interventions as long as “boots” remain in the air, or are covert boots. Military bases are not bases if they do not feature a shopping mall; otherwise they are just installations. War is not war when it is “kinetic force”. It is transparent silliness, deployed to confuse those who are still uninformed or willing to believe. The idea is to thwart intelligence, not just by insulting it, but by shifting the potential for meaning into a dead zone of euphemisms that sound like they were lifted from the imaginary talk of aliens in a science fiction novel.

The warped language is a cover for deeply confused thinking. Illogical contradictions abound. The dominant discourse now is that “Libya failed” because it was “neglected” by not being occupied by foreign armies, who could have “rebuilt” and “stabilized” Libya. The argument ignores the obvious cases of Iraq and Afghanistan—occupied by foreign armies that have served to escalate violence, social entropy, and the collapse of centralized government. Clearly then it is not foreign military occupation which either builds of stabilizes nations. This should be Lesson #1. Instead it remains the lesson never taught, and never learned, because the answer to this phony conundrum is that intervention should be barred in the first place. What is common to both Iraq and Libya is the recent history of US and NATO intervention.

In place of educating the public, the media in the US instead produces these dolled-up talking heads as “journalists” who ask safe, somewhat apologetic questions, with the voices of timid children. That is their sign to the rest of us of what “proper behaviour” ought to be—“press conferences” thus double as training videos to resocialize us into the conventions of self-censorship and self-humiliation. They ask infantile questions that invert US imperialism into something about warm and nurturing protection: “Madame Secretary, let’s turn now to your plans to keep America safe”. Poor little unsafe America.

A Deaf Ear to Libyan Anti-Interventionism

North America and Europe are dominated by mass surveillance states. We are told of how much of citizens’ data is harvested, of recorded telephone calls, archiving of emails, tracking behaviour online. Yet the principle that dominates is that the power elites only ever hear what they want to hear and what they are intellectually capable of processing. This should be Lesson #2. Deafness is institutionalized, rendering much of the surveillance irrelevant and immaterial, except as an excuse for swelling public budgets as a permanent corporate bailout for private intelligence firms and defence contractors.

Right now, the competing Libyan authorities are discovering what it meant to be Gaddafi: to demand an end to foreign intervention, to oppose foreign intervention, and to be brushed aside so that the phony voice of a foreign-created “legitimate” government can call for such intervention. The Libyan authorities of today are themselves an extension of 2011, when a small group of NATO states unilaterally determined who would be the “legitimate representative of all Libyans”—and we can see now, in the bright light of day, just how “legitimate” their “representation” really was. Now, it is their turn to be pushed aside.

No one is thinking about requesting foreign intervention at the moment,” said Ibrahim Dabbashi, former defector in 2011 who has cemented his position as Libya’s UN ambassador. For well over a year now, current Libyan leaders and diplomats have been insisting that they are against any further foreign intervention—having discovered the value of non-intervention. What is an even greater irony is how in just over a year, the UN, Secretary of State Kerry, the EU and AFRICOM, have moved from avowed anti-interventionism to pro-intervention. When useful, Libyans are deemed incapable of ruling themselves—one of the classic arguments of colonial humanitarianism from centuries past. Other Libyans have gone on record to oppose foreign intervention, not reversing their stance from a year ago like their presumed foreign allies have done. Ibrahim Bate el Mal, a spokesperson for the Misrata military council, is quoted as saying:

“The point is that on the one hand IS’s expansion is out of control, but on the other, the danger is that with a military intervention the situation could only get worse. This is the feeling of our people and of our troops.”

Outside Zliten’s police station, Basher Bernani, a member of the municipal council, said that most people were opposed to foreign intervention: “This situation can no longer be solved by air strikes. European [military action] is likely to make the situation worse and bring dozens of foreign fighters here”. In fact, in at least one recent documented instance, US Special Forces (seen below) have been detected, detained, and then expelled by Libyan forces: “Libya’s air force said 20 US Special Forces troops arrived at Libya’s Wattiya airbase, but left soon after local commanders asked them to go because they had no permission to be at the base” (also see photos here).


The government of Chad, which also opposed the 2011 US-led NATO military intervention, continues to oppose any new military intervention, for excellent reasons once again. Chad has signalled the prospect of ISIS combatants moving south into the Sahel as they reportedly begin to disperse from Sirte in anticipation of Western airstrikes. Niger’s government has echoed this worry. Colonel Khassim Moussa, head of Chad’s Special Antiterrorism Group, speaking of Chad’s installation of checkpoints on its northern border to block the entry of ISIS fighters, bluntly stated that he expected NATO to help protect Chad’s northern border: “It’s them who got involved in Libya, it’s up to them to fix it”.


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