The reality of the West’s trademark current foreign policy – marketed for the past two decades under the principle of a “Responsibility to Protect” – is all too visible amid Libya’s flood wreckage.
Many thousands are dead or missing in the port of Derna after two dams protecting the city burst this week as they were battered by Storm Daniel. Vast swaths of housing in the region, including in Benghazi, west of Derna, lie in ruins.
The storm itself is seen as further proof of a mounting climate crisis, rapidly changing weather patterns across the globe and making disasters like Derna’s flooding more likely.
But the extent of the calamity cannot simply be ascribed to climate change. Though the media coverage studiously obscures this point, Britain’s actions 12 years ago – when it trumpeted its humanitarian concern for Libya – are intimately tied to Derna’s current suffering.
The failing dams and faltering relief efforts, observers correctly point out, are the result of a power vacuum in Libya. There is no central authority capable of governing the country.
But there are reasons Libya is so ill-equipped to deal with a catastrophe. And the West is deeply implicated.
Avoiding mention of those reasons, as Western coverage is doing, leaves audiences with a false and dangerous impression: that something lacking in Libyans, or maybe Arabs and Africans, makes them inherently incapable of properly running their own affairs.
Libya is indeed a mess, overrun by feuding militias, with two rival governments vying for power amid a general air of lawlessness. Even before this latest disaster, the country’s rival rulers struggled to cope with the day-to-day management of their citizens’ lives.
Or as Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, observed of the crisis, it has been “compounded by Libya’s dysfunctional politics, a country so rich in natural resources and yet so desperately lacking the security and stability that its people crave.”
Meanwhile, Quentin Sommerville, the corporation’s Middle East correspondent, opined that “there are many countries that could have handled flooding on this scale, but not one as troubled as Libya. It has had a long and painful decade: civil wars, local conflicts, and Derna itself was taken over by the Islamic State group – the city was bombed to remove them from there.”
According to Sommerville, experts had previously warned that the dams were in poor shape, adding: “Amid Libya’s chaos, those warnings went unheeded.”
“Dysfunction”, “chaos”, “troubled”, “unstable”, “fractured”. The BBC and the rest of Britain’s establishment media have been firing out these terms like bullets from a machine gun.
Libya is what analysts like to term a failed state. But what the BBC and the rest of the Western media have carefully avoided mentioning is why.
More than decade ago, Libya had a strong, competent, if highly repressive, central government under dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The country’s oil revenues were used to provide free public education and health care. As a result, Libya had one of the highest literacy rates and average per capita incomes in Africa.
That all changed in 2011, when NATO sought to exploit the “Responsibility to Protect” principle, or R2P for short, to justify carrying out what amounted to an illegal regime-change operation off the back of an insurgency.
The supposed “humanitarian intervention” in Libya was a more sophisticated version of the West’s similarly illegal, “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq, eight years earlier.
Then, the US and Britain launched a war of aggression without United Nations authorization, based on an entirely bogus story that Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, possessed hidden stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
In Libya’s case, by contrast, Britain and France, backed by the United States, were more successful in winning a UN security resolution, with a narrow remit to protect civilian populations from the threat of attack and impose a no-fly zone.
Armed with the resolution, the West manufactured a pretext to meddle directly in Libya. They claimed that Gaddafi was preparing a massacre of civilians in the rebel-stronghold of Benghazi. The lurid story even suggested that Gaddafi was arming troops with Viagra to encourage them to commit mass rape.
As with Iraq’s WMD, the claims were entirely unsubstantiated, as a report by the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded five years later, in 2016. Its investigation found: “The proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.”
The report added: “Gaddafi’s 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.”
That, however, was not a view prime minister David Cameron or the media shared with the public when British MPs voted to back a war on Libya in March 2011. Only 13 legislators dissented.
Among them, notably, was Jeremy Corbyn, then a backbencher who four years later would be elected Labour opposition leader, triggering an extended smear campaign against him by the British establishment.
When NATO launched its “humanitarian intervention”, the death toll from Libya’s fighting was estimated by the UN at no more than 2,000. Six months later, it was assessed at nearer 50,000, with civilians comprising a significant proportion of the casualties.
Citing its R2P mission, NATO flagrantly exceeded the terms of the UN resolution, which specifically excluded “a foreign occupation force of any form”. Western troops, including British special forces, operated on the ground, coordinating the actions of rebel militias opposed to Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, NATO planes ran bombing campaigns that often killed the very civilians NATO claimed it was there to protect.
It was another illegal Western regime-overthrow operation – this one ending with the filming of Gaddafi being butchered on the street.
The self-congratulatory mood among Britain’s political and media class, burnishing the West’s “humanitarian” credentials, was evident across the media.
An Observer editorial declared: “An honourable intervention. A hopeful future.” In the Daily Telegraph, David Owen, a former British foreign secretary, wrote: “We have proved in Libya that intervention can still work.”
But had it worked?
Two years ago, even the arch-neoconservative Atlantic Council, the ultimate Washington insider think-tank, admitted: “Libyans are poorer, in greater peril, and experience as much or more political repression in parts of the country compared to Gaddafi’s rule.”
It added: “Libya remains divided politically and in a state of festering civil war. Frequent oil production halts while lack of oil fields maintenance has cost the country billions of dollars in lost revenues.”…