It’s impossible to make sense out of why we are at war in Libya through the lens of Republican/Democratic politics and outside the context of U.S. Empire.
If it weren’t so tragic, it would be humorous that Republicans are opposed because there is no distinct mission or endgame, given their steadfast support of nine years of war in Afghanistan and eight years in Iraq without so much as a whimper of dissent. While the Democratic president, who made the decision for war, is far too enamored with the “war is peace” doctrine (he presented to the world when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for escalating the Afghanistan war) than to giving the Libyan freedom fighters the support they were asking for when they needed it.
“For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom.”—President Barack Obama
That is the version of American history we have all been taught, but there is another version based on historical fact and not American propaganda and platitudes.
The U.S. was set up to be an empire and has always been an empire:
- Wars of aggression and the breaking of every peace treaty signed with the First Americans.
- Eight decades of slavery after our country’s founding, another century of segregation after the emancipation of the descendents of the human people brought here in slave ships from Africa and basically a continuation of second class citizenship for them since.
- Wars of aggression with Spain, Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
- CIA coups against democratically elected governments in Cuba (1952), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Zaire (1961, 1965), Dominican Republic (1963), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Greece (1967), Laos (1967–1973), Ecuador (1961, 1963 and unsuccessfully 2010), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1979–1990), Haiti (1991, 2004), Venezuela (unsuccessful 2002), Honduras (2009)
- Torture of people of color that we have fought with throughout our history.
- More than 700 U.S. military installations overseas.
- Military spending equal to all the other countries of the world combined
- Excess of 5,000 nuclear weapons
Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine and American Exceptionalism are evidence of empire. Billed as the war to end all wars, World War I and its sequel, World War II, were clashes of empires. The conclusion of which found but two empires still standing; the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Empires historically have allowed for some residual benefit for the common citizens, but their primary purpose has always been to increase the wealth of the ruling class. The U.S. is no different. But since the advent of neoliberal globalization (free trade, free markets, no regulations, tax cuts for the wealthy) some three and a half decades ago, the returns for the working class have dried up while the capitalist class has enjoyed seemingly limitless increases in wealth.
After WWII U.S. foreign policy, under the banner of anti-communism, consolidated gains for the Empire to benefit U.S. corporations. Many of these gains involved supporting brutal dictators such as Marcos in the Philippines, Pinochet in Chile and the Shah of Iran.
The Soviet Empire was more one of ideology than material benefit for the ruling Communist Party. As the self-described antithesis to Western capitalism, the Soviet Empire was under constant threat from the West and became a repressive military state as a self-defense mechanism. Their ideology did provide a foil for Western capitalism, as capitalism’s support of dictators throughout the developing world became a public relations nightmare in the court of world opinion. The U.S. while loudly proclaiming it stood for freedom throughout the world was keeping brutal tyrants in power. The U.S. defeat in Vietnam, the successful socialist Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the civil rights movement, the anti war movement and the movement for women’s rights combined with our general public relations black eye of dictator support forced our ruling elite class to change our foreign policy to one of “democracy promotion.”
The democracy being promoted was not government “of the people, by the people and for the people” that Lincoln had memorialized. It was simply a replication of U.S. democracy or elite rule with elections for pre-selected candidates to legitimize it. All put in place to expedite the extraction of wealth from the satellite states to the hub of U.S. Empire. An alphabet soup of NGOs (non governmental agencies that are in actuality controlled by the U.S. ruling class) emerged to implement this plan: 
- AID: Agency for International Development
- ACLD: Advisory Committee on Labor and Diplomacy
- ADF: America’s Development Foundation
- AIFLD: American Institute for Free Labor Development
- APF: American Political Foundation
- CFD: Center for Democracy
- CIPE: Center for International Private Enterprise
- DPI: Democratic Pluralism Institute
- FBIS: Foreign Broadcast Information Service
- FTUI: Free Trade Union Institute
- FH: Freedom House
- IFES :International Foundation for Electoral Assistance
- INSI: Institute for North South Issues
- IRI: International Republican Institute
- NED: National Endowment for Democracy
- NDI: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
- ODI: Office of Democratic Initiatives
- OPD: Office of Public Diplomacy
- USAID see AID
The primary purpose of the above agencies is to expedite corporate control or neoliberal globalization of the world’s people and resources. This is the lens or context with which to view the Libyan war.
Even with the knowledge of all of the above, this observer felt that we had to do something to prevent the slaughter of innocents that was threatened in Libya. Then I read Simon Assaf’s piece “How Western powers blackmailed the Libyan revolution.” It became clear to me that we can never make a right or correct decision as an empire, because as an empire, sapping the lifeblood from other lands, we are always wrong.
“ . . . Western powers have from the beginning made it difficult for the revolution to succeed on its own terms. Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC), the body that grew out of the revolution, made a series on simple demands in the first days of the uprising. Western governments refused to accept these until certain “guarantees” were in place.
“The rebels asked for the recognition of the Transitional National Council; they demanded access to the billions in sequestrated regime funds in order to buy weapons and other crucial supplies; and they demanded an immediate halt to the “mercenary flights” that provided the regime with its foot soldiers.
“The answer they received was an unequivocal No. The West declared that they did not recognize ‘governments,’ only countries. They refused to block the mercenary flights as these ‘security contractors’ play an important role in other conflicts—such as Iraq and Afghanistan. They objected to any weapons sales as they feared that these could fall into the hands of ‘Islamist terrorists,’ and they refused to release the funds on ‘legal grounds.’
“Instead Western powers put a number of conditions on a revolution. They demanded that any future Libyan government would abide by all contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime. These contracts, including ‘generous’ oil concession, had to be honored without question. Western powers demanded that the strict repression of ‘Islamist movements’ would remain, and that Libya would maintain its role as a guardian against the migration of Africans into southern Europe.
“The UN made it a condition that a ‘genuine ceasefire’ by the regime would bring the war to a halt. This would in effect pave the way for the partition of the country—the West of Libyan under control of the old regime and the east beholden to foreign powers.
“In effect, the West has blackmailed the revolution. The TNC was forced to mortgage its future in order to guarantee its survival. One cannot but wonder why one month into this uprising the rebels still have few weapons, or body armor, or effective anti-tank weapons. That despite controlling key ports the rebels are still begging for ammunition and other crucial supplies . . .” 
It is quite clear that just as with the recent Egyptian revolution when we reluctantly agreed to support the people in Tahrir Square over their dictator Mubarak, in Libya we will support the people as long as we can force them into agreeing with the corporate financial arrangements for extracting their country’s wealth. In Egypt it was necessary for the army to take control and agree to a continuation of the peace treaty with Israel, reviled by the Egyptian people, and responsible for the continuation of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the imprisonment of 1.6 million people. While in Libya we required the revolution to agree to continue Gaddafi’s rule without Gaddafi.
Statement of the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council in agreeing to our demand:
“The Council notes that it is the only legitimate body representing the people of Libya and the Libyan regional agreements signed by the former Libyan government, emphasizing its aspirations in seeing Libya play a significant role in the establishing international peace and security state and calls on all the countries of the world to recognise it and deal with it on the basis of international legitimacy. The Council also notes that it will honour and respect all international and security.” 
Of course if we were really interested in democracy and self determination for the Libyan people, we would have recognized their revolution long before Gaddafi’s troops were threatening Benghazi, given them access to the sequestered regime funds so that they could purchase arms to continue the struggle for their own freedom and used our international influence to stop the flights of mercenary soldiers into Libya. This might not have been as dramatic or made as good television as cruise missile strikes, but it surely would have been more effective at helping along the cause of democracy and self- determination without the baggage that the military intervention of the U.S. Empire and its surrogates entails in a Muslim country.
1. William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy—Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony, 1996, Cambridge University Press
Nick Egnatz is a Vietnam veteran. He has been actively protesting our government’s crimes of empire in both person and print for some years now and was named “Citizen of the Year” for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers. Contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org