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Editorial - Libya: job done?

The ‘Arab Spring’ flowered in Libya in February of this year. A series of protests against living conditions, then against the government, quickly escalated into a civil war aimed at removing the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. On 19 March, the British government, with its American and French partners, launched a bombing campaign, ostensibly to ‘protect citizens’ from Gaddafi’s troops. Just six months later, on 15 September, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the British prime minister, David Cameron, landed in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to declare, in effect, ‘job done’.

But what job is being done? If you’re gullible enough to believe the rhetoric of politicians, then Western intervention in Libya was all about protecting citizens from dictators and helping revolutionaries establish democracy. But the real reason for Nato’s concern is quite obvious. The real reason is oil.

You needn’t take socialists’ word for it. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former Gaddafi henchman and now chairman of the National Transitional Council, was anxious to assure Cameron and Sarkozy of the intentions of the new regime: “The supportive role of France and Britain will have a future influence. Until now we have signed no [oil] contracts and we will honour all previous contracts. But our friends will have a premier role according to their efforts in supporting Libya,” he said (Financial Times, 15 September).

Indeed, it’s so blindingly obvious that the Western intervention in Libya was about oil that it is instructive to watch commentators who are obliged, for ideological reasons, to deny it. George Friedman of Stratfor.com, for example, in one of his regular email reports (30 August), said that he “sympathised” with those who thought the war must be about oil and tried to find “a deep conspiracy” to explain it. But Friedman dismisses the “theory” for the simple reason that Gaddafi “loved selling oil”, that he would simply change the arrangements about oil if pressure was brought to bear because he “was as cynical as they come”, and it was therefore “not necessary to actually go to war to get whatever concessions were wanted”. Friedman then concludes that the official explanation is therefore “the only rational one”.

It’s a daft argument. Friedman is dismissing a silly theory no one believes in – that there was a “deep conspiracy” to start a war to steal Gaddafi’s oil – in order to discredit and dismiss a different theory which is obviously true, but socialist, and hence to be suppressed – the theory, namely, that all capitalist economies have a vital strategic interest in guaranteeing their supplies of raw materials, most crucially oil, and that therefore those countries’ states pursue foreign policies with such interests in mind. Formerly, that meant installing and arming the dictatorships the Arab Spring rose up to overthrow. Since the Arab Spring, it has meant scrambling to come up with some other way of installing or supporting regimes that will be subservient to Western capitalist interests.

And it is in this sense that, for now at any rate, the Nato intervention seems to be going so well. For a relatively low cost, and with relatively few Western casualties, Britain, France and America looks like it has got rid of a tyrant they had struggled to control for decades, staged a brilliant PR exercise supporting a democratic revolution in the Middle East, and are about to help install a regime friendly to its vital strategic oil interests in a country with the largest oil reserves in Africa. Job done indeed.