A “Noble” War in Libya

As a Sunday Times leader made clear on March 20, sometimes you just have to draw a line:

‘[T]here can be no accommodation with a man like Gadaffi or any of his family who aspire to succeed him.’1

Seven years earlier, Alan Massie wrote in the same newspaper:

The sight of Tony Blair shaking hands with Colonel Gadaffi last week will have disgusted many… One may sympathise with these sentiments but, pushing emotion aside, Blair has shown courage. It would be lovely if international politics could be conducted so you were always dealing with decent people. It might be nice if governments were able consistently to pursue the “ethical foreign policy” of which Robin Cook used to speak so enthusiastically but the world isn’t like that.2

Sometimes, then, there can be accommodation with a man like Gaddafi. It was important not to overstate the extent of his crimes: ‘Of course, Libya remains essentially a dictatorship, even if not as repellent a one as that of Saddam’s.’

And democracy was far more likely to take root in the Middle East ‘in an atmosphere of friendship than of hostility’. Thus Blair was ‘bringing Libya into the fold of the community of nations’.

Like a skilled conjuror, the media slips effortlessly, and without explanation, between the obvious need for ‘positive engagement’ and the obvious need to ‘confront tyranny’.

The previous day, a Telegraph headline had read: ‘Shell fills its boots in the desert sun. The oil major’s deal with Libya is a welcome distraction from weeks of turmoil.’3

Christopher Hope commented: ‘Libya’s re-emergence as a place to do business looks well-timed for Western oil companies concerned about dwindling reserve levels. Like Iraq last year, it shows that on occasion politicians are not deaf to the necessity of driving through geo-political change to find more oil which will keep Western economies on the road.’

Reviewing the same rapprochement in 2004, a Guardian leader nodded quiet approval: ‘We should congratulate the Foreign Office for its quiet and effective diplomacy… Col Gadafy should be encouraged, but not at such a forced pace.’L4

An Independent editorial described Gaddafi as merely ‘the Arab world’s most eccentric and unpredictable leader’, adding: ‘Mr Blair is right to argue that there is real cause for rejoicing in a sinner that repenteth. However distasteful to the families of those murdered, an engagement and reconciliation with Libya that leads to the admission of guilt and compensation is better than continued isolation of the North African country.5

Again, it was important not to exaggerate Gaddafi’s crimes: ‘It is many years, also, since the Colonel has been actively engaged in supporting terror groups in Europe.’

Seven years later, on March 19, an Independent editorial exalted:

The international community has managed to come together over Libya in a way that, even a few days ago, seemed impossible. The adventurism [sic] of Bush and Blair in 2003 looked as if it had buried the principle of humanitarian intervention [sic] for a generation. It has returned sooner than anyone believed possible.

We have found not a word in that editorial, or any other, on why ‘engagement and reconciliation with Libya’ was advisable and possible in 2004, but completely impossible now. Might the explanation in fact lie in the WikiLeaked cable from November 2007 cited in Part 1:

But those who dominate Libya’s political and economic leadership are pursuing increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya’s extensive oil and gas reserves. Effective U.S. engagement on this issue should take the form of demonstrating the clear downsides to the GOL [government of Libya ] of pursuing this approach…’?

In 2004, Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer that ‘Tory attacks’ on Blair’s deal with Gaddafi looked ‘clumsily opportunistic’. And anyway: ‘Our poll today indicates that a substantial majority of voters support the visit.’

Rawnsley drew attention to the positives: ‘It will be an ultimate gain if engagement with the West gradually draws Libya towards more democratic values. It is a start that Amnesty International has at last been allowed into Libya to monitor human rights.’

He added brightly: ‘This is a very British coup. In the eyes of the Prime Minister, this is also a quintessentially Blair coup: a vindication of his own approach to the world, a reassertion of his belief that Britain plays a pivotal role in global affairs.’

Seven years later, Rawnsley shudders at the prospect of ‘a pariah, highly dangerous Gaddafi regime on the southern borders of Europe. The people of Libya will never be truly safe from him until he no longer has the power to do them harm’.

No-one could accommodate this maniac:

At the heart of the perils ahead stands Colonel Gaddafi, the great survivor among tyrants. He may be mad, but that doesn’t mean he is entirely stupid… He declared a ceasefire as if he had suddenly become a reformed character who would not hurt a hair on a civilian’s head. We can be justified in regarding that possibility as being about as likely as discovering that Elvis Presley is alive and well living in the stomach of the Loch Ness monster.

Ironically, echoing his earlier article, Rawnsley commented: ‘Public opinion is broadly behind confronting Colonel Gaddafi.’

The Guardian has been more sceptical of the intervention, although for pragmatic reasons: ‘The moment the US intervenes militarily, even under a UN banner, Gaddafi gets what he wants – to be the defender against the foreign aggressor. Libya’s rebels are unanimous in their opposition to a ground intervention.’

Media Irrationalists

In adapting so flexibly to the claims of the powerful, the media’s framework of understanding might best be described as irrationalist. Typically, the media does not look for rational causes or systemic motives. It does not explain how leaders clearly emerging from a corporate power base can so often agitate for ‘humanitarian intervention’, and so often in resource-rich countries. It does not learn from history, even very recent history. It does not return to reflect on the credibility of previous claims (‘not news’), or on the testimony of credible witnesses countering such claims (‘no news hook’). It lives in a version of ‘now’ woven from government spin. If evidence drops in their laps, journalists will report, and quickly forget the significance of, the comments of an Alan Greenspan or a John Norris. But to actively seek out such material is to be deemed ‘crusading’, ‘biased’ and, ultimately, ‘radioactive’ (that is, unemployable).

Western journalists are reporting essentially the same Perpetual War being fought against the same ‘rogue states’ using the same means over and over again. This is why, in replying to one emailer, the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus wrote: ‘I think the clear military logic is that until Colonel Gaddafi issues a definitive order to halt offensive operations, Iraqi ground forces will be seen as targets.’6

We have seen numerous slips of this kind.

The BBC’s Mark Mardell, wrote of the latest attack by the latest ‘coalition’ on Libya:

They felt it was their duty to intervene. We don’t focus on this nearly enough. The Chinese didn’t feel that way. Neither did the Russians. Nor the Indians. Or Brazilians…

Why does the West feel this way, when no one else does? Is it a legacy of the enlightenment, a sense of responsibility and shared humanity? Or does it follow from colonialism, a feeling that it is their role to rule, that there is still a version of Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”, – the “savage wars of peace” – even if it is defined by geography, not colour.

The media is good at telling us what our leaders really, truly feel. This time they ‘felt it was their duty to intervene’; that is, their moral duty. In the absence of counter-balancing scepticism, this is just outrageous in ostensibly neutral journalism. When a reader emailed Mardell advising that we had entered him in ‘The Hall of Propaganda Infamy’ for these remarks, he replied: ‘Staggering. It is so sad, when there is a real need for such an organisation that they are so thick and self absorbed.’7

We responded to Mardell:

Hi Mark

Sorry if you found our comments annoying…. The suggestion that the West perhaps feels it should take up the ‘White Man’s Burden’ can also be read as positing a positive motivation. Kipling’s words are often used to refer to the idea that the West, presuming intellectual and moral superiority, feels obligated to rule ‘lesser races’ for their own good. In other words, your comments can easily be interpreted as offering a choice between two benevolent motivations for Western actions: compassion and a sense of moral duty. A more appropriate counterpoint to a possible motivation of ‘shared humanity’ would be ruthless greed for power and profit regardless of the consequences for the people themselves. [We then cited Alan Greenspan’s comments – see Part 1]

Best wishes

David Edwards8

Mardell replied on March 21:

Yes I do see that point. I guess I should have been clearer. My presumption was that the reference to Kipling would reinforce the notion of an arrogant sense of mission. Personally, and these are my views not the BBC ..blah blah …, I think that this veneer was always important to Victorian colonialism, while the looting and exploiting went on underneath the moral justification. I think how this translates these days is a pretty important debate to have, and that is what annoyed me : I was trying to get a debate going that I wasn’t seeing much in the general media, not trying to justify the action.
Thanks, Mark

Underneath Mardell’s blog, a poster had noted: ‘I think you mean that cruise missiles are exploding in Libya, not Iraq. To my knowledge America is not launching missiles there.’At 2:56pm on 20 Mar 2011, Will wrote, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markmardell/)

Mardell must have made the same Freudian slip as Jonathan Marcus and many others, with the mistake subsequently being corrected.

Also on the BBC’s website, political editor Nick Robinson declared: ‘David Cameron will feel a sense of vindication tonight. An idea which was condemned as sabre-rattling, unworkable and unnecessary has been agreed after days of intense diplomacy.’

Once again, a senior BBC journalist had found instant vindication for a leader he was supposed to be holding to account.

The Anti-Iraq Model

Writing in the Independent, Mary Dejevsky comments: ‘President Obama was elected on a platform that included not just a pledge to withdraw from Iraq, but a renunciation of everything the Iraq debacle stood for: the rush to military force, the idea of the US as the global gendarme, the proselytising of Western-style democracy, and the demonisation of Islam…’

This is pure fantasy, but let’s run with it. Dejevsky continues: ‘Such considerations led him to hold back over Egypt, despite much urging that he jump in sooner.’

The real reason, of course, was that Mubarak was ‘our man’. No heroics were demanded of Obama; he just needed to cut off the supply of billions of dollars of weapons to the tyrant. As even the BBC observes, ‘this supposedly anti-war president looks almost as warlike as President George W Bush’.

Dejevsky adds: ‘Supporters of intervention will breathe a sigh of relief and hail this as the anti-Iraq model.’

The ‘Iraq model’: mass violence and mass killing, with war as the first resort.

The ‘anti-Iraq model’: mass violence and mass killing, with war surely not the last resort.

Dejevsky ends: ‘And it is easy to conclude that eight years ago George Bush picked the wrong fight. If you want to foster democracy, why not invest in a country where opposition forces are already championing it on their own? But it is a bit late for such regrets now.’

It takes a special kind of mind to believe that Bush aimed to ‘foster democracy’ in Iraq.

The nation’s most progressive mainstream newspaper, the Guardian, takes a similarly benign view of Western motives: ‘Obama, who made reform and democratisation in the Arab world a key plank of his foreign policy when he spoke in Cairo in 2009, could not stand by and watch as Gaddafi crushed the uprising.’

And yet, as discussed in Part 1, Obama clearly can stand by while allied dictators kill numerous pro-freedom protestors with American weapons in Bahrain and Yemen. Again, there is precious little evidence that the US is interested in real ‘democratisation’, as opposed to pro-Western ‘guided democracy’, which is not democracy at all.

A Guardian blog found that the UN vote to take ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians in Libya ‘is little short of a personal triumph’ for David Cameron. The ‘obvious parallel’ is with the Kosovo crisis, the blog noted: ‘Blair prevailed and the NATO military campaign was a success.’ In fact, the campaign led to a major increase in atrocities, as Nato generals predicted in response to a ‘genocide’ that turned out to be a fraud. Is that success?

Also in the Guardian, Simon Tisdall argues that if the air campaign is successful, ‘the revolution will have been salvaged’. As the magnificent Michael Moore Tweets on Twitter: ‘Let’s hear from the “liberals” who say this is a just war because we’re protecting innocent Libyans–like that’s what we do!’ (http://twitter.com/MMFlint, 5:31 PM Mar 20th)

Tisdall adds: ‘If Libya falls to democracy, then like-minded reformers in Bahrain and elsewhere will be greatly heartened.’

If Libya falls to non-guided democracy, a new ‘rogue state’ will have risen from the ashes of the old.

In a condition of near-total unawareness, Tisdall writes of our dear leaders: ‘It’s a story, as they would prefer to write it, with a happy ending, producing a newly independent country, and another friend for the west.’

A ‘newly independent country’ would naturally be ‘a friend for the West’. This helps us translate ‘independent’ and ‘friend’, which actually mean tied and subordinate to Western power.

The Independent has serious concerns about the war: ‘The West must be careful not to lose the propaganda war’:

The regime in Tripoli is claiming that 48 civilians were killed and a further 150 wounded by the initial Western strikes. Those figures have not been verified and the Gaddafi regime is likely to be exaggerating the numbers killed. Something similar took place in the 1999 Kosovo war, when Nato planes, enforcing a no-fly zone, were accused of killing a large number of Serbian civilians in the process.

Unfortunately, the ‘bad guys’ are always making stuff up in this way. But what about the’ good guys’, including the media knights in shining karma? US Defence Secretary, William Cohen, said during the Kosovo war: ‘We’ve now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing… They may have been murdered.’9

In their book, The Politics of Genocide, Edward Herman and David Peterson reported that US newspapers used the word ‘genocide’ 323 times in reference to the Kosovo conflict, in which some 4,000 people are estimated to have died on all sides.10 The death toll in Iraq, by contrast, has been consistently undercounted by a factor of ten.

The Independent added: ‘Allied to dangers of a reversal in the propaganda war is the threat of mission creep on the part of the Coalition.’ The possible loss of the propaganda war is a ‘danger’ for the independent Independent – by which they mean, ‘we’ are backing the ‘good guys’.

In 2004, former Nato chief General Wesley Clark put the ‘good guys’ in perspective. In a filmed interview with Democracy Now!, Clark recalled a conversation with a Pentagon general in September 2001:

He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” (Transcript)

Clark added:

The truth is, about the Middle East is, had there been no oil there, it would be like Africa. Nobody is threatening to intervene in Africa. The problem is the opposite. We keep asking for people to intervene and stop it. There’s no question that the presence of petroleum throughout the region has sparked great power involvement.

  1. Leading article, ‘Allies need a rapid victory to outwit Gadaffi,’ Sunday Times, March 20, 2011. []
  2. Massie, ‘Keeping Gadaffi close is the safest option,’ Sunday Times, March 28, 2004. []
  3. Christopher Hope, Daily Telegraph, March 27, 2004. []
  4. eading article: ‘Colonel Gadafy: The prodigal son returns,’ The Guardian, March 26, 2004. []
  5. Leading article, ‘The ethics of shaking hands with a tyrant, and the reality of Mr Blair’s foreign policy,’ The Independent, March 26, 2004. []
  6. Email, forwarded to Media Lens, March 21, 2011 – our emphasis. []
  7. Email, forwarded March 21, 2011. []
  8. Email to Mark Mardell, March 21, 2011. []
  9. Quoted, Degraded Capability, The Media and the Kosovo Crisis, edited by Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman, Pluto Press, 2000, p.139. []
  10. Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, Monthly Review Press, 2010, p.35. []

Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. The second Media Lens book, Newspeak: In the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell, was published in 2009 by Pluto Press. Read other articles by Media Lens, or visit Media Lens's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. 3bancan said on March 28th, 2011 at 11:51am #

    “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

    It’s not for oil (Syria, Lebanon and Somalia are not oil countries!), but for the benefit of the Jewish nazi state of Israel that the zionazis want to destroy the muslim world…

  2. MichaelKenny said on March 28th, 2011 at 1:33pm #

    “A senior BBC journalist had found instant vindication for a leader he was supposed to be holding to account”. A beatiful formulation of the Israel Lobby propaganda line Media Lens peddles! British journalists are supposed to “hold people to account”. Since, like journalists everywhere else in the world, they don’t do that, it just has to be because they are in the pockets of the US and its Israeli master and since its the state-run BBC, that means that Britain’s political leaders are themselves in the same pocket. The interesting question is whether they really beileve that themselves or whether they just think we’re stupid enough to believe it. Good manners requires me to presume the latter.

  3. Maien said on March 28th, 2011 at 3:33pm #

    Mr. Kenney, you become redundant. perhaps you believe that if you say it often enough it will become true?

  4. hayate said on March 28th, 2011 at 8:35pm #

    “A “Noble” War in Libya”

    In fact it is “so noble” that when I posted objections to this “noble war” at the pulse site, I became the target of data miners. Likely the same phony anit-zionist pro-chomskyites who data mined me from mondoweiss when I disagreed with their views (a poster named annie apparently being the ringleader of that and who informed the pulse data miners last week). This is not how leftists and progressive behave, it’s how neo-cons and rabid zionists act. The data mining they engage in is unbelieveable, as I found out from the sayanim crew at the guardian – sayanim who even sent one of their people to the place where I worked to gather information. When I saw this sort of ziofascist behaviour taking place at mondoweiss behind the scenes (they always organise these data mining ops secretly), it killed my respect for that site, as it was being done by favoured people there, who wrote articles as well as commented. Tio see that the same exact ziofascist rubbish from the pulse site, along with their goosestepping 100% support for mossad’s/cia’s war against Libya, I realise these guys work together to lure in leftists and progressives, then here and there slip in some ziofascist propaganda (disguised as something progressive), while at the same time record whatever data they can on those who visit and comment on their site. It’s a good way to find out who needs to neutralised for israeli interests.

  5. hayate said on March 28th, 2011 at 10:04pm #

    BTW, I forgot to mention that my site that these stealth zionist data miners from pulse/mondoweiss were flocking to had been closed for several months while made sure no personal data was posted on it. All they should have seen was a page announcing the forum was under repair. But some of them managed to get past that page. They hackedthe forum in their quest to gather information.

    Now I ask, is this something anti-zionists, progressives and leftists do to sites of leftists who are anti-zionist? Or is it something sayanim do?

    I just noticed that pulse has now blocked me from posting on their site now.

    With the mossad/cia attack on Iran known as the “green revolution”, many stealth zionist websites showed their true colours by promoting those war crimes. Now with much worse war crimes being perpetuated by the ziofascist colonies against the people of Libya, ziofascism, inc. has “called in the chips” of some of their more deep cover assets to support these zionist originating war crimes.

    There are a lot of things an unscrupulous site can do with the “cookies” one allows on their computer. Be careful, people, when posting on these zionist sites. Make sure all your computer’s security programs are up to date. The israeli/zionists are literally at war with the world, literally, and that includes being at war with those opposed to zionism. These modern day “hitler youth” don’t make distinctions once they determine you are an “enemy”.

  6. mary said on March 29th, 2011 at 1:35am #

    HAYATE. THANKS FOR THE ADVICE. I SEE DEADBEAT ABD TEAFOE2 ARE RECENT COMMENTERS ON PULSE!

  7. mary said on March 29th, 2011 at 1:45am #

    ZBC propaganda for Obomber with some ‘thoughts’ from the very same Mark Mardell.

    US President Barack Obama has defended the first military intervention of his presidency, insisting US involvement in Libya will be limited.

    He said US participation in the coalition had saved “countless lives”, but that overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi by force would be a mistake.

    ……the + first+ military intervention of his presidency……. First??? WTF

    /… {http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12888826}

  8. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 11:33am #

    Cheers Mary

    I saw them there and their comments are spot on there. So are Brian’s (I assume it is the same person who sometimes posts here). Theier comments have been much more hard-hitting against the pulse stealth zionist support for war against the Libyan people than what I posted there.

    I’ve noticed the msm headlines the last week, since the u.n. Libyan war crime facilitation act, have been cheering a bombing campaign in support of the Libyan contras. I guess the ziofacists writing this rubbish must have forgot that israeli’s usa/nato colonies were only allowed to impose a no fly zone and make attacks which coincide with that specific role. They were not given a green light to become the foreign military support wing of the regime ops going on in Libya and engage in ops in direct support of contra ops there.