In Libya, the Empire Awakens

Throughout history, running an empire has always been about more than just sheer economic dominance or the exercise of overwhelming military force.  Even a modern empire without colonies, like the one operated by the US, requires more finesse than brawn.   It is the skillful adaptations to changing conditions that make empires last.  Or as the old saying goes, “don’t swim against the tide.”  Finally, after months of desperately attempting to appear on the right side of history with words alone, the US may have some swimmers in the water.  The military intervention in Libya is a signal that the empire has awoken from its seeming slumber.  The formula for arousal includes a dictatorial gadfly, a perhaps ill-timed insurrection and a generous supply of oil.

In North Africa, and elsewhere in the region, the US is preparing for the great adaptation to Arab democracy.  No longer able to rely on a network of authoritarian rulers in the region, the diplomatic machine that is the US State Department is now focused on relating to the new pro-democracy forces.  In truth, the US was never solely tied to the Hosni Mubaraks of the world.  They enjoyed equally cozy relations with the military establishment in each country.  And this establishment, unlike their political counterparts, has certainly not been overthrown.  The military in North Africa and the Middle East is every bit the military and economic actor it was before the pro-democracy protests.

We can see this in Libya where the Faustian bargain the opposition cut with the US, has been extended to relations with the Egyptian military.  Egyptian weapons, certainly with the permission of the US, are flowing across Tunisia into Eastern Libya.  Military-to-military links throughout the region represent an important resource for the US adaptation to this monumental process of change.  Thus far, the military in several countries has managed to place real limits on the extent of the transformation by keeping it contained to questions of political representation and the form of government.

The Libyan process has granted the US even greater access, as Eastern rebels have now endorsed a largely US-led bombing campaign aimed at weakening Libyan forces loyal to General Muammar Gaddafi.  In doing so, the Eastern rebels might be about to learn the hard lesson that the revolution cannot be outsourced.  US intervention comes with a price – and this bill will be paid politically, economically and militarily.  There was no way to cleave the military away from the regime in Tripoli, so intervention from outside was sure to be the primary strategy once the insurrection in the East was underway.

Clearly the US is interested in enhancing its strategic position in the region while also giving some substance to its pro-democracy claims.  Other European nations have also, somewhat more reluctantly, tailed along mimicking the same platitudes as they go.  Yet, it is the oil that has really accelerated US foreign policy, moving it from general claims of democracy and freedom to a costly military intervention.  The mere thought of a militarily victorious Gaddafi regime peddling large amounts of oil to US economic opponents pushed Obama to don yet another war cap.  While the Arab streets may have shifted the political debate in the region, pushing the US in a particular direction rhetorically, it is still their oil that attracts the unwelcome attention of Empire.

The Eastern rebels in Libya may yet win the day.  A perhaps premature and certainly ill-equipped insurrection may be saved from annihilation.  The awesome might of the US military can ensure things like this.  However, if 20th century political transformations serve as any kind of guide, how you win may be just as important as if you win.  The closer this movement in Eastern Libya slinks toward the US, the less independence they will have once the political transition begins.  And, later, when the oil begins to flow again, a heavy bill will come due.  Will the rebels be ready to pay it?  And at what cost to their political dreams of democracy?

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on March 25th, 2011 at 9:41am #

    I don’t think the oil factor is important and the “empire” factor is overstated. Currently, the oil goes mainly to Europe which, given Wall St’s attacks on the EU and the euro as well as the attempts to fabricate a new cold war, seems now to be regarded as “economic opponents”. That is unlikely to change. Equally, it is primarily France which is making the running, with the US tailing more than just a little reluctantly behind. That will worry the proponents of empire but they now seem to be limited largely to the neocon/leftist camp. Forgive me for saying it again, but however mind-boggling it is for Americans, the US may no longer rule the world and it may now be possible for other countries to drag it into wars which it would prefer to avoid. Now, that’s good news for the first weekend of spring, isn’t it?

  2. mary said on March 25th, 2011 at 11:09am #

    100 civilians were killed in NATO led air raids last night.

    Now there are these plans for a ground force to go in. It is obvious that this is a re-run 0f the Basra Road (charred bodies etc) and for the takeover of the Libyan oil reserves. The ‘rebels ‘had better be sure of what they wish for.


    The international coalition force is planning a ground operation in Libya that could start in late April, a high-ranking Russian intelligence service source said on Friday.

    “Information coming via different channels shows that NATO countries, with the active participation of Britain and the United States, are developing a plan for a ground operation on Libyan territory,” he said.

    “From all indications, a ground operation will be launched if the alliance fails to force the Gaddafi regime to capitulate with air strikes and missile attacks.”

    If the events in Libya follow this scenario, the ground operation could start “in late April-early May,” he added.

    The UN Security Council imposed a no-fly zone over Libya on March 17, allowing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s attacks on rebel-held towns.

    The operation to enforce the no-fly zone, codenamed Odyssey Dawn, is being conducted jointly by 13 states, including the United States, Britain and France.

    Western warplanes have flown more than 300 sorties over the North African country and fired 162 Tomahawk missiles in the UN mission.

    MOSCOW, March 25 (RIA Novosti)


  3. hayate said on March 25th, 2011 at 11:55am #

    I was just going to post that article here, Mary. I’ve been following this possibility since I saw a rail shipment of military vehicles, including a lot of amphibious vehicles, pass through my town a couple of days ago.

  4. hayate said on March 25th, 2011 at 11:58am #

    See the last 2 comments here:


  5. mary said on March 25th, 2011 at 12:35pm #

    There are already British ground troops in Libya.

    Despite the fact that we were repeatedly told that this would not happen, it turns out that this was another lie.

    ‘The bombing of the country came as it was revealed that hundreds of British special forces troops have been deployed deep inside Libya targeting Colonel Gaddafi’s forces – and more are on standby. While Chancellor George Osborne repeated that UK ground troops would not be involved, the Daily Mail can reveal there are an estimated 350 already mounting covert operations.

    In total it is understood that just under 250 UK special forces soldiers and their support have been in Libya since before the launch of air strikes to enforce the no-fly zone against Gaddafi’s forces.

    The troops in Libya were drawn from a squadron of SAS and SBS personnel, some who have been in the country for a month and are being re-supplied with water, food and ammunition via airdrops from Cyprus.
    Those numbers were further boosted by nearly 100 this week when paratroopers from the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) were sent to Libya as coalition commanders prepare to increase the tempo of operations.

    A further 800 Royal Marines are on five days’ notice to deploy to the Mediterranean to support humanitarian relief and aid operations.
    The beefing up of the Special Forces contingent comes as commanders switch attacks against command and control centres to low-level attacks against Gaddafi’s tanks.’


    I can’t believe that anyone thought that this was anything other than more of the New World Order imperialism protecting ‘our’ oil. Some gullible people here still believe it was ‘humanitarian’.

  6. brianct said on March 25th, 2011 at 6:30pm #

    How ironic: US is aiding a group(LIFG on the US state dept terrorist list( another parallel with the Kosovos KLA)

    “It may puzzle and perhaps dismay young protesters in Benghazi, Cairo and Tunisia that their democratic hopes are being manipulated by an ultra-conservative Arab elite which has underhandedly backed a surge of militant Islamist radicals across North Africa. Credible U.S. intelligence reports have cited evidence pointing to Qatar’s long-running support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and jihadist fighters returning from Afghanistan.

    The links to Qatar uncovered by anti-terrorism investigators in the wake of 9-11 need to be reexamined now that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an on-and-off affiliate of Al Qaeda, has seized armories across half of the North African country. Libya’s well-stocked arsenals contain high-power explosives, rocket launchers and chemical weapons. LIFG is on the State Department’s terrorist list.

  7. brianct said on March 26th, 2011 at 5:25am #

    must hear interview on Libya:
    Gerald Perreira speaks: hear the man who wrote excellent articles on Libya:

  8. mary said on March 28th, 2011 at 6:23am #

    Libya: The Destruction of a Country. The Bombing of Civilian Targets
    Testimony of Russia Doctors in Libya

    Global Research, March 28, 2011 Global Research Editor’s note

    The account provided by the team of Russian Doctors constitutes an eyewitness account of what is happening on the ground in Libya. It contradicts the stream of media disinformation. It confirms that the coaltion is routinely bombing civilian targets. For those progressives who have endorsed the US-NATO “humanitarian mandate”, this account provides us with evidence of extensive war crimes by those you claim to be coming to the rescue of civilians. Residential buildings, hospital are being targeted by the coalition’s smart bombs. The latter are extremely prcise. The bombing of civilians is deliberate. These are so-called validated targets. they are part of a list of targets.

    Mchel Chossudovsky, March 28, 2011


    I would like Cameron, Clegg, Fox, Hague, Sarkozy, Obomber and ALL their revolting supporters to be on the ground in Libya underneath this onslaught.