“Noble” War in Libya

One can hardly fail to be impressed by the corporate media’s faith in humanity. Or at least that part of humanity with its finger on the cruise missile button. Last week, the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn predicted that ‘Western nations will soon be engaged in a war in Libya with the noble aim of protecting civilians.’

At the opposite end of the alleged media spectrum, former Spectator editor and current London Mayor, Boris Johnson, agreed in the Telegraph: ‘The cause is noble and right, and we are surely bound by our common humanity to help the people of Benghazi.’

So is the aim of the latest war a noble one? How do Cockburn and Johnson know?

Perhaps they have considered evidence from the recent historical record. Economist Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, wrote in his memoir: ‘I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’ ((Leader, ‘Power, not oil, Mr Greenspan,’ Sunday Times, September 16, 2007.))

If this seems heroic, Greenspan’s bewildered response to the resulting controversy suggests otherwise: ‘From a rational point of view, I cannot understand why we don’t name what is evident and indeed a wholly defensible pre-emptive position.’ ((Quoted, Richard Adams, ‘Invasion of Iraq was driven by oil, says Greenspan,’ The Guardian, September 17, 2007.))

Certainly it is ‘defensible’, if we accept that the world’s premier power should do as it pleases in pursuit of oil. Greenspan had made his ‘pre-emptive’ economic case for war to White House officials, who responded: ‘Well, unfortunately, we can’t talk about oil.’ ((Quoted, Bob Woodward, ‘Greenspan: Ouster Of Hussein Crucial For Oil Security,’ Washington Post, September 17, 2007.))

Across flak so thick you could walk on it, Greenspan backtracked as he ‘clarified’ that, in identifying oil as the obvious key concern he, of course, ‘was not saying that that’s the administration’s motive’. ((Quoted, Bob Woodward, ‘Greenspan: Ouster Of Hussein Crucial For Oil Security,’ Washington Post, September 17, 2007.))

Or consider Nato’s air assault on Serbia in 1999. John Norris, director of communications during the war for deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, wrote in his memoir, Collision Course: ‘it was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war’. ((Norris, Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo, Praeger, 2005, p.xiii. ))

Norris, again, later claimed he had been quoted ‘both selectively and out of context to advance [a] polemic’. But his words mean what they say: that the plight of civilians was not the prime motive for war, thus contradicting a mountain of propaganda.

Wars Of First Resort

For the latest war to be adjudged ‘noble’, mass violence would have to be a final resort committed by agencies motivated by ethical goals. (To be considered legal, it would have to be waged without shaping Libya’s internal affairs – an obvious absurdity). In 2005, Michael Smith wrote of the pre-2003 Iraq war ‘Downing Street memo’ in the Los Angeles Times:

British officials hoped the ultimatum [demanding Iraq readmit UN weapons inspectors] could be framed in words that would be so unacceptable to Hussein that he would reject it outright. But they were far from certain this would work, so there was also a Plan B… Put simply, US aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were dropping a lot more bombs in the hope of provoking a reaction that would give the allies an excuse to carry out a full-scale bombing campaign, an air war, the first stage of the conflict. ((Michael Smith, ‘The real news in the Downing Street memos,’ Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005.)) [our emphasis]))

Put simply, US-UK leaders were determined to go to war with Iraq.

In 1999, Nato supported a CIA-backed insurgency waged by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Insurgents were clearly eager to stoke a conflict that would trigger foreign intervention – Nato was eager to oblige. Noam Chomsky wrote:

‘NATO chose to reject diplomatic options that were not exhausted, and to launch a military campaign that had terrible consequences for Kosovar Albanians, as anticipated.’

Among the losers, there were the usual winners:

‘[T]he business press described “the real winners” as Western military industry, meaning high-tech industry generally. Moscow is looking forward to a “banner year for Russian weapons exports” as “the world is rearming apprehensively largely thanks to NATO’s Balkans adventure,” seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war. More important, the U.S. was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of NATO, a U.S subsidiary.’

Recall that, despite being a violent and unpredictable dictator, Gaddafi was embraced by ‘the international community’ as he renounced all interest in weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, then prime minister Tony Blair declared a ‘new relationship‘ between Britain and Libya. In 2007, Blair and Gaddafi did a ‘deal in the desert’.

We suspect the real reasons why a non-military solution was ‘unachievable’ now as part of this ‘new relationship’ are not being discussed and will surface later, perhaps in someone’s autobiography.

A Dirty Little Three-Letter Word

Rory Stewart, a Tory MP, argues ‘we had a moral right to protect Libyans from Gaddafi…’ Really? After everything we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan? In the aftermath of the Kosovo war, the late playwright Harold Pinter told one of us in an interview:

When they said “We had to do something,” I said: “Who is this ‘we’ exactly that you’re talking about?” First of all: “Who is the ‘we’? Under what heading do ‘we’ act, under what law? And also, the notion that this ‘we’ has the right to act,” I said, “presupposes a moral authority of which this ‘we’ possesses not a jot! It doesn’t exist!”

A serial killer with a long history of violent, greed-driven crimes might claim to be motivated by compassion in committing further violence. He might even act morally. But his actions could not possibly be based on any ‘moral right’. And the rest of the world would be entitled to argue that, given his record, he was the last person likely to achieve positive results.

Also, as former Labour and Respect MP, George Galloway, has noted, the claim of ‘noble’ intent is challenged by Western indifference to mass killing in Yemen and Bahrain using Western weapons. Cockburn writes in the Independent: ‘The worst verifiable atrocity in the Arab world in the past week was not in Libya but in Yemen, where pro-government gunmen machine-gunned an unarmed demonstration last Friday, killing 52 people.’

Asked whether the United States still supported Yemen’s dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, or if it was time for him to go, US defence secretary Robert Gates said: ‘I don’t think it’s my place to talk about internal affairs in Yemen.’

Saleh is an ally of the US against al-Qaeda, Eugene Robinson observes in the Washington Post, and ‘therefore, is a useful tyrant. He gets nudges, not bombs.’

Bahrain’s ruling al-Khalifa royal family also get nudges. Why?

Because the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based there, astride the Persian Gulf shipping lanes through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments must pass… Also, the al-Khalifas are close allies of the Saudi royals, who are desperate to keep the protests in Bahrain from spilling over into the nearby kingdom.

Gaddafi, by contrast, is less cooperative, friendly and amenable. Galloway adds of the Libyan attack: ‘It’s so transparently an attempt to protect British companies’ and other Western companies’ massive investments in Libya that it is discredited in the Arab world.’

And yet a Guardian editorial argues that the support of the Arab League ‘was so essential to the argument that military action had regional backing’.

Important to the argument or to the propaganda? Galloway comments:

The Arab League, without exception, is a collection of puppet presidents, corrupt kings – every one of them a dictator; every one of them now, currently, shooting their own people who are demonstrating for democracy… What’s the difference between them and Libya? Everyone watching this knows the difference is a dirty little three-letter word called “oil”.

Secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks provide insights into the reality behind the ‘noble’ cause. The following cable was sent from the US embassy in Tripoli to the State Department in August 2008:

Libya’s economy is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves (43.6 billion barrels) and the third largest proven natural gas reserves (1.5 billion cubic meters) on the African continent. Libya currently produces about 1.7 million barrels/day of oil; only Angola and Nigeria produce more in Africa…

… Major U.S. energy companies active in Libya include Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Occidental. Joint ventures involving U.S. companies currently account for about 510,000 barrels/day of Libya’s 1.7 million barrels/day production. A large number of small to mid-sized U.S. oil and gas services companies are also working in Libya.

A cable sent from the US embassy in Tripoli in November 2007 communicated US concerns about the direction being taken by Libya’s leadership:

Libya needs to exploit its hydrocarbon resources to provide for its rapidly-growing, relatively young population. To do so, it requires extensive foreign investment and participation by credible IOCs [international oil companies]. Reformist elements in the Libyan government and the small but growing private sector recognize this reality. 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, particularly with respect to attracting participation by credible international oil companies in the oil/gas sector and foreign direct investment.

For claims of a ‘noble’ cause to have merit, mass violence would have to result in a conclusion beneficial to the civilians ‘we’ are ostensibly seeking to protect. But again, as Cockburn himself notes, this is unlikely to happen:

It is the next stage in Libya – after the fall of Gaddafi – which has the potential to produce a disaster similar to Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases successful war left the US as the predominant power in the country…

The local leaders who rise to the top in these circumstances are usually those who speak the best English and get on with the US and its allies.

It is important to remember that the anguished cry, ‘Something must be done!’ is in response to a manufactured image of the globe supplied by a corporate media system. The image highlights particular news hotspots – Japan after the appalling tsunami, Libyan opposition forces under attack. Crucially, it does not feature the crimes of Western allies in a comparable way. And it does not feature Western military, economic and diplomatic support, over decades, for despots torturing and killing their own people. These issues do not appear as news hotspots afforded round-the-clock coverage with endless, emotive reports eliciting public outrage and a sense that ‘Something must be done!’

If a more honest picture replaced this deceptive corporate product, we would see that positive outcomes could best be achieved, not by waging war, but by simply withdrawing ‘our’ military support for the likes of Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi.

Part 2 will follow shortly…

Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. The most recent Media Lens book, Propaganda Blitz by David Edwards and David Cromwell, was published in 2018 by Pluto Press. Read other articles by Media Lens, or visit Media Lens's website.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on March 24th, 2011 at 8:33am #

    I really wish these people would read articles before writing about them! Patrick Cockburn was being ironic! What he knew was not that the Libya fiasco was noble, but that the Tory crazies would claim it was! And he was right. The rest of the article is largely just a re-hash of past history. For authors who have just written a book on “newspeak”, one might have hoped for a better understanding of … newspeak!

  2. 3bancan said on March 24th, 2011 at 11:25am #

    I find it strange that someone would expect an honest answer from Alan Greenspan or from Geoge Galloway (who denies the power of the Jewish lobby in the US). The destruction of Iraq was orchestrated by zionazis and it was executed for the benefit of the Jewish nazi state of Israel. And the reason for the “noble war in Libya” comes again from the zionazis, whose only aim it is to keep the Arab world instable and using Oded Yinon’s old divide-and-conquer strategy to destroy any muslim country they find a convenient victim. Cf. Mark Glenn in


    Btw, imho the destruction of Libya won’t be executed by the US but by European zionazified imperialist nations, quite possibly with the help of Arab and African countries…

  3. Vic Anderson said on March 24th, 2011 at 5:22pm #

    That’s ignobel!

  4. hayate said on March 24th, 2011 at 9:07pm #

    Looks like that rail shipment including amphibious vehicles I noted in an earlier post could be connected to a planned invasion of Libya after all:

    24.03.2011 10:51

    Over 4,000 U.S. sailors, marines set sail for Mediterranean

    “The United States has started the deployment of more than 4,000 marines and sailors to the Mediterranean Sea to support the ongoing military operation in Libya, the U.S. Navy news service said, according to RIA Novosti.

    The decision to deploy servicemen from the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit was made “based on continuing urgent needs in Libya and the region,” said the report, which was distributed on the DVIDS website.

    “Amphibious ships are optimally suited for executing a wide range of missions, from humanitarian assistance to theater and maritime security operations,” BATARG commander Capt. Steven J. Yoder was quoted as saying.”


  5. hayate said on March 24th, 2011 at 9:20pm #

    Neglecting public opinion is privilege of the West

    Published: 24 March, 2011, 03:54 Edited: 24 March, 2011, 16:24

    “London is bracing itself for a wave of public anger this weekend as protesters are planning to take to the streets to demonstrate against the West’s military intervention in Libya.

    What many of those who will march seem to particularly object to is Western governments’ habit of lashing out at other countries for not listening to their people, while blithely ignoring public opinion on their own doorsteps.

    This Saturday London might experience the biggest protest in its history, even bigger than the anti-war coalition managed in 2003, reports RT contributor Ekaterina Zatuliveter from the British capital….”


  6. hayate said on March 24th, 2011 at 9:35pm #

    Lack of Goals, Debate Fuel Opposition to Obama’s Libya War White House Claims Congress Secretly Briefed on War Days Before It Began

    by Jason Ditz, March 24, 2011


    This might be why the usa wants to be “seen handing over command” of this war crime to nato, but as nato is run by the usa, the only people fooled by such slight of hand are [naturally] americans.

  7. mary said on March 24th, 2011 at 10:46pm #



  8. brianct said on March 24th, 2011 at 11:22pm #

    On Libya, Gerald Perreiras ,lastest article and a gauntlet is thrown down before the crusaders(aka western jihadists)

    ‘The Arab League has been consistently embarrassed by Qaddafi’s outspoken criticism of their double standards and hypocrisy with regard to Palestine, Iraq and a host of other issues, they are terrified by Qaddafi’s revolutionary Islam, and are contemptuous of Black Africa and Qaddafi’s attempts to bring about African-Arab unity.

    Recently, when Qaddafi urged Libyans to intermarry with Africans, following the example of Prophet Muhammad himself, who encouraged intermarriage between races, Libyan and Arab contempt for Black Africans re-surfaced. Extremely few fair skinned Arabs would sanction the marriage of their daughters to a Black African. Rarely do fair skinned Libyans marry Black Libyans. Their disdain for Black people runs deep.

    In fact, across other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Gulf States, the horror stories emerging regarding the mistreatment of African domestic servants is reminiscent of the kind of treatment meted out to Black people during the days of chattel slavery. So a project for the development and unification of all of Africa, uniting, on equal terms, the ‘Arab’ north with Black Africa, is not close to the hearts of many fair skinned Arabs. Qaddafi is an exception to the rule.’

  9. brianct said on March 24th, 2011 at 11:25pm #

    Neglecting public opinion = dictatorial behaviour by the ruling class.

  10. hayate said on March 25th, 2011 at 1:08am #

    An interesting interview with Israel Shamir by Angela Davis:

    Sovereignty concept severely undermined again

    Mar 20, 2011 18:08 Moscow Time


    You can read it and listen to it at the link.

  11. Luis Cayetano said on March 26th, 2011 at 5:05am #

    ”The Arab League has been consistently embarrassed by Qaddafi’s outspoken criticism of their double standards and hypocrisy with regard to Palestine, Iraq and a host of other issues, they are terrified by Qaddafi’s revolutionary Islam”

    A closer inspection would suggest that they needn’t be terrified by his ”revolutionary Islam”, which turns out not to be very revolutionary (and many would say, not even particularly Islamic). Gaddafi sided with Ben Ali when protests in Tunisia threatened the the latter’s stink-hole regime. He sided with Mubarak when protesters their threatened that cesspool (in contrast to a genuine socialist like Chavez, who hailed the uprisings). Libya is a monarchy, plain and simple. Gaddafi and his sons rule and own the country. They are in charge of the major commercial and security/military complexes; they ARE the state, and anyone who doesn’t like it and accept it is a ”cockroach”. It’s not that they’re endowed with any special powers of intellect; there is no special Gaddafi gene that endows its carrier with enhanced abilities to administer states or to excel in diplomacy. The hierarchy of the Libyan state reflects familial and, to a lesser extent, tribal connections. In other words, hereditary dictatorship. There’s nothing remotely ”republican” about Libya.

    ”And the reason for the “noble war in Libya” comes again from the zionazis, whose only aim it is to keep the Arab world instable and using Oded Yinon’s old divide-and-conquer strategy to destroy any muslim country they find a convenient victim.”

    Would that include Bahrain and Yemen? Or perhaps also Saudi Arabia, another vicious dictatorship that you’ll no doubt rush to defend once people there start to seriously threaten the monarchy there? Also, why do you adopt the same technical definition of ”stability” that the imperialists do? When you say that the Zionist cable is provoking instability, do you mean to tell us that there was stability in the literal sense before that? Fluctuating food prices, endemic corruption, relentless repression, and the daily humiliation of workers and women can all be subsumed within a paradigm of ”stability” if one adopts the definition used by US imperialists: namely, that a country is stable if it serves US interests.

  12. hayate said on March 28th, 2011 at 9:26pm #

    Defending the ziofascists to the last….

  13. Luis Cayetano said on March 29th, 2011 at 6:20am #

    ”Defending the ziofascists to the last…. ”


    I didn’t know that denouncing a dictator and his support for other dictators is Ziofascist. Clearly, you have other ideas.

    Barring a sensible reply, I’ll take it that everything I said was perfectly accurate.

    ”Christ, you are a repulsive creature. ”

    Not an argument. Also, you’ve been reported for trolling.