Real-World Motives for Libya War

The West has buffered the war in Libya with layers of propaganda, including Orwellian claims about “protecting civilians” even as NATO warplanes kill civilians. The obvious real goal was “regime change,” the removal of Muammar Gaddafi, but historian William Blum explores what else was afoot.

By William Blum

In a television address on April 30, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi asked, “Why are you attacking us? Why are you killing our children? Why are you destroying our infrastructure?”

A few hours later NATO hit a target in Tripoli, killing Gaddafi’s 29-year-old son Saif al-Arab, three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren, all under 12 years of age, and several friends and neighbors.

In his TV address, Gaddafi had appealed to the NATO nations for a cease-fire and negotiations after six weeks of bombings and cruise missile attacks against his country.

Well, let’s see if we can derive some understanding of the complex Libyan turmoil.

The Holy Triumvirate, the United States, NATO and the European Union, recognizes no higher power and believes, literally, that it can do whatever it wants in the world, to whomever it wants, for as long as it wants, and call it whatever it wants, like “humanitarian.”

If The Holy Triumvirate decides that it doesn’t want to overthrow the government in Syria or in Egypt or Tunisia or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Jordan, no matter how cruel, oppressive, or religiously intolerant those governments are with their people, no matter how much they impoverish and torture their people, no matter how many protesters they shoot dead in their Freedom Square, the Triumvirate will simply not overthrow them.

If the Triumvirate decides that it wants to overthrow the government of Libya, though that government is secular and has used its oil wealth for the benefit of the people of Libya and Africa perhaps more than any government in all of Africa and the Middle East, but keeps insisting over the years on challenging the Triumvirate’s imperial ambitions in Africa and raising its demands on the Triumvirate’s oil companies, then the Triumvirate will simply overthrow the government of Libya.

If the Triumvirate wants to punish Gaddafi and his sons it will arrange with the Triumvirate’s friends at the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for them. If the Triumvirate doesn’t want to punish the leaders of Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan it will simply not ask the ICC to issue arrest warrants for them.

Ever since the Court first formed in 1998, the United States has refused to ratify it and has done its best to denigrate it and throw barriers in its way because Washington is concerned that American officials might one day be indicted for their many war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bill Richardson, as U.S. ambassador to the UN, said to the world in 1998 that the United States should be exempt from the court’s prosecution because it has “special global responsibilities.” But this doesn’t stop the United States from using the Court when it suits the purposes of American foreign policy.

If the Triumvirate wants to support a rebel military force to overthrow the government of Libya then it does not matter how fanatically religious, al-Qaeda-related, executing-beheading-torturing, monarchist, or factionally split various groups of that rebel force are at times, the Triumvirate will support it, as it did certain forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hope that after victory the Libyan force will not turn out as jihadist as it did in Afghanistan, or as fratricidal as in Iraq.

For example, regarding jihadist ties to the Libyan rebels, The Telegraph (London) reported on Aug. 30, 2011 that “Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.” A plethora of other reports details the ties between the rebels and radical Islamist groups.

One potential source of conflict within the rebels, and within the country if ruled by them, is that a constitutional declaration made by the rebel council states that, while guaranteeing democracy and the rights of non-Muslims, “Islam is the religion of the state and the principle source of legislation in Islamic Jurisprudence.” [Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2011]

Adding to the list of the rebels’ charming qualities we have the Amnesty International report that the rebels have been conducting mass arrests of black people across the nation, terming all of them “foreign mercenaries” but with growing evidence that a large number were simply migrant workers.

Reported Reuters on Aug. 29: “On Saturday, reporters saw the putrefying bodies of 22 men of African origin on a Tripoli beach. Volunteers who had come to bury them said they were mercenaries whom rebels had shot dead.”

To complete this portrait of the West’s newest darlings we have this report from The Independent of London on Aug. 27: “The killings were pitiless. They had taken place at a makeshift hospital, in a tent marked clearly with the symbols of the Islamic crescent.

“Some of the dead were on stretchers, attached to intravenous drips. Some were on the back of an ambulance that had been shot at. A few were on the ground, seemingly attempting to crawl to safety when the bullets came.”

If the Triumvirate’s propaganda is clever enough and deceptive enough and paints a graphic picture of Gaddafi-initiated high tragedy in Libya, many American and European progressives will insist that though they never, ever support imperialism they’re making an exception this time because …

–The Libyan people are being saved from a “massacre,” both actual and potential. This massacre, however, seems to have been grossly exaggerated by the Triumvirate, al Jazeera TV, and that station’s owner, the government of Qatar.

Nothing approaching reputable evidence of a massacre has been offered, neither a mass grave nor anything else; the massacre stories appear to be on a par with the Viagra-rape stories spread by al Jazeera (the Fox News of the Libyan uprising). Qatar, it should be noted, has played an active military role in the civil war on the side of NATO.

It should be further noted that the main massacre in Libya has been six months of daily Triumvirate bombing, killing an unknown number of people and ruining much of the infrastructure.

Michigan U. Prof. Juan Cole, the quintessential true-believer in the good intentions of American foreign policy who nevertheless manages to have a regular voice in progressive media, recently wrote that “Qaddafi was not a man to compromise … his military machine would mow down the revolutionaries if it were allowed to.”

Is that clear, class? We all know of course that Sarkozy, Obama and Cameron made compromises without end in their devastation of Libya; they didn’t, for example, use any nuclear weapons.

–The United Nations gave its approval for military intervention; i.e., the leading members of the Triumvirate gave their approval, after Russia and China cowardly abstained instead of exercising their veto power; (perhaps hoping to receive the same courtesy from the U.S., UK and France when Russia or China is the aggressor nation).

–The people of Libya are being “liberated,” whatever in the world that means, now or in the future. Gaddafi is a “dictator,” they insist. That may indeed be the proper term to use for the man, but it must still be asked: Is he a relatively benevolent dictator or is he the other kind so favored by Washington?

It must also be asked: Since the United States has habitually supported dictators for the entire past century, why not this one?

The Triumvirate, and its fawning media, would have the world believe that what’s happened in Libya is just another example of the Arab Spring, a popular uprising by non-violent protestors against a dictator for the proverbial freedom and democracy, spreading spontaneously from Tunisia and Egypt, which sandwich Libya.

But there are several reasons to question this analysis in favor of seeing the Libyan rebels’ uprising as a planned and violent attempt to take power on behalf of their own political movement, however heterogeneous that movement might appear to be in its early stage. For example:

–They soon began flying the flag of the monarchy that Gaddafi had overthrown

–They were an armed and violent rebellion almost from the beginning; within a few days, we could read of “citizens armed with weapons seized from army bases” [McClatchy Newspapers, Feb. 20, 2011] and of “the policemen who had participated in the clash were caught and hanged by protesters.” [Wikipedia, Timeline of the 2011 Libyan civil war, Feb. 19, 2011]

–Their revolt took place not in the capital but in the heart of the country’s oil region; they then began oil production and declared that foreign countries would be rewarded oil-wise in relation to how much each country aided their cause

–They soon set up a Central Bank, a rather bizarre thing for a protest movement

–International support came quickly, even beforehand, from Qatar and al Jazeera to the CIA and French intelligence.

The notion that a leader does not have the right to put down an armed rebellion against the state is too absurd to discuss.

Not very long ago, Iraq and Libya were the two most modern and secular states in the Mideast/North Africa world with perhaps the highest standards of living in the region. Then the United States of America came along and saw fit to make a basket case of each one.

The desire to get rid of Gaddafi had been building for years; the Libyan leader had never been a reliable pawn; then the Arab Spring provided the excellent opportunity and cover. As to Why? Take your pick of the following:

–Gaddafi’s plans to conduct Libya’s trading in Africa in raw materials and oil in a new currency, the gold African dinar, a change that could have delivered a serious blow to the U.S.’s dominant position in the world economy. (In 2000, Saddam Hussein announced Iraqi oil would be traded in euros, not dollars; sanctions and an invasion followed.) [For further discussion see here.]

–A host-country site for Africom, the U.S. Africa Command, one of six regional commands the Pentagon has divided the world into. Many African countries approached to be the host have declined, at times in relatively strong terms. Africom at present is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

According to a State Department official: “We’ve got a big image problem down there. … Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the US. They just don’t trust the US.”5

–An American military base to replace the one closed down by Gaddafi after he took power in 1969. There’s only one such base in Africa, in Djibouti. Watch for one in Libya sometime after the dust has settled. It’ll perhaps be situated close to the American oil wells. Or perhaps the people of Libya will be given a choice, an American base or a NATO base.

–Another example of NATO desperate to find a raison d’être for its existence since the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact.

–Gaddafi’s role in creating the African Union. The corporate bosses never like it when their wage slaves set up a union.

The Libyan leader has also supported a United States of Africa for he knows that an Africa of 54 independent states will continue to be picked off one by one and abused and exploited by the members of the Triumvirate. Gaddafi has moreover demanded greater power for smaller countries in the United Nations.

–The claim by Gaddafi’s son, Saif el Islam, that Libya had helped to fund Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign [The Guardian (London), March 16, 2011] could have humiliated the French president and explain his obsession and haste in wanting to be seen as playing the major role in implementing the “no fly zone” and other measures against Gaddafi.

A contributing factor may have been the fact that France has been weakened in its former colonies and neo-colonies in Africa and the Middle East, due in part to Gaddafi’s influence.

–Gaddafi has been an outstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause and critic of Israeli policies; and on occasion has taken other African and Arab countries, as well as the West, to task for their not matching his policies or rhetoric; one more reason for his lack of popularity amongst world leaders of all stripes.

–In January 2009, Gaddafi made known that he was considering nationalizing the foreign oil companies in Libya. [Reuters, Jan. 21, 2009]

He also has another bargaining chip: the prospect of utilizing Russian, Chinese and Indian oil companies. During the current period of hostilities, he invited these countries to make up for lost production. But such scenarios will now not take place.

The Triumvirate will instead seek to privatize the National Oil Corporation, transferring Libya’s oil wealth into foreign hands.

–The American Empire is troubled by any threat to its hegemony. In the present historical period the empire is concerned mainly with Russia and China. China has extensive energy investments and construction investments in Libya and elsewhere in Africa.

The average American neither knows nor cares about this. The average American imperialist cares greatly, if for no other reason than in this time of rising demands for cuts to the military budget it’s vital that powerful “enemies” be named and maintained.

–For yet more reasons, see the article “Why Regime Change in Libya?” by Ismael Hossein-zadeh, and the U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, Wikileaks reference 07TRIPOLI967 11-15-07 (includes a complaint about Libyan “resource nationalism”)

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2; Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir; Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at This article was originally published in Blum’s Anti-Empire Report.

18 comments for “Real-World Motives for Libya War

  1. Esther Colowitz
    September 5, 2011 at 12:15

    No need to psycho-analyze this to death. There’s one reason and only one for the invasion of Libya…errr…I mean, the “humanitarian aid” to Libya and one that has become universal these days: OIL. Or if you want to borrow a coined-phrase in real estate: OIL, OIL and more OIL.

  2. kristine
    September 4, 2011 at 04:37

    U.S. fiscals tremble to think world currency might not remain the dollar. Kadaffi’s idea to change to the African dinar could be conceived as the beginning of the end.

    An observation I have heard only from my son: Obama chose to attack his own father’s continent.

  3. Il Nipote di Anna Coletta
    September 2, 2011 at 20:19

    Linguistics and the Manipulation of Fear:

    Maybe I should just shut up. But look what happened as soon as something showed up on this site that made people scratch their heads and ask, “Just whose side is this asshole on?” We are dealing daily with mis-translated and poorly represented renditions of policy statements. When some Middle-Eastern factotum (or any other dissenting opinionist) rants and pounds his fist on a podium, do any of you really know what the hell he said?

    No, you don’t. And, my guess is you automatically assume it’s contrary to your point of view. We are going to have to start talking in terms of, “Who benefits?” We are going to have to start talking in terms of, “Whose axe are we grinding?” We are going to have to start, “Following the money.”

    I had an Italian Grandmother that didn’t mince words. I can only repeat what she said phonetically. But boy, did she have their number. You wanna see the, “Face of the penis?” I suggest you look up recent reviews of Dick Cheney’s book. While you’re at it, read a past article on Consortium News called, “Stretching Charges of Antisemitism”. Some of the responses are enlightening.

    My apologies if I sounded like an asshole. It wouldn’t be the first time I got to the destination without revealing the map. My compliments to William Blum. Good night and good luck.

    • rosemerry
      September 3, 2011 at 15:38

      Marvellous, Anna. You certainly are not what you suggest!

    • bobzz
      September 3, 2011 at 16:10

      Anna, you need not shut up—even if you disagreed with Blum. I simply wondered what you said. I got the msg. translated and still did not get the idioms. I can be a bit dense. This is pretty clear though, and…agreed.

  4. September 2, 2011 at 13:32

    The level of sophistication of the critical analysis of consortium news articles is precious and exciting to those like me who live on the imperative craving for explanations and documentations that will help us to turn our citizens into a mighty force to end our nation’s widely unrecognized genocidal and omnicidal power-tragectories.

    Without web-enlightenment sources like Consortium,our children and grandchildren may well live in a vast radioactive Hiroshima/Fukushima wasteland.

    • rosemerry
      September 3, 2011 at 15:36

      You may know that the wonderful site STOP NATO by Rick Rozoff, full of antiwar news and literature, has just been closed down by WordPress. I have read this news daily for at least two years and it is invaluable. Who may be the influence in shutting it down? “Military News” did such a thing once before. We need these sites to get the truth.

      • stevieb
        September 5, 2011 at 10:28

        I think it’s back up

  5. September 2, 2011 at 12:30

    Our nation’s rapidly accumulated conquest and devastation of one Middle East nation after another has been similar in many ways to the hyped up evolution of mass genocide preparations during the Nazi hate campaigns leading up to the “Kristallnacht” government-promoted genocidal momentum-surge of 11-9-38.

    To understand the patterns of our anti-Islamic wars since Father Bush cleverly tricked our former CIO hit-man Sadam Hussein into invading Kuwait, we need to read the briliant psycho-analytically historic/diagnostic works of Robert Jay Lifton, especially his chapter 6 “Momentum toward Genocide” in his classic work, “The Genocidal Mentality.”

    Our current Islamo-Scapegoating is thinly euphemized as the “War on Terror”

    Each of our fraudulently justified invasions of a Muslim nation is backed up with dishonest scapegoating and manufactured but terrifying war-hysteria at home and in our helplessly dominated allies in Europe.

    If we follow the postings of Russia expert Stephen Cohen we know the same patterns by humiliating Putin and Medvedev, turning them and their diverging supporters against each other by sleazy/phoney negotiations designed to keep everyone terrorized and insecure except our Neocons and their compliant agent, President Obama.

    The terrorism we need to be most concerned about is the surge in modernization of nuclear weapons and phoney “missile defense” systems that we are projecting to keep the Russians in a permanent (but genocidally dangerous) state of abject intimidation and distrust of our sleazy and pathologically militaristic nation.

    • stevieb
      September 5, 2011 at 10:26

      Excellent post. Zionism is the ideology and Zionists are the purveyors of the destruction of the ME nations. All for the sake of Israel’s ‘security’. Organized, independent Arab or Muslim nations are to destroyed so as to prevent the ‘domino effect’ – the threat of a ‘good example’. It will not end well until western nations understand the nature of the Zionist threats to our respective democracies. Zionism is antithetical to democracy – that is a fact and must be acted upon if we are to have any hope for peace.

      • Silence is Complicity
        September 5, 2011 at 11:21


        Excellent comment! You hit the nail on its head; with all tragic events in the world, any serious observer must always seek the Zionist connection! The sad United States of America, the sad European Union, the sad and criminal NATO and the joke called United Nations are all the criminal servants of Zionism!

        What a sad story of the so-called modern civilization! I’d rather be living in medieval Baghdad!

        • dragonflapper
          September 5, 2011 at 12:37

          zionism, now thares a word that is hollow of definition, seems a lot like the opposte of say an anode or cathode, just about mid-section where playtechs nurses the nipple lickers,,,,oo, way past 21 or infancy, get it, its a SICk cathode & anode licker, that zionetic phenomaknee

      • dragonflapper
        September 5, 2011 at 12:24

        and here i thought it the antithesis of some neighboring trust or beleif system rather than the “socio/economic” political system commonly referred to as “democracy”,,, demos translating to “born dead”

  6. Il nipote di Anna Coletta
    September 1, 2011 at 22:40

    “A faccia d’o’cazzo.” (Translation: The face of the penis.) This is the (Southern) Italian expression for, “Chuzpah”. It refers to someone who puts on a blank expression, and tells a bald faced lie. “Metti in faccia a qui dei morte”, is the answer: “Stick it in a dead person’s mouth.” Shame on you. Vergonia! Guaio! Siete una massa di lecchini! Confrontate lo specchio! Buona sera, e buona fortuna.

    • bobzz
      September 2, 2011 at 12:34

      Anna, please translate all of your Italian. It does not seem complimentary to Mr. Blum’s piece, but I’d like to know all of what you said. Perhaps others would also.

      • Donald Schulze
        September 2, 2011 at 13:26

        Enter each in Google – then select the ‘Translate’ page.

        • bobzz
          September 2, 2011 at 13:55

          That shows how little I know about all this electronic stuff. Thanks.

          • Il Nipote di Anna Coletta
            September 2, 2011 at 14:29

            It’s absolutely a compliment. He is accurately describing the hypocrisy associated with the “official” motivation. And, they do it with such straight faces! P.S.: It’s Neapolitan dialect, you won’t be able to translate it online. Good night and good luck.

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