Chris Hedges: R2P Caused Libya’s Nightmare

NATO’s military 2011 intervention, which overthrew the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, resulted in a chaotic and murderous failed state. Libyans pay a horrific price for this catastrophe.

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By Chris Hedges
Original to ScheerPost

“We came, we saw, he died,” Hillary Clinton famously quipped when Muammar Gaddafi, after seven months of U.S. and NATO bombing, was overthrown in 2011 and killed by a mob who sodomized him with a bayonet. But Gaddafi would not be the only one to die.  Libya, once the most prosperous and one of the most stable countries in Africa, a country with free healthcare and education, the right for all citizens to a home, subsidized electricity, water and gasoline, along with the lowest infant mortality rate and highest life expectancy on the continent, along with one of the highest literacy rates, swiftly fragmented into warring factions. There are currently two rival regimes battling for control in Libya, along with an array of rogue militias. 

The chaos that followed Western intervention saw weapons from the country’s arsenals flood the black market, with many snatched up by groups such as the Islamic State. Civil society ceased to function. Journalists captured images of migrants from Nigeria, Senegal and Eritrea being beaten and sold as slaves to work in fields or on construction sites.

Libya’s infrastructure, including its electrical grids, aquifers, oil fields and dams, fell into disrepair. And when the torrential rains from Storm Daniel —  the climate crisis being another gift to Africa from the industrialized world — overwhelmed two decrepit dams, walls of water 20 feet high raced down to flood the port of Derna and Benghazi, leaving up to 20,000 dead according to Abdulmenam Al-Gaiti, Mayor of Derna, and some 10,000 missing. 

“The fragmentation of the country’s disaster management and disaster response mechanisms, as well as deteriorating infrastructure, exacerbated the enormity of the challenges. The political situation is a driver of risk,” said Professor Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.

Taalas told reporters last Thursday that “most of the human casualties” would have been avoided if there had been a “normally operating meteorological service” which “would have issued the [necessary] warnings and also the emergency management of this would have been able to carry out evacuations of the people.”

‘Responsibility to Protect’

March 28, 2011: President Barack Obama delivering an address in Washington, D.C., to update the American people on the situation in Libya, including the transition to NATO command and control. (National Defense University, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Western regime-change, carried out in the name of human rights under the doctrine of R2P (Responsibility to Protect), destroyed Libya — as it did Iraq — as a unified and stable nation. The flood victims are part of the tens of thousands of Libyan dead resulting from the U.S. “humanitarian intervention,” which rendered disaster relief non-existent. The U.S. bears responsibility for Libya’s prolonged suffering. But once the U.S. wreaks havoc on a country in the name of saving its persecuted — regardless of whether they are being persecuted or not — it forgets they exist. 

Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies warned against utopian engineering, massive social transformations, almost always implanted by force, and led by those who believe they are endowed with a revealed truth. These utopian engineers carry out the wholesale destruction of systems, institutions and social and cultural structures in a vain effort to achieve their vision. In the process, they dismantle the self-correcting mechanisms of incremental and piecemeal reform that are impediments to that grand vision. History is replete with murderous utopian social engineering — the Jacobins, the communists, the fascists and now, in our own age, the globalists, or neoliberal imperialists.

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Libya, like Iraq and Afghanistan, fell victim to the self-delusions peddled by humanitarian interventionists — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Ben Rhodes, Samantha Power and Susan Rice. The Obama administration armed and backed an insurgent force that they believed would do the bidding of the U.S.  Obama in a recent post urged people to support aid agencies to alleviate the suffering of the people of Libya, a plea that ignited an understandable backlash on social media.

There is no official tally of the casualties in Libya that have resulted directly and indirectly from the violence in Libya over the last 12 years. This is exacerbated by the fact that NATO failed to investigate casualties resulting from its seven month bombardment of the country in 2011. But the total figure of those killed and injured is likely in the tens of thousands. Action on Armed Violence recorded “8,518 deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Libya” from 2011 to 2020,  6,027 of which were civilian casualties.

In 2020, a statement published by seven U.N. agencies reported that

“Close to 400,000 Libyans have been displaced since the start of the conflict nine years ago — around half of them within the past year, since the attack on the capital, Tripoli, [by Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar’s forces] started.”

“The Libyan economy has been battered by the [civil war], the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the World Bank reported in April of this year.  “The country’s fragility is having far-reaching economic and social impact. GDP per capita declined by 50 percent between 2011 and 2020 while it could have increased by 68 percent if the economy had followed its pre-conflict trend,” the report says. “This suggests that Libya’s income per capita could have been 118 percent higher without the conflict. Economic growth in 2022 remained low and volatile due to conflict-related disruptions in oil production.”

Amnesty International’s 2022 Libya report also makes for grim reading. “Militias, armed groups and security forces continued to arbitrarily detain thousands of people,” it says. “Scores of protesters, lawyers, journalists, critics and activists were rounded up and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and forced ‘confessions’ on camera.”

Amnesty describes a country where militias operate with impunity, human rights abuses, including kidnappings and sexual violence, are widespread. It adds that “EU-backed Libyan coastguards and the Stability Support Authority militia intercepted thousands of refugees and migrants at sea and forcibly returned them to detention in Libya. Detained migrants and refugees were subjected to torture, unlawful killings, sexual violence and forced labour.”

Trafficking Weapons

Reports by the U.N. Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL) are no less dire.

Stockpiles of weapons and ammunition — estimated to be between 150,000 and 200,000 tons — were looted from Libya with many being trafficked to neighboring states. In Mali, weapons from Libya fuelled a dormant insurgency by the Tuareg, destabilizing the country. It ultimately led to a military coup and a jihadist insurgency which supplanted the Tuareg, as well as a protracted war between the Malian government and jihadists.  This triggered another French military intervention and led to 400,000 people being displaced. Weapons and ammunition from Libya also made their way into other parts of the Sahel including Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. 

The misery and carnage, which rippled out from a dismembered Libya, was unleashed in the name of democratization, nation-building, promoting the rule of law and human rights. 

[Related: How the West’s War in Libya Spurred Terrorism in 14 Countries]

The pretext for the assault was that Gaddafi was about to launch a military operation to massacre civilians in Benghazi where rebellious forces had seized power. It had as much substance as the charge that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, another example of utopian social engineering that left over a million Iraqi dead and millions more driven from their homes. 

U.S. guided-missile destroyer targets Libya’s Mediterranean Coast, March 19, 2011. (U.S. Navy, Wikimedia Commons)

Gaddafi — who I interviewed for two hours in April 1995 near the gutted remains of his home that was bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986 — and Hussein were targeted not because of what they did to their own people, although both could be brutal.

They were targeted because their nations had large oil reserves and were independent of Western control. They renegotiated more favorable contracts for their nations with Western oil producers and awarded oil contracts to China and Russia. Gaddafi also gave the Russian fleet access to the port of Benghazi.

Hillary Clinton’s emails, obtained via a freedom of information request and published by WikiLeaks, also expose France’s concerns about Gaddafi’s efforts to “provide Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French Fran (CFA).”

Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime adviser to Clinton, reported on his conversations with French intelligence officers about the motivations of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, the chief architect of the attack on Libya. Blumenthal writes that the French president seeks “a greater share of Libyan oil,” increased French influence in the region, an improvement in his domestic political standing, a reassertion of French military power and an end to Gaddafi’s attempts to supplant French influence in “Francophone Africa.”

Sarkozy, who has been convicted on two separate cases of corruption and breach of campaign finance laws, faces a historic trial in 2025 for allegedly receiving millions of euros in secret illegal campaign contributions from Gadaffi, to assist with his successful 2007 presidential bid.  

The Real Crimes in Libya

U.S. Department of State staff prepare to arrive in Tripoli, Libya, on the C-17 on Oct. 18, 2011. (State Department, Flickr)

These were the real “crimes” in Libya. But the real crimes always remain hidden, papered over by florid rhetoric about democracy and human rights. 

The American experiment, built on slavery, began with a genocidal campaign against Native Americans that was exported to the Philippines and, later, nations such as Vietnam. The narratives Americans tell themselves about World War II, largely to justify their right to intervene around the globe, are a lie.

It was the Soviet Union that destroyed the German army long before the U.S. landed at Normandy. The U.S. firebombed cities in Germany and Japan killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. 

The war in the South Pacific, where one of my uncles fought, was bestial, characterized by rabid racism, mutilation, torture and the routine execution of prisoners.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were egregious war crimes. The U.S. routinely destroys democracies that nationalize U.S. and European corporations as in Chile, Iran and Guatemala, replacing them with repressive military regimes. Washington supported the genocides in Guatemala and East Timor. It embraces the crime of preemptive war. There is little in U.S. history to justify the claim of unique American virtues. 

The nightmares the U.S. orchestrated in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are minimized or ignored by the press while the benefits are exaggerated or fabricated. And since the U.S. does not recognize the International Criminal Court, there is no chance of any American leader being held accountable for their crimes.

Human rights advocates have become a vital cog in the imperial project. The extension of U.S. power, they argue, is a force for good. This is the thesis of Samantha Power’s book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

They champion the R2P doctrine, unanimously adopted in 2005 at the U.N. World Summit. Under this doctrine, states are required to respect the human rights of their citizens. When these rights are violated, then sovereignty is nullified. Outside forces are permitted to intervene. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the former president of the U.N. General Assembly, warned in 2009 that R2P could be misused “to justify arbitrary and selective interventions against the weakest states.” 

“Since the end of the Cold War, the idea of human rights has been made into a justification for intervention by the world’s leading economic and military powers, above all, the United States, in countries that are vulnerable to their attacks,” writes Jean Bricmont in Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War.  “Until the U.S. invasion of Iraq, [a] large part of the left was often complicit in this ideology of intervention, discovering new ‘Hitlers’ as the need arose, and denouncing antiwar arguments as appeasement on the model of Munich in 1938.” 

The creed of humanitarian intervention is selective. Compassion is extended to “worthy” victims while “unworthy” victims are ignored. Military intervention is good for Iraqis, Afghans or Libyans, but not for Palestinians or Yeminis. Human rights are supposedly sacrosanct when discussing Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, but irrelevant in U.S. offshore penal colonies, the world’s largest open air prison in Gaza or drone-infested war zones. The persecution of dissidents and journalists is a crime in China or Russia, but not when the targets are  Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Utopian social engineering is always catastrophic. It creates power vacuums that augment the suffering of those the utopianists claim to protect. The moral bankruptcy of the liberal class, which I chronicle in Death of the Liberal Class, is complete. Liberals have prostituted their supposed values to the Empire. Incapable of taking responsibility for the carnage they inflict, they clamor for more destruction and death to save the world.  

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and NPR.  He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.”

Author’s Note to Readers: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waiver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at so I can continue to post my Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, “The Chris Hedges Report.”

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20 comments for “Chris Hedges: R2P Caused Libya’s Nightmare

  1. September 21, 2023 at 15:32

    Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies warned against utopian engineering, massive social transformations, almost always implanted by force, and led by those who believe they are endowed with a revealed truth. These utopian engineers carry out the wholesale destruction of systems, institutions and social and cultural structures in a vain effort to achieve their vision. In the process, they dismantle the self-correcting mechanisms of incremental and piecemeal reform that are impediments to that grand vision. History is replete with murderous utopian social engineering — the Jacobins, the communists, the fascists and now, in our own age, the globalists, or neoliberal imperialists.

    An illustration of “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  2. Greg Grant
    September 20, 2023 at 18:25

    Thank you so much for writing this article! You keep writing all the articles I keep hoping somebody will write. Libya is my go-to example of the pure evilness of obama and it never gets any play. Just like Serbia for Clinton, nobody remembers that beyond Clinton stopped a genocide (that wasn’t actually happening). In 2020 Bernie Sanders bragged about supporting that war saying he can’t wait to be president so he can do more like it. So even Sanders is a shameless war criminal drooling to commit illegal war crimes.

    How far to the left do you have to go before you find somebody who is not a war criminal or promotes war criminals? Far further than Sanders, further left than Counterpunch, antiwar, even Chomsky who now pimps for the democrat party every four years. Consortium News is practically alone in their correctness. I can’t tell you how much I and a very few other enlightened individuals that I know of appreciate it. It’s critical to fend off our feelings of isolation, when you feel like literally nobody with a voice is making sense.

  3. Tony
    September 20, 2023 at 09:20

    In the UK only 15 MPs voted against the bombing. Jeremy Corbyn was one of them.

    Incredibly, NATO is still routinely referred to as a ‘defensive’ alliance.

  4. wildthange
    September 19, 2023 at 20:29

    Extreme inhumanity in pursuit of humanitarianism is no virtue! It only reflects a lie to hide behind the real unlawful reason that is not legally justifiable.
    Appeasement is likely disinformation as a useful tool just like making a treaty in the Ukraine to buy time to prepare for war. That is nothing but admitting disingenuous diplomacy. It is like saying we are not trying to counter China as we obviously are and expecting the world to buy it. That is just more of the Bush doctrine of we define reality to the world they have no choice but to believe it.
    People such as Hedges do not hedge on truth!

  5. Lois Gagnon
    September 19, 2023 at 20:20

    Without its mythology, this country would crumble in short order. All we’ve ever done I’d plunder and pillage for profit. Same as it ever was in Western history. You can only cover it up for so long before those on the receiving end pull together and push back. We have arrived at that point. Given the ability of the US to inflict harm on those who resist, things could get even dicier before the final collapse occurs. It will take the finesse of mostly Russia and China to help us past this period before we arrive on the other side.

  6. September 19, 2023 at 19:52

    Diana Johnstone wrote a book called “Queen of Chaos” about Hillary and in it she tells how an important Netherlander ( forget his name and position) wrote an article claiming Gaddafi was going to butcher a bunch of protesters. It was a totally made up lie but it was taken up by France and the UK and by Hillary who, without checking its veracity in the slightest (apparently neither did Susan Rice or Samantha Powers) proceeded to talk Obama into bombing Libya back into the stone age. One million Libyans went out in the streets and protested the US bombings and stood up for Gaddafi – which, BTW, is one fifth of the nation of roughly 5 million people. That’s a powerful protest but we ignored it and Hillary laughed. The upshot of this murderous crime by the US is what you have described in your essay, Chris.
    Thanks for mentioning that Gaddafi’s Libya provided free health care and free education. Libya had the highest literacy rate in Africa, along with the highest life expectancy and the lowest child death birth rate on the continent. Women were allowed to have jobs and even some of them worked in the goverment. Libya was also a good neighbor to other African nations. In point of fact, the US took out a good leader who was generous to his people and a good neighbor to other Africans and just look at what we gave them in return.
    I wish you would talk to Diana, who also writes for CN and maybe the two of you could put something out that covers the appalling truth of what we did in a clearer fashion. The US is now focusing on Africa more than it used to and those countries need to understand that the US in not be be trusted ever.

  7. John Zeigler
    September 19, 2023 at 17:22

    As usual, when elephants go to war, the grass suffers. So much smoke and mirrors in high places, coupled with intrigue serve the disparate and interwoven ends of many actors involved in grasping after power. On Dec. 21, 1988, I had picked up my daughter at DFW for Christmas vacation. On our way home we got the news that Pan Am 103, carrying the daughter of a close family friend returning from a semester abroad in London and 258 other souls, had been blasted out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. Nothing erases the pain and grief of the families left behind from that terrible event, and God only knows how many others from time immemorial. It is always the grass that suffers, regardless of the identity of elephants who trample it. Retribution fails to fill the void of sad silence resulting. How many lovely songs have been left unsung and lost forever in the unending stampede for power in high places?

  8. September 19, 2023 at 16:22

    See The Responsibility to Protect — The Cases of Libya and Ivory Coast


    • Riva Enteen
      September 21, 2023 at 12:36

      Doesn’t the R2P apply to Russia’s Special Military Operation in Ukraine,? There were 14,000 civilians killed in the Donbas after the 2014 US-led coup in Kiev, an imminent invasion of the Donbas, and a vote and plea for Russia to defend them. Then why do most progressive attorneys still say “Russia’s illegal action?”

  9. Caliman
    September 19, 2023 at 15:41

    In 2023, western liberals:

    – do not believe in freedom of speech for those who don’t parrot government-sanctioned expert opinion (Covid, Climate Change, Identity politics);

    – have the highest support rates for military action (Ukraine, Syria, Libya, etc.) and domestic spying;

    – believe in guilt by association and guilt by thought (Russia collusion/Identity politics)

    We are a loooong way away from the liberalism of the enlightenment …

    • Rafi Simonton
      September 19, 2023 at 22:21

      Identity and Class (NOT versus)

      I agree-in part. But as I’ve argued here many times previously, I strenuously object to upper middle class white men who take for granted their own superiority and thus their right to tell the rest of us inferiors how to think and feel. Which includes the now fashionable denigration of what is termed mere “identity politics.” Allegedly in support of class issues.

      There are several things wrong with that. It’s an argument being presented by people (predominantly men) who’ve never had to fight for their rights in terms of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or ethnicity. Do they extend their objections to the realities women face? All categories which affect me personally, as they do millions of others. Even more amusing to me as someone who was an actual blue collar union worker for 25+ years, in a sort of gallows humor way, is how so very few of these defenders of class politics have ever held a tool in their lives.

      If we who are impacted by such cavalier dismissal object, then wouldn’t some sort of rapprochement be a good tactic? MLK and Cesar Chavez were explicit about the need for a race/class alliance. They didn’t deny the validity of one or force an alienating either/or false choice between them. I was also an organizer and local campaign manager–I know by decades of experience that political coalitions are not a zero sum game. Rights for one group are not a denial of rights for others.

      IMO, the problem is, ironically, a confusion over class identity. What the libs are for is not “identity politics” per se, but rather about requirements for membership in exclusiveness. For inclusion in their Ivy Dem administrator elite, simply be a product of the elite schools, the same ‘meritocracy’ that produced the foolish warmongers of The Best and The Brightest. Therefore being Black and South Asian is no problem for someone whose parents were both college professors.

      • Caliman
        September 20, 2023 at 11:59

        Well, as a non-white immigrant and union member of more than two decades, I don’t object to anyone of whatever hue or gender speaking anything they want to say and don’t consider downplaying of identity politics to be any kind of denigration or indication of inferiority.

        To me, things that bring the great majority of people together are positive and should be supported. We all care about adequate food, shelter, work, schooling, healthcare, leisure, taking care of our children, etc.. Improving these things helps us all.

        Things that break us into little marginalized groups only further the interests of the powers that be. These things have historically been: race, sex, sexual orientation, (newly invented) gender, etc.. They are all divisive elements meant to separate us into little warring tribes while the 0.1% laugh all the way to the bank.

        Notice that the entirety of the media/corporate class are all FULLY on board with the race/sex/gender separation gambit. Does this not give us a clue as to what’s what in re to the big con they have pulled on us?

  10. BettyK
    September 19, 2023 at 15:38

    Amen, Chris!! I often wonder how much evil the U.S. can carry out before it is is brought to its knees like the Roman Empire was. Better hurry before we force “Democracy” on others.

  11. Riva Enteen
    September 19, 2023 at 15:16

    The Libya debacle is when Amy Goodman and Democracy Now started to go down the tubes. She, and many other alleged progressives, continue to believe in the R2P, from Ukraine to Taiwan. The Dalai Lama even makes many “progressives” trust the CIA. The US only protects the wealth of the grotesquely rich.

  12. jamie
    September 19, 2023 at 14:55

    it was quite interesting that UN rushed to “accuse” the local authorities for the recent flood catastrophe caused by Storm Daniel, leaving, more than 10k people dead, pointing out that authorities failed to repair the dam, etc.
    While, this accusation cannot be denied, the UN failed to “understand” the dimension of the aftermath of NATO intervention in Libya.
    I am asking myself, was this superficial analysis and conclusion done on purpose? or was plain ignorance by UN “experts”? both answers should leave anyone very concern about UN, the international institution that failed to prevent an illegal war.
    I have met people that have crossed Libya, they told me about lawless cities, with camps (more like prisons) filled with migrants, doing anything in order to survive, even slavery (working for free) to pay their way to Europe.
    It is the simplicity in UN reasoning the leave me concern, perhaps done on purpose to counter critical voices that rightly accused the west for being responsible not only of destroying Libya but to have failed in reconstructing/redevelop the country, to make it a safe, stable and prosperous democratic country. Obama’s (Nobel peace price) broken promise.
    UN analysis shows also lack of critical intelligence, holistic intelligence and that it is inadmissible for an international organization that talks about sustainable development and peace.
    Hannah Arendt’s interview with Adolf Eichmann concluded that the lack of critical thinking was the cause for supporting the nazi. Today we see that media, politicians, international organizations, exploit this, not lack of capacity, but unwillingness (due to time, desire, blind trust on authoritative figures/institutions, etc) to challenge what they say, to investigate further… and today it is even worse than in the 1930s because we are aware of the problem and instead of solving it we exploit it even further. Shame on us.
    If we use a system thinking approach to analyses the recent human catastrophe in Libya, analyzing the interconnections/interrelations between parts making up a country, political system, society, economy, etc we would have a quite different interpretation of who is responsible for such natural disaster, who is to blame, etc. The western countries and UN would be sure included.

    • Robert
      September 20, 2023 at 08:29

      Eventually the BRICS + will have to create its own version of a United Nations. The current U.N. cannot be rehabilitated.

  13. Drew Hunkins
    September 19, 2023 at 13:47

    One of Gaddafi’s big roles was squelching out of control African immigration into Western Europe. He did an admirable job of it. Now we see the consequences.

    • John Puma
      September 19, 2023 at 18:32

      Do have a reference or two on the intent and effectiveness of Gaddafi’s efforts to squelch out-of-control African immigration into Western Europe.

      I’m not challenging your comment but only want concrete background for revealing this to others.

      • Drew Hunkins
        September 20, 2023 at 16:21

        “How the fall of Qaddafi gave rise to Europe’s migrant crisis”

        By Dan Murphy

        It’s in the Christian Science Monitor April 21, 2015

        • John Puma
          September 20, 2023 at 17:29

          Thanks very much.

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