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Stop assault on Libya!
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 13      April 4, 2011


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(lead article)
Stop assault on Libya!
Washington, London, Paris launch air strikes
U.S. Navy/Mass Comm. Spc. 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman
Guided missile destroyer USS Barry launches Tomahawk missile, one of some 160 cruise missiles fired from U.S. and British warships and submarines targeting sites in Libya.

Washington, London, and Paris unleashed widespread air strikes against Libya March 19.

During the first four days of the imperialist assault, more than 160 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from U.S. and British naval vessels in the Mediterranean, and more than 150 sorties were flown by U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bombers, F-15 fighter jets, Marine Harrier jets, as well as French and British warplanes.

In an operation dubbed “Odyssey Dawn,” missiles and planes have targeted Libyan antiaircraft and communications installations, government soldiers advancing on rebel-held cities in the eastern part of the country, and the compound in Tripoli of head of state Moammar Gadhafi.

The aggression comes a month after civil war erupted in Libya following protests to end Gadhafi’s 41-year-old tyrannical regime. Washington and imperialist powers in Europe aim to reestablish stable capitalist rule and protect their investments and strategic interests in this oil-rich country and the surrounding region.

The revolt in Libya, spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, stems from popular resistance to suppression of basic democratic rights, including freedom of speech, press, and assembly, and the right to form political parties. Opposition forces initially took control of the main population centers in northeast Libya and some cities in the west before being driven back by the regime’s superior air and artillery power.

In mid-March, as Gadhafi’s forces closed in on Benghazi—the opposition’s political center in eastern Libya and last remaining stronghold—the governments of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom grabbed the chance to launch an assault. Gadhafi handed the Barack Obama administration a pretext to dress up the onslaught in “humanitarian” garb by demagogically warning Benghazi residents: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”

Leaders of the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council welcomed the air campaign, which in its opening days slowed Gadhafi’s offensive. The council, formed in early March, is led by members of Gadhafi’s cabinet who resigned after the civil war began. Former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil heads the council, and former interior minister Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes is a leading member. Paris has recognized the council as the official Libyan government.

A flotilla of warships is stationed in the Mediterranean off Libya’s coast. Eleven each are under the command of Washington and Rome, and one each of the London, Ottawa, and Paris. The Italian government has provided seven air bases for strikes against Libya and Madrid offered two. Other imperialist powers joining the assault include the governments of Denmark and Belgium. They sent fighter jets to join British and French no-fly patrols.

On March 17 the UN Security Council with 10 votes in favor approved a resolution establishing the no-fly zone. Authorizing “all necessary measures to enforce compliance,” the UN resolution served as cover for air strikes that began two days later. The Russian and Chinese governments—both with power to veto resolutions—abstained, as did those of Germany, Brazil, and India.

Opening the door to imperialist aggression, the 22-member Arab League in an emergency meeting March 12 overwhelmingly called on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone. Only Syria and Algeria dissented, according to Egyptian officials. Lebanon, the Security Council’s only Arab League member, introduced the UN resolution a few days later. Despite this endorsement, only Qatar has so far committed forces to the imperialist-led operation, sending four warplanes.

The Arab League decision comes at a time when capitalist regimes in many of its member countries are facing rebellions by working people fighting for democratic and political rights.  
Imperial allies and rivals
In announcing the assault on Libya, Obama said it would be “limited” in extent and duration and that command of the operation would shift to other governments “in a matter of days and not a matter of weeks.” Initial military operations have been directed by the U.S. Africa Command.

Rivalries emerged from the outset among the imperialist regimes, each of which is pursuing the class interests of its ruling families. The French government, looking to advance its own position as Europe’s leading military and political power, opposes transferring command to NATO. London and Rome—each eager to trim Paris’s sails—support a NATO command, as does Washington, which dominates the military alliance.

“The relations grew so tense on Monday [March 21] that French and German ambassadors to NATO walked out of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s decision-making body,” reported the Financial Times, after NATO’s secretary-general “criticised Paris for impeding NATO involvement and Germany for not actively participating.”

Cowed by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Gadhafi had worked to cultivate ties with Washington and other imperialist powers. He declared he would not produce nuclear weapons, handed over more than 4,000 centrifuges and other bomb-making technology, and began collaborating with U.S. spy agencies against alleged Islamist militants. U.S. and British oil companies returned to Libya. By 2008, the U.S. State Department began calling Gadhafi “a person of personality and experience.”

When the civil war erupted in Libya, there were divisions within both U.S. imperialist parties, the Democrats and Republicans, over whether to militarily intervene. Barack Obama’s hesitant approach clashed more and more visibly with that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others. The rapid turning of the tide in favor of Gadhafi’s forces in the civil war, however, led the White House to change course.
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