Libya: NATO’s Gateway to the Arab Revolts

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Rebels trample on a Gaddafi statue in Bab al-Azizia (Photo: AP - Sergey Ponomarev)

By: Basheer al-Baker

Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NATO’s successful role in overthrowing Colonel Gaddafi’s regime opens the door for replicating the Libyan model in other countries of the region. The alliance’s new strategy is aimed at redefining its image and strategy while expanding its traditional area of operation towards the Middle East and the Gulf Region.

Current events in Libya will have consequences and repercussions well beyond the country’s borders and across the Arab World. This is the second most vitally important event in this decade after the occupation of Iraq. Arab and international reactions to NATO’s involvement in Libya suggests that what happened in Libya could happen in most Arab countries, particularly those experiencing massive protest movements amid growing rifts between ruler and ruled.

On Facebook, reactions to Gaddafi’s ouster are mixed: Many feel elated by the defeat of Tripoli’s ruler, while many others believe that the Arab region is rapidly entering a phase of foreign intervention. In both camps, the main focus is Syria. The former group believes that the downfall of Gaddafi paves the way for ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad. Those in the second group insist that NATO’s role in overthrowing Gaddafi proves that the Arab revolutions have become a vehicle for Western intervention in the region. The chasm between these positions calls for a better understanding of NATO’s vision for the region.

Bush Doctrine: Mission Unaccomplished

Long before the winds of the Arab Spring began to blow in Tunisia, and for the past decade, NATO had special designs for the Middle East and the Gulf. The emergent Western interest in Arab geography is not new and surfaced when former US President George W. Bush took office in 2001. In 2002, former US Secretary of State General Colin Powell launched the Middle East Initiative (paving the way for the Greater Middle East Project) that preceded the American invasion of Iraq. At the time, the US allocated US$200 million to the initiative, and tried to implement it through a number of political, security, and defense agencies. Washington also sought to engage civil society and several Arab governments, including those of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, and Bahrain, in the initiative. Two ‘Forums for the Future’ were held in Morocco (2004) and Bahrain (2005) among representatives of G8 countries, Middle East leaders, and business and civil society groups.

However, the project did not advance very far, stumbling for financial reasons. In practice, the region was not prepared to accept this project, because of the shadows cast by the 9/11 bombings, as well as the global ‘war on terror’ launched by Bush in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In 2004, earlier efforts were reformulated into the Greater Middle East Project, described as an ambitious initiative to promote democracy in the region. The Project’s approach was based on the model used in prior decades to pressure the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to promote freedom. The US drew up a comprehensive plan and presented it to the summit meetings of the G8, NATO, and the EU. These summits solidified commitments from Middle Eastern and East Asian countries to implement wide ranging political and economic reforms, and attempted to institute processes to hold these countries accountable for their human rights records.

Regime change was also part of this strategy. Bush saw the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a model for political change, and expressed his belief that the experience could be repeated in other countries through the establishment of democratic institutions. He saw this as part of his legacy to help change what he termed as the traditions of violence, fear, and frustration — what he viewed as the seeds from which terrorism grew in the Middle East. He insisted that it was necessary to set up democratic institutions to respond to the people’s aspirations.

Coordination for the project was then established with Europe. The G8, the US, Europe, and NATO adopted the the Greater Middle East Project during summits held in June 2004. They envisioned the Middle East at a crossroads and concluded that it needed to be placed on a pathway towards economic and social reform, thereby preserving "the United States’ and its allies’ security interests.”

A Libyan rebel walk past a damaged metal fence as they overrun Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's fortified Bab al-Azizya headquarters in the capital Tripoli. (Photo: AFP - Filippo Monteforte)A Libyan rebel walk past a damaged metal fence as they overrun Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's fortified Bab al-Aziza headquarters in the capital Tripoli. (Photo: AFP - Filippo Monteforte)

The project failed shortly thereafter and was completely abandoned during Bush’s second term. It did not succeed largely because of the security failures in Afghanistan and growing resistance against American occupation in Iraq. In light of the surprises encountered after the invasion of Iraq, Washington changed many of its priorities. At the very least, it wanted to pressure the Syrian regime in order to influence events in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iran. The Syrian regime offered actual concessions in that regard. However, the Bush administration realized that its recipe for installing democracy was flawed, and instead pursued UN resolution 1559, which called for, among other things, Syrian political and military withdrawal from Lebanon. This resolution was to preempt a move against the Syrian regime, but the July 2006 victory against Israel in Lebanon ended the siege on Damascus.

The New NATO Doctrine

The Bush administration’s abandonment of the project did not lead to its complete dismemberment. It remained, in the eyes of many, the perfect ready-made recipe for interfering in the region under the pretense of democratic reform. It now took on a multinational dimension. Many governments did not notice that the US plan was adopted internationally, and, in particular, as a joint American-European project. Many European leaders actively obscured American initiatives by offering more practical alternatives. As an example of this, Europe and NATO began a joint defense strategy where European security and military forces were placed at the disposal of NATO. At the same time, the alliance began to enjoy a prime position in European regional exploits.

Meanwhile, the project’s critics failed to recognize that it sought more than regime change. The project identified strategies and proposed solutions based on an analysis provided in a UN Human Development Report written by several Arab intellectuals and experts.

In this context, those who hailed the American failure in Iraq believed it was due to a lack of stability in that country. They did not suspect that other countries in the region would be the target of foreign intervention. Only Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh took notice. He summarized the situation through a Bedouin proverb, “If you see that they have shaved your brother’s hair, get ready by wetting yours.” The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a lesson to his ruling Arab brethren that their turn will come. However, Arab regimes sat back and enjoyed their existing security and stability.

The latest developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen show that security measures alone cannot keep people under check and sustain the rule of countries. Long before the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction, the dictatorial regime in Iraq and the absence of freedom had paved the way for the occupation of the country by a foreign force.

Despite the presence of dictatorship in Iraq, Washington failed to convince the people of the region that US intentions were indeed noble and the Greater Middle East Project failed to materialize. Rather, the latter was viewed as part of a foreign agenda imposed by force on the region.

Co-opting the Revolts: The New Intervention Order

Three things have changed since then. Today the domestic protest agenda exists of its own accord independently of foreign factors. The Americans have been quick to ride that wave. They absorbed the shock what happened in Tunisia and avoided falling into the same traps they fell into in the case of Egypt. This is why they distanced themselves from Hosni Mubarak and his regime, behaved like a patron for peace in Yemen, and adopted the protest movement in Syria to such an extent that they were the first among the international community to call for Assad’s resignation. Whatever the context and difference of motives, a foundation now exists for domestic and foreign agendas to coincide towards one goal: regime change.

Current events have also ushered a new military precedent: intervention no longer requires the cover of the UN nor faces any effective global protest. As far as NATO’s rules of engagement are concerned, the alliance has become a Western tool of choice for foreign intervention. Europe and the US no longer need to send their forces directly to fight missions outside of Europe.The international division fostered by the American invasion of Iraq will not be repeated, as the Libyan model offers a clear alternative for what awaits the region. Foreign intervention may follow if there is no resolution to the current intractable crises between the people calling for the downfall of their rulers and the latter’s stalling significant reforms while relying on security measures instead.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition


The alliance’s new strategy ... no new strategy ... pigs and pigs or dogs and dogs if you like it more gipsyes


Here an interview of Wesley Clark (march 2007), where he said :

“This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.

So all was planned ? What is the goal beside taking oil ?

congratulation for the new English website

I disagree with the author on some points:

1. You did not mention Bahrain, where the US fully supported repression there.
2. I would not say that America is behaving like a patron for peace in Yemen.
3. America promotes "democracy" in those regimes that it does not like. I feel like NATO intervention in Libya was caused by the fact that it sits on so many oil reserves and not because they had a calculated plan to hijack the revolution.

That said, NATO's investment in Gadafi's overthrow is not guaranteed to be paid back. For all we know, the Libyan people might be well aware of what NATO is doing and spite their project anyway. Hopefully this happens.

Syria probably will never be struck by NATO because it doesn't have much oil and there is enough existing anti-US elements in that region that intervention would be truly futile there.

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