Top Ten Myths about the Libya War

by on August 23, 2011 · 36 comments

in Popular, World News

Screen capture from Al Jazeera news video showing rebel soldiers kicking around head from Gaddafi statute destroyed when they took control of his Tripoli compound today, Tuesday, Aug. 23rd, 2011.

By Juan Cole / Informed Consent / August 22, 2011

The Libyan Revolution has largely succeeded, and this is a moment of celebration, not only for Libyans but for a youth generation in the Arab world that has pursued a political opening across the region. The secret of the uprising’s final days of success lay in a popular revolt in the working-class districts of the capital, which did most of the hard work of throwing off the rule of secret police and military cliques. It succeeded so well that when revolutionary brigades entered the city from the west, many encountered little or no resistance, and they walked right into the center of the capital. Muammar Qaddafi was in hiding as I went to press, and three of his sons were in custody. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi had apparently been the de facto ruler of the country in recent years, so his capture signaled a checkmate. (Checkmate is a corruption of the Persian “shah maat,” the “king is confounded,” since chess came west from India via Iran). Checkmate.

The end game, wherein the people of Tripoli overthrew the Qaddafis and joined the opposition Transitional National Council, is the best case scenario that I had suggested was the most likely denouement for the revolution. I have been making this argument for some time, and it evoked a certain amount of incredulity when I said it in a lecture in the Netherlands in mid-June, but it has all along been my best guess that things would end the way they have. I got it right where others did not because my premises turned out to be sounder, i.e., that Qaddafi had lost popular support across the board and was in power only through main force. Once enough of his heavy weapons capability was disrupted, and his fuel and ammunition supplies blocked, the underlying hostility of the common people to the regime could again manifest itself, as it had in February. I was moreover convinced that the generality of Libyans were attracted by the revolution and by the idea of a political opening, and that there was no great danger to national unity here.

I do not mean to underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead– mopping up operations against regime loyalists, reestablishing law and order in cities that have seen popular revolutions, reconstituting police and the national army, moving the Transitional National Council to Tripoli, founding political parties, and building a new, parliamentary regime. Even in much more institutionalized and less clan-based societies such as Tunisia and Egypt, these tasks have proved anything but easy. But it would be wrong, in this moment of triumph for the Libyan Second Republic, to dwell on the difficulties to come. Libyans deserve a moment of exultation.

I have taken a lot of heat for my support of the revolution and of the United Nations-authorized intervention by the Arab League and NATO that kept it from being crushed. I haven’t taken nearly as much heat as the youth of Misrata who fought off Qaddafi’s tank barrages, though, so it is OK. I hate war, having actually lived through one in Lebanon, and I hate the idea of people being killed. My critics who imagined me thrilling at NATO bombing raids were just being cruel. But here I agree with President Obama and his citation of Reinhold Niebuhr. You can’t protect all victims of mass murder everywhere all the time. But where you can do some good, you should do it, even if you cannot do all good. I mourn the deaths of all the people who died in this revolution, especially since many of the Qaddafi brigades were clearly coerced (they deserted in large numbers as soon as they felt it safe). But it was clear to me that Qaddafi was not a man to compromise, and that his military machine would mow down the revolutionaries if it were allowed to.

Moreover, those who question whether there were US interests in Libya seem to me a little blind. The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly. The US has an interest in a lawful world order, and therefore in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Libyans be protected from their murderous government. The US has an interest in its NATO alliance, and NATO allies France and Britain felt strongly about this intervention. The US has a deep interest in the fate of Egypt, and what happened in Libya would have affected Egypt (Qaddafi allegedly had high Egyptian officials on his payroll).

Given the controversies about the revolution, it is worthwhile reviewing the myths about the Libyan Revolution that led so many observers to make so many fantastic or just mistaken assertions about it.

1. Qaddafi was a progressive in his domestic policies. While back in the 1970s, Qaddafi was probably more generous in sharing around the oil wealth with the population, buying tractors for farmers, etc., in the past couple of decades that policy changed. He became vindictive against tribes in the east and in the southwest that had crossed him politically, depriving them of their fair share in the country’s resources. And in the past decade and a half, extreme corruption and the rise of post-Soviet-style oligarchs, including Qaddafi and his sons, have discouraged investment and blighted the economy. Workers were strictly controlled and unable to collectively bargain for improvements in their conditions. There was much more poverty and poor infrastructure in Libya than there should have been in an oil state.

2. Qaddafi was a progressive in his foreign policy. Again, he traded for decades on positions, or postures, he took in the 1970s. In contrast, in recent years he played a sinister role in Africa, bankrolling brutal dictators and helping foment ruinous wars. In 1996 the supposed champion of the Palestinian cause expelled 30,000 stateless Palestinians from the country. After he came in from the cold, ending European and US sanctions, he began buddying around with George W. Bush, Silvio Berlusconi and other right wing figures. Berlusconi has even said that he considered resigning as Italian prime minister once NATO began its intervention, given his close personal relationship to Qaddafi. Such a progressive.

 3. It was only natural that Qaddafi sent his military against the protesters and revolutionaries; any country would have done the same. No, it wouldn’t, and this is the argument of a moral cretin. In fact, the Tunisian officer corps refused to fire on Tunisian crowds for dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the Egyptian officer corps refused to fire on Egyptian crowds for Hosni Mubarak. The willingness of the Libyan officer corps to visit macabre violence on protesting crowds derived from the centrality of the Qaddafi sons and cronies at the top of the military hierarchy and from the lack of connection between the people and the professional soldiers and mercenaries. Deploying the military against non-combatants was a war crime, and doing so in a widespread and systematic way was a crime against humanity. Qaddafi and his sons will be tried for this crime, which is not “perfectly natural.”

 4. There was a long stalemate in the fighting between the revolutionaries and the Qaddafi military. There was not. This idea was fostered by the vantage point of many Western observers, in Benghazi. It is true that there was a long stalemate at Brega, which ended yesterday when the pro-Qaddafi troops there surrendered. But the two most active fronts in the war were Misrata and its environs, and the Western Mountain region. Misrata fought an epic, Stalingrad-style, struggle of self-defense against attacking Qaddafi armor and troops, finally proving victorious with NATO help, and then they gradually fought to the west toward Tripoli. The most dramatic battles and advances were in the largely Berber Western Mountain region, where, again, Qaddafi armored units relentlessly shelled small towns and villages but were fought off (with less help from NATO initially, which I think did not recognize the importance of this theater). It was the revolutionary volunteers from this region who eventually took Zawiya, with the help of the people of Zawiya, last Friday and who thereby cut Tripoli off from fuel and ammunition coming from Tunisia and made the fall of the capital possible. Any close observer of the war since April has seen constant movement, first at Misrata and then in the Western Mountains, and there was never an over-all stalemate.

 5. The Libyan Revolution was a civil war. It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic. There was nothing like the vicious sectarian civilian-on-civilian fighting in Baghdad in 2006. The revolution began as peaceful public protests, and only when the urban crowds were subjected to artillery, tank, mortar and cluster bomb barrages did the revolutionaries begin arming themselves. When fighting began, it was volunteer combatants representing their city quarters taking on trained regular army troops and mercenaries. That is a revolution, not a civil war. Only in a few small pockets of territory, such as Sirte and its environs, did pro-Qaddafi civilians oppose the revolutionaries, but it would be wrong to magnify a handful of skirmishes of that sort into a civil war. Qaddafi’s support was too limited, too thin, and too centered in the professional military, to allow us to speak of a civil war.

 6. Libya is not a real country and could have been partitioned between east and west.

Alexander Cockburn wrote,

 “It requites no great prescience to see that this will all end up badly. Qaddafi’s failure to collapse on schedule is prompting increasing pressure to start a ground war, since the NATO operation is, in terms of prestige, like the banks Obama has bailed out, Too Big to Fail. Libya will probably be balkanized.”

 I don’t understand the propensity of Western analysts to keep pronouncing nations in the global south “artificial” and on the verge of splitting up. It is a kind of Orientalism. All nations are artificial. Benedict Anderson dates the nation-state to the late 1700s, and even if it were a bit earlier, it is a new thing in history. Moreover, most nation-states are multi-ethnic, and many long-established ones have sub-nationalisms that threaten their unity. Thus, the Catalans and Basque are uneasy inside Spain, the Scottish may bolt Britain any moment, etc., etc. In contrast, Libya does not have any well-organized, popular separatist movements. It does have tribal divisions, but these are not the basis for nationalist separatism, and tribal alliances and fissures are more fluid than ethnicity (which is itself less fixed than people assume). Everyone speaks Arabic, though for Berbers it is the public language; Berbers were among the central Libyan heroes of the revolution, and will be rewarded with a more pluralist Libya. This generation of young Libyans, who waged the revolution, have mostly been through state schools and have a strong allegiance to the idea of Libya. Throughout the revolution, the people of Benghazi insisted that Tripoli was and would remain the capital. Westerners looking for break-ups after dictatorships are fixated on the Balkan events after 1989, but there most often isn’t an exact analogue to those in the contemporary Arab world.

7. There had to be NATO infantry brigades on the ground for the revolution to succeed. Everyone from Cockburn to Max Boot (scary when those two agree) put forward this idea. But there are not any foreign infantry brigades in Libya, and there are unlikely to be any. Libyans are very nationalistic and they made this clear from the beginning. Likewise the Arab League. NATO had some intelligence assets on the ground, but they were small in number, were requested behind the scenes for liaison and spotting by the revolutionaries, and did not amount to an invasion force. The Libyan people never needed foreign ground brigades to succeed in their revolution.

 8. The United States led the charge to war. There is no evidence for this allegation whatsoever. When I asked Glenn Greenwald whether a US refusal to join France and Britain in a NATO united front might not have destroyed NATO, he replied that NATO would never have gone forward unless the US had plumped for the intervention in the first place. I fear that answer was less fact-based and more doctrinaire than we are accustomed to hearing from Mr. Greenwald, whose research and analysis on domestic issues is generally first-rate. As someone not a stranger to diplomatic history, and who has actually heard briefings in Europe from foreign ministries and officers of NATO members, I’m offended at the glibness of an answer given with no more substantiation than an idee fixe. The excellent McClatchy wire service reported on the reasons for which then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Pentagon, and Obama himself were extremely reluctant to become involved in yet another war in the Muslim world. It is obvious that the French and the British led the charge on this intervention, likely because they believed that a protracted struggle over years between the opposition and Qaddafi in Libya would radicalize it and give an opening to al-Qaeda and so pose various threats to Europe. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been politically mauled, as well, by the offer of his defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, to send French troops to assist Ben Ali in Tunisia (Alliot-Marie had been Ben Ali’s guest on fancy vacations), and may have wanted to restore traditional French cachet in the Arab world as well as to look decisive to his electorate. Whatever Western Europe’s motivations, they were the decisive ones, and the Obama administration clearly came along as a junior partner (something Sen. John McCain is complaining bitterly about).

 9. Qaddafi would not have killed or imprisoned large numbers of dissidents in Benghazi, Derna, al-Bayda and Tobruk if he had been allowed to pursue his March Blitzkrieg toward the eastern cities that had defied him. But we have real-world examples of how he would have behaved, in Zawiya, Tawargha, Misrata and elsewhere. His indiscriminate shelling of Misrata had already killed between 1000 and 2000 by last April,, and it continued all summer. At least one Qaddafi mass grave with 150 bodies in it has been discovered. And the full story of the horrors in Zawiya and elsewhere in the west has yet to emerge, but it will not be pretty. The opposition claims Qaddafi’s forces killed tens of thousands. Public health studies may eventually settle this issue, but we know definitively what Qaddafi was capable of.

10. This was a war for Libya’s oil. That is daft. Libya was already integrated into the international oil markets, and had done billions of deals with BP, ENI, etc., etc. None of those companies would have wanted to endanger their contracts by getting rid of the ruler who had signed them. They had often already had the trauma of having to compete for post-war Iraqi contracts, a process in which many did less well than they would have liked. ENI’s profits were hurt by the Libyan revolution, as were those of Total SA. and Repsol. Moreover, taking Libyan oil off the market through a NATO military intervention could have been foreseen to put up oil prices, which no Western elected leader would have wanted to see, especially Barack Obama, with the danger that a spike in energy prices could prolong the economic doldrums. An economic argument for imperialism is fine if it makes sense, but this one does not, and there is no good evidence for it (that Qaddafi was erratic is not enough), and is therefore just a conspiracy theory.

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). He has been a regular guest on PBS’s Lehrer News Hour, and has also appeared on ABC Nightly News, Nightline, the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, the Colbert Report, Democracy Now! and many others. He has given many radio and press interviews. He has written widely about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Iraq War, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Iranian domestic struggles and foreign affairs. He has a regular column at Truthdig.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Burns August 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Thank you! I rarely read anything this long anymore but am glad that I made an exception for this insightful article.


Brian Ogden August 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm

It is a resource invasion, unconstitutional, you brain is in the interim of a slight scrubbing by the Industrial Military complex and you need to take a step back, it is not in the name of humanitarian or democratic values. Your thoughts on this 15 minute segment would be much appreciated and I would like to have you on my web cast tonight!


Shane Finneran August 24, 2011 at 8:50 am

I’m with Brian on this. If it’s at all about the people of Libya, how come US and UK and France (three nations with a nasty history of resource-driven invasion) aren’t taking the same action in Syria, Bahrain, etc that they took in Libya?

I can’t understand how folks who usually recognize that war is a racket can’t see the obvious reality here. Is it because the US role was orchestrated by a Democratic president? Sheesh.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 9:18 am

Sorry, can’t join you in your turn-away from the Libyan people. I have followed the Arab Spring uprisings closely over the months. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria… The Libyan people have spoken. They have every right to celebrate – as it was their victory – sure, NATO bombings helped, just as the French imperial navy helped our revolutionaries 235 years ago. But it was their actions on the ground that was instrumental.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 9:40 am

Brian, you need to open your heart and jump-start your compassion.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 9:19 am

I can’t understand how folks who usually stand with the downtrodden and those who are fighting for revolution and the defeat of brutal dictators can’t see the obvious reality here.


Shane Finneran August 24, 2011 at 9:34 am

Saddam Hussein was certainly a brutal dictator in Iraq. But progressive opposition to that war was loud and lasting. What’s the difference with Libya?

In Syria, estimates are that more than 2,000 peaceful protesters recently have been murdered by the regime. Doesn’t that beg the question, if Libya, why not Syria?

Oh, and then there’s the fact that the executive branch executed this longer-than-60-days action without seeking Congressional approval, as required by the War Powers Act. Do you buy the argument that what we engaged in was not war?

I’ve asked a lot of people these simple questions. Still waiting for some answers.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 9:39 am

Try reading the article? Juan Cole is no history or intellectual lightweight. He has laid out a brilliant understanding of the Libyan situation. Respond to something in his article. The primary aspect of what is happening in Libya is the Libyan people’s struggle to overthrow their dictator. That is the main thing. Are you now defending Kaddafi?


Shane Finneran August 24, 2011 at 9:49 am

Oh, I read Juan Cole’s article. Twice, actually. But the article doesn’t answer any of the simple questions I just asked. And neither has any invasion-backer I’ve debated.

I’ll answer your question: Am I defending Kaddafi? No, and I’m pretty sure nothing I’ve said is remotely close to a defense of him.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 10:09 am

I’m not what you are calling an “invasion-backer” as the US did not invade Libya, just as France did not “invade” the American colonies when that imperial power aided American revolutionaries. Definitely do not agree with Dennis Kucinich on this one.


Shane Finneran August 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

In my book, bombing a country until your allies can take over is akin to invasion. But let’s revise “invasion-backer” to “attack-backer” if that’s more accurate.

I think that France/America example actually supports my case, as France clearly had an ulterior motive in helping America revolutionaries fight England. And given that those simple questions I asked appear to have no answers, I have no grounds to change my view that ulterior motives drove our attack of Libya.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 10:21 am

Okay, we’ve now established that you are not a Kaddafi-backer and I’m not an “invasion-backer”. No one has said that the US and France did not have ulterior motives. That is not the issue. The issue is the Libyan people’s struggle for democracy and justice. That is the key here and you have still not addressed it. (Didn’t we have this same argument a few months ago?)


Shane Finneran August 24, 2011 at 10:43 am

You seem to think the issue is “the Libyan people’s struggle for democracy and justice.” To me, that’s just the propaganda line. Because people’s struggles don’t seem to count for anything in several other aspects of our foreign policy (or maybe even ALL other aspects of our foreign policy).

As I’ve asked above, if you didn’t believe it when Bush said he was attacking Iraq for the good of the Iraqis, why do you believe it in this case? (If you respond to that question with more questions, you’ll have to forgive me for not carrying on.)


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

Whoa! you are saying that the central issue in all of this is simply a “propaganda line.” That’s a discussion killer all in itself.

Have you been watching the fighting and celebrating as I have been doing these last 3 to 4 days (whoops a question – sorry.)

I’ll rephrase it: if you had been watching the fighting and celebrating as I have been doing these last 3 to 4 days you would realize that – despite whatever the corporate media says about Libya – what is happening on the ground there is decisive and self-explanatory. The Libyan people have overthrown their dictator. Period. Yes, he’s still in hiding, and there are pockets still resisting the rebel opposition but his regime is over. The rebels are no longer “rebels” – they are the new government.


Brian Ogden August 24, 2011 at 10:49 am

Frank Oh my heart is open that is for sure. Please don’t presume such as strange thing to presume over on internet dialog.

I have a webcast called Truth, Politics and the new American way if you would like to be on, Shane you too.

Our current wars are preemptive strikes. Of all the countries in the world, our convictions as American’s should dictate a policy of neutrality when it comes to war. We have borders, and it is absolutely un-American and unconstitutional to not observe them. Why it is the exact opposite in practice should stop every American in their tracks to say, “wait a minute, why exactly are we spreading liberty with guns”.

This is really simple guys, these are resource invasions by the military-industrial complex, there are wrong because they are in the name of liberty and liberty can only be lead by example not by force. Somewhere along the way, we decided that we have the right to make these decisions for other countries.

If you believe in freedom and liberty than you cannot, under any circumstances, spread it with force. Assessing the needs of the Libyan people is no easy task, local leaders would have a hard enough time, but a group of foreigners, especially ones with ulterior motives is unacceptable and goes against every core American value. It is the industrial-military complexes’ propaganda that has planted the psychological seeds of “invasion reasoning” in us, in the name of freedom, in the name of any kind of conviction, all troops should immediately be brought home and all further operations can be done by funding humanitarian efforts such as the Red Cross.

my email is sweetog @ gmail, same for my facebook, if you have a webcam you can be on the show, I am looking for people that care so that we can get other people to care!


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 11:09 am

Brian, it’s clear to me that you have not read Juan Cole’s article. You are simply repeating doctrinaire phrases. BTW, it is not against “every core American value” to either give or receive support from other nations. Examples: 1776-1785, WWII for starters.

Brian, neither you nor Shane are responding to what is actually happening in Libya.


Brian Ogden August 24, 2011 at 11:41 am

I read the article. It is not our business what is happening in Libya, our country is playing God and we have no right to do it. Nor can we continue to do it. It is disturbing how much you are reasoning like you know what is going on in Libya, you hear some things, I hear some things, none of us know the people we are getting our information or where they are getting their information from. What is so disturbing, is that we are here, spouting what we think is going on in Libya and we have not been there. And, as we all know, you can’t understand what is going on unless you have been through it. This is the effects of the industrial-military complex, this is the effects of large scale organizations bent on power and control and they have made us very comfortable and far removed from the situation. If you suffer all you want to do is end the suffering, war is being take very lightly by us who have never experienced a day of it ourselves. This may be a news source outside the more direct influence of US and Great Britain, food for thought perhaps:


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Still have to disagree with ya, Brian. I am getting my news from “Libya Live” – an up to the minute blog on what’s happening by Al Jazseera English and the BBC. Both news services have reporters on the ground in Tripoli. Where are you getting your info from? Don’t agree with you either when you say, ever so lightly, “it is not our business what is happening in Libya”. Have you been watching and observing at all of the struggles of the Arab Spring? You earlier stated that you have “compassion” – well, where is it? Did you have compassion for those who stood up for freedom in Egypt? I feel I am and have been in solidarity with those peoples. You keep spouting the military industrial complex – yes, it’s alive and well – and those of us who have stood up against it for decades are not blind.

Here’s AlJazeera’s link:
and here’s the BBC’s :


Shane Finneran August 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm

So Frank, was it our business in Iraq? Is it our business in Syria? Bahrain? China, in fact, and many others? If taking out Kaddafi is legit, shouldn’t he just be one on a long list of tyrannical regimes that we should be taking out?

I’ve asked this 10 different ways and you haven’t answered once…


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I answered you earlier this year when we had this same exact discussion / debate. It’s as if we’re now having the exact same argument we did – when was it ? Feb, March, maybe? We did not “take out” Kaddafi – the Libyans did. It’s in the American peoples’ interest to have actual democracies in the world. It’s in our interest to have free peoples in the Middle East – and again Juan Cole addressed this point – and you said you read his post twice. It’s in our interest to have countries where freedom and justice thrive. Even though there’s still problems in Egypt, the Egyptian people are now more free now than they were under Mubarak. The same can be said about Tunisia and Libya.

It’s in our interests for the Syrians to be free from their dictator. Syria has been historically within the USSR / Russia sphere of interests, and represents a different situation.

The US did not “lead” this intervention, and Obama and the generals were very reluctant to get involved.

I’m throwing it back to you, I’ve asked you a whole bunch of times, respond to the points in the post or at least respond to what’s been going down in Libya itself.


OB Joe August 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Where’s all you brave lefties? Do you not have a thought on the Libya situation? At least Brian, Frank, and Sean had the guts to come on and give theirs – even though they all didn’t agree.

Can you not recognize a true, genuine people’s rebellion? Are you just simply confused because your government and Nato have been involved? Go to the links that are out there – watch the Libyan people take to the streets and fight the snipers that prevent them from controlling all of Tripoli, the capital. Listen to their voices as they express their new-found freedom from a tyranny that some on the left supported.

All those lefties who have supported Kaddafi over the years now raise your hands. (Hey, I felt sorry for him when Reagan bombed his compound.) He was supported by the American left because he vomited out “anti-colonial” rhetoric, and he hobnobbed with other international left “heros”.

It is now being demonstrated just what kind of leader he was for his people: a cutthroat, a dictator, a tyrant. It’s good for the Libyan street that he is all but gone. Long live Libya!

And I really don’t think the Libyans will now allow Nato or French or English bases on their land.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Hugo Chavez is off his rocker right now, even though I’ve supported him over the years. He is still sticking to this tri-fecta of “anti-colonial” rulers: himself, Kaddafi, and Iran’s ruler Ahmadinejad. Of those 3 he seemed to be the most principled, but now with his unqualified support for Kaddafi, he is really showing that internationally at least, he doesn’t know what’s he talking about.


Christopher Moore August 25, 2011 at 10:54 am

Chavez is another fake progressive demagogue IMO, promising desperate screwed-over people the moon and stars in exchange for personal power, and cracking down on any dissenters with minimal restraint. It’s no wonder he’s cozy with Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad, they’re all much in the same mold IMO.

As much as I am not starry-eyed over US foreign policy or interventionism (even in this case), turning a blind eye to despots just because they’re willing to poke the US in the nose seems hypocritical. IE: just because we’re wrong doesn’t make them right.


Brian Ogden August 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm

If we knew the full story, we would not be so quick to celebrate. The rebels did not organically take power, they were supported and thus are indebted to the US and NATO. One of the very first things they did was install a central bank, pretty sophisticated move, perhaps they had help.

This article should rival Juan’s a bit:

Brian Becker does a much better job of summing up the point I am trying to make: “that the U.S. main stream media is a propaganda arm of the U.S government, you see a complete uniformity of position once the state department and the white house establish a position.” (source: 8:00 min,

What is going on in most of our text, is that we are regurgitating the state departments position on the military support in Libya. For example, in point 10 of Juan’s article, he makes a long winded argument that the war in Libya is not for oil. Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, oil is a major motivating factor. We all know that. Why would Juan take the time to say it is not? It is a science fiction novel become reality. Consider what Frank has been saying here, he has been watching the people celebrate on BBC and Al Jazeera. So far I have seen a upper middle class family discuss their happiness that Gaddafi is gone, and reporters walking the streets of a pummeled Tripoli. 7,500 bombs from the US and NATO may have brought this celebration but what we do not know and cannot simple estimate, is at what cost. Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute has this to say on the matter and I think it is worth hearing:
3:00 min


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Brian, I checked out your first link and it didn’t work. I checked out your blacksheep link and the blogger is full of crapola (his point #5 “The crisis is manufactured.” – The Libyan crisis and revolution of Feb 17th is “manufactured”??? – whew!)

The rebels did take power “organically” as much as the American colonists took power “organically” but with French imperial assistance in 1785 (do you even recall what the French did for us? The French navy completely blockaded General Cornwallis’ forces, thus trapping them and forcing them to surrender. – Was that “organic”?) What happened and what is happening on the ground is the most important aspect of this struggle. You say that you checked out my posts and all you heard was an upper middle class family “discuss their happiness that Gaddafi is gone ….” – That’s all you saw and heard. Dude, get internet savvy.

But what I most liked about what you said is this: “One of the very first things they [the rebels} did was install a central bank, pretty sophisticated move, …” for a bunch of desert nomads, huh? That’s almost ethnocentric, Brian. Or in other words: ‘the rebel Libyans are so stupid that they couldn’t set up an economic infrastructure by themselves.’


Brian Ogden August 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Frank, I have no idea why you are so quick to call an article because you do not agree or see the possibility of one of the points of it.

The video from RT news is a really important one
What Brian Becker says 8 mins in:

What Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute says 3 mins in:

Copy and paste the link into the address bar of your browser. Or try this link here to see the same video:

I am not being ethnocentric about the rebel army starting a central bank, they had help starting a central bank. Do you have a web cam, I would love to do a web cast right now, we can have a must better forum for discussion, record it and get others involved.


mr.rick August 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Didn’t those guys invent modern math?


editordude August 25, 2011 at 8:59 am

In the interests of stirring debate, we are reprinting some responses to Juan Cole’s “10 Myths” from other sources, although a bit one-sided:

Sorry, Juan Cole–but I choose not to celebrate a NATO
military intervention in Africa.

gerald horne


I hope he is right about the end result but this is not
balanced analysis.

FOUR RED HERRINGS:: 1. Few people argue that Libya is
not a nation. If we did not know better we would assume
that this was a common basis for questioning the air
assault. 2. Hardly anyone thought Ghadafi could last
indefinitely against the forces arrayed against him. The
fact is he lasted longer than most, including me,
expected. Yet, Professor Cole pats himself on the back
for predicting his downfall as if he had been a voice
crying in the wilderness. 3. Linking Ghadafi with Silvio
Berlusconi and sarcastically adding “some progressive
would be fair with some mention of the progressive bona
fides of the heads of state of our principle European
allies David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. 4. Alleging
Ghadafi has supported brutal African dictators would be
fair if it was acknowledged that our main regional allies
are Saudi Arabia and its surrogates in the emirates.

Professor Cole does not call for us to demand that our
government with its allies not be the agent of global
corporations who now stand poised with exclusive
contracts, 99 year leases and armies of private security
to seize control of Libya. His lack of balance is very

John Talbutt


10 Myths About Libya?

Conn Hallinan
Aug. 24, 2011

In his essay, “Top Ten Myths about the Libyan War,” Juan
Cole argues that U.S. interests in the conflict consisted
of stopping “massacres of people,” a “lawful world order,”
“the NATO alliance,” and oddly, “the fate of Egypt.” It is
worth taking a moment to look at each of these arguments,
particularly his dismissal of the idea that the U.S./NATO
intervention had anything to do with oil as “daft.”

Massacres are bad things, but the U.S. has never
demonstrated a concern for them unless its interests were
at stake. It made up the “massacre” of Kosovo Albanians in
order to launch the Yugoslav War, and ended up acquiring
one of the largest U.S. bases in the world, Camp Bond
Steel. It has resolutely ignored the massacre of
Palestinians and Shiites in Bahrain because it is not in
Washington’s interests to concern itself with those
things. Israel is an ally, and Bahrain hosts the U.S.
Fifth Fleet. Cole accepts the fact that Qaddafi would have
“massacred” his people, but his evidence for that is thin,
and he chooses to completely ignore the deaths and
casualties resulting from the NATO bombing.

The U.S. is interested in a “lawful world order.” That
would certainly come as a surprise to the Palestinians,
the Shiites in the Gulf, peasants in Colombia who suffer
the deprivations of death squads aided by the U.S. (see
the Washington Post story of 8/20/11) etc. The U.S,
supports international law when it is in its interests to
do so, undermines it when it is not, and ignores it when
it is inconvenient. I wish Cole were correct but he is
not. The record speaks for itself.

Okay, spot on for the NATO alliance, which is exactly the
problem. Africa has increasingly become a chess piece in
a global competition for resources and cheap labor. It is
no accident that the U.S. recently formed an African
Command (Africom)–the Libyan War was the organization’s
coming out party–and is training troops in countries that
border the Sahara. It is already intervening in Somalia,
and a recent story in the New York Times about an
“al-Qaeda threat” in Northern Nigeria should send a
collective chill down all our spines. NATO has already
“war gamed” the possibility of intervention in the Gulf of
Guinea to insure oil supplies in the advent of “civil
disturbances” that might affect the flow of energy

NATO represents western economic and political interests,
which rarely coincide with the interests of either the
alliance’s own people, or those of the countries it
occupies. The Libyan intervention sets a very dangerous
precedent for the entire continent, which is why the
African Union opposed it. Who will be next?

Ummm, Egypt? Certainly the U.S. has “a deep interest in
the fate of Egypt,” which ought to scare hell out of the
Egyptians. But overthrowing Qaddafi was important because
he had “high Egyptian officials on his payroll”? Is Cole
seriously suggesting that Libya’s 6.4 million people have
anything to do with determining the fate of 83 million

Opposition to the Libyan War is not based on supporting
Qaddafi, although Cole’s portrait of the man is one-sided.
For instance, Libya played an important role in financing
the African Bank, thus allowing African nations to avoid
the tender mercies of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund. Libya also financed a continent-wide
telecommunications system that saved African countries
hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing them to bypass
western-controlled networks. He also raised living
standards. This does not make him a good guy, but it does
say that Libya’s role in Africa cannot be reduced to
simply “sinister.”

Lastly, the charge that this was about Libya’s oil is
“daft”? Libya is the largest producer of oil in Africa,
and the 12th largest in the world. Its resources are very
important for NATO’s European allies, and over the past
several years there has been competition over these
supplies. The Chinese have made major investments. During
the war China, Russia and Brazil supported the African
Union’s call for a ceasefire and talks, and pointed out
that UN Resolution 1973 did not call for regime change.
One of the first statements out of the Transitional
National Council following Qaddafi’s collapse was that
China, Russia and Brazil were going to be sidelined in
favor of French, Spanish, and Italian companies. Quid pro

The war was not just over oil, but how can anyone dismiss
the importance of energy supplies at a time of worldwide
competition over their control? The U.S. is currently
fighting several wars in a region that contains more than
65 percent of the world’s oil supplies. Does he think this
is a coincidence? Sure, the companies that invested in
Libya will take some initial losses, but does Cole think
those Libyans beholden to NATO for their new positions
will drive a hard bargain with the likes of Total SA and
Repso when it comes to making deals? If I were those
companies I would see the war as a very lucrative
investment in futures. In any case, when the U.S., China,
and Russia are locked in a bitter worldwide battle over
energy resources, to dismiss the role of oil in the Libyan
War is, well, daft.

Special Forces are taking over the U.S. military. Africom
is increasingly active on the continent. NATO has just
finished its first intervention in Africa. With Qaddafi
gone, every country that borders the Mediterranean is now
associated with NATO, essentially turning this sea into an
alliance lake.


Brian Ogden August 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Shocking, no rely from Juan Cole, Frank for that matter, perhaps we could make point 10 “deft” in the fairness of truth and accuracy. I have just found following article, amazingly written, it will make you squirm in your seat because it is all true.


Shane Finneran September 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

Like the unknown number of people who died from the US/UK/France’s war in Libya, Libya’s minorities might not be to thrilled about the “freedom” we’ve won for them.

from today’s New York Times:
Libyans Turn Wrath on Dark-Skinned Migrants
“As rebel leaders pleaded with their fighters to avoid taking revenge against “brother Libyans,” many rebels were turning their wrath against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, imprisoning hundreds for the crime of fighting as “mercenaries” for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi without any evidence except the color of their skin…

I wonder how would Juan Cole rationalize this?


Shane Finneran September 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

then there’s this from Chris Hedges on Truthout…

“Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council estimates that the number of Libyans killed in the last six months, including civilians and combatants, has exceeded 50,000. Our intervention, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has probably claimed more victims than those killed by the former regime.

But this intervention, like the others, was never, despite all the high-blown rhetoric surrounding it, about protecting or saving Libyan lives. It was about the domination of oil fields by Western corporations.”


Brian Ogden September 5, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Dr. Juan Cole, if you are at all intellectually honest then you will agree that there are comments here containing strong critical analysis backed with sources that warrant reply!


Brian Ogden September 5, 2011 at 11:20 pm

And further news of ethnic cleansing in Libya:


Frank Gormlie September 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

Brian, are you serious??? I don’t think that any reasonable person could call the Libyans who have been fighting for their liberation for these past 6 months “Nato’s terrorists”. Your link goes to a site that does just that. Get real, dude.


Brian Ogden September 7, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Frank, you saying the war in Libya, the largest oil reserve in the Africa is about liberation and freedom and not about the oil resources right?


Shane Finneran December 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Remember Libya? The casualties of our imperialistic foray continue to pile up:

“In the middle of August, between the end of the siege and the killing of Gaddafi, Misratan [anti-Gaddafi] forces drove out everyone living in Tawergha, a town of 30,000 people. Human rights groups have described this as an act of revenge and collective punishment possibly amounting to a crime against humanity…

It can also be seen as an example of the victors in the war that overthrew Gaddafi imposing summary and brutal justice on some of the communities that sided with the former regime and were vanquished…

As you enter Tawergha from the main road, the name is erased from the road sign. It is now eerily silent but for the incongruously beautiful bird song. There were a few cats skulking about, and one skeletal, limping dog.

Building after building is burnt and ransacked. The possessions of the people who lived here are scattered about, suggesting desperate flight…The town is empty of humans, apart from a small number of Misratan militiamen preventing the return of the town’s residents…

Umm Bubakr can’t trace one of her sons. “They bombed and shot at us and we had to run away. I ran away with my kids. I’ve lost a boy and I don’t know whether he is alive or dead…”

She says there are nightly raids by Misrata militiamen on the camp, to take away young men. They are not seen or heard of again.”


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