The Imperialist War on Libya: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya by Horace Campbell. Monthly Review Press, 2013.  320 pages


In Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Horace Campbell exposes the role of the NATO countries in the attack, occupation and destruction of Libya.


This book provides useful material, given that a segment of the peace movement that opposed the war on Iraq supported US intervention in Libya (e.g. Juan Cole), while a larger segment sat on their hands and did nothing. Anti-imperialists can make use of the material to combat imperialist propaganda of a popular uprising followed by “humanitarian” intervention, believed by too much of the “Left.” 

NATO’s attack on Libya was not aimed at saving lives in Libya, but at taking control of its oil, turning the country into a neocolonial regime, and destroying much of its modern infrastructure. Libya not only has huge deposits of oil, but a vast underground sea of fresh water, and also had  possessed up to $200 billion ready to be looted in overseas financial institutions. Campbell writes  the Libyan war also allowed the Western powers to regain ground lost in the Arab Spring of Tunisia and Egypt.


Direct NATO intervention took place under the guise of a “no fly zone” to protect civilians in Benghazi from Gaddafi’s jets. However, even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said there was no evidence whatsoever that Gaddafi used any aircraft to fire on civilians there. Yet Gaddafi was so demonized in the imperialist countries that he was depicted as being on the verge of committing genocide on his own people.


Campbell notes that the anti-Gaddafi protests by Libyan youth were hijacked by other groups, then later by NATO. One of these was the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which included members that fought with the US against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.


Unfortunately, the book pays little attention to who was fighting the armed forces of Libya in the struggle to overthrow Qaddafi. We do not learn much on their origins, the scale of their forces, the source of their arms, their ideology. Nor are we informed of the reasoning and ideology of those who favored Qaddafi in the struggle.


NATO, despite its “humanitarian” intervention hokum, vetoed all ceasefires and negotiations, many proposed by the African Union, an organization which Gaddafi was instrumental in founding.   As a result. about 10 times as many died (30,000-50,000) as were allegedly to be saved. NATO carried out total of 9,700 bombing missions, or 150 a day, allegedly part of enforcing a “no fly zone.” NATO combined this aerial war with 5000 troops on the ground from the puppet state of Qatar. (p.156)


Campbell recognizes different phases of Gaddafi’s nationalist revolution.  From 1969-1977 the oil companies and banks were nationalized, the US military base was shut down, and the government took a number of anti-imperialist stands. The 1977-1988 period was one of increasing confrontation with the imperialist powers. From 1988-2001 Libya faced sanctions and was diplomatically isolated from the “West.” 


Then, “After September 11, 2001 Qaddafi and his sons worked hard to ingratiate themselves with the United States and Britain, and begged to make Libya an ally in the Global War on Terror.”(p.50) During this period, 2003-2004, Libya paid a $2.7 billion in compensation to the 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing, but accepted no responsibility.


Since 2001, Qaddafi opened the economy to Western imperialist penetration, euphemistically called “market reforms,” but not at a pace pleasing to the US, Britain and France.  “The ‘reforms’ increased inequality and strengthened those social forces close to the ruling circles. Class differences deepened, leading to the alienation of the mass of the population. Trade unions did not benefit from the ‘reforms.’” (p.60)


Unfortunately, Campbell does not elaborate here, nor explain many of the social and economic improvements to the lives of the Libyan people under Qaddafi rule.  Not until his concluding chapter does he note, “Under the Gaddafi leadership, all students had access to higher education and Libya had the lowest infant mortality rate in Africa. A lower percentage of people lived below the poverty line in Libya than in the Netherlands. Libya had the highest Human Development Index of any country on the continent of Africa.” (p.255)  The book would have been more powerful had it detailed the improvements in the lives of the Libyan people under Gaddafi.


Of Gaddafi’s moves into the imperialist orbit in his later years, Campbell quotes the Christian Science Monitor, ‘Nearly 300 pages of documents, copied by Human Rights Watch from the offices of Libya’s external security service, provide unprecedented detail about how the CIA and Britain’s M16 worked closely to bring Libya ‘on side’ and turn a brutal regime from foe into friend…” (p.65).    


Gaddafi ended up being a major financer of Sarkozy’s  electoral campaign, which did not stop Sarkozy from being a key champion of the “uprising” against Gaddafi.  Campbell mentions the press statement that “Gaddafi was killed by a French secret serviceman on orders of Nicolas Sarkozy” (p.11)


France, since the time of the Algerian war, intervened in Africa more than any other imperialist power. “Without Africa’s wealth, France would be a minor power with about as much influence as Austria.” (p.94)


Why did the imperialist countries want to overthrow Gaddafi, given he was moving into their orbit? They wanted to counter Libya’s domination of the Arab Banking Corp. and its leadership role in the African Union. Qaddafi, even while opening up Libya to the imperialist powers, was still blocking U.S. opportunities for investment in both Libya itself and in Africa as whole.


In Chapter 13, NATO in Libya as a Military Information Operation Campbell notes that Wikipedia showed how Western security agencies paid close attention to “the eccentricities of Gaddafi.” These eccentricities were retooled as part of military information operations, and “proved as potent as the bombs raining down from NATO jets.” (p.142)  


As is standard practice, when the US/NATO decide to invade a country, the country’s ruler is depicted as a “crazy dictator.” Any information coming out of Libya and Africa during the war was considered propaganda, while any news coming out of NATO was considered information.  Independent journalists did bring to light fake footage from a demonstration in India claimed to be in Tripoli’s Green Square, as part of a “celebration” when the capital fell.


“Groups usually associated with European peace movements were particularly susceptible to this disinformation campaign that Europe was fighting for democracy and human rights in Libya.” (p.149)  “What tipped the balance for the escalation of the war was the lack of unanimity among the peace and justice forces internationally.” (p.126)


This statement, almost mentioned in passing, is worthy of at least a few chapters in this 21 chapter book. Later Campbell states, “The entire spectrum of what could be called the European left –social democrats, former communists, socialists, and environmentalists… gave political support to their governments” in the invasion. (p.149)


I think too much space is spent on the fall of General Petraeus, Libyan investments in Western educational institutions, and the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi. Of the latter, “What was emerging was that the CIA was not merely conducting convert surveillance on the Islamists based in eastern Libya, but providing them with direct aid and coordinating their operations with the current war in Syria.” (p. 217).


I do not agree with Campbell that the war on Libya a catastrophic failure. It is true that a report to the US Congress stated the level of insecurity in Libya is unprecedented, with over 1700 militias now operating. 


However, I think for the imperialist countries, this disintegration of Libyan state power is a sign of success. There are other reasons for the imperialists to claim it a victory: one more center of anti-imperialist nationalism, however inconsistent, was removed; one more rich and independent Third World oil country has been destroyed, enabling the imperialist seizure of its oil.


In addition, the imperialists’ disinformation campaign proved the Western anti-war movement to be rather gullible. And, one year after the rise of the Arab Spring, when the U.S. was initially on the defensive, it had turned the tables, and had regained the offensive.


Yet now that still another year has passed, the tables are turning against the Western powers, this time in Syria.


August 18, 2013