Critics say NATO assaulted Libya because of big power thirst for oil and supposed distaste for Libyan autocracy.
Why Libya remains the only rebellious Arab nation receiving the NATO treatment remains unexplained, however. Earlier, after economic sanctions were lifted in 2004 and diplomatic recognition restored, the U.S. government seemed to have accepted Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Arab upheavals led to recalculation. Ghanaian columnist Prince Akyeampong recently alleged that Libya’s good example represented a threat to big power hegemony. Living standards in Libya, he notes, are the highest in Africa, with superior health and educational outcomes. Families receive direct subsidies from oil revenues, and new infrastructure serves people’s needs.
Indeed, the United Nations’ Human Development Index ranks Libya 55th in the world, tops in Africa, and 4th place in the Arab world, exceeded only by three Persian Gulf states. From 1980 to 2009, infant mortality dropped from 70 per thousand live births to 17; life expectancy rose from 61 to 74 years.
Malnourishment fell to below 5 percent. Adult literacy approached 90 percent; youth literacy, almost 100 percent. Primary school enrollment for boys and girls alike was 97 percent; 52 percent and 57 percent of age-appropriate males and females attended college, respectively.
Libya lacked foreign debts and possessed $150 billion in overseas assets. The Gaddafi government used the African Investment Bank, located in Libya, to provide interest-free loans for African development projects. Gaddafi had called for a new gold-backed African currency.
NATO nations, having confiscated $100 billion in Libyan assets, will be loaning rather than returning funds to pay for post-war reconstruction. Airstrikes destroyed electrical generation and water facilities, government buildings, civilian housing, and factories.
Iraq too was charting a highly independent course. Having nationalized oil production in 1972, Saddam Hussein’s government used new wealth to fund social protection. In 1990, Iraq’s standard of living was unmatched in the Middle East.
An increasingly urbanized population benefitted from low unemployment, schools worthy of UNESCO commendation, and free health care for the vast majority. Infant mortality and illiteracy rates were low. Women had rights and held high positions in businesses and government.
By 2007, U.S. economic sanctions and war had undone these achievements. Mortality rates for younger Iraqi children rose from 50 to 125 deaths per thousand. Access to clean water fell from 90 to 30 percent. Literacy rates dropped 25 percent, and unemployment reached almost 70 percent.
Iraq’s 2009 poverty rate was 22 percent, figured at monthly family earnings of $67 or less U. S. wars in Libya and Iraq convey messages to affected populations: your wealth and resources are ours, your lives do not concern us, and you can’t do anything about it.
The message generally is that to aspire toward lives of dignity and security is to court danger, no less so than standing up for national independence. This last teaching point played out in Yugoslavia. A regional economic power in 1980, that multi-ethnic nation boasted life expectancy exceeding that of the United States and provided universal access to health care, education, and housing. By late 1999, Yugoslavia had been reduced to a collection of privatized, de-industrialized, and beleaguered states, some with poverty rates far exceeding European norms.
Payments on international debt obligations led to cutbacks in social spending during the 1980’s. Discontent conspired with latent ethnic hostilities to trigger wars, displacement, and national disintegration, to which in the 1990’s were added economic sanctions and inflation.
As chaos mounted, popular mobilizations against Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian government helped persuade U. S. and European powerbrokers that Milosevic was no longer useful. Over 79 days in 1999, NATO bombs hit public and private housing, roads, bridges, factories, power stations, water systems, hospitals, and schools. Some 500 civilians were killed.
The U.S. government’s role was instrumental. A National Security Decision Directive in 1982 called for bringing Eastern European countries into the world market economy and for "a ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist governments and parties." A directive two years latter lauded the "trend towards a market-oriented Yugoslav economic structure."
Beginning in 1991, the U.S. government channeled economic aid from Yugoslavia to breakaway states. Later on, Clinton-era Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott declared (in a preface to John Norris’ book "Collision Course) that, "It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war."
For analyst Michael Parenti, the NATO purpose was to create "a world in which capital rules supreme with no labor unions to speak of; no prosperous, literate, well-organized working class with rising expectations; no pension funds or medical plans or environmental, consumer, and occupational protections."
The unsavory character of the Libyan and Iraqi regimes may have served to obscure the full range of motives in taking down independent governments providing for their people’s social and economic needs. In another setting, employers do benefit from a "reserve army of the unemployed."
That phenomenon too is rarely advertised. Peoples and employed workers alike are left to themselves to sense the precariousness of their situations – and on that account, remain docile. Popular odium at NATO’s brutal history is mounting.
Many of those unenthusiastic about empire and capitalist domination are preparing for demonstrations on Chicago’s streets as one way to greet NATO leaders meeting there in May 2012.