As usual, I am cyber-commuting. I am currently in Vegas, in the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino Hotel to be exact, to attend the 13th meeting of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) study group on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Asia Pacific which starts tomorrow morning.
I am currently commuting between TNT’s broadcast of the NBA All-Stars game, Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail. The focus of my FB-ing and Tweeting is Libya, or what is happening in Libya over the past few days.
Which brought back some memories of that country, which neighbors Egypt to the west.
In April 1987, as special correspondent of Business Day, I found myself in Libya in response to an invitation to visit the country as its leader Muammar al-Gaddafi (or Khadafi or Qaddafi) tried to drum support against the United States. Since I was critical of US imperialism myself, it was not difficult for me to decide to make the trip.
A year earlier, the US Air Force launched Operation El Dorado Canyon, involving bombing attacks against targets in the capital city of Tripoli and Benghazi from bases in the United Kingdom as Spain and France refused to allow the F-111s to fly over their territory. While the attacks destroyed some military assets, several civilians, including the adopted two-year daughter of Gaddafi, were killed.
The collateral damage was apparently the result of a confluence of two decisions. The Libyans placed their military assets and other high-value targets such as the residences of Gaddafi near civilian buildings and residential areas believing that the Americans will be deterred from attacking because of unacceptable collateral damage. Meanwhile, the Americans were confident that their new ‘smart’ bombs were smart and accurate enough to hit the targets with ‘surgical’ precision. Furthermore, the Americans wanted to kill Gaddafi himself.
So in Tripoli, we were regaled with exhibits of the remnants of the now-not-so-smart US bombs and huge blown-up photos of the dead and wounded, including the dead adopted daughter, Anna.
The casus belli between the two states? It was something that did not happen overnight.
Libya’s foreign policies have undergone much fluctuation and change since the post-colonial state was proclaimed on December 24, 1951. As a Kingdom, Libya maintained a definitively pro-Western stance, yet was recognized as belonging to the conservative traditionalist bloc in the League of Arab States (the present-day Arab League), of which it became a member in 1953. The government was in close alliance with Britain and the United States; both countries maintained military base rights in Libya. Libya also forged close ties with France, Italy, Greece, and established full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1955.
After the 1969 coup, Gaddafi closed American and British bases and partially nationalized foreign oil and commercial interests in Libya. He also played a key role in promoting oil embargoes as a political weapon for challenging the West, hoping that an oil price rise and embargo in 1973 would persuade the West, especially the US, to end support for Israel. Gaddafi rejected both Eastern (Soviet) communism and Western (United States) capitalism and claimed he was charting a middle socialist course for his government.
In the 1980s, Libya increasingly distanced itself from the United States, based on the principle of non-alignment and the adoption of a middle path betweencapitalism and communism referred to as “the Third Theory“. The animosity was deepened due to Gaddafi’s support for groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization, which were considered terrorist organizations by the US government, and his flirtation with the Soviet Union . US Secretary of State Alexander Haig considered Libya as “a Soviet satellite” and a “Soviet-run terrorist training network”. When Libya intervened in Chad in 1980, the incident was perceived by the American authorities as the Soviet Union’s attempt to spread control in Africa. In addition to this, Gaddafi’s opposition to Israel, an American ally, were enough reasons to have Libya considered an American enemy. Consequently, the Reagan administration began its campaign of assisting Libya’s neighbors militarily to be able to respond to any Libyan attempt to invade them. Tunisia was given some fifty-four M60 tanks plus $15 million in military credits, while other countries like Egypt and Sudan were given an increase in military credits and training with a full-fledged promise of support in face of Libyan threats. These strategies aimed at isolating Libya and pressure it to reconsider its policies towards the US.
The first confrontation with the US occurred when Gaddafi had declared two hundred miles of the Gulf of Sirte to be restricted of any international usage. An ‘intruding US Boeing EC-135 was fired upon by a missile of the Libyan air force. The attack did not cause any damage to the aircraft, and Jimmy Carter, the U.S. President at the time, did not respond militarily. Talk was rife that Gaddafi ordered the burning of the American embassy in Tripoli. In response U.S. President Ronald Reagan had the “Libyan People’s Bureau” closed, and oil imports banned from North African States. Reagan also contested the restricted area defined by Gaddafi based on a 1958 convention that stated that countries were allowed to claim twenty four miles of width from their coasts. On August 19, 1981 US navy ships were sent close to Libya’s coast which resulted in a confrontation where two of the SU-22 fighters supplied to Libya by the Soviet Union were shot down. Following this, Libya was implicated in committing mass acts of state-sponsored terrorism. When CIA allegedly intercepted two messages implying Libyan complicity in the Berlin discothèque terrorist bombing that killed two American servicemen, the United States mounted Operation El Dorado Canyon.
From Tripoli, we (invited visitors from the world over) were brought to Benghazi (or was it Misratah?) where Gaddafi addressed us through interpreters. All throughout his soft-spoken speech, partisans would chant: “Our leader!” which would then be answered by “Gaddafi” by another groups of militants. And the chanting continued in a march on the main street of Benghazi (or was it Misratah?). The icing on the cake of the Libyan tour was a visit to the ancient ruins of the Roman city, Leptis Magna, located in Al Khums, 130 kilometers east of Tripoli. Leptis Magna is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.
As hundreds of thousands of Libyans protesting against his more-than-forty-years rule are being mowed down by machine gun fire in Benghazi and Tripoli, and elsewhere in Libya, perhaps the chants are now: