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Libya after Gaddafi

The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya marks yet another turning point in what has been a truly remarkable year in the Middle East. The victory of the rebels, backed by Nato bombing in a six month campaign initiated by the British and French governments, also heralds the rehabilitation of a discredited doctrine -- that of 'humanitarian intervention' -- after the debacle of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The defeat of Gaddafi is now being used to justify military action on the grounds that it has helped the Arab revolutions. David Cameron declared outside Downing Street 22 August 2011, 'This has not been our revolution, but we can be proud that we have played our part..'

The hypocrisy of Cameron is staggering, given the role of British and other western governments in backing up dictators and despots in the region -- only halted in some places by the actions of the Arab people themselves.

The Nato intervention has not been for idealistic values. It has been about regime change, so that a leader more acceptable to western governments and business could replace Gadaffi.

Right to the end, NATO was bent on a military victory and bringing the Transitional National Council (TNC) -- the Benghazi administration -- to power in Libya by force of arms. All proposals for talks to achieve a political solution – whether from within Libya or outside - have been brushed aside.

While many Libyans may welcome the outcome, and will be glad to see the back of Gaddafi, it has a number of negative aspects.

From the international point of view, the most significant thing is that the government of another Arab state has been changed by external force applied by the big imperial powers. There is no real suggestion that the TNC could have come to power unaided. The NATO military intervention, stretching beyond breaking point the mandate given by the United Nations, has been decisive.

This will not be the end of the story. The experience of Iraq teaches that the overthrow of a regime under such circumstances by no means signifies the end of the war. Whether those who have supported Gaddafi will meekly accept the authority of a new government imposed under such circumstances is open to question.

Whatever happens, the deep divisions within Libyan society remain. Likewise, given that the TNC is an amalgam of forces, ranging from the democratic to the Islamist to leaders who are the direct employees of western interests, it may have neither the capacity to resolve existing differences nor the ability to prevent the emergence of new ones, within its own ranks.

David Cameron spelt out the close role Britain and the other western powers will expect to have in running Libya, and in how much detail they have been planned, including ‘stabilisation experts who have been planning for this moment…for months.’

Under these circumstances, the main demand must be an end to all forms of NATO interference in Libya – not just the end of the bombing, but the withdrawal of special forces and a halt to all forms of political interference. The only solution to the crisis in Libya will have to be a Libyan solution. Recent history, from Iraq to Afghanistan, teaches that too.

But beyond that, we must recognise the danger that even a passing 'success' in Libya may embolden the US, British and French governments to believe that the idea of 'liberal interventionism', discredited after Iraq, can be revived on a broader scale. Of course, however it ends the Libyan conflict has not gone as expected and none of the leaders of the aggression have dared introduce ground troops into the war. Nevertheless, the danger of extending the intervention to Syria as part of a programme to control and suppress the “Arab Spring” is not inconceivable and must be mobilised against.

The old rulers will not be missed if and when they depart. The decisive issues – genuinely democratic and popular regimes across the Arab world, the exclusion of great power interference in the region and justice for the Palestinian people – remain in the balance and require our solidarity.