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War on Libya: U.S. air strikes, cruise missile attacks begin

Commentary by Kosta Harlan |
March 19, 2011
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Protest sign from March 19: U.S. hands off the Arab revolution!
Protest sign from March 19: U.S. hands off the Arab revolution! (Fight Back! News/Staff)

With missiles from French fighter jets and cruise missiles from U.S. naval forces stationed off the coast of Libya, the large scale foreign intervention aimed at overthrowing the Libyan government began on Saturday March 19 – exactly eight years after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq began.

The air strikes come just 48 hours after the UN Security Council voted – with abstentions from China, Russia, Brazil, India, and Germany – to implement a “no fly zone” over Libya.

U.S. military leads the way in “Operation Odyssey Dawn”

The U.S. Department of Defense noted that “U.S. military forces are on the leading edge of the coalition operation, taking out Libya’s integrated air and missile defense system”. The military operation is called “Operation Odyssey Dawn”.

The U.S. began its assault in Libya with 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles (at a cost of about $756,000 each) launched from U.S. submarines and frigates. Twenty-five naval frigates from the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Canada are positioned off the coast of Libya, ready to launch further strikes on the country.

Meanwhile, French fighter jets were reported to have bombed a number of targets in Libya. Libyan state television is also reporting that Libya’s air defenses shot down a French fighter jet, although this has not yet been confirmed.

Military officials have pointed out that the current assault is only the first phase of the intervention. It is not yet clear what the second phase will encompass, but Al Jazeera is reporting that the targets will include ground forces and tanks.

The air strikes and attacks on Libya took place despite the invitation from Libya’s government to bring international observers into the country. Khaled Kaim, Libya's deputy foreign minister, told the BBC, "the ceasefire is real, credible and solid. We are willing to receive observers as soon as possible".

President Obama spoke as the assault began, noting that U.S. forces were “responding to calls of a threatened people”. However, Obama made no mention of the threatened peoples and ongoing massacres of protestors in U.S.-backed dictatorships in Yemen and Bahrain.

People of Libya resist foreign intervention

Since the beginning of the current crisis, the media has portrayed the conflict in Libya as a struggle between the overwhelming majority of Libya’s people and a dictatorship lacking any credibility or popular support.

But whatever one’s view of Colonel Gaddafi or the existing regime, if one looks past the pro-war propaganda, it is sufficiently clear that what is taking place in Libya more accurately resembles a civil war than a situation like Egypt or Tunisia. In those countries, overwhelming numbers of people demanded the fall of the regime, and the military and police forces of those governments were unable to suppress the revolt.

But in Libya it is clear that just as there are significant numbers of people opposed to the regime, there are also masses of people who support the existing government and are willing to fight for it.

Recall that just 72 hours ago, the rebel forces headquartered in Benghazi were nearly routed, and many talked about the collapse of the rebellion.

And on February 15, as the crisis was beginning to unfold, thousands of people rallied in cities across Libya in support of the government.

Al Jazeera is currently reporting that hundreds of people are camped out at Colonel Gaddafi’s home at Bab al-Aziziyah, to protect it from possible air strikes, while thousands are reported to have attended rallies on March 19 in the capitol Tripoli against foreign intervention.

Rather than so-called “humanitarian intervention” in defense of the overwhelming majority of people, what is taking place is a military intervention on one side of a civil war.

Progressives must defend the right of the Libyan people to self-determination. It is not the place of western and historically colonial powers to intervene in the affairs of Libya. Whatever problems exist with Libyan society and government are best dealt with by the people of Libya, and not by imperialistic powers.

The real reason for intervention in Libya

Foreign intervention will not result in self-determination or independence for the Libyan people.

Those who today defend the necessity for “liberation by cruise missile” in Libya should think about what took place in Iraq over the last twenty years.

Like Libya, Iraq has massive oil reserves and occupies a strategic location in the region.

Like Libya’s Gaddafi, Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein was depicted in racist terms by the corporate media and as a “mad man” intent on oppressing his own people; and that military intervention in Iraq was for “humanitarian” purposes.

In Iraq, the no fly zone resulted in thousands of air strikes that killed many civilians and patriotic Iraqis over several years. The no fly zone ultimately led to a declaration of war, invasion, and occupation that killed over 1,000,000 Iraqis, utterly devastated the country, and destroyed an independent, sovereign nation in the Middle East.

The U.S., U.K., French, and Canadian forces are not humanitarians. Their cruise missiles, naval frigates, bombs, bullets and troops will do nothing to improve the situation for the people of Libya or anywhere else in the region.

They are opportunistically seeking to seize control of Libya’s vast oil reserves – the largest reserves in the African continent – and re-assert dominance in a region that is shaking from a powerful storm of revolutions against corrupt U.S.-backed dictatorships.

U.S. anti-war movement calls to end U.S. intervention in Libya

The same day that the air strikes began in Libya, tens of thousands were protesting in the United States to mark the 8th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At many of these demonstrations, calls to end the U.S. aggression against Libya were being heard.

On April 9, thousands of people will converge again in New York City and San Francisco to protest the Iraq, Afghanistan wars, and now the assault in Libya. While progressive forces in the U.S. have held sharply differing views on the nature of the conflict in Libya, the entire progressive movement can and must unite on the basis of opposing further U.S. attacks on Libya and supporting the right of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny, free from foreign interference.