Monday, September 5, 2011

Projection of US power: the real reason for war in Libya

The reasons why NATO’s official narrative about its war in Libya should not be accepted can be summed up in one word: WikiLeaks.

According to the propaganda from this US-led alliance, Libya was bombed to keep its civilians out of harm’s way. Anyone inclined to believe that blather is advised to read a February 2009 note sent to Hillary Clinton from Ronald Spogli, then about to leave his post as America’s ambassador in Rome.

Spogli’s cable – as made public by Julian Assange’s courageous combo – attaches much importance to the US Africa Command (Africom), which was established under George W Bush’s presidency in 2007. While Africom’s headquarters are in Stuttgart, two of its key offices are in Italy.

“Italy provides a unique geostrategic platform within Europe for US forces, allowing us to reach easily into troubled areas throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe,” Spogli wrote. “And because of that advantage, Italy is home to the most comprehensive set of military capabilities - from the 173rd Airborne to cutting edge Global Hawks - that we have anywhere outside the United States.” Later on, he adds: “With the establishment of Africom, Italy has become an even more significant partner in our power projection calculations.”

True, Spogli expressed some reservations about Silvio Berlusconi, saying “he is not as attuned to our political rhythms as he is wont to believe”. Yet the ambassador was even more effusive in an earlier cable, dating from August 2008. “Italy remains our most important European ally for projecting military power into the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa,” he told Dick Cheney, then America’s vice-president. “We have 14,000 US military and DOD [Department of Defence] civilian personnel and 16,000 of their family members on five Italian bases.”

Calling the shots

So that is what the war in Libya is really about: a projection of power. Even though France started the bombing in March, the US has emphasised that it calls the shots. Robert Gates, its defence secretary until recently, stated in June that the bombardment required the stationing of extra targeting specialists, primarily from the US, in NATO’s air operations centre in Italy. Europe is supposed to be grateful for this helping hand, Gates implied.

Ruffle through the WikiLeaks treasure trove a bit further and you’ll see that power is being projected in at least three directions: towards Tripoli, Beijing and Moscow.

Several cables can be found where America indicates its frustration with efforts by Muammar Gaddafi to let Libya get a bigger share of revenue from the exploitation of the country’s oil resources than Western multinationals were prepared to give it. A 2007 document says that the US should explain to Gaddafi that there are “downsides” to the renegotiation of contracts with energy giants. After such firms as ExxonMobil, Total (France), Eni (Italy) and Petro-Canada, had to cough up over $5 billion as a result of rejigged contracts, another cable warned in 2008 that Tripoli’s approach was establishing an international precedent. Using diplomatic language, this was described as a “new paradigm for Libya that is playing out worldwide in a growing number of oil producing countries.”

WikiLeaks has also shown that Gaddafi was wary of the $300 million-a-year Africom project. When he had a meeting with William “Kip” Ward, the general then in charge of Africom in 2009, Gaddafi reportedly predicted that China would “prevail in Africa” because it did not meddle in the internal affairs of African countries. Other cables hint at US unease with how Russia had secured energy and construction work in Libya. More generally, the aforementioned Spogli said: “We must recognize that Italy's buy-in will be crucial to any common US-EU energy security policy to counter [Vladimir] Putin's increasingly blatant and aggressive use of energy as a tool for increasing Russia's influence.”

Are we to deduce from his remarks that the US would never dream of using energy in that way? OK, that was a silly question.

Even though he was perturbed by the cordial ties between Berlusconi and Putin, Spogli appears to have been prescient. Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister (who Spogli rates highly), stated over the past few weeks that Eni will have a “number one role in the future” of Libya.

Keen to flex muscles

Africom will undoubtedly now be keen to flex its muscles in other parts of Africa. A November 2010 report by the Atlantic Council, a “think-tank” partly financed by the arms industry, observed that 14% of natural gas and 18% of oil imported by the US comes from West Africa, principally Nigeria. Forecasting that the figure for oil will rise to 25% by 2015, the paper argued that America’s economic strength relies on a ready supply of oil at a stable price.

At the moment, the US has just one military base on the African continent: in Djibouti. WikiLeaks has revealed plans for the American private security firm Blackwater (now Xe) to work from Djibouti and use “lethal force” against pirates operating off Somalia. The same Blackwater, as we know, did not flinch at using force in Iraq.

A 2009 cable, meanwhile, alerted Africom to how China had 10 times more diplomats in the Central African Republic than the US. China was “ramping up its military cooperation” with the CAR, “a country rich in untapped natural resources”, the cable added.

Let us be clear: there is a new race to colonise Africa. America and its European cronies are determined to win it.

·First published by New Europe (, 5 September 2011.

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