(EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS ERRONEOUSLY ATTRIBUTED TO DEAN BAKER, BUT HAS NOW BEEN CORRECTED. IT IS WRITTEN BY RUSS BAKER. OUR APOLOGIES TO DEAN BAKER FOR THE ERROR.)
As I write this, a new day is dawning in Libya. The "people's revolt" against yet another tyrant is unquestionably exciting, and the demise (political and/or otherwise) of Muammar Qaddafi will, of course, be widely hailed. But barely below the surface something else is going on, and it concerns not the Libyan "people," but an elite. In reality, a narrowly-based Libyan elite is being supplanted by a much older, more enduring one of an international variety.
The media, as is so often the case, has botched its job. Thus, virtually all of its resources over the past six months have gone into providing us with an entertainment, a horse race, a battle, with almost no insight into the deeper situation..
It's true that Qaddafi, like many -- perhaps a majority of -- rulers in his region, was a thug and a brute, if at times a comical figure. But one doesn't need to be an apologist for him -- nor deny the satisfaction of seeing the citizenry joyously celebrating his ouster -- to demand some honesty about the motives behind his removal. Especially when it comes to our own government's role in funding it, and thus, every American's unwitting participation in that action.
Let's start with the official justification for NATO's launch of its bombing campaign -- for without that campaign, it's highly improbable the rebels could ever have toppled Qaddafi. We were told from the beginning that the major purpose of what was to be very limited bombing -- indeed, its sole purpose -- was to protect those Libyan civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime from massive retaliation by Qaddafi. Perhaps because of NATO's initial intervention, the feared Qaddafi-sponsored, genocidal bloodletting never did occur. (At least, not beyond the military actions one would expect a government to take when facing a civil war: after all, remember General Sherman's "scorched earth" policy in the US Civil War?). However, protecting civilians apparently didn't generate sufficient public support for intervention, so we started to hear about other purported reasons for it. Qaddafi was encouraging his soldiers to ... commit mass rape! And giving them Viagra! And condoms!
You can't make this sort of thing up. And yet that's just what the NATO crew did -- made it up. The media, always glad to have a "sexy" story, especially a sick sexy story, even a sick sexy story with no evidence to back it up, covered this ad nauseum, but never bothered to find out if it was true.
We've been expressing doubts about these claims, for a number of reasons -- including logic -- for some time now. (For more on that, see this and this and this.) But it's tough to counterpoise hot-button issues with rationality. If you questioned the mass rape story, you were a "rape-enabler." If you pointed out that Qaddafi was being bombed for anything other than humanitarian reasons, you were a "Qaddafi-lover."
The media was so gullible that the professional disinformation guys went onto auto-pilot, recycling tired old tropes that nobody ought to be buying anymore. For example, most news outlets reported recently that Libya had fired a SCUD missile at the rebels.
"That it didn't hit anything or kill anyone is not the point. It's a weapon of mass destruction that Col. Qaddafi is willing to train on his own people," said one Western official.
If the effort to rally public opinion against Qaddafi centered on any one factor, it was fury over Libya's purported role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. As we noted in a previous article, in the years since the conviction of a Libyan intelligence officer in the tragedy, a chorus of doubts has grown steadily. The doubt is based on new forensic evidence and research, plus subsequent claims by prosecution witnesses that their testimony was the result of threats, bribes, or other forms of coercion. It is an ugly and disturbing story, not well known to the larger news audience.
Yet Lockerbie has continued to touch nerves. In February, when Qaddafi's Justice Minister turned against him and became a rebel leader, he brought with him dynamite. Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil made the dramatic claim that his ex-boss was the culprit behind the bombing of Pan Am 103. He asserted that he had proof of Qaddafi giving the direct order for the crime. This got considerable media attention, though almost no news organizations followed up or reported that Jeleil never did supply that proof. The Libyan convicted of the crime has consistently denied any involvement. Nonetheless, his conviction in the case has had Qaddafi on the defensive for years -- and working hard to prove to the West that he can be a "good citizen." Part of this has entailed his paying out huge sums in reparations.
From the beginning of the Libya saga in February until now, the NATO coalition has never wavered from its initial declaration of humanitarian motives. And, to be sure, we may still learn of horrible, previously-unknown atrocities by Qaddafi. Still, the United States and its allies have little history of using their might strictly to protect civilians. If so, millions of South Sudanese, Rwandans and others might not be in their graves.