Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The perfect (desert) storm By Pepe Escobar


To follow Pepe's articles on the Great Arab Revolt, please click here.

The great 2011 Arab revolt, the cry for democracy in Northern Africa, the mostly Shi'ite revolt in the Persian Gulf, the Western despair over the price of oil, and the new United States Middle East doctrine of "regime alteration" - not to mention the Pentagon's full-spectrum dominance doctrine - have been convoluted into the ultimate political storm in MENA (Middle East/Northern Africa). The storm deploys devastating gusts of hypocritical winds.

For starters, the enlightened, democratic West has decided Muammar Gaddafi has to be taken down - or out.

The George W Bush administration invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process, directly and indirectly; and as everyone knows, with no end in sight, and with total impunity. Now it's the turn for the law of the (wild) West to be applied, via the Barack Obama administration, to the African king of kings - as in it's OK if we bearers of the White Man's Burden kill a lot of people, but not OK if the killer is a John Galliano-dressed Bedouin weirdo.

This is the absolute bottom line; either the West arms the eastern liberated Libya rebels to their teeth, or Muammar Gaddafi will win this war, by switching the fight from cities to the desert, and by applying slightly increasing degrees of force. Thus, in a slightly duller version of endless plot advancements in mafia movies, the "debate" from Washington and Brussels to Riyadh concerns the most effective method for taking him down (or out). Enter plans A and B.

People change beats regime change
Plan A - Washington has placed a "highly classified" request for the House of Saud to arm the rebels, as The Independent's Robert Fisk has advanced, without details (none available in Arab media, either). So essentially this would be - what else is new - history repeating itself as farce; a remix of the Ronald Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, with Washington possibly betting on control of Libya's oil and gas (echoes of Iraq neo-conned; make it history twice repeating itself as farce).

The House of Saud has every reason to arm liberated eastern Libya with much-needed anti-tank rockets, mortars and ground-to-air missiles against Gaddafi - not least because aging Saudi King Abdullah hates his guts (no wonder; Gaddafi put a contract to kill the king over a year ago). According to al-Arabiyya - a mouthpiece of the House of Saud - Gaddafi is the only Arab dictator left in power, which proves once again that the desert family oil hacienda is indeed impervious to irony.

The added irony that this scheme also copies the Saudis distributing weapons for the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s via Pakistan (make it history thrice repeating itself as farce) obviously escaped everyone in Washington. Hail to Benghazi as the new Peshawar!

Anyway, the Saudi reward for riding along is already inbuilt in the Obama administration's brand new Middle East strategy of "regime alteration". Everything one needs to know about the doctrine is here.

Next Friday, an Egyptian-style day of rage is planned for Saudi Arabia. Preemptive repression has been fierce - including a ban on all demonstrations, because, says the Interior Ministry, they are against sharia law. A big round of applause here to the hardline Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, one of the king's brothers, for his efforts previous and post-day of rage.

And then there's the mostly Shi'ite rebellion in neighborly Bahrain - home of the US 5th Fleet - which must be contained at all costs, lest it spills over to oil-producing, Shi'ite majority northeast Saudi Arabia. So according to "regime alteration" ("help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power"), and all in the name of "stability", US President Barack Obama can't say a word if the House of Saud cracks down big time over its Shi'ites, or if it helps the al-Khalifas in Bahrain with tanks and troops to crack down big time over their Shi'ites. Translation: screw the democratic aspirations of the people of Bahrain and a substantial chunk of the people of Saudi Arabia; Washington just can't get enough of its valuable allies, the al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain and the House of Saud.

Humanitarian hell-raisers, rejoice
Then there's Plan B - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) takes over to fight "crimes against humanity" and "genocide". Essentially this would be Kosovo all over again (make it history repeating itself for the fourth time).

As a no-fly zone over Libya is the object of fiery debate, NATO has already decided to increase AWACs surveillance flights over Libyan territory to 24/7, according to US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. Translation; they're already searching for targets. Even as a reticent Pentagon has admitted on the record that a no-fly zone means war, febrile NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted NATO is ready to raise hell until, predictably, he backtracked.

As this is not a remix of Bush and the neo-conservatives - at least not officially - first there must be a mandate from the United Nations Security Council; France and Britain are feverishly working on a draft resolution. And then support must be assured from Russia (already said no), China (already said nothing), the toothless Arab League (almost a given) and the African Union (more complicated, because Gaddafi bought a lot of its leaders).

As for all those US-protected beacons of equality in the Persian Gulf - now hands-free to keep repressing the democratic aspirations of their people and the army of Asian slaves who service their elites - support is a cakewalk. A statement released by the foreign ministers from the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) "demands that the UN Security Council take all necessary measures to protect civilians, including enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya".

NATO intervention, if it happens, will be sold to the whole planet as the return of humanitarian imperialism. From the point of view of NATO/ Pentagon/European Union public relations purposes, that's another cakewalk. Former terrorist Gaddafi has now been rebranded as "the new Hitler", after Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia (as well as Saddam Hussein in Iraq; make it history repeating itself as farce for the fifth time). And Gaddafi is a much easier sell; the total terrorist freak show package.

Cui bono?
There's no question Gaddafi and his gang are practicing "human-rights abuses" in Libya. But what about those tens of thousands killed by the Pentagon from Baghdad to Fallujah and beyond? Were they inhuman, and holders of no rights, by any chance?

Moreover, the same enlightened West that's now so worried about the people of Libya did not give much of a damn to the people of Egypt until it was absolutely certain that Mubarakism was gone. (Gaddafi by the way was perfectly aligned with Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi in the early days of Tahrir Square).

While he was servicing the masters, the walking terrorist freak show with his portable tent and Ukrainian nurses could not be a better friend. He merrily embraced neo-liberalism; he opened up the energy holy grail to European corporations (BP, Repsol, Total, ENI); he lavishly bought their weapons (Italy, France, UK and Germany were the top four providers); he got the US$70 billion of the Libyan Investment Authority to prop up European businesses; and most of all he put a lid over the migratory flux from the Maghreb and black Africa towards Europe.

And what about then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in 2008 extolling the US and Libya's permanent shared interests, including "human rights and democracy"?

The problem now is that the West is simply clueless on what post-Gaddafi Libya could turn out to be. The "rebels" include everyone from progressive, secular intellectuals to hardcore Islamists and neo-liberal-addicted businessmen. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt - which can be monitored and even relatively tamed by Washington/Brussels.

Libya without Gaddafi could be a complex collection of clannish tribes with no experience of Western-style political culture slouching towards "anarchy". Thus the reasoning for a NATO intervention; so "we", the enlightened, can control those barbarians' worst impulses, facilitate an "orderly transition" (US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, anyone?) and profit from their energy wealth. Besides, the Mediterranean is a NATO lake already.

There's NATO - but there's also NATO's Partnership for Peace. Every single nation in the 27-nation European Union is a member of one or the other (Cyprus was the last one to adhere, last month).

NATO is as ubiquitous as death, taxes and financial corruption. NATO means war in Afghanistan; Operation Active Endeavor - as in airborne counter-terrorism in the Middle East (for instance, the AWACs surveying Libya); and also Operation Ocean Shield off the Horn of Africa.

Every European nation bordering the Mediterranean - or in the Mediterranean - is part of NATO or the Partnership for Peace. And all the African nations on the Mediterranean - except Libya - are members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue partnership: Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Israel is a key member of the Mediterranean Dialogue. This means that among Mediterranean littoral nations, only Lebanon (slapped with a five-year-long naval blockade), Syria and, of course Libya are not members of NATO or any partnership program. The bottom line, once again: the Mediterranean is a NATO lake.

We've seen this movie before
True democrats the world over cannot but rate "regime alteration" as a pitiful, pathetic Obama administration strategy. Moreover, there's absolutely no guarantee that NATO won't go for its own take on regime alteration; a balkanization of Libya just as it happened in Yugoslavia (or just like the Pentagon, via local oligarchies, tried in Bolivia in 2008).

The White House cannot possibly want a real war against the African king of kings. Obama is being set up by the neo-cons - who as the Clintonistas of 1999 and themselves in 2003 in Iraq, brandish the always misleading sweet sword of so-called humanitarian intervention.

Neo-cons such as the cosmically despicable John Yoo - the lawyer who told Bush torture is OK - have virtually ordered the Obama administration to stuff the UN's "antiquated rules" and cut to the chase. Compared to it, the proposal by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for a neutral mediation sounds like a stone monument to common sense. Yet no one is listening - not Washington, not NATO, not the Gaddafi clan, not the rebels.

Here we go again. The first one willing to send a Stinger missile to the freedom fighters so they can take down Gaddafi's helicopters gunships, raise your hand. History repeats itself as farce for, well, we lost count.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.