Marshall Auerback: The Economic Policy Behind Intervention in Libya Chases Its Own Tail

By Marshall Auerback, a hedge fund manager and portfolio strategist. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

Any intentions of boosting the economy will be obliterated by our spending on military actions.

As my friend Chuck Spinney has noted in an exchange of emails, President Obama’s actions in Libya show that he has caved in to the “humanitarian interventionists” in his administration, as well as British/French/American post-colonial and oil interests. The result: yet another war with a Muslim country that has done nothing to us. Additionally, the fact that we are doing nothing to staunch the Saudi/Bahraini/Yemeni crackdowns smacks of hypocrisy and will hurt us even more on the Arab streets.

We seem to have developed a very basic rule of thumb when it comes to these wars of choice: if an insurgency threatens oil supplies directly or indirectly, we move. If it doesn’t, we don’t. Hence Syria can kill thousands of insurgents (as they did in the early 1980s) and we do nothing. Yemen doesn’t have oil facilities; so we do nothing. In Bahrain we have a huge base and unrest has repercussions for the Shiite part of Saudi Arabia where the oil is. We move via the Saudis. In Libya there is oil. Again, we moved.

Gasoline today is where it was in 2008 when both WTI and brent crude oil were at $126 a barrel. Oil prices are at a level that can now impact demand. And not just by squeezing real incomes, but by depressing the sentiment of US consumers who are still lacking confidence from persistently high unemployment, threats of more downsizing, and falling house prices. The FHFA home price index for January with revisions just fell another full percentage point.

In short, we are out of policy levers to help the economy, especially now that we’ve unilaterally taken the fiscal policy option off the table. All of a sudden War #3 makes sense: We’re in Libya to make sure that the oil keeps flowing, because a high oil price depresses what’s left of consumer demand. In the meantime, as this nugget from The Hill illustrates, we’ve quickly blown through the budget “savings” proposed by the GOP, as we’re spending about $100 million a day in Libya. And oil prices have continued to rise as a consequence of perceived dangers to oil production facilities brought about by the escalation of this conflict.

Naturally, the GOP will look for more savings and the focus will invariably shift to “entitlement reform” led by “responsible, bipartisan” Senators, usually Democrats, such as my state’s own Michael Bennet. He is being applauded by the mainstream media for his “statesmanlike” actions in his efforts to negotiate a budget package that includes possible changes in taxes, discretionary spending and entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.

In the meantime, defense is surely off the chopping block. We’re using our most sophisticated tomahawk weaponry in this conflict. The new tomahawk apparently is a very sophisticated piece of equipment. It stops over the target; it has an “eye” where it can look the target over, communicate with the command, and then go after the target. Now the courtiers in the Pentagon can go back to their Congressmen and use this as a sign that the American people are getting value for the money in their defense budget. “Look at how sophisticated this stuff is,” they can say. “Look how it’s enhancing our ability to win this war while minimizing American casualties. If you implement stringent defense cutbacks, this is precisely the sort of program that will be endangered.” A total crock, but it will work, as it always does.

So you can forget about defense cuts. This convenient little episode of military gymnastics has taken the defense budget off the chopping block — which is yet more proof that the progressives will never make any progress unless they muster the courage to take on the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.

So what’s on the horizon? More cuts in other areas of the budget for sure. The resultant fiscal contraction, if implemented, will put a halt to any incipient recovery, which the war is ostensibly designed to sustain by helping to reduce oil prices.

Do you ever get the feeling that American policy represents nothing more than a dog chasing its tail?

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  1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    «Hence Syria can kill thousands of insurgents (as they did in the early 1980s) and we do nothing.»

    It’s even worse than that: Your own leaders can kill millions (remember Irak, Afghanistan, Pakistan and death squads roaming the planet in search for ‘terrorists’ to kill?) and you don’t do anything either.

    But more to the point. Who or what is the ‘economy’? The author seems to assume – as most people do – that the economy includes everyone, and if that is the case than the analysis is indeed correct in my view.

    However, I have come to the conlcusion that the word ‘economy’ means different things to different people. For example, for the (business, political) elite, the economy simply means them, all others are excluded.
    Viewed that way, you could well conclude that the economy, i.e. the elite will flourish – as there is money to be made from this war, both during hostilities and after.
    However, for the general populace the calculation will most likely be less advantageous. They’ll have to pick up the tab, as usual.

    1. DownSouth

      An outstanding historical synopsis of how militarism has been packaged and mass marketed in the United States from 1917 to present can be found in this video, Psywar.

      The part that treats with the propaganda blitz to instill nationalism and militarism in the U.S. population begins at minute 00:26:45 and continues through about minute 00:48:00.

      As the documentary makes clear, mass mobilization for war not only includes a propaganda blitz, but a campaign of brutal internal repression as well.

      And the outcome of WWI? As the documentary concludes, nothing except to kill millions of people, make a few well-connected insiders a tremendous amount of money and to deprive Americans of their civil liberties.

    2. DownSouth

      Also Ferhadi,

      What’s your take on these three articles that a friend sent me? When one gets into the argumentation and evidence presented, some of it to me seems plausible, but some of it doesn’t.

      Chossudovsky argues:

      • This is not a non-violent protest movement as in Egypt and Tunisia. Conditions in Libya are fundamentally different.

      • The real objective of “Operation Libya” is not to establish democracy but to take possession of Libya’s oil reserves, destabilize the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and eventually privatize the country’s oil industry, namely transfer the control and ownership of Libya’s oil wealth into foreign hands.

      Insurrection and Military Intervention: The US-NATO Attempted Coup d’Etat in Libya?

      “Operation Libya” and the Battle for Oil: Redrawing the Map of Africa

      All Out War on Libya, Surge in the Price of Crude Oil…

      Libya: Largest Military Undertaking since the Invasion of Iraq. Towards a Protracted Military Operation

      1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

        Thanks for the read. I’ve managed to read the first two so far and in my view he certainly is closer to what’s really going on than the mass media with their ‘lets-help-the-libyan-civilian’ story (which would be laudable if it were true).
        He certainly is correct in stating that the Libyan ‘revolution’ is different from what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. He also is spot on about foreing interference and proping up and arming the opposition.

        This is a coup-d’état sanctioned by the UN and it is all about oil, gas and natural resources and the privatisation thereof. Interestingly enough, Russia and China chose not to block it. Which makes me believe that they are getting something out of this as well.

        You can see the same forces at work in Syria. Basically the same storyline being told by the Western MSM: Bad regime murders own people.
        On closer inspection the story in Syria seems to be more complicated than that. The Syrian government is claiming that it was an armed revolt organised by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and not a peaceful demonstration.

        It remains to be seen how this develops, but it’s my impression that this could well prove the second point of Chossudovsky: It’s about redrawing borders, however not only in Africa, but also in the Middle East.

        I don’t buy this humanitarian intervention shtick at all.

        1. DownSouth


          Perhaps I should have been a little more specific as to where I believe Chossudovsky’s narrative doesn’t add up.

          Here’s where I’m experiencing the most problems with his narrative:

          Chossudrovsky says:

          Redrawing the Map of Africa

          This military operation is intent upon establishing US hegemony in North Africa, a region historically dominated by France and to lesser extent by Italy and Spain.
          With regard to Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, Washington’s design is to weaken the political links of these countries to France and push for the installation of new political regimes which have a close rapport with the US. This weakening of France is part of a US imperial design. It is a historical process which goes back to the wars in Indochina.

          US-NATO intervention leading to the eventual formation of a US puppet regime is also intent upon excluding China from the region and edging out China’s National Petroleum Corp (CNPC). The Anglo-American oil giants including British Petroleum which signed an exploration contract in 2007 with the Ghadaffi government are among the potential “beneficiaries” of the proposed US-NATO military operation.

          More generally, what is at stake is the redrawing of the map of Africa, a process of neo-colonial redivision, the scrapping of the demarcations of the 1884 Berlin Conference, the conquest of Africa by the United States in alliance with Britain, in a US-NATO led operation.
          Libya has borders with several countries which are within France’s sphere of influence, including Algeria, Tunisia, Niger and Chad.

          Chad is potentially an oil rich economy. ExxonMobil and Chevron have interests in Southern Chad including a pipeline project. Southern Chad is a gateway into the Darfur region of Sudan, which is also strategic in view of its oil wealth.

          China has oil interests in both Chad and Sudan. The China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) signed a farreaching agreement with the Chad government in 2007.

          Niger is strategic to the United States in view of its extensive reserves of uranium. At present, France dominates the uranium industry in Niger through the French nuclear conglomerate Areva, formerly known as Cogema. China also has a stake in Niger’s uranium industry.

          More generally, the Southern border of Libya is strategic for the United States in its quest to extend its sphere of influence in Francophone Africa, a vast territory extending from North Africa to Central and Western Africa.

          Historically this region was part of France and Belgium’s colonial empires, the borders of which were established at the Berlin Conference of 1884.

          The US played a passive role at the 1884 Berlin Conference. This new 21st Century redivision of the African continent, predicated on the control over oil, natural gas and strategic minerals (cobalt, uranium, chromium, manganese, platinum and uranium) largely supports dominant Anglo-American corporate interests.

          US interference in North Africa redefines the geopolitics of an entire region. It undermines China and overshadows the influence of the European Union.

          This new redivision of Africa not only weakens the role of the former colonial powers (including France and Italy) in North Africa. it is also part of a broader process of displacing and weakening France (and Belgium) over a large part of the African continent.

          And yet France is out front and center, leading the charge. Why would France be doing this is what Chossudovsky says above is true?

          Also, why would the Arab League be on board? Isn’t the Arab League composed mostly of authoritarian dictatorships that are not accountable to the needs of their own people? It seems like they would circle the wagons in defense of dictatorship.

          Like I said, there are things that Chossudovsky’s narrative doesn’t explain.

          1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

            Well, I think he got the tendency right, but maybe not all the details.
            For example, it might not be correct to still think in terms of nations (e.g. France, US, China, etc). Instead we have a global (business) elite among which there might be some competetion, but not to the point of annihliating each other.
            Nation states nowadazs are only the enforcment arm of the global elite. They enforce the global elite’s policies towards their own populations, and they enforce the global elite’s policies against non-complient other nation states, who are not fully under their control yet.

            So to say the influence of France will diminish, or that the goal was to get China out of the game in North Africa probably has no meaning, since it is not about France, China, or the US getting anything (except the tab for the intervention), but leading to a redistribution of resources and wealth to certain parts of the global elite.

            That’s why I wrote about Russia and China not blocking. There must be something in for them (or their business elite, rather) otherwise they would most likely not have abstained, but vetoed.

            However, Chossudrovsky is correct in that there will be a redistribution of resources and a redrawing of borders where necessary. They have already started to do that in Sudan, where they clipped away the southern part, i.e South Sudan.

  2. Jojo

    It’s funny in a mad way. While the GOP searches for a billion here and a billion there to cut out of the budget, we have spent between $1-2 billion in Libya in only one week! No one seems to be too upset with this.

    As to oil, Mish had a post a few back showing that the consumption of oil is WAY OFF from 2007 to now. Yet the price of oil is over $100/barrel and retail gas in northern Calif. is in the $4-$5 range. Last time gas got this expensive, everyone was yelling about speculators. But this time, nothing. I guess the Prozac in the H2O supply is working well.


    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 3:47 AM

    U.S. Petroleum Usage, New Home Sales, Jobs, Consumer Credit and the Alleged Recovery

    If the recovery was in full swing, why isn’t petroleum usage?

    Here are a pair of charts from reader Tim Wallace showing the percentage change in petroleum usage over time.

    Except for January of 2008, the peak months for petroleum usage were all during 2007. The first chart below shows first quarter usage 2008-2011 as compared to the same month in 2007.

    1. DownSouth

      Jojo said: “As to oil, Mish had a post a few back showing that the consumption of oil is WAY OFF from 2007 to now. Yet the price of oil is over $100/barrel…”

      Speaking of fundamentals, the obvious flaws in your supply and demand calculation are:

      1) Oil is fungible and the market is international. One would have to look at world consumption and not just U.S. consumption.

      2) What is oil supply? Saudi Arabia, as the world’s swing producer, can cut or increase production, which affects world supply.

      But even taking those factors into consideration, I think it’s pretty easy to make the case that there’s more going on with oil prices than mere fundamentals. There have been posts here on NC in that regard.

      1. Chicken Little

        No, it can’t increase production (unless you mean for a very brief period and at the cost of prematurely destroying their wells). All the data suggests that they are doing incredibly heroic things just to maintain their current output levels.

  3. Richard Kline

    My short form response to that, Marshall, is distressingly curt: bunk. I say that not as a liberal interventionist but as (I may hope) a humane revolutionary. I’m not even slightly naive about the compromised means, goals, and personalities of the intervening powers, either. I’ve repeatedly considered a long form discussion on this, but I find endorsing any military action of any kind so distasteful that even where it is not only necessary but vital, as it is in the present case of countering the Libyan regime, that I haven’t yet.

    In the first instance, the intervention in Libya is not about Libya at all: it is about whether despotic regimes in North Africa and Southwest Asia will be tolerated to use massacre and death squads to cling to power in the face of mass protest _right now_, an over the next few years. Strong language is used against paramilitary and military action in Egypt and Bahrain some weeks since; that violence is reined in their and in Yemen, and protests gain traction. Disapproval on initial Libyan repression of protests is divided and weak; military repression follows there, armor rolls from Arabia into Bahrain, and heavy rifle fire is unleashed in Yemen. Bombardment begins in Libya, and most of the military in Yemen step away from the regime. Look, friends: these actions are connected. We have a debate about the tolerable limits of state violence going on now. Protests spreading in the Near East and quite possibly in Africa too will draw violent reactions from the regimes in those many places which the people there need to change. The less violence, the less death, and the greater popular success; there is a direct correlation. Doing nothing when massacre is unleashed in Libya is a simple green light for the regimes in Algeria, Syria, Arabia, and other places to open fire. If it is clear that crushing sanction, international repudiation of government validity, and military bombardment are very real risks faced by governments contemplating violent repression of popular change, fewer will pursue such courses, and with far less conviction. So the question I would ask all of you is this: which side are you on? I’m with the protestors and emphatically against state violence. Nonviolent change is vastly preferable, but the Gadafiyya have denied the populace that option in Libya: it’s fight, flee, or die. None of us have to like this decision set, but we didn’t chose it, the regime in Libya did. This is not any endorsement of ‘the right of the community of nations to decide blah-blah-blah,’ but about the practical realities of power and organization. The people of these countries will decide for themselves if they aren’t slaughtered by the heavily armed and kleptocratic minorities who hold power, so those abusive minorities have to be persuaded to hold their fire as much as possible. That takes more than words.

    Talk about “If they really meant it they would condemn actions in [Country X]” doesn’t really engage with the situation. As we may notice, revolts are popping up all over. Several countries, including the US, have their best influence in personal relations with members inside some of those regimes. One shouldn’t assume that because one doesn’t hear discussions that they aren’t taking place. International military interventions are awful, have a terrible recent history, and require management. Pursuing several at one time is not on, and many states which have the means are fully committed, if to present criminally stupid and failing occupations in several respects. Formal condemnation is all very well, but the problem is, Then What? Words without actions are doubley dangerous, as we saw in the initial stages with Libya, both encouraging those condemned that there is no real weight to rebuke, but forcing their hand toward a rush to violence by the prospect of gradual suffocation. When you or I condemn this or that in pixels, on little result follows. When the executives of heavily armed states with diplomatic committments condemn this or that, there are consequences to follow. No one should assume that Bahrain or Syria or Algeria or Arabia are not on the agenda: they are. But all of those can’t be tackled simultaneously. Just consider for a moment that how the uprising in Yemen is resolved is tremendously more urgent. A civil war or state collapse would be terribly costly, and far more serious than events in Libya, whereas even a muddle transition to popular authority will have massive influence on what happens subsequently in Arabia. I do not believe that Bahrain is forgotten, I’ll say that much.

    In the second instance, this intervention in Libya not about oil, in any direct sense or really at all, remarks from battered and irate progressives to the contrary. It is about what relationship the governments of developed economies will have with the people of the North Africa and Southwest Asia as genuinely popular governments take power in many places there in the immediate future. Because popular governments are coming, are already in prospect in by far the largest countries of the region. To this point, relations from ‘the West’ with ‘the Near East’ have been through the regimes of the Near East, not with the peoples per se. A great deal more should be said about this, but I’ll only point out that actions speak far, far louder than words. Interventions which bolster popular governments will be long remembered and valued by those in these countries, while indifference, or self-righteous aloofness will be remembered as well.

    To those who would dismiss the humanitarian relevance of intervention, my question is what would you say if the gun was held to your head? Of course the interveners have their own agendas, but if you were the ones faced with massacre or death squads, what would you say then? And regarding your ‘freedom to say’ yea or nay to the politices of your own government, that freedome didn’t come for free: somebody died for it in another generation. I invite any or all of you to go to a state with a regime like Libya or Syria and express your criticism and see how long the piece of rope you get holds up. It is a bizarre world, to me, where those who purport to stand for morality will do nothing for those being killed for seeking liberty and justice. Interventions are awful and have a bad history, neither of which matter to the dead.

    None of this is neat and clean, obviously. What I would say is this: What is the larger goal? If the goal is to keep ones hands clean, and ones purported moral superiority unvexed, then by all means we can carp on while Gadafi and others in other countries with the same conditions and prospects limber up the artillery and set the armor in mortion, for it is by those means more than air power that subjection will or will not be enforced upon mass populations agitating for personal liberty and political change. If the goal is to inhibit state violence to give the most latitude to popular agitation for change, then it is essential that the resort to massacre of the Libyan regime be suppressed.

    1. skippy

      People having a say is messy. I don’t think its time_yet_too take off the training wheels.

      Skippy…me thinks I will die with them on…the giggles received…

    2. DownSouth

      Richard Kline said: “…the intervention in Libya is not about Libya at all: it is about whether despotic regimes in North Africa and Southwest Asia will be tolerated to use massacre and death squads to cling to power in the face of mass protest _right now_, an over the next few years.”

      Your narrative doesn’t seem to conform to the entirety of evidence any better than Chossudovsky’s (see links above) does.

      Libya is about whether the use of “massacre and death squads to cling to power” will be tolerated? To take the most blatant evidence in contradiction to this narrative, we certainly don’t seem to have any problem with “massacre and death squads to cling to power” in Saudi Arabia. Surely I don’t have to enlighten you on the atrocities committed by the Saudi royal family. Are we to assume that the nation states of the West have had an epiphany and have abruptly renounced the Machiavellianism that has dominated their decision-making for the past 400 years? That is of course possible, but how likely, or even plausible, is it?

      You say: “Doing nothing when massacre is unleashed in Libya is a simple green light for the regimes in Algeria, Syria, Arabia, and other places to open fire.” But wasn’t the Arab League out front and center in pushing for the no-fly zone over Libya?

      You say: “I’m with the protestors and emphatically against state violence.” But our bombing of Libya is state violence.

      Things in your narrative just don’t add up, no better than they do in the antithesis to your narrative posited by Chossudovsky.

    3. Crazy Horse

      Richard, the desire to support a new dawn of peaceful revolutions is all very nice, an not without some substance, but in the end it is all about oil. The US is trying to get on the side of destiny after financing and supporting torture and totalitarianism throughout the region for a generation. When Saudi Arabia becomes the pawn at play, the US would not hesitate to drop nuclear bombs on entire cities if they thought it would keep the world oil economy functioning. Sounds harsh? Just look at history.

      1. DownSouth

        Crazy Horse said: “The US is trying to get on the side of destiny after financing and supporting torture and totalitarianism throughout the region for a generation.”

        Interesting hypothesis.

        Has US “intelligence” sensed a sea change in that region of the world, a fundamental shift in power relationships, and is trying to stay abreast or ahead of the power curve?

        The political philosopher Hannah Arendt explains the fundamental shift of power of which I speak:

        In a contest of violence against violence the superiority of the government has always been absolute; but this superiority lasts only as long as the power structure of the government is intact—-that is, as long as commands are obeyed and the army or police forces are prepared to use their weapons. When this is no longer the case, the situation changes abruptly. Not only is the rebellion not put down, but the arms themselves change hands—-sometimes… [T]he question of this obedience is not decided by the command-obedience relation but by opinion, and, of course, by the number of those who share it. Everything depends on the power behind the violence.


        No government exclusively based on the means of violence has ever existed. Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis—-the secret police and its net of informers.


        Rule by sheer violence comes into play where power is being lost; it is precisely the shrinking of power of the Russian government, internally and externally, that became manifest in its “solution” of the Czechoslovak problem—-just as it was the shrinking power of European imperialism that became manifest in the alternative between decolonization and massacre.


        Politically speaking, the point is that loss of power becomes a temptation to substitute violence for power—-in 1968 during the Democratic convention in Chicago we could watch this process on television—-and that violence itself results in impotence. Where violence is no longer backed and restrained by power, the well-known reversal in reckoning with means and ends has taken place.
        ▬Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic

        1. DownSouth

          Also Crazy Horse, it seems to me that in Libya the fundamental power shift that Arendt speaks of had not occurred—-Gadafi’s commands were being obeyed and the army or police forces were prepared to use their weapons.

          I suppose that could be explained by the “fact” that Gadafi’s army and police force are made up of foreign mercenaries????

    4. john c. halasz

      Not your best stuff here. Way too panicked and muddled. Rather like the “coalition” itself. Whose aim is not the promotion of popular power in the Arab world, but rather the containment and diversion of the “Arab spring”.

      1. Stelios Theoharidis

        I don’t have any illusion that there isn’t a large element of realpolitik to this intervention. There is also a huge element of race here. Former Republic of Congo and Burma both have a massive amount of resources but we wouldn’t touch it with someone else’s stick. All other things being equal, which they are not, desert warfare is significantly different than jungle warfare. But, all I have to do is look at the numbers. Neither Bahrain nor Yemen have had the death toll of Libya. There are likely more losses per day in the latter than the whole of Bahrain to date. Not to mention Gaddafi’s forces are rounding up masses of youth (thousands per BBC interview this morning, yes it is anecdotal and yes it is in the interest of the opposition to exaggerate). But, its probably not the same as the Kuwaitis hiring a PR firm and actors in DC to promote the anecdote of babies being thrown out of hospital rooms.

        I think the illusion that is being perpetuated here is that the US or Europeans have some level of control over these interactions in general. That we can immediately detach from the way that the global economy and international relations have been shaped through historical often duplicitous diplomacy. The security council is there for a reason and basically any member would have intervened if they had an economic interest in maintaining a dictatorship there. Sudan intervention obviously got nixed because of Chinese oil interests in that region and clear divide in the country. Bahrain still has a Sunni minority, propped up by the British, add a US military base to that, and our relationship with the Saudis. Yes it is a bad relationship that I don’t agree with but that is the way things are.

        In Libya on the other hand it is pretty clear that there is a significant majority of the population against Gaddafi, a diverse ethnic base behind it, there is an active resistance against him to do the groundwork and most of the world community has either abstained based on a lack of economic interest or supported due to a disdain for Gaddafi or a desire for economic benefit. We have France humping the negotiating table over their Total interests. We don’t act lots of people will die, we do act maybe less people will die. Thats the way the world works. If you want it to stop get your ass in gear towards making us energy/resource independent. Gasoline generally costs less than Coca Cola in the USA, go figure. We are a bunch of addicts and our foreign policy is in the interest feeding our addiction.

        Sure it is hypocritical, everything we do on a regular basis has elements of hypocracy. I am sure we hate the oil companies but there you are on the daily filling up your gas tank. We don’t like child labor, terrible working conditions, or pollution, but I have a difficult time thinking that everything we purchase doesn’t have some element of that. Have all of us made to the switch over to a credit union yet? We have to fix things here first that is all I have to say, or our foreign policy will always be an extension of our domestic consumption interests.

    5. Marshall Auerback

      Okay Richard, so where do we draw the line? Would you also like to see the US get involved in Darfur, as George Clooney has persistently advocated? How about Zimbabwe? How did our “humanitarian” intervention work out in the Baltics?
      Paradoxically, I can see why the French and British are doing this. As far as they are concerned, I think this war is in part about oil (Total and BP), but also about forestalling mass immigration of Muslim refugees to Europe, where anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism has effectively destroyed social democratic parties in most of the continent. As you may recall, the Germans helped ignite the first Balkan war in the 90s by recognizing Croatia’s secession. Their purpose was to stem the flow of Croatian refugees to Germany. It was to keep Haitians from washing up on the Gulf shore that Clinton invaded Haiti.

      I think we are going to see more of these pre-emptive interventions to avert mass refugee immigration, as the graying North faces a population imbalance with the younger South. You can make a case that keeping waves of poor immigrants from landing on your shores or streaming across your borders is a legitimate exercise of national defense. Certainly, it’s a legitimate exercise in preserving some shred of a commitment to employing your population, rather than having it displaced by an army of migrant workers. Certainly if there were a revolution in Mexico and mass refugee waves, we would intervene to try to support a regime to keep people there at home.

      So I’m not sure that, as a purely strategic matter, the British and French (and Italians and Portuguese) are wrong, given their interests.

      However, we fortunately have a border with Mexico, not North Africa, so I don’t see what our interest is, all constitutional matters aside.

      Until now, I told people that while Obama was bad on economics, at least in foreign policy he is a realist in the Eisenhower tradition. Well, this is Obama’s Suez moment—and unlike Ike he has thrown in his lot with the French and British (and I note the Israelis, who are using the distraction to bomb Gaza).

      1. DownSouth

        Marshall Auerback said: “Certainly if there were a revolution in Mexico and mass refugee waves, we would intervene to try to support a regime to keep people there at home.”

        Auerback, there already has been a “revolution” in Mexico. Well maybe not a revolution, but a coup par l’état—-or a coup de société—-for it consisted not in the seizure of the state in a popular uprising but in the destruction of the society by the state once it had been taken over by the neoliberals.

        And there already have been “mass refugee waves” to the US. In this article Amasador Carlos García de Alba estimates that there are 11.7 million people currently living in the United States who were born in Mexico. To give you an idea of the immensity of that number, that’s about 11 or 12% of Mexico’s total population.

        You have to look no further than the following two articles to see the devastation that neoliberalism has wrecked on Mexican workers over the past 30 years:

        The impact of NAFTA on wages and incomes in Mexico


        Millions of jobs have been eliminated in the formal sector, wages for workers in the formal sector have plummeted, and millions have been forced into self-employment, or what here in Mexico is known as the informal employment sector, where workers earn only a fraction of what jobs in the formal sector pay.

        And this doesn’t even begin to address the issue of mass migration of peasants from the countryside to the cities, a phenomenon created by the fact that, once trade barriers came down, small Mexican farmers could not compete with massively subsidized U.S. agriculture.

        Nor does it address the issue of how Mexicans have been raped by international corporations in this libertarian’s wet dream known as Mexico. The plunder of Mexicans by, for instance, international banking conglomerates in this laissez faire paradise is discussed in this article, Mexico’s Other Crisis: Foreign Banks

        And as to the question of whether “we would intervene to try to support a regime to keep people there at home,” I don’t see how the battle lines over this issue have changed at all over the past century. The big corporations want more immigrant workers. American workers want less. Following is how David Montejano described the situation a century ago. Has the current situation has changed much?

        The position of most Anglo workers, if one judges from the statements and actions of organized labor, was completely unsympathetic to Mexicans. Not only were more Mexicans coming every year, reported one worried labor official to the AFL Executive Council in 1919, but they also were now moving out of agriculture and accepting employment in “different lines of efforts” to the detriment of labor standards and the best interests of the country. In Texas, the state chapter of the AFL refused to recognize the existence of a wage-earning class in agriculture, and its various affiliates made it clear that they would not work alongside Mexicans and that they opposed the hiring of unskilled Mexican workers. Texas oil workers, many of them ex-cowboys and ex-tenants, were likewise quite upset about the “immigrant increase” in the industry. At the convention of the International Oil Workers in 1920, the oil unions passed a resolution asking for “an investigation of the situation, the sending back to Mexico of immigrants illegally in the United States, and the return to agricultural work of those remaining.” In some oil fields, the tense situation exploded into riots against Mexicans. In 1921, oil workers in the Ranger and Island Oil fields in Mexia (North Central Texas) clubbed and threatened Mexican workers and their families with death unless they left within twelve hours. Governor Neff imposed martial law in Mexia and sent eighty state troopers to end the brutalities. The Rangers arrived too late, however, to save sever women and children from dying of exposure. This was no isolated incident; similar episodes occurred in mines and manufacturing plants through the 1940s.

        The overwhelming sentiment among nonfarm workers, organized and unorganized, was for the expulsion or regulation of Mexican workers. Already in the early 1920s, many unions in the Southwest had formulated “gentlemen’s agreements” to blackball all Mexican workers. Texas unions handled Mexican workers in much the same way that they dealt with blacks: through outright exclusion, through segregated locals, and through racial quotas in employment. As the decade wore on, these exclusionary proposals became more strident as organized labor joined eugenicist associations in decrying the “alien” danger that Mexicans posed for the nation. The political direction provided by the American labor movement pointed clearly toward maintaining skilled work as a preserve for Anglo workers. Especially in Texas, Anglo workers saw the “color bar” as an important concession to be won from employers.

        And so on went the regional and national debates on Mexican immigration through the 1920s. The progrower interests, with their considerable influence in Congress, were able to defeat the restrictionist efforts repeatedly. By the end of the decade, however, the restrictionists had built a strong national movement and had found an unexpected ally in President Herbert Hoover. In 1928 executive orders to enforce existing immigration law effectively closed the border, and the president and Congress appeared stalemated, at least momentarily, on the Mexican issue.

        It was perhaps fitting that a compromise solution to this stalemate should come from Texas in the form of a proposal to “restrain” the movement of its Mexican workers to state boundaries. This proposal, embodied in the Emigrant Labor Agency Laws of 1929, received the endorsement of both the AFL and the chambers of commerce of the state. Such significant consensus was not difficult to understand; the labor agency laws represented the first step to deal with the mutual interests of Anglo workers and growers. Organized labor in the state was ready to concede agriculture to Mexicans—-an already accomplished fact by this time—-if it could work out some arrangement that would protect the status of nonfarm workers.
        ▬David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986

    6. kevin de bruxelles


      I agree and two weeks ago it looked like the Arab Spring had reached an early culmination point. A massacre in Benghazi would most likely have buried any chance to continuing uprisings in other Arab states. And I can assure you that if that slaughter had taken place, there would have been hysterical cries that the West sacrificed the Libyan revolution at the altar of oil. And I might have even bought into that logic. But today we see Syria reaching the tipping point. How much further does all this have to run?

      I too was disappointed with Marshall’s post; I think his response to you below in comments is far more insightful and original. As happens so often in war to the generals, many of the critics are still fighting the last war, the one in Iraq. His strongest point was of course though the glaring hypocrisy of nominally being in a coalition with Saudi Arabia while they are pulling a Kaddafi in Bahrain.

      One key point is that I find it surprising the way American commentators are exaggerating the amount of American involvement in this intervention. America’s role is as nominal leader (since Europeans are still unable to lead themselves) and has not really participated that much. They have mostly been dragged along to maintain their position of hyperpower that has a global monopoly on violence. Also France and Britain going it alone without the US would immediately bring back memories of Suez.

      For better or worse I always look for historic “crutches” in which to view current events and the slightly convoluted tool I have used for Libya is the Spanish Civil War but obviously with a few twists. Within the European political sea of the time, liberal democracy was slowly dying away and fascism was the shiny new hope for the future. So in Spain a fascist rebellion rose, backed on the one hand by much of the military hierarchy and aided on the ground by Falangist militias. They were fighting the established liberal democratic system. In Libya it is the mirror image of Spain. In the Middle East the dominate political system are variants of fascism, Sunni Islamo Fascism in the Gulf, Shite Islamo fascism in Iran and some of its satellites, and National Socialist Fascism in the secular states like Libya. The shiny new ideology is liberal democracy. So just as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported their ideological allies in Spain to help cement the new political system, it makes sense for France and Britain to back the democrats in Libya.

      From the military point of view Kaddafi’s militias are very effective in a Falangist sort of way. And the rebels, while having the moral high ground of a more sympathetic ideology, are highly disorganized and are really nothing more than demonstrators with AK’s. One of the most chilling parts of Antony Beevor’s The Spanish Civil War was where he describe the Falangist graffiti in the Anarchist neighbourhoods; “Your women will have Fascist babies”. And while it was often true that the Anarchist were indeed massacred and the Falangist militiamen took their women as war booty, luckily political ideology is not transmitted by DNA and many of these children contributed to the current democratic institutions in Spain.

      On the other hand I worry that our sentimentality in saving these “democrats” may turn out to be more like the intervention to save Knut, the polar bear. In this case the infant bear was rejected by his mother, most likely because she sensed he was not viable and would die before reaching adulthood. Humans could not accept the verdict of nature and therefore intervened. In this case we refused to accept the verdict of the battlefield and propped up what is perhaps not a viable political system. Luckily though societies are not as black and white as living organisms and therefore many outcomes are possible. I find it highly likely, since it is a stretch to see the rebels winning, that either a negotiated solution will arise or there will be an uprising among Kaddafi’s faithful that will mean the end of the war.

      In a geo-political sense (and this may upset some) the “ideal” European political unit would include the entire Mediterranean coast, just as it did in Roman times. The problem of course is the Islamic nature of these societies which makes them to some extent culturally incompatible (not to mention the huge difference in standard of living). The cause of the real collapse of the Roman Empire and the introduction of the Dark Ages was not the barbarian invasions (for the most part these guys assimilated and fancied themselves Roman) but it was the rapid rise of the descendents of Mohamed who turned the Mediterranean into an Islamic lake and colonized large parts of Europe. The tide started to turn with the Crusades, which were a tactical defeat (didn’t achieve their goal of conquering the Holy Land) but turned out to be a strategic victory in the sense that Europe broke the Islamic stranglehold on the Mediterranean. Thanks to among other things the cultural transfers of classical literature and medical ideas that occurred during the Muslim occupation of southern Europe, Europe and Islam reached parity (in terms of economic and military potential) at around the 15th century which is the dawn of capitalism. At this time China, India, Islam, and Europe were all roughly equal. Battles between Europe and Islam in the Balkans and Hungary were eventually very evenly matched and nothing like the mismatch slaughter we see today when the West confronts Islam on a conventional battlefield. But only Europe really jumped on the capitalist express and within a couple hundred years we saw the huge disparity of power between Europe and Islam (and the rest of the world). This disparity continues today, the main question is whether it is actually widening or if the Islamic societies are rebounding.

      Unlike in Iraq, which was one of the most unlikely place for democracy to succeed, Europe has every interest in at least assisting in North Africa, which was once part of Europe and along with cultural transfers associated with mass immigration during the past 30 years, seems to be a much more likely place for democracy to take root. But a fascist Libya would destabilize potentially democratic Egypt, Tunisia, and why not Algeria and Morocco. Twenty years ago there was an attempt at a democratic revolution in Algeria. In this case Europe assisted the local fascist rulers in stamping out this movement for fear of radical Islam. These most recent revolutions certainly seem to tend towards being middle class and secular. And so with this intervention European leaders are perhaps also fighting the last wars, those of the nineties in Yugoslavia and Algeria. In both cases Europe made the wrong choices. Hopefully they get it right

  4. ella

    Call me dumb, but it would seem that supporting Gadfi instead of bombing him would keep the oil flowing. Hasn’t he been pumping and selling to the west?

    I am sure there is a monetary motive, but just what still puzzles me. What am I missing?

    1. DownSouth

      I’m with you, ella. I really am not sure what’s going on.

      That’s why I asked Ferhadi for his take on the articles by Michel Chossudovsky I linked above.

      There are pieces of evidence that do not conform to Chossudovsky’s narative.

      1. ella

        Very Interesting. “Operation Libya” and the Battle for Oil: Redrawing the Map of Africa

        by Prof Michel Chossudovsky

  5. dave

    “No one should assume that Bahrain or Syria or Algeria or Arabia are not on the agenda: they are.”

    I see no support for this conclusion. The evidence of what is going on in Bahrain is really obvious. It is just as urgent and bloody as Libya. The use of outside Saudi forces is well documented. There is essentially no difference at all between the slaughter of Bahrain’s citizens and the slaughter of Libya’s citizens.

    The only real difference is Libya is a dinky little country that doesn’t really have all that much oil, while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are the real deal that could drive oil to $400/barrel and host most of our military bases.

    Democracy experimentation will be allowed up until it threatens oil reserves large enough to drive price. Civilians will be protected so long as there are political and economic gains to be had for the politicians advocating for intervention.

    By far the most dangerous thing this intervention establishes is the “legitimacy” of intervention. I doubt any of the things you think are important (UN authorization or any of that) will matter the next time people get whipped up into a war frenzy to go “protect those poor people over there.” After the painful legacy of Afghanistan and Iraq war crazed Americans seemed to finally, at long last, be tired of war and willing to just give up on the whole thing. Now we’re back in the mix, and I doubt you will like what that means.

  6. Maju

    I do not think it is always just a matter of oil. And even when it is partly so, as in Iraq, it is not always intended to get the oil: in Iraq one of the consequences was to remove the Iraqi oil from the market (and has yet to catch up).

    Afghanistan does not have oil and even if there is a projected pipeline and some other minerals, that is not the point at all: the point is to guarantee the empire access to the Central Asia, a key geostrategic region to threaten both Russia and China.

    Similarly the aggression against Iraq was organized already in the mandate of Bush Sr. not just for oil (rather for a raise of oil prices that did benefit the Bush clan and their friends of the oil oligopoly) but also to secure bases for the US Empire in such an strategic area as the Persian Gulf, notably Bahrain but others as well. Another reason was to disarm the most militarized panarabist power, never mind that it was the West who armed them, because allowing Hussein’s Iraq to exist in the terms it did in 1990 was a threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia, key pieces of US and NATO policy in the area (you need always to factor them and their symbiont interests in order to understand).

    Then Yemen is not trivial either: it sits in Arabia Peninsula (posing a threat of contagion to Saudi Arabia particularly) and looks over the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a key naval pass for trade and military alike. In fact the USA was making noises of intervention in Yemen not long ago and Saudi Arabia did indeed intervene in form of air strikes. But that was before the Arab Revolution began and changed the priorities altogether.

    But, whatever the case, Yemen is strategic for the USA, Europe and any power looking for access via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. South Yemen used to be a key Soviet ally before unification (and earlier yet a key British colony in the way to India and the Persian Gulf), while France and the USA had bases in Djibouti and Somalia respectively. France still owns a base in Djibouti (a state also strategical for Ethiopia and challenged by recent popular protests as well).

    But the Houtis have become less of a credible threat as people came to know them as mere tribal guerrillas, and the overall uprising in Yemen has gathered the sympathies of the people worldwide, so at this moment intervening in Yemen (a poor mountainous country) looks like a no-no. There are people in the Pentagon eying it but not for now at least.

    What about Libya? Seems complex. It is true that Libya is a key provider of oil to Europe, notably Italy, and a major alternative to Russian oil. But Gaddafi had made deals with EU, allowing European companies, notably Italian ENI (but also Total, BP, Repsol, Shell…), into the country in exchange for being recognized as the sheik he is, getting 6% of FIAT and so on.

    Italy and Germany have been highly reluctant to get into this adventure, the main leader is Sarkozy (flanked by the Anglosaxons). Obviously Sarko has his own interests even if we do not understand them well yet. I would have said that it is because he is extremely Zionist but it seems that there are Israeli commandos supporting Gaddafi, so it seems that in this case at least, Israeli interests are not the key point (I may be wrong however).

    Oil is a major factor, very specially in Libya, but it is not the only one. In other cases it is not so much often to directly conquer the oil-producing areas but of guaranteeing a military presence in the accesses. Also often it is more about being able to choke China and to threaten Russia – this is not the case of Mediterranean Libya but it is in the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and the Pacific rim (for China, the Black Sea for Russia).

  7. bob

    One interesting fact about libya- not a cent of sovereign debt, that is until the rebels started “buying” arms.

  8. Hans R Suter

    “the courage to take on the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.” That’s how Ike had it in his draft but then he cut out “congressional”. I commend Mr. Auerback for putting it back.

  9. Schofield

    Excuse me. This is Neo-Liberalism we’re talking about here. As Phillip Mirowski has told us in his contribution to the book “The Road from Mont Pelerin.” lying behind this ideology’s smokescreen diatribe against the nanny state is a selfish and elitist belief that “freedom to choose must be as unequally distributed as the riches in the marketplace” and this includes choosing to engage in imperialistic wars. Main Street will not be asked whether it wants to choose austerity cuts to pay for it. It will get them imposed from either of the two parties. You can guarantee that the option the rich should be made to pay will not be on the table!

  10. perfect stranger

    While each country in MENA (in lack of better term I’ll use this colonial one) is different, yet it is story about the Western colonialism.

    The US used to have the most significant military installation in Mediterranean
    Wheelus Air Base which the Colonel expelled after overthrowing King Faruk who was the Western puppet. Now, we see favorite theme of western press as the cause of the ongoing civil war: Tribal animosity, which (presumably) last for centuries. This was favorite theme of Western journalists (including Chris Hedges and Robert Fisk of Independent) from time when I was watching the events in my homeland. The war in Yugoslavia ended by dismembering that country and there is signs that similar scenario is on the way to Libya. The expulsion of the base and his defiant, prickly character doesn’t go well with almighty powers, and therefore animosity.

    You know how that narrative goes: They can not live with each other and the like; over the sudden some mysteriously group of people emerge asking for “more” freedom. I saw that scenario in Yugoslavia and I am seeing it in Libya. I do not defend the Colonel who is just wicked person, but no more wicked than those who sitting in Riyadh and Qatar, or Tel Aviv. No less wicked from those ultra-right wing regimes in Budapest, or Copenhagen, or Rome who are considering Arabs as subspecies, or anybody else who are not like them for that matters. What about “peace-loving” state of Norway who sent its fighter jets to Italy, host country of Nobel Prize? Perception management in the work and/or raw force. This is not instinctive hoarding of countries which defend its “values” or “way of life”, this is deliberate aggression.

    “the West won the world,” according to Samuel P. Huttington,“not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.”

    In my opinion, right now – the West is primarily gravely concerned with popular uprising which they do not control, whereby they loosing the grip over those countries: violence has been always tool of choice of the colonizators. We can see that Egyptian “revolution” is receding, steadily, or it is lost . As a side effect (or maybe as it’s main goal) the West longing for the same scenario in Iran and Syria.

    It isn’t about oil – primarily, just as bloody Iraqi war and US occupation of the country wasn’t about oil. Was the Chile about cooper or ITT, as it presented? Neither was Iran in time when US engineered coup d’etat. Those commodities can be brought on open market. These thing are political in nature and since economy is subsystem it is about the power and political control, to impose so-called Indirect Rule (another British Imperial invention) in targeted countries, in order to extract financial gain or insert its military installations. Earlier, through extraction of mineral wealth and nowadays via financial speculation such as: maintain dollar as world currency.

    Recent development In Egypt is threat to machine d’guerre to the Western outpost in Middle East – “only democracy” if you will: Israel. So maintain status quo in MENA is of utmost importance to Washington, London, Paris and Berlin.

  11. perfect stranger

    The cost of this war so far will be easily $1 Billion.

    As for Tomahawk cruise missile there is nothing fancy about it. That technology is couple decades old, the map is uploaded into the operating system, and missile fly by predetermined route. It flies with subsonic speed as such it is detectable and there is easy defense against it, if defender has modern radar with X-band technology.

  12. ScottS

    Here is what I see:

    Tunisia: The West was caught off-guard, no time to respond. Small strategic significance. Result: write-off.

    Egypt: We had the opportunity to intervene on behalf of “our man” in Egypt, but violently bringing down a secular pro-democratic protest would go against everything The West (particularly America) believed our rationale was for intervention in the Middle East. Local army did not support regime anymore. Long-term strategic significance, but small short-term significance. Result: sit on our hands.

    Bahrain: Local military started cracking down on reformist but more racial/religious-than-Egypt protest. “Our man” in Bahrain appears to be in control, and already has Saudi help controlling things. Large short-term significance, due to being home base for 5th Fleet. Result: handled locally, no need for western intervention.

    Saudi Arabia: Ditto Bahrain, plus oil.

    Libya: “Our man” appears to have lost the plot. The military (read: mercenaries) side with “our man.” Civil war with factions mean-reverting to historic/traditional boundaries (so weak leadership, no weak authority). Significant source of oil, traditional European interests. Result: good candidate for intervention, regime change, then “coalition” occupation.

    I don’t think it strictly comes down to oil, or mere strategic value. It’s a combination of strategic value and the appearance of local authority, with the proviso that The West can’t directly intervene against obviously secular, pro-democratic protests. All the conditioning for giving the gift of democracy at gunpoint has worked against the current administration in Egypt and Tunisia.

    So watch for a new higher calling, or rallying cry for future military intervention. The West has been hoisted on its own petard of spreading democracy. The frequent fawning admiration of Chinese authoritarian policies on the part of Congress shows how tired our representatives are of democracy, anyway.

  13. Nuuzman

    Sorry, money is involved here Britain and America will never allow an oil rich country to get out of their control. It doesn’t matter whether Congress was consulted or not. Ultimately, for the sake of their large corporations, which are absolutely dependent on this resource, they will fight. A crazed oil man must be controlled or killed. With the ultimate problem “Cannibal Capitalism” everyone is fair game when America’s wealthy are in harms way.

    1. Maju

      Precisely. Gaddafi taking back Cyrenaica meant taking back control (not ethical but practical), while the current, rather chaotic and aimless, intervention means that the country stays divided and unstable for longer.

      There is something more than such a simple aphorism: there is a political decision that Gaddafi must go. Why exactly? That’s what I do not understand well but probably they just don’t accept that he used to be an ally of the USSR and that he is more independent and arrogant than most others in the region.

  14. Maju

    Berlusconi’s circle opinion (reflected at Voltaire Network today, via a progressive Italian media/blog) seems to be that Sarkozy was planning Gaddafi’s doom since October, when El-Mesmari defected, allowing the French secret services to contact candidates for revolt in the officialdom.

    However not all was good for Italy before the revolt and hence its ambiguous stand: ENI was getting only 12% of the oil and 40% of the gas, the rest remained in Gaddafi’s hands. A similar situation happened to other European oil corporations: Spanish Repsol, Austrian OMV, French Total, Norwegian Saga, which saw their share reduced to 13% of the oil extracted in 2008 as well.

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