U.S. Policy of Repression Leads to Disaster
Since April 15, 1992 the U.N. Security Council has banned all flights to and from Libya, and other military and diplomatic sanctions have also been put in place. On the day before the sanction went into effect, Libya's airport at Tripoli was crammed with last minute travelers. As midnight approached, the last airliner departed leaving a desolate runway and terminal that has remained so since. Libyans wishing to travel abroad must take a long taxi ride to neighboring Tunis or a ferry to Malta, both expensive and inconvenient. This is the post Cold War world of "cooperation", where all airlines rely on a centralized payments and settlements mechanism. Airlines that wish to continue benefiting from the sale of tickets and retain their international certification will not violate U.N. decrees. Even Arab national airlines have remained remarkably cooperative in removing Baghdad and Tripoli from their list of destinations.
While not as crushing as the Iraqi sanctions, this travel ban, as well as other sanctions, has heaped a daily insult on this small Arab nation even as it proves the futility of defying the West. As the years have ticked by, Libya has steadfastly refused to surrender the two men to be tried in a British or U.S. court. "That Libya hand its sons to the United States or Britain, this...is a ridiculous demand," said Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi at a press conference last October. He has, however, offered to have them tried in a third "neutral" country where their rights will supposedly be guaranteed.
In February, the World Court ruled that it would hear Libyan arguments that a 1971 aviation convention permits Libya to put the bombing suspects on trial in Libya. While Libya regards this as a victory, it is also negotiating with lawyers of the crash victims' families to try the men in the third country, perhaps in the Netherlands, before an international panel of judges working under Scottish laws and procedures. ("Libyan Suspects Ready for Trial", ABC News, 4-21-98). This compromise reveals the pressure on Libyan leadership to resolve the impasse and remove the international stigma of sanctions from their country.
In the late eighteenth century North Africa was largely a Mediterranean haven for pirates. In 1784 the U.S. paid tribute to the Qaramanlly dynasty in Tripoli for pirate protection. In 1801 Tripoli raised its rates and began seizing American ships, resulting in the Tripolitan war of 1801-1805 which the U.S. won. After being invaded and reconquered by different powers, including Italy in 1911 and the U.S., Britain and France in 1943, Libya achieved independence in 1951. In 1969 a revolution brought Army Col. Muammar Abou Minyar al Qadhafi to power and he remains so to this day.
After coming to power in 1969, Colonel Qadhafi asked the U.S. to close down Wheelus Field, its air base just outside of Tripoli. The U.S. complied, but this did not prevent U.S./Libyan relations from sliding downhill from there. Qadhafi is an ardent Arab nationalist and has consistently resisted the hegemony being built around the Middle East by the U.S. and Western powers. Resentments flared in 1979 after the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini took power. Qadhafi's anti-American rhetoric increased. An angry mob stormed the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, supposedly with the approval of the Libyan leadership.
In 1981 Qadhafi declared the Gulf of Sidra (also spelled "Sitre") to be sovereign Libyan territory. This was a departure from the international standard of twelve miles from shore, but it was less than the 200-mile buffer zone the U.S. declared from its own shores in the 1970's. With typical Arab flourish, Qadhafi declared the entrance to the gulf to be "the line of death." Not willing to brook an affront to its superiority the U.S. sent a carrier battle group into the Gulf of Sidra. It wasn't long before U.S. Navy fighter jets had engaged two Libyan aircraft, shooting them down.
The U.S. Navy kept the pressure on Qadhafi, crossing over "the line of death" whenever the opportunity arose. In early 1986 Libyan warplanes were engaged once again by the U.S. Navy over the gulf, providing the backdrop for the first scenes in the popular American movie, "Top Gun." The U.S. then sank four Libyan patrol boats, reportedly killing 35 Libyan sailors, and destroyed Libyan missile and radar facilities. The Libyans were no match for the U.S. fleet.
According to the U.S. news media, Qadhafi was rarely seen in public after the bombing of Tripoli -- his heated rhetoric and flamboyant gestures silenced by the brush with death. Qadhafi was back in his box and an example made of him, or so they would have us believe. For a time he faded from the media radar screen. Suddenly on December 21, 1988, Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. After a meticulous search, investigators found that a small bomb hidden in a transistor radio packed in a suitcase exploded, causing the plane to crash. The components of the bomb were traced to two men later identified as Libyan intelligence agents. The U.S. demanded that Libya do the impossible -- turn the agents over to be tried in a U.S. court.
Since then, the U.S. has kept the pressure on Libya by applying sanctions through the U.N Security Council, sanctimoniously branding Libya as a "rogue state" while disregarding a 1986 resolution by the U.N. General Assembly, calling on the U.S. to compensate Libya for its 1986 attack. Further, in the spring of 1996, a U.S. Pentagon official made a bellicose statement supporting a nuclear strike on an alleged Libyan chemical weapons factory, a statement that further reveals the endless absurdity of U.S. policy.
What Mr. Burns did not emphasize in his news conference is that many of the Arab nations are tired of being bullied by the U.S. sanctions machine. In a March meeting foreign ministers in the Organization of the Islamic Conference denounced the sanctions against Libya as "unjust" and called for their removal. They also reaffirmed resolutions adopted by the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity and the Non-Aligned movement. While these organizations have often opposed U.S. policy, they do reflect the growing resentment of western domination among Arabs in the Middle East. A much different picture is painted by the U.S. media, however. The bloody Al-Sabah family of Kuwait, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, as well as the other dictators of the Persian Gulf kingdoms, seem cordial with Washington and welcome the robust U.S. military presence in their neighborhood. What is not apparent is that this official welcome is purchased with a steady flow of western wealth and technology. Their U.S. trained and equipped security apparatus suppresses domestic unrest from the more patriotic Arabs. Other Islamic countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Sudan that do not fully cooperate are branded as "pariah states", sanctioned and isolated by a U.S.-dominated U.N. Security Council.
Since 1981 the United States claimed that Libya is a sponsor of terrorism, hosting "training camps for terrorists" and even granting the notorious terrorist mastermind Abu Nidal refuge. This may all be true. It may also be true that Qadhafi is a tyrant by Western standards, even though he seems to enjoy popular support among his people. What Americans do not hear about is Qadhafi's contempt for U.S. sponsorship of terrorist groups such as the Nicaraguan Contras and U.S. support of terrorist regimes in Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador. Qadhafi knows the U.S. is an old hand at terror.
The U.S. has proven its superiority in conventional warfare and the use of brute force. Unconventional warfare, sometimes defined as guerrilla warfare, is often the recourse of nations and peoples that have lost every legitimate recourse in the loss of their freedom. Overwhelming military force often moves the conflict to softer civilian targets, as was clearly the case with the U.S./Libyan conflict. This generation has grown up with the image of the stereotypical middle-eastern terrorist, crazed and unshaven, hijacking airliners, kidnapping and blowing people up. What does not occur to the typical American mind is that these people hate us for a good reason. They are doing what they do because their culture, religion and national identity are the targets of a slow motion genocide being inflicted upon them by the West.
This cultural genocide is revealed in the bold demand by the U.S. that Libya turn over its two agents accused of bombing Pan Am 103. To do this would be completely contrary to the Arab sense of honor. Qadhafi would have to become a traitor to those who serve him and to his own people. Capitulation to these demands would be offensive to the national psyche, demoralize the military and divide his country. If Qadhafi capitulates and throws his men to the dogs, sanctions will have accomplished what the U.S. fleet could not -- the collapse of the Libyan national will. This is the primary objective of U.S. foreign policy toward Libya and the other so-called "pariah states."
In his book, 1984 George Orwell described the "two minutes of hate" where workers would gather before a television screen to revile the state's enemies. This is our evening news, more genteel than Orwell's, but also more effective in creating public consent for state crimes. Concerned mainly with our material comforts, we have become callous and indifferent to human life. As we mindlessly revile the state's enemies or remain silent when they are oppressed, we become willing accomplices in murder and oppression. We may fully expect that sooner or later the consequences will come home to roost.