Imperial Inbox: Clinton's Emails Remind Us to Rethink Gaddafi


The federal investigation of Hillary Clinton over her possible misuse of a private server for emails while she was Secretary of State is not only a GOP nocturnal emission inducing fantasy come to life (though it certainly is that). The investigation is also a gift to the curious citizen—thanks to the forced publication of so many emails from Clinton's time in Obama's cabinet. This treasure trove of candid discussion between the world's power players has (and will continue to) help us understand United States foreign policy during Obama's first term. And in those four years of standard-issue, post-Reagan “humanitarianism” across the globe, one of the biggest stories was our eager participation in NATO's campaign in Libya. On this topic, the investigation has been very enlightening indeed.

Emails between Secretary Clinton and higher-ups in the French government revealed the motivations France and the US had for backing rebels and dropping bombs in Libya in early 2011. [1] Don't dread reading the documents in question—their on-the-nose dialogue is as subtle as wrestlers trash talking on Monday night television.

But at this point you might be asking, “Why does this matter?” You might say, “Okay, fine, so Clinton's a hawk. The Republicans won't attack her on that and the Democrats love looking tough overseas. Besides, we're talking about helping oppressed Libyans overthrow Gaddafi just like what happened in Tunisia and Egypt weeks earlier.” You might even think it was an example of Obama's superiority to Bush II. You might argue, “We didn't get US troops on the ground. We didn't get tangled up like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the world is better off with a guy like Gaddafi getting what was coming to him.”

You might be thinking these things because it's the reasonable thing to think. We all watched the reports on CNN and Fox and MSNBC. At least we saw the film parodies and heard the jokes on late night talk shows. We heard about the vile acts the Libyan government was all too quick to use when backed into a corner. Remember Libya under Gaddafi, the Arab Spring, the war that followed?

Muammar Gaddafi was your typical Middle East dictator: odd physical appearance (disheveled hair, robes and funny hats), a personality cult (his own “Green Book” was required reading), and a love of repressing citizens (who scratched what little life they could in the African desert).

Media coverage made sure we were all caught up. For those just tuning-in—he was a specter rising out of sandy, Saharan winds. For long-time viewers around for the '70s oil crisis story arc—it was the surprise return, a face almost forgotten, almost not recognized. He seemed aged beyond his years of absence, maybe by a constant scowl held for the petty fiefdom he monitored, a scowl to hide fear and show disdain.

His habits were now legend (e.g. while visiting foreign countries, he slept cradled in the silky-soft, flower-scented luxury of his royal tent, fit for a fairy tale Raja on pilgrimage to Mecca). His all-female bodyguards (dressed up like a galactic crime-squad from a comic-book-turned-Summer-blockbuster) were an obvious manifestation of his psycho-sado-sexual derangement, which was easily diagnosed from the other side of the world by experts brought into the conversation via satellite—experts who assured the news anchors that such mental illness seemed inevitable after his decades-long reign. After all, he built his power like a house of cards, a balancing act of violence and bribes all floating on a sea of state-owned oil to bankroll it all.

The story was new but not unfamiliar. He was half Arab tyrant on an anti-modern kick (gleaming scimitars raised to execute boy-pickpockets in town squares) and half palm tree dictator on the Soviet periphery (seizing control atop a wave of revolutionary war crimes and junta excesses, with show trails, political “reeducation”, zealots setting fire to American flags while holding portraits of bearded men). It was like the signals and codes we all knew from past enemies in the third-world (more nuisance than rival) were sewn together into a Frankenstein monster.

Meanwhile, the US seemed hot to get involved again with the Arab Spring which so many American liberals took to mean an ushering in of a democracy they could be proud of. Plus, maybe if we intervened on behalf of the people, without risking casualties, we'd look like the good guy in the Middle East—no small thing after Afghanistan, Iraq, drone strikes which were only starting to pick up. Finally, this whole thing could be a story of redemption since, a month or so before, the US supported Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's suppression of peaceful protests (call it protecting an investment: Mubarak's authoritarian government was the second largest haul of US military aid at the time). When protests started in Libya, the US had found the perfect opportunity.

The fight was set. The red-streaked, Allah-crazed Gaddafi versus the reigning champion looking to (not unlike Hercules) atone for the past through mighty labor.

NATO bombs swooped in to support the protests that were spreading like wildfire through Libya. We armed the moderates who wanted a liberal democracy. We ensured the Islamic extremists didn't take over. Not one US soldier stepped his boots down on Libya. When the people got a hold of Gaddafi, they raped his corpse with knives, but it was seen as healthy venting (just maybe not as picturesque as toppling Saddam Hussein's statue or raising the flag over Iwo Jima). Bada-bing, bada-boom. A few years later the Libyan civil war still goes on, but the US did what was right and the rest is up to the Libyan people to figure out, after all, we wouldn't want to get tangled up in foreign affairs. Some politicians started fussing over an attack on a US embassy, but that was sibling rivalry stuff—they questioned Secretary Clinton's handling of intelligence, but no one questioned the mission in Libya.

And then the Clinton email scandal. And then the publication of all those emails. And then we got to read about the intervention in Libya from the inside. And then we learned that everything we knew about Libya, Gaddafi, and NATO's involvement was wrong. Oops.

Yes, there are emails between Clinton's staff and French officials as they talk the details of a NATO campaign against Libya. The two major reasons? Preempt Libya's plans of starting an African currency that would compete with the euro and the dollar, and to seize Libyan's oil rights from its state. [2] Then French President Nicholas Sarkozy mentioned what a happy coincidence that France needed to reinforce its control over northern Africa and that he needed to improve his own political standing at home.

But how would NATO do it? By manufacturing an insurrection (under the banner of the Arab Spring) and backing whatever groups they could find that would fight the government (they settled on a group that, at the time, was busy executing black people for the crime of being black—sometimes the killings were especially brutal, like stopping 80 black migrants in the road and butchering them alive with pruning shears and axes). [2][3] A flood of propaganda spread about Libyan forces, some a few being brought in front of the UN Security Council. Lies were spread about “rape campaigns” that the government carried out against civilians and about soldiers piling the dead bodies of their own victims before blaming NATO for the deaths. [1] Again, these stories were known to be false at the time.

So basically, NATO members (US and France in particular) armed and supported racist death squads to help them overthrow the Libyan government and calling all this a “popular uprising”. To justify NATO's direct involvement, they made up lies about Libya's military and Gaddafi. These things were done to give NATO member states more political and economic control of the region and to prevent the region from gaining independence.

In light of this, maybe it's time to not just question what we did and why, but what did we destroy? Maybe it's time to rethink Libya before the overthrow, Libya as a Jamahiriya state.

Two months before NATO began bombing the country, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a periodic review of Libya. The report celebrates the human rights record and its ongoing work to improve the lives of Libyans and all Africans. [4] The World Health Organization praised Libya as an African democracy that provided free, high-quality healthcare to its citizens and achieved the highest rates of literacy and education in north Africa. [5]

What about gender equality? The women of Libya had secured robust rights—a rarity in the region. They were guaranteed equal pay and access to work and had equal access to education, even making up a majority of students in higher education. [4][6]

But still, you might say, “Gaddafi was a brutal dictator. And weird.” Well, the thing is, Muammar Gaddafi hadn't held power in Libya for decades before NATO's campaign. Albeit, he was a leading political voice, but he often campaigned for legislation that the people disliked and so rejected using their directly democratic system (e.g. his campaign to end the death penalty). How did the people reject it or make any political decisions at all? Libya had levels of congresses, the basic unit including everyone. Of these basic people's congresses, representatives were voted up to higher levels as a voice for their constituents. [7] Even things like the budget were allocated according to population and then spent at the local level according to the citizens there. [7]

After all these years since NATO's destruction of a once peaceful Libya state, violence and conflict still ripple through the country. The mission that destroyed Libya was carried out through the telling of lies and a casual disregard for human life—a truth made clear by Clinton's emails. Not only do the documents reveal some of the truths behind Clinton's actions (terrifying to consider given her likelihood of becoming the next President of the United States), but they also remind us to rethink the Western view of Libya and Gaddafi.

[1] https://www.foia.state.gov/Search/Results.aspx?collection=Clinton_Email_December_Release (Requires archival retrieval:https://web.archive.org/web/20160109230627/https://www.foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/HRCEmail_DecWebClearedMeta/31-C1/DOC_0C05779612/C05779612.pdf)

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[2] http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2016/01/06/new-hillary-emails-reveal-true-motive-for-libya-intervention/

[3] http://www.npr.org/2011/02/25/134065767/-African-Migrants-Say-They-Face-Hostility-From-Libyans

[4] http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A-HRC-16-15.pdf

[5] http://www.who.int/countryfocus/cooperation_strategy/ccsbrief_lby_en.pdf

[6]http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/MENAEXT/LIBYAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:22015609%7EmenuPK:410791%7EpagePK:1497618%7EpiPK:217854%7EtheSitePK:410780,00.html

[7] http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2013/01/12/gaddafis-libya-was-africas-most-prosperous-democracy/

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