Libyan Labels: a journey through the Guardian’s coverage of the Libyan disaster

by Ricardo Vaz from InvestigAction

In this analysis we examine Libya’s recent history looking through the eyes of the Guardian, the flagship of liberal western outlets, and its reporting. As with most other western media, the Guardian was an enthusiastic supporter of the NATO intervention that overthrew Gaddafi and threw the country into the disaster that we are about to describe. Faithful to western interests then, the Guardian remains faithful afterwards as well. But imperial designs are laden with contradictions and sometimes drastically change course, but the Guardian dutifully follows. More interestingly, in light of the complex Libyan situation, the Guardian resorts to labels, adjectives, to distinguish the “good” (i.e. western-supported) actors from the “bad” ones. And as western powers stumble from one strategy to the next, these labels change accordingly.

We start this journey around the 2012 election in Libya, a few months after the end of the brutal, western-led regime change. We will not focus on the western media’s cheerleading for the NATO intervention, on the basis of preventing a repeat of atrocities that did not happen and stopping an imminent massacre that was also not going to happen, or on the conveniently overlooked extremist elements in the opposition ranks. We will also not compare the free and democratic future predicted by western commentators to the disastrous failed-state that Libya has become. Finally, we also do not cover the tragic refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, even though it is a direct consequence of the turmoil in Libya. And while we scrutinize the Guardian’s coverage, most of what follows also holds for other mainstream western outlets.

Gunpoint democracy

The 2012 parliamentary election is hailed as “a major step toward democracy after decades of erratic one-man rule”, even with “politicians finally wak(ing) up to the power of women”, despite the unrest and lawlessness that had already taken hold of the country. The resulting General National Congress (GNC) is considered a hopeful mixture of islamists and “moderates”. But with the country “awash with militias”, the news cycle soon becomes dominated by the assassination of the American ambassador in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. While this could have been taken as a clear sign that the extremist groups that had been armed did not turn democratic overnight, and especially did not see the west as a liberator, the Guardian instead tries to reassure us that democracy has come to stay.
But if armed factions are running riot in the streets, life is not any easier for the factions in suits in Libya’s new parliament, as protests and disagreements leave “…Libya still without firm government, nearly three months after the parliamentary elections and with violence breaking out in several flashpoint towns.”. The first designated prime-minister lasts a mere month on the job after his cabinet is rejected, and finally a government led by former Gaddafi diplomat-turned-opponent Ali Zeidan takes office, with equal doses of technocracy and sharia. To make our job slightly easier in what follows, we will refer to this government as G#1. The sailing from this point on is far from smooth, and the backlash from the NATO intervention starts to spread across the region. In January 2013, another western intervention begins, this time in Mali, to suppress an salafist rebellion that was flush with weapons in the wake of the Libyan chaos. We are told that the west had “overlooked risk of Libya weapons reaching Mali”.
David Cameron, flanked by Nicolas Sarkozy, speaks triumphantly in Libya in 2011
But things are equally turbulent in Tripoli, with extremist tendencies and rogue militias coming to the fore. Somehow David Cameron’s promises that Libya “will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom” did not manage to quell centuries-old tribal rivalries, mushrooming armed militias and salafist groups. This is also the time when the UK government was being sued by the notorious Abdel Hakim Belhaj. Having fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Belhaj was renditioned by the secret services due to alleged links to al-Qaeda, and handed over to Gaddafi. After seven years in prison, he played a major role in the NATO-led intervention and became chief of security in Tripoli. The remarkable bit is that the Guardian refers to a career “jihadist” as a “politician”.[1]
The turmoil and tensions escalate, specially in the extremist capital of Libya, Benghazi, formerly known in the western press as the birthplace of the “revolution”. And at this point we see the real problem of a conflict between a weakened government, the Muslim Brotherhood with a growing influence in parliament, and other militias – a threat to the oil business. Amidst all the talk of “freedom” and “democracy” it was almost forgotten that Libya holds the biggest oil reserves in Africa. The high point of this struggle was probably the kidnapping of prime-minster Zeidan, an event Zeidan described as a coup attempt. Western journalists begin worrying that Libya is being “thrown into turmoil”, and especially worrying is the fact that luxurious hotels are no longer safe havens. The Guardian even feels the need to to present us a “who’s who” of the rival groups in Tripoli, since the previous “pro-western freedom fighters” label is no longer sufficient. The spectre of a generalized civil war hangs menacingly in the months that follow, as there is no way around the “inability of Libya’s government to rein in the powerful militias”. This period is marked by constant fighting, ministers shot dead and government resignations.
Finally, PM Zeidan is ousted, even though he was a “popular figure with western diplomats”, and at this juncture it is worth noting that the parliament that was initially greeted as having important doses of “moderation” is now plainly labelled as “islamist”. The impending campaign to retake the oil ports “risks splitting the country apart”, and this is the moment when an important figure enters the fray – General Khalifa Haftar. A former Gaddafi general, he fell out of favour after an ill-fated war against Chad, later joining an US-backed opposition group and taking part in a failed coup attempt against Gaddafi. He spent years in exile in the United States, until his dramatic return in early 2014 (he returned shortly in 2011 but the powers that be could not settle on a role for him). Haftar leads his forces on a two-pronged attack, on one hand attacking the parliament in Tripoli, calling for its dissolution, and on the other starting a campaign against hardline groups in Benghazi and eastern Libya. At this stage western analysts are a bit shell-shocked that their glorious humanitarian intervention has not exactly gone according to plan (!), but in general they welcome Haftar’s strongman antics since he is fighting “islamists”.

One more election and one more government

While the Guardian ruefully declares that the “democratic dream is all but ruined”, and multiple figures claim they are the rightful prime-minister, Haftar continues his campaign in the east, and the country stumbles onto new legislative elections. This is declared to be “Libya’s last chance to reconnect with democracy”, but turnout was a lowly 18%. The coverage this time around is almost reduced to a footnote, since not even the former intervention cheerleaders want to associate themselves with the current mess. Quite predictably, the new poll leads to further figthing in the capital, forcing western countries to withdraw their diplomatic personnel. Even after all this mayhem, sane voices in the Guardian are few and far between. Anthony Loewenstein strikes quite an exasperated tone:

“I feel like I’ve been writing the same column for over a decade: humanitarian interventions by the west end up destroying the countries they try to save”

“Is this your democracy?” (Cartoon by Carlos Latuff)

“Is this your democracy?” (Cartoon by Carlos Latuff)

In a nutshell, islamist groups (“Libya Dawn”) in the capital were not happy with the new elections and took power by force, pushing the newly elected parliament, called Council of Deputies, to the far-eastern town of Tobruk. This parliament operated first out of a cruise ship and later out of a hotel. This is an important moment to take stock. There is a (renewed) General National Congress in Tripoli that has nominated a new government, which we will still label as G#1, while the Council of Deputies chose a different government, which we will call G#2, based in Tobruk [2]. Furthermore, judicial authorities in Tripoli declare G#1 as being the legitimate one, although it’s fair to guess that being close to the G#1 militias with guns might have influenced this decision.
And it is from this point on that the Guardian really brings out the labels. G#2 is the “legitimate”, “internationally recognised”, “democratically elected” government, whereas G#1 is the “islamist”, “extremist” one, perhaps even “comparable to ISIS”. Unsurprisingly, the actual ISIS does spring up in Libya, taking control of the town of Derna before taking Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. What follows is a full-blown civil war between the two parallel governments, with Gen. Haftar being named commander of the armed forces loyal to G#2. The main fighting takes place in the oil-rich eastern provinces, specially for control of the coastal oil terminals. Libya’s oil output is but a tiny fraction of what it used to be, meaning that a lot of potential profit is going to waste. While ISIS begins to spread its influence, the two rival governments also begin gathering international support, with Qatar backing G#1 and the UAE and Egypt backing and even intervening militarily alongside G#2 against ISIS. But soon we start to see people wondering if the wrong government is being “recognised”, since there is a full-blown refugee crisis going on in the Mediterranean, and for western governments the solution is to simply stop the boats from leaving Libyan shores. There are now constant rumblings about forming a “new” government, with negotiating efforts being led by UN diplomat Bernardino Léon. The refugee crisis also becomes a bargaining chip for both G#1 and G#2.
Meanwhile the civil war drags on, while the US carries on with its airstrikes everywhere, even killing Mokhtar Belmokhtar for the umpteenth time. Needless to say, the Guardian is now far less interested in covering this quagmire, even though some start to question the whole endeavour. Western powers remarkably start considering a new intervention, while pinning their hopes on Léon’s efforts behind the scenes. Finally there seems to be a breakthrough when Léon announces a new, “national-unity government”, which we will call G#3, that is meant to take over for the two parallel governments G#1 and G#2. G#1 and G#2 officials themselves seem less convinced, and the fighting goes on as before. People on the ground are not any more enthusiastic about this UN-imposed government, perhaps to the surprise of outside observers. But it is interesting to note that the Guardian seems to have no issues with this idea of nominating an African government from the outside, as if it were the nomination of a colonial governor. Western leaders could also have tried to feign a little more concern for the sacrosanct “democracy” they are always preaching about, perhaps trying the Yemeni model[3]. The solomonic mediator Bernardino Léon also does not cover himself in glory by taking money from the UAE, backers of G#2, and claiming he knows how to delegetimise G#1. He is replaced as UN envoy to Libya shortly afterwards.

Two is company, three is a crowd

Though it’s business as usual for US warplanes life on the ground proves much harder for honest-to-god multinational oil corporations, who run the dreaded risk of “sign(ing) a deal with the wrong people”. With ISIS threatening oil ports, western governments are itching for G#3 to take power so it can authorize foreign military intervention, but G#1 and G#2 remain far less inclined. Even with more UN-backing, contradictory and premature announcements, there is no approval and G#3 remains stuck in Tunis, as preparations for a new intervention are in full swing. The interesting aspect to notice is that around this time G#2 starts losing its “internationally recognised” label, and becomes just “Tobruk-based”. Similarly, the perspective of getting G#1 to vacate its seat in the capital means we are no longer constantly reminded of its “islamist” character, and it becomes just “Tripoli-based”.

G#2 loses its “recognition” in the space of three months

G#2 loses its “recognition” in the space of three months

Finally G#3, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, arrives in Tripoli, after the no-longer-islamist G#1 agrees to step aside. And although we lose G#2’s former label, the Guardian is quick to introduce a new one to ensure the reader knows which team to support. G#3 is now the “UN-backed” government, the one that will usher the country into a safe and prosperous future! It is also the government of “National Accord”, even though the Libyan people hardly had a say in it[4]. And in a bizarre case of deja-vu, a British envoy arrives to pledge the eternal friendship of Her Majesty’s government. The Foreign secretary pledges that “ground troops could go to Libya”, because past mistakes are meant to be repeated. And lest we forget what this is really about, the issue of oil soon crops back up again. Within a couple of months G#2’s label has now gone all the way to “unrecognised” after it dared attempt to export oil. There is also a new chaotic element as parallel banknotes start circulating. Additionally, western leaders don’t seem to realise that fragile governments don’t become more popular if they are propped by foreign powers. It is also worth noticing that Gen. Haftar is now seen to be a problem because he refuses to bow to this UN-imposed government, even though he is still fighting islamist groups and ISIS.
In any case, both recognised and unrecognised forces, together with the ever-present US bombings, make quick gains against ISIS. The elimination of this threat means that G#1+3 and G#2 can go back to fighting each other, with the capture of all-important oil facilities by G#2 prompting a “call for military action”. Around this time the ill-advised Libyan intervention also comes under intense scrutiny in the UK. Whereas there are always reasonable voices in the debate, others disingenuously claim that nobody could have foreseen this disaster. A loosely-bound country with tribal rivalries held in check by a strongman’s mixture of carrot and stick strategies, then sees a huge inflow of weapons, religious extremism and foreign military intervention. What could have gone wrong? Of course, there are also those unrepentant imperial apologists like Bernard-Henri Lévy who would do it all over again.
Some warn against future imperialist wars, other are always ready to embrace them

Some warn against future imperialist wars, other are always ready to embrace them

And this is more or less where we stand now, even though this story is far from over, and neither are the Guardian’s flexible labels. There is trouble in Tripoli, as the armed militias of the former G#1 are far less convinced about recognising G#3 than the UN and western diplomats. A failed coup attempt should serve as a warning, and the Guardian should be ready to dust off its “islamist” label at a moment’s notice. In the East, Gen. Haftar and G#2 move further to the dark-side by asking Russia for help, but remain firmly in control of several oil facilities. Furthermore, with an economic collapse looming and G#2’s oil output increasing, the west again wonders if it has bet on the wrong horse. The Guardian warns that G#3’s “window for…action may be closing”, so there is a strong chance that the recognised, then unrecognised, G#2 might find itself recognised again, for whatever that is worth. As we have seen in this short story, nothing, not even the Guardian labels, are definite in Libya. In this farcical and tragic cycle, coups, foreign interventions, ISIS surges, and even Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s death, are destined to be repeated so long as western empires stumble from one adventure to the next.


  • 1. True to his calling, Belhaj would later join ISIS in its efforts both in Syria and Libya, but this might have been too embarrassing for the Guardian to report.
  • 2. During the 2016 presidential campaign, when flexing her foreign policy muscle, Hillary Clinton defended her actions in Libya. Acknowledging that things were not perfect, which is quite the understatement, she stressed that there had been two “free and fair” elections. Even letting the “free and fair” part slide, what she forgot to add, and what any decent journalist should have pointed out, is that these two elections were not supposed to result in two parallel governments.
  • 3. After the ousting of long-time dictator Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, the US and Saudi Arabia scrambled to ensure that ensuing elections would not harm their interests. Finally they settled on a ballot with a single candidate, Mansour Hadi, former 20-year vice-dictator.
  • 4. This is on par with calling organizations that receive money from the US government (through USAID or NED) as “NGO”s just because they are serving the empire in other countries. They should be called FGOs, Foreign Government Organizations.


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Feb 2, 2017 1:28 AM

Seumas Milne was the only Grauniad writer who got it right.

Feb 5, 2017 3:08 PM
Reply to  jag37777

So did Simon jenkins, they were always a tag-team, from the left and right. Jenkins hates neo-cons from the sound conservative position that it cost’s too much money and doesn’t work.

Jan 31, 2017 3:51 PM

If only real people weren’t being killed and cities destroyed by bombing… the Guardian’s coverage, it’s frantic twists and turns, the misplaced labels, the high moral tone… would be hysterically, grotesquely, amusing. Ripe for satire. The delusions of liberals are a true wonder to behold. So busy are they looking towards the promise of progress rising just over the distant horizon, that they, seemingly, don’t even notice the blood-soaked quagmire they’re sluggishly wading through to get there.

Rhisiart Gwilym
Rhisiart Gwilym
Jan 30, 2017 7:21 PM

I wish Ricardo would call the Western criminals of the USukiznato axis by their right description: not interventionists but plain straightforward aggressors. Criminals against international law, criminals against humanity. Fit only for the cells of the International Criminal Court – if it would only do its job even-handedly.

Jan 30, 2017 5:56 PM

Reblogged this with credits to both offG and “Frank”

Jan 30, 2017 12:52 PM

The Guardian (as is well highlighted in this expose) was as usual full of sh_t: @Franks comment below gives the detail from the House of Commons report (that the coward Cameron resigned from Parliament to avoid) – but the real reason for this was modern state sanctioned robbery with murder – Libya was plundered by Big Money for its resources (and influence) – not oil, but gold.
Qaddafi was planning a Pan-African currency based, not on the dollar (or Franc), but the gold backed Dinar. Wall Street and the City of London where in crisis (’08/’09) and the threatened loss of liquidity would have finished them – so they invented a pretext, destroyed North Africas wealthiest country, killed 50,000 (?), displaced 500,000 (?) more in a ‘liquidity grab.’
It was only ever about the money, and not the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ innocent civilians – who says that “all wars are bankers wars” is not true?

Jan 30, 2017 6:14 PM
Reply to  BigB

Thanks for the link for some reason NEO is still not sending me anything to my inbox. Reblogged this separately full credit to NEO of course.

Jan 30, 2017 6:24 PM
Reply to  mohandeer

‘Ghost banning’ – I’m no techie but a lot of people are saying the same thing about alt sites – updates that have mysteriously stopped. CIA? NSA? Google?

Jan 30, 2017 8:44 AM

In fact there were elements in the UK political establishment who were decidely against the Libyan intervention. See below
A House of Commons Parliamentary Report Confirms What the Alternative Media Has Been Saying for Years
The UK Parliament just confirmed what the alternative media has been saying for years.
Specifically, a new report from the bipartisan House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee – based on interviews with all of the key British decision-makers, review of documents, and on-the-ground investigations in Africa – found that the Libyan war was based on lies, that it destroyed the country, and that it spread terrorism far and wide.
The War Based On Bogus Intelligence … Like the Iraq War
Initially, the report finds that the threat to civilians from Libyan government forces was dramatically overstated:
Former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, who introduced Resolution 1973 [imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and laying the groundwork for overthrowing the government], asserted in his speech to the Security Council that “the situation on the ground is more alarming than ever, marked by the violent re-conquest of cities”. He stressed the urgency of the situation, arguing that “We have very little time left—perhaps only a matter of hours.” Subsequent analysis suggested that the immediate threat to civilians was being publicly overstated and that the reconquest of cities had not resulted in mass civilian casualties.
The proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi [which was the basis for the West’s war to overthrow Gaddafi] was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011 …. Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians. More widely, Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.
On 17 March 2011, Muammar Gaddafi announced to the rebels in Benghazi, “Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.” Subsequent investigation revealed that when Gaddafi regime forces retook Ajdabiya in February 2011, they did not attack civilians. Muammar Gaddafi also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops.
An Amnesty International investigation in June 2011 could not corroborate allegations of mass human rights violations by Gaddafi regime troops. However, it uncovered evidence that rebels in Benghazi made false claims and manufactured evidence. The investigation concluded that
much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge.
In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as “an intelligence-light decision”.
Just like the ginned up intelligence used to justify the Iraq war. And the “humanitarian wars” waged over the last couple of decades.
The Libyan Government Was Fighting Terrorists
The report also notes that the Libyan government really was – as Libyan dictator Gaddafi claimed at the time – fighting Islamic terrorists:
Intelligence on the extent to which extremist militant Islamist elements were involved in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was inadequate.
Abdelhakim Belhadj and other members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were participating in the rebellion in March 2011.
Secret intelligence reports from 2011, written before and during the illegal US-led attack on Libya and recently obtained by the Washington Times, state:
There is a close link between al Qaeda, Jihadi organizations, and the opposition in Libya…
Indeed, the Libyan rebel commander admitted at the time that his fighters had links to Al Qaeda. And see this.
We reported in 2012:
The U.S. supported opposition which overthrew Libya’s Gadaffi was largely comprised of Al Qaeda terrorists. According to a 2007 report by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center’s center, the Libyan city of Benghazi was one of Al Qaeda’s main headquarters – and bases for sending Al Qaeda fighters into Iraq – prior to the overthrow of Gaddafi:
The Hindustan Times reported last year:
“There is no question that al Qaeda’s Libyan franchise, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is a part of the opposition,” Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and a leading expert on terrorism, told Hindustan Times.
It has always been Qaddafi’s biggest enemy and its stronghold is Benghazi.
(Incidentally, Gaddafi was on the verge of invading Benghazi in 2011, 4 years after the West Point report cited Benghazi as a hotbed of Al Qaeda terrorists. Gaddafi claimed – rightly it turns out – that Benghazi was an Al Qaeda stronghold and a main source of the Libyan rebellion. But NATO planes stopped him, and protected Benghazi.)
The Daily Mail reported in 2014:
A self-selected group of former top military officers, CIA insiders and think-tankers, declared Tuesday in Washington that a seven-month review of the deadly 2012 terrorist attack has determined that it could have been prevented – if the U.S. hadn’t been helping to arm al-Qaeda militias throughout Libya a year earlier.
‘The United States switched sides in the war on terror with what we did in Libya, knowingly facilitating the provision of weapons to known al-Qaeda militias and figures,’ Clare Lopez, a member of the commission and a former CIA officer, told MailOnline.
She blamed the Obama administration for failing to stop half of a $1 billion United Arab Emirates arms shipment from reaching al-Qaeda-linked militants.
‘Remember, these weapons that came into Benghazi were permitted to enter by our armed forces who were blockading the approaches from air and sea,’ Lopez claimed. ‘They were permitted to come in. … [They] knew these weapons were coming in, and that was allowed..
‘The intelligence community was part of that, the Department of State was part of that, and certainly that means that the top leadership of the United States, our national security leadership, and potentially Congress – if they were briefed on this – also knew about this.’
‘The White House and senior Congressional members,’ the group wrote in an interim report released Tuesday, ‘deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler [Muammar Gaddafi] who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress al-Qaeda.’
‘Some look at it as treason,’ said Wayne Simmons, a former CIA officer who participated in the commission’s research.
The West and Its Allies Directly Supported and Armed the Rebels
The UK report confirms that the West and its allies directly supported and armed the rebels:
The combat performance of rebel ground forces was enhanced by personnel and intelligence provided by states such as the UK, France, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. For example, Lord Richards told us that the UK “had a few people embedded” with the rebel forces.
Resolution 1973 called on United Nations member states to ensure the “strict implementation of the arms embargo”. However, we were told that the international community turned a blind eye to the supply of weapons to the rebels. Lord Richards highlighted “the degree to which the Emiratis and the Qataris … played a major role in the success of the ground operation.” For example, Qatar supplied French Milan anti¬tank missiles to certain rebel groups. We were told that Qatar channelled its weapons to favoured militias rather than to the rebels as a whole.
The REAL Motivation for War
The real motivation for the war? The Parliamentary report explains:
A further insight into French motivations was provided in a freedom of information disclosure by the United States State Department in December 2015. On 2 April 2011, Sidney Blumenthal, adviser and unofficial intelligence analyst to the then United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reported this conversation with French intelligence officers to the Secretary of State:
According to these individuals Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues:
1. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
2. Increase French influence in North Africa,
3. Improve his internal political situation in France,
4. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,
5. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.
The sum of four of the five factors identified by Sidney Blumenthal equated to the French national interest. The fifth factor was President Sarkozy’s political self-interest.
Gaddafi Tried to Step Down … But the West Insisted On Violent Regime Change
Gaddafi had offered to hand over power, but the West instead wanted violent regime change. (The British report notes: “By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change.”)
The Parliamentary report notes that Gaddaffi may have been attempting to flee the country when he was killed:
Muammar Gaddafi might have been seeking an exit from Libya in February and March 2011. On 21 February 2011, for example, Lord Hague told reporters that he had seen credible information that Muammar Gaddafi was on his way to exile in Venezuela. Concerted action after the telephone calls conducted by Mr Blair might have led to Muammar Gaddafi’s abdication and to a negotiated solution in Libya. It was therefore important to keep the lines of communication open. However, we saw no evidence that the then Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to exploit Mr Blair’s contacts.
Political options were available if the UK Government had adhered to the spirit of Resolution 1973, implemented its original campaign plan and influenced its coalition allies to pause military action when Benghazi was secured in March 2011. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at lesser cost to the UK and to Libya. If political engagement had been unsuccessful, the UK and its coalition allies would not have lost anything. Instead, the UK Government focused exclusively on military intervention. In particular, we saw no evidence that it tried to exploit former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s contacts and influence with the Gaddafi regime.
The U.S. and France were also hell-bent on regime change. And the New York Times confirms that Hillary Clinton is largely responsible for the violent regime change in Libya.
Why Should We Care?
Why should we care?
Well, the House of Commons report confirms that the Libyan war has wrecked the country:
The Libyan economy generated some $75 billion of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010. This economy produced an average annual per capita income of approximately $12,250, which was comparable to the average income in some European countries. [The former Indian representative to the U.N. notes that, before the war, Libya had less of its population in poverty than the Netherlands. Libyans had access to free health care, education, electricity and interest-free loans, and women had great freedoms that were applauded by the U.N. Human Rights Council]. Libyan Government revenue greatly exceeded expenditure in the 2000s. … The United Nations Human Development Report 2010—a United Nations aggregate measure of health, education and income—ranked Libya as the 53rd most advanced country in the world for human development and as the most advanced country in Africa.
In 2014, the most recent year for which reliable figures are available … the average Libyan’s annual income had decreased from $12,250 in 2010 to $7,820. Since 2014, Libya’s economic predicament has reportedly deteriorated. Libya is likely to experience a budget deficit of some 60% of GDP in 2016. The requirement to finance that deficit is rapidly depleting net foreign reserves, which halved from $107 billion in 2013 to $56.8 billion by the end of 2015. Production of crude oil fell to its lowest recorded level in 2015, while oil prices collapsed in the second half of 2014. Inflation increased to 9.2% driven by a 13.7% increase in food prices including a fivefold increase in the price of flour. The United Nations ranked Libya as the world’s 94th most advanced country in its 2015 index of human development, a decline from 53rd place in 2010.
In 2016, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that out of a total Libyan population of 6.3 million, 3 million people have been impacted by the armed conflict and political instability, and that 2.4 million people require protection and some form of humanitarian assistance. In its World Report 2016, Human Rights Watch stated that Libya is
heading towards a humanitarian crisis, with almost 400,000 people internally displaced and increasing disruption to basic services, such as power and fuel supplies. Forces engaged in the conflict continued with impunity to arbitrarily detain, torture, unlawfully kill, indiscriminately attack, abduct and disappear, and forcefully displace people from their homes. The domestic criminal justice system collapsed in most parts of the country, exacerbating the human rights crisis
People-trafficking gangs exploited the lack of effective government after 2011, making Libya a key transit route for illegal migration into Europe and the location of a migrant crisis. In addition to other extremist militant groups, ISIL emerged in Libya in 2014, seizing control of territory around Sirte and setting up terrorist training centres. Human Rights Watch documented unlawful executions by ISIL in Sirte of at least 49 people by methods including decapitation and shooting. The civil war between west and east has waxed and waned with sporadic outbreaks of violence since 2014. In April 2016, United States President Barack Obama described post-intervention Libya as a “shit show”. It is difficult to disagree with this pithy assessment.
The Parliamentary report confirms that the Libyan war – like the Iraq war – has ended up spreading terrorism around the globe:
Libyan weapons and ammunition were trafficked across North and West Africa and the Middle East.
The United Nations Panel of Experts appointed to examine the impact of Resolution 1973 identified the presence of ex-Libyan weapons in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Gaza, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Syria. The panel concluded that “arms originating from Libya have significantly reinforced the military capacity of terrorist groups operating in Algeria, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia.” In the 2010-15 Parliament, our predecessor Committee noted that the failure to secure the Gaddafi regime’s arms caches had led to “a proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and some heavier artillery, across North and West Africa”. It identified that Libyan small arms had apparently ended up in the hands of Boko Haram militants.
In January 2014, Egyptian Islamist insurgents used an ex-Libyan MANPAD to shoot down an Egyptian Army helicopter in the Sinai.
The FCO told us that “Political instability in Libya has led to a permissive environment for terrorist groups in which to operate, including ISIL [i.e. ISIS] affiliated groups”. Professor Patrick Porter, Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of Exeter, agreed with the FCO analysis, stating that “a lack of effective government is creating opportunities for the Islamic State.”
ISIL has used its presence in Libya to train terrorists. For example, Sefeddine Rezgui, the gunman who killed Western holidaymakers in Tunisia in June 2015, was trained by ISIL at its base in Sabratha along with the two gunmen who killed 22 tourists at the Bardo museum in Tunis. ISIL’s plans may extend beyond terrorism. Vice-Admiral Clive Johnstone, a Royal Navy officer and NATO commander, commented that
We know they [ISIL] have ambitions to go offshore … There is a horrible opportunity in the future that a misdirected, untargeted round of a very high quality weapons system will just happen to target a cruise liner, or an oil platform, or a container ship.
And the UK report confirms that the Libyan war has created a tidal wave of refugees:
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that some 1 million migrants were present in Libya in June 2016. This estimate comprised 425,000 internally displaced Libyans, 250,000 non-Libyan migrants and 250,000 returnees. Most non-Libyan migrants travelled from West Africa, the Horn of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. The most common countries of origin for non-Libyan migrants were Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana and Sudan. Between 1 January and 31 May 2016, 47,851 migrants arrived in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. A similar number of migrants attempted the crossing over the same period in 2015. Despite the increased resources committed to Operation Triton, however, crossing the Mediterranean is becoming increasingly hazardous for migrants transiting through Libya. The IOM recorded 2,061 migrants as dead or missing between 1 January and 31 May 2016, which showed a 15% increase in fatalities compared with the same period in 2015.
In other words – just like the Iraq war – the Libyan war was based on fake intelligence, was carried out for reasons having little to do with national security or protecting civilians, destroyed a nation and created a “shit show”, spread terrorism far and wide, and created waves of refugees.

Jan 30, 2017 5:52 PM
Reply to  Frank

Excellent Comment Frank – do you have a blog? I would like to see other analysis you may have done.

Jan 30, 2017 7:39 PM
Reply to  mohandeer

The original House of Commons report is available at
It starts with the origins of Gaddaffi and his control of Libya. It then moves on to the origins of the ‘Arab Spring’ regime change scam
“Beginning in Tunisia in December 2010, a series of protests against repressive regimes broke out across the Middle East and North Africa. Demonstrations began in Libya on 15 February 2011, when anti-Gaddafi protests erupted in Benghazi. By the end of February 2011, the Gaddafi regime had lost control of a significant part of Libya, including the major cities of Misrata and Benghazi”
In December 2010, an MI6 agent code name Tom took up position as IT manager at one of the large American farms south of Benghazi. The farms take advantage of the water system created by Gaddaffi. Three months later trouble starts up in Benghazi. Just one of those amazing coincidences, I guess. By mid March, his job was job and he was being escorted to safety by an SAS team when there were all captured by wary local rebels. The MI6 man was described as a ‘diplomat’. The SAS team were in plain clothes. A similar incident happened in Iraq when a plain clothes SAS team travelling in an unmarked car were captured by Iraqi police. They are carrying military grade weapons, communications equipment and explosives. They were dramatically rescued by the nearby British army who sent light tanks to break into the prison. The SAS men were also supposedly escorting a ‘diplomat’. What were they planning to do with explosives? Was there any connection with the spate of mosque bombings that started off the sectarian violence that really sent Iraq back ‘into the stone age’?

Jan 31, 2017 12:22 PM
Reply to  Yonatan

As someone who lived, worked in & worked with Libya for 21 years & I know this country way better than most and it grieves me terribly to see what NATO did to one of the most hospitable, well cared for people I’ve ever come across – If the Peoples of the US or EU had been given free or near to free what Gaddafi gave to the Libyan people, they would be in a paradise beyond their dreams but people always can complain no matter how good they have it but look at them now !
Gaddafi’s first big mistake was not controlling his over zealous supporters who were intolerant of criticism of Gaddafi & this left him vulnerable to charges of brutality. His second mistake was not understanding the extent to which the US/UK would go to destroy anyone who interfered with their Dollar Ponzi scheme, where the Elite can pay for hard value commodities, goods & services with free paper printed on their whim! He never registered what happened Saddam Hussein for selling Oil for Euros.
Trace the East India Company from its beginnings in 1600 up to 2017 & look at the evolution of the Company Flag into the US Flag to give you an idea of how powerful & hidden the “Deep State” really is & what is behind the ‘Special Relationship’. This is the ‘behemoth’ that JFK referred to before he was assassinated.
Can Trump change anything ?? Putin did…. Ironic they & the 99% have the same enemy.

Jan 31, 2017 5:45 PM
Reply to  leruscino

Gaddafi did make a speech at a conference of ME leaders where he said to them ‘Any one of us could be next after Saddam’. It was met with laughter by some.
Saif Gaddafi was pretty much in charge of affairs and had made numerous compromises to human rights claims to appease criticism and get back into the good graces of western powers. With the early release of Islamic militants. He more than his Father believed that Libya had turned a new page and that his new found friends wouldn’t stab him in the back.
No one could have prepared for how Libya was turned over. Iraq was years of constant propaganda. Libya was done over in days. The Gaddafi government were left chasing their tail. Saif still believing that a western public surely wouldn’t back Al Qaeda. He found out soon enough.

Jan 31, 2017 6:37 PM
Reply to  Sav

US, UK, France, Israel, Al-Qaeda are fingers in the same glove!
Saif was not naive & had 2 professor level academics with him at all times but Libya was in US sights from the moment Clinton became Secretary of State. When sanctions came down in 2004 I was in Libya & aware of a demand by Gaddafi from Boeing to return the $2.5Bn deposit for 737’s or the planes so he could start Afriqiyah Airways. Boeing said they build the planes but because of sanctions they could not be delivered & rotted away until they were scrapped & offered the scrapage pennies as to say they had never been built would have mean’t full refund.
There were many deals like this as Gaddafi often did anything to please the US even agreeing to take the blame for Lockerbie in Christmas 88. During sanctions the US companies still ran the oil business in Libya flying in from UAE usually to avoid being seen flying direct & when the Lockerbie compensation awards were agreed the oil companies that had never left paid penny for penny the same amount as the compensation to come back to Libya. Ask yourself why all British Embassy staff going home for Christmas in 1988 were instructed not to fly PanAm or fly through Frankfurt?

Feb 17, 2017 1:29 PM
Reply to  leruscino

Completely agree. I worked for ECT [Electricity Corporation of Tripoli] on loan from the CEGB from 1974 to 1978.
Went back for a 3 week tour of Libya in 2000. Most of the plans had come to fruition.
The man made river bringing water for irrigation.
The vast improvement of the road system.
The electrification of most of the country.
Hospitals and education systems.
There was even plans to extend the Tunisian railways to Djerba and on to Tripoli.
Then the NATO [North Atlantic Terrorist Association] happened. The rest is history.
Only glad that NATO was not allowed to do to Syria what it did to Libya.
Both things had two things in common, wealth of the country was spent wisely on infrastructure programmes and secondly these programmes were funded using the countries own resources [no need for IMF loans]

Doug Colwell
Doug Colwell
Jan 30, 2017 5:04 AM

I imagine the people who live in Lybia must feel a bit overwhelmed by all that democracy, what with all the “votes” expended. Some of those “activists” probably need more “ballots”. Surely there is an unrepentant Marxist to tell us where to send them.

Kilimanjaro West
Kilimanjaro West
Jan 30, 2017 7:44 PM
Reply to  Doug Colwell

Interesting that you conjure up the spectre of an “unrepentant Marxist”. Shoehorning a personal paranoid obsession into the discussion perhaps?

Doug Colwell
Doug Colwell
Feb 1, 2017 4:57 AM

You might well have something there Dr. West. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

Thelma Follett
Thelma Follett
Jan 29, 2017 6:58 PM

The author probably needs to reach further back into “ancient history,” say 2009 or so….
Plenty of US/UK culpability there.

Jan 29, 2017 6:36 PM

What is not mentioned in the article are zionist interests, which The Guardian and Bernard-Henri Lévy serve.
From a zionist perspective, the current situation serves their purposes perfectly.
In pursuit of the Yinon Plan, a fractured Libya is eminently preferable to one where Qaddafi united it.
How will it all end?
Who knows?

Jan 29, 2017 5:06 PM

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