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Gilbert Achcar: NATO wants an “Egypt solution”, but to achieve it, they may try to put international UN troops in Libya

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. As the rebels consolidate their control in Tripoli, the people around the world are discussing and debating the significance of these events about Libya and how this pertains to other struggles. Now joining us to talk about all of this is Gilbert Achcar. Gilbert is a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. His most recent book is The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. Thanks for joining us again, Gilbert. So you and I talked at the very beginning of–early on in this struggle about the UN resolution and, you know, its legal validity or not. At the time, you thought the resolution was necessary to protect Benghazi. What’s been your view of the legality of this, the whole issue of international law, NATO’s role, since that time?

PROF. GILBERT ACHCAR, SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES, LONDON: Well, that’s not exactly the way I put things. What I said and still think: that it was perfectly the right for the Libyan insurrection, it was quite legitimate for them to ask for help and to ask for help from whichever source would be able to give them this help, at a time when they were threatened with a major massacre, and after several days already of intense killing and repression in the country. Now, the UN resolution is a resolution which I considered to be a very bad one. But all I said is that one cannot oppose it, in the sense that one cannot oppose the no-fly-zone request of the rebellion when it meant protecting Benghazi and avoiding the massacre on Benghazi. For this limited purpose and the prevention of the use of air force by Gaddafi, I consider that that was the only possible solution that was offered at that time to the rebels. This said, I think that the NATO forces have violated completely even the letter and the spirit of the resolution as it was adopted, because it was speaking about protecting civilians, and instead of limiting their action to implementing the no-fly zone, which was done, actually, quite rapidly, just a matter of a few days, they carried on intervening in the war in an attempt at controlling it, controlling the whole process in Libya, and at the same time rejecting the many, many calls of the rebellion to get weapons. And that was a deliberate choice of NATO. They didn’t want to deliver weapons in any significant amounts to the rebels, because they never had real confidence. And until now, you can see every sorts of comments about, you know, well, we don’t really know what these guys are really made of and what they are going to do. So there’s no real confidence on the side of NATO. And that’s why NATO tried to control the process through this relatively low-intensity campaign of bombing, relatively low-intensity compared to all aerial campaigns that we have seen in the last 10, 15 years, compared to Kosovo, you know, I mean, not to mention Iraq, or even to Afghanistan, despite the size of the country, Libya, and the forces of Gaddafi, which were undoubtedly much, much, much higher and bigger than whatever the Taliban had in Afghanistan. So when you compare to all that, you understand that there is something about this campaign which was meant as controlling the situation. And no one can buy the argument that that was in order to protect civilians, that it was a low-intensity campaign, because they were very clearly quite further from that–bombing Tripoli, bombing areas under Gaddafi control, in instances where this couldn’t be explained as any kind of protection of civilians. So that’s what you had, basically.

JAY: But the–some people have expressed the view that for people outside Libya–like, you could argue that the Libyan rebels had a right to seek support where they could, but that for people outside Libya, the issue of international law, the issue of big powers or any power not intervening in the internal affairs of another country, not getting involved in domestic disputes, not using the UN to cover up what essentially winds up being a form of imperialist intervention, that that issue trumps everything else and that people shouldn’t even open the door to the possibility of that, even though the Libyan rebels themselves may have a right to attempt to make that happen. What do you make of that argument?

ACHCAR: Well, I mean, if we believe that this was their right–I mean, it’s not a matter of abstract right, Paul. Let us be clear about that. If there had–if they had any other choice and they have chosen what we deem to be, I mean, something intrinsically bad, that is, intervention by NATO, by Western powers (by Western imperialism, if you want to put it in plain terms), then, yes, we could blame them. But the fact is that they had no alternative at that time except the massacre.

JAY: Some people have suggested that the threat of the massacre of Benghazi wasn’t as real as has been said.

ACHCAR: Well, they are free to say whatever they want. But the fact is that on the ground there, no one shared this view, including the all the reporters that were there. So I don’t care if anybody in New York or San Francisco or London believes that the people in Benghazi are just stupid or the whole insurrection was wrong. I mean, I think–you know, I have confidence in the judgment of people in such conditions. I have been in a real war for many, many years in my own country, Lebanon, and I know what it is to be threatened with a massacre. And we have had examples of massacre in the region. So I can’t blame the Libyans for what they did and for the fact that they called for this intervention. Now, the issue is that in some conditions, under some conditions, you may be forced to request assistance from the devil if you don’t have any other alternative but death. But the problem is: never call the devil, for that occasion, an angel. But we warned them about the real motivation of the NATO forces. And once, after the first few days, the no-fly zone was implemented and there was no more threat around Benghazi, then the issue became, in my view, to campaign against the continuation of NATO bombing and for the delivery of weapons to the rebels as they have kept requesting.

JAY: Now, let me ask you: now that it looks like the rebellion has won, they don’t know, as we do the interview, that–they still don’t know where Gaddafi is, but it seems to be more or less over in Tripoli. What do you think are going to be the critical next issues facing the Libyan people and people abroad in terms of their attitude towards it? We’re already hearing talk in Washington about boots on the ground, that now is the time that there should be some international force in Libya to, you know, prevent civil war and things like this.

ACHCAR: Yes. NATO forces, because they distrust completely the rebels, have started working through the UN on some formula for an intervention of foreign troops on the ground, which according to the plans would not be Western troops but troops of African and Arab countries and Turkey. And, by the way, Turkey, of course, is a NATO member, a member of NATO. So that’s the plans that NATO forces have. And at the same time, they are trying–they tried, as I said, to get to their own–their preferred solution, which would have been a deal between the regime of Gaddafi, the barons of the regime, even the sons of Gaddafi–and even they tried with Gaddafi himself, involved in the plan and the rebels, but this failed. This failed because you had [incompr.] Gaddafi. There was no way the rebels would accept any solution with Gaddafi remaining in power. And he wasn’t, and isn’t until now, willing to step down, in any case, so that was not possible. So they tried, you know, to have dealings with members of the entourage of Gaddafi, members of the apparatus, members of the regime, the sons, even the son of Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and all that, to get to some deal. That is what NATO wanted. But the ideal solution, you know, for NATO countries is the Egyptian type of transition, which until now is under firm control of the Egyptian army. And basically one can say the basic structures of the regime in Egypt are still there. They haven’t moved. So that’s what they wanted, really, for Libya. But this collapsed. This collapsed with the collapse of the regime in Tripoli, this amazing collapse which actually surprised everybody, because no one would have expected it to be so fast. I’m not saying that it’s finished. There are still areas under Gaddafi control. But the collapse of the regime in Tripoli was so sudden and rapid that it really jeopardize any plans of this sort. And now, of course, no surprise if NATO sources will, you know, prop up this plan B that they have, which would be troops from–well, under UN cover. Now the big question here is whether the Libyans themselves want that, and until now they have been adamant against–in rejecting any form of foreign intervention on their soil. They are not Karzai people. I mean, this is a major error in assessing what is going on that many people on the left in the West have made, to believe that these guys are just puppets of NATO. These are the kind of labels that were used. This is completely wrong. They are not.

JAY: The new government has to make oil deals. Eni, the Italian oil company, already had their boots on the ground today, the day of the fight in Tripoli. And, of course, the French Total and all the various oil companies–Gazprom is going to try to get their deal with Eni back. So the scramble for Libyan oil is going to be the leverage. And I guess part of the issue here is, you know, a significant number in the leadership of the rebellion were in fact previously in the Gaddafi regime. So I guess that goes back to what you were saying is to get the Gaddafi regime back in without Gaddafi will be one of the objectives of the oil companies and NATO.

ACHCAR: Well, you know, in such situations, where you have, after four decades of single-party rule–or not even a party; it wasn’t called like that in the country–and no possibility for any other thing, it’s normal, as you had in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union or all that, that even the move out of the situation involves a lot of people who were part of the regime. We’ve seen that in so many similar situations. The issue is whether the structures of the regime remain in place or not. And as we are–what we are seeing now point to their collapse. The structures, the whole structure of the regime is collapsing. That’s the key difference between a situation like Libya and a situation like Egypt’s, for instance. It is that the Egyptian army existed before and after Mubarak. He didn’t reshape the army into some kind of praetorian guard and private militia. But that’s what you had in Libya, and that’s why in Libya any Egyptian scenario was absolutely out of the question, and that’s why the only way, actually, to overthrow this regime was through civil war.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Gilbert.

ACHCAR: You’re most welcome.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon, and is currently Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. His books include The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, published in 13 languages, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Noam Chomsky, and most recently the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.