British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has drawn a storm of criticism for statements he made about war-torn Libya this week, which included discussion of UK investment opportunities only after Libyans "clear the dead bodies away." He made the comments while describing his August visit to the North African country at a Conservative party conference Tuesday night, which drew a smattering of laughter from the audience.
Johnson specifically spoke about Sirte, which was both Gaddafi's hometown and the last major loyalist government stronghold to fall after NATO intervention overthrew the Libyan government in 2011. And as Johnson noted, Sirte is the Mediterranean coastal city outside of which Gaddafi was brutally tortured and executed. The Foreign Secretary said:
“There’s a group of UK business people, wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte, on the coast, near where Gaddafi was actually captured and executed as some of you may have seen.
And they literally have a brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, to turn it into the next Dubai.
The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they’ll be there.”
As soon as news of the comments surfaced, Labour MPs called on Prime Minister Theresa May to sack Johnson for his “unbelievably crass” comments. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said of her political rival, “For Boris Johnson to treat those deaths as a joke – a mere inconvenience before UK business people can turn the city into a beach resort – is unbelievably crass, callous and cruel."
But it's actually hard to tell which is more sickening: Boris Johnson's pledge to turn Libya into the next Dubai once we "clear the dead bodies away" or the UK politicians who are now outraged, just outraged! ...not at their own regime change policy which led to Libya's immediate nosedive into an endless cycle of death and destruction in the first place, but at the "insensitivity" of the British Foreign Secretary's comments.
Johnson's comments, while revolting, are revolting and disgusting precisely because they so accurately reflect the true nature of the West's war for regime change in Libya. Gaddafi was a resource nationalist sitting on top of Africa's largest oil reserves, who further contemplated introducing a new gold backed African currency as part his broader initiative to foster complete African economic independence apart from the West. NATO's "humanitarian" declaration of 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) was - as should be clear to any objective observer by now - a mere smokescreen which masked the less noble sounding motives of old fashioned imperial greed, war for resources, and simple Iraq-style regime change.
So the West was indeed prepared from the start to walk over Libyan dead bodies while eyeing the oil and gas rich country. As author Vijay Prashad points out in his book Arab Spring, Libyan Winter - the private jets of the oil companies made it to Tripoli faster than the diplomats from the moment the Libyan government collapsed.
Ironically concerning Boris Johnson's statements, the dead bodies which initially littered Libyan streets - which he would like to "clear away" - were the result of the US and UK's own air campaign which pounded civilian populated cities while in support of the al-Qaeda linked warlords which have since driven Libya into its death-strewn anarchy. (Johnson, during his recent trip to Libya, acknowledged the "tragedy" of Gaddafi's forced ouster which left the country "lawless").
Sirte itself, which had a highly favored status under Gaddafi, was already a modern, developed and advanced city on its way to becoming a premier Mediterranean city prior to NATO's war, but only a few years later served as the headquarters for Libyan ISIS. Libyans were doing just fine long before UK investors began having "visions" of turning Sirte "into the next Dubai".
Libyan al-Qaeda in Business Suits
As a Washington Post report from last week which profiles Libya's current leaders highlighted in its headline - These Libyans were once linked to al-Qaeda. Now they are politicians and businessmen - the key players that UK/US intervention installed are essentially al-Qaeda terrorists who donned business suits, now ready and willing to be the West's anointed power brokers in Libyan society. The Post, for example, extensively profiles Abdulhakim Belhadj, a Libyan al-Qaeda commander backed by the US and who was personally visited by a US Congressional delegation after Gaddafi was toppled, who "has shed his combat fatigues for gray sport jackets and crisp white shirts. He has given up his AK-47 rifle for an election ballot. Once a jihadist and revolutionary commander, he is now a globe-trotting Islamist politician and businessman." The fact that NATO gave him direct backing during the 2011 war is made clear by the Post as he "had helped lead the battle against Gaddafi’s forces, aided by NATO airstrikes."
2014 photo op in Libya. Left to Right - CT Senator Richard Blumenthal, Al-Qaeda LIFG Commander Abdelhakim Belhadj, AZ Senator John McCain, SC Senator Lindsey Graham.
But such "globe-trotting Islamist politicians" were previously considered effective fighters to be armed and trained by the West and Gulf forces seeking Gaddafi's ouster precisely because of their prior battlefield experience as mujahideen. Many had personally known and trained beside Osama bin Laden:
Belhadj and his comrades were among scores of Libyans who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight the occupying Soviet forces. They met bin Laden in a training camp, an LIFG co-founder, Sami al-Saadi, told me at the time. He was impressed, he said, by bin Laden’s “devoutness.”
But as one think tank analyst admitted to the Post, “These guys are very involved in the political landscape of running things in Tripoli, have they really shed their jihadist upbringing?” The short and easy answer is of course, no. Belhadj for example, was the very founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) whose purpose was to "transform Libya into an Islamic state."
Multiple media reports from 2015 identified him as a top leader in then just emerging Libyan ISIS. According to a Fox report: "one of the alleged leaders of ISIS in North Africa is Libyan Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was seen by the U.S. as a willing partner in the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011." And such al-Qaeda fighters were never mere minor players or on the sidelines during the war as their apologists would have us believe, but as the Post now admits, were given complete control of key areas of Libya from the moment Gaddafi fell:
Belhadj was named the leader of the Tripoli Military Council, the committee in charge of keeping order in the capital after Gaddafi was killed by rebels less than two months later. He would also join the rebels’ Supreme Security Council. Other LIFG members joined Islamist movements and ran religious youth camps, advocating strict Islamic sharia laws.
Now "globe-trotting" with the support of their western patrons, many of these al-Qaeda militia leaders, as the Post notes, are now very wealthy and seek to attract more money from the West in the form of Libyan investment projects. No doubt, after Foreign Secretary Johnson's admonition to "clear the dead bodies away" - they are busy doing just that while eagerly awaiting more investors from the very nations which illegally backed and installed them into places of power in the first place.
The Human Cost of NATO's Regime Change War
Not only have refugees continued to exit the region in record numbers as three to four competing governments (at any given time over the past 5 years) vie for control of a lawless militia-run country and smashed economy, but Libya is still deep in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe. In an updated situation report on Libya issued last summer, the United Nation's World Food Program (WFP) published some shocking numbers on Libya's post NATO intervention chaos:
Civilians in Libya continue to suffer as a result of conflict, insecurity, political instability and a collapsing economy. According to the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan, 1.3 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance.
Currently, at least 20% of the entire Libyan population (estimated at a total of 6.4 million according to the UN) is still without basic necessities of life such as food and housing. The UN World Food Program (WFP) further notes on its main Libya page that Africa's fourth largest country enjoyed economic stability and independence until 2011 - the year Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered at the hands of NATO sponsored militants (bold emphasis is WFP's):
At that time Libya, as one of the world’s most prolific oil-producing nations, maintained large trade surpluses. Although the country’s oil wealth did not percolate down to the wages of ordinary citizens, until 2011 the cost of food at household level was offset to some extent by a welfare state that offered free education and healthcare. Now, the country has a trade deficit and is gripped by a civil war opposing tribal groups, Islamist groups, various other militias and administration forces.
Libya’s population is suffering a major humanitarian crisis. This involves poverty, insecurity, gender-based violence, mass displacement, shortages of food and cash in banks, and frequent power cuts.
Libya Before NATO
Pre-war Libya had the highest Human Development Indext (HDI) ranking in Africa. In 2010, a year before the NATO war, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) assigned an HDI ranking of 53 to Libya (out of 169 countries ranked, Libya ranked highest on the African continent). The HDI is a composite statistic which measures comparative quality of life around the world with regard to education, lifespan, wages, and general standard of living. For example, Libya ranked above Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Brazil, and South Africa for multiple years running through 2010 and was categorized as having "High Human Development". Libya has now fallen to 102 in the world according to the UN's 2016 HDI report.
Right up until the eve of NATO's air campaign against the Libyan state, international media outlets understood and acknowledged the country's high human development rankings, though it later became inconvenient to present the empirical data. A February 2011 BBC report summarized as follows:
During Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, Libya has made great strides socially and economically thanks to its vast oil income, but tribes and clans continue to be part of the demographic landscape.
Women in Libya are free to work and to dress as they like, subject to family constraints. Life expectancy is in the seventies. And per capita income – while not as high as could be expected given Libya’s oil wealth and relatively small population of 6.5m – is estimated at $12,000 (£9,000), according to the World Bank.
Illiteracy has been almost wiped out, as has homelessness – a chronic problem in the pre-Gaddafi era, where corrugated iron shacks dotted many urban centres around the country.
Libya went from an HDI ranking of 53 (with an HDI Value shown above) in 2010 to 102 in 2016. The UN identifies 2011 as the beginning of a continuing "mass displacement" of Libyans as the country remains in war-torn chaos. Chart source: Actualitix.
World Bank GNI numbers through 2016.
The 2011 war and aftermath essentially created a failed state with a once economically independent population now turned largely dependent on foreign aid, relief, and investment. Now considered to be at "emergency levels" of need, prior to NATO intervention Libya was not even on the WFP's radar:
Before the crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) had a minimal presence in Libya, with the country operating only as a logistics corridor between Sudan and Chad.
How's that for "Arab Spring" blossoming of democracy, freedom, and prosperity courtesy of France, Britain, and the US? But Boris Johnson and his cohort of UK investors assure us they are ready to sweep in to develop "the next Dubai" on the Mediterranean as the spoils of "victory" abound.