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In Libya, the Empire Awakens

by Billy Wharton *

Throughout history, running an empire has always been about more than just sheer economic dominance or the exercise of overwhelming military force. Even a modern empire without colonies, like the one operated by the US, requires more finesse than brawn. It is the skillful adaptations to changing conditions that make empires last. Or as the old saying goes, "don't swim against the tide." Finally, after months of desperately attempting to appear on the right side of history with words alone, the US may have some swimmers in the water. The military intervention in Libya is a signal that the empire has awoken from its seeming slumber. The formula for arousal includes a dictatorial gadfly, a perhaps ill-timed insurrection and a generous supply of oil. In North Africa, and elsewhere in the region, the US is preparing for the great adaptation to Arab democracy. No longer able to rely on a network of authoritarian rulers in the region, the diplomatic machine that is the US State Department is now focused on relating to the new pro-democracy forces. In truth, the US was never solely tied to the Hosni Mubarak's of the world. They enjoyed equally cozy relations with the military establishment in each country. And this establishment, unlike their political counterparts, has certainly not been overthrown. The military in North Africa and the Middle East is every bit the military and economic actor it was before the pro-democracy protests.

We can see this in Libya where the Faustian bargain the opposition cut with the US, has been extended to relations with the Egyptian military. Egyptian weapons, certainly with the permission of the US, are flowing across Tunisia into Eastern Libya. Military-to-military links throughout the region represent an important resource for the US adaptation to this monumental process of change. Thus far, the military in several countries has managed to place real limits on the extent of the transformation by keeping it contained to questions of political representation and the form of government.

The Libyan process has granted the US even greater access, as Eastern rebels have now endorsed a largely US-led bombing campaign aimed at weakening Libyan forces loyal to General Muammar Gaddafi. In doing so, the Eastern rebels might be about to learn the hard lesson that the revolution cannot be outsourced. US intervention comes with a price - and this bill will be paid politically, economically and militarily. There was no way to cleave the military away from the regime in Tripoli, so intervention from outside was sure to be the primary strategy once the insurrection in the East was underway.

Clearly the US is interested in enhancing its strategic position in the region while also giving some substance to its pro-democracy claims. Other European nations have also, somewhat more reluctantly, tailed along mimicking the same platitudes as they go. Yet, it is the oil that has really accelerated US foreign policy, moving it from general claims of democracy and freedom to a costly military intervention. The mere thought of a militarily victorious Gaddafi regime peddling large amounts of oil to US economic opponents pushed Obama to don yet another war cap. While the Arab streets may have shifted the political debate in the region, pushing the US in a particular direction rhetorically, it is still their oil that attracts the unwelcome attention of Empire.

The Eastern rebels in Libya may yet win the day. A perhaps premature and certainly ill-equipped insurrection may be saved from annihilation. The awesome might of the US military can ensure things like this. However, if 20th century political transformations serve as any kind of guide, how you win may be just as important as if you win. The closer this movement in Eastern Libya slinks toward the US, the less independence they will have once the political transition begins. And, later, when the oil begins to flow again, a heavy bill will come due. Will the rebels be ready to pay it? And at what cost to their political dreams of democracy?

* Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly@gmail.com.

Source/Link: www.examiner.com

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