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'Clear The Dead Libyan Bodies Away': Boris Johnson, Trump, Clinton and the Western Imperial Consensus

By Petr Navovy | Politics | October 5, 2017 |

By Petr Navovy | Politics | October 5, 2017 |

At the start of September 1969, a contingent of the Libyan military known as the Free Officers enacted what they called ‘Operation Jerusalem’. Riding the tide of popular revolt and led by a young Muammar Gaddafi, their goal was to occupy the country’s main strategic points, to march on the capital, and to overthrow the corrupt regime of King Idris I.

In very little time, they succeeded. With minimal violence and little resistance offered Gaddafi’s forces swept away the old order. King Idris fled the country, the monarchical government was deposed, and the 27-year-old Gaddafi proclaimed the founding of the Libyan Arab Republic.

Following the successful and bloodless coup, Gaddafi addressed the Libyan people:

Listening to your incitement to rebel, your armed forces have undertaken the overthrow of the corrupt regime, the stench of which has sickened and horrified us all. […]

By a single stroke [your army] has lightened the long dark night in which the Turkish domination was followed first by Italian rule, then by this reactionary and decadent regime which was no more than a hotbed of extortion, faction, treachery and treason.

Gaddafi and his officers would term themselves the Revolutionary Command Council, and they would begin to enact the changes that they, and the people, saw as necessary and long overdue. King Idris had been an ally of Britain, sending his armed forces to be trained by the British military, and in general being permissive of exploitative Western interests. Gaddafi, on the other hand, was an avowed anti-colonialist and follower of Egypt’s Nasser’s self-determinative school of Arab nationalism. For him, the tentacles of Western colonialism would have to be cut if Libya was to breathe free.

His regime was by no means perfect, and throughout the years atrocities would occur, but at the time of Gaddafi’s coup, Libya was one of Africa’s poorest nations. During the course of his decades-long rule, Gaddafi would use Libya’s nationalised oil wealth to turn this around. He would institute free health-care and education for all, as well as free electricity and interest-free loans. Gender equality, too, became a focus. Unlike many of the neighbouring nations, women in Libya would have the right to education, a career, divorce, and property holdings. Women who gave birth were supported with cash grants. The United Nations Human Rights Council would come to issue a report praising Gaddafi for his promotion of women’s rights in Libya. By the time of Gaddafi’s assassination, Libya had prospered into Africa’s wealthiest nation; fewer of its people lived below the poverty line than some European countries. Its life expectancy topped the continent too. Once again: Gaddafi’s regime most definitely did do harm. It also did a lot of good. The point is not to provide a value judgement on a very complex, nuanced situation; the point is to take a critical look at our actions, at the behaviour of our governments first.

Because, ‘We came, we saw, he died.’ In 2011, as Western bombs rained down on Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was hunted down by US-backed forces, found in a drainage pipe, sodomised with a bayonet, and murdered. His frozen corpse would later be displayed in a local market for several days. His country was reduced to rubble.

On a recent trip to the Libyan city of Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s home town, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had this to say:

I look at Libya, it’s an incredible country. Bone-white sands, beautiful sea, Caesar’s Palace, obviously, you know, the real one. Incredible place. It’s got a real potential and brilliant young people who want to do all sorts of tech. There’s a group of UK business people, actually, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte on the coast, near where Gaddafi was captured and executed as some of you may have seen.

They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai.

The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away.

There has been much outrage following this seemingly tone deaf and insensitive comment by a man who is famous for exactly that. And yet, in his own gaffe-prone way, the mop-haired aristocrat spoke a great and revealing bit of truth in Sirte. The words are all there: ‘Execute,’ ‘clear the dead bodies away,’ ‘invest.’

War is after all a great business opportunity, and it needs waging.

In 2016 a bipartisan House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee produced a report into the causes and motivations behind the US-led invasion of Libya. It concluded that the invasion was based on bogus intelligence, outright lies, and that it was motivated by geopolitcal manoeuvrings and had led to the near outright destruction of a previously stable state, creating a power vacuum in which terrorism could thrive. 2011, the same year that would bring Gaddafi’s death, saw then-President Obama seize over $30 billion in Libyan assets. Gaddafi had been planning for some time to use that money to found an African Central Bank and African IMF, with the dinar as a common currency, in order to reduce the continent’s dependence on the dollar. Israel too, with its vastly powerful lobby in Washington, has long been a proponent of regime change in the Middle East, preferring a network of destroyed and disorganised states surrounding it. Divide and conquer is easier that way; support for Palestinian liberation comes harder that way. Axes of power must be maintained.

President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, thus enthusiastically followed their predecessors into the bloody quagmire of regime change. Their Libya was a follow-up to George W. Bush famously leading the United States and a ‘coalition of the willing’ into one of the most brutal crimes of the modern era. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were not, contrary to an attempted rewrite of history since then, ‘blunders’, but instead crimes of the highest magnitude and the worst savagery. Hundreds of thousands dead; millions displaced; the country in which one of the earliest civilisations sprung from reduced to a smoking ruin—so too, via a domino effect, its many neighbours, for generations. The destruction and agitation for more has continued apace since then. In 2016 alone, in the last year of President Obama’s tenure, the United States dropped over 26,000 bombs.

Republican, Democrat, it doesn’t really matter. The military-industrial complex and cross-party imperialist consensus present throughout America and the West doesn’t pick sides, as long as the project continues as it must. Retired General Wesley Clark once related a conversation he had with one of the generals in Washington shortly after 9/11:

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

The destruction of Libya at the hands of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Barack Obama and capable, smart Hillary Clinton ranks alongside Iraq as a supreme affront to human morality and decency. Many of America’s most bloody interventions abroad have been initiated not by Republicans but by the Democratic Party, which in America functions often as a salve for the troubled souls of conscientious liberals. As long as it pays lip service to social issues and claims to stand on the right side of history when it comes to domestic policy, it may continue to project US power abroad, whatever the human cost. Liberal commentators in the press will always line up behind it and bang the drum of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and enlightened scholars and experts will give it academic credence.

The recent horrifying fever dream of an election in the United States brought to light a number of interesting issues when it comes to America’s foreign policy. As no one needs or wants reminding, in one of the most dramatic upsets in political history Hillary Clinton lost to an openly racist and misogynistic reality TV host with impulse control issues. This article is neither the time nor the place for a dissection of exactly What Went Wrong or a discussion of the relative weighting of multifarious factors, but one thing that was painfully obvious during the campaign trail was that Donald Trump’s non-interventionist slogans and promises struck a chord with many. They turned out to be lies of course, Trump has since fully committed to the warmongering streak that his office commands, but a public long since sick of their country’s projections of military might were desperate for any sort of crumb. See too Bernie Sanders’ (far more believable and backed up by history) opposition to waging war abroad.

There is a brazen callousness at the heart of Western foreign policy. A stark and selfish cold cruelty masquerading as benevolent internationalism. The professional business class politicians who carefully manage their message sell one of two varieties of truth about our wars. In trying to get us to follow them to war against a people, we are either told that it is for their own good, or that it is for our good. Those on the ‘left’ of our comically right-shifted mainstream spectrum of politics will claim altruism, those on the right will claim defence. Occasionally, because we are living in interesting times, there is a curious inversion or mixing of recipes. Hillary Clinton, with her professionalism and impressive track record, was the sensible and humane face of death—though one often displaying almost scarily hawkish foreign policy sensibilities. Donald Trump on the other hand positioned himself as representing a buffoonish ‘refreshing change’ from business-as-usual, an apparent chance for a break from international mass murder.

Boris Johnson sits somewhere in between those two poles. He has something in common with both Clinton and Trump. He is an unapologetic colonialist and cheerleader for interventionism, and he is also a dangerous wolf-in-sheep’s clothing that tries to hide regressive and hateful social policies behind a facade that is designed to fool you into thinking that he is something different. Just an ordinary bloke. An impenetrable wall of lies.

But sometimes that truth slips out. And in this case, it was daffy old Boris, giving a speech in Muammar Gaddafi’s home town, who let fly an unfortunate truth about war. Because war isn’t just about power and strength. War is profitable. It’s good business. ‘Clear the dead bodies away’ to make room for investment, cracked Boris in hubris, revealing a glimpse behind the curtain and reminding us of hidden motives and examples from recent history. Let us not forget after all just how much of a veritable gold rush was the destruction of Iraq for the American and other security, logistics, and reconstruction contractors that swooped in while the fires still burned. Untold billions of dollars were handed out in lucrative deals and contracts. KBR, formerly known as Kellog Brown and Root—the ex-subsidiary of Halliburton, which was once run by Dick Cheney—was awarded at least $39.5 billion worth of federal contracts in the decade following the Iraq war.

At the time of his death in June, 1940, Marine Corps major general Smedley Darlington Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. In the course of his career he received 16 medals. Five of those were for heroism.

As Wiki tells us:

He is one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal […] and the Medal of Honor, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

In the early 1930’s, after his retirement from the Marine Corps, Butler would go on a nationwide speaking tour of the United States. His purpose, also expanded upon later in a short book he adapted from his speeches, was to highlight the profiteering nature of warfare as he had seen it. A key part of his message went thus:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Others tried to warn us, but still we didn’t listen:

‘Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.’

- Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address.

You cast your eye over the ever-growing list of Western interventions, ostensibly done in the name of democracy and humanitarianism, and you see the same story playing out again and again. Democrat, Republican, it makes no difference. As long as both are servants of capital, it will ever be thus, and millions more will pay the price in blood.


Petr Knava lives in London and plays music

Header Image Source: BBC