You may recall that NATO played a decisive role in Libya’s civil war. In March 2011, as Qaddafi’s forces bore down on Benghazi, NATO took over the no-fly-zone, becoming the rebels’ air force and the sole source of their military strength. “Let’s call a spade a spade,” said Robert Gates. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.” And the NATO bombing intensified from there. When I say NATO, I really mean United States, which did virtually all the dirty work.
The ostensible goal of the bombing was to protect civilians — such was the mandate provided by the UN — but the actual goal was regime change. Over seven months, the United States dropped 7,700 bombs on Libya, killing at least dozens of civilians, perhaps hundreds — no one knows how many. NATO, in the form of a US drone and French fighter jets, participated in the attack that killed Qaddafi, spotting and stopping his convoy, allowing rebels to finish him off in brutal fashion.
American proponents of intervention declared victory and chided those who had opposed it. Tom Malinowski of HRW told us that democracy in Libya was “tantalizingly close.” Alas–and of course–it was not to be. Violence has gotten so bad that the UN recently pulled out. Egyptian intervention is becoming a distinct possibility. In backing the coup led by rogue general (and CIA-linked) Khalifa Hiftar, the largest bloc in parliament said Libyans are “drowning in a swamp of terrorism, darkness, killing and destruction.”
Even if you manage to resist the conclusion that the United States and NATO are to blame for the bloody mess, you can’t reasonably deny that its actions led to it. This followed from that. It was a big thing, those 7,700 bombs. No NATO bombs, no regime change. Yet the Western press, if it chooses to write about Libya at all these days, usually doesn’t even mention NATO intervention. Here, for example, is Saturday’s New York Times piece on the US’s decision to evacuate staff from its embassy in Tripoli. The Times reporter ignores NATO bombs, and that’s the norm.
You may think I’m exaggerating. A few months ago, when I first noticed that an article about violence in Libya contained no mention of western intervention, I figured it was an anomaly. But consider these recent articles in the BBC, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Economist, and the New York Times. Not one of these pieces — substantial pieces in major publications — has one word about NATO involvement.
It’s not as if these pieces provide no context at all. They refer to “the uprising that overthrew long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi” (USA Today) and “the 2011 civil war” (the Economist) and “the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi” (New York Times), but you wouldn’t know from reading them that western countries had anything to do with it. Erased from the second draft of history are 7,700 bombs. I suspect that these outlets would mention NATO’s role were Libya in better shape.