The French journalists Arfi and Laske investigate the real reasons behind the bombing of Libya in 2011.
Avec les compliments du Guide: Sarkozy-Kadhafi, l'histoire secrète
While the former Foreign Minister of Norway Jan Petersen, together with his little team of investigators, are busily investigating Norway’s bombing of Libya, the journalists Fabrice Arfi and Karl Laske’s painstakingly detailed investigation of the relevant source material has proven that «protecting civilians» merely served as a pretext for getting rid of the unpredictable Gaddafi in 2011. Preventing Gaddafi’s financial contributions to Sarkozy’s electoral campaign from becoming known was one of the most important motives behind the bombing campaign. Arfi and Laske argue that Al Jazeera’s blood-drenched frontline reports were used to influence Western public opinion into demanding concrete action from their elected officials. And concrete action was what they got when the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 on protecting civilians in Libya. We now know how unwise that decision was.
«The reality the authors describe exceeds most James Bond movies.»
The 400-page book has the feel of a suspense novel, and if the text hadn’t been generously supplied with footnotes one might have suspected the authors of exaggerating for effect. But the reality the authors describe exceeds most James Bond movies. One chapter is devoted to the then president Sarkozy’s confidant ambassador Boris Boillon, dubbed «Sarko boy» by the French news media. He was stopped by French custom officials at the Gare du Nord in Paris carrying 350,000 euros and 40,000 dollars in cash and was later convicted on corruption and money-laundering charges. Another is devoted to Gaddafi’s former minister of oil Shukri Ghanem, who was found drowned in the Danube on April 29, 2012.
The day before, the French news website Mediapart (for whom the authors work) published a document stating that Sarkozy received 50 million euros from Gaddafi to finance his 2007 presidential campaign. The chapter shows that the cause of Ghanem’s death was probably homicide rather than a random heart attack. Ghanem allegedly transferred 30 million euros from the state-owned Libyan oil company to Sarkozy’s campaign. In parenthesis, it’s tempting to add that Ghanem also signed the deal between the Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara and Libya establishing a Tripoli-based joint venture almost exactly two years before the Libyan capital was bombed by Norwegian F-16 fighter jets. When Yara was convicted on corruption charges relating to its Libyan activities in 2014, the evidence included payments of five million dollars made to Ghanem’s son in Switzerland.
«GADDAFI threatened France’s influence in Africa by investing in neighbouring countries and by providing them with generous economic aid.»
A suspense novel, then. But this is also investigative journalism at its very best. I will focus this review on the quarter of the book that deals with the 2011 war in Libya. We can all remember how Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg late on Friday, March 18 decided that Norway would contribute to the implantation of resolution 1973. Less than 48 hours after the resolution was passed, Stoltenberg received Sarkozy’s invitation to come to Paris for discussions on how it should be enforced. All the big names were present: The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the General Secretary of the UN Ban Ki-moon and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. Present, too, were the respective heads of the Arab League and the African Union (AU), Amr Moussa and Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Gaddafi himself had resigned as head of the AU just a year before, on January 31, 2010. At the Paris meeting Stoltenberg promised to contribute six Norwegian F-16s to the mission of protecting Libyan civilians. But he also said: «Gaddafi met peaceful protesters with brutality. A leader who wages war on his own people has forfeited his legitimacy. We therefore demand that colonel Gaddafi steps down immediately.» Doesn’t this indicate that Norway’s aims went beyond merely protecting Libya’s civilians? Norway’s six F-16s dropped 567 bombs over Libya between March 24 and August 1, 2011. The planes that bombed Gaddafi’s Tripoli residence on April 25 were Norwegian. But Gaddafi wasn’t at home, and the bomb killed one of his sons and several of his grandchildren instead. Nevertheless, Norway doesn’t earn a mention in this book.
The book mainly concentrates on Sarkozy: Sarkozy’s collaboration with Gaddafi until 2011 and his eagerness to get rid of him in 2011. The writers provide solid evidence – from different public sources in three languages, but also from classified intelligence reports and their own interviews with influential decision-makers – that France started the bombing of Libya to eliminate Gaddafi. Gaddafi threatened France’s influence in Africa by investing in neighbouring countries and by providing them with generous economic aid.
Gaddafi threatened France’s monetary hegemony by planning to replace the French CFA-franc with a common African dinar à la the euro. But Gaddafi also posed a threat to president Sarkozy on a personal level, as the evidence suggesting that the Libyan regiment had sponsored Sarkozy’s presidential campaign kept mounting. Moreover, the French Air Force needed combat experience. Stoltenberg later admitted that this factor also influenced Norway’s decision to join the bombing campaign, as can be read in Daniel Suhonen’s 2014 The Party Leader Who Stepped Into the Cold.
«At the Paris meeting Stoltenberg promised to contribute six Norwegian F-16s to the mission of protecting Libyan civilians.»
It was France that insisted that the Security Council and the «world community» had to take action to prevent «the bloodbath» that was taking place in Libya. It was France that drew up resolution 1973 along with the US and the UK. None of the 15 members of the council voted against, but the veto powers China and Russia both abstained, as did Germany, Brazil and India. The resolution committed the UN’s member states to protect civilians in Libya, establish a no-fly zone over its airspace and impose a weapons embargo. But as this book makes clear, there was no bloodbath in Libya. Gaddafi did threaten the rebels, stating that he would «go from house to house,» but that did not equate to a threat to kill civilians. But «news media» in Libya in February and March 2011 largely meant the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network. And Qatar wanted Gaddafi gone; he was too tolerant of certain strands of Islam and he prioritized sub-Saharan Africa at the cost of the Arab world. Qatar wanted a Libyan leadership that was more committed to the Wahhabi/Salafist brand of Islam. As for «the bloodbath» we so deeply feared during the first two days of the uprising against Gaddafi, subsequent findings have shown that it amounted to 24 civilians killed. If we define the armed rebels as «civilians,» «the bloodbath» during these days brings the death tally to 257.
The authors underline the importance of this distinction; as the UN resolution was aimed at protecting «civilians,» should this extend to protecting the armed rebels in Libya? That was what we ended up doing. «A robust interpretation of the resolution,» in the jargon of the Norwegian armed forces. And so we bombed Gaddafi to death and Libya into chaos.