British blowback and the killing of the US ambassador in Libya

Posted by: John Phoenix

Inevitably and tragically the United States has once again experienced a blowback of a policy not of its sole provenance.

On the evening of 11th September 2012 the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in Benghazi alongside three other Americans apparently during demonstrations against an internet video clip defaming the Prophet Muhammad, the Islamic religion’s last prophet. His killing was also on the heels of the announcement that al-Qaeda’s second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi had been taken out by an American drone.

The ambassador is officially said to have died of asphyxiation after an armed group stormed the compound of the American mission. Currently the finger of blame points to an Islamist-Salafi militia, Ansar al-Shari’ah, as the culprits behind the fatal deed.[1]

Members of the militia had originally and quickly taken up arms during the uprising against Gadhaffi’s rule. Gadhaffi had made wild threats on television against the demonstrators and western media erroneously and falsely reported that his troops were committing rape crimes and employing foreign “African” mercenaries to do his violent bidding. Yet the only known foreigners in the early period of the uprising were the captured British MI6 agents.

Overlooked during this period was not only the racist lynching of black Libyans and Sub-Sahara African migrant workers by some of the demonstrators but also the fanatical calls of the British media, especially the right wing media, for the United States to lead an intervention in Libya.

My initial focus here is deliberately on the main bugles of Britain’s right-wing media, the Daily Telegraph and the Times because by virtue of, at least circulation figures, they are the most consequential.

A mere eleven days after the uprising, 26th February 2011, the British media reported that there was a British and French plan to impose sanctions on Libya at the United Nations.[2]

In the week commencing 28th February 2011, the British media stepped up the tempo in promoting intervention. In the London Times, Deborah Haynes, reported that “Britain was ready to use force”.[3] The report went on to say that:

“Going further than any world leader, David Cameron said yesterday that he had ordered General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to work on how to impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace. Fighter jets would shoot down any encroaching Libyan aircraft…”

In the London Telegraph, the British urge to drop bombs on Libya was dressed up as a western initiative to do so: a report claimed that the “West is ready to Use Force against Gadhaffi.”[4] For David Cameron, the elected British Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,

“…Gaddafi’s departure was Britain’s “highest priority”, adding: “If helping the opposition would somehow bring that about, it is certainly something we should be considering.””[5]

As such certain individuals close to the British military informed the readership that it was ready for a ‘Libyan mission’.[6]  

British plans for intervention hit a stumbling block according to Christopher Hope of the Telegraph, when other world leaders shunned the idea.[7]

In the right-wing media, the British urge to intervene was coupled with another bout of British Obama-bashing.[8] British militarism is not keen on Obama. The British right-wing media seemed to have identified that the American administration and specifically Obama, as not being as enthusiastic as they in wanting intervention in Libya.

 “Waiting for Washington” declared the The London Times in late February as it praised the ‘success’ of Geroge W. Bush and Tony Blair in the ‘War on Terror’ and compared their decisiveness and clarity with Obama’s “hesitancy”.[9] In another editorial titled the “Essence of Indecision” the paper urged Obama to show “leadership” and referred to ex-Defence Secretary Robert Gates’s rebuke of David Cameron’s call for military intervention as “inglorious”. Naturally, because the Obama administration wasn’t then keen on intervention it accuses it of “sowing discord” amongst the western alliance as well as insubstantially accusing Gadhaffi of using foreign mercenaries and child soldiers.[10]

On the 10th March 2011, a report in the London Times, confirms that it is Britain that is taking the lead in wanting intervention and delightedly declared that there is a “glimmer of hope” in the Obama administration in that it is maybe coming round to seeing the Libyan situation their way:

“…British and French officials seeking quicker action from the US, the White House distanced itself for the first time from a policy tied to UN approval, creating a chance for rapid movement after indecision by the White House.”[11]

The following, day on the 11th March, a report in the London Telegraph openly queried the nature of Obama’s strategy:

“Is it cowardice? Is it indecisiveness? Or is it clever diplomacy?” before concluding that because of “America’s size and military power, the American president does not have the option to remain neutral indefinitely…”[12] 

As we all know, the Great Britain, the United States’s former imperial master, has always known what’s best when it comes to what direction American foreign policy should take.

A comment piece, in the Sunday Telegraph on the 13th March, contrasted Cameron’s urge to intervene in Libya with Obama’s “paralysis”. The author goes go on to “hope” that Obama “follows Cameron’s lead, as Clinton followed Blair’s lead in Kosovo”. However, the writer does possess the honesty, to argue that intervention is in Britain’s interests:

“The argument for intervention in Libya is not purely or even primarily humanitarian, however. Even if one sets aside its importance as an oil-producing nation, Libya remains central to Britain’s strategic and commercial interests in the region.”[13]

It is only natural that the Telegraph editorialized over the next couple of days that Obama’s “silence” is “hurting the West” (the ‘West’ here is a generic metaphor meaning British interests). One of the ways the silence is hurting the ‘West’ is because: “…staying out of other people’s quarrels in the most volatile and oil-rich region on the planet is not a realistic foreign policy.”[14]

Is the London Telegraph truly arguing that other people’s resources belongs to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, whose head of state wears a crown partly decorated with blood drenched and stolen jewellery, the most famous being the Kohinoor diamond from India?[15]

On the 16th March The London Times once again accuses Obama of dithering or as it says, Obama “hovers and havers” while the British are attempting “to get support for more robust action.”[16]

Almost synchronically, both the London Times and London Telegraph reported that David Cameron, the elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is finding it “frustrating” working with Obama.[17]Did the journalists who regurgitated Cameron’s feelings in their respective reports, sit at the same governmental briefing meeting?

On 17th March, The Times in an editorial claimed that Obama is nowhere to be seen and also seems to be threatening that there would be “consequences” for his treatment of European opinion. They further argued, not for the first time, that Obama has been a “brutal disappointment”.[18] That is, he has disappointed the British urge to war or is even, God forbid, a liability to British warmongering.

On the same day the Times included a report which confirms that it is Britain and France which have taken the lead in tabling a UN resolution to implement a no-fly zone.

Enough pressure seems to have been exerted on Obama by not only the British but also members within his own administration to intervene. The United Nations adopted a no-fly zone over Libya which was clearly and practically interpreted (or misinterpreted) by NATO to be the spearhead of the “rebels” as they consolidated their positions in Benghazi and advanced into Tripoli before pulverising Gadhaffi’s hometown Sirte with Apache helicopters.

It was known all along that the “rebels” included a good proportion of Islamists and specifically members of the, al-Qaeda affiliated, “Libyan Islamic Fighting Group”(LIFG). Indeed, a central figure in this group, Abdel Hakim Balhadj, soon became the “Emir” of Tripoli after NATO led the way in displacing Gadhaffi’s forces.   

In the mid-nineties British military intelligence were said to have co-ordinated an assassination attempt with Libyan Islamists on Colonal Gadhaffi and hosted Libyan Islamist up until the London Tube bombings of July 2005. In this period Britain’s MI6 and the LIFG were drawn together in their mutual hatred of Gadhaffi.[19]

This co-ordination with Libyan Islamists was merely a specific case of Britian’s relationship with the political Islamism which actually runs very deep in history. After all it was the British Empire which armed the Salafist, Saudi-Wahhabi clan when it captured Riyadh in 1902.[20]

However, for Great Britain, two issues arose with taking the lead in instigating intervention in Libya. The first was that it had ‘uneasily’ left Britain “exposed”, as a British minister informed the Times.[21]It would have been much better to remain in the background so if there are reprisals no-one would blame the UK for initiating the intervention.[22]

The strategy of not being exposed or seen also runs deep into Britain’s imperial history. In the nineteenth century Lord Cromer based his rule of Egypt on the concealment of political realities which behind the scenes “was only known to a few” and he prided himself on the fact that he remained “more or less hidden and to pull the strings.”[23]

The second issue was no sooner than had the military intervention began than Britian (and France) had to crawl back to the United States to bail them out. Or as former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said, “The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country. Yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference.”[24]

This clearly abysmal performance of the European states during the intervention has not deterred or dimmed David Cameron, who had let be known that he found it “frustrating” working with Obama and the British media which had openly asked whether Obama is a ‘coward’, from wanting another intervention in Syria.

And naturally, once again Cameron, is “frustrated” in that he cannot do more to intervene in Syria.[25]Even the killing of the American ambassador in Libya by an Islamist groups has not deterred the British media from clamouring for intervention in Syria.

Lecturing the United States on what its interests are is a British forte and if these interests happily coincide with British global interests, then that is nothing more than a quaint geo-political synchronicity. Iran, the Economist magazine informs in its latest issue is a “committed” enemy.[26] Obviously, the origins of why Iran became an enemy is best left unmentioned. The British initiated coup of 1953 against Iranian democracy, which the Americans bought into (or “dipped their beak” into as Funnici said to the young Don Corleone) and which Obama referred to in his Cairo 2009 speech has no place in this narrative.  

As the Economist continued to advocate intervention in Syria over the cold body of the American ambassador, it does so on the basis that “anti-American violence thrives under the tyrants and dictators”[27]. Putting aside that the death of the American ambassador occurred almost a year after Gadhaffi’s lynching and also after democratic elections in Libya, the real historical fact is that anti-American violence largely thrives when the United States unquestioningly inherits and applies the strategies and policies of its former imperial master. Whether that be employing political Islamists to target governments perceived to be unfriendly to the United States, overthrowing Iranian democracy or supporting the British-Zionist colonisation of Palestine project.[28]  Indeed, when United States in 1956, helped to bring to a halt the British led invasion of Egypt it briefly enjoyed a period of popularity.

The London Times and Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister and Britain’s leading warmonger, have now joined the Economist in showing disdain for the killing of the American ambassador and are prioritising and demanding more American intervention.[29]

The stark issue now is whether the United States will continue listening to its former imperial master or will it accord Arabs the space and non-interference to shape their own future as in Egypt and Tunisia and not in accordance with British interests as in Libya and possibly Syria?


[1] Chris Stephen, ‘You know who controls Benghazi? Nobody’, The Guardian, 15th September 2012, pg.27 and Martin Fletcher, ‘Ambassador’s killer ‘planned raid with al-Qaeda’’, The London Times, 17th September 2012, pp.26.

[2] Jon Swaine and Bruno Waterfield, “UN Plans sanctions to turn up heat for Gadhaffi”, Daily Telegraph, 26th February 2011.

[3] Deborah Hayne, “Britain ready to use force to free Libya”, The Times, 1st March 2011

[4] Robert Winnett, James Kirkup, Nick Meo and Bruno Waterfield “The West is ready to Use Force against Gadhaffi”, Daily Telegraph, 1st March 2011.

[5] ibid.

[6] James Kirkup and Richard Spencer, “Army ready for Libyan mission…”, Daily Telegraph, 5th March 2011

[7] Christopher Hope, “Cameron plan for no-zone shunned by world leaders”, Daily Telegraph, 2nd  March 2011

[8] The British right-wing media have had intermittent spouts of Obama-bashing since Obama’s election. The first bout was when he removed the Churchill’s busk from the Oval office and another was the way he treated Gordan Brown in the early part of his presidency.

[9] Editorial, “Waiting for Washington”, The Times, 26th February, 2011

[10] Editorial, “Essence of Indecision”, The Times, 4th March, 2011

[11] David Charter, Roland Watson and Giles Whittel, “Britain pushes US to agree no-fly zone”, The Times, 10th March 2011.

[12] Anne Applebaum, “Libya: Gaddafi is about to force Barack Obama’s hand”, Daily Telegraph, 11th March 2011.

[13] Matthew D’Ancona, “David Cameron knows what to do about Libya, but does Obama?”, Sunday Telegraph, 13th March 2011

[14] Editorial, “America’s silence is hurting the West”, Daily Telegraph, 17th March, 2011.

[15] Raja Murthy, “India wants its crown jewel”, Asia Times, 5th August 2010.

[16] Editorial, “Leadership Needed”, The Times, 16th March 2011.

[17] Phillippe Naughton and Deborah Haynes, “Cameron calls for ‘leadership’ on Libya as rebels lose ground”, The Times, 16th March 2011 and Editorial, “America’s silence is hurting the West”, Daily Telegraph, 17th March, 2011.  

[18] Editorial, “Deserted by Obama”, The Times, 17th March 2011.

[19] Mark Curtis “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”, London, Serpent Tail, 2010, pg. 225-231

[20] Gary Troeller, The Birth of Saudi Arabia, London, Frank Cass, 1976, pg.20

[21] Will Pavia, Roland Watson and Giles Whittel, “Britain welcolmes US change of heart over Libya no-fly zone”, The Times, 17th March 2011.

[22] ibid.

[23] Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, New York, Meridian Book Inc., 1958, pg.214

[24] Ian Traynor, “US defence chief blasts Europe over Nato”, The Guardian, 10th June 2011.

[25] Niall Ferguson, “The British Prime Minister is coming to Washington.”, Newsweek, 12th March 2012.

[26] Editorial, “Murder in Libya”, The Economist, 15th September, pg. 11.

[27] ibid.,pg.12

[28] Nu’man Abd al-Wahid, “Britain’s denial of democracy and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”, Mondoweiss, 20th June 2011 and my “An account of the Guardian’s racist endorsement of the Balfour Declaration.”, Mondoweiss, 30th April 2012.

[29] Editorial, “Arab Autumn”, London Times, 17th September 2012, pg2 and Haroon Siddique, ‘Tony Blair says west must rachet up pressure on Asad’, The Guardian, 17thSeptember.


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