Skip to main content

Book review: Toppling Qaddafi: Libya And The Limits Of Liberal Intervention by Christopher Chivvis

A new book arguing the case for the imperialist overthrow of president Gadaffi nevertheless provides telling insights into the West’s policies of ‘liberal intervention’ in Libya and beyond, says CARLOS MARTINEZ

While a few books have been written about the 2011 Libya war from a critical, anti-imperialist perspective, the most important being Cynthia McKinney’s The Illegal War On Libya and Maximilian Forte’s Slouching Towards Sirte, Toppling Qaddafi is the first attempt by a mainstream Western political scientist to provide a retrospective justification for the war.

Its author Christopher Chivvis works at a US government-funded think tank the Rand Corporation and his book is, as you might expect, unashamedly pro-imperialist in presenting a more-or-less official narrative. 

As such it should be read critically. Yet it does provide some important insights into the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the war as well as revealing the full extent of Nato’s role in it. 

Chivvis reiterates the official justification for war — that Gadaffi was engaged in a deadly crackdown on peaceful demonstrators calling for “democracy.” 

Interestingly, he is unable to introduce any new or convincing evidence, instead relying on various reports that appeared in the mainstream press at the time and which have since been comprehensively discredited, some examples being  “evidence of systematic rape by regime militias” and the prevalence of “mercenaries from Africa and eastern Europe.”

As for the real reasons for going to war, little is said of the West’s enduring distrust of Gadaffi. In spite of eight years of rapprochement and somewhat improved relations, the US remained decidedly uneasy about Libya’s resource nationalism, its increasing orientation towards China and Russia and its efforts towards African political, economic and military integration. 

However, Chivvis suggests that one motive for intervention was that, were the uprising to fail, it “could reverse a democratic surge expected to be in the US interest in the long haul.” In other words, the West had every expectation of being able to turn the Arab spring to its own advantage. 

Meanwhile the barbaric bombing campaign, going far beyond what was authorised by UN security council resolution 1970, “was no doubt intended to demonstrate US capabilities to other regional powers such as Iran and Syria.”

Chivvis details the close tactical collaboration between the rebels and Nato, without which the overthrow of the Gadaffi government would not have been possible. “The thuwwar (rebels) could never have won by themselves. Without Nato’s intervention, their uprising would most likely have been snuffed out by Qaddafi’s assault on Benghazi,” he states. He  admits too that there was direct military assistance on the ground, something strenuously denied at the time, with special forces “fighting alongside [the rebels] as they took Tripoli and tracked down Qaddafi afterward.”

The sordid details, including a description of Nato’s involvement in the capture and murder of a sovereign nation’s head of state, reads an awful lot more like a war of regime change than the imposition of a no-fly zone. 

Was it all worth it? Most Libyans would answer in the negative, given that their country is now on the verge of a full-scale civil war. But as far as Chivvis is concerned the war has been a success. 

Libya, he asserts, should remain an “antidote” to the sense of helplessness and cynicism about US power setting in after the deeply trying experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan and this is a “good thing.” 

Thus Libya is a boon for Nato in the geostrategic context of the Project For A New American Century, the US’s desperate attempt to maintain its hegemony and prevent the emergence of a multipolar world order. 

This is a strategy of  “divide and ruin” — violating national sovereignty, creating civil wars and removing states that refuse to play ball, all in the interests of creating an unstable global political environment that only the Western powers have the military weight to control. 

It is a thread that runs through the wars in Libya and Syria, the Nato and EU-sponsored boiling pot in Ukraine, the “revolt of the rich” in Venezuela, the CIA-funded social media campaigns in Cuba and Barack Obama’s so-called Asia pivot. It’s the duty of all progressive humanity to recognise and oppose such a strategy.

(Cambridge University Press, £21.99)


Joe Gill interviews Reggie Adams,  author of new play An Interview with Qaddafi, in tomorrow’s arts page.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.



Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 10,353
We need:£ 7,647
11 Days remaining
Donate today