OFF WITH THE MASKS : From Avis de tempêtes, issue 16, 15/4/19
From Act for Freedom!
It wasn’t a very hot day that day. Yet the sun had shone all over the French capital. On 4th April 2019, a few men landed on the asphalt of some Paris airport. They had come from Libya with a mission: to seek the agreement of that State to unleash a vast military offensive.
These men arrived in haste were emissaries of marshal Haftar, chief of the Libyan national army (LNA). Paris gave the go-ahead. A few hours later, thousands of LNA soldiers set off for the conquest of Tripoli, the Libyan capital in the hands of the national unity government (NUG), which international bodies recognized as the ‘legitimate government’ of a land torn by militias, parliaments, para-military groups, mercenaries and jihadists. Since 4th April, fighting has led to hundreds of dead and wounded between combatants and the population.
As LNA troops advanced, tens of thousands of people were fleeing, 13,000 of them just to escape from the battle of Tripoli that had begun. Other thousands prepared to board hastily improvised boats in attempts to reach Europe, which transformed the Mediterranean into a gigantic cemetery. LNA and NUG, a war between two power blocs, the one as detestable as the other. But that’s not all, it is never ‘just’ that. Other forces were at work in the shadow of ministries and gilded palaces, as in all the other bloody conflicts in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Africa: geo-political and commercial interests, balance of power and the powerful, market conquests, access to resources, military bases… all intertwined. First, though, let’s take a quick picture of marshal Haftar – it will help us to understand the rest. In 1969, Khalifa Belqasim Haftar participates in the coup that brings colonel Ghaddafi to power. In 1987, thanks to his training in prestigious Soviet schools, he leads the expedition troop of the Libyan army against Chad, whose bloody dictator Hissène Habré is backed by France and the United States. Defeated and held captive, Haftar is imprisoned in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, where he changes flag and is entrusted by the United States with leading a ‘Haftar force’ in Chad to overthrow Ghaddafi. Another failure: in 1990, after the election of Chad president Idriss Déby, close to the Libyan leader, he is sent urgently to the United States.
By then known as ‘the Americans’ man’, Haftar settles near Langley – where the CIA is located – and starts to work unsuccessfully towards Ghaddafi’s overthrow. In 2011, Haftar returns to Libya during the uprising that will lead to the fall of colonel Ghaddafi. At the beginning of the transition, he is promoted to general lieutenant and leads the ground troops of the Libyan armed forces for a short period. But the Islamists, who are the majority in the victorious rebellion, don’t forgive him for being ‘the Americans’ man’. Yet another failure: Haftar returns to the United States to his home in Virginia at the end of 2011. Back in Libya at the beginning of 2014, a country split in two (the Tripoli area and the Tobruk area) and counting on certain international support (including France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt), the marshal decides to create his own armed force, which is joined by local militias and members of the ex-Libyan army. Meantime, ‘the Americans’ man’ who wanted to affirm himself as the strong man of the country, also secretly becomes ‘the man of the French’.
As ENI, the Italian oil company, is securing important contracts concerning oilfields controlled by the government of Tripoli, Total [a French company] sets the score with the oilfields under the control of Haftar’s LNA. In fact it is in the castle of La Celle Saint-Cloud, in Yvelines, in the presence of Macron himself that in July 2017 a first ceasefire is signed between the government of Tobruk, whose armed hand is Haftar, and that of his rival in Tripoli. Even if the French aid is initially purposely discreet, it certainly doesn’t escape the attention of many Libyans, who have seen French special forces at work, of course in the name of the ‘struggle against terrorism’, alongside Haftar’s soldiers. After all, the fact that those soldiers have weapons made in France doesn’t prevent French arms companies from also selling their weapons to the rival government in Tripoli.
The bloody game is well-known: weapons are sold like doses, doses of death, according to the goals that the State hopes to achieve. Nothing could be more simple, you can see hundreds of armoured vehicles in one base, and appropriate rocket launchers in the other, as if to favour the latter’s superiority. The former base is satisfied with its purchase, the latter is even more so as it sees the brand-new armoured vehicles exploding at the other end of their remote-controlled devices. But happiest of all are the French companies and the French State, which have made profits from both sides while following their own strategic plans. The State’s motive has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the chatter about respect for human life, freedom, rights and justice.
This French Republic of freedom, equality and brotherhood is as putrid as the piles of rebel corpses on which it is built and continues to accumulate all over the world. If decades of dirty wars and ‘anti-terrorist’ operations conducted by the United States and Israel have associated these two States with all kinds of filth carried out in the name of their particular interests in the minds of most of the world population, France has generally succeeded in preserving its image as a ‘country of human rights’. Despite the numerous chips on its emblem during the Algerian war and the ferocious repression of national liberation struggles in its colonies, it continues to flaunt itself as though nothing had happened. Perhaps we’re wrong, but it is also by using this cultural legacy as a shield that France has always succeeded (especially in the last decade) in waging wars without suffering too much damage and in selling its bellicose expertise all over the world. Let us take the example of regimes subjected to certain criticisms and militarily supported by France, such as Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen, the Congo torn by eternal ‘civil wars’ often in a context of competition for the exploitation of resources and precious metals, Egypt between rebellions and their bloody repression, Morocco during the Rif revolt, and so on. And this, of course, when it is not selling off its nuclear technologies or deploying its special forces to ‘fight the terrorists’ in Chad, Mali and Syria on the YPG side. But still the mask does not fall. It didn’t fall yesterday, nor does it fall today in the face of the classic example of the ‘proxy war’ being waged by Marshal Haftar.
The French State can safely continue to shine its emblem of republican values. Moreover, it also enjoys broad consensus among its subjects – yes, let’s say it, broad consensus. A passive, tacit, or generated consensus perhaps, or whatever you want to call it, but as a matter of fact it is there and supports its State’s politics. With the exception of the emotive waves linked to the international situation during the two Gulf wars or the one in ex-Yugoslavia – but that’s going back a long time – and while taking to the streets to express opposition to the horrible tricolour business of death is the least in a country where the habit of demonstrating has not been lost, the mask obstinately refuses to fall.
And yet things are now clear: from the beginning of the revolts and their consequent repression in North Africa and the Middle East, arms sales made in France have jumped from 4.8 billion euros in 2012 to 6.8 billion euros in 2013, then to 8.2 billion in 2014, 16.9 billion in 2015 and around 20 billion euros in 2016. Arms exports thus represent more than 25 per cent of all exports from the deadly Republic. Far be it for us to want to devalue the anger that has taken to the streets in recent months; we need to point out that there is something lacking in end of the month anger, if not a lot. For example, it lacks a certain depth in looking beyond one’s own back yard, beyond a mere, insipid and increasingly costly survival.
When we rightly protest against policemen who maim demonstrators, when we denounce the companies that supply local forces with weapons, how not to make a link between these same companies and the fact that they manufacture the weapons that mutilate and kill in many other countries generously supplied by the French industry, and on a much larger scale? When we protest against fuel prices and increased taxation, how can we fail to make the link with the wars and massacres for oil in which the French State is at least co-responsible, if not instigator (as seems to be the case today of Marshal Haftar, a would-be military dictator)? It is not a question of pointing the finger at some slave in particular, but of the mechanism of voluntary servitude that aims to make us all victims and executioners, unless the chain of submission is broken. It is a question of understanding that the State of this country is a State in the widest sense of the word.
A State that takes care of everything: organizing elections and maiming its protestors, teaching human rights to other regimes and hiring mercenaries, preaching peace to countries at war and at the same time conducting military operations right, left and centre, crushing and torturing (what else is prison?) those who disturb or are superfluous and putting an omnipresent administrative apparatus at the good citizen’s disposal.
The French State is no different from its counterparts, what distinguishes them are the margins that each has to set to defend and impose the intertwined interests that the powerful have entrusted them with in the national framework. Margins of manoeuvre that create responsibilities to be paid one way or another…
And then, the humanitarian emblem of the French State must be smashed once and for all. In the nineteenth century, when this State consolidated itself on the corpses of the rioters in the colonies and the corpses of the insurgents of many revolutions drowned in blood (June 1848 and the Commune), an anarchist revolutionary, Ernest Cœurderoy, expressed a very special desire. Noting bitterly that liberal and socialist revolutionaries spent their time imagining a better State, a more just State… but basically still a totalitarian State by nature, though embellished with the values of the Great Revolution, he turned to the Cossacks. Hurrah! He wished for the descent of the Cossacks, of those vital energies hostile to chatter and political culture, of those terrible barbarians who leave only the ruins of hypocritical civilizations behind. He believed that a vast task of devastation of this world was necessary before the beginning of a vast task of building a new world.
Today, in the wars that the State is waging around the world, in the face of the repression it unleashes in the streets and at the borders, in the face of the social cannibalism it is stirring up among the population and uses to reaffirm its supremacy, chatter is useless. Denunciations are useless. Appeals to conscience are useless. First of all it is through fire that we must pass. With audacity, tearing off the mask that covers a war-mongering that would have us all accomplices. Neither their peace nor their war, Hurrah!