Brits Bollix Benghazi Caper

As the usual suspects started howling for Western intervention in the Libyan revolution – in the name of “humanitarianism,” of course – the objects of their concern made it clear they didn’t want or need any such “help.”

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was right on the mark when he described this howling as nothing but “loose talk” – and just how loose was dramatized by the dispatch of a British Special Forces team to Eastern Libya, a move that backfired badly. The Libyan rebels made their point by detaining the team, whose ostensible mission, as described by Western media, was to “escort a junior diplomat” to “reach out” to the Libyan rebels. They were discovered in the Eastern part of the country, which is held by the rebels, and brought to Benghazi – where they were promptly clapped in jail. After holding them for some 24 hours, the rebels sent them packing.

As the embarrassing incident came to light, British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to rationalize his government’s rash action:

“It is a very difficult situation to be able to understand in detail. There are a number of different opposition groups to Colonel Gadhafi in Libya who do seem relatively disparate.

‘We want to clearly understand what the dynamic is here because we want to be able to work with them to ensure the demise of the Gadhafi regime, to see a transition to greater stability in Libya and ultimately to more representative government.”

Translation: We just were unlucky enough to meet up with the wrong group – but give us time, we’ll find more pliable elements soon enough.

Undeterred by the rude reception, Hague promised that efforts to “contact” the Libyan opposition would continue. We can count on that, I’m sure. “We intend, in consultation with the opposition, to send a further team to strengthen our dialogue in due course,” he said. “This diplomatic effort is part of the UK’s wider work on Libya, including our ongoing humanitarian support. We continue to press for Gadhafi to step down and we will work with the international community to support the legitimate ambitions of the Libyan people.”

If the Libyan people should begin entertaining any ambitions considered illegitimate by Her Majesty’s Government, well, then, that’s another matter.

This incident raises a number of questions, including: what were the Brits really doing in Libya, and why – if this was a “diplomatic” mission – did it require the services of 8 SAS (Special Air Service) tough guys, members of Britain’s legendary elite commando unit, crack troops who are the tip of Britain’s interventionist spear? After all, the normal way to engage in diplomacy is to contact the government– or, in this case, the rebel committee in Benghazi – one wishes to communicate with, and make arrangements out in the open. Why send a covert action team, peopled with top-notch military personnel whose job is not to negotiate but to kill – unless one is not engaging in diplomacy but in other activities of a less benign nature?

The Guardian reports that this very odd “diplomatic” delegation consisted of 6 SAS officers and 2 MI6 intelligence agents – who arrived via helicopter, although from where is unknown at the moment – and cites a rebel source as saying:

“They were carrying espionage equipment, reconnaissance equipment, multiple passports and weapons. This is no way to conduct yourself during an uprising.

“Gadhafi is bringing in thousands of mercenaries to kill us, most are using foreign passports and how do we know who these people are?

“They say they’re British nationals and some of the passports they have are British. But the Israelis used British passports to kill that man in Dubai last year.”

That last sentence was quite a zinger, and I had to laugh out loud as I read it. The whole affair is uproarious, rather like a particularly subversive installment of Yes, Minister. As the Western powers try to mold, manipulate, and “manage” events on the ground in the Middle East, this is a measure of just how much credibility they have in the people’s eyes: zero. Go home – and stay there: that’s the message. And one can hardly blame the Libyans, especially in the case of the Brits.

After all, wasn’t it Tony Blair who held Gadhafi’s hand throughout the despot’s rather rapid “rehabilitation” – and signed a secret military agreement with the Libyan government, affixing his signature to a document pledging to arm and train Gadhafi’s “specialized military units, special forces and border security units?” It most certainly was. As a reward for capitulating to the West so readily and publicly, Gadhafi was also to be given access to NATO’s military secrets. All this was done during Blair’s last trip abroad as the representative of the British government, in which his job was clearly to say to the Libyan dictator: “Join the club, Moammar. You’re one of us, now!”

What I want to know is why, having pledged to train and support the very troops the rebels are now battling, the British government thought they could send a “diplomatic” team into the country and be greeted with open arms. Unless, of course, their mission wasn’t just an innocent diplomatic blunder, and was, instead, of a more sinister cast.

There’s no end of hilarity in this episode. Feast your eyes on this Telegraph story, which purports to tell us “what went wrong” with the SAS intervention. The subhead alone is priceless: “As the diplomatic team in Libya were rescued by HMS Cumberland after their humiliating capture, the Ministry of Defense was left trying to work out what on earth went wrong.” The tone of wide-eyed naivete persists throughout:

When the helicopter touched down outside Benghazi in the early hours of Friday morning, the SAS troops on board knew they were entering a volatile situation. Tasked with escorting a diplomat to meet rebel Libyan forces and assessing the humanitarian situation on the ground, they did not, however, expect a hostile reception. With the British Government openly rejecting Colonel Moammar Gadhafi and already in dialogue with opposition leaders, it should have been an uncontroversial visit.”

What, me worry?

Ah, but even the credulously pro-government Telegraph noted the, er, unusual circumstances of this diplomatic courtesy call:

“However, the manner of their arrival – in the dead of night, armed with weapons, maps and explosives while dressed in plain black clothing – did little to assuage local panic.”

Yes, that does seem a tad suspicious, now doesn’t it? But, of course, those excitable Libyans would go into a “panic.” Just because their country has been invaded and occupied countless times by foreigners, why get all huffy and hostile when a mysterious helicopter carrying armed foreigners arrives in the dead of night? I guess some people are just hypersensitive.

Whether the Brits really believed they would be showered with rose petals and hailed as saviors upon arrival, as the “allied” forces were supposed to have been greeted by grateful Iraqis in 2003, is almost beside the point. The point being that what is happening in Libya, and throughout North Africa and the Middle East, is the exact opposite of what occurred in Iraq, and – contra Charles Krauthammer – refutes the Bush Doctrine that served to justify the invasion.

The idea that Washington could lead a regional revolution against corrupt authoritarians who ruled with our open support – in Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf emirates – is such an obvious contradiction that several observers doubted the President’s sincerity, concluding that Bush’s “global democratic revolution” was just an ideological cover for some ulterior motive – oil, Israel’s “security,” or some combination of the two.

In order to “drain the swamp” of the Middle East, and eliminate the conditions that led to the proliferation of terrorism in the Muslim world – as the neoconservative Deep Thinkers theorized – the first obstacles to be removed were US allies in the region: Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Pharaoh Mubarak, and the tinpot kings and emirs of the Gulf. In any genuinely revolutionary upsurge in support of democracy these characters would logically be the first to go – and so they are gone, or going very shortly. The very fact that these tyrants were – and are – valued allies of the American Imperium will mean that we can expect the same “welcome” experienced by our British partners.

As the tag team of John McCain and Joe Lieberman calls for all measures short of an outright invasion to “help” the rebels, the War Party is being told firmly but politely “thanks but no thanks” by the emerging rebel leadership.

Aside from the complete repudiation of the War Party’s agenda, what’s interesting about this story of a spy mission gone bad is the question of just what these “special forces” were really doing in Libya. My guess is they were trying to aid a particular faction of the Libyan opposition by providing its members with logistical and military support. They could hardly do so openly, and so they arrived in the dead of night, armed to the teeth and loaded down with enough spy paraphernalia to outfit a James Bond movie.

Apparently determined to provide as much comedic relief during the Libyan crisis as possible, the Telegraph released a partial transcript of the conversation between the British ambassador, Richard Northern, and a rebel leader. Here is Mr. Northern, explaining what that crack team of British commandos and two spooks were up to:

“We have been planning to send some officials to stay in Benghazi to liaise with you, with the National Council,. … And we sent today, ahead of those officials who were coming, we sent a small group just to find if there was a hotel, if everything was working, if there was somewhere they could stay and work when we get our group organized.”

Did the Ambassador really think the Libyans would fall for this? Somehow, I doubt it. A more calculated insult would be hard to imagine. The rebel leader, who is not named, responded with admirable calm: instead of berating Northern, the official said the matter is “under investigation.” That’s one investigation I would love to see pursued to the very end.

The hilarity ends, however, with the realization that this dubious “diplomatic” mission will have some real-world consequences, the first being that Gadhafi will use this incident to do what all tyrants do when their rule is challenged: point to a dreaded foreign threat to justify the continuation of their onerous rule. The Gadhafi clique has maintained from the very beginning that the rebellion is the result of a foreign “conspiracy” consisting of Washington, Al-Qaeda, and the purveyors of “hallucinogenic drugs.” To this rather disparate rogues gallery they can now add the Brits, giving the germ of credibility to Gadhafi’s somewhat LaRouchian paranoia – and prolonging the civil war that is tearing the country apart.

Speaking of paranoia: it almost makes one wonder if, perhaps, they did it on purpose – that they wanted to be caught. What else did they expect by landing in an open field, on the outskirts of a populated center? When confronted, they claimed they weren’t armed. From all accounts, however, they had enough explosives and other weapons to outfit a small army. So much for that “weapons embargo”!

The British government is saying – with a straight face – that they intend to send in yet more “diplomatic” missions, presumably with the agreement of the rebel high command, but if I were them I wouldn’t count on it.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

On another topic: If you’re wondering where the next Muslim domino is going to fall, I say look to Pakistan – where the corruption that provoked the ire of the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, and Iraqis has reached Brobdingnagian proportions. And speaking of the Iraqis – expect the anti-government demonstrations to be met with even worse repression (dozens have already been killed by US-funded “security” forces), and the protests to grow much larger and more radical in their demands.

Some of you may have noticed that we have resumed our relationship with Amazon.com. The reason is simple: it was dumb to boycott just Amazon when practically every banking institution and every hosting service in the country was caving in to pressure to refuse services to WikiLeaks. We thought it was important, however, to speak out against the intimidation tactics of the US government, and that we did: as George W. Bush would say – “Mission accomplished!” Seriously, though, we didn’t really think that one through: and I, for one, never thought that so many would be cowed into bowing to the dictates of the US government. Ever the optimist, I was shocked when so many caved. Live and learn.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].