Monday, April 4, 2011


In light of the preceding post, which stresses the importance in US and allied imperial strategy of foreign military bases in Libya, and applying Dr Phil's dictum about the past being the best predictor of the present (or, in this case, soon-to-be present), some information on the pre-Gaddafi (ie pre-1969) US, British and French disposition there might be useful. The following extracts, taken from Ruth First's 1974 book, Libya: The Elusive Revolution, serve only to confirm Petras' analysis and illustrate beautifully the continuity of US and Anglo-French designs on the country:

"Anglo-American policy saw Libya as less a country or a state than a strategic position for a series of military bases. One day before independence was proclaimed the British Ambassador arrived to present his credentials and, formally and this time publicly, to open negotiations for a long-term treaty of alliance between Britain and Libya. Its broad outline had by now been agreed with the United States and with France. The treaty was finally sealed in 1953, for in between it had been considered expedient for Libya to apply for Arab League membership. When this gesture to Arab solidarity was sealed, Libya gave Britain alternative bases to those she evacuated in the Suez Canal zone. The Twenty-Year Treaty consisted of 2 separate agreements... which granted Britain 'facilities within the territory of Libya for military purposes' and in exchange undertook to pay annual subsidies to the Libyan budget...

"Wheelus base, 8 miles out of Tripoli, had been captured by British forces from the Italian air force. The US air force began operations there in 1944, and abandoned its use in 1947; but at the time of the Korean crisis, the field was reactivated, and the base integrated into the US Strategic Air Command. The negotiations formalizing the US presence in Libya were prolonged 'but there was never any doubt in the mind of either party that a mutually satisfactory arrangement would eventually be placed on the books'. When American foreign policy failed to enfold the whole of the Middle East into its embrace, King Idris went personally as the emissary of the Baghdad Pact to Turkey and Lebanon. Wheelus was duly inspected by John Foster Dulles. 'For its part', said the American Ambassador, 'Libya has acquired a powerful new protector in addition to its British ally. As a stakeholder in Libya's future, the United States, it stands to reason, will have a natural interest in the defence of that none too strongly unified country'.

"France was eager to conclude an agreement like those with Britain and the US, but Algeria was the stumbling block. Until 1954 France had the right to keep 3 companies in the Fezzan in return for a subsidy to the province's budgetary deficit; but Libya's parliament then insisted that the garrisons be withdrawn, and France was granted limited air and surface transit rights only...

"Whereas the Wheelus base had functioned originally as an air transport centre, with the signing of the treaty it became a primary training base for NATO forces. It could be used by strategic nuclear bombers and provided direct access to southern Russia across Turkey; and in 1956 the headquarters of the US 17th Air Force was transferred from Morocco to Wheelus. But its major function was to provide target practice for tactical fighter pilots rotating from stations in Britain, West Germany, and France. Wheelus was also the headquarters of the Mediterranean Communications region and was used for certain combined operations in Africa; one of these was the 1960 airborne UN intervention in the Congo. The American subsidy for the base, under the 17-year agreement was at least double that paid by Britain. In 1958 the Libyan government pressed for substantial increases in US aid and complained about the uncertain annual dispensations. The amount was increased and channelled through the Libyan Ministry of Finance. In the late 50s the US undertook a military aid programme to train and equip an army unit in the handling of modern transport, and to help an infant air force get off the ground. By 1964 a quarter of the officer personnel in the Libyan army had been trained in the US." (pp 87-89)

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