Libya: Release The Bats!

"Where there's a will there's a way - Francisco Goya. Etching. 1819-1823. The artist's comment on humanity's lunatic dreams of the impossible - to fly like bats!
"Where there's a will there's a way - Francisco Goya. Etching. 1819-1823. A comment on humanity's lunatic dreams of the impossible - to fly like bats!

March 19, 2011 marks the eight year anniversary of the U.S. war in Iraq. George W. Bush launched his “Operation Iraqi Freedom” on March 19, 2003, and Barack Obama launched his “Operation Odyssey Dawn” against Libya on March 19, 2011.

It is the third major war currently being conducted by the United States. One cannot forget the fourth – the robot drone war Obama is waging at present in Pakistan. Allegedly designed to assassinate Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants seeking refugee in the northwest of Pakistan, the drones have killed upwards of 2,138 individuals since Obama took office, the overwhelming majority of them innocent civilians. Iran also looms on the horizon as a possible target of U.S. military action. Forget the “dogs of war,” release the bats!

"The sleep of reason produces monsters." Francisco Goya. Etching. 1799. From the artist's Los Caprichos etching series. Release the bats!
"The sleep of reason produces monsters." Francisco Goya. Etching. 1799. From the artist's Los Caprichos etching series. Release the bats!

It what now seems like ancient history, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman warned on February 9, 2011, that pro-democracy protests should immediately end in Egypt, otherwise he anticipated “the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people.

Suleiman was chief of Egypt’s much hated General Intelligence Service, the spy agency known for its use of torture and its connections to the C.I.A. when Hosni Mubarak appointed him Vice President in the hopes of appeasing the masses. The Obama administration approved.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extolled Suleiman’s appointment as part of a “transition” to democracy. Suleiman’s dark bats of the night had indeed been set loose; when their dirty work was done an estimated 1,500 Egyptians had been murdered by state security forces and some 5,000 injured.

On Feb. 11 Mubarak stepped down and handed over power to the U.S. backed Egyptian military. With the people seemingly victorious the bats flew elsewhere, it has been reported that the skies of Libya are now filled with them.

Ostensibly a joint operation conducted by French, British, Canadian, and American military forces under the aegis of a UN Security Council resolution, Operation Odyssey Dawn is a military campaign purportedly aimed at preventing Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from terrorizing Libya and “shooting his own people”. Gaddafi is certainly guilty of such crimes, but then so are a good number of the monarchs and potentates of the region – many of them staunch U.S. allies.

The opening salvo of the U.S. operation came in the form of at least 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles being fired from U.S. Navy ships at military targets inside Libya. The United States Navy fact file on the Tomahawk Cruise Missile states that each long-range missile had a cost of $569,000 in fiscal year 1999 dollars. That would make the cost of 112 missiles $63,728,000, but adjusting for inflation – the current cost of that first barrage of missiles fired by our Nobel Peace Laureate president actually comes to $84,655,340. It is but the first stage of what the Obama administration says will be a “multi-phase campaign” against Gaddafi’s Libya.

Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot from the stop motion animation. For God and country! For freedom! For right and honor! Matchstick men have come to do battle!
Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot from the stop motion animation. For God and country! For freedom! For right and honor! Matchstick men have come to do battle!

When contemplating the folly of this unbridled militarism and its unintended consequences, I remembered an ingenious stop motion animation created in 1983 by the Russian animator Garri Bardin. Titled Conflict (конфликт), the short film (seen here) made use of wooden matchstick men who comprise opposing armies.

A more poignant antimilitarist animation has yet to be made, and while Bardin’s Soviet-era film was created during the height of the Cold War, the film’s antiwar message has become universal and eternal. With Libya becoming America’s latest battlefield, and with Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plants melting down, Bardin’s Conflict could hardly be more pertinent. Mr. Bardin has since gone on to enjoy great success as an animator, founding the “Stayer” animation studio and producing several award winning films.

Before landing in Libya the aforementioned bats roosted in Bahrain, and along with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa they unleashed a lethal wave of repression against tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators. So far 11 have been killed since the beginning of the protests last month, and hundreds have been shot with everything from rubber bullets to live ammunition. Bahraini doctors believe the regime has used nerve gas to quell the dissidents. The King has declared martial law, banning all protests and public gatherings. Saudi Arabian and UAE soldiers have entered Bahrain to help crush the pro-democracy movement. Protest organizers have been rounded up and imprisoned. Amnesty International released a report condemning Bahraini security forces for using “live ammunition and extreme force against protesters.” While Mr. Obama has asserted Gaddafi has “lost legitimacy to lead” because of his “appalling violence against the Libyan people,” he has not made the same declaration against King Khalifa. Is there any mystery here? Gaddafi is to be overthrown because the West covets Libya’s oil fields, the largest in Africa; the Khalifa dynasty is to be supported as a bulwark against the Arab revolution, with Bahrain home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet naval port.

The bats have also been nesting in Yemen, where U.S. backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh is engaged in the brutal repression of a mass movement for democratic reform opposed to his 32-year reign. So far dozens of Yemenis have been killed by Saleh’s security forces, and thousands have been injured. The most shocking instance of government violence took place on March 18, 2011, when Saleh’s security forces shot down hundreds of demonstrators in the capital of Sanaa, killing at least 46; government snipers with high-powered rifles shot at protestors from rooftops. Yemeni doctors also believe the Saleh regime has used nerve gas against demonstrators. Surely President Saleh is guilty of “shooting his own people”, but as an ally in Washington’s “war on terror” he has been rewarded with $250 million in U.S. military aid this year.

Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot. The aftermath of the war.
Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot. The aftermath of the war.

And while pointing out the contradictions of U.S. foreign policy, could there be a more despicable cabal of undemocratic reactionaries than the Saudi Royal family? Yet in October 2010 the Obama administration struck a $60 billion arms deal with the Saudis, the largest arms deal in U.S. history.

Amongst other highly developed weapons systems the pact will supply the House of Saud with 84 sophisticated F-15 fighter jets, 70 Apache and 72 Black Hawk combat helicopters. And what exactly will be done with this “cutting edge” weaponry? It will be used against the people of Saudi Arabia, where all demonstrations have been banned and the pain of death awaits those who do not comply; some of the weaponry has been deployed to help quash the pro-democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain. So much for standing against tyrants who repress and brutalize their own people.

In his latest commentary on the Middle East, seasoned reporter Robert Fisk lets us in on the obvious concerning President Obama’s “Operation Odyssey Dawn”. He reminds us of an unforgettable comment made in 2003 by neoconservative Tom Friedman of the New York Times, who said of the U.S. war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, “When the latest dictator goes, who knows what kind of bats will come flying out of the box?” Now we know. After 8 years of war in Iraq 4,439 U.S. soldiers have been killed and some 32,992 wounded. Estimates for Iraqi civilian deaths range from 109,318 to over one million. The colony of bats in Libya now swarming in great black clouds are working on casualty figures for the new imperialist war in North Africa. Release the bats!


The U.S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11. “Only Congress can declare war.”

In the build-up to the U.S. attack on Libya, the U.S. Congress did not conduct a single debate regarding the merits of sending American soldiers into battle in Libya, nor did the U.S. Congress declare war or otherwise authorize any military action against Libya. Amazingly enough, after commencing military strikes against that country, Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them that attacks had been launched. One group of Congressional representatives stated publicly that they “raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions.” They went on to say that the Obama administration “consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress. They’re creating wreckage and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground… there aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air.” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, lashed out at Obama’s actions, calling them “an impeachable offense.” Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., called Obama’s action “an affront to our Constitution.

Readers of this web log know of my antipathy towards George W. Bush, but despite my aversion to the former president, he launched the 2003 war against Iraq after a Congressional debate (contrived and distorted as it was), and after the U.S. Senate passed the “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” (though the Senate had been given false information by the administration regarding Iraq’s ability to attack the U.S. with chemical or biological weapons). The threadbare resolution provided Bush with a “legal” basis for the invasion of Iraq, but Obama acted without even that.

In an interview conducted with Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe on December 20, 2007, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama said the following regarding presidential war powers as defined in the U.S. Constitution. The relevant excerpt from that interview is as follows:

Question from Charlie Savage: “In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites – a situation that does not involve stopping an imminent threat?

Answer from Senator Obama: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

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