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The difference between General Haftar and his fellow American General Smedley Butler

Why is it that the United States has never experienced a military coup in all of its history despite the fact that weapons are easily attainable and there is a quite a military atmosphere throughout the country? By contrast, General Haftar's hasty decision to stage a military coup in Libya, in a supposed attempted to bring an end to the chaos and lawlessness plaguing the country, allegedly brought the country to its feet after its inability to build a new Libya post-revolutionary victory and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's authoritarian rule.

General Khalifa Haftar lived in the United States, in the sate of Virginia specifically, and he also received his American citizenship. What this means is that he exercised his democratic rights and knows very well what it feels like to live in a free and just atmosphere under the law. That is, unless he lived a life that was completely alienated from the rest of the general public and began to thing like his military companion Muammar Gaddafi, who believed that their were only two American realities: the marginalisation of Native Americans and institutionalised racism. In order to be able to distinguish between the value of revolutionary naiveté and true values of justice and democracy, one must begin to ask why Haftar abandoned his values and principles and instead chose to resort to mamelukian principles, which relate only to questions of power and gaining authority. After God paved the way for his success, He also granted him many wealth and blessings. With that said, Haftar could have easily become a member of the Libyan parliament and he could have ran in the elections as a credible politician who would have garnered the support of people by virtue of his extensive military experience. He could have been considered a part of a true military (as opposed to a military faction) like the founding fathers of his second home, the state of Virginia in the United States or the land of the free as they call it.

I have no doubt that one of his American friends must have taken him to Mount Vernon, the site where former US President, George Washington, retired after he refused to run in another election after two four-year terms. It was through this decision that Washington established the basic framework for a successful democracy; that there must be a rotation of power and no one leader should hold a monopoly on authority.

Why did Haftar not learn anything from this? Why did he come to Libya with a threatening attitude? He wants to "cleanse" Libya from his political opponents and put elected members of the Libyan parliament on trial! How will he do this? By sentencing them to death or detaining them? How many prisons are needed to house all those who oppose him? He will undoubtedly find that thousands of people oppose him; however, members of a coup do not like opposition, in fact, they fear it. Therefore, they often need to rely on fear and oppression to keep opposition in check. These politicians continue to feed a sense of fear and oppression and keep the country revolving in a cycle of violence. Is there really anything that is worth this? Perhaps this can best be answered by the words of the last Minister of Defence under King Idris, Saif Al-Islam Abdul Jalil who said that during an interview with Middle East newspaper, "There is no justification for Gaddafi's military coup. Yet, because the Arab world witnessed a wave of military success under Gaddafi and Haftar, he was able to succeed with his coup." Indeed, there is no justification for Gaddafi's military coup, which wasted 40 years of life for both Libya and the Libyans.

In a year's time or a few years, when historians sit down to chronicle Hafta's recent endeavours, the Libyan people will either deny what has happened or mourn their losses in the event of a success or a failure. The revolted against Muammar Gaddafi because of his tyrannical ways and they do not want to replace him with yet another dictator regardless of how much they would like someone to take them out of their current sense of chaos and insecurity. Some of the people may see the road to their salvation in Haftar but the other side of the coin reveals that he will face massive opposition and that he will send his opponents to prisons and the guillotine. The battles that will result from this will not settle in Libya for years and years.

I will now return to the first question that I posed in this article and I ask for the general to answer it: why has the United States not faced not so much as an attempt at a military coup in its 200 year history? I found the answer to this question in America's only attempt at a military coup, which was launched by a group of businessmen during the Great Depression. In 1934, America was going through a very difficult period in history when the poorest Americans were destroyed by the failed economy. At that time, the idea of a fascist government was not as unpopular as it is today. After Mussolini successfully implemented a fascist government in Italy, a group of American businessmen and industrialists told General Smedley Butler that they would financially support him if he decided to hold a coup against the American government and that they would finance and equip half a million troops to march on Washington.

General Butler was not impressed with the idea and he reported the plot to the press, which received it with great scepticism because they did not believe that there was anyone who was stupid enough to believe that a military coup would work in America. Yet, the American Congress carefully listened to Butler's concerns and later published a report that confirmed and supported his claims that a group of businessmen were plotting for a military coup. The moral of the story here can be encompassed by General Smedley's words when asked why he did not support they coup, "I believe in the value of democracy and if you can rally 500 thousand troops to fight for fascism then I can rally 500 thousand more who would fight back fiercely for democracy but then we would find ourselves in the middle of a devastating civil war."

This is the wisdom that Haftar failed to learn during his 20 years as an American citizen in Virginia. If you are able to rally tens of thousands of soldiers to fight for what you believe is right in Libya, then there are others who can do the same for another ideology. You will find yourself in the midst of a Libyan Civil War as we decide whether or not we support this or that.

Translated from Al-Hayat newspaper, 24 May 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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