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Monday, 21 March 2011

Intervention without Illusions.

Imperial Arrogance.

The history of Western imperialism could be chartered as a series of humanitarian missions gone "awry" and adventures of liberal interventionism. Every war is supposedly a war of self-defence or of noble intention. The calls to intervene in Libya are hardly any different here. After so many years of economic support to Gaddafi the West calls for intervention once the regime lost control of the country. The conflict affected the flow of Libyan oil, at a time when there was growing concern of a potential oil shock, the rebel forces have agreed to respect old relationships with oil corporations. This is the same reason that the French were quick to recognise the coalition based in Benghazi. Gaddafi had outlived his usefulness and had become a blockage to the neoliberal project, the sooner the regime in Tripoli is toppled the sooner that the oil trade can resume business as usual. The only hope Gaddafi has of keeping power is to crush the uprisings in oil rich areas of Libya. Only then might, and that's a big might, the support shift in favour of Gaddafi and against the rebels.

The West has an ignoble record of military intervention, whereby the soldier and the policeman hold the "native" down while the businessman rummages through his pockets. This is imperialism, whether old or new, it has not changed much. The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was illegal as well as immoral. The slaughter, displacement and dispossession of millions in Iraq are the result of such intervention. It has to be pointed out that there are numerous differences between the situation in Libya and the imperialist invasion of Iraq. In Iraq there was no grass-roots based democratic movement pushing for social justice that could be empowered by a benign intervention. Let alone the crusade for oil that took place in 2003, which opposed to democracy and social justice. The country and the regime had been crippled by war and economic sanctions. It is true that if there had been no invasion Saddam Hussein would have remained in power, though the recent uprisings could have overthrown the regime.

The Arab League supports intervention, though it should be noted that these Arab states are dictatorships backed by the US. These regimes are actively trying to crush the uprisings which threaten the established order. These are not the friends of democracy and neither are they the friends of Gaddafi. King Abdullah has a personal hatred for the obnoxious Colonel, who tried to have him assassinated in 2010 and represents a secular nationalist model that is the traditional enemy of Islamist monarchy. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are actively helping to stifle an uprising in Bahrain, no doubt with the full support of the US, but there are no calls to intervene in Bahrain. The logic of the Arab dictators is to snuff out any alternative political systems which might stir up the people against them. In regards to Bahrain, a predominantly Shi'ite country ruled by a Sunni elite, the repression is to avoid a revolution which could seize hold of oil reserves. This is the reason for the general hostility towards Iran, Tehran offers an alternative to the Shi'ites living in oil rich east of the Saudi Kingdom and other states.


However, we should not ignore the fact that the West has consistently backed illegitimate and authoritarian regimes in order to secure economic and strategic interests. The French government supported Ben Ali in Tunisia, as well as other regimes in North Africa. The support given to Libya was reciprocal in this case and Sarkozy received campaign funding from Gaddafi in 2007. Britain has retained a close relationship with Egypt since the 1952 revolution, with British investment amounting to £10 billion. Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Uzbekistan (among others) have all been stations to which the US has sent "terrorists" to be tortured with the sanction of the regime. This is on top of the amount of support given to the Arab dictatorships and Israel, who are tacitly aligned against the Palestinian people as well as Kurds and religious minorities like the Ahmadiyya. The people of the Middle East have legitimate grievances with those who govern them and by extension the West. Ideally the intervention would be made by an Arab state, like Egypt which is sending weapons to the rebels in Benghazi but that alone is not enough.


 Potential for Disaster.


Because of the intimate relationship between Gaddafi and the West, that the arms being used to massacre the Libyan people are mostly Western in origin and that the funding which the regime is reliant on came out of oil deals. The arrangement between the coalition in Benghazi and energy corporations might indicate that the best scenario possible is a liberal democracy complete with greater freedoms and rights. It is unlikely that the influence of multinational corporations would not set limits on the democratic system which the rebels are fighting to establish. The calls for economic justice might also be played down, steps forward might be made but with great flaws and limitations. In a sense the revolution has been diluted already, though it is still the alternative to the Colonel. With Gaddafi in power there is no hope of a democratic system emerging in any form, nor is there a chance of economic justice with the exception of the bribe of civilians in Tripoli.


On the other hand, there is a possibility that the UN sanctioned air-strikes could escalate and lead to a full blown invasion. In the worst case scenario this could lead to the partition of Libya along tribal lines to create a NATO enclave positioned perfectly to suppress any further uprisings and strangle any further revolutionary developments in the region. Inaction is itself a form of intervention in itself which brings the possibility of a successful counter-revolution, which would not only sustain the power of Gaddafi but send signals throughout the Middle East and these signals would not be progressive in any sense of the word. The Arab states might easily opt for similar methods of counter-revolutionary violence in order to retain control. In both scenarios the tacit alliance between the Arab dictators and the Israeli government would be secured, with US power left relatively unscathed by the uprisings. Though Israeli interests may be maintained even if the revolution in Libya is successful.

It is likely that the intervention will be used by Gaddafi to play the anti-imperialist card against the rebels and rally support for himself along nationalist lines. The problem here is that the anti-imperialist card is already being played, along with every other card available, to crush the uprising. In a sense there is a ring of truth to the claim that behind the revolt are imperial interests, as the coalition in Benghazi has made deals with oil companies and out-manoeuvred Gaddafi on that front. It is possible that the masses of Western Libya and some officials might be deterred from defecting by the intervention, particularly the air-strikes. The regime has proven it will use any ploy to stay in power, even going as far as to bribe citizens and to hire out death squads from Chad. Even if we opted for the minimal amount of intervention, e.g. selling off Gaddafi's assets to fund the revolution, this card would still be played and it would be played if there was no agreements between energy corporations and Benghazi.

Remember Jimmy Carter, who now criticises Israel but did nothing to help the Palestinians and, during his time in office, effectively exacerbated the suffering of oppressed peoples in the world. In his "heroic liberalism" or "virulent anti-Semitism", depending on your political disposition, Carter's critical remarks about Israel only serve to reaffirm the "superiority" of the West as no responsible actions are pursued from these remarks. Instead of the racist "White Man's Burden" - that as the superior race we are obligated to "civilise" the inferior races - we reassert our own "superiority" by insisting on our guilt without acting to redeem ourselves and correct past injustices. Meanwhile Libyans, Sudanese, Rwandans and Slavs are left to be butchered as we claim to be in "solidarity" with them. We might as well just revert back to the most overt form of comfortable resistance and start calling for "world peace" and "universal love". Resistance is not supposed to be comfortable, responsible decisions have to be made and there has to be accountability for the consequences.

Body Bags for Peace.

In the case of Afghanistan the conditions under which the decision to invade was made included the knowledge that the invasion might exacerbate a famine in the country. It was predicted that this could lead to the deaths of 7 million people. Whereas in the case of Libya we do not have such knowledge, but we do know that Gaddafi's forces have pledged to "cleanse" Benghazi. There is a distinction between the imperialist intervention and the kind of intervention which might enable the revolutionaries to topple the Gaddafi regime. The invasion and occupation of Libya should be opposed, as that would no doubt be imperialist, but a no-fly zone would not be inherently imperialist. It may even be too late for a no-fly zone and we have the crimes of Srebrenica, committed long after a no-fly zone had been established over Bosnia, to keep in mind. Though the variables differ and any "cleansing" in Libya would be political or tribal, not along explicitly racial lines.

It is undeniable that in the past the United Nations have supported interventionism in order to expand the American empire, protect Israeli interests and maintain the established order. But it is also undeniable that in the cases of Rwanda and Sudan (along with lots of other places) the West effectively stood back and watched as the violence reached new heights of depravity. Similarly it is undeniable that the Western powers are considering intervention out of economic interests. The West fears a long drawn out conflict and for that reason there might not be an occupation of Libya in the works. If Gaddafi was allowed to commit a major massacre, e.g. far worse than the massacres he has already orchestrated, an embargo on Libyan oil would have to be imposed and this would keep oil prices high at a time when the US and other countries are recovering from a major economic crisis.

In the mantra of the SWP "No to intervention in Libya! Victory to Arab revolutions!" conceals a certain perversity. In order for the revolutionary ideal to be achieved in it's purest form, it must fail to be "saved" for the Left as this radical ideal. Though this is ignorant of the fact that the Libyan revolutionaries have already made deals with the oil corporations. So the best outcome, e.g. if the revolution succeeds without Western interference, might only be bourgeois democracy. To "save" ourselves from this inconvenient truth we need Gaddafi to crush the rebellion. Similarly the Soviet intervention in Prague '68 "saved" the myth for us that there could have been democratic socialism in Czechoslovakia. We needed the Tiananmen Square protests to be repressed in order to preserve the ideal of Chinese democracy, missing the point that a democratic China might well be chaotic. Let's not dwell in these safe illusions, where we are comfortable in resistance and welcome failure.

We should have no illusions about intervention, let alone the interests of the Western governments, of which we must remain fiercely critical. The fall of Gaddafi is only preferable to them because he has outlived his usefulness as a "reformed despot" and a freed up political system will be less of an embarrassment now. Gaddafi might just be replaced with a softer, and more insidiously pro-American, version of himself and therefore even harder to drive out. But that is contingent and does not justify Gaddafi's regime as life under even a bourgeois democracy, which is a possibility, would be an improvement. Intervention to enable the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi is the lesser evil, no form of intervention is a bloodless solution to the conflict. The revolutionaries are right to hold a sceptical view of Western military power, especially in regards to an occupation, but a no-fly zone is a necessary evil.

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