Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Critical Thoughts on the Intervention in Libya.

 "Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with barbarians, provided that the end be their improvement." - JS Mill

Since the UN sanctioned an intervention in Libya to impose a no-fly zone, by shooting down planes and air-strikes against Gaddafi strongholds, there has been word of civilian killings in air-strikes and a great deal of ambiguity in the press about the nature of the intervention. An intervention that is being executed by the US, along with former colonial giants: Britain, France and Italy et al. The no-fly zone has been imposed in the midst of massacres carried out by death squads hired from Serbia by the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution". We have seen the way Iman al-Obeidi has been silenced after she claimed to have been raped by the counter-revolutionaries. At the same time the colonial past of Libya should not be forgotten, in the thirty-plus years of Italian colonial rule over 500,000 Libyans died - including 60,000 in concentration camps. The sheer brutality in which Libya was dominated by the Italians can be distinguished from colonial regimes in Egypt and Morocco.

This is the reason, as pointed out by Richard Seymour, that the vilification of Colonel Gaddafi is a way of externalising evil from the West. The man referred to as a "Mad Dog" is to be understood within a historical context, in which he is responsible for his own actions but not the pre-conditions of such choices and decisions. If he had been born into a respectable middle-class family in a country which was not recently ravaged by colonial genocide. But if that were the case he would not be Gaddafi. It is true that the Colonel is a despicable human being who has slaughtered civilians, as well as political prisoners and exiled dissidents in the past. As David Fox insists that we have the right to strike at Gaddafi from the air, conveniently there is no mention of the potential civilian deaths this might incur. Instead The Sun resorts to the line that the death squads of Gaddafi are 'posing' as civilians to evade attacks from "Our Boys". But also that there were 300 civilian supporters, including children, of Gaddafi being used unwittingly as "human shields". So if we kill any civilians, they might not be civilians but if they turn out to be it was Gaddafi's fault anyway.

This is the routine line of the press used reflexively to cleanse "Our Boys" of any responsible for bloodshed and in this case it was deployed in advance by the Right. It has been used to defend the use of white phosphorus in Gaza and Iraq in the past. You might even hear from reactionaries a similar plea to defend war crimes committed in Afghanistan. Terms like "Mad Dog" are applied in disregard of the details, in the same way that Hugo Chavez is repeatedly labelled a "dictator", the BBC labelled Nasser as a "barking dictator" just as the British were about to be humiliated in the Suez Canal. Nasser was a bourgeois nationalist and a dictator, but the policies he initiated were far better for the majority of Egyptians than the infitah reforms of Sadat and Mubarak. Not to mention that it was Mubarak who kept prisons where children could be tortured in front of their parents, but this is conveniently absent in the Western media and Tony Blair still insisted that Mubarak is a "force for good". Incidentally Saddam Hussein, a monster if there ever was one, was described as a "little Hitler" even though all of his atrocities were supported by the US and Britain.

"We have to reserve the right to bomb the niggers." - David Lloyd George

We were also told that it was Saddam who was to blame for the "missing" weapons of mass-destruction. It was also the fault of the Iraqi army that the military targets were situated among civilians, effectively using them as "human shields". When it would be laughable to expect the American government to build administrative buildings and military offices in the middle of a deserted landscape in Utah. This kind of thinking is ignorant the crimes of Fallujah, we ought not elevate it to a level where it can gain a monopoly over the moral high-ground. We should also keep in mind that the West has effectively taken a hypocritical stance of aggression in this instance. There is support for an intervention in Libya as the regime slaughters it's own people, but the US fully supports the repression currently going on in Bahrain and Yemen among other places. The repression has been comparably successful. Western interests are being defended by the cops on the beat, namely the Saudis. Not like in Libya where the decision to crackdown on the population as a whole, not just demonstrations, led to a schism in the regime.

As John Rees pointed out prior to the intervention, the rebels have acquired some air capability which has been overlooked in the media. Numerous officials of government and the military have defected as a result of Gaddafi's horrendous onslaught. A few jets have been shot down by the rebels and hundreds of pro-Gaddafi troops have surrendered. But it might be rash to conclude that the rebels could easily defend themselves from Gaddafi's jets without any assistance. The Left accept intervention from Egypt and Tunisia, in the form of weapons and funding for the rebels, is necessary. We all agree that some kind of intervention is necessary, because a non-interventionist position would presuppose that we had never meddled in Libya in the first place. We're embedded in the situation, Gaddafi emerged as an alternative to pro-Western monarchy and provided crude answers to the legitimate grievances of Libyan people. Let alone the sanctions used to punish Libya, which destroyed the welfare state developed in the 1970s and led to neoliberal reforms in the 21st Century.

We can see the liberal doctrine of interventionism is being reheated and served on plastic plates. Intervention is not inherently imperialist, the context and details matter. After all it is true that the Anglo-French intervention against Germany in 1939 was a reaction to the German invasion of Poland, which was at the time a military dictatorship, this is the closest we've ever come to a just war. It is not that the intervention in Libya fits the model of a just war and Gaddafi is not Hitler. The cause for intervention was to avert a massacre in Benghazi. The intervention in Libya might well lead to a destructive partition which would leave the country torn in two, festering rage between an impoverished west and an oil-rich east. The West might support the rebellion in order to remove the annoying dictator completely, but the air-strikes could escalate into an intervention with "boots on the ground" as the major threat to Benghazi is artillery. The threat of greater civilian casualties would only increase as a result.

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