Tuesday, 26 June 2012

One Cheer for Interventionism.

There have been many attempts over the years to define neoconservatism and in his attempt Francis Fukuyama summarised the distinct features of the neoconservative persuasion. The first is the position that the foreign policy ought to be the embodiment of the body national's internal character, values and ideals. This should mean that American foreign policy instills the liberal democratic values on which the American Republic was founded. There is truth in this because there are many bones in the foundations  of the American Republic, its ideals then are a veneer that covers the horrors of the past. It isn't simply that the neoconservatives are strictly traitors to classical liberalism in their support for torture and so on. Rather these democratic revolutionaries stand for the underside of the classical liberal tradition. To be specific, that the means to defend liberal values amount to the adulteration and ultimate destruction of those same values. This is in the same sense that the neoconservatives look to install a democracy, only in the form that will ratify the ideology to which they subscribe.

It is often said that just because we can't do everything doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything. Usually by these words come from the chops of a man with an arrogant bone-structure, think Niall Ferguson's jaw. But it could be said that just because we shouldn't do everything that there is something we can do. Don't forget Jimmy Carter, who now criticises Israel but he actively exacerbated the suffering of oppressed peoples in the world as President. Carter's critical remarks about Israel came too late and only served to reaffirm notions of Western "superiority" as no responsible action towards a settlement 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 the people we claim to be in "solidarity" with are butchered.

For years Muammar al-Gaddafi stood as the mirror-image of an American neoconservative as he saw a moral obligation to intervene where necessary on the side of the victim against the oppressors of the world. Of course, the side of the victim can be chosen selectively in accordance with the geopolitical value of fending off a particular oppressor. The same is true of the neoconservatives who wanted to fight the Communists in Afghanistan in the name of "freedom", but quietly supported Ceaușescu in Romania at the same time. We find similar contradictions in Libyan foreign policy, Colonel Gaddafi was on board for war crimes in Sierra Leone but backed the ANC at a time when Nelson Mandela was smeared as a "terrorist" in the US and Britain. The same reasoning was deployed to justify sending Libyan agents across into Egypt with the stated purpose of "subversion", even though Gaddafi was an admirer of General Nasser and wanted to emulate him as a "strong man".

It was a great irony to see the regime that had ruled Libya for forty-odd years come to an end in the midst of NATO airstrikes. During the debate around whether or not the West should intervene in Libya it was debated in Britain whether or not the revolutionaries should be given the funds from Gaddafi's assets in the country. There was even talk of organisations in Britain forging links with the rebels in Benghazi to provide not just funding but equipment. This demonstrated that there isn't an anti-interventionist position. It has to be noted that inaction is a form of intervention insofar as it has an effect on the situation. The blocks kept in place on the flow of arms into Bosnia left Muslims vulnerable to the onslaught from the Serbs. If anything this talk of a Live Aid style bid to save Benghazi confirmed the need for a kind of intervention by way of support for the rebels. It would have been easy to cheer on if there had been a revolutionary government in Cairo to batter down Gaddafi's regime.

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. There needs to be a serious preparation for what it means to play with power. If there was a revolution in the West could the Left as it is really form a government? I doubt it given the shoddy state of affairs it has been in for so long. There was a time when the Left could muster thousands in organisation, millions in unions and talk seriously about alternative models. Sectarianism has always been there on the Left and in some ways it has been diminished over the years, but it's too little too late. The tendency to take a simple and cheap moralistic position which is distant from power can't be taken as anything less than problematic. This is vital for a deeply fractured and weakened movement.

Dr Cornel West saw reason to call for a military intervention in South Africa to overthrow the Apartheid regime. The struggle against Apartheid went on for decades with non-violent means exhausted as the racist state proved that it could not be simply reformed. Not only that, but that the Western relationship with the Apartheid regime was profoundly sordid. The reason that the ANC had to found the Spirit of the Nation to launch a campaign of sabotage to paralyze the state was that the non-violent means were no longer viable. There is a level of duty, the obligations of solidarity in the struggle for black liberation and then there is the need to respect the wishes of the people actually in the situation. The consequences of bombing South Africa would be different to opening up the flow of arms to the ANC. This is all within the context of the anti-imperialist struggle. The particular context of the struggle is vital, as that would determine whether or not it is right to intervene in a sovereign nation.

It is necessary that the radical Left develop a criterion by which we can determine what should be done in crucial situations of foreign policy. It can't simply be that there is nothing we can or should do, that there is no such thing as a just war that the capitalist state should fight. There are deontological and consequential aspects to take into account, in the sense of what we may be obligated to do and what the consequences of say a no-fly zone could be in the end. There could even be situations when it is inappropriate to evaluate in terms of duty or the consequences. It has to be clear that the lives of the vulnerable are enhanced to the extent that they can determine their own destiny. There are times when there is good reason to stay out as it were and then there are times when something must be done. What is to be done can range from small efforts to violence. This seems like a workable trichotomy, though the real difficulty is in the determination of which course to embark upon.

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