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Who is calling for American intervention in Libya?



History is being re-written in front of our eyes, but not by the usual suspects. I remember the debates over the Balkan Wars and whether America should have a “right” to “humanitarian intervention” there as classic moments when the touchstone of leftist ethics – do not intervene – was the most reliable guide to political thinking. Liberals like David Reiff, the pathetic Samantha Power, and Thomas Friedman, theNYT court jester, supported “humanitarian intervention” in the Balkans, sometimes in a tacit alliance with “conservatives,” although it was the latter more than the former who opposed the war and especially the intervention in Kosovo.

Jim Lobe informs us (this is why I don’t read Jim Lobe anymore):

In a distinct echo of the tactics they pursued to encourage U.S. intervention in the Balkans and Iraq, a familiar clutch of neo-conservatives appealed Friday for the United States and NATO to “immediately” prepare military action to help bring down the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and end the violence that is believed to have killed well over a thousand people in the past week.

Those actions set the pattern for the 1990s. To the end of the decade, neo-conservatives, often operating under the auspices of a so-called “letterhead organisation”, such as PNAC, worked – often with the help of some liberal internationalists eager to establish a right of humanitarian intervention – to press President Bill Clinton to take military action against adversaries in the Balkans (in Bosnia and then Kosovo) as well as Iraq.

Those of us familiar with these debates remember something a little different about the 1990s: we recall that it was a Democratic administration that tore into Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia, and a Democratic administration that supported the nearly genocidal sanctions regime against Iraq. Democrats don’t need the advice of neo-conservatives to rip apart the planet. They do that fine on their own. Lobe later gets to that, but it’s not the point of his post. He writes that

Anne-Marie Slaughter, until last month the influential director of the State Department’s Policy Planning office, cited the U.S.-NATO Kosovo campaign as a possible precedent. “The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters,” she wrote on Twitter. “In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted.”

(Put to the side the claims about the US “watching” in Rwanda).* Of the many reasons for intervention in Kosovo, one of them was to further embed in Western political culture the R2P – the Responsibility to Protect – to justify future interventions, a bit of ideological spadework that laid the ground for the US aggression into Iraq and Afghanistan. It takes liberals to initially mouth these murderous bromides, and then they can provide ideological cover for the “conservatives” to undertake nearly identical policies when the latter are in power.

What is at stake here? Lobe is re-writing the history of empire so as to make it an affair of Republicans. Not just Republicans: neo-conservatives. But self-interested violent intervention under the cover of helping the natives is not merely the history of American empire but the history of every empire. In colonizing Ireland, English apologists said that “Again, his majesty may take this course in conscience because it tendeth to the good of the inhabitants many ways.” We stole the land to make it better. We bombed Libya to save it. The interests lining up behind particular policies need to be looked at carefully. As Herzl, Max Nordau, and others planned, the presence of Israel in the Middle East contributes to regional militarization. But we have a 1 trillion dollar military budget. When you have a hammer in each hand, the varied problems of the world do tend to take on the appearance of nails. But you want to just blame it on AIPAC? Really?


* Herman and Peterson write: “What the United States and its Western allies (Britain, Canada, and Belgium) really did was to sponsor the U.S.-trained Kagame; support his invasion of Rwanda from Uganda and the massive ethnic cleansing prior to April 1994; weaken the Rwandan state by forcing an economic recession and the RPF’s penetration of the government and throughout the country; and then press for the complete removal of UN troops. They did this because they didn’t want UN troops to stand in the way of Kagame’s conquest of the country, even though Rwanda’s Hutu authorities were urging the dispatch of more UN troops.”

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