Categorized | Middle East

How we missed you, Humanitarian Intervention



With the mealy-mouthed support of the Arab League and soon-to-be-repentant sectors of the Arab left, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the creation of a free-fire zone in Qaddafi-controlled quadrants of Libya. NATO warplanes are already alight. Qaddafi’s air-defenses are reportedly being taken out, while a column of tanks manned by working-class soldiers – Qadaffi’s murderous mercenaries, in the cant of Western journalists and bamboozled Arab leftists – has been left smoldering on the road to Benghazi. Boom! We forget so quickly that the soldiers of Arab armies are made up of young Arab men, and when we bomb an army we kill its constituent molecules: in this case, human beings. (Already, Special Forces in an Osprey riddled a bunch of villagers with bullets. Freedom is never free, right?)

The Arab League is already recanting. Meanwhile Al-Jazeera, the tool of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has been inciting insurrection in Libya, covering it fervently, avoiding coverage of the crackdown in Bahrain, and hoping to inoculate the Middle East North Africa region from the plague of revolution. The Egyptian Army has been supplying the Libyan “revolutionaries” with weapons. Perhaps it is poised to re-activate. Once that army enters the streets of Cairo, it could stall the momentum of the Egyptian mobilization. That’s what armies which  revolutions that don’t confront and break do: they lie dormant, waiting for their chance to reverse social change.

Many are quietly thrilled that Qaddafi will soon be gone to dictators’ retirement quarters in the Caymans or Luxembourg, if they’ll have him – although perhaps this time they won’t, since Europe, the normal bolt-hole for deposed dictators, is taking part in the latest “humanitarian intervention.” In any case, most of us, except for the bonkers wing of the 4th International, don’t like Qaddafi. We think he’s a dictator who looks like he came out of back-up casting for a George Lucas film. Nonetheless, he has been reacting quite cleverly and soberly to the humanitarian “no-fly zone.” Additionally, although this is probably heresy, as George Friedman rightly reminds us, Qaddafi “actually had substantial support among some tribes and within the army. All of these supporters had a great deal to lose if he was overthrown. Therefore, they proved far stronger collectively than the opposition, even if they were taken aback by the initial opposition successes.”

Furthermore, air campaigns don’t dislodge dictators. What they do is turn children into corpses. Perhaps the refusal to remember this is a weird sort of Prometheanism, as well as the output of a weird leftist fixation on Western aero-techno-power. Remember the Osprey? The people planning these hi-tech junkets serially blow up space shuttles and dream up techno-gadgets because that’s how they get their salaries, not because their gewgaws get off the ground or function properly. We have seen how such weapons perform in the field, and we know that their GPS-laser-infrared-telepathically-guided drones reliably zoom in on wedding parties and shepherds in the Afghan mountains, blowing them to smithereens. That’s what high explosives do.

Others coldly grate that we had to do something when massacre was imminent in liberated Benghazi. Aside from the fact that Qaddafi had promised amnesty for those who laid down their weapons – those more knowledgeable than I about Libya can say what that is worth – we stand by and “do nothing” constantly, as Max Forte has pointed out. We blabber away on our blogs and make careers in the West marketing our political stances, hopefully in a way that’s sufficiently seductive to power that it will offer us some of its loot for our commentary (I repeat: Al-Jazeera is not our friend, although many of us are now taking its petro-cash). We do nothing all the fucking time. But suddenly, with power framing the discourse, the laptop bombardiers clatter into action, saying that we had to align with power. Power is more honest: “The effort to shoe-horn this into an imminent genocide model is strained,” one senior administration official told Time magazine. On such matters, Samantha Power is a reliable bellwether as the biggest scoundrel on the bomb-them-to-freedom-liberal-left. Personally, I think Power’s number one humanitarian intervention would be to give herself a lobotomy, but failing that, she does give us a reliable guide to action: if she supports, let’s oppose. Done.

These folks would have us bomb the Libyan insurrectionists to freedom because those people could not defeat the government independently. This is befuddling: if these were revolutionaries, socially embedded, fighting for programmatically vacuous freedom and democracy, as many of the upper-middle-bourgeois-liberal-left who watch revolutions in the global South with a wad of tissue paper in one hand a squirt of Jergen’s in the other would wish, one wonders why they were on the verge of defeat, and what kind of orientation they will have to imperialism and capitalism if they are already willing to let NATO warplanes bomb their own in full knowledge of the tens of thousands of conscripts who died in the burning hell of the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait. In the emotional effervescence of revolt, I guess we can just toss history to the side, right? To do otherwise would be a form of liberal metropolitan cultural colonialism. Or is it the other way around?

Even worse have been the identity politics fetishists: brown people are calling for intervention, and who are we to say no? Well, simple. We are human beings capable of cogitating our way out of wet paper bags. We have noticed that Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, was Qadaffi’s Justice Minister from 2007 until February 2011. We do not trust this man. We do not trust his statement that “We asked for a no-fly zone to be imposed from day one” – in other words, aware from the beginning that he could not muster popular support behind the insurgency. Popular insurgencies defeat illegitimate regimes. Their inability to do so does not mean that the regimes are legitimate. But it highlights the fact that we cannot intervene effectively in civil wars. The outcome is always disaster. When you hit a society with a hammer, only the strong remain standing, and the strong tend to be the most vicious. History tells us few lessons, but it does tell us that we will inevitably make things worse.

Furthermore, when the Empire is making the call on intervention, it is not doing so after adjudicating the relative merits of different regimes, but doing so in an attempt to maximize its power and repel revolt in this Arab Spring. The empire makes its deal with the devil, even if it calls him a freedom fighter. There is no reason to think this intervention will end well and every reason to think it will end up turning Libya into a charnel house. Some have remembered this. As Patrick Cockburn writes, “There will be a lack of a credible local partner. The rebels have shown that they are politically and militarily weak. Indeed, if this had not been so, there would have been no need for a last-minute foreign intervention to save them. The local leaders who rise to the top in these circumstances are usually those who speak the best English and get on with the US and its allies.”

Intervention in Libya is the point on the spear of Western armed intervention in the region. Obama and his junior partners in Europe and Japan are eager to squash the Arab revolt. Arabs who know something about revolt have noted this fact. Here is Hassan Nasrallah, still with his head firmly affixed to his shoulders: “This opens the way for foreign interventions in every Arab country. It brings us back to the days of occupation, colonization and partition.” Marhaba.

Were other options foreclosed? Yup. Chavez and the Latin American socialists made a very dumb error when they spoke so glowingly of comrade Qadaffi and thereby shattered much of the credibility behind their call for a goodwill peace commission to intervene and find a peaceable solution to the conflict. Nonetheless, we should have supported that call, and thereby avoided several weeks of bloodshed and now the imminently possibility of imperial counter-revolution taking root, beginning in the current battleground: Benghazi and Libya more broadly. Leftists in Latin America thought big: they thought to take state power, and then they thought to use it to oppose the empire. That’s what solidarity means. Oppose the empire they tried to do, even if they tried to do so clumsily. What are we left with? Choosing between pom-poms for imperial cruise missiles and accusations of sitting on our hands while people die. What a pickle.

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