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Theme Changer

 Topic: The history of humanitarian intervention: "Goodies and baddies"

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  • The history of humanitarian intervention: "Goodies and baddies"
     OP - April 04, 2011, 01:42 PM

    Foreword: I recommend reading this on the BBC site as it has some embedded media content.

    GOODIES AND BADDIES
    Monday, 28 March 2011

    by Adam Curtis

    The idea of "humanitarian intervention" which is behind the decision to attack in Libya is one of the central beliefs of our age.

    It divides people. Some see it as a noble, disinterested use of Western power. Others see it as a smokescreen for a latter-day liberal imperialism.

    I want to tell the story of how this idea originated and how it has grown up to possess the minds of a generation of liberal men and women in Europe and America.

    It is the story of a generation who became disenchanted with traditional power politics. They thought they could leap over the old corrupt structures of power and connect directly with the innocent victims of war around the world.

    It was a grand utopian project that began in the mid-60s in Africa and flourished and spread across the world. But in the 1990s it became corrupted by the very thing it was supposed to have transcended - western power politics.

    And the idea seemed to have died in horror in a bombing of a hotel in Baghdad in 2003.

    What we now see is the return of that dream in a ghostly, half-hearted form - where the confidence and hopes have been replaced by a nervous anxiety.

     This modern phase of humanitarian intervention begins in 1968 with the Biafran war. It is a fascinating moment because it is where the framework - the contemporary filter through which we now perceive all humanitarian tragedies - was first constructed.

    The Eastern part of Nigeria had declared independence and called their new state Biafra. In response the Nigerian army attacked the rebel government. Things went very badly for the Biafrans, but no-one in the West cared. While the British government happily sold lots of arms to the Nigerians.

    But then the Biafran government found a very odd Public Relations firm in Geneva, called MarkPress who set out to change the way people in Europe saw the war.

    I have discovered a great documentary in the BBC archive which tells what then happened. It is shot inside the PR company's offices and interviews the men running the campaign.

    It shows how they turned a war that people saw simply as a political conflict in a faraway land into something heart-wrenching and dramatic.

    It became a moral battle between evil politicians in Nigeria - aided by cynical and corrupt politicians in London who were selling the arms - and the innocent victims of the starvation caused by the war.

    Here is an extract.

    The British newspapers went for it in a big way. And a new movement grew up. It was driven by moral outrage, fuelled by a disgust with the old British political class who were prolonging the suffering through arms sales.

    Celebrities joined in. They held a 48 hour fast in Piccadilly Circus over Christmas. Here are some frame grabs from the news report. The one that shows what was really happening is the placard that says BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940 - BIAFRA '69.

    The conflict was being fitted to the template that was going to define the whole movement. It was the Good War. A justified resistance against evil to protect the innocent wherever they were being threatened in the world.

    Just like the struggle against fascism in the Second World War.

     But Biafra also revealed the terrible dangers of this simplified view of wars - dangers that would always haunt the humanitarian movement.

    Here is an extract from a very good Timewatch programme about Biafra made in the early 90s. It has journalists telling how they took what Biafra's PR agency had started - and went much further. They created the new image that was going to define the future coverage of all these humanitarian crises - the starving child.

    But the programme also makes a strong case that the aid that resulted from the wave of sympathy that these images created had a terrible unforeseen consequence. It prolonged a futile war for a further 18 months - and thus contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

    Many in the aid agencies have denied this. But the programme includes the rebel Biafran leader, Colonel Ojukwu, saying clearly that he used the hard currency he got from the agencies to buy the weapons he needed to continue fighting.

    Out of Biafra was going to come a new idea of how to save the world. And the man who would create it was a young French doctor called Bernard Kouchner.

    Kouchner had worked for the Red Cross in Biafra, but he had become disgusted by the Red Cross' refusal to publicise the genocide created by the Nigerian government.

    Just as the Red Cross hadn't revealed the horrors they saw in World War Two in the Nazi concentration camps because they insisted on being "neutral"

    Kouchner resigned and went back to Paris where he founded a new humanitarian organisation called Medecins Sans Frontieres. Being neutral, Kouchner said, really meant being complicit in the horror. And MSF would never be complicit. It was on the side of the innocent victims.

    Here is Kouchner explaining what he did

    Kouchner - and many of the others who founded MSF - had been Marxist or Maoist revolutionaries, but they had become disenchanted with those utopian visions. And what they were doing was reworking the politics of third world liberation into a new form.

    It was a type of liberation that they believed went beyond the politics of left and right and instead was about saving individuals from the horrors of totalitarianism whether that came from the right or the left.

    They weren't going to be neutral. They were going to take sides. But it was the side of the victims - because they were neutral.

    Their first slogan was "There are no good and bad victims".

    And in 1979 Kouchner dramatically demonstrated this belief. He hired a ship to go and rescue the Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing the communist regime who now ruled Vietnam.

    The left - and many liberals - were shocked. Because these were "bad victims". Victims of the noble anti-imperialists who had defeated America.

    But Joan Baez supported him.

    Here is part of a film made in the early 1980 that tells the story of his rescue of the boat people. It was filmed on the ship Kouchner hired. You also get a very good sense of Kouchner's drive and his beliefs.

    There is a great scene as the MSF ship arrives on a tiny Island. The Europeans stride weeping onto the jetty as they are applauded as heroes by the thousands of boat people stranded on the island.

    At the same time as the humanitarian movement was rising up, so too were the new despots that were going to become some of the main targets for this new idealism.

    Many of them - like Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gadaffi - were also, in a strange way, products of the failure of the Communist dream. Like Kouchner they too were trying to rework revolutionary theory - but in their case with horrific results.

    I have found a sort of fly-on-the-wall documentary made in 1976 which follows Muammar Gadaffi around as he goes about ruling Libya.

    One highlight is a section with his mother and father who still live in a tent out in the desert. Mrs Gadaffi explains how her son has insisted that they must remain living in their old tent until every other Libyan is properly housed in a modern apartment.

    I wonder if they ever got out.

    The documentary makes it clear how repressive and brutal Gadaffi's regime is. How he has locked up and tortured thousands of his opponents.

    But then it takes a fascinating turn. The interviewer asks Gadaffi to explain why he has sent Libyan troops to fight with the Palestinians against Israel, and why he has sent in Libyan agents to try and overthrow President Sadat of Egypt.

    In response Gadaffi launches into an explanation that countries like Libya have a duty to intervene in other nations where the ordinary people are being oppressed by autocrats or oppressive governments - and help free them. That includes helping to liberate Egypt and Tunisia.

    But it also means, he says, that politicians like him are justified in intervening in Northern Ireland to help the Provisional IRA. Because they are oppressed by the British government

    They too are victims.

    What Gadaffi was arguing was a strange mirror image of the theory that Kouchner and the other ex-leftists in Europe were developing.

    For they too were heading towards the idea of "armed intervention".

    In the 1980s the humanitarian movement was flourishing - above all in Afghanistan. But in Afghanistan the movement also came up against a big political problem.

    Men and women from what was now called "the doctors' movement" went in over the mountains to help the victims of the Soviet attacks. They were brave and daring and they saved the lives of many Afghan civilians.

    But they also helped the Mujaheddin. Under the theory of the humanitarian movement this was fine. The Mujaheddin were resisting the Soviet totalitarianism. They were victims fighting back so it was morally right to help them.

    But others didn't see it that way.

    Here is video of the trial in Kabul in 1983 of a French doctor who had been captured by the Afghan army.

    He is called Philippe Augoyard. He worked for Aide Medicale Internationale - which was another version of MSF. The trial is absurd - and in the tradition of all communist show trials the doctor reads out a "confession" and admits to "working with the counter-revolutionary bandits".

    But there is also another part of his confession that was both true and embarrassing for all the ex-Marxists and Maoists in the humanitarian movement. The mujaheddin they were helping were backed, funded and armed by the Americans.

    Which meant they were helping American global imperialism.

    Incidentally, the video is shot by my hero. He is a cameraman called Erik Durschmied. He is the best cameraman who has ever worked for the BBC - and I am constantly using his stuff in my films.

    But then a group of French philosophers came to the rescue. They came up with a theory that said it wasn't bad to work with American military power. In fact, if the humanitarians could harness America's armed might, they could use it to change the world in a revolutionary way.

    The philosophers were led by another ex-Maoist called Andre Glucksmann. He had turned against the left and had developed his own theory which he called "anti-totalitariansm". Here is a picture of Glucksmann relaxing in 1978.

    But he wasn't alone. Glucksmann was part of a group of intellectuals that rose up in France in the late 1970s called the New Philosophers. They saw Bernard Kouchner as an action hero putting their ideas into practice. Another prominent one was the glamorous Bernard-Henri Levy. Here he is with an interesting haircut.

    Glucksmann put it in stark terms. Everything that oppressed people around the world he called "Auschwitz". Even famines were called "Auschwitz".

    It was the ghost of the Second World War again.

    Glucksmann then said that people with power had a right to intervene in other societies to prevent "Auschwitzes". And that included using American power.

    Maybe, he said, power exercised by the strong was not always oppression. If it was used decently it could liberate the oppressed.

    And - Glucksmann said - this didn't just mean medical help. It included "armed resistance".

    And then came the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995 - which seemed to prove Glucksmann's theory in a dramatic way.

    When the Bosnian crisis began in 1992 humanitarian groups and the UN came in to try and help the victims of Serb aggression.

    But they quickly began to realise they were being used by western governments as a way of containing a crisis that the politicians did not want to get involved with.

    The journalist David Rieff wrote

    "The idea was simple, coarse and brutal. Instead of political action backed by the credible threat of military force, the Western powers would substitute a massive humanitarian effort to alleviate the worst consequences of a conflict they wanted to contain

    'Containment through charity' was the way one UN official put it."

    And then at Srebrenica thousands of civilians gathered together in the enclave - believing they were under international protection. But when the Serbian troops led by General Mladic marched in, the UN troops did nothing. The promise of protection had simply made it easier for the Serbs to kill over 8,000 people.

    Here is an extract from a brilliant Panorama programme about the massacre. It includes notorious footage shot by a Serb cameraman on the day of the massacre. It is notorious because he allegedly edited out shots that show evidence of the killings.

    But you get a sense from the footage of the impotence of the UN Dutch soldiers. It is the record of a terrible moment of moral failure.

    It begins with thousands of Bosnians fleeing Srebrenica for what they think is the safety of the UN camp outside town.

    One of the UN's special envoys in Bosnia, Jose Maria Mendiluce realised that Glucksmann was right:

    "You don't reply to fascism with relief supplies. Only if we stop being neutral  between murderers and victims, if we decide to back Bosnia's fight for life against the fascist horror of ethnic cleansing, shall we be able to contribute to the survival of the remnants of that country and of our own dignity."

    And then a few months later American air power - under the command of NATO - was used to force the Serbs to negotiate a peace. Almost no-one disagreed. It was a Good War in which the left-wing humanitarians were now allied with their old imperialist enemy - America.

    Out of Srebrenica came a strange new hybrid - a humanitarian militarism. And in the 1990s it rose up to capture the imagination of a generation on the left in Europe.

    Ever since the collapse of the left in the early 1980s they had been searching for a new vision of how to change the world for the better. Now they found it - a humanitarianism that had the power to right wrongs around the world rather than just alleviate them.

    It even had French philosophers behind it.

    And one of that generation who was most entranced was Tony Blair, and in 1999 he took this humanitarianism to its moment of greatest triumph.

    Here are the rushes of Tony Blair arriving to a hero's welcome in Kosovo in May 1999. Blair had persuaded a reluctant President Clinton to join in a NATO bombing campaign to stop Serbian atrocities in Kosovo and had stuck with it even when it seemed to be failing.

    Blair's arrival and his speech at a Kosovan refugee camp on the Macedonian border is an extraordinary scene. It is also a very important moment in recent history. Watch Blair's face closely as he walks through the adoring crowd chanting "Tony, Tony, Tony" and you understand some of why he would take Britain to war in Iraq four years later.

    It is also eerily reminiscent of Kouchner and the other doctors arriving on the South Sea Island to rescue the Vietnamese Boat people exactly twenty years before.

    It was also a moment of triumph for Bernard Kouchner. He became the head of the interim administration in Kosovo - and he set out to create a new democracy.

    Many of his staff were leftist revolutionaries from 1968. Even one of the NATO commanders had fought on the streets of Paris.

    But Kouchner quickly discovered that victims could be very bad. There was an extraordinary range of ethnic groups in Kosovo.

    There were:
    Muslim Albanians
    Orthodox Serbs
    Roman Catholic Serbs
    Serbian-speaking Muslim Egyptians
    Albanian-speaking Muslim Gypsies - Ashkalis
    Albanian-speaking Christian Gypsies - Goranis
    And even - Pro-Serbian Turkish-speaking Turks

    They all had vendettas with each other - which meant that they were both victims and horrible victimizers at the same time.

    It began to be obvious that getting rid of evil didn't always lead to the simple triumph of goodness.

    Which became horribly clear in Iraq in 2003.

    Kouchner and many of the other humanitarian interventionists were wary of backing the invasion. They distrusted the Bush administration and suspected they and their ideas were being used as cover. But they also believed in removing Saddam Hussein because it was a chance to liberate millions of people from the oppression of a "fascist" tyrant.

    Following the invasion many of those who had worked under Kouchner in Kosovo went to Baghdad to set up the United Nations presence there. They were led by another humanitarian, a Brazilian ex-leftist from the 1960s, Sergio Viero de Mello.

    They set up their operations in the Canal Street Hotel in Baghdad. But then on August 19th - in the middle of a press conference - this happened.

    A vast truck bomb had been driven right under the window of Sergio de Mello's office. He and 21 others were killed.

    No one knows for sure who was behind the bombing but it was clear that de Mello and the humanitarians had been deliberately targeted.

    Many in the humanitarian-intervention movement saw the Canal Hotel bombing as the beginning of the end of their dream. Because it dramatically illustrated how naive they had been.

    The movement had begun back in Biafra because a group of young idealists wanted to escape from the old corrupt power politics. To do this they had simplified the world into a moral struggle between good and evil.

    They believed that if they could destroy the evil - by liberating victims from oppression by despots - then what would result would be, automatically, good.

    But the problem with this simple view was that it meant they had no critical framework by which to judge the "victims" they were helping. And the Baghdad bombing made it clear that some of the victims were very bad indeed - and that the humanitarians' actions might actually have helped unleash another kind of evil.

    The same truth has become obvious in Kosovo too.

    Last year a Swiss prosecutor produced a report for the Council of Europe which alleged that the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci was not only a mafia boss, a murderer and a drug dealer, and alleged that he was also involved with a group that killed Serbian prisoners and then sold their organs for illegal transplants.

    Hashim Thaci denies all the allegations

    And it has also been alleged that Mr Thaci rigged the recent elections "on an industrial scale"

    But quite a few people still believe in the dream.

    Samantha Power was a journalist in Bosnia and a close friend of Sergio Viera de Mello. She is now a Special Assistant to President Obama. Power is a passionate advocate of humanitarian intervention - and by all accounts she is the person who most persuaded a reluctant President Obama to intervene in Libya.

    And Bernard Kouchner also supports the Libyan intervention.

    But there is a general wariness and nervousness about the return of the old dream of armed intervention. Above all because we realise that humanitarian interventionism offers us no political way to judge who it is we are helping in Libya - and thus what the real consequences of our actions might be.

    Even if one's instincts are to help those fighting Gadaffi, it is no longer enough just to see it as a struggle of goodies against baddies. For it is precisely that simplification that has led to unreal fantasies about who we are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Fantasies that persist today, and which our leaders still cling to - because they give the illusion that we are in control.

    But the French philosophers are still very vocal. Here is Bernard-Henri Levy on Newsnight claiming he helped persuade President Sarkozy to intervene in Libya.

    As you watch him - you get a sense that you are looking at something rather odd, a simplification of the world that was very much a product of a strange moment in history.

    Rather like Mr Levy's hair-style.

    [BBC blogs]

    Interesting historical analysis and more nuanced than I've generally seen from most commentators on the "left" or "right" of the political spectrum.

    Each of us a failed state in stark relief against the backdrop of the perfect worlds we seek.
    Propagandhi - Failed States
  • Re: The history of humanitarian intervention: "Goodies and baddies"
     Reply #1 - April 08, 2011, 09:54 PM

    would provide link but appears the site is down right now

    ----------------------------

    Libya: Revolution, Intervention and Crisis
    For socialists and for antiwar forces, the events in Libya have presented – and continue to present – agonizing political and ethical choices. It is entirely logical and inevitable that thoughtful activists find themselves in disagreement among each other, and indeed in internal conflict within themselves, over questions raised by the Libyan popular uprising and by the military intervention of the western powers. Recognizing the difficulties of the situation is the essential first step for the international left to work through them.

    Solidarity supports the struggles against dictatorships in Libya and throughout the Arab world, and does not believe imperialist intervention can resolve the problems that have led to the revolts. We found ourselves in disagreement, however, on whether to oppose the Libyan rebels’ demand for a “no-fly zone” over Libya. Therefore, we are publishing two statements by members of our National Committee, representing the two main views of the Solidarity leadership. We do have clear areas of agreement, which we present not only as our own position but also as part of a necessary discussion within the left.

    Which side are we on? We are supporters of the Libyan popular revolt. This uprising takes place in the context of the “Arab spring,” the democratic revolutionary wave that began with Tunisia and Egypt and has spread to countries as diverse as Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Syria. At the same time, we believe that the liberation of nations and their people is the work of the people themselves, not of outside “saviors” and certainly not of imperialist powers.

    Despite whatever disagreements may exist within the international left and antiwar forces, we must remain unified in our unqualified opposition to the imperialist wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, our support for the struggles of the Palestinian people, and in our support for the democratic Arab Uprising -- which is bringing new hopes for political freedom and social justice for tens of millions of people whose basic rights have counted for nothing in the world powers’ cynical games of oil and geopolitics.


    Statement in Support of the Libyan Uprising, in Opposition to US-NATO Airstrikes in Libya
    by Adam H, Dan L, Erin C, Isaac S, Peter S

    While the situation in Libya remains unclear, and the issues are complex, we believe that it is important to state some of the general principles which should guide us in our approach to this issue.

    To begin with, we support the movements for democracy and social and economic justice taking place in North Africa and Southwest Asia—the "Middle East." Throughout the Arab world, millions of people are fighting for freedom, and we are on their side.

    We do not believe that the Arab League, composed as it is largely of dictatorial or authoritarian regimes, can speak for the Arab world or the Libyan people. The Arab League states simply seek to protect their own economic and political interests against each other and against the rising tide of democracy in the region.

    Neither do we believe that the United Nations or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have legitimacy to speak either for the people of the world or the people of the Arab region. We oppose U.N. Resolution 1973, despite its reference to protecting civilians and human rights, since from the beginning its purpose and effect are to legitimate imperial intervention in Libya.

    France, Great Britain, the United States, and other European powers claim to intervene out of concern for human rights and democracy, but these claims are contradicted in practice. These nations support other dictatorial regimes in the Arab world and around the globe, even during the course of events in Libya doing nothing to stop the use of Saudi troops against protesters in Bahrain. They intervene in Libya due to their own economic interests and concerns for geopolitical control. Qaddafi was already a willing client of empire, and Euro-American powers have intervened in the civil conflict to broker deals with disaffected and ambitious members of the Libyan elite who are backing the uprising. Power abhors a vacuum.

    The principal goal of the imperial powers—France, Britain, and the US, whether individually or acting in concert as the UN or NATO—is to dominate and shape the unfolding Arab revolution. As new governments form in the region and new political actors emerge in the course of the revolutions and uprisings, these powers will not stand idly by and let events take their course. The intervention is a show of force to an entire region but Libya was not chosen arbitrarily. The rebellion in Libya lacks the infrastructure of longstanding social movements and labor organizing that exists in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt—where demonstrations continue and activists have given political expression to the left wing of the movements. The situation in Libya appears more pliant to the Euro-American powers.

    We oppose US-NATO intervention in Libya, believing that it will become another in the series of imperialist wars in the region—Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and perhaps later Iran—all of which aim to increase U.S. and European power, not to bring democracy or freedom to the region's people. The same powers that stood by as Lebanon and Gaza were laid siege to by Israel in the last decade are now adding Libya to a roster of countries attacked under the doctrine of "humanitarian intervention." U.S. wars abroad are not good for those in other nations, and they are not good for the people of the United States. Civilian casualties—framed as "friendly fire"—have begun to mount and the Pentagon's price tag for this intervention has already exceeded $500 million.

    Clearly, the revolutionary left in the US is small, and our relationship to the events in Libya is limited. We are not in a position to provide material support to the rebels. In practice, our influence is mostly limited to the issues we raise in the antiwar movement, the unions, and other arenas where we are active. The complexities of the situation in Libya can quickly be lost when reduced to slogans. Nevertheless, we think it is important that the antiwar movement tell the truth about this intervention, and we think it is the job of the US Left to tell the truth about our own imperialists.

    A people fighting for freedom have the right to seek weapons where they can get them. We support the right of the Libyan rebels to ask for weapons, military supplies, and other necessities from anyone, including the imperialist powers, regardless of the motives of the suppliers. Such supplies would allow the Libyan people to defend themselves against Qaddafi, empowering the insurrection. The US-NATO airstrikes do not empower the Libyan people. Rather, they begin a foreign intervention that's likely to deepen and continue for some time.

    Freedom for the Libyan people will have to be won not only by their struggles but also by extending and deepening the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East. If there were a truly democratic Egypt under the control of its people, most of whom are workers, peasants and the poor, it would have the authority to help bring peace and justice to Libya. Most of all, we have hoped that the rebellion against the Qaddafi regime could open up the space for independent social movements—the kind of forces that have pushed the revolutionary processes in Tunisia and Egypt forward—to gather ground. The longer the intervention continues, the more distant this possibility becomes—it will serve to deepen the polarization of Libyan society between Qaddafi and the leaders to which NATO gives sanction.

    We continue to stand with the movements for democracy and social justice in North Africa and the Middle East, on guard against the imperial powers that work to influence and control those movements for their own interests. The principles of democracy, the right of peoples to self-determination, social justice and a spirit of internationalism will continue to guide our thinking and our work in solidarity with the Libyan and Arab revolution as it develops.



    The Right to Demand Assistance
    by David D, Dianne F, Joanna M, Kit W

    We support the right of the Libyan activist-fighters opposing the Qaddafi regime, who liberated the eastern half of the country at the outset of the uprising, to request and receive international assistance. Our starting pointing in the current global context is what advances the Libyan people’s fight for freedom and the Arab Uprising as a whole. We do understand that there is, and will be, wrenching disagreement among the very best forces in the international left and antiwar movement about these issues.

    It is necessary to remember the real-world state of affairs immediately preceding UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and the intervention that followed. Until the last minute, it appeared that the popular movement’s desperate appeals for assistance (a “no-fly zone” and interdiction of the regime’s attack forces, not foreign troops) would go unanswered.

    The adoption of the hastily introduced UN Security 1973, in the view of some on the left, represents a calculated project of western powers to “recolonize” Libya. We believe, however, that there were a variety of motives. One of these was the prospect of chaos and mass refugee flight from Libya. Another wasthe pressure of popular opinion in the Arab world demanding that the impending slaughter be halted. Almost certainly, this pressure was a factor in the decision of China and Russia not to veto the resolution, and in the abstentions rather than “No” votes of Brazil, India and Germany.

    Among the intervening powers – mainly the United States, France, Britain and NATO partners – there are also a mix of motivations (France wanting to gain a greater commercial foothold in Libyan oil, the United States wanting to maintain its “global leadership” and dominance in NATO without taking serious risks, etc.). We don’t buy the mantra of “humanitarian intervention.” If, as president Obama claims, this intervention was to prevent a civilian massacre, that’s essentially because the imperialist powers feared the consequences of letting it happen – not mass killing in itself, which they have enabled or directly perpetrated so often. The fact that the imperialist powers’ motivations are neither humanitarian nor progressive, however, doesn’t negate the right of the rebels and the civilian population to protection from destruction.

    In this emergency, two slogans were raised in juxtaposition by some on the international left – “Support the Libyan Uprising! No to UN/NATO/U.S. Intervention!” We respect this attempt to pose a principled approach to the crisis, but we find the slogans to be internally contradictory since, in the context of the impending assault on Benghazi by Qaddafi’s overwhelming land, sea and air power, “No Intervention” would have meant not only the defeat of the uprising but the extermination of its supporters, their families, and anyone suspected of sympathizing with them.

    We do not propose an alternative set of slogans, because we don’t believe that a policy for the international left that addresses this crisis can be expressed in slogans. We do believe that the people of Libya fighting for survival against a monstrous and murderous regime had the right to demand assistance, and it would be unconscionable for the international left and antiwar movement – utterly lacking any resources or capacity, military or otherwise, to bring to their aid in our own right – to oppose that demand, despite our knowledge of negative consequences of intervention by the imperialist powers. There are such consequences, however, and we are also obliged to confront them.

    We do not endorse the UNSC Resolution, which is open-ended, imposes no military limitations on the intervening powers except for the prohibition of a land occupation, and is opaque on what does or doesn’t constitutes “defense of civilians.” Nor for that matter does it even recognize the right of the popular forces to arm themselves. The danger of Libya’s democratic revolt becoming a prisoner or pawn of the intervening powers does exist, and will tend to grow the longer the intervention lasts – and at this writing the duration of the crisis and the rapidly shifting political-military dynamics are difficult to interpret. But we do not believe the forces that rose against Qaddafi’s tyranny will readily exchange one overlord for another, even though that may be the orientation of part of the Transitional National Council in Benghazi.

    None of this is surprising. The Resolution and the intervention that followed came about through a complex combination of progressive pressure of the Arab peoples, regardless of the wishes of their governments, and decidedly non-progressive calculations of tactical and strategic interest by the imperialist states, which are divided among themselves. Nor does imperialism itself have any exit strategy at this point – and it is clear that the intervening powers do not want, and cannot sustain either logistically or politically, a protracted military campaign let alone a boots-on-the-ground occupation in Libya. The disagreements among these powers tend to reduce the dangers of the Libyan popular forces becoming their clients.

    The immediate political leadership of the rebellion is certainly drawn from bourgeois and elite layers, including exiled proponents of democracy but also some longtime figures in the regime’s political apparatus who have recently defected. These are the figures who appear to dominate the Transitional National Council, which issues press releases and names ministers while plebian and working class volunteers protest and fight. Not surprisingly, some of these new leaders are not revolutionary. Some are politically conservative and pro-western. And even among the revolutionary fighters there are contradictory forces. Most appear motivated by a genuine thirst for freedom and democracy. There are credible reports, however, that as Qaddafi has hired Chadian and Nigerian mercenaries to defend him, some rebel fighters have detained some Black Africans on spurious charges of collaboration and even inflicted violence against their captives. How widespread this is we cannot tell, but any such incidences are deeply disturbing and a threat to Libya’s democratic future.

    We should remember that workers from south Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa, imported by the Qaddafi regime and deprived of all civil rights, represent as much as one-third of the workforce but are not allowed to join even the legally-constrained labor unions. And Qaddafi has cooperated with the Berlusconi regime to prevent African migrants from reaching Italian shores. We remain convinced that the first condition for overcoming racial as well as ethnic/tribal conflicts is the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime, and the opening of political space to mass movements which could challenge these divisions within the Libyan working class. A Qaddafi victory would cut off such a possibility.

    This is not a situation where there’s much comic relief, but we can’t help being amused by Republican attacks on Obama for not “consulting Congress” before implementing the air campaign – as compared to George W. Bush, who lied to Congress and the United Nations and the American people and the world about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. We leave it to the pundits to argue who’s “worse.”

    We do not care in any case what the masters may decide is or isn’t “in America’s global interest,” nor do we fantasize that imperialism ever will, or want to, or even can act with any kind of “moral consistency.” It’s entirely true, for example, that “the international community” – with no need for military action whatsoever – could put a stop to the worst atrocities of the Israeli occupation and the brutal siege of Gaza simply through targeted economic sanctions, and that this course is blocked by the U.S. veto at the Security Council. That and other acts of hypocrisy are points worth making, but tell us nothing of substance about the specific realities the left needs to confront in the Libyan crisis.

    For ourselves, we welcome the fact that the Libyan popular struggle has survived and we believe it will prevail – ultimately with an uprising in Tripoli to drive the final nail in the regime’s coffin -- fully recognizing the dangers that the intervention poses to its independence and to the future that the Libyan people deserve. The victory of this struggle, whatever the intentions of imperialist states, will be a great boost to the mass movements that continue to erupt in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and beyond.

    fuck you
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