Libya, Force, Hypocricy

I feel as though I have to say something about the War in Libya which is happening as we speak.  I’m not much of a political scientist, so don’t take any of my analysis too seriously.

It seems that the uprisings in Libya are related to the uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, and Palestine. Many media sources are calling this the “Arab Awakening”, but I think it is more appropriate to call it the “Arab Uprising” – since it is the uprisings that we, and they, can see. Maybe we could say the uprisings are causing awakening, which leads to more uprising. But anyway, I think the reason we haven’t seen the term “uprising” used as much is because the Arabic word for uprising is intifada, and analysts do not wish people to make the obvious links between this pan-Arab intifada and the two Palestinian intifada.

The uprisings in every country besides Libya have been responded to in a similar way by Western powers – support the dictator and continue to materially support brutal oppression of the uprising right up to the point where it is obvious some sort of regime change is required, and then pretend you supported the uprising all along. Of course, Obama might “call on” the middle east dictators he supports not to use force against protestors, but no there is no material to these demands right up until the point where it is clear that supporting the dictator is politically impossible. This explains why the US supported Mubarak until very late in the Egyptian uprising, and also why it has supported Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in its brutal repression of protests there.

The situation in Libya is different for at least two reasons. One is that part of the Army joined the revolution, and the other is that Gaddafi is not as loyal as the other Arab dictators – so Western powers have an investment in regime change in Libya, although they are naturally opposed to any democratic reforms which would put in danger their relatively easy access to Libyan oil.

So, the current civil war affords an opportunity to improve the security of western interests in Libya, but it’s crucial that the interests are oil and not improving the lives of Libyans – at least for the most part. It is true that France recognized the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, but I believe they are the only one to grant this diplomatic legitimacy to the pro-democracy forces.

It is crucial for America to portray the rebels as not a truly popular force, but as the internal degeneration of stability within a non-democracy. We have to say things like “the rebels will be no better than Gaddafi” because it legitimizes putting down the popular interests of the Libyan people in favour of installing a regime very similar to Gaddafi’s, but more friendly to US orders. Libyan life must be framed as so inherently unstable that it requires the strong hand of a western-backed dictator, and playing up factionalist differences and the inherent violence of Arabs is key to maintaining the popularity of this view.

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when looking at current events like this is simply to remember that the invocation of values like “protecting the people” and “supporting democracy”, while they have authentic meanings, can easily be mobilized hypocritically in the pursuit of other ends. While there is nothing essentially wrong with a UN resolution that legitimizes use of force agains the government of Libya up to and including a land invasion, the hypocricy is in the selective use of values like “Responsibility to Protect” such that the value of some lives become the ground of a military invasion, while asserting the value of other lives will get you ignored, or even labelled anti-semitic.

I don’t know what will happen in this war, or what will result from it. I can tell you what I hope happens – that the West plays only a supporting role to the Rebels, that the Rebels win and institute independent democracy, and that the West does not retroactively hand the rebels a bill for the hundreds of millions of dollars the military support will have cost. But that will only happen if we in the west do not allow our governments to use this as an an excuse to invade and install a regime of their choosing. The true responsibility to protect is not in the hands of our governments, it is in the hands of those who can hold those governments to account.

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5 thoughts on “Libya, Force, Hypocricy

  1. Well written. My take on it (I am not a poli sci guy either) is that the National Council, being composed of ex officers, will want the support of the U.S. and may have already made deals with them. Special forces from Britain are already on the ground and so probably in communication with them. The Council has also been the group asking for airstrikes, while some Libyan groups did not want intervention. I reckon there is tension already between “democratic” forces (spontaneously uprising population) and those who are taking leadership positions in the newly recognized gov’t, who I suspect will have a relatively pro-west attitude.
    The main reason I say this is, I don’t see why the U.S. (or France) would support a potentially dangerous democratic movement which might have repercussions throughout the whole region, unless they had a plan to make sure whoever got into power was “their guy”. For this reason I don’t know how much I would call them “pro-democracy” forces. I guess we’ll see.

  2. This video by “The Real News” is old (Mar 3) but still relevant:
    http://luna17activist.blogspot.com/2011/03/no-foreign-intervention-libyan-people.html

    What’s interesting is the hostility to foreign intervention among the populace (although they don’t mention airstrikes specifically). The news story even says “rebels were rejecting calls” for the U.S. arming rebel elements.
    It seems there is a difference between the people and what you might call the new elite of the rebellion, who might want different things (no-fly zone, limited air strikes against tanks and barracks for mercenaries) than the general population. I find this surprising, actually. What is harder for me to distinguish exactly where the delineation lies between the new rebel government and the population, and what the opinion of the public is on foreign intervention, 2 weeks later. I might add, Libyan public opinion hasn’t been much reported on, even in alternative media like Democracy Now, who only interviewed the new National Council representatives for their views on foreign military intervention.

  3. It’s too late to support non-intervention; the corresponding position now might be immediate withdrawal.

    If we’re going to make any kind of difference, first we have to understand what’s going on, then decide as communities what policy change we demand, and then lobby for it with marches, protests, etc… Statements like “it would have been wise not to intervene” are close to useless at this point.

  4. Failure to honour other obligations, even if they are of the same kind and of the same form, does not discharge our responsibilities in this case. Nor should it inhibit action.

    Your fondness for inventing phenomena has caused you to miss the direct connection, the strength of the protests and the brutal responses are what make supporting the leader untenable, and rightly so. Attacks on civilian populations trigger the duty to protect and intervention is required in the cases of the most grievous violations.

    Humanitarian language can be appropriated for nefarious means, but it remains a live question about whether we can use ulterior motivations to advance humanitarian goals. In short, it is not yet clear who is being used, but as one of those who sincerely believes we have obligations, the protection of civilians is paramount, to the point where I will be pragmatic if necessary. The only part of your post that I liked was your appeal to hold government accountable that the intervention is actually protecting civilians.

    If you want to talk about hypocrisy…
    We say we hold democratic values. We tell others they should have democratic values too. We claim that people are born with natural, inviolable human rights. We encourage people to demand their just political representation. We incite people to rebellion, often on a whim, often for our purposes, and far too often before we cut and run.

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