[Marxism] "Who will save Libya from its Western saviours? Not the left."
ffeldman at verizon.net
Wed Aug 17 14:24:58 MDT 2011
Who Will Save Libya From Its Western Saviours?
Not the Left
By JEAN BRICMONT and DIANA JOHNSTONE | CounterPunch | August 16, 2011
Last March, a coalition of Western powers and Arab autocracies banded
together to sponsor what was billed as a short little military operation
to “protect Libyan civilians”.
On March 17, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which gave
that particular “coalition of the willing” the green light to start
their little war by securing control of Libyan air space, which was
subsequently used to bomb whatever NATO chose to bomb. The coalition
leaders clearly expected the grateful citizens to take advantage of this
vigorous “protection” to overthrow Moammer Gaddafi who allegedly wanted
to “kill his own people”. Based on the assumption that Libya was neatly
divided between “the people” on one side and the “evil dictator” on the
other, this overthrow was expected to occur within days. In Western
eyes, Gaddafi was a worse dictator than Tunisia’s Ben Ali or Egypt’s
Mubarak, who fell without NATO intervention, so Gaddafi should have
fallen that much faster.
Five months later, all the assumptions on which the war was based have
proved to be more or less false. Human rights organizations have failed
to find evidence of the “crimes against humanity” allegedly ordered by
Gaddafi against “his own people”. The recognition of the Transitional
National Council (TNC) as the “sole legitimate representative of the
Libyan people” by Western governments has gone from premature to
grotesque. NATO has entered and exacerbated a civil war that looks like
But however groundless and absurd the war turns out to be, on it goes.
And what can stop it?
This summer’s best reading was Adam Hochschild’s excellent new book on
World War I, To End All Wars. There are many lessons for our times in
that story, but perhaps the most pertinent is the fact that once a war
starts, it is very hard to end it.
The men who started World War I also expected it to be short. But even
when millions were bogged down in the killing machine, and the
hopelessness of the whole endeavor should have been crystal clear, it
slogged on for four miserable years. The war itself generates hatred and
vengefulness. Once a Great Power starts a war, it “must” win, whatever
the cost – to itself but especially to others.
So far, the cost of the war against Libya to the NATO aggressors is
merely financial, offset by the hope of booty from the “liberated”
country to pay the cost of having bombed it. It is only the Libyan
people who are losing their lives and their infrastructure. So what can
stop the slaughter?
In World War I, there existed a courageous anti-war movement that braved
the chauvinist hysteria of the war period to argue for peace. They
risked physical attack and imprisonment.
Hochschild’s account of the struggle for peace of brave women and men in
Britain should be an inspiration – but for whom? The risks of opposing
this war are minimal in comparison to 1914-1918. But so far active
opposition is scarcely noticeable.
This is particularly true of France, the country whose President Nicolas
Sarkozy took the lead in starting this war.
Evidence is accumulating of deaths of Libyan civilians, including
children, caused by NATO bombing.
The bombing is targeting civilian infrastructure, to deprive the
majority of the population living in territory loyal to Gaddafi of basic
necessities, food and water, supposedly to inspire the people to
overthrow Gaddafi. The war to “protect civilians” has clearly turned
into a war to terrorize and torment them, so that the NATO-backed TNC
can take power.
This little war in Libya is exposing NATO as both criminal and incompetent.
It is also exposing the organized left in NATO countries as totally
useless.There has perhaps never been a war easier to oppose. But the
organized left in Europe is not opposing it.
Three months ago, when the media hype about Libya was launched by the
Qatari television Al Jazeera, the organized left did not hesitate to
take a stand. A couple of dozen leftist French and North African
organizations signed a call for a “solidarity march with the Libyan
people” in Paris on March 26. In a display of total confusion, these
organizations simultaneously called for “recognition of the National
Transition Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan
people” on the one hand and “protection of foreign residents and
migrants” who, in reality, needed to be protected from the very rebels
represented by that Council. While implicitly supporting the military
operations in support of the NTC, the groups also called for “vigilance”
concerning “the duplicity of Western governments and the Arab League”
and possible “escalation” of those operations.
The organizations signing this appeal included Libyan, Syrian, Tunisian,
Moroccan and Algerian exile opposition groups as well as the French
Greens, the Anti-Capitalist Party, the French Communist Party, the Left
Party, the anti-racist movement MRAP and ATTAC, a widely based popular
education movement critical of financial globalization. These groups
together represent virtually the entire organized French political
spectrum to the left of the Socialist Party – which for its part
supported the war without even calling for “vigilance”.
As civilian casualties of NATO bombing mount, there is no sign of the
promised “vigilance concerning escalation of the war” deviating from the
UN Security Council Resolution.
The activists who in March insisted that “we must do something” to stop
a hypothetical massacre are doing nothing today to stop a massacre that
is not hypothetical but real and visible, and carried out by those who
The basic fallacy of the “we must do something” leftist crowd lies in
the meaning of “we”. If they meant “we” literally, then the only thing
they could do was to set up some sort of international brigades to fight
alongside the rebels. But of course, despite the claims that “we” must
do “everything” to support the rebels, no serious thought was ever given
to such a possibility.
So their “we” in practice means the Western powers, NATO and above all
the United States, the only one with the “unique capabilities” to wage
such a war.
The “we must do something” crowd usually mixes two kind of demands: one
which they can realistically expect to be carried out by those Western
powers – support the rebels, recognize the TNC as the sole legitimate
representative of the Libyan people – and the other which they cannot
realistically expect the Great Powers to follow and which they
themselves are totally incapable of accomplishing: limit the bombing to
military targets and to the protection of civilians, and stay
scrupulously within the framework of UN resolutions.
Those two sorts of demands contradict each other. In a civil war, no
side is primarily concerned about the niceties of UN resolutions or the
protection of civilians. Each side wants to win, period, and the desire
for revenge often leads to atrocities. If one “supports” the rebels, in
practice one is giving a blank check to their side to do whatever they
judge to be necessary to win.
But one also gives a blank check to the Western allies and NATO, who may
be less bloodthirsty than the rebels but who have far greater means of
destruction at their disposal. And they are big bureaucracies that act
as survival machines. They need to win. Otherwise they have a
“credibility” problem (as do the politicians who supported the war),
which could lead to a loss of funding and resources. Once the war has
started, there is simply no force in the West, lacking a resolute
antiwar movement, that can oblige NATO to limit itself to what is
allowed by a UN resolution. So, the second set of leftist demands fall
on deaf ears. They serve merely to prove to the pro-war left itself that
its intentions are pure.
By supporting the rebels, the pro-intervention left has effectively
killed the antiwar movement. Indeed, it makes no sense to support rebels
in a civil war who desperately want to be helped by outside
interventions and at the same time oppose such interventions. The
pro-intervention right is far more coherent.
What both the pro-intervention left and right share is the conviction
that “we” (meaning the civilized democratic West) have the right and the
ability to impose our will on other countries. Certain French movements
whose stock in trade is to denounce racism and colonialism have failed
to remember that all colonial conquests were carried out against
satraps, Indian princes and African kings who were denounced as
autocrats (which they were) or to notice that there is something odd
about French organizations deciding who are the “legitimate
representatives” of the Libyan people.
Despite the efforts of a few isolated individuals, there is no popular
movement in Europe capable of stopping or even slowing the NATO
onslaught. The only hope may be the collapse of the rebels, or
opposition in the United States, or a decision by ruling oligarchies to
cut the expenses. But meanwhile, the European left has missed its
opportunity to come back to life by opposing one of the most blatantly
inexcusable wars in history. Europe itself will suffer from this moral
Jean Bricmont is author of Humanitarian Imperialism. He can be reached
at Jean.Bricmont at uclouvain.be
Diana Johnstone is author of Fools’ Crusade. She can be reached at
diana.josto at yahoo.fr
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