Posts Tagged ‘libya’

Their choices are their own: Libya to give Mahmoud Jibril a Landslide Victory

Mahmoud Jibril, who served as interim prime minister in Libya from March to October 2011 in the Transitional National Council, is firmly believed to have won what is being dubbed as “a landslide victory in the country’s first democratic election”.


In a result that has come as a great surprise to those for whom the Arab Spring was little more than an opening up for Islamists, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, Jibril has called on the 150 political parties participating in the elections to form a ‘grand coalition’ – furthering his reputation as a political pragmatist.


It is estimated that around 1.8 million of the 2.8 million registered voters cast their ballots, a turnout of around 65 percent.


Another surprise of the election was how organised it was, and how smoothly the process went. As it has been summarised elsewhere “turnout for the national vote was good, violence was scarce, and voters were ebullient.”


As picked up by Juan Cole, there has been plenty of debate about what to do in Tunisia and Egypt about the remnants of the old regime (colloquially called ‘seaweed’ or ‘algae’), and the same is being had in Libya today.


Because of this Jibril has not been entirely free from criticism.


With Jibril being a former head of the National Planning Council of Libya and of the National Economic Development Board of Libya (NEDB) under Gaddafi he has been caught in the crossfire of this debate, though this is mitigated by his high-profile recruitment into the transition council as the country broke out into civil war in 2011.


The important issue for the country is what happens now. Colonel Gaddafi might be gone, though the hard task for future policymakers, set to run a very fractured political ship, is how to replace him.


One particular place where this will be complex is in how to present the old regime in the national curriculum. What is apparent, looking at educational textbooks from the 1970s, is that Gaddafi’s dream of absolute Pan-Arab unity often conflicted with any principles he pretended towards historical accuracy (geography textbooks for example were given to students without borders demarcating different Arab states).


The new Education Ministry has promised to revamp social studies textbooks in time for the 2012-2013 school year and revise history books within the next year or two – though given the extent to which history was distorted under Gaddafi, this looks evermore like an over-optimistic order.


To be sure, no one can judge how committed to historical accuracy and objectivity a new government under Jibril can be, nor can we foresee what kind of political landscape Libya will now bring. Though his reaching out to different political actors in an attempt at some national unity, that reflects the Libyan people’s genuine wishes, should give us hope.


Russia, it was said in a recent New York Times editorial, oppose change in Syria, and tried to block change in Libya, on the grounds that “revolutions have completely destabilized the region and cleared the road to power for the Islamists.”


In other words Putin was, and is, willing to see innocent people die for a series of ill-judged guesses about the political trajectory of countries after the Arab Spring. And this is even before we look at Russia’s weaponry client base.


But in Libya it did not happen this way.


Instead of delivering what everyone expected, the Libyan electorate has given a landslide victory to a moderate, a man who has been described by one voter as someone who “believes in national reconciliation”.


Gaddafi thought he could ignore the wishes of his people and “take the people to paradise in chains.” Unfortunately he kept those people in chains for 42 years, and paradise is the last thing they could expect.


Russia wanted to keep them in chains too, so as to continue selling weapons to Gaddafi – in much demand when he realised the potential of an angry population beneath him.


Times will be tough but Libya has said no to Gaddafi. They’ve ripped off their chains – and they’ve allowed themselves the free right to vote for who they believe will take them through the post-Gaddafi era, and then beyond.

Categories: General Politics Tags: , ,

The best spam email I have ever had

February 6, 2012 2 comments

This really couldn’t be kept without sharing


Having obtained your contact from the Internet; I decided to contact you and solicit for your mutual assistance. I am Barr. Dr. Dahmane Ben Abderrahmane, Attorney to the late Libyan Leader, I am writing to solicit for your partnership. On January 6th 2008, Mr. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, Son of the late Libyan Leader, Muammar Al Gaddafi, made a numbered time (Fixed) Deposit, valued at Thirty-Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars USD ($38,500,000.00) was deposited in a bank account in Phnom penh Cambodia.

Due to the recent events and the death of his father in Libya, he instructed me that I should look for a Foreign Partner, who could handle this fund on his behalf. When the crises began I left Libya to United State, where I currently reside. I am contacting you due to the fact that Countries Government have seized various amounts running into Billions of Dollars in the past few months belonging to the family of the late Muammar Al Gaddafi, funds lodged in many foreign bank accounts.America, Canada, Austria and other countries Governments, have seized funds in bank accounts in their countries. Although, in Phnom Penh Cambodia their fund that was lodged in Mr. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi bank account has not been located. This is why we want the ownership of the said fund, to change into a different name and transferred out of the account to a foreign account.

Upon agreement of this proposal, I will like you to send your full Names, Address, Date of Birth, Occupation, Telephone number and Fax Number if any. This would be used to change the ownership and open an account bearing your name in the bank, before the funds could be transferred out, to your bank account in your country. All documents relating to this transaction have been obtained, so you don’t have to worry about any thing at all.

The money will be shared in this ratio:70% of the funds will be invested in your country on behalf of Mr. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, and the remaining 30% will be for you. Also he would like you, to help him look for investment opportunities, to invest his seventy percent of the fund, into a business in your country. Please be informed that your utmost confidentiality is required. If this interests you, please reply me immediately and include your private phone number for voice communication.

I await your urgent reply.

Best regards,

Barr. Dr. Dahmane Ben Abderrahmane.

Attorney to Gaddafis Family.

The money would be nice, but I think I’ll probably give this a miss.

Categories: General Politics Tags: , , ,

Intervention in Syria: a cautious acknowledgement of its benefits

January 4, 2012 14 comments

When one reads about the shootings in Syria, the killings, those who have gone missing at sea, the burning metal plates on which Assad’s lackeys place a victim in order to extract information from them – one cannot help be emotionally torn. Something must be done – and fast! But what?

The Syrian national council (SNC), so far recognised by 6 UN member states as the government-in-exile, is a split body. It has not yet formally accepted foreign intervention as a viable strategy to end the Assad regime, but then has the same teething problems as did the Libyan national council – that is organising amongst a rainbow coalition of varying different political directions, many of which are totally at odds.

An opposition of the size we’re talking about, in Syria, combining Islamists, Communists, liberal secularists and anything in between is always going to have complications operating, but analysis on the Syrian case shows divide is far more intrinsic and unceasing.

Even if consistency on foreign intervention was brought to fruition by the opposition groups, the legal case for western-backed military intervention would be frustrated by Russia and China – nations with too many business and diplomatic interests in Assad’s Syria, whose priorities are not to rock this particular boat (Russia having recently sent a flottila to Syria to symbolise its opposition to regime change).

Furthermore, Assad’s muscle men on the ground have been taking on protesters with bullets, utilising small mob groupings to contain dissent on the ground. Not only would intervention – like the one rumoured for Syria, reported PressTV (often hard to take seriously) – be tricky from western backers, far more so than in Libya where a No Fly Zone (NFZ) had obvious and immediate benefits, there is no safe base for rebels to coordinate resistence from. There is, as yet, no Benghazi of Syria.

As the American commentator David Dietz put it:

The problem isn’t a lack of military might or intelligence capabilities, but rather a lack of political resolve […] there is no clear group to save or a unified opposition to back [and] [t]he protesters are not based in an iconic square or area like they were in Egypt.

All this speaks to the great difficulties that dialogue between concerned nations and the Syrian opposition groups will have. But for some of the less thoughtful critics of military engagement in Syria, one is forgiven for suspecting that how complex intervention would be really doesn’t matter anyway.

Mehdi Hasan, in a piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, published in December last year, treads through the same motions as those I’ve explained above.

There is no call for [foreign military intervention] by opposition leaders, a NFZ would be of little value as Assad is operating with use of small clans on the ground, and a carpet bombing campaign would not help the opposition.

All well and good, but his primary belief shows itself right at the end of the piece, in fact the very last line, where he says: “The sad truth is, it is not our job to topple Assad.”

This simply overrides all previous considerations Hasan has made regarding how operationally difficult it would be to engage foreign action – and like the opinion of Alex Callinicos that the West did not have the moral authority to avert humanitarian crisis in Libya on the grounds that western capitalism destroys people at home, therefore opting for nothing to happen, allowing Gaddafi to unleash hell on his own people as revenge for daring to speak out against him, so Hasan believes it is a good and responsible principle that when a people are losing a fight for the freedoms we enjoy, the west should sit on its hands and watch because it is “not our job to topple Assad”. Well how terribly principled and privleged.

And because this seems to be the rule of the day, particularly for the political left, one is forced to seek information elsewhere on how to try and overcome the operational difficulties that engagement of the military would have right now. Seemingly, Michael Weiss has made the best effort to date, in his report Intervention in Syria? An Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards.

In it he exemplifies the attacks that Turkey has experienced upon its embassies in Damascus, which raises questions of self-defense – and if ever there was a more prescient time for Turkey to do something, it is now after more than 10,000 refugees from Jisr al-Shughour fled to Antakya, in mid-June.

Problems here are obvious. Turkey has never conducted a humanitarian intervention on its own and it is unlikely to start now. Therefore a UN security council resolution authorising a NATO-led intervention or an Anglo-French-American-Turkish would assist in the defense of those parts of Turkey under attack – grounding the legal step that would later assist in halting the crimes perpetuated by Assad on his own people, in spite of sanctions and calls from foreign leaders to stand down.

Next for Weiss’ report is to note the Northwest province of Idleb as the best place to build up a “safe zone” (like Benghazi to the Libyan rebels) as anti-Assad sentiment is reasonably high. The Syrian military is already quite weak, numbering 450,000, ground troops at 100,000, reliant on soviet-era weaponry, including Naval facilities, and therefore is unlikely to be able to resist an intervention by a coalition of willing nations under legal writ.

Sanctions have done little to curb Assad’s brutality, and 10 months of peaceful protest by an opposition in Syria has resulted, at least, in 5,000 killed, 50,000 missing, 59,000 declared incarcerated and 16,000 dispossessed. The Arab League is to consider ending its monitoring process in Syria as violence continue, the Free Syrian Army has publicly threatened to escalate attacks against the Assad regime, and French President Sarkozy has said that Assad is committing massacres. Assad is ignoring all diplomatic calls to stop the violence – and when an autocrat breaches this level, history shows there are few peaceful alternatives left in the armory.

As Luke Bozier said recently: “Assad is a stubborn player, and he will have to be forced out.”

On top of all this, chemical weaponry is a real possibility. Syria has amassed a large cache, and is rumoured to have been building up more.

As I began, something must be done – time is running out and people are being slaughtered. The Syrian rebels need to appropriate what worked in Egypt and Libya by occupying a “safe zone”, they need to come together to commit to a working set of principles and arrangements vis-à-vis on agreeing a plan for engaging with foreign military powers. All legal procedures need to be completed, all alternatives need to be exhausted, and proven to be unhelpful (like sanctions – if more proof were needed), and the case for responsibilities beyond our own borders needs to be made once more. It worked in Libya, we should all like to see it work in Syria.

Chavez: The personification of a political farce

October 30, 2011 15 comments

A recent Guardian response on comment is free had it: ‘Libyan intervention was a success, despite the aftermath’s atrocities’. To the unforgiving, this sentiment could appear callous and ignorant of the calibre of struggles to come, but is very much consistent with the altruistic justification for intervention indeed.

Take 1930s Spanish history as a judge. If Franco had lost the civil war, a great power grab would have overcome the coaltion of Trotskyites, Stalinists, moderates and social democrats, anarchists and the small cohort of sympathetic Liberals who composed the republican resistance.

Initially, no mandate could or would have allowed office to whoever the victor was, but in a revolution, after the battle the war begins. The intervention to level out the disproportionate amount of power enjoyed by a vengeful Gaddafi and his footsoldiers succeeded where it neutrally facilitated what became the victory to the rebels.

One can only hope the transitional council does the right thing and translates a rainbow coalition of resistance into a post-Gaddafi democratic bloom.

One world leader they know they can not turn to for support is Hugo Chavez – but then this was a long time coming.

In Chavez’ Venezuela, the poor and dispossessed felt they had finally found someone in whom their concerns are listened to. Programmes are catered for, staples are subsidised, more people today are covered by state pensions and disused private land is expropriated to pursue a campaign of quality housing for those most in need.

For everything there is to celebrate, there is something to scould Chavez for.

Even on a domestic front, where Chavez’ strengths are, support is relatively drippy. Roland Denis, a grassroots campaigner close to an emerging coalface organisation called the Great Patriotic Pole, in an interview with Venezuela Analysis, spoke of the decreasing enthusiasm among Chavez’ main base.

In the coming elections the PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela – a fusion of political and social forces grouped together, led by Hugo Chavez) are going to struggle – that is established. Chavez knows this, too. He leads in the poles now, but when the right wing have decided who to back, they will enjoy a very threatening spike in support.

As Denis admits, the problem of decreasing support for the PSUV is the “erosion of the popular movement”.

He continues, however, by stating that “the very dynamic of the state deepens this erosion [of popular movements in Venezuela] by establishing a corporate state practice within these movements”. 

Not forgetting the failed, but very concerted, attempt by Chavez to be President for life, the increasing move from community oriented politics, where Chavez began, to a saturation of that model with corporate structures and an all encompassing state control, has been noted.

“By ceasing to be reference points”, Denis laments, “for the struggle, [the PSUV] stop existing for the people [and] Hugo Chavez is the son of this people; he is not the father of this people. We gave birth to Hugo Chavez”.

Elsewhere, a right wing opposition leader by the name of Leopoldo Lopez, is to be barred from ever holding political office by the Supreme Court. By decree he has every right to run for office, only in knowledge that in his preferred circumstances, he would still be officially unable to take office – owing to a court decision attesting to his corruption as a former district mayor in Caracas, a matter on which he notes he was never sentenced for in a court.

According to Lopez, Chavez has been seeking ways in which to block high profile candidates such as himself, and cites the fact that the Supreme Court is disproportionately represented by pro-Chavez supporters. Chavez does not deny this to be true, but does argue that they are autonomous and adhere to the law.

Criticism and opposition towards Chavez at home was once dominated by the right, but suspicions have been raised on both sides of the political fold. This will not bode well for his fight to lead Venezuela again after the next election.

And this is even before we mention Chavez’ standing, and allies, at an international level (Iranian rogue Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has visited Venezuela 3 times since he took office in 2005, a fourth time denied because of Chavez’ ill health).

When alive, Gaddafi named a baseball stadium after Hugo Chavez just outside Benghazi. The transition council should think about removing that name. Perhaps grassroots movements in Venezuela should think about trying to do the same for the PSUV and for Venezuela.

Civil war or forgo power; the options for Assad as for Saleh

October 22, 2011 2 comments

As someone put it in the week Gaddafi is dead, now the hard part starts. Hard, too, for those on the wrong side of history. 

While China looks set to change its tune at an hour far too far after the eleventh, going from calling Gaddafi the Libyan “strongman” in the state media to the “madman”, Russia continues to do itself no favours, with Ministers calling the dead despot a “martyr”.

The chances of the oil and railway contracts being dignified by the National Transition Council in Libya seem weak at best.

And rightly so. The NTC have taken it upon themselves to maintain contracts only with those supportive nations, leaving China, Russia and, of course, Brazil out in the cold. 

This trade system of vested interests can be more or less modelled on the trade system of vested interests that preceded it. Those countries that abstained in the UN resolution were happy to see the rebels killed for long term oil gain from a crook and killer, now they can shop elsewhere.

Oil will now only be as political as it has always been, but more so.

Regarding Syria, some have taken to repeating Assad’s desperate bluster, but as James Denselow for HuffPo has said, his carrots of reformed media and political party laws (etc.) are somewhat outweighed by his sticks of armed militias flattening dissent.

As Rupert Read in a fantastic essay on Left Foot Forward this morning pointed out, some, including the usually right on MediaLens, are falling for Assad’s carrots, but ignoring his sticks as so much imperialist horseshit.

The fear of change should only deter us from supporting the Arab Spring uprisings if what it was challenging had been proven to be working and successful, and the effort against it seemingly futile. This not the case, not in Syria, not in Yemen and not in Libya.

The death of Gaddafi, if it proves anything, is that the people are rising to destroy dictatorships and taking control of their states of exception (in the sense that Giorgio Agamben uses the term). But they can’t do it alone because of the weapon stockpiles, and military loyalties, of their dictators. 

Assad, as Saleh, knows, after watching Gaddafi die, that their options are to forgo power or wage civil war. 

The United Nations should know that a civil war in Syria, without their efforts, will be harder to contain later on. They can bypass no fly zones, just arm the people – now, or see advocates of democracy burn.

Categories: General Politics Tags: , ,

The Putin School of Sound Investment or, I laughed until I cried

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

While a great many of us watched with pleasure the Arab Spring unfolding, and other similar events in and around the region, others – such as arms dealers – looked on in horror.

Nowhere did this happen with such irony than Libya. Earlier this year Sergei V. Chemezov, the director of the Russian state company in charge of weapons exports, told reporters that Russia can expect to lose $4 billion because of the unrest.

This relates to an “historic” trip taken by Putin to Libya in 2008. One journal has it like this:

Russia canceled Libya’s $4.5 billion debt “in exchange for multibillion-dollar contracts for Russian companies.” Dozens of documents were signed, including a Declaration on strengthening friendship and developing cooperation between the two countries, as well as a number of major contracts.

In January 2010, Putin announced that Russia was to supply Libya with “small-arms and other weapons to the value of $1.8bn (£1.1bn, 1.3bn euros)”. Such investment seemed worth making last year – and it didn’t come cheap cancelling all that debt.

Now, as one news source has put it: “$4 bn down the drain”. The rebels are refusing to “buy weapons from Russia because the country will not need them in the future.” Those weapons might have been used to kill them, the rebels, and now they are refusing to buy them – makes sense to me.

…And I laughed until I cried.

Peter Hitchens and the fear of ambiguity in Libya

August 29, 2011 1 comment

Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, Sulloway (2003):

Persons having low levels of motivation to process information would be more likely to support conservative ideologies because these rely on tradition, are aimed at (societal stability), and imply the avoidance caused by change.

Thórisdóttir, Jost (2011)

High need for cognitive closure represents a desire for “an answer to a question on a given topic, any answer … compared to confusion and ambiguity” and it often leads to black and white thinking

Peter Hitchens (yesterday):

Just because existing regimes are bad, it does not follow that their replacements will be any better. The world has known this since the French Revolution of 1789, when bliss and joy turned to mass murder and dictatorship in a matter of months.

Point of note: the kind of conservative thinking which Hitchens exemplifies only aims at societal stability, does not guarantee for it. Indeed what kind of world would we live in if we allowed and accepted tyranny on the basis that what waits in the wings could be worse.

But what really gets my goat is not that Hitchens is being true to Burke in invoking 1789 and the French Revolution (which the latter disliked not because he feared change and ambiguity necessarily, but because he saw that Robespierre was forming a half-baked, overly and needlessly violent revolution), but because he neglects to mention how different the contexts are: The rebels in France existed to cause terror (quotes from Robespierre include: “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity”; “slowness of judgments is equal to impunity”; “uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty”) whereas the National Transition Council formed to avert terror being done to them, and as a consequence are recognised as the country’s authority by 50 other nations – enjoying the kind of diplomatic relations rebels of many countries can only dream of.

The case against liberal interventionism

This is a guest post by Bob From Brockley

I think the two most powerful cases against liberal interventionism I’ve read recently are “The Innocence of the Liberal Hawk” by Gary Younge in the April 11 edition of The Nation, and “Thoughts on Libya and liberal interventionism” by Mike Marqusee at his website. The two pieces have different contexts – one by a British writer transplanted to the US, aiming at mainstream liberal US commentators like Thomas Friedman, the other by an American transplanted to the UK, aiming at more left-wing British opinionists like Jonathan Freedland. But they reach similar conclusions and make overlapping arguments.

Many of their strikes against liberal interventionism hit home. Marqusee correctly argues that liberal interventionism relies on the great powers, who they treat as neutral agents. He argues that liberal interventionism has a technocratic vision of military power, seeing it as a tool like raising taxes, which can be implemented in a time-limited, surgical way. He argues that liberal interventionism is blind to the imbalances in wealth and power between the states that intervene and the regions where they do so. Both Marqusee and Younge point to a logical fallacy in the interventionist position: the imperative to “do something” considers only one “something”, military intervention, dismissing or failing to conceive of other forms of solidarity.

However, a number of their strikes go amiss. Both of them linger on the West’s double standards: why Libya and not Bahrain? John Rentoul has called this the “why should I clean my bedroom when the world is in such a mess” argument, and its misses the fact that many liberal interventionists have been leading critics of the monarchies of the Gulf region and few of them embraced Gaddafi when Blair and Sarkozy did.

Marqusee has a clichéd vulgar materialist explanation for the double standards: oil. But his own examples show the weakness of this explanation. “If liberal interventionists were consistent,” he says, “they would advocate similar Western military action in relation to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Congo, Kashmir, Iran, Israel, Burma, etc. etc. etc.” But a glance at this list shows several oil-producing countries where the West is failing to intervene, as well as places with other resources of huge geopolitical and economic significance to the West – Congo is extremely mineral-rich, and our mobile phones would be useless without the coltan mined there. In fact, the last things the oil industry wants in Libya is war, disruption, or democracy; they were perfectly happy with Gaddafi, no less than they are with the autocratic regime in Bahrain.

On the other hand, Marqusee recognises the limitation of the double standards argument, and persuasively argues that “We cannot cure our governments’ double standards with double standards of our own… We don’t demand the invasion of Burma or the bombing of Tel Aviv and no one called for NFZs over the townships during the apartheid years.”

However, Marqusee misses two crucial features of Libya, which makes it different from such examples. On the one hand is something that Younge recognises: the legitimacy of intervention in Libya is not derived from a legal case dreamt up on Capitol Hill or Whitehall, but from the demands of the rebels in Libya. As Younge puts it, “the invitation to attack did come from a credible resistance movement within Libya.” Marquesee says “we stand in solidarity with democratic struggles”, but what kind of solidarity ignores the cries for help of the masses rising up from under Gaddafi’s heal?

The second, related feature is the urgency of the situation in Libya. Younge responds to this, but with cynicism and casuistry. On the liberal interventionists who say that rebels and their civilian supporters are being crushed now, he says “Such sophistry treats “now” as its own abstract point in time: a moment that bears no legacy and carries no consequences. Amnesia and ignorance are the privileges of the powerful. But the powerless, who live with the ramifications, do not have the luxury of forgetting. They do not forget Shatila, Falluja, Abu Ghraib or Jenin—to name but a few horrific war crimes in which the West was complicit.” I find this argument utterly immoral as well as manipulative.

To take Shatila, there was a moment when the horrific massacre was about to happen, and a moment when it did happen. If it could have been stopped by Western action – if Israel had acted to stop the Falange, or if UN peacekeepers had protected the camps – would this not have been desirable? Wouldn’t the “legacy” of such intervention have been the saved lives of the powerless? Is the moral credibility of remembering Shatila a purchase worth the price of the inaction that allowed the massacre to happen?

Or, to take another of Marqusee’s examples, part of the reason the left did not “call for NFZs over the townships during the apartheid years” was that, heinous though the regime was there was not the immediate threat of mass slaughter which could be averted by implementing an NFZ. Similarly, although some leftists do demand the bombing of Tel Aviv (or salute the Palestinian “resistance” when it carries it out), the comparison between Israel and Gaddafi’s regime is absurd and obscene.

Both Marqusee and Younge rightly argue that there are other modes of solidarity, other forms of “doing something”, apart from military intervention. They are right that the left’s starting point should be solidarity with the oppressed rather than the West’s strategic interests. But it is hard to see what effective measures of solidarity we can deploy from here, which will address the urgency of the humanitarian situation.

It is instructive here to examine some of the comparisons and arguments from example the anti-interventionists discuss. In Bosnia, Marqusee places blame on an NFZ and Dutch troops on the ground for failing to stop the Srebrenica massacre. What this ignores is that the passivity rather than the intervention of the Dutch troops enabled the massacre to happen. There was no commitment to liberal interventionism at that point, and the Dutch troops were locked in a Cold War mentality of peace-keeping, when local wars were proxy wars between the superpowers and peacekeeping on the ground was backed up by great power diplomacy behind the scenes.

Similarly, Marqusee says that in Rwanda, “there were French troops on the ground, defending their national interests and nothing else.” This is true, and is a shame on the French. Again, however, it is not an indictment of liberal interventionism, but of the neo-colonial mentality of the French at that time, in reaction to which people like Bernard Kouchner articulated their liberal interventionist vision.

Looking at these examples, it is hard to see what concrete measures of solidarity, what other ways of “doing something”, could have made a difference. Workers Aid to Bosnia was effective in getting humanitarian supplies to the beleaguered anti-Milosevic movement, but it was utterly powerless once the ethnic cleansing began in earnest. The logistics of something comparable are less plausible in Libya. Arming the rebels would be one way forward, but again the practicalities of doing so present severe obstacles. What else do Younge and Marqusee suggest, apart from a gestural memorialising of the massacres once they have occurred?

More fundamentally, Marqusee and Younge both accuse liberal interventionists of an ahistorical analysis, which forgets or erases the whole history of imperialism and the destructive role of the West’s self-interest around the world. This is an accurate criticism in many cases. But Younge and Marqusee also write from an ahistorical analysis, one in which the world is frozen at some point in the Cold War past. Marqusee makes this clear in his last paragraph:

“this debate has reminded me of the gulf that separates my politics (and most of us on the left) from this type of liberalism. For me this gulf first opened when as a youngster I watched liberals launch the Vietnam War on a sea of “good intentions”. The gulf widened when, despite the ensuing nightmare, liberals continued to believe in the benign nature of US (or British or French) world intentions.”

Marqusee’s analysis is stuck in the Vietnam moment. Younge is younger, but his politics too were formed in the Cold War, in the period of Thatcher/Reagan, of the Iran/Contra scandal, the Falklands war, interventions in Grenada and Panama, American support for the crushing of national liberation movements in Africa. Their worldview essentially sees intervention as something only “the West” can do; it sees “the West” as a homogenous entity; it sees “the West” as the ultimate power in the world.

My politics were formed by similar contexts to Younge’s, so I am sympathetic. But the world has significantly changed in a number of ways. Marqusee claims that “In the name of pluralism [liberal interventionists] endorse a uni-polar world, governed perpetually by a few great powers.” But, in fact, we now live in a multipolar world: in which Russia is no longer the evil empire nor a defeated ex-superpower but a rising economic force with its own geopolitical agenda and its own proxy low intensity wars across central Asia, in which huge tracts of the continent on what Libya sits are being bought up by Saudi millionaires and  Chinese investment companies in a new scramble for Africa which makes the age of Cecil Rhodes look petty, in which Saudi military might exceeds that of most European nations, in which non-state actors like Hezbollah have offensive capabilities beyond some European nations, in which the Gulf states are the patrons rather than the clients of American capital.

Take again some of the examples Marqusee mentions: Burma is a major location for Chinese investment in oil and gas extraction and exploration, as well as the site of Chinese military installations at Great Coco Island. Similarly, the violence in Darfur is fuelled by Chinese weapons and economic interests, while UN action to stop the violence is blocked by China. As Christopher Hitchens said in a recent interview, “Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea, anywhere that the concept of human rights doesn’t exist, it’s always the Chinese at backstop. And always for reasons that you could write down in three words: blood for oil.” In other words, the anti-interventionists vision of US oil-thirsty gunboat diplomacy is a case of selective blindness.

Their unipolar vision also only obscures other examples of liberal interventionism. It ignores the Vietnamese liberation of Cambodia from Pol Pot, for example, in which a non-Western force eventually intervened to stop a genocidal dictator who was slaughtering its own people. (After I wrote this, I saw Anthony Barnett using the same example: “while the Cambodians did not want to be ruled by the Vietnamese, who they usually loathed, they were very pleased indeed, as one of them put it to me, “not to be genocided”. The Cambodian people were liberated from tyranny, their torture and terror was ended. The humanitarian justification for this trumped any form of theory or political schema.”)

The unipolar vision also ignores the times when African Union forces have policed some of the continent’s most horrific war crimes, such as Darfur, where their lack of resources critically undermines their effectiveness. It ignores instances of Western intervention that serve absolutely no geopolitical interest, such as Britain’s involvement in Sierra Leone, where the Indian-led UNAMSIL intervention in 1999 was utterly ineffective and British intervention (Operation Palliser) helped bring an end to the decade of blood-letting (violence, incidentally, which the Gaddafi regime aided and abetted). Most liberal interventionists, rather than simply cheer-leading Western action, have also supported these interventions too, even though they have not served Western interests.

In short, liberal interventionism may be flawed in both theory and practice, but unless Younge and Marqusee can provide a meaningful alternative, how can the left in strong nations help to stop civilians in places like Libya, Sierra Leone, Cambodia or Kosovo from being “genocided”?

The opportunistic Islamist supporters of the Libyan rebels

Tuesday 29 March, at a London conference on Libya held at Lancaster House, Admiral James Stavridis (Nato’s supreme commander for Europe and the US’ European commander) warned of the “”flickers” of al-Qaida or Hizbullah” support which is present in the Libyan rebel movement, adding to the “[u]ncertainty about the future of Libya“.

Though the rebel movement is composed by a broad range of interests, the presence of some notable Islamists should prompt vital questions for the Libyan National Transition Council. The controversial figures include:

Support for the Arab Spring in general has come from some very interesting places. Anwar Al-Awlaki – spiritual leader to Al-Qaeda – has noted that unrest in such places as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya will open up the space for jihad.

In an article for English-language magazine Inspire Al-Awlaki warned that the new situation in Libya would harm the US and draw focus away from their “war on terror” (though with The Pentagon’s decision today, this may not be an issue after all).

Most surprisingly, the Muslim Association of Britain, “the British franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood”, on 21 March decided to pledge their agreement with the No-Fly Zone over Libya and salute “the British armed forces for their role in helping the Libyan people” (see here also).

These examples expose the opportunistic nature of a bunch of unpopular guys, not singing to the same hymnsheet as the majority of people taking part in Middle Eastern and North African uprisings.

But it also highlights some of the problems facing rebel movements.

Fortunately the National Transition Council in Libya – now officially recognised in Qatar – know where they stand on this, opposing “violence, terrorism, intolerance and cultural isolation” while stating they will “respect the sanctity of religious doctrine and condemn intolerance, extremism and violence”.

A note on Libya now that a NFZ has been implemented

March 22, 2011 16 comments

Firstly, apologies for the way in which this has been written; even for me it’s a bit too bloggy, that is to say personal, and not very political bloggy as readers of this site have come to expect.

When I heard last Thursday that a no-fly zone had been implemented my heart, as the saying goes, had become lodged rather firmly in my mouth.

This may surprise some who have read the posts I’ve written on the subject, ranging from attempts to understand the Left’s relationship with Gaddafi, calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone, explaining why a Western-backed NFZ wouldn’t be unappealing even given the recent history of such things, debating on additional measures other than a NFZ, and debating heroes of the left wing blogosphere in general.

As the NFZ has been implemented, supporters of it will be held to account and viewed with scrutiny closer than usual. Those who came out favourably for the current procedures will become culpable for the beliefs that they held if things go wrong.

My witterings perhaps would usually have gone unnoticed, I’m sure, but since I’ve committed myself to a certain opinion on how best the world should respond to the Libyan situation, and certain very good writers have taken notice, I now hold the burden of myself being culpable for the beliefs I hold in public.

I don’t write this as a backtrack, but as a simple set of cautionary notes that I can refer back to if the interventionists break their words and plough ahead with something they haven’t been mandated to do by the security council, and that supporters of the NFZ may appear to be supportive of.

Words written today by Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz, Aberystwyth University, in today’s Guardian, who asked a panel of law experts to read through the UK government’s thin statement on military efforts in Libya, require no additional comments from me. He says:

Such an operation would have to be strictly limited to achieving the particular purpose and any force used would have to be proportionate. There are two problems with this: first, the side using force will always argue that it was proportionate; second, opponents would argue that this was a form of occupation, albeit limited, and accordingly in violation of the resolution. Everything would depend upon the extent of control exercised by the foreign troops.

For me the notion of proportionality is the entire purpose of installing a NFZ. No sooner than the Libyan rebels realised Gaddafi wasn’t going to fall as promptly as autocrats elsewhere in the region, the leader’s son Saif al-Islam explained that “Libya is preparing full-scale military action to crush a rebellion and will not surrender even if Western powers intervene in the conflict”.

He wasn’t joking, Gaddafi is vengeful, and with the aid of weapons bought in large part from Russia (who abstained in the UNSC vote), merceneries from Syria, and important dominant use of the air, saw fit to do exactly as his son promised.

The role of intervening nations on behalf of the rebels is to help mitigate the disproportinate amount of power Gaddafi has in the air, as well as equipping them with arms sourced from ex-soviet countries (such as Poland) or indeed embark on training programmes for rebel armies with modern weaponary (though this could be needlessly expensive and a bad use of time).

The call that Gaddafi still might win doesn’t hinder my support for the NFZ since in principle I’m for proportionality first and foremost, otherwise there’d be nothing stopping me from supporting a hostile bombing campaign on Tripoli and starting again.

I will bullet point a few remaining points:

  • If Gaddafi survives as President and Libya is broken up then the NFZ won’t have been for nothing, since principally this is not about toppling a dictator, this is about averting humanitarian crisis, though obviously Gaddafi’s toppling is desirable
  • I don’t support an expiration date, but as David Cameron has been less than clear on what the end result – and the conditions for intervening nations to leave – is, I will include my opinion here which is that when the conditions are met, where it is reasonable to believe that a vengeful dead-horse of a dictator won’t use disproportionate force on a Benghazi, can willing nations leave
  • I don’t support sending in ground troops, and like Dave Osler, I will march the streets if this occurs where the UN have passed only a resolution to implement a NFZ
  • As Juan Cole has put “It should be a no-fly zone, not a war on the Qaddafi regime. Qaddafi tank columns should be interdicted from moving on Benghazi or Tobruk. But tanks just sitting around in Tripoli should not be targeted.”
  • Intervening nations should give an immediate platform to the council in Benghazi and make sure their demands and plans for wider government are pumped around the airwaves for everyone to hear. Anything shy of this ought to concern those supportive of an intervention. The views of Mustafa Abdul Jalil should be pumped into the ears of EU country leaders, the US and the Arab League 24/7
  • I’m of the opinion that nations have responsibilities beyond their borders and I’m glad that the UK have partaken in action that has precluded sending in ground troops. I’m not supportive of the nationalist notion that the UK needn’t stick it’s fingers in where they ain’t needed (see Tebbit) or the notion that this will only be meaningful if Libyans do it alone (certainly the counter-revolutionary forces think nothing of maintaining their grip by employing men from elsewhere to help flatten the revolution)
  • I’ve chosen to steer clear of “whataboutery” because we can’t see into the future, I will cross those bridges when we get to them – this has gained me the criticism, by Richard Seymour, that I’m looking at this “apolitically”, especially since the US are involved, and we know what they’re like. But to this I would say all of the details regarding the NFZ that the UNSC have passed I agree with, anything outside this I do not support. In pledging my support one way or another I have not accepted anything that hasn’t been stated by the UNSC. End of. If tomorrow, a bomb was landed by “one of ours”, from sea, I’d join in its strongest condemnation. But this ought to be said; a NFZ does not lead necessarily to escalation tactics, or any tactics over and above that stated in the resolution passed. As it stands I’m happy to say I support the NFZ, if the NFZ goes wrong I’ll take the flack, so should those who implemented it, but if tactics are employed surplus to the resolution, I will not sit and listen to people shouting “told you so” simply on the grounds that their arguments against the NFZ have included “whataboutery”. It’s not fair argument, it’s not fair comment, and it is infantile to do so.
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