So how'd that Libya thing work out?

| 13 Comments

Every so often a new intervention by NATO and the usual suspects gets proposed, and there's always an argument all over again about whether it's a good idea. Generally, there is little real information available about just what's really going on, but there's plenty of propaganda, some of it nuanced and plausible, and often some genuine complexity to the situation. Even intelligent, well-meaning progressives are frequently persuaded that this time, maybe it's a good idea.

It never is. Even the best cases you ever get for imperialist intervention always turn out to be terrible. The more such events I see, the more convinced I become that knee-jerk opposition to such action is pretty much always justified. Say, I was going to talk about Libya, wasn't I?

So let's talk Libya. The poster child for "humanitarian intervention". Ruled by a dictator who was certainly eccentric, even a weirdo, and could plausibly be called "crazy". Resisted by protestors who seemed to be part of the celebrated Arab Spring. Threatening to massacre his regime's opponents. How could anyone possibly oppose intervention? And, partly persuaded by this basic frame of events, many progressives, even on boards such as "enmasse.ca", argued in favour of UN/NATO military intervention. I didn't, but for a while I temporized, was luke-cold in my opposition, agreed that with all the ambiguities it was difficult to be sure . . .

Fast forward a year or so.

Tens of thousands of deaths later, what was the African country with the highest standard of living is now falling apart. The "government" is vicious and authoritarian to the extent that it's in charge of anything, which it mostly isn't. Militias and mercenaries fight it out in miniature civil wars. Bagmen pocket the oil wealth. Far more people have died than ever would have if Gadhaffi had just crushed his opponents, and we're really still just getting started. The government has a law granting immunity to anyone committing war crimes in the service of the revolution, and what with all the torture and ethnic cleansing they need it. And it has a law mandating jail terms for anyone who says nice things about the previous regime; way to institute freedom, NATO!

in recent weeks government buildings - including the Prime Ministerial compound - have come under fire by 'rebels' demanding cash payment for their services. $1.4billion has been paid out already . . . Corruption is becoming endemic - a further $2.5billion in oil revenues that was supposed to have been transferred to the national treasury remains unaccounted for . . .

Law 37, passed by the new NATO-imposed government last month, has created a new crime of 'glorifying' the former government or its leader - subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Would this include a passing comment that things were better under Gaddafi? The law is cleverly vague enough to be open to interpretation. It is a recipe for institutionalised political persecution . . .

Law 38. This law has now guaranteed immunity from prosecution for anyone who committed crimes aimed at "promoting or protecting the revolution". Those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha - such as Misrata's self-proclaimed "brigade for the purging of black skins" - can continue their hunting down of that cities' refugees in the full knowledge that they have the new 'law' on their side. Those responsible for the massacres in Sirte and elsewhere have nothing to fear. Those involved in the widespread torture of detainees can continue without repercussions - so long as it is aimed at "protecting the revolution" - i.e. maintaining NATO-TNC dictatorship.

On the plus side for the US at any rate, the article goes on to point out how the removal of Gadhaffi has drastically weakened the African Union, making it far easier for the US to move in Africom and go all neo-colonial on the Africans. Not such great news for Africans, or for progressives who aren't wild about imperialism.

So I'd like to suggest that next time around, or for that matter this time around (Syria) we just keep in mind how, no matter how good the spin for any given military intervention seems to be, it is almost certainly a really horrible, evil idea, insane from the perspective of anything except advancing imperialism. The complexities of such situations are dwarfed by the mindboggling nastiness that will be the result of imperialist intervention. There are vanishingly few situations so bad that military intervention by the US and hangers-on such as Canada can't make them heartbreakingly worse. I plan to remember that in future discussions whenever a new flavour of the year pops up and people are being fooled all over again.

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13 Comments

But, but, but, Harper said NATO only killed 30 people in Libya? He didn't have the guts to tell the truth about the NATO armed 'rebels' are doing.
Impirialist intervention is the exact wording for the slaughter our country visited on Afghanistan, Libya and God knows how many more countries are in their sights. The real terrorists on the planet is us. Why do we allow this to continue? Will we ever wake up?

Yemen's next.

You heard it here first.

Good post, PLG. Will be sharing this on FB.

I don't think you're being entirely fair here. Not that I support the actions of the U.N. here, but realistically if they had done what I would support the results would be likely be similar. And to that end anything resulting in the regime change from Gaddafi. Set aside what it took for Gadhafi's reign to end. What would happen? The answer is what's happening right now. To say that we shouldn't support a populist movement against a minority regime trying to kill everyone that opposes them because we don't like what they will choose to do at the helm is, well silly. We don't give up on democracy every time 'the people' elect a disgusting excuse for government even in a wholly cynical view of politics. We try to get them to do something smarter with their choices democratically. There is a place for legitimate military intervention, and what was done in Libya was not it, but there is no sense in throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Nope, sorry. Baby . . . gone. There have been many, many military interventions over the years. Show me one where the results were better than simply not doing it, let alone applying intelligent policy options instead (diplomacy, possible sanctions, yadda yadda).
Korea? Nope.
Lebanon? Nope.
Haiti? Nope.
Serbia? Nope.
Iraq? Nope.
Afghanistan? Nope.
And let's not even get into all the places the US intervened unilaterally rather than getting some international cover.

There have been some moderately successful peacekeeping missions. To my mind, to be peacekeeping, a mission has to involve things like, not trying to topple any particular government or wipe out or promote any particular faction, and not initiating hostilities. Ideally peacekeepers are also agreed on by all major sides, and trusted to act as a neutral buffer to stop violence from flaring up rather than as belligerents with their own ax to grind. Which is to say, although there are military personnel involved a peacekeeping mission is not in the normal sense a military operation, and in some ways does not even represent an intervention since it does not seek to pursue political goals of its own but only to preserve lives, and buy time so that political goals can be sought by peaceful means.

It has become politically impossible for the major Western powers to be involved in a peacekeeping mission, however. At some point we might see things called that again, but the US for one is simply not capable of getting involved in a conflict without trying to control it.

Simply relabeling a particular kind of military intervention as peacekeeping is just that; simply relabeling a particular kind of military intervention as peacekeeping. It's still a military intervention at the end of the day, silly redefinitions of the word intervention aside. I don't even know why you tried to make that point. All you've done is changed the disagreement to the meaning of the term 'military intervention'. Then it comes down to, what did the author here mean when using it, and what meaning should reasonably be expected when using it unless otherwise specified? Silly territory indeed.

Nonsense. It's like saying simply relabeling a particular kind of rape as consensual sex is just that, simply relabeling, and it's still rape at the end of the day. Well, no, it isn't.

Alternatively, it's like saying the world is complicated therefore there's no point trying to draw any distinctions about anything. Perhaps you didn't quite grasp what I meant by "sides"--I meant the sides inside the country in question. So for instance, if they'd asked Gadhaffi if it was OK to have troops in, and Gadhaffi could have actually trusted those troops to not attack him, that might have been peacekeeping. So f'rinstance in Cyprus, neither the Turks nor the Greeks actually wanted a war, but there was a lot of ill will, so they let some people they could trust stand in between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots while stuff cooled down. And basically, it worked--because the people there were not people who had military objectives, were not trying to unify the place under Greek or Turkish rule, yadda yadda. They weren't even trying to police the place.
Really, you could have unarmed peacekeepers and it would work about the same, but the poor peacekeepers would feel pretty vulnerable and be at increased risk, which would be unfair to them. But if you could still perform the function unarmed, I would submit that "military intervention" is not a reasonable description of the function.

Simply relabeling a particular kind of military intervention as peacekeeping is just that...

No. In fact I could argue that the distinction you're trying to ignore is the distinction between what the original UN Resolution empowered us to do in Libya and what we actually did ("we" being the NATO allies). What we were supposed to do was implement a no fly zone and an arms embargo. Done properly, that might have qualified as peacekeeping. What we actually did was provide air support, training, logistics and weapons for the NTC while doing as much direct damage to Gadhaffi as we thought we could get away with. We took sides. That's why it wasn't peacekeeping.

I'm not even clear that a "no-fly" zone qualifies as peacekeeping in the original UN sense. No matter how you slice it, that requires that you be blowing up somebody's planes and maybe airfields if they fail to obey your commands within their country. It involves shooting at people who haven't shot at you (or indeed at anybody else--it's not a "no bomb" zone; you're not letting them fly at all whether for attack purposes or otherwise). It certainly cannot be done unarmed.
In the particular case of Libya, it also definitely involved taking one particular side. It said "You and them are fighting. You have planes and they do not. We will take that advantage away from you so that they can maybe beat you. OK, now carry on fighting." As you say, the moment you are on a side and against another side, it isn't peacekeeping any more.

That's why Somalia back a few years, "Black Hawk Down" and all that, wasn't peacekeeping once the Americans came in, even though it was dubbed a "Peacekeeping mission". Also a major reason it failed. They tried to pick a winner, and none of the other factions failed to notice that meant they were being picked as losers. Suddenly instead of peacekeeping it was military action against an insurgency.

I'm not even clear that a "no-fly" zone qualifies as peacekeeping in the original UN sense...

Point taken. But the original resolution was supposed to look like peacekeeping. That's the reason they passed what they passed -- to provide some kind of diplomatic cover for the real agenda.

"Nonsense. It's like saying simply relabeling a particular kind of rape as consensual sex is just that, simply relabeling, and it's still rape at the end of the day. Well, no, it isn't."

Except that you just used an inappropriate analogy which used completely contradictory terms whereas peacekeeping is a term that in this context specifically refers to an intervention of the military, and hence a military intervention. Rape is intrinsically non-consensual, whereas peacekeeping is not intrinsically non-military, or not a form of intervention.

1.Peacekeeping can be an intervention of the military hence it can be a military intervention. This level of redundancy shouldn't be needed, but you're special like that.
2.Peacekeeping can be "moderately successful", or in other words better than simply not doing it.
3.Therefore you're wrong.

"I meant the sides inside the country in question. So for instance, if they'd asked Gadhaffi if it was OK to have troops in, and Gadhaffi could have actually trusted those troops to not attack him, that might have been peacekeeping. "

If you recall I explicitly said, Libya was not the kind of military intervention I was speaking about. I stated that I didn't support what they did. In clarification that means I'm not arguing for what was done in Libya. So I'm not sure who or what you're trying to argue against here.

"if you could still perform the function unarmed, I would submit that "military intervention" is not a reasonable description of the function."

If if's and buts...
That's rather arbitrary don't you think? Let's say I grant that the military going in unarmed counts as non-military. Ok, so what? You'd still have the option of putting in the military to intervene in a peacekeeping mission with weapons. You can do math without a calculator, it doesn't mean you can't reasonably call calculating something as 'calculating' it. Especially if I were specifically talking about doing it with a calculator. Fallacious rebuttal through and through.

"That's why it wasn't peacekeeping."

I never said it was peacekeeping. Honestly, can somebody actually read what I wrote? I explicitly stated that I don't support what was done in Libya, but that something else could have been done, as you actually agreed, that would be a legitimate form of military intervention; which we've conveniently come to know and love as peacekeeping.

I'm going to try to be polite here. I don't think you're either horrible or stupid, but I'm getting annoyed because I do think you're being rude. Let's back up a moment.

You seem to agree that it is possible, indeed feasible, to define some actions as "peacekeeping" and others not. You would claim that this is a definable subset of a broader thing called "Military intervention". I would consider "military intervention" as being, rather, a distinct set of things which differ from "peacekeeping" in necessarily requiring a military, in involving the achievement of military objectives, and in representing "intervention" in the sense of intervening being something one actor does to others without their consent, where I would consider peacekeeping to be a more consensual concept (hence the rape analogy which you seem to have studiedly avoided the key feature of). This is a matter of definition, and of which approach one considers closest to one's intuitive valuation of a set of somewhat subjective terms. I prefer mine. You evidently prefer yours. You have a different feel for the language and the connotations of certain terms than I do. This is a poor reason to accuse me of being contradictory, illogical, fallacious et cetera.

But it doesn't matter. Let us operate with your definitions, then. Within your definition schema rather than my own, yes, I would have to restate my thesis as follows: Rather than stating, roughly, "Military interventions are almost inevitably doomed/evil/counterproductive/deadly", I would have to instead say roughly, "Military interventions (other than true peacekeeping efforts agreed to by all major factions within the region being intervened in) are almost inevitably doomed/evil/counterproductive/deadly". Happy now?

(As a side note, I would also have to restate to exclude, e.g., disaster relief delivered by the military, which is also a form of having the military do something in a foreign country and hence also military intervention as I understand your definition)

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This page contains a single entry by Purple Library Guy published on May 25, 2012 3:56 PM.

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