The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, March 21, 2011


The armed forces of the UK, US, France and several other countries are at this moment attacking the government and armed forces of Libya, in the immediate interest and at the behest of an armed rebellion led by people some of whom were until very recently members of the government and armed forces of Libya. At the same time, the states attacking the Libyan state and supporting the armed rebellion are fully supportive of the governments and armed forces of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen (today on the brink) in using armed force to put down unarmed protest demonstrations. There's no inconsistency in their actions (and their inactions). They have to maintain their interests in the region, which are threatened by the Arab revolutions.

People of the most diverse political views, which in the UK range from the leaderships of the major parties to the dregs of the far left, are joined in demanding support for the attack on humanitarian grounds. Many sincere supporters of the Arab revolutions also support the attack.

I think the well-intentioned among these are making a big mistake. The attackers themselves, however, probably aren't. This humanitarian intervention is likely to be as successful as those in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The leadership of the Libyan rebels probably aren't making a mistake either. Having failed to take the country they refused even to test offers of mediation. At first they hung out banners opposing foreign intervention. Then they called for a no-fly zone. Now they celebrate the attack, their fighters dancing on the burned-out hulks of a dozen or so tanks and supply vehicles destroyed from the air. It seems safe to assume that taking power with the support of imperialism and its Arab client despots is what they intend to do. Now, I could be wrong about this, but I'm finding it hard to see this prospect as a win for the Arab revolutions.

For these reasons I think people in the attacking countries should oppose the attack.



Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan was humanitarian.

Kosovo was, and it made things worse in the short term, but I think better in the long run. The Kosovans would agree.

I admit, we don't know how this will end up. Ideally, with Gaddafi's heavy weapons and aircraft out of action, the rebels will sweep into Tripoli and depose him. Ideally, they will set up a reasonably democratic state. There's a good chance that this won't happen, but the same is true of any democratic revolution. In my view, it's worth taking risks when the potential rewards are so great.

And so far, we've prevented a massacre in a city with a million people, legally and support from Arabs generally. It's pretty good for a couple of days work.

If you want to compare this to Iraq then how about the closest comparison -- with the no-fly zones over Kurdish territory. In my view those were a success, and the Kurds certainly agree.

I do respect that there is decent case against the war and there's plenty of room here for reasonable people to disagree. But what we can't do is continue to live in the shadow of 9/11 forever. Yes everyone went batshit insane for almost ten years and Iraq and Afghanistan were imperialistic clusterfucks, but this is not 2003. Judge the Libyan intervention on its merits.

The rebels seem to be using the weapons they brought with them when they defected and what they have captured in a few cities. What happens when they run out of ammunition? Do we up the air strikes to prevent Qaddafi from slaughtering essentially disarmed forces? This would almost certainly require special forces teams with forward air controllers on the ground with the rebels. Do we start supplying weapons and ammunition directly to the rebels? Or do we let Qaddafi massacre them? I don't see any good choices there.

I believe the Egyptians are now arming the rebels.

I've never heard of lack of ammunition being an issue in Africa, usually they have the opposite problem...

It's simply about oil, those attacking want to continue to have access to it and they'd prefer that a long drawn out civil war doesn't get in the way of getting it. Same for Bahrain etc.
Only offshore oil and gas looks good in a civil war situation (Angola) where no tax needs to be paid, onshore needs some stability.
In medieval times it looked like it was about religion or territory but it was usually about food resources and occasionally minerals.
It's almost always about stuff.
In the playground its either something someone said or a resource that's not being shared.
In international relations, as we can see by the reaction to Iran's dubious comments about the 2012 logo, what's said isn't taken very seriously, but not sharing well that's much more important. Burma can say what it likes but at least it's sharing its oil.

Caroline, if the alliance doesn't want a long, drawn-out civil war then why not let Gaddafi win? The rebels were already contained in an area far from any oil fields, and would probably have been crushed within days. Now we face a campaign of uncertain scope and duration.

There are reasons that it's in our interest to get rid of Gaddafi, but I don't think oil is one of them.

And the Arab League, having supported a no-fly zone, is now a little perplexed when the indiscriminate bombing starts. I think you've hit the nail on the head; it was all in the plan from day one.

With due respect, anyone who stoops online to labeling other human beings as ‘dregs’, damages their claim to be taken seriously as a commentator on important matters.

That observation is confirmed when one reads the factitious nonsense about, “This humanitarian intervention is likely to be as successful as those in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq”.

There was no intervention in ‘Yugoslavia’. There was an intervention in the dismembered remains of the old Yugoslavian federation.

None of the listed interventions was taken on humanitarian grounds. The incredulous claims by Western (i.e. USA and UK leaders) about acting on humanitarian grounds are easily disproved with reference to those leaders’ unblinking refusal to act in the several other contemporary situations where there was (and remains?) equal or even more pressing ‘humanitarian’ cases for intervention. Can you slice ‘humanitarianism’ into little bits of optional choices – something like, can you be just a little bit pregnant?

The lack of oil or global power self-interests in a given situation can always be depended upon, of course, to figure as a cynical counterpoint to any humanitarian considerations.

In the little understood global context of Kosovo/ Serbia, the intervention was made by the West because the USA had became increasingly nervous about the likely incursion of Russia. There was the end-game incident in Serbia when a USA commander ordered a British senior officer to military resist Russian forces arriving at an international airport – fortunately the British officer declined to act on the order, saying that he was not prepared to be the trigger that started WW3.

As for the long term it remains to be found out whether the ‘humanitarian intervention’ will prove to have been, on balance a good thing for the peoples most directly affected – the current situation is barely kept suppressed with the presence of international para-military police forces (and what happens when the international partners tire of paying the cost of that ongoing policing?)

In a not too dissimilar later situation, the miscalculation that less-than-competent USDA President Bush junior made over Georgia and the Russian Federation blew up as a bloody mess in the West’s face.

Afghanistan was a belated correction by the West with the aim of returning to the perceived strategic imperative of attacking the concept of Al Qaeda. Bush junior had of course, exploited the Twin Towers incident as a dishonest excuse to attack and invade an already-contained Iraq (partly in pursuit of the control of oil and, to a lesser extent, as a matter of plain revenge by the Bushes on Saddam).

Who are the rebels? What do they stand for? Does anyone actually know?

I think there's no way to know the outcome of this, because it does not seem to have been planned. There appears to me no strategy beyond male hominid self-aggrandizement on the part of the French and English conservative leadership. It is possible the Arab revolutions will instead hijack this action. On the other hand, it could also be hijacked by Islamic radicals.

Regardless of the outcome, however...more food for corvids!

For the avoidance of doubt: I don't refer to other human beings as 'dregs'. I was referring to the organization whose article I linked to. That organization is, indeed, the dregs. Its individual members are perhaps more accurately referred to as 'drunks'.

So what you're saying is that the rebels are suspect because some of them previously supported the Gaddafi regime, which taints them so much that I should support the continuation of the Gaddafi regime?

Or is it that they are suspect because they have opportunistically sought the support of my imperialist country, so I should work to deny them my imperialist country's support, and only when that denial is achieved can I in good faith campaign for my country to support them?

International politics is complicated. Here's to 50 more years of benign Gadaffi rule!

Over at C4SS: support for the Arab revolutions (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), but opposition to Western military intervention (here and here).

Oops, some of the links in the first set of "heres" belonged in the second set. Oh well.

One remark. Shortly after 9/11 I was confused. I did not know what to think. A person I knew was then a prominent neocon and, despite many differences, a good friend. I called him for advice after the Afghanistan bombings began. He, a person in the know, could not contain his enthusiasm. He blurted out, "Great! And now on to Iraq." Not a word about Bin Laden. His idea was to use Afghanistan as a stepping-stone towards Iraq. Later reading convinced me that the neocons, mainly the Project for the New American Century, were agitating for this since 1997. Their aim was to secure American supremacy worldwide, for the foreseeable future. The last things their clones need now are Middle East democracies with independent ideas, say about oil. A cosmetic, servile, democracy ok (Egypt, perhaps), a real one, no (a successful Egyptian revolution).

The problem is that our friendly imperialist governments are going to be panned by us on the left no matter what they do. If they act, they're engaging in a rampant and cynical intervention that will kill innocents.So they're bastards

If, on the other hand, they stand back and let Gaddafi shell Bengazi until it's a plain of molten glass, they've abandoned those freedom loving people they claim to champion, just like they did in Rawanda/Kurdistan/Spanish civil war. So they're bastards.

I share many of your reservatons, but I ultimately support the attacks. It may well backfire, but it's better than seeing the result of a failed democratic revolt. I just hope the revolutionaries understand that the support of the west always comes at a heavy cost.

Hi Ken,

I am conflicted. On the one hand getting rid of a despot should be considered a good thing... but what happens after? And who are the rebels exactly and what do they want?

Picking through the news coverage we seem to be fed a diet of "This intervention-thing is a good idea m'kay?" but no one is really talking about what the rebels actually want or what their plans are after? Aside from the removal of Gaddafi.
And what about those Libyans who actually support Gaddafi? Surely they get a say too?

So I am conflicted.

I am not worried about Gulf War 3 or Aghanistan 25 or whatever. What I am worried about is yet another series of Balkans-style wars. I hope it doesn't come to that but I see nothing good (one way or the other) coming from this.

Ken you returned to make the solitary point that;

“For the avoidance of doubt: I don't refer to other human beings as 'dregs'. I was referring to the organization whose article I linked to. That organization is, indeed, the dregs. Its individual members are perhaps more accurately referred to as 'drunks'.”

Again with all due respect, that statement is nothing more than sophistry and adds to the doubts, rather than avoids them. Your attempt to retrospectively retarget your comments to the ‘organisation’ and not the members is mere semantics.

The statement is also baffling in implying that referring to the members as ‘drunks’ whereas their organisation 'is the dregs' is somehow a credible or creditable clarification.

I presume you have accepted, by default, my other, fundamental, corrections to what you originally stated.

Ted, you have a very odd idea of comment threads. If I don't reply to a comment, it doesn't mean I accept it! I'm under no bligation to jump in every time someone takes issue with me. I do this for my amusement, not anyone else's.

You've also missed the sarcasm of my use of 'humanitarian intervention', quibbled pointlessly about 'Yugoslavia' (I'm well aware that it had been destroyed by then, thank very much), and the sectarian humour of my references to the AWL and its members.

"I presume you have accepted, by default, my other, fundamental, corrections to what you originally stated. "

I am God. Whoever fails to challenge my claim within 24 hours will be deemed to have accepted it -- whereupon orders will be issued.

"In the century of the self we all live in a majority of one."

I can't remember who said that.

The war is, sincerely, about stopping Gaddaffi from carrying out a gruesome series of reprisals against the rebel towns, because european/western leadership really do not want to have either another sin of ommission of Rwandian magnitude on their hands, nor to deal with the number of refugees that would start landing on our southern shores aboard everything that can float, and everything that can be made to float with the application of enough sweat and ducktape, once the rebellion no longer had an army in the field and reprisals got underway.

Longterm plans? Ohh. Those would probably be a good idea! Got any we could use?

Rebel intentions? Who the fuck knows, I dont think the rebels themselves have a clue what they want beyond "To be rid of Gaddaffi".

Ken of course you are not obliged to jump in - but you did; but in a partial and confusing way.

You now say that you were aware of the situation regarding the non-existance of Yugoslavia; in that case it seems a very odd thing to have used the term 'Yugoslavia'in the context you did.

As for me having supposedly 'quibbled pointlessly'; you found point enough to have felt the need to respond to it; well at least to make another dismissive remark.

I suggest, with all due respect, that if you do all of this for your own amusment, you avoid topics such as a humanitarian crisis in the grown-up world.

As for;
"I am God. Whoever fails to challenge my claim within 24 hours will be deemed to have accepted it -- whereupon orders will be issued."
Ah, I see... any dissent by way of informed opinion here will be derided and misconstrued.

I suppose I'm likely to be called 'dregs of society' or 'a drunk' next.

I'll mind the door doesn't hit my arse on the way out.

How tenderhearted your commenters are, Ken, and how woefully incapable of rational thought.

Hi Ken. This is wobbly bit of support for what you are saying, posted to facebook a few days back. (You have to logged into facebook to read it, but I don't think you have to have friended me.)

For those who can't read link : more reason to support this than usual because even though U.S. doing this for own reasons, their interests converge with the Libyan people. If west had let Gadaffi win civil war by slaughtering rebels, the rebellion would not have vanished but been driven deep underground and might have disrupted oil supplies. Also west might have been forced by public opinion into withdrawing oil companies and no longer buying oil. Note that I say "might". Not in link: Don't blame rebels for being willing to make deal with devil to win. Not uncommon. In end Mandela gave in to economic neoliberalism to avoid devastating destructive civil war. And people of Libya would be better off with Gaddafi gone too. Bogie Democratic neo-liberalism, probably with a few social democratic concessions is much better than brutal neo-lib dictator with no social dem concessions.

But confluence of interests only true in case of quick victory. Otherwise ongoing war. Probably ongoing bombing destroying sewage, water other vital infrastructure such as in usual in such cases. Maybe ground war between defacto nations that develop of East and West Libya. That kills more people than Gaddaffi would have slaughtered. Wobbly I know, no purity in my opposition. Depends on facts, and can refuted either by my facts being wrong, or by future results proving my projections overly pessimistic.

Bottom line: just because a war is being conducted for imperialistic reasons does not mean it can't benefit the people it is nominally intervening on behalf of. But "not" is the way to bet.

Offers of mediation with the likes of Qaddafi? Good luck with that one. Oh, I forgot none of us has to live under his benevolent dictatorship.

"Ah, I see... any dissent by way of informed opinion here will be derided and misconstrued."

Oops, my apologies -- I forgot that people from the planet Pzyklaron are unable to process the concept of humour.

(I'm the first person I know of to talk about "an Arab 1848," with full dreadful knowledge of how that finally turned out.)
Libya is more a seat-of-the-pants guess at the lesser evil. I doubt any very certain opinion is to be relied on.

Let's not forget - democracy does not guarantee good govrnment, it only guarantees elections...

For these reasons I think people in the attacking countries should oppose the attack.

Well,those reasons, sure. But the only reason a citizen of the United States needs to be against the war is that it is illegal under the Constitution.

It's a good thing the US Constitution has such a provision. Some historians have argued - controversially, to be sure - that without that provision, the US might have become entangled in local conflicts in such unlikely-sounding places as Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Some historians have argued

Yeah, yeah.

We have laws on the books against murder. Murder happens. Doesn't mean we should shrug our shoulders and say 'Yeah, well, what are ya gonna do?'

I seem to be the only person I know who cares about this. Well, fine: I swore an oath to preserve and defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic and etc. I take things like that seriously.

Brian, I take your point but the problem I have with it is that the legality of the attack under the US Constitution is also argued for, and I have no way (short of studying US Constitutional law) of deciding who's right on that point. I just prefer not get involved in that sort of argument, especially as I'm against the attack whether it's legal or not.

Sorry, Ken

I'm an Italian reader of your works and blog. Our far-right government did the most servile hommage to Gaddafy (Berlusconi kissing his hand), refused to exert any "soft power" when something was still feasible, and the far right xenophobic Northern League is opposing air raids and basically rooting for a Gaddafy victory in order to keep the "dirty niggers" out, even it means keeping people in death camps in the desert.
West-backed rebels wouldn't be as bad as a vengeful Gaddafy, and eevry tank shot from air is one tube less shelling civilians in Misrata. Lesser of two evil...


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