Open thread on Iraq

by John Quiggin on December 15, 2011

Everything that can be said about this tragedy has been said, many times over. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate to note the offically announced end of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and to invite reflections on it.

{ 158 comments }

1

politicalfootball 12.15.11 at 1:09 pm

We won! Woohooo!

2

Andreas Moser 12.15.11 at 1:10 pm

Mission accomplished.

3

faustusnotes (used to be sg) 12.15.11 at 1:29 pm

Since the Arab spring, it all looks even more sad and pointless, doesn’t it? If Bush had waited for the Arab spring and focussed on Afghanistan, maybe now America would be seen as the new light on the hill. Instead they’re slinking home in disgrace, a million Iraqis are dead and Afghanistan is still a mess. What a waste.

4

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.11 at 1:38 pm

Pebble (2006)

Smooth, polished, glowing rosy
The careful lapidaries
Polishing away with a TV flicker
The war
Into the pink paint
New on a school
The smiling candy
Dispensed, a stone
To be caught in the gizzard
No blood from a stone
When we drive away
Change the channel
It will be tossed by the roadside
Near a burning truck
In a shattered rear view mirror

5

Walt 12.15.11 at 1:41 pm

We should do it again sometime. In five years, we should invade, and say “Bet you thought we were gone? Fooled ya!”

6

Leinad 12.15.11 at 1:43 pm

Bears mentioning that the US presence in Iraq from Jan 1, 2012 will be a hastily-assembled force of contractors the size of a heavy combat brigade which will answer to the State Department on terms unknown.

What could possibly go wrong?

7

Phil 12.15.11 at 2:01 pm

Everything that can be said about this tragedy has been said

You had me seriously worried there – I missed the story about the Liège shooting for about 12 hours, so my immediate assumption was that something bloody awful had happened in Iraq. Which it has, come to think of it, only not all at once and just now.

8

tomslee 12.15.11 at 2:04 pm

Juan Cole presents Post-American Iraq by the Numbers as a reminder of what is not getting covered. Here are the numbers from his post; Cole provides links and commentary.

Population of Iraq: 30 million.
Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187
Average monthly civilian deaths in Afghanistan War, first half of 2011: 243
Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17
Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50
Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.
Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.
Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.
Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.
Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.
Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million
Internally displaced [pdf] persons in Iraq: 1.3 million
Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8
Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175

9

Zamfir 12.15.11 at 2:16 pm

I missed the story about the Liège shooting for about 12 hours, so my immediate assumption was that something bloody awful had happened in Iraq.
Event like in Liege happen regularly in Iraq. They’re not bloody awful enough to make the news anymore. Iraq Body Count puts violence in Iraq in 2011 at 6.5 deaths per day from bombs, and 4.7 from gunfire and executions.

10

BroD 12.15.11 at 2:23 pm

All that remains is to bring the perpetrators to justice.

11

Alex 12.15.11 at 2:36 pm

So who was asked to be the last man to die for a mistake? Clifford Beattie and Ramon Mora, Jr., back in May.

12

AcademicLurker 12.15.11 at 2:53 pm

What’s additionally depressing is that I doubt whether anyone (at least anyone with influence) has learned anything from this. The same crew of bellicose yahoos who promoted the Iraq invasion will sign on for the next one in a heartbeat. Even the ones that conveniently had a change of heart once things started to go wrong will cheer on the next invasion because “this time it’s different”.

13

Zamfir 12.15.11 at 3:02 pm

So who was asked to be the last man to die for a mistake? Clifford Beattie and Ramon Mora, Jr., back in May.
If you don’t count Iraqis, that is. 4 people Iraqis died by an IED yesterday, 24 died in various shootings on tuesday, including several policemen.

14

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.11 at 3:03 pm

“Bellicose yahoos”? There were plenty of well-educated people here who signed on for Libya. And the yahoos weren’t the ones with influence.

15

salazar 12.15.11 at 3:05 pm

Public criticism of the U.S. military is unthinkable. Anyone who wears a uniform is now a “hero” by definition.

Thank a soldier; buy a soldier a drink; buy a soldier lunch; give a soldier priority boarding on commercial airliners; create a whole new class of favored citizens who deserve admiration because they can kill; contrast the spirit of sacrifice of said citizens with the laziness of the poor.

US = France or any other European power just before World War I.

16

Bruce Baugh 12.15.11 at 3:15 pm

I agree broadly with Academic Lurker, but Rich is right that “The same crew of bellicose yahoos” doesn’t really fit the people who mattered. The significant decisions came from people who are rich, as educated as they care to be and with access to elite training any time they want it, as cultured as they care to be and with access to elite connoisseurs, curators, and the like any time they want it, and on and on. They have the opportunity to know and do pretty much whatever they want, and people with expertise and resources rush to offer them their services.

And it’s not like American presence will be gone from Iraq at the end of the year, nor that the men and women with lethal power on tap will be subject to anything like the rule of law. There’ll be fewer of our people there to directly make their lives miserable, but then there’ll be even less pretense of oversight or public scrutiny (at least by Americans), too.

It would be interesting to see commentary from someone with more clues than me about how much the situation in Iraq may resemble that of South Korea in the ’50s-’70s.

17

AcademicLurker 12.15.11 at 3:15 pm

@14

“Bellicose yahoo” was intended as an insult, not a sociological profile. Substitute “bellicose warmonger” if you prefer.

The Libya thing supports my point. Even the Serious People who were “mature” enough to admit that they’d been mistaken about Iraq (once supporting the war stopped being fashionable, of course) have no problem coming up reasons why this next foreign military adventure is a completely different situation with no parallels to Iraq at all & etc. & etc.

18

Harald Korneliussen 12.15.11 at 3:17 pm

Iraq Body Count puts violence in Iraq in 2011 at 6.5 deaths per day from bombs, and 4.7 from gunfire and executions.

When IBC comes up, it’s worth reminding that they only count deaths reported in English language media.

19

bob mcmanus 12.15.11 at 3:24 pm

First time, Korea, might be misguided idealism.

Second time, Vietnam, can be attributed to bad leadership

Third time, after fifty years, was a revelation of permanent national character.

America will kill again.

20

Zamfir 12.15.11 at 3:25 pm

When IBC comes up, it’s worth reminding that they only count deaths reported in English language media.
Oh, sure. It’s a conservative bottom. Though I suppose that captures most of the more spectacular, Liege-style events. Which seem to happen weekly or so, with the rest more targetted shootings etc. (of which quite some will be overlooked in the IBC methodology).

21

Steve LaBonne 12.15.11 at 3:51 pm

salazar @ 16 said what I have been thinking for years. If foreigners were more aware of the Wilhelmine Germany- level adulation of all things military that has come to permeate American culture they would be even more deeply alarmed about us than they presumably already are.

22

Freddie deBoer 12.15.11 at 3:53 pm

Juan Cole and Michael Berube signed on for Libya, both criticizing the left, and Berube in language similar to what he wrote at the beginning of the Iraq war. That time he was anti-war and anti-Chomsky, this time pro-war and anti-Chomsky.

I hope the sub-Saharan Africans who are currently being brutalized by the new regime send postcards to thank them for aiding in the liberation.

23

Steve LaBonne 12.15.11 at 4:00 pm

On Libya, for anyone who hasn’t seen it this LRB article is depressingly informative.

24

Anderson 12.15.11 at 4:09 pm

“Bellicose yahoo” was intended as an insult, not a sociological profile.

That is my favorite thing I’ve read on the internet this week.

25

William Eric Uspal 12.15.11 at 4:10 pm

Letters in response to the LRB article here.

26

Steve LaBonne 12.15.11 at 4:22 pm

Re #27, I think Roberts had very much the best of that exchange of letters, for what little my opinion is worth.

27

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.11 at 4:47 pm

(from link above, by Gareth Evans):
“The Security Council did not invoke ‘democratic principles’ to justify the military intervention, but rather the ‘responsibility to protect’: a principle devised – by the commission sponsored by Canada which I co-chaired with the Algerian diplomat Mohamed Sahnoun in 2001 – in the wake of the atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s and the indifference and inaction with which they were met. “

It’s sad that “responsibility to protect” is dead already. Well, not dead in the sense that it won’t be used to kill people again, but dead in the sense that people understand that it is more or less equivalent to “the dictator has WMDs.” Humanitarian organizations in their attempt to use the state’s military violence only provided a new rationale for it.

28

Lee A. Arnold 12.15.11 at 4:57 pm

My prediction is that Iraq will finally move into Iran’s orbit, now rather quickly; and this outcome, which was understood by the U.S. military from the very beginning, will then be blamed on Obama. Paul Wolfowitz in late 2003: “Moqtada al Sadr has no purchase on the situation,” or words to that effect. Gen. Petraeus’ aide on Iraq invasion, 2007 or so: “The worst f–king foreign policy mistake in U.S. history,” or words to that effect.

29

ajay 12.15.11 at 5:31 pm

25: anyone who lumps Sierra Leone in with the war in Iraq is ts;dr.

30

Asteri 12.15.11 at 5:47 pm

I can see a Somalia style de facto disintegration, Baghdad controlled by the government, the Shia part under Iran, the Sunni part ruled by an Islamic theocracy and the Kurdish part just going off on its own way.

31

Steve LaBonne 12.15.11 at 5:52 pm

He added it “with qualifications” to a long list of Western-backed military actions. I think any cognitive problem here is yours.

32

Barry 12.15.11 at 7:02 pm

Rich: “It’s sad that “responsibility to protect” is dead already.”

It was definitively dead during the Libyan war – the West was attacking Gaddafi’s forces to ‘protect’, while having no problem with Bahrain and the f*cking Saudi’s killing nobody knows how many people in Bahrain. Probably while the US was rushing more ammunition to Bahrain, lest the massacres get behind schedule.

33

tomslee 12.15.11 at 7:14 pm

Barry #35: the West was attacking Gaddafi’s forces to ‘protect’, while having no problem with Bahrain…

Of all the arguments against interventionist wars, I have to say I’ve always found the inconsistency/hypocrisy argument one of the weakest.

It seems to be arguing for “if you can’t do everything, don’t do anything”, and leaves itself open to the retort that “OK they couldn’t/didn’t do anything for Bahrain, but at least they did something for Libya”.

34

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.11 at 7:19 pm

Well, it died when the people in charge made it clear that regime change was what we were there for, not protection. I’m not really fond of the hypocrisy argument. The hypocrisy thing, if people take it seriously, means we should be “protecting” people in Bahrain too.

Who was it who wrote something about how you could see a society’s anxieties by how often their euphemisms for something changed? This isn’t quite the same, but still … we went from “he’s sponsoring terrorism” to “he has WMDs” to “we’re spreading democracy” to “we’re protecting people” in record time. Not that any of these can’t be used again. But there’s a kind of shiny newness to them that’s been wearing off after one use, it seems like.

35

chris y 12.15.11 at 7:33 pm

In five years, we should invade, and say “Bet you thought we were gone? Fooled ya!”

And they’ll look at you with bleary eyes and say, “You didn’t fool us for a moment. We just weren’t sure when you’d be back.”

I’ve been struck by how non-triumphalist, by their limited standards, the coverage on NPR News of the pullout has been. Almost like they’re too relieved to care.

36

mpowell 12.15.11 at 7:35 pm

I have to agree with tomslee @ 36. The hypocrisy charge is just simple BS. If there is a justification for these kinds of interventions, there are going to be circumstances that differentiate the appropriate from the inappropriate. And claiming that intervention in Bahrain is obviously at least as justified as in Libya is just dishonest. There is an argument there but implying that any other conclusion is hypocritical is just an attempt to shut down the conversation.

If you want to take the complete non-interventionist route, that’s fine. But these hypocrisy arguments almost always seem to come from people who oppose intervention in any case but want to throw in some additional slander on top of it all. If you are going to make the hypocrisy argument while clearly rejecting the concept of justifiable intervention it makes you look like the hypocrite.

37

John Quiggin 12.15.11 at 8:05 pm

There’s no hypocrisy in saying, for example, “I favor intervention in Libya because it is military feasible, but not in Syria because it isn’t”.

But that defence doesn’t extend to someone (such as Obama, for example) who favors intervention in Libya and also maintaining a military alliance with Bahrain. There’s no need for intervention – all that’s required is for the alliance to end.

That’s one of the factors that converted me from initially supporting a limited intervention in Libya to opposing it. The US state simply can’t be trusted in these matters.

38

Barry 12.15.11 at 8:22 pm

And we couldn’t intervene in Bahrain? In Syria, this make sense – we could wreak much havoc, but not accomplish anything worthwhile. In Bahrain, we could presumably do much more.

39

P O'Neill 12.15.11 at 9:05 pm

It’s nice for the Syrians that Hezbollah has their back on their western flank and Iraq on the eastern one. Heckuva job.

40

Tim Wilkinson 12.15.11 at 10:25 pm

Well I wouldn’t write Syria off just yet – all of these invasion plans seem grotesque and just about unthinkable until the propaganda machine takes off and a critical mass of all the usual dupes and armchair generals is reached. I’ve been hearing mention of ‘imminent humanitarian catastrophe’ on the radio, as mentioned here. And Channel 4 (UK) is doing something on ‘Syria’s torturers’, which suggests a bandwagon rumbling into motion.

Re: the LRB piece. Roberts says many argued that the way to protect civilians was not to intensify the conflict by intervening on one side or the other, but to end it by securing a ceasefire followed by political negotiations. but actually there were depressingly few of us in the belligerent countries, and Gadaffi-loving surrender monkeys were an aghast minority on this very blog.

Gareth Evans, in his letter (see @27) comes over as a typical apologist – hard to say where naiveté leaves off and self-deception starts:

it is inconceivable that the ‘all necessary measures’ resolution in the Security Council would have been pursued, let alone accepted, had there not been a widespread belief (shared by Russia, China and the other abstainers) that Gaddafi’s regime had killed many civilian protesters and, in Benghazi, was about to kill a great many more, and that his behaviour over the three weeks since the preceding Security Council resolution showed him to be resistant to the kind of negotiated political settlement that Roberts argues was still possible.

Yeah, inconceivable.

Roberts is on much firmer ground arguing that the subsequent actions of the Nato-led force grievously stretched the formal Security Council mandate for limited civilian protection into an effectively unlimited brief for regime change.

No – the mandate was – obviously – an effectively unlimited brief – and the surrender monkeys were pointing that out at the time too. It really is inconceivable that those agreeing to it at the UN didn’t know that.

re: Bahrain. Agree the hypocrisy argument invites endless (unconvincing) exception-making, could be rebutted by limited resource arguments, and is liable to be used to justify more, not less, warmongering.

But that’s if it’s viewed as being about what Bennett calls ‘the act itself’ – as an argument about what, from an impartial viewpoint. is to be done. In fact the point of mentioning the way Bahrain is discussed (e.g. here and here is to confirm that humanitarian hand-wringing is entirely absent from the discussion, and an entirely different approach taken, when Serious People know that war is, for one reason or another, inappropriate.

It’s not an argument against intervention, it’s an observation about the people involved in cheerleading these wars.

41

actio 12.15.11 at 10:50 pm

Juan Cole’s numbers, horrifying as they and the facts they represent are, doesn’t express the whole tragedy: all the good the billions wasted on causing death, torture and poverty in Iraq could instead have prevented death, torture and poverty elsewhere through wise non-military spending.

42

actio 12.15.11 at 10:52 pm

er, strike out “the good”.

43

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.11 at 11:05 pm

“If you want to take the complete non-interventionist route, that’s fine. But these hypocrisy arguments almost always seem to come from people who oppose intervention in any case but want to throw in some additional slander on top of it all. If you are going to make the hypocrisy argument while clearly rejecting the concept of justifiable intervention it makes you look like the hypocrite.”

No flame intended, but I’m a bit tired of “the complete noninterventionist route” being characterized that way. If Supreme Leader McStalin takes over Europe, then I for one will have no problem intervening. In almost any lesser case, I don’t think we should. Does that make me a complete non-interventionist?

People look like complete non-interventionists because all we’ve fought for a good time from the U.S. really are wars of choice. But the propaganda — including the propaganda that we saw right here on CT — always starts with something like “I admire the pacifists, but we can ignore them for the fringe impractical kooks that they are.”

Lastly, for people who are just now distrusting the U.S. in these matters, what is it going to take? I mean — why did you start out trusting the U.S. this time? Do you now trust the U.N. any less because they authorized this, or is there a whole second fund of unearned trust that we now have to run through?

44

Simple Mind 12.15.11 at 11:05 pm

Pity the poor people our troops and contractors shot up for the fun of it (and you know there was a lot of that…)

45

Barry Freed 12.15.11 at 11:14 pm

If it’s hypocrisy you want vis-a-vis Libya, you need look no further than the reaction to the atrocious shelling of civilian Sirte towards the end of the war. Responsibility to protect – my ass!

46

Freddie deBoer 12.15.11 at 11:18 pm

The fundamental intellectual architecture of Iraq is the same as that of Libya: that the benevolent wisdom of Western intellectuals is so perfect that they have the right to dictate the future to foreign countries, and doing so in a way that kills thousands of innocent people. Michael Berube and Juan Cole don’t like to think of themselves as the same as Bill Kristol, but on the fundamental philosophical issue they are the same. They think that they are so wise and righteous that they can impose their preferences on a sovereign people.

47

Andrew F. 12.16.11 at 12:08 am

On the toll of the war, there are no words adequate and there never will be.

From a strategic vantage, the withdrawal makes sense. The US should prioritize the Pacific, and increase capabilities to influence and adapt to trends and contingencies in that region. While power must be maintained in the Middle East, doing so via the development of allies, bases, and air/naval power is an approach that fits better with US priorities and constraints.

On Bahrain, and intervention of various sorts generally, I would say that Iraq arguably illustrates (among other things) the danger of prioritizing an ethical desire for a more humane foreign government over what may seem to be cold realist concerns of stability and security. Kennan’s critical remarks of the Iraq War apply to other destabilizing actions as well: one knows where one begins, but not where one ends.

48

chris 12.16.11 at 12:57 am

@Freddie: that would be the sovereign people who had *already started* their own war against Gaddafi? That seems a rather large difference from the Iraq situation.

49

William Eric Uspal 12.16.11 at 1:55 am

‘Of all the arguments against interventionist wars, I have to say I’ve always found the inconsistency/hypocrisy argument one of the weakest.’

Reminiscent of Belle’s “but what about the women of Afghanistan,” no? However much you might deplore the situation in country X and the alliance of the U.S. with the rulers of X, one can still offer qualified support to the opportunistic U.S. intervention in deplorable country Y, if (one judges) the intervention will improve the situation there. Gilbert Achcar made such a judgment on Libya.

That said, I tentatively suggest that the Left has made too much of the American interventions from Kosovo onwards, acrimoniously and needlessly splitting again and again over them. ‘Anti-imperialism’ was elevated to the central creed on one side and ‘anti-fascism’ to the central creed on the other, when the central creed ought to have been organizing to take power in the U.S. and Europe. Of what consequence is your anti-imperialist or anti-fascist convictions without power? The mobilization of millions of protestors against the Iraq war amounted to nothing in the end.

As Adorno wrote: ‘Freedom would be not to choose between black and white but to abjure such prescribed choices.’

50

Freddie deBoer 12.16.11 at 4:08 am

“that would be the sovereign people who had already started their own war against Gaddafi? That seems a rather large difference from the Iraq situation.”

When did they take the vote? Did the Qaddafi loyalists, who are now facing displacement, torture, rape, and murder get a vote? How about the sub-Saharan Africans who are currently being brutalized by the new regime (such as it is)? Where was their caucus while Berube, Cole et. al. were deciding their future for them?

51

Bruce Baugh 12.16.11 at 6:28 am

Freddie, while I agree on the obvious folly and wrongness of the US’s involvement in Libya, I think “Where was their caucus while Berube, Cole et. al. were deciding their future for them?” sort of misses the mark, for a simple reason. Center to left bloggers have, in general, precisely zero influence on foreign policy decisions by the executive and legislature. They can’t make anything happen, and they can’t stop anything from happening, because the current hegemony has learned some good lessons about keeping the public at bay.

There are ways in which what we out here in the world at large support and criticize matters. But that’s not one of them – nobody in the White House or State Department did anything because Michael wanted them to. Michael, like the rest of us, can wish, endorse, criticize, ponder, and like that, but the society in which he has influence doesn’t include the actual machinery of federal power, at all.

(There are occasional exceptions, like TPM’s role in driving a defense of Social Security. But I’ll stand by this as a valid generalization, and one that applies with regard to Libya in particular. I don’t know if Juan Cole has any actual influence or not – I’m afraid I simply haven’t had the time and interest to look up his work in a more than cursory manner.)

52

Jawbone 12.16.11 at 7:08 am

What a day. Hitch is dead. RIP.

53

ajay 12.16.11 at 11:53 am

34: yeah, I saw that, thanks. Still ts;dr. If you have an otherwise arguably correct list of “Western or Western-backed wars against hostile, ‘defiant’, insufficiently ‘compliant’, or ‘rogue’ regimes”, Sierra Leone doesn’t belong in there, with or without qualifications.

54

novakant 12.16.11 at 12:11 pm

The hypocrisy goes much deeper than intervening here but not there. The very deeply held and apparently unshakeable belief that we are the good ones who are entitled to judge and act to bring about good in the world is incredibly hypocritical.

55

Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 1:24 pm

Juan Cole and Michael Berube signed on for Libya, both criticizing the left, and Berube in language similar to what he wrote at the beginning of the Iraq war. That time he was anti-war and anti-Chomsky, this time pro-war and anti-Chomsky.

For the record, my essay on Libya is 100 percent Chomsky-free. And though I thought UN resolution 1973 was the right thing at the right time, it’s perfectly OK with me if people on the left opposed the Libya intervention — there were and are plenty of good reasons to do so, as I acknowledged a couple of times in the space of 3000 words (repeatedly so that no one would ever misunderstand me ever!). What I objected to was stuff like (a) Kucinich going so far as to contact the Qaddafi regime for information that would help discredit the rebels (the War Powers Act does not actually require this of Congresspersons) and (b) effusions like that of Alexander Cockburn, who is still too stupid/dishonest (I’m not an either/or kind of blogger) to admit that I opposed the war in Iraq but remains capable of writing the occasional mash note to one of his heroes:

Dollar for dollar I doubt Qaddafi has a rival in any assessment of the amount of oil revenues in his domain actually distributed for benign social purposes. Derision is heaped on his Green Book, but in intention it can surely stand favorable comparison with kindred Western texts. Anyone labeled by Ronald Reagan “This mad dog of the Middle East” has an honored place in my personal pantheon.

I suppose I could ignore crap like this and say that people like Cockburn are not really on the left at all (climate change, e.g.), but that’s clearly a No True Scotsman gambit, so no can do.

As for Hugh Roberts’ essay in the LRB, much of his account depends on the degree to which one treats Qaddafi as a more or less legitimate and trustworthy fellow with whom one can negotiate a cease-fire. His degree is higher than mine, and I submit for your consideration Hisham Matar’s reply to Roberts.

All that said, I agree with John @ 40 about Bahrain, and in response to this trenchant question as to whether I was wrong to suggest that the Libya intervention kept the Arab Spring alive a bit longer, well — I thought it might, and though I could be very wrong about this, I note with very cautious optimism that in the past month, both King Abdullah and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have called for Assad to step down. I would like that to happen as well, peaceably, and in that spirit I invite Freddie deBoer to the next meeting of the Bérubé-Cole Commission on Deciding the Fate of the World.

56

BenSix 12.16.11 at 1:50 pm

They’re not bloody awful enough to make the news anymore.

One of the many ways we can depress ourselves with the bounteous technological opportunities of the twenty-first century is to search “Iraq” on Google News. Generally – and I’ll make an exception for this week, because the troops’ departure has dictated that news outlets forget what a catastrophe the last eight years have been – you could place your life savings on “bomb” being among the top results and never have to fear destitution.

57

Rich Puchalsky 12.16.11 at 1:59 pm

“As for Hugh Roberts’ essay in the LRB, much of his account depends on the degree to which one treats Qaddafi as a more or less legitimate and trustworthy fellow with whom one can negotiate a cease-fire. “

I didn’t like Hugh Roberts’ essay for a number of reasons — far too much listing of probably irrelevant comparisons, far too much treating Libyans as if they were political children — but the argument above is very weak, to about the same degree as the hypocrisy argument is. You don’t negotiate a cease-fire with legitimate and trustworthy people. On the contrary, all cease-fires that I know of are negotiated with people whom you are at war with, or at least threatening to use military force on, and whom have every motive to get away with whatever they can get away with. The argument above is rather like “We can’t make a peace treaty with them — we’re at war!”

If the forces authorized by the U.N. had really been there to protect people, they would have taken a cease-fire offer and coerced the dictator into following it out of fear for what would happen to him otherwise. They didn’t because their purpose was not to protect people; it was to eliminate the dictator. Arguments that the dictator is really not a nice, trustworthy person miss the point — everyone knew that already.

58

Tim Wilkinson 12.16.11 at 2:23 pm

Yes, exactly. The anti-ceasefire position doesn’t stand a moment’s scrutiny. Refusing to be spoonfed such blatantly mendacious propaganda should be a bare minimum requirement for being heard on the topic at all. (And did I mention that all this was pointed out by peacemongers right here on CT, contemporaneously and in some detail?)

Also, diverting theissue to some Cockburn or other for failing to observe the latest taboo is a questionable tactic, while incorporating by citation a standard issue sound-and-fury letter looks like the desultory resort of one who’s more or less given up trying seriously to defend his position.

Somewhat interested to read this in Cockburn’s piece though, and not quite sure what to make of it:

My friend and neighbor in Petrolia, Joe Paff, wrote a response to a dreadful story about Qaddafi’s killing on Yahoo’s site, commenting “This kind of gloating is bound to come back and bite your butt. Imagine how many people in the world would like to see Netanyahu or Obama dragged from their hiding holes and tortured. It will take about six months for everyone to regret the ‘new’ Libyan ‘democrats.’”

Yahoo’s initial electronic response was to write to Joe, “Oops! Try again”. So he checked “post” a second time. Yahoo then rewrote his comment, complete with misspellings, stripped of any mention of Netanyahu or Obama, and “posted” it, as “This is the kind of gloating that comes back and bites you on the butt. Just imagine how many peopel in the world would like to see Americans dragged through the streets and tortured to death.” As Joe wrote me, “Just another small episode in artificial intelligence and the present taboos.”

59

Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 2:29 pm

Yes, Rich, everyone knew Qaddafi was not nice, but Roberts believes it was possible to have “a ceasefire and negotiated transition, in which Libyan public opinion could at last have its say,” and his critics do not. Nafa Tashani writes, offering one Libyan’s public opinion:

Only a Libyan who has lived all his life in Gaddafi’s Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya is in a position to point out the many things that Hugh Roberts gets wrong….

I do not understand what Roberts means when he refers to ‘the supposedly imminent massacre at Benghazi’. There was nothing supposed about Gaddafi’s intentions towards the people of Benghazi. I stayed up all night on 18 and 19 March, trying to assess how close the troops were to our house by listening to the thunderous missile bombardment. I wasn’t armed and my nine-year-old car is too shaky to be used as a getaway vehicle. If Roberts and his family had been subjected to the sufferings of the residents of Misrata, Zawiya, Ajdabiya, Benghazi, he too would have ‘panicked’ and welcomed the Nato intervention with relief.

Roberts speaks about Gaddafi as if he were a normal world leader who had done no more than any self-respecting dictator would do: that is, attempted to quash the revolution and execute his opponents. Does Roberts have no moral objection to this? Gaddafi did not regard the NTC alone as his enemy: he held all the residents of Benghazi responsible for what had happened to him. He was a man who believed in collective punishment. If Roberts doesn’t believe this he should ask the people of Derna, Tubruq, Benghazi or the place he purposefully ignores, Misrata, about the ‘supposed’ atrocities of Gaddafi’s troops. If what happened in Misrata doesn’t count as a ‘massacre’ I don’t know what does.

Roberts speaks of Gaddafi’s ceasefires. No one believed Gaddafi because he told nothing but lies. Ask the people of Chad who had to listen to Gaddafi denying the presence of Libyan troops on Chad’s soil while their villages were being bombed by the same non-existent troops. Would Roberts have been satisfied if Gaddafi’s troops had succeeded in killing a million Libyans before an intervention was allowed?

Roberts’ reply: “Nafa Tashani complains that Gaddafi was a liar, as if the NTC was not repeatedly found to be lying as well. Ceasefires are agreed by adversaries in war, where truth is the first casualty. Gaddafi had honoured the commitments he had made since 2002 with the US, the UK, Italy and other partners. Any residual problem of mistrust could have been resolved by deploying a peace-keeping force and by mobilising international pressure, including pressure from Libya’s African friends, to ensure that the ceasefire had powerful external guarantors. This was entirely feasible, as Western governments must have known.”

So yeah, Roberts acknowledges that Qaddafi lied about stuff, but then so did the NTC, and Qaddafi would have accepted a negotiated settlement and stepped down peacefully. In the end, I place more weight on Tashani’s words than on Roberts’.

And I think I should underscore Bruce Baugh @ 57 by pointing out to Freddie deBoer that the essay I published in October probably couldn’t have had any influence on Libyans who were trying to decide their future eight or nine months earlier. The first-vice-presidency of the Modern Language Association is a powerful position, true, but not that powerful.

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Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 2:33 pm

diverting theissue to some Cockburn or other for failing to observe the latest taboo is a questionable tactic

Right, because it’s totally sneaky of me to point out that the people I characterized as saying X actually said X. You spotted the diversion! Curses. Foiled again.

And “failing to observe the latest taboo” is awesome. Seriously: I am in awe.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.16.11 at 2:42 pm

Oh OK, I didn’t realise that you’d said he’d said the quoted passage, and that some such ‘he said she said’ squabble was in some way central to the debate.

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Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 2:51 pm

Yeah, the whole point of my essay (I thought) was to distinguish the many reasonable and plausible critiques of the Libyan intervention (some of which, especially the consequentialist ones, I agree with) from the noxious “it’s all about oil / Qaddafi is an anti-imperialist hero” kneejerkism, which comes from a sector of the left I (as many of you already know!) don’t like much. So, for example, when Diana Johnstone says, “In his article, ‘Libya and the Left: Benghazi and After,’ Michael Bérubé uses the occasion to bunch together the varied critics of the war as “the Manichean left,” she gets things totally wrong (and not for the first time), since I set out to distinguish the Johnstone-Cockburn wing from everybody else.

Back to the OP, here’s to the nominal end of a war that should never have happened in the first place.

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Josh G. 12.16.11 at 2:54 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 63: “I didn’t like Hugh Roberts’ essay for a number of reasons—far too much listing of probably irrelevant comparisons, far too much treating Libyans as if they were political children—but the argument above is very weak, to about the same degree as the hypocrisy argument is. You don’t negotiate a cease-fire with legitimate and trustworthy people. On the contrary, all cease-fires that I know of are negotiated with people whom you are at war with, or at least threatening to use military force on, and whom have every motive to get away with whatever they can get away with. The argument above is rather like “We can’t make a peace treaty with them—we’re at war!”

The difference is that in a war between states, each side generally retains their military abilities after the war is over, so if the other side breaks the peace treaty, they still have the ability to fight back. On the other hand, in a civil war like this one, it’s expected that after the war is over the country’s armed forces will once again have a monopoly on armed force; it’s just a matter of who controls those armed forces.

There is a very, very long history of rulers enticing rebels to agree to peace terms with false promises, and then breaking those promises with impunity once the rebels have laid down their arms. Consider, for instance, the Pilgrimage of Grace: they might well have succeeded if instead of believing the King’s promises of amnesty, they had marched into London and stuck his head on a pike. Same with the Peasant Revolt during Richard II’s regime.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.16.11 at 2:55 pm

“So yeah, Roberts acknowledges that Qaddafi lied about stuff, but then so did the NTC, and Qaddafi would have accepted a negotiated settlement and stepped down peacefully. In the end, I place more weight on Tashani’s words than on Roberts’.”

I don’t think that Tashani and Roberts are really speaking at cross purposes. I believe that Qaddafi intended massacres and collective punishment, and I certainly understand why people in his path welcomed intervention. I also believe that once it became clear to him that he was going to lose militarily, because he had no ability to resist the forces that had intervened, he would have stepped down.

Maybe it’s a good idea to kill thousands of people in order to remove their dictators, in the hope that you’re going to kill fewer people than the dictator would have massacred, and that the following regime also will kill fewer people than the dictator would have massacred. Some people think so. But that does not make “responsibility to protect” any less a sham and a justification for war.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.16.11 at 2:58 pm

“There is a very, very long history of rulers enticing rebels to agree to peace terms with false promises, “

Any settlement would be enforced by NATO in this case. They certainly haven’t laid down their arms.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.11 at 3:02 pm

…Qaddafi would have accepted a negotiated settlement and stepped down peacefully.

Whoa there. Remember how when the intervention started out it wasn’t supposed to be about getting Quaddafi to step down but about protecting civilians? You’re pulling the same fast one that the French, UK and US governments did.

And let’s not celebrate a glorious victory for the Libyan people until we find out if they’re really going to be better off. The jury will be out on that one for a while.

Re Tashani’s letter:

Only a Libyan who has lived all his life in Gaddafi’s Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya is in a position to point out the many things that Hugh Roberts gets wrong….

And of course, all Libyans think alike, so thy would all agree with Tashani, amirite? Just like all the Iraqis who bestowed flowers on US troops.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.16.11 at 3:09 pm

The very deeply held and apparently unshakeable belief that we are the good ones who are entitled to judge and act to bring about good in the world is incredibly hypocritical.

That’s not hypocrisy, that’s arrogance, one of the 7 deadly sins. Hypocrisy is a minor offense.

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Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 3:11 pm

And let’s not celebrate a glorious victory for the Libyan people until we find out if they’re really going to be better off. The jury will be out on that one for a while.

Indeed. My version:

It is still too soon to tell what may come of the French Revolution, so it is a fortiori far too soon to tell what may come of the revolutions in North Africa. I hope nothing I have written here will be taken as jejune triumphalism about the fall of Qaddafi—or that of Hosni Mubarak, or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It is not inconceivable that a popular uprising against a brutal dictator, some elements of which are supported by Western liberals, could produce an Islamist state whose policies are abhorrent to Western liberals. What is now called the Arab Spring might eventually become known as “the year 1979 went viral.”

I think that second sentence pretty much guaranteed that the essay would be read as a piece of jejune triumphalism. Because that’s the way these things work.

And Rich, leaving aside the question of whether R2P was invoked properly in Libya, here’s this bit from John Brenkman’s The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy (in the course of arguing against Schmittian decisionism): “Sovereignty is traditionally defined primarily or solely as a nation’s right not to have other nations interfere in its internal affairs. The revisionists argue that the definition of sovereignty should include a government’s responsibility to protect the people over whom it is sovereign. A murderous despotic regime or a regime engaged in ethnic cleansing or genocide has, according to this definition, violated or defaulted on its own sovereignty. Other nations are justified, in some sense even obligated, to take upon themselves this responsibility to protect until it can be restored within the country’s own political system. The horizon is to restore sovereignty. No one seems to have noticed that this admirable innovation in cosmopolitan thinking resurrects the essence of sovereignty presupposed by Hobbes.”

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Rich Puchalsky 12.16.11 at 3:17 pm

“Whoa there. Remember how when the intervention started out it wasn’t supposed to be about getting Quaddafi to step down but about protecting civilians? You’re pulling the same fast one that the French, UK and US governments did.”

Steve, I’m just pointing out that arguing against the cease-fires makes no sense no matter what you thought the purpose of the war was. Even if you think that the purpose of the war was to remove Qaddafi rather than to protect people as the U.N. justification stated, saying that he can’t be trusted to keep a cease-fire is kind of irrelevant. He can presumably be trusted to understand that he’s going to lose, once it’s apparent that he’s going to lose.

Lastly, I’m not trying to get on Michael’s case in particular, but I don’t agree with the general idea that these little arguments among intellectuals are meaningless and we don’t control anything anyways. Elite opinion still has a declining but real role in making war palatable. That’s not so much Michael’s role but the role of other people who I won’t mention here because last time I did I got banned.

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ajay 12.16.11 at 3:20 pm

“the argument above is very weak, to about the same degree as the hypocrisy argument is. You don’t negotiate a cease-fire with legitimate and trustworthy people. “

This is slightly backwards – who else would one negotiate a ceasefire with, if not the people who are trustworthy enough to keep it, and legitimate enough to make their followers keep it? What would be the point of negotiating a ceasefire with someone who wasn’t (reasonably) trustworthy and legitimate? We negotiated the Armistice with Hindenburg’s representatives, not with a random insane German.

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P O'Neill 12.16.11 at 3:28 pm

It’s perhaps useful in thinking through the bad options on Syria to read about the personality of Bashar al-Assad. Hard to predict how a sociopath would react to the various options, although I understand that the Bérubé-Cole Commission on Deciding the Fate of the World has already ordered a Turkish invasion.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.11 at 3:48 pm

Steve, I’m just pointing out that arguing against the cease-fires makes no sense no matter what you thought the purpose of the war was.

Oh, I agree with you. Still, it’s always worth pointing out that the real purpose of the intervention turned out to be rather different from the ostensible rationale, especially when supporters still like to glide over that inconvenient fact. It’s worth remembering next time the same countries promote another “purely humanitarian” intervention.

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William Timberman 12.16.11 at 5:41 pm

Many thoughtful people seem to believe that we fix what we can, and make no apologies for not fixing what we can’t. (By fix in this context they generally seem to mean bombing people, then pressing some client state, preferably in either Norway or Australia or Kenya, depending on where they’re fixing things at the moment, to issue blue helmets to their troops, and send them in as peacekeepers. I consider this nonsense. You want a world government with a police force, fine. Create one. Self-righteous, not to mention self-serving pretense doesn’t count, at least not with me.

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Watson Ladd 12.16.11 at 6:29 pm

Steve, the next time you’re being oppressed by dictators I will remember that saving you wouldn’t be a humanitarian gesture. The one unforgivable sin of George W. Bush for the left was caring enough about freedom to want to ensure it by military means, thus underscoring how weak the left had become since the age when it marched with Napoleon and Lincon.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.11 at 6:33 pm

Steve, the next time you’re being oppressed by dictators I will remember that saving you wouldn’t be a humanitarian gesture.

Don’t forget to tell that to all the Iraqis whose family members have been killed by US troops or “contractors”. (Though I’d have a quick escape route planned for after that conversation, if I were you.)

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Substance McGravitas 12.16.11 at 6:37 pm

Steve, the next time you’re being oppressed by dictators I will remember that saving you wouldn’t be a humanitarian gesture.

Humanitarian gesture? Iraq?

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Rich Puchalsky 12.16.11 at 6:47 pm

“who else would one negotiate a ceasefire with, if not the people who are trustworthy enough to keep it, and legitimate enough to make their followers keep it? “

Qaddafi surely meets the legitimacy criterion. The point of the “trustworthy” part is not that he’s supposed to have personal honor and follow his agreements without being forced to — you can pretty much safely assume that no one who you are at war with will do that. (And, for the historians, amateur or professional, I’m really not interested in hearing about some historical case when you think that the people on the other side really were honorable). The point is that if you show that if he breaks the cease-fire, he will lose, there’s a good chance that he’ll keep it. If people were really interested in protection, the fewest casualties would have occurred by giving Qaddafi a face-saving retirement of some sort, not by pressing on through the last resistance. But this might have involved giving the people allied to Qaddafi concessions of some sort, which people clearly didn’t want to do.

Basically, we were lied into war in Iraq. We were lied into war in Libya. I see no moral difference between what happened before the wars. The war in Libya clearly went better for the Libyan people than the war in Iraq did for the Iraqi people, so in a pragmatic sense it was better. But that may largely be a function of Libya being smaller than Iraq in the first place, and of Libya not having the ethnic/religious divisions that Iraq does. The people like John Quiggin and Michael Berube who supported the Libya intervention at first don’t have bad motives, or anything, but in my opinion they clearly haven’t learned anything from Iraq. The same does not go for the theorists of responsibility to protect, who have become our new theorists of just war.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.16.11 at 7:19 pm

I imagine a ceasefire, to hold, it has to be a nash equilibrium. So one would have to argue that Qaddafi (or whoever) is not untrustworthy but outright irrational, insane.

Well, insanity is not usually a problem; rather the problem is that the NATO (the US government, mostly) has so much firepower that ceasefire is never a nash equilibrium.

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geo 12.16.11 at 7:25 pm

In the essay Michael cites @68, Diana Johnstone writes:

The poignant “key question” as to how to answer “a group of people about to be massacred” is a rhetorical trick to shift the problem out of the realm of contradictory reality into the pure sphere of moralistic fiction. It implies that “we” in the West, including the most passive television spectator, possess knowledge and moral authority to judge and act on every conceivable event anywhere in the world. We do not. And the problem is that the intermediary institutions, which should possess the requisite knowledge and moral authority, have been and are being weakened and subverted by the United States in its insatiable pursuit to bite off more than it can chew. Because the United States has military power, it promotes military power as the solution to all problems. Diplomacy and mediation are increasingly neglected and despised. This is not even a deliberate, thought-out policy, but the automatic result of sixty years of military buildup.

… the key issue which motivates my opposition to the Libya war is what it means for the future of the United States and of the world. For well over half a century, the United States has been cannibalized by its military-industrial complex, which has infantilized its moral sense, squandered its wealth and undermined its political integrity. Our political leaders are not genuine leaders, but have been reduced to the role of apologists for this monster, which has a bureaucratic momentum of its own – proliferating military bases around the world, seeking out and even creating servile client states, needlessly provoking other powers such as Russia and China. The primary political duty of Americans and their European allies should be to reduce and dismantle this gigantic military machine before it leads us all inadvertently into “the supreme international crime” of no return.

I strongly agree with this, and I suspect Michael does too. Arguments about humanitarian intervention, like arguments about voting for the lesser evil, should firmly, unyieldingly, and very prominently point out why the alternatives are so unpalatable — in the one case, because the superpowers, especially the United States, have undermined the UN and other international institutions for their own purposes; in the other, because the two major parties have corruptly marginalized any large-scale political organizing independent of themselves. Arguments that don’t do this will only entrench the assumptions that have produced the bad alternatives.

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Andrew F. 12.16.11 at 7:34 pm

Rich, I see your point re: R2P’s potential for abuse, but every norm which justifies the use of force in certain circumstances has potential for abuse. That potential notwithstanding, the norm might nonetheless have some of the desired effect. To the extent Iraq bears upon Libya, for me the two most relevant lessons are: winning a war can be easier than securing a progressive peace, and chaos can be more cruel than tyranny.

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Barry 12.16.11 at 7:58 pm

Watson Ladd 12.16.11 at 6:29 pm

” Steve, the next time you’re being oppressed by dictators I will remember that saving you wouldn’t be a humanitarian gesture. The one unforgivable sin of George W. Bush for the left was caring enough about freedom to want to ensure it by military means, thus underscoring how weak the left had become since the age when it marched with Napoleon and Lincon.”

So many untruths in only two sentences.

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Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 8:07 pm

Rich @ 83: Basically, we were lied into war in Iraq. We were lied into war in Libya. I see no moral difference between what happened before the wars.

Well, the Arab League felt differently, fwiw.

83

Tim Wilkinson 12.16.11 at 8:40 pm

The Arab Dictators’ League, to give it its full name.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.11 at 8:44 pm

The Arab US-Subservient Dictators’ League, you mean.

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Michael Bérubé 12.16.11 at 9:37 pm

Really? The Arab League has a history of doing our bidding? Ever since they rolled over for UN resolution 181, I imagine? Well, there are some who will say exactly that, I suppose: “The pro-Iranian radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has expressed support for the al-Assad regime and blasted the Arab League as ‘a subservient consortium’ serving the interests of the United States and Israel.”

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Tehanu 12.16.11 at 9:46 pm

The one unforgivable sin of George W. Bush for the left was caring enough about freedom to want to ensure it by military means, thus underscoring how weak the left had become since the age when it marched with Napoleon and Lincon [sic].

Another mind reader — an obvious wingnut who “knows” what the “left” really wants because somehow he has been given the magic power of telepathy. Bush the Lesser didn’t give a flying fuck about “freedom,” and his unforgivable sin wasn’t trying to “ensure it by military means;” it was waging war on the wrong fucking perpetrator and lying about it to boot.

I was also going to defend Berube and Cole against the imputation that they somehow “decided” the future of Libya, but Bruce Baugh and Michael himself did it much better.

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James Wimberley 12.16.11 at 9:57 pm

Jonathan Swift´s yahoos were not lower-class, uneducated thugs, they were simply members of the thuggish human species.

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Watson Ladd 12.16.11 at 11:02 pm

Tehanu, Bush named his foreign policy agenda the “Freedom Agenda” and if lying disqualified a politician from greatness there would be no great statesmen. My analysis is that Bush believed WMD were in Iraq because he surrounded himself by people who said what he wanted to hear. Yes, a failing, but hardly one sufficient to justify the hysterics of anti-war protestors who called Bush the greatest danger to world peace. “Bush Lied, Millions Died” could be replaced with “Saddam Died, Millions Thrived”.

Yes, there was the Guatanamo debacle, and the cowardly subservient memos from John Yoo justifying the use of tortue. But the masses of protestors, who vanished with Obama’s election, were making the case against Bush not on the basis of his incompetence, his unwillingness to take action over Abu Ghraib and other scandals, and his apparent endorsement of interrogation methods worthy of the Gestapo, but rather on his desire to use military force to rid the world of a genocidal warmongering dictator. The anti-war movement’s name showed the imagination of its creators: that war, not torture or dictatorship or the desire of some to rule the rest, was the root of the world’s evil.

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Substance McGravitas 12.16.11 at 11:06 pm

My analysis is that Bush believed WMD were in Iraq

Therefore, um, your argument becomes incoherent?

90

Aulus Gellius 12.17.11 at 12:06 am

The willingness of otherwise sane CT commenters to feed the most obvious trolls is always startling, but this is a particularly amazing example.

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hellblazer 12.17.11 at 12:08 am

“But the masses of protestors, who vanished with Obama’s election, were making the case against Bush not on the basis of his incompetence, his unwillingness to take action over Abu Ghraib and other scandals, and his apparent endorsement of interrogation methods worthy of the Gestapo, but rather on his desire to use military force to rid the world of a genocidal warmongering dictator. “

Your sentence appears to go on for nine words too long. Also, as previously observed, what wonderful telepathy you have. Does it also cross the Atlantic?

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Alex 12.17.11 at 12:27 am

Well, the Arab League felt differently, fwiw.

The problem with this argument from authority, other than being fallacious, is that it’s not a particularly good authority to argue from. Other than being composed of dictators, many of the countries in that league were engaged in killing their own people at the time. If I wanted to cite an expert on General Relativity, I could try Einstein, not the three year old next door. With notable exceptions, the members of the Arab League are all wise, benevolent, human right compliant, just war theorists.

Also FWIW, many in the Arab League since changed their minds over Libya, seeing what our governments did with the UN Resolution. It’s head even called for a ceasefire during the summer, so by your logic of citing the league as an authority from which to judge our actions, we should have negotiated a ceasefire.

Personally, who cares what the Arab League thinks about anything? If you wanted to cite other countries with unfree political systems, you could have pointed to China and Russia who abstained (and now would veto action in Syria partly because of what 1973 resulted in), or the democracies of Brazil, India and Germany who didn’t support the war too. Now personally I’m not particularly interested in what those countries think either, but you do have to question why you cite the Arab League rather than them to bolster your argument? Perhaps it is the same reason the concerns of those countries over Resolution 1973 were dismissed in the media as Unserious and “oddly out of touch with reality” (though most of the media just ignored what they had to say of course)?

Ever since they rolled over for UN resolution 181, I imagine?

Some rather large geopolitical changes have taken place between 1948 and 2011.

Well, there are some who will say exactly that, I suppose: “The pro-Iranian radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has expressed support for the al-Assad regime and blasted the Arab League as ‘a subservient consortium’ serving the interests of the United States and Israel.”

This is entirely the problem that many of us have with you Michael, and your essay. You reflexively hippie bash, smear with false equivalencies (who cares what Al-Sadr thinks? If you think the Treaty of Versailles was a bad idea, you don’t cite Hitler, but JM Keynes), and in your essay refused to engage with the actual arguments of critics of the war. I’ll quote one example:

I lost track of the number of times I came across people arguing that the intervention is a flagrant violation of the UN resolution and of international law. A flagrant violation? Certainly the intervention speaks to an ongoing debate in international law, between the advocates of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) and the defenders of national sovereignty who fear that R2P will license yet another form of domination of the global south by the global north, or of small, allegedly failed states by the world’s great powers. And it is possible to disagree about the scope of resolution 1973, and whether “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” might include regime change on the grounds that no civilian would be safe from attack as long as Qaddafi remained in power, or whether regime change is or ought to be beyond the purview of the Security Council. These are real ambiguities, and they will be subject to debate for the foreseeable future. But for some observers, perhaps the mantra “flagrant violation, flagrant violation” has the welcome effect of avoiding interpretive ambiguities and allowing for greater concentration of mind.

This smacks of “Well sure sophisticated academics such as myself can debate in high-falutin’ language the complicated legality of the war, but those Left-Wing Activists are just so extreme to actually come out on the opposing side and label it illegal”.

Why, for instance, do you smear Robert Fisk as “still fighting Vietnam”? At no point do you stop and quote Fisk, and argue against anything he said. Why, for instance, when its brought up that Obama didn’t have the legal authority to take the actions he was taken, do you pass over it in silence?

And why, for instance, do you spend the entire time attacking people with far less power than even the Vice President of the Modern Language Association, but fail to mention any on the ground facts of what went on in Libya? Why no mention of the collective punishment of Sirte and the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha? Why no mention of the death toll both before and after the start of the NATO intervention? For someone so interested in the lives of Libyans, and Fixing The Left, you didn’t seem particularly interested in how many lie dead, and by who, nor do you seem bothered that it was the so-called “Manichean Left”, not yourself, that was the better bellwether on what would actually happen in Libya.

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Alex 12.17.11 at 12:38 am

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Watson Ladd 12.17.11 at 12:47 am

hellblazer, pacifism is a principle that both robbers and their victims can agree on: the victims for the robber and the robber for the victims. Not all violence is equal: there is something heroic about the sacrifice of the Union Army that tales of military daring by Southern partisans lack.

Or perhaps you think that Saddam Hussein hadn’t actually attempted to kill the Marsh Arabs, was not being restrained by daily overflights from destroying the Kurds, and was not a dictator?

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Michael Bérubé 12.17.11 at 1:12 am

Alex, my reference to the Arab League was in response to Rich Puchalsky’s claim @ 83 that there was no difference between Iraq and Libya prior to the war. (The “prior to the war” part is critical, hence the italics.) As for your claim that I did not engage with actual critics of the war and that “many of us” have a problem with that, perhaps you and the legions for whom you speak missed the citations to Robert Naiman and Francis Boyle and Steve Lendman? And the bit where I cited with qualified approval Michael Walzer’s opposition to the war? Or the bit where I wrote that Libya is not a litmus test for the left? That’s a lot of bits to miss, but hey, it’s happened before.

And as for the addled remark that I am bashing hippies* in my response to Steve Labonne above, could there be a better example than your comment of how this foolishness prevents the formation of actual thought? In response to Steve’s rather odd claim that the Arab League is filled with US lapdogs, I found someone who actually says that. This is not to suggest that there is any equivalency between Steve Labonne and Muqtada al-Sadr. They are totally different people, in actual actuality. It is simply to suggest that you have to go pretty far afield to find someone who will try to claim that the Arab League is filled with US lapdogs.

I made, and make, no predictions about what will happen in Libya. As for your preference for the Manichean Left on that score, I presume that includes the contents of Cockburn’s personal pantheon.** You are welcome to it.

______
* Hippie-bashing: may not contain hippies or bashing.
** Whereas Robert Fisk, to his credit, never considered Qaddafi anything but a buffoon. I should have noted that in the original essay, and I regret not doing so.

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Michael Bérubé 12.17.11 at 1:20 am

Wow, just read that Decentpedia entry! Is that crayon scribble really better than you could put it, Alex? Just one thing — it’s really embarrassing when people try to pretend that Dennis Kucinich was just invoking the War Powers Act, totally ignoring the fact that the War Powers Act did not require him to contact Qaddafi’s regime for help in discrediting the rebels. And I wonder about people whose tally of, and profound outrage at, the plight of Libyan civilians begins only after NATO’s intervention.

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Natilo Paennim 12.17.11 at 1:48 am

102: In response to Steve’s rather odd claim that the Arab League is filled with US lapdogs

So who are the non-lapdogs in the Arab League? The AL consists of 22 countries, with one, Syria, currently in suspension. Looking over the list, and recognizing that a number of states are in transition at the moment, I can only find five that are certifiably non-lapdog: Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan and Syria. Now, we might well ask, in the case of AL members such as Saudi Arabia, whether it may be that the lapdog is doing a good bit of the tail-wagging in the relationship, but the fact remains that there are cozy, mutually beneficial relationships between the US/NATO and most of the Arab League. Certainly, that doesn’t prevent the AL from taking many policy positions counter to the USG’s stated goals, but that’s not quite the same as saying that the AL is a nexus of anti-US action by member states.

I guess what I’m missing in all of this debate is the argument for why certain public intellectuals feel they have to make a case for what “just war” would be in any given instance. There is virtually no chance that intervention by the US/NATO/other imperial powers is going to be a direct gain for the people of Country X in terms of their life, liberty and happiness. Since WWII, the end result of US intervention has virtually always been a dictatorship or a very repressive one-party regime, purges, poverty, expropriation of natural resources and neo-colonial domination. What’s the point of arguing about the best way to carry all that out? It always degenerates into a discussion of how many military advisers can dance on the head of a pin.

A courageous public intellectual, in my estimation, would be one who saw through the lies and propaganda and wrote about why capital and the state are always going to immiserate the vast majority of their subjects. All of this dithering about whether we can evolve a kinder, gentler form of carpet bombing just smacks of toadying to the power elite.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.17.11 at 1:57 am

“Alex, my reference to the Arab League was in response to Rich Puchalsky’s claim @ 83 that there was no difference between Iraq and Libya prior to the war.”

Well… actually, what I wrote was “I see no moral difference between what happened before the wars.” A much less falsifiable statement, since it concerns my personal moral judgement, rather than every kind of difference.

Whether we were lied into the Libyan War is, however, not a matter of moral judgement, but one of fact. We were assured that the reason for intervention was because of our responsibility to protect, not because of regime change. Once intervention was approved and underway, it became clear both through actions and statements of intent that we were in fact going to keep killing people until regime change occurred. I don’t insist that anyone share my judgement that this makes the lead-up to the Libyan War morally the same as the lead-up to the Iraq War, but the matters of fact seem fairly unchallenged.

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Watson Ladd 12.17.11 at 2:08 am

Since WWII is doing a ton of work in that sentence. What about Yugoslavia, or 1991 Iraq? Can you credibly say that US intervention to protect the Kurds would have made things worse? And that clearly was not the result in Iraq: Iraq had functioning elections and democracy. You could make the argument that Afghanistan is now a dictatorship, but the welfare of a lot of the country improved with the fall of the Taliban. Contrary to popular belief what the average Iraqi had to fear in 2005 was not the US soldier but the militia down the block that the soldier was unable to contain.

Regardless of the evils of capitalism and the state, the US does not need to invade other countries to make them safe for capital. Iraq was functioning as a member of the global capitalist flow of oil, even with the sanctions.

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faustusnotes (used to be sg) 12.17.11 at 3:03 am

Steve at 72, and subsequent agreement by others:

Whoa there. Remember how when the intervention started out it wasn’t supposed to be about getting Quaddafi to step down but about protecting civilians?

I think this is a bit disingenuous. If the intervention were carried out by pure actors with the pure aim of simply getting Qaddafi not to attack civilians, the upshot would be that he would be forced to allow a huge popular movement for his overthrow to flourish in his own country. What then for Libya? Unable to stop this movement violently, Qaddafi would have been forced to … step down.

In protecting the civilians who wanted Qaddafi gone, NATO sealed his fate. He had a choice of going early and negotiating a living exit, or going late, dead. Once he attacked his own civilians and NATO got involved, he lost any chance of staying on, no matter what form of ceasefire he negotiated. So it’s just not possible to pretend that the NATO intervention could be separated from his power position, no matter NATO’s intentions.

Rich at 75:

He can presumably be trusted to understand that he’s going to lose, once it’s apparent that he’s going to lose.

If so, why did he end up being dragged half-dead out of a drain? And again, why would we expect him to negotiate a ceasefire when the inevitable consequence of that ceasefire, if he met its terms, was a popular movement for his overthrow? Sure, he’d be dragged half-dead from his palace rather than his foxhole, but the upshot is the same. The one thing that Qaddafi understood in all of this was that his number was up. It was just a question of which way he was going to get it – from a baying mob of civilians, a baying mob of rebel soldiers, or a NATO missile.

So he had no incentive to broker a cease-fire, except if it were a ceasefire which allowed him to slaughter his opponents. Since no one here supports that kind of ceasefire, I would suggest the best option is to accept that Qaddafi was not a person we could trust to uphold a genuine ceasefire.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.17.11 at 3:44 am

And I wonder about people whose tally of, and profound outrage at, the plight of Libyan civilians begins only after NATO’s intervention.

Well, the country had a civil war, which is very unfortunate, but, being an organic event, doesn’t usually spark any profound outrage from the spectators. Shit happens.

Foreign military aggression, however, is quite a different matter. Dying of a disease doesn’t provoke an outrage; a murder does.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.17.11 at 3:53 am

“Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

– President Obama, prepared remarks, Mar 28, 2011

The disingenuous people were the advocates of R2P who assured us that it did not equate to regime change. If you want to say that they amount to the same thing … well, so did I.

“If so, why did he end up being dragged half-dead out of a drain?”

I don’t know. Maybe because we didn’t offer him the cushy exile to some neutral country that so many deposed dictators got? Maybe because we made it clear that he was going to get shot no matter what, so he might as well fight to the last? Maybe because we didn’t offer anything to his immediate supporters, preferring to wipe them out?

Or maybe he was a fanatic who fought to the last because he didn’t want to do otherwise. I don’t know. I do know that his overthrow looked inevitable long before we stopped killing people.

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LFC 12.17.11 at 4:12 am

Alex @99

Given the fragmentary, restricted access by reporters during (and even after) the fighting, do we actually know much with certainty about what went on in Libya on the ground? What are your sources, e.g., on “the collective punishment of Sirte and the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha”?

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LFC 12.17.11 at 4:45 am

Watson @101:
there is something heroic about the sacrifice of the Union Army that tales of military daring by Southern partisans lack

One can display valor in a bad cause as well as in a good one, so I’m not sure I agree with the way this is put. An act of courage in a good cause may generate more emotional resonance (for lack of a better phrase), but I don’t think that makes it more heroic than a similar act of courage on the other side. (Not that this has v. much to do with the discussion(s) at hand.)

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hellblazer 12.17.11 at 5:35 am

WL: “Or perhaps you think that Saddam Hussein hadn’t actually attempted to kill the Marsh Arabs, was not being restrained by daily overflights from destroying the Kurds, and was not a dictator?”

Perhaps I think you should stop trying to 2nd guess the thoughts of people whose views you don’t know, mate. Perhaps I think that the warm afterglow from screwing things up in the name of Doing The Right Thing is not all that.

Perhaps I also think that you should think twice about where other commenters hail from, geographically, culturally and politically, before dragging the American Civil War into things as if flourishing a trump card. The righteousness of the Union as opposed to the iniquity of the Confederacy seems, apart from being suspiciously glib as a historical narrative, rather far removed from the US-instigated adventures since 2003.

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Jawbone 12.17.11 at 5:51 am

@113
While at the level of abstract principle I would gladly sign onto an anti-dictatorship agenda consequences to matter especially when egregious, and here the ongoing Egyptian parliamentary elections give me pause. The Salafists are a nasty lot, and the Muslim Brotherhood seems pretty objectionable as well. So, if the US just stood by and let the Shia overthrow the Bahrain monarchy, what would the likely consequences be (and how pro-democratic is it, really, to allow one sectarian group to prevail over another just because they have more people–that’s a pretty thin and unappealing conception of democracy unless coupled with liberal values that don’t appear to be in place, especially given the Shia ties to Iran)? Wouldn’t this freak out the Saudis, who are already upset about the US not intervening to support Mubarak? Mightn’t they then ally with, say, China? How exactly would that make the world a better place? So–I would want to hear more about likely consequences before I join up with the anti-dictatorship brigade. . . .Just as I think pretty much all of us here agree that the invasion of Iraq caused a lot of harms and didn’t accomplish much I don’t understand (though I’m open to argument) why a Shia coup in Bahrain would be a good thing.

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Daniel Margolies 12.17.11 at 5:58 am

Crean tried to take the nuanced approach of supporting the troops but not the war. This was not really sustainable once the war started, it’s easy enough to attack nuance in dumbed down debate anyway. So the ‘broadly supportive’ is not so much in this case – I think in this case Labor did what it could. No doubt it helped that the population were overwhelmingly against the war.
Divorce Attorney Los angeles

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faustusnotes (used to be sg) 12.17.11 at 6:04 am

I do know that his overthrow looked inevitable long before we stopped killing people.

His overthrow looked inevitable before he started killing people. As soon as any force – be it religious or military or arcane – intervened to stop him killing his own people he was done for. In this case, R2P and regime change were inextricably linked because he had started killing civilians in order to prevent regime change.

This is not the fault of the advocates of NATO intervention in Libya. It’s the fault of the arsehole who started trying to kill his own people to stop them having control over their own government.

Qaddafi was done for; the only way he wasn’t going to go down fighting was if the rest of the world stood by doing nothing while he slaughtered his opposition. If he didn’t want regime change to occur the way it did, he shouldn’t have started killing people.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.17.11 at 6:26 am

“His overthrow looked inevitable before he started killing people.”

Um… what?

I’m going to assume that that sentence above got messed up somehow, because it makes no sense. But what you’re missing is that people did not honestly say “We need to intervene and depose Qaddafi. Nothing else will protect his people, now that he’s starting killing them to keep his regime from falling.” No. First they trotted out the above-mentioned theorists of “responsibility to protect”. Then, once the ground had been prepared by this exciting new humanitarian legal theory, the politicians in charge made speeches like the one I quoted from Obama above. They said that no, we weren’t going in to depose Qaddafi. This is what I referred to as a lie.

Why did they say this? Well, because “we have to depose the dictator in order to save his people” had just been used for the Iraq War. People had started to see some of the obvious problems with it. The advocates of intervention could have said “His people are rebelling against him, and he’s fighting the rebels and threatening massacres; let’s go in and depose him.” But they didn’t. In fact they explicitly denied it.

Don’t you see how insulting your argument is? You can’t tell us that we’re naive because of what we’ve said from the start. That’s the same two-step that Obama et al did. “We’re going in to protect people, not to get rid of Qaddafi”, followed shortly by “Of course we have to get rid of Qaddafi in order to protect people. Don’t you know that?”

Maybe you think that’s a good reason for us to have gone to war. All right then, it shouldn’t have been lied about. Once again, as with Iraq, the true reasons we went to war are not the reasons that were presented to the public.

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faustusnotes (used to be sg) 12.17.11 at 6:40 am

There was a popular movement to oust him, Rich. The same thing had already happened in Tunisia and Egypt. The end of his regime was foretold, unless he could kill off his opposition.

I’m not telling you that you’re naive. I’m saying your conclusions are wrong, and by ignoring the political context before the intervention you’re presenting a false dichotomy as to what the NATO powers could have done. Whatever method they used, he was gone. If they had gone on TV stating “we’ll only fight him so long as he intends to hurt his people,” and meant it – even if there were wikileaks by the million to prove they only ever intended this – the outcome would have been the same.

Everyone knew this. That doesn’t mean that the goal of the NATO powers was regime change.

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Alex 12.17.11 at 8:24 am

What are your sources, e.g., on “the collective punishment of Sirte and the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha”?

Sirte:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15454033

Tawergha:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16051349

I shall reply to Michael later when I have more time.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.17.11 at 8:52 am

There was a popular movement to oust him, Rich. …unless he could kill off his opposition

There was also a popular movement to oust the ousters.

I must say, the framing advocated by the pro-war folks here: that Qaddafi (as well as other Dr. Evils of the world) fight and massacre “their people” alone, by shooting lasers from their eyes – as much as I find it extremely appealing, unfortunately it’s hard to me to fully embrace it. You see, earlier is the year, when it was reported that Qaddafi’s son was killed by a NATO air strike, I saw a middle-aged Libyan woman at work crying and screaming “they killed out prince, they killed our prince”. So, it’s Qaddafi and definitely at least one other person.

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Jawbone 12.17.11 at 10:04 am

@121
That’s sad, but if similar scenes were to sporadically occur in the West were the N. Korean regime be overthrown they wouldn’t (on their own) suggest that its overthrow was a bad idea.

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Jack Strocchi 12.17.11 at 11:04 am

Natilo Paennim @ #104 said:


Since WWII, the end result of US intervention has virtually always been a dictatorship or a very repressive one-party regime, purges, poverty, expropriation of natural resources and neo-colonial domination.

South Korea? South Vietnam (democratic elections in 1967)? Kosovo? Afghanistan. Iraq of course. All these countries were invaded by the US and all were more or less gifted with democratic institutions. Generally US policy makers prefer their allies to be stable democracies.

During the Cold War most of the US’s post WWII military operations were undertaken as part of the strategy of containment when the Free World supported the local strongman as lesser of two evils to the communist backed insurgency. The strategy worked, as proven by the fact that the Soviet’s gave up.

Of course the US has been involved in a lot more lower-scale military operations (see this handy Wikipedia timeline) prior to WWII. During the period between Civil War and WWI (Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, Talk Softly Carry Big Stick) it did act more like a conventional imperialist oppressor/expropriator. But they dont seem to have the stomach for that kind of deal anymore.

Personally I am against foreign interventionism, these days at least. There are no countries worth invading, for either noble political or base economic reasons. Its all just one or another version of Trashcanistan. We should mind our own businesses and encourage other nations to do likewise.

Good fences make good neighbours.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.17.11 at 11:16 am

Jawbone, there was a post here a few days ago: “exit, voice, loyalty”. People are born, they grow up, they find themselves living in a state, with a government. A vast majority of them is always dissatisfied with the government. Some leave, if they can, others choose to (or have to) put up with it. Sometimes some of them get fed up, start fighting, and, if they are lucky, they defeat government’s supporters, overthrow the government, and form another government. That is not a good or bad idea, it’s just something that happens. A foreign invasion, on the other hand, in this situation it’s a deliberate act of violence, initiated by a small, powerful outside group against millions of the native population. Not a good idea.

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Watson Ladd 12.17.11 at 12:33 pm

Henri, you’re missing a very big thing from your conception of political change, namely liberal democracies. In liberal democracies the contestation of power takes place without violence, as the legitimation is based on consent of the ruled, not who can apply force. Furthermore,I find your naturalization of rebellion deeply flawed: It makes the West to be the the only actor whose actions can ever be morally evaluated.

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faustusnotes (used to be sg) 12.17.11 at 12:56 pm

Henri, the “popular movement” to oust the ousters was a bunch of mercenaries paid for with Gaddafi’s oil money, and it wasn’t opposing the ousters peacefully on the streets. You weren’t seeing huge opposing rallies yelling at each other from behind police cordons. You were seeing soldiers killing peaceful demonstrators.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.17.11 at 1:41 pm

If the the contestation of power was taking place without violence, people in power wouldn’t need bodyguards, armored cars, and the secret service. They would’ve been simply living among us, as ordinary citizens.

Come on, Faustusnotes. It was, without a doubt, a civil war. With a significant number of loyalists, who fought to death. It’s known as ‘Libyan civil war’. It lasted 8 months, despite rebels’ huge advantage, after NATO got involved. It is quite amazing how long the loyalists managed to keep resisting, actually.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.17.11 at 1:46 pm

” The end of his regime was foretold, unless he could kill off his opposition.”

Sorry, but that’s nonsense. Not all rebellions succeed; not all rebellions that don’t succeed end in massacres. But more to the point, what happened to Ben Ali of Tunisia? The end of the regime is not necessarily the end of the dictator. Should they all fight to the last?

“Henri, the “popular movement” to oust the ousters was a bunch of mercenaries paid for with Gaddafi’s oil money”

Now you’re just repeating war propaganda. From wiki:

“In June 2011, an investigation carried out by Amnesty International found that many of the allegations against Gaddafi and the Libyan state turned out to either be false or lack any credible evidence, noting that rebels appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence. According to the Amnesty investigation, the number of casualties was heavily exaggerated, some of the protesters may have been armed, “there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen,” there is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds, and there is no evidence of African mercenaries being used, which it described as a “myth” that led to lynchings and executions of black people by rebel forces.”

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Watson Ladd 12.17.11 at 1:52 pm

Henri, with the notable exceptions of Dick Cheney, Aaron Burr, and Andrew Jackson, no US vice- or President has shot someone while in office. Was Squeaky Fromme really contesting power when she tried to shoot Ford? The Lincon assassination cum coup is the only one I can think of involving a contest of power where the assassins had a plan to exert power. So what exactly are you arguing about power involving violence? Of course power involves the constable using his legitimate force against lawbreakers. But how that force is used is not then decided by force of arms: it is normal to have a peaceful transition of regimes in liberal democracies. (It’s fundamentally definitional)

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Barry 12.17.11 at 1:57 pm

“…no US vice- or President has shot someone while in office. “

That just says that thins are well-established enough that the leaders don’t have to personally do their dirty work. How many people did Stalin or Hitler actually kill with their own hands?

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faustusnotes (used to be sg) 12.17.11 at 2:09 pm

So Rich, your real argument is not that we were lied into a war to protect civilians from real crimes, but that the crimes never happened. Gaddafi was innocent and wasn’t committing any atrocities in the first place?

And Henri, your argument is that the civil war was started by the demonstrators, and the military were just responding?

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Watson Ladd 12.17.11 at 2:25 pm

Barry, when Khrushchev was forced out he was quoted as saying “the real progress is that we are all still alive and I can retire”. But his secret service still crushed the thaw. In the US opposition journalists do not get killed, bugged, beaten, or assassinated, except by foreign regimes. What keeps Obama in office is not the FBI: it is his recognized legitimacy and the recognition that there are particular means to contest it which do not include weapons.

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Michael Bérubé 12.17.11 at 2:37 pm

There’s another problem with the argument that the Arab League is made up of dictators– it’s as if some people are totally skeptical of these Arab-nation dictators, and Western support for them, until the Western powers agree to try to help a local rebellion overthrow one of them. Which brings me to another distinction between Iraq and Libya, one that you would think might matter to people on the left (it accounts for much of why I opposed one war but not the other): in Libya, in March 2011, there was an actual revolution in progress. In Iraq, eight years earlier, no such thing. Likewise, war in Iraq involved a full-scale invasion and occupation force. War in Libya did not. Last but not least, the Iraq war had no international legitimacy whatsoever, being waged by the US and the UK (and Poland!) in defiance of a UNSC vote. These seem to me to be significant distinctions, but I gather that this view is not universally shared.

It is true that the Arab League later condemned NATO for exceeding its mandate, and that this has had ramifications for the situation in Syria. (It is also true that the Arab League recognized the NTC in August.) But that was critical to one of my arguments about Resolution 1973: I thought it was significant that China abstained explicitly in deference to the Arab League, just as China and Russia are now refusing to consider a UNSC resolution w/r/t Syria, partly because of the Arab League’s objections to the war in Libya. Permanent members of the UNSC citing the wishes of more local bodies– that seems worth noting to me, which is why I’m not impressed by people who say “the Arab League is a corrupt body that has no legitimacy except when I agree with it.” Last but not least, I take note when members of those local bodies call for Assad to step down. It seems to me preferable to the kind of situation in which, say, members of the African Union rally around Mugabe as an anti-imperialist hero. (Which, again, is why it mattered to me that the AU did not do this with Qaddafi.)

As for George @ 85, there is indeed something wrong with Diana Johnstone’s lament. We’re talking about the woman who coined the phrase “Srebenica Mourning Cult,” after all, and her complaint that the US prefers bombs to diplomacy entails the deeply disingenuous pretense that, w/r/t the Balkans, Dayton never happened. If only we had sat down with Milosevic and negotiated some kind of cease-fire! But no, we were bent on the destruction of a united and peaceful Yugoslavia because it was an affront to Empire. And here we’ve embarked on the same fool’s crusade in Libya.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.17.11 at 2:49 pm

“So Rich, your real argument is not that we were lied into a war to protect civilians from real crimes, but that the crimes never happened. Gaddafi was innocent and wasn’t committing any atrocities in the first place?”

Look, faustusnotes or sg or whoever you are, take your sophism elsewhere. I was referencing a report from Amnesty International. It certainly did not say that Gaddafi never committed any atrocities; it said among other things that the specific myth you referenced, the one that got a number of African workers killed, was a myth. I trust Amnesty International more than I trust some guy with two pseudonyms on the Internet. Sorry about that.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.17.11 at 3:03 pm

And Henri, your argument is that the civil war was started by the demonstrators, and the military were just responding?

I’m not sure what it means, what I’m supposed to argue, and what it is you argue. Anti-government protests, a crackdown, quickly evolving into an armed conflict. Seems like a garden variety civil war scenario.

Your “huge opposing rallies yelling at each other from behind police cordons”, on the other hand, government-managed rallies with yelling and no violence, that doesn’t sound like a civil war at all.

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Cranky Observer 12.17.11 at 3:22 pm

> In the US opposition journalists do not get killed, bugged, beaten, or
> assassinated, except by foreign regimes.

That is clearly incorrect. Killed or assassinated within the borders of the US, no (at least very seldom and not openly). Bugged, harassed, beaten: yes. Reference the Occupy protests and the consistent police/federal infiltration of the protest movements at various financial summits over the last 15 years. The latter efforts in particular are clearly organized at a federal level and there is a playbook that local law enforcement is expected to follow. Is it the same thing as goes on in Syria? No. Has even that modest amount been very effective at boundary maintenance? You can be the judge, but I would say yes.

Cranky

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novakant 12.17.11 at 4:36 pm

Michael, do you agree that war is justified only as a last resort? If so, then you how can you support it while acknowledging that there are many reasonable counterarguments , some of which you even agree with?

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Jack Strocchi 12.17.11 at 10:36 pm

In luke-warm defence of the US post-Vietnam foreign policy, it is a striking coincidence how its various regional democracy promotion measures seem to be the avante-garde for so many of what Huntngton called the Third Wave of democratic revolutions. (Fukuyama not fit to tie Huntington or Bell’s shoe laces.)

The US’s regional promotion of democracy generally led to the establishment of democracy in that region within a decade:
70′s Eastern Europe, (Human Rights -> collapse of communism)
80′s Latin America, (National Endowment for Democracy -> Washington Consensus)
90s’s Balkans (Clinton Doctrine -> liberation of Kosovo)
oo’s Middle East, (Bush Doctrine -> Arab Spring)

Whether these two variables were cause and effect or effects of a more general underlying cause I will leave to a “mightier brush and broader canvas”.

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faustusnotes 12.19.11 at 1:28 am

Really Rich, you can be an unctuous little man can’t you? You weren’t referencing a report from AI, you were referencing a wiki description of a news report of a report. There are other reports in the wiki – I suggest you might like to try them before deciding the AI report is the gospel truth. And you can cut the snark about pseudonyms, especially given what you wrote on the comments policy. It just makes you look snotty.

Henri:

Anti-government protests, a crackdown, quickly evolving into an armed conflict.

It didn’t “evolve” into an armed conflict. Gaddafi’s army made it one. Your passive language makes it seem as if that’s what the opposition movement were aiming for from the start, where the truth is that they were demanding a peaceful transition of power, and Gaddafi had his forces attack them.

If you want to accuse NATO of lying about its true aims, or having regime change as the real goal of its intervention, you need to present a scenario where someone could have intervened to stop the violence and yet kept Gaddafi in power. Without rewriting the history and purpose of the uprising.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.19.11 at 3:22 am

faustusnotes seems to think that gesturing broadly at “other reports in the wiki” is even better than my shorthand use of the wiki to refer to a particular Amnesty International report. If you think that I misrepresented that report, or that it isn’t the truth, why not say how?

And my approval of pseudonyms doesn’t make me laugh at you any less for hiding behind one as you call me an “unctuous little man”. Why not write that under your real name, rough and tough big man?

132

John Quiggin 12.19.11 at 6:37 am

Rich & Faustnotes – please knock it off.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.19.11 at 7:59 am

It didn’t “evolve” into an armed conflict. Gaddafi’s army made it one.

But of course it did evolve, escalate. Why is it important who fired the fist shot in a civil war, I don’t understand. What is your point? That you sympathize with the rebels and not with the loyalists? I got it, but so what, who cares? You, as an individual, could go and fight on the rebels’ side, and why didn’t you?

If you want to accuse NATO of lying about its true aims, or having regime change as the real goal of its intervention, you need to present a scenario where someone could have intervened to stop the violence and yet kept Gaddafi in power.

I am accusing NATO (and UNSC) of intervening, massively, in Libyan civil war, which was no other country’s business but their own.

If they don’t like violence, why don’t they stop arms sales? Once and for all. All of them.

134

roger 12.19.11 at 8:14 am

I’m sorta wondering how many commentors on this thread, which has veered into a thread about Libya, have been to Libya. Or know Libyans. I don”t. I don’t know, for instance, what Libyans like to eat for breakfast. What the regional differences are in cuisine. What football teams are liked by South Libyans or Eastern ones. What the banks are like. What the insurance system is like. What home remedies you use when you have a cold,

One of the astonishing things about the Iraq war, to me, was how the American elite, year after year, remained recalcitrantly ignorant of the most basic facts about the common Iraqi people. For instance, in all the discussion of Chalabi, a name that figured in American newspapers more than that of any other Iraqi figure all the way up to 2006 (when, in the Iraqi election, his party received less than one percent of the vote – less of a percent than Kucinich received in the dem primaries of 2004), there was almost no mention of the fact that Iraqi born reporters talked about all the time: that Chalabi had a large reputation in Iraq as a thief, due to the fraud committed by his bank in Jordan, that brought that bank down and wiped out a lot of Arab depositors. The lesson is that, a la George Bush in the 2000 debate, we should be ‘humbler’ in our foreign policy, I think.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.19.11 at 8:43 am

If you want to accuse NATO of lying about its true aims

I don’t think they were lying much, actually. Here:
http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10200.doc.htm

PETER WITTIG (Germany) said the Security Council’s intention was to stop the violence in Libya and send a message to Colonel Qadhafi and his associates “that their time is over [and] they must relinquish power immediately”.

Of course resolution 1973 was publicized as creating a no-fly zone (which would be okay, imo), while in fact it authorizes “all necessary measures”.

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J. Otto Pohl 12.19.11 at 8:45 am

Roger, I knew a couple of Libyans quite well when I did my MA and PhD at SOAS. They were actually pretty normal people. Back then (2001-2004) they referred to Qaddaffi as kind of an eccentric, but overall fairly benevolent ruler. That is they agreed his personal behavior was strange, but the overall economic conditions were pretty good in large part due to govt. policies. Libya unlike the US had a very good socialized medical care system for instance. The big deal then was to encourage UK and other investors to put money in Libyan infrastructure projects. The goal was to project Libya as a Mediterranean country and promote economic cooperation with Europe.

137

Hidari 12.19.11 at 10:39 am

If Stephen Pinker et al weren’t so keen on promoting Thomas Hobbes’ (dubious) psychological theories, they might spare the time to look at some other bits of Leviathan. It has always struck me as significant that (and this seems to have been the ‘received wisdom’ of the time) to Hobbes, it was civil war that was the worst of all possible worlds, not dictatorship. Indeed, the whole point of Leviathan is that, compared to the chaos etc. of civil war, dictatorship might not be so bad.

In our post-Orwellian world, with 1984 still lodged deep in our unconscious, this seems like a weird, perhaps sinister idea. But it might be well worth resuscitating and checking it out again in the cold light of day. It is certainly a debatable point that, ceteris paribus, the ‘average’ Iraqi (or Libyan) would prefer life pre-Saddam (and pre-Gadaffi) than post.

138

Tim Wilkinson 12.19.11 at 12:43 pm

All the substantive Libya points have, to repeat, been discussed here before. Such events as the universally pro-war media have bothered to report (where is the Libya body count?) have come down on the side of a quite specific anti-war position held ex ante and consistently by yrs truly. I’m not going to bother discussing that here.

Berubé, though:

on the subject of Libya the usual fringe figures behaved precisely as The Left At War depicts the Manichean Left. Alexander Cockburn, James Petras, Robert Fisk, John Pilger—all of them still fighting Vietnam, stranded for decades on a remote ideological island with no way of contacting any contemporary geopolitical reality whatsoever—weighed in with the usual denunciations of US imperialism and predictions that Libya would be carved up for its oil. And about the doughty soi-disant anti-imperialists who, in the mode of Hugo Chavez, doubled down on the delusion that Qaddafi is a legitimate and benevolent ruler harassed by the forces of imperialism, there really is nothing to say, for there can be nothing more damning than their own words

Cockburn writes

Qaddafi, even in his latterday accomodationist phase, was always a bitter affront to Empire – a “devil” figure in a tradition stretching back to the Mahdi, whose men killed General Gordon in the Sudan in 1885. I remember fondly the leftists and Republicans who trekked to Tripoli in the 1960s to appeal to Qaddafi for funds for their causes, some of them returning amply supplied with money and detailed counsel.

Dollar for dollar I doubt Qaddafi has a rival in any assessment of the amount of oil revenues in his domain actually distributed for benign social purposes. Derision is heaped on his Green Book, but in intention it can surely stand favorable comparison with kindred Western texts. Anyone labeled by Ronald Reagan “This mad dog of the Middle East” has an honored place in my personal pantheon.

But the witty and urbane (it sez ere) MB can’t cope with even the most circumscribed and superannuated praise for a freshly-lynched Mad Dog. Not even in a mini-obituary dealing specifically (albeit en passant, in a chatty editor’s note) with the ‘taboo’ against anything vaguely (or indeed, in the terms MB clumsily unavoids: ‘objectively’) favourable to Gaddafi. Not even when you’re specifically talking about the history of executions of opponents by the US. (AC’s comments are after all in large part about the US’s hostility to Gaddafi as anything else.)

Which is pretty rich since I doubt whether Blair and Bush’s recent rapprochement with MG caused MB to luxuriate in quite such deliciously venomous outrage. Oh no, it is Cockburn’s flowery words that are the real affront. One’s reminded of George G’s ‘salutation’ to Saddam (qv) as against Donald R’s more substantial dealings with him.

We’ve heard this whole thing before, condemnathons and all the rest, with Iraq, of course. That article from MB just trots out the same rotten old stuff, with Libya for Iraq and Gaddafi for Saddam. It’s eye-glazingly familiar, the kind of thing that had been done to death by about 2005.

But on this thread he’s one of the trolls, for sure. I mean, the calculated insult of rebutting charges of triumphalism by pure stipulation: I hope nothing I have written here will be taken as jejune triumphalism about the fall of Qaddafi.

This seems to have been devised by the same people who do non-apologies for politicians. But even if it were a genuine disavowal, it couldn’t be dispositive (proof: if it could, so could ‘I’m not a racist but…’). Saying ‘the above is not triumphalist’ don’t make it so. And subsequent passive-aggressive sarcasm about people ignoring this ineffectual caveat obviously falls flat. Sorry to labour a point that shouldn’t need making at all.

I noticed too, amongst the hippy-bashing that Berubé denies on literalistic grounds (‘no hippies, no punching’), the complaint: the War Powers Act does not actually require this of Congresspersons. Kucinich (for it is he) is at fault for officiously seeking to hear the other side: the implication seems to be that he could only be justified in doing that if he were explicitly required to by statute. This is a basic confusion, which worryingly seems genuine, between ‘not explicitly required as part of his job’ on the one hand, and on the other, ‘beyond his powers’ or ‘precluded by his job description’.

Also: There’s another problem with the argument that the Arab League is made up of dictators– it’s as if some people are totally skeptical of these Arab-nation dictators, and Western support for them, until the Western powers agree to try to help a local rebellion overthrow one of them. Yeah, dictators – can’t get in bed with them, can’t mount a military assault on their countries. And apparently now you can’t even appeal to them, as Uncle Tom-style ethnic spokesmen, to justify a war against a troublesome neighbour of theirs (rather than against any of them).

139

Tim Wilkinson 12.19.11 at 12:47 pm

Jack Strocchi (#141) may now be the only living person to have tried to argue that the invasion of Iraq gave rise to the ‘Arab Spring’. (Dismissing the other items on his list is left as an exercise.)

And – HV @148 – agreed, any attempt at ‘deception’ about the regime change intention was perfunctory. But a lot of people chose only to hear the stuff about imminent genocide. As far as NATO powers were concerned, it was about getting and killing Gadaffi (and. though this trope is getting a bit tiresome, I unequivocally stated that at the time too, here on CT.)

140

Leinad 12.20.11 at 12:38 am

Well that was quick.

Last US convoy leaves, Maliki whips out an arrest warrant for his Sunni VP.

Now for the real test of the US’s Iraq dividend: can they talk Iraq’s PM out of restarting the civil war?

141

Emma Schulte 12.21.11 at 4:46 am

My ex husband was/is active duty army. When we were stationed in Germany, there was an article in the local military news about an airbase in Iraq: it was being built in 2007. It was going to be the largest air base outside of the United States. It was going to have it’s own airstrip, and it’s own air space. The US military would never have to use Iraqi airports or even ask for permission to land there. It was going to have housing, commissary, BX, shoppettes, etc. etc. It was going to be permanent. I’ve never heard of this air base in any media since, but I don’t believe it’s been abandoned. We have not left Iraq, and we never will. Like Korea, Germany, and Japan, it will become a part of the regular US Miliary mission, and we will be a permanent presence there. I only wonder how long it will take before it is spoken of openly. When will the government and media decide we’re ready to accept it? Time will tell….it always does.

Best wishes and gratitude to all who serve and their families.

142

Marting Bento 12.22.11 at 8:17 am

Berube wrote:

“. In the end, I place more weight on Tashani’s words than on Roberts’.”

Well, that is rank foolishness, as every significant thing Roberts wrote is verifiable and almost nothing Tashani wrote is. Do we simply believe Tashani because he is, of claims to be, a Libyan on the ground? There are millions of people who believe Obama is trying to create Sharia socialism with a Kenyan flair. Almost all the people who believe this are actual Americans right there on the ground in America with experience living under Obama. Should foreigners give these Americans more credence than people from their own countries making verifiable claims? And we’ve been down this road before. Remember the Kuwaiti babies in incubators? How could anyone question that? The woman had seen it with her own eyes! Her own tear-filled eyes! Do you doubters like seeing her cry? You must enjoy seeing Kuwaiti babies tossed from incubators. The story was given credence because apparent witnesses proclaimed it and because Saddam was a bad person. And Saddam clearly was a very bad person, much worse than Qaddafi, but was innocent of the Kuwaiti baby slaughter nonetheless. So being a bad person is not determinative of guilt for any specific act. Which brings us to:

Berube wrote:

“As for Hugh Roberts’ essay in the LRB, much of his account depends on the degree to which one treats Qaddafi as a more or less legitimate and trustworthy fellow with whom one can negotiate a cease-fire.”

No, it doesn’t because the question is moot. Qaddafi accepted the cease fire verbally, but the NTC would not, and NATO would only accept on condition that Qaddafi withdraw from areas he controlled, which is not a cease fire but a demand for concessions. If your own side will not accept a cease fire, your opinion of whether the other side is sincere in their declaration that they will does not matter. There will be no cease fire, and your side has responsibility for that. Nor does it matter whether the other side actually ceased firing. Since you never accepted the cease fire, there was never one in effect. There have to be two cooperating partners.

In evaluating the two sides here, one can look at the fact of who accepted a cease-fire and who did not. One can also look at what the options would be for each side had they behaved differently. For example, had the NTC accepted the cease-fire as Qaddafi did, and Qaddafi, but not the NTC, failed to honor it, NATO could have intervened at that point with much less controversy and fuss. Since NATO was relying primarily on air power, and could have prepared for Qaddafi’s betrayal (since the underlying claim here is that they should have expected it), it could have leapt in very quickly.

On the other hand, one can evaluate the positions of the two sides on the basis that Qaddafi is a bad person and therefore will do the bad thing, regardless of whether it makes sense to do so, and that the NTC are good and therefore worthy of support. One who does this has no grounds to criticize others for being Manichean. The opinion that Qaddafi would not cease firing, but that the NTC would, has no evident grounding either in what actually occurred, nor in sensible scenarios, but seems instead to rest entirely on an evaluation of Qaddafi’s moral nature, and of that nature as fundamentally simple to lead to such an unequivocal prediction, and also that of the NTC, since it is impossible to make a moral evaluation of a conflict looking only at one side.

One of the underlying problems of supporting the intervention is that a great many questions seemed to have been begged. Was the NTC the legitimate voice of the Libyan people or just the voice of a disgruntled and extreme faction? It is not easy to tell, but intervention requires one to be quite certain of the answer. Was Qaddafi actually intending to slaughter the population of Benghazi? Here things get suspect, as quite different claims become conflated.

Was Qaddafi going to attack civilians in Benghazi? Of course, he was facing a by-that-time violent insurrection, constituting an existential threat to the government, primarily from civilians. Does this mean he was going to indiscriminately kill everyone in Benghazi he could? That’s certainly not an equivalent statement, but it was treated as such.

143

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 8:52 am

+1 Emma S.

(cf. http://crookedtimber.org/2011/10/01/on-the-wrong-side-of-the-arab-spring/#comment-380027 : much more like an aim in itself than is commonly acknowledged, is establishing permanent fortified military bases. It’s a long-term strategic move in chess-like heuristic terms…a simple strategem which can be embedded in almost any other wider context – identify or generate the demand for troops on the ground, gain domestic support for meeting this demand (a trivial task) then make your first move on arrival the building of bases, fortresses, citadels. Then never leave.)

And +1 Martin B (see also threads from March). But Michael Berubé is long gone.

Another matter which has been ignored, partly as a result of ideologically-engendered aversion to generic ‘Conspiracy Theory’, is the role of NATO powers in supporting and even fomenting the rebellion. I keep menaing to expand and update this mini-dossier of links on the topic, reproduced below (this link also mentions similarities between rape propagandain Libya and thatincubator stuff in Kuwait):

Organisers of ‘day of rage’ Washington based:
http://www.hermes-press.com/FR_libya1.htm

Obama offically authorised CIA arming of rebels in late Feb:
http://www.npr.org/2011/03/30/134994729/mazzetti-talks-about-cia-operations-in-libya

superresourceful organiser mentions getting $75000 worth of automatic weapons from Egypt right at start of uprising, Feb 18:
http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/libya-unrest-gaddafi-strikes-back-as-rebels-close-in-on-tripoli-87712

The tale of the rapid escalation from unarmed protests a la Egypt – which the official narrative gave the impression had taken place and been mown down, even strafed – to efficient use of armed force (army barracks overrun by using tanks from, er, army base):
http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/world/2011/02/battle-army-base-broke-gadhafi-hold-benghazi

Military advisors on ground, Feb. 24:
http://www.crethiplethi.com/libya-us-military-advisers-in-cyrenaica/usa/2011/

Rebel military chief Younes killed by ‘allies’:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/29/us-libya-idUSTRE76Q76620110729

Younes successor Hifter pretty clearly has CIA background:
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/03/26/111109/new-rebel-leader-spent-much-of.html

Libya as model for elective interventions:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/world/africa/29diplo.html?_r=1&src=recg&pagewanted=all

Phase 2 plans floated publicly;
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2029013/Libya-war-British-troops-act-peacekeepers-Gaddafis-downfall.html

‘Free Market Future’
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2011/05/libyas-free-market-future.html

144

flyingrodent 12.22.11 at 10:13 am

I’m late to this one, but I never let that stop me before.

I found the Libya thing even more alarming than the invasion of Iraq. In the latter, the people of the UK actually paid attention to what was going on. When the government told us lies or repeated some piece of ludicrous propaganda, it was well-reported. People actually considered the case for war, thought it through and decided whether to accept or reject it. When the casualties started coming in, we were aware of it and objections were made in parliament, in the press and on the streets.

There was none of that with Libya. People who should’ve known better accepted the government’s case at face value. There were few, if any, voices asking how intervention would work, and fewer still who paid any attention to the actual conduct of the war.

The absolute necessity of intervention was more or less unquestioned. When Nato quietly shifted the goalposts from “protecting civilians” to “bombing fuck out of Libya until the Gaddafis were gone, then installing a new government”, nobody made a stink. When the rebels started murdering and expelling black Africans, most of the major news orgs reported it from the angle “Libyans are upset because black mercenaries work for Gaddafi” and not “Our allies are murdering and persecuting civilians for the colour of their skin”. The total destruction of Sirte was only remarked upon once the deed was done; the ethnic cleansing of Tawerga was so under-reported that you had to Google specifically for it to find coverage.

In the UK, Iraq was noisy. Libya, on the other hand, was a campaign that began with a fanfare of ludicrous propaganda and was conducted in near-total silence. Those who pushed for it gave us two weeks of the hard-sell on R2P, then shut up about it for almost six months. In that period, all we heard was bullshit propaganda. When Gaddafi finally fell, all those boosters who had spent the campaign as quiet as church mice suddenly rushed forth to declare victory in raptures and condemn Tha Left who, contra Michael’s posting here, had either supported it or had more or less bugger all to say about it in the first place. Almost no-one had anything to say about the incredible levels of death and destruction the war had wreaked.

This, I contend, is because our governments have got their propaganda down to a tee. Don’t start the drumbeat for war until you’re ready to go, to prevent opposition springing up. Keep the casualties off the television. Keep the message upbeat.

It says even more frightening stuff about western electorates. It says we now accept war as an entirely normal tool of policy, just another facet of international relations. It says we no longer have any appetite for looking long and hard at reality, and are happier with rah-rah. It says that there is no such thing as an anti-war left or right, in any meaningful sense. It means, the next war will be even easier to launch, no matter how lunatic it may be.

Which is to say that the people Michael is bitching about are a tiny, near-voiceless minority who can no more affect foreign policy than they can levitate themselves. You do have to wonder why such a small smattering of complaints draw Michael’s ire so, after such a complete and crushing victory for the war party. Maybe it’s not enough that he gets his way – perhaps we all have to agree how wonderful his principles are too, regardless of how they translate into actual policy.

Ever thus.

145

Martin Bento 12.22.11 at 12:56 pm

I take back “rank foolishness”. That’s stronger language than I intended. But unverified claims made by people who claim to be, or even are actually, on the ground are still unverified claims. People say all sorts of things in situations like this. And when we go beyond facts to attributions of intention, all sorts of biases can come into play.

146

Rich Puchalsky 12.22.11 at 1:54 pm

“It says that there is no such thing as an anti-war left or right, in any meaningful sense.”

I basically see three motives for people on the left to keep supporting these wars … those whose jobs don’t depend on them, like the R2P theorists:

1. You can’t reflexively oppose war! What good is it to be an intellectual if you can’t make a reasoned case in each instance for yes or no? People who reflexively oppose anything just aren’t thinking.

2. People who oppose war include some awful fossils, like Cockburn and so on. You can’t be seen agreeing with one of them about this, even when you disagree about everything else.

3. Even the people who don’t say crazy or stupid things, and who seem to have thought about their opposition … well, they’re unpractical people who won’t even consider using violence to make the world a better place. That’s just uncool.

147

J. Otto Pohl 12.22.11 at 2:09 pm

Well I am not a leftist so my opposition to both the wars in Iraq and Libya is probably explained by my paleo-right tendencies. Which would fit in with number 2 since nobody else on the internet has ever agreed with anything I have ever written.

148

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 9:19 pm

Just to announce that a comment I foolishly sent into moderation sometime around bedtime in Aus has now been released (cheers JQ) and can be found @156 above.

149

Martin Bento 12.22.11 at 10:52 pm

Rich, I would agree somewhat with 1, but that doesn’t get you anywhere towards support for a particular war. As for 2, if you cannot reflexively oppose war, you certainly cannot reflexively oppose Cockburn, At the very least, he’s done much less damage than war. 3 means people are playing suckers and letting the school bullies define cool.

Tim, Thanks for the links and kudos.

150

bob mcmanus 12.22.11 at 11:51 pm

4. War is a bourgeois nationalist distraction from socialist revolution, and I won’t waste my time arguing in a capitalist framework. This would just sustain the delusion that we can end war before winning the class struggle.

151

Martin Bento 12.23.11 at 1:11 am

One more thing: Berube speaks in the article of Obama derangement syndrome. How you evaluate Obama will have much to do with how you weight various elements of his record. If the modest but on net positive health care reforms loom large, the record looks pretty good. If civil liberties and constraints on executive and coporate power are central, it looks much work. Those who complain of “”Obama Derangement Syndrome” seem to assume that it is domestic policy on bread and butter matters that really counts, and that civil liberties type issues are peripheral. But for Qaddafi, the standards are reversed. Bring up that Qaddafi provided universal health care, and you are writing a mash note to a monster. The fact that Qaddafi is a dictator carries tremendous weight. But many of the worse aspects of being a dictator – holding prisoners indefinitely without trial, assassinating people at will, having the very content of your laws be secret – are things that Obama has either retained from Bush or supported directly. One may argue that Obama has done less harm to civil liberties than Qaddai, but it is also likely that he has done less good for health care, especially in light of the status quo ante.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.11 at 2:40 am

“One more thing: Berube speaks in the article of Obama derangement syndrome. “

This article? I missed the link to it above, though I think I’ve read it before. It seems to me to be fundamentally wrong. Starting with the sentence “It was, and still is, possible to oppose American intervention in Libya in various reasonably sensible ways,” Michael lists various supposedly sensible arguments. Then he list various supposedly non-sensible ones. Weirdly enough, opposition to war is not among either set. What is “antiwar” supposed to mean, if not opposition to war? The article seems to completely miss the most basic point.

“Williams argued that the litany of objections to intervention in Libya ‘evades the crucial question: Should the world let Libyan civilians die at the hands of a tyrant?’” Or, rephrased slightly, Should the world kill a lot of Libyans in order to possibly save more Libyans? Every war is justified beforehand by some noble-sounding reasons. But starting a war predictably leads to all of the crimes associated with war.

153

Watson Ladd 12.23.11 at 3:35 am

Rich, in your second paragraph you are arguing that war is bad because of its consequences. Well, does that mean you can ever have a consistent anti-war stance as you suggest in the first paragraph? If war is bad because killing is bad, some wars suddenly seem like very good ideas.

154

Tim Wilkinson 12.23.11 at 12:06 pm

RP – Yeah, the article’s abysmal, but it doesn’t stop there. Apparently – gratuitously – there’s a whole book along similar lines.

155

flyingrodent 12.23.11 at 1:11 pm

Then he list various supposedly non-sensible ones. Weirdly enough, opposition to war is not among either set. What is “antiwar” supposed to mean, if not opposition to war?

I suggest that this isn’t weird at all. The whole point of the arguments put forth by Michael and other Sensible Liberals of his ilk this last decade has been to ring-fence the topic of “War” within parameters that they find congenial. Rather obviously, “Starting from a concrete proposition that war is itself a great crime and disaster that should be reflexively opposed, before then considering related matters” would be a significant problem, presentationally

As I said in that Encyclopedia article, Michael’s basic point is “Why don’t you restrict yourselves to arguments that I can actually win?”. Going by his attempts to rebut some fairly straightforward and uncontroversial points on Libya, I’d advise ignoring him on that score.

156

Tim Wilkinson 12.23.11 at 2:57 pm

re: bases.

The U.S. has warned Iraq’s neighbors that even though American troops are leaving, the U.S. will maintain a significant presence there.
Even though the war is ending, the U.S. will maintain a large presence in Iraq. About 16,000 people are working at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, making it America’s largest mission around the world.

(from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2073060/Ghost-Towns-The-surreal-sight-abandoned-U-S-bases-Iraq-troops-return-home-thousands.html )

Sather [Air base] won’t shut down completely. The U.S. State Department now runs the place, renamed the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, as a logistics hub…
A very small cadre of military officers will remain in Iraq, working out of a specialized office within the U.S. Embassy to oversee sales of military equipment to Iraq.
The Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq will employ around 150 uniformed personnel and an additional 750 contractors, said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Hanson.
They will fall under the U.S. diplomatic mission, rather than report to a military commander, and they will depend on a contract air wing run by the State Department to move around the country.

(from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204844504577098632270159496.html )

Of courseas Leinad @153 points out Maliki appears to be doing a good impression of somene trying to reignite civil war, and as mayhem increases it may be necessary for yet more troops to go back in – or there may just be a quiet increase in numbers after the ceremonial evacuation has been publicised.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.23.11 at 3:00 pm

+ ‘contractors’ above seems to mean ‘mercenaries’, which is nice.

158

Rich Puchalsky 12.23.11 at 3:41 pm

Well, there are some people who think that war or rebellion to resist imperialism is fine, but that imperialist countries shouldn’t go to war. They’re called anti-imperialists, generally. So that would be the anti-imperialist left. Similarly, there’s a revolutionary left. But if you’re going to address something to the antiwar left, well…

I’m still convinced that a lot of it is the this-is-too-simple factor. “War is bad” sounds like that academic motto from Animal House, “knowledge is good”. But unless you really internalize why this is so, you’re left with stupid things like going to war to stop war.

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