Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A really tough call

I'm writing just a few minutes after Al Jazeera posted video conclusively proving that Muammar Gaddafi has been killed by revolutionary fighters. (There's no particular sense linking to the video, which is ephemera, since the fact of his death will soon be generally accepted and you don't need to look at that anyway. However, here's the link to the Al Jazeera home page for your bookmarks.)

As readers know who have checked out my side bar, another of my blogospheric projects has been helping to document and excoriate the illegal war of aggression waged by the U.S. in Iraq, and more recently the pointless, destructive ongoing occupation and aggression in Afghanistan. I was for many years on the Steering Committee of Boston Mobilization for Survival and I helped organize demonstrations in Washington and Boston against Reagan era intervention in Central America and against the Iraq atrocity. I've helped to organize and promote talks by everyone from Noam Chomsky to Howard Zinn to Cynthia Enloe to Fr. Robert Drinan, condemning U.S. imperialism and militarism. I have a drawer full of anti-war memorabilia.

But sometimes these hard cases come along. I found myself at odds with much of the anti-war community in the Boston area over the U.S. intervention in the ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In fact it was so contentious -- and back then I wasn't very good at managing conflict -- that it caused a major falling out between me and some old friends. Specifically, I saw the air campaign to protect the Kosovars from the genocidal campaign of Slobodan Milosevic not as an imperialist aggression but as a moral imperative. I felt that my comrades were reacting reflexively based on our long history of opposing proxy wars during the Cold War and campaigns to protect U.S. corporate interests in Latin America. This was really different. The memory of our failure to stop the Rwandan genocide was still fresh. I could not see how, when we had the power to stop something similar from happening, we could just sit and watch.

Yes, there were innocent people who died from U.S. bombs. But many more would have died had we not acted. And there was no evident U.S. interest in the intervention other than promoting stability and the preservation of international norms in Europe. I could discern no important ulterior motives.

The Libyan situation is more difficult to characterize. Gaddafi, for all his crimes, was the internationally recognized head of state and he was, without a doubt, putting down an insurrection. That's the legal fact. The moral fact is that his rule was illegitimate and was recognized by the U.S. and European powers out of purely cynical motives. To be sure, there are others like him who we continue to stand by. But as purely pragmatic matter, there was an opportunity here, because there was a massive, adequately led and reasonably well-armed uprising that could depose him if NATO acted as its air force; and there was a quite broad international consensus for action, including UN and Arab League cover, if not exactly support. Remember the horror that ensued when George Bush the First encouraged the Shiites in southern Iraq to rise up, and then failed to support them?

The Libyan civil war has resulted in the deaths of many innocent people. There's no telling how many but certainly the number is above 1,000. Many more have been displaced and are homeless. We don't know what will ensue, whether Libya will ultimately have a more just and open society. But I just couldn't decide that I needed to condemn the intervention. I believe there is a morally respectable case for it. What do you think?


Daniel said...

The magnitude of the human rights abuse appeared very large immediately preceding the NATO intervention. Could something be done that would substantially reduce the toll? Was there legitimate international support to take action?

It's rarely a perfect world, but I think the answer to these two questions support the decision to intervene.

Ana said...

My country Brazil, China and Russia don't agree.
I lived under dictatorship because US wanted.
What is being done in Libya has nothing to do with humanitarian aid.
US and allies are recolonizing Africa.
Look what US did in Somalia.
Let's count the death toll of innocent civilians that died in Iraq and Libya.
Is Iraq better?
Was it humanitarian aid?
I call it bloodshed and if the execution of a man without trial is criminal under international law.
This is not the first time.
US has crossed all lines.

Anonymous said...

Brazil, China, Russia, and various African countries like South Africa did not agree with the wholesale bombing. This "bombing to save lives" and now the US advisers sent into Uganda looks to me like the beginning of a grab for control of the more valuable areas of Africa - a grab for oil, and also freeze the Chinese out.

I recall that Russia's Putin said that the destruction of Libyan infrastructure will take a generation to rebuild.

Cervantes, you can look carefully at your world lifespan map, maybe check on what other information the CIA World Factbook has to say about Libya. Then look again in one year, and you will likely observe severe deterioration in lifespan, general health, education, and a rise in general violence.

In Sirte, the imams have issued a fatwa which allows for the eating of dogs and cats - source, reporter Pablo Escobar - so you can assume people are on the edge of starvation.

But - what a magificent opportunity for Blackwater (Xe) and its British and French equivalents in Libya and surrounding area. BP and Haliburton execs have to be rubbing their hands.

I think Qadhdhafi's biggest mistake was trying to create alternatives to the US$ and the euro - trying to set up a Pan-African currency, and helping the poorer African countries with aid like cheap cell phone access.

Those kinds of activities simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Cervantes said...

Well folks, for much of what you say, time will tell. A couple of points to keep in mind, however. Ghaddafi (or however you want to spell it), unlike many of the region's potentates, never nationalized the oil industry. The international companies were there all along, and he was happily providing as much of that famous Libyan light sweet crude to Europe as they could pump. The western powers actually took a considerable economic hit from the disruption of the Libyan oil industry, and they also have no reason to be confident that the new regime will be so cooperative.

Obviously the Libyan civil war has created great hardship and resulted in many deaths. But so did Ghaddafi's rule, and he had in fact explicitly threatened to carry out genocidal massacres in Benghazi and Misrata in response to the uprising. So it seems to me erroneous to propose as a counterfactual that without the NATO intervention, Libyans would have suffered less. That seems to me highly unlikely. And most of them appear to be very happy today.

Again, we'll see how all this looks one year from now.