Libyans disappoint the anti-war movement and the anti-imperialists

The mere fact that Gaddafi has been served notice that continued military operations will bring reprisals has not been sufficient to persuade him to implement a unilateral ceasefire which he already promised. Benghazi is currently under attack.

Meanwhile, as missiles are coming down on the last refuge of the Libyan revolution, a strange message is going out to the people whose lives are still threatened by Gaddafi’s forces. Social activists and members of the anti-war movement want the revolutionaries to know that they feel betrayed and let down!

There are people in places like Montreal and Chicago who have dedicated their lives — or at least careers, or blogs, or speaking tours — to challenging the mighty forces of Western imperialism, and then the folks in Benghazi hand out an open invitation for NATO to come along and rescue them. Unforgivable!

Max Forte writes:

Elements of the rebel leadership have stained their own name, and stained their revolution. That is inescapable now. But what is damaging to all of us is the narrow, self-centered, provincialism of what is clearly a neo-colonial elite of former regime insiders serving as self-appointed “representatives of the Libyan people,” elites who like the neo-colonized, depend on aid from abroad as part of their self-fulfillment. Cheering for what will be a NATO-led operation, is a validation and legitimation of that organization, and in a time when budgets for education, health, public works, and programs for the poor are all being slashed across the West, they help to validate the need for maintaining heavy military spending. Nobody is out in the streets cheering universities and hospitals, but apparently they are out in the street cheering the bomb. Their provincialism was displayed in their lack of solidarity, or even passing concern, with social justice and anti-war activists in the West, in cases berating those of us who felt we should have a voice — these are, after all, our planes, our bombs, and our political leaders — because all we needed to know was that “Libyans” asked for this intervention. If that is a reflection of the kind of political work and solidarity-building they did at home, then no wonder they had to turn to artificial, prosthetic solutions. Not just the anti-war movement, and the anti-secrecy movement, will be damaged here, as the clock is turned back to 2003 — it is the very meaning of “revolutionary,” which can now be made to include those who would be clients of imperial patrons.

So, the current predicament of the Libyan revolution is not the result of the brutality of the regime and its oppressive rule, but because of its second-rate revolutionary leaders, their lack of political skill and their deficiencies in solidarity-building?

I guess the “fall” of the Libyans actually took place the first day they started shooting back and revealed that they lacked Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence. If only they had possessed the moral strength of their Western supporters-now-turned-critics and realized that Gaddafi could be toppled with pure love.

OK, I’ll dispense with the sarcasm. The fact is, I find it extraordinary, that anyone aligned with any kind of movement whose basis is human solidarity would not have enough empathy to recognize that people whose lives are under immediate threat, do not have the luxury of picking and choosing between possible sources of protection just for the sake of maintaining the ideological purity of their cause.

If revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt had been able to join forces with their counterparts in Libya and collectively bring down Gaddafi, that would have been the dream combination. But it couldn’t happen — or at least, it couldn’t happen soon enough.

And the idea that the Arab democratic revolution is now over because of Western intervention in Libya, conveniently skirts over the implications that Gaddafi’s victory might have for the wider revolution.

The Western intervention of the most dangerous and insidious form would be Western non-intervention as autocratic regimes, emboldened by Gaddafi’s success in crushing the Libyan revolution, followed in his footsteps and crushed revolts across the region while the US quietly took comfort in the restoration of “stability.”

Now that the Obama administration has veered off its previously steady and passive response to the region’s uprisings, the remaining regimes have become more — not less — vulnerable. Hence the Arab League’s support for Res. 1973. The Gulf states are desperate to demonstrate how supposedly different they are from Gaddafi because their inequities and centralization of power are so similar. Gaddafi might not indulge in the same level of gross opulence as his royal Arab counterparts, but he shares their fear of political freedom.

Maybe Benghazi is not populated by failed revolutionaries but the failure comes from the outside through a projection of revolutionary aspirations by those who are disappointed by the lack of revolutionary tendencies in their own societies.

The driving force behind the Arab democratic revolution in Libya and elsewhere is not a lofty desire to change the world — it’s simply a hunger among ordinary people to be able to control their own lives.

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21 thoughts on “Libyans disappoint the anti-war movement and the anti-imperialists

  1. M. Smith

    “…and then the folks in Benghazi hand out an open invitation for NATO to come along and rescue them. Unforgivable!”

    It’s understandable that they would want NATO to “rescue” them. Unfortunately NATO has never “rescued” anybody. Your point that they can’t be choosy is well taken. Of course they can’t. But let me put it roughly in your terms. It comes down to this, myself and no doubt millions of others (polls in US show very low support for intervention btw) around the globe (Fisk spells it out nicely) look at the rich documentary historical record and the nature of power and in particular the US/NATO track record and predict that this intervention will make things infinitely worse. We acknowledge the odds of military action always engendering unforeseen violence never intended as being very very high. You see the same evidence and say we have no choice but to listen to their cries and call for this intervention and then cross your fingers.

    I would add as have Greenwald and Diana Johnstone among many others that the nature of the alarums and hysterical rhetoric sounded today regarding Libya is identical to what we heard in the war drum banging for the attacks on Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Please don’t accuse me of conflating the other instances with Libya but one has to consider the fact that the “there’s no time!!” and “massacres are imminent!!” soundings rarely describe things on the ground accurately. In fact and this bears serious consideration, in the case of Kosovo contrary to US/NATO bull shit, the killing and cleansing began in AFTER the NATO bombing began. Through the din of arm chair warriors screaming for the bombs to start falling there are plenty of analysts (AJE reporter in Benghazi talked about rebels now having captured tanks in addition to rocket launchers, RPG’s etc) seeing the real possibility of Benghazi holding out and the situation reaching a stalemate of some kind. Likely? I have no idea. But I have to say in all the web surfing from AJE to twitter sources, BBC and the other networks the information from the ground is terribly lacking and confusing. One perfectly plausible scenario is a similar stalemate occurring under NATO bombings only now you’d have the exponentially greater prospect of unknown consequences in play as the result of this huge intervention.

  2. bobs

    Some Arab League members (like Saudi Arabia) have some of the largest air forces in the world with top-of-the-line avionics. Can someone then explain why France, and not Arab League nations, is bombing Libya as we speak?

    The US would be delighted to provide AWACS support, I’m sure…

  3. bobs

    Oh yes, I forgot. Saudi Arabia is too busy repressing democracy in Bahrain to help promote democracy in Libya. Anyway, the dark man should consider himself so lucky to have the white man by his side, always ready to rearrange the pieces of the chessboard for him.

  4. M. Smith

    This is Reidar Visser posted at Just World News:
    ….At a time when U.S. allies Bahrain and Yemen have been cracking down very lethally on internal protesters, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the “western” powers to send their military in to punish Col. Qadhdhafi for doing the same in Libya.
    What makes the contrast even more poignant is that in Bahrain, at least– and to a large extent also in Yemen– the protesters restrained their actions to acts of nonviolent mass protest, whereas in Libya from very early on the anti-Qadhdhafi movement took on the full aspect of a military insurrection. The Libyan protesters stormed armories and barracks, handed out weapons to all comers, and worked actively to persuade serving military officers to turn their arms against the government forces.
    So it is that armed insurrection that the “western” powers are now supporting, while Bahrain’s nonviolent democracy activists are being mown down by western arms in their own streets.
    How will it end in Libya? Who knows? The animal spirits of warfare take their own course, as we have seen in Iraq over the past eight years. The invasion of Iraq has notably not turned out well– either for the Iraqi people themselves, whose society was largely destroyed during the fitna (social chaos) that followed, or for the “west”, since the political upshot in Iraq has been an extension of significant Iranian power into the whole country….
    …. How will this all end in Libya? I suppose there is still time for determined diplomacy by well-meaning non-belligerent powers to get both sides to back down and agree to the ceasefire earlier specified by the Security Council. If so, that ceasefire needs to be monitored. A monitoring body acceptable to both sides needs to be formed. The terms of national reconciliation would need to be negotiated.
    The French, however, and the British, and several of those Arab countries that have been so eager to crush the nonviolent democracy in Bahrain, all seem determined to get into the fight against Qadhdhafi, most likely with the aim of bringing him down. (Correction: the Arab powers have been eager to instigate others to get into the fight, not to do it themselves.)….
    …. But let’s say the western forces do take military action. What then? All the commentators in their capitals say they are ready only for a short engagement– nothing like the no-fly zone and tight blockade that the US and UK maintained around Saddam’s Iraq for 12 long years, 1991-2003, causing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and costing the US a huge amount of money to maintain. So if they are really planning on a “short” engagement this time, it’s likely they are including a decapitation element in their plans. That is, killing Muammar Qadhdhafi in the presumed hope that something better might follow.
    Do these people have no memory? Can they not even cast their minds back to the tragedy Iraq suffered after the regime was forcibly toppled there?
    In the imagination of some, like Samantha Power and perhaps her boss Barrack Obama, war can be harnessed to worthy humanitarian ends.
    Neither Samantha Power nor Barrack Obama has ever, as I have, lived in a war zone. War is quintessentially anti-humanitarian. It visits terrible suffering on children, women, and men– usually for many, many years.
    Yes, the humanitarian/political challenge in Libya was searingly acute. (As has been the challenge in Bahrain, and Yemen.) All the powers in the world should be applying themselves to the goal of ratcheting down the violence and finding nonviolent ways to resolve both the underlying political problems and the host of new problems that have been caused by the act of armed insurrection itself.
    I pray there is still time.

  5. M. Smith

    Sarkozy, a first class putz and now self-declared fighter jock couldn’t keep it in his pants (as usual). He had to pull his out to show us how big it was before anybody else. The little twerp is bragging about hitting vehicles on the ground in Libya already before his fellow “rescuers” even put their helmets on.

    The Pottery Barn Rule is now in effect. And very small minded idiots are doing the breaking. Welcome to UN “Humanitarian” Intervention. A sight to behold.

  6. bobs

    Dear Paul Woodward: As a big fan of WiC, I’d like to ask you to elaborate on the reason for your support of western intervention. It’s not enough to say, “the good guys are asking for it, so we owe it to them.” You have to evaluate the odds of success, where success is defined as “less bloodshed than otherwise” and “democratic outcome.” In particular, you have to address the possibility that this will only prolong a civil war that Gaddafi will drag on to a stalemate (in my view the most likely outcome). If so this would increase the bloodshed and do little for democracy in the region. Rearranging borders in the Maghreb doesn’t sound like a proposition for lasting peace.

    This is the instrumentalist case that needs to be addressed. But there’s another case as well, which is foundational. Are the conditions met that would morally justify a bunch of white guys killing thousands of dark people in their own country? If a genocide was in the making, then yes perhaps. But we see no such thing (if we discount the hysteria in the press). Because a bunch of revolutionaries whose democratic credentials we know nothing about (are they Jeffersons or mini-Gaddafis in training, we don’t know) ask for weapons might not quite clear the bar.

    Finally, why was the case against Saddam — the case based on human rights that is– any less strong than against Gaddafi? Is it obvious? And if not are you saying that Paul Wolfowitz was perhaps wrong but almost right? Inquirings minds need to…

  7. M. Smith


    All good questions but when we raise such nettlesome points we’re shouted down with “But we’ve got to do something!!!” And that “something” in this case HAS to be massive violence unleashed by gangsters up to their armpits in blood. Why? “Because there’s no time left!!! We have to do something!!! NOW!!!”

  8. Vince J.

    M. Smith, Well said! Robert Fisk’s article said it as it is. The Arab people are well aware the the West gave financial and military support for the Tyrants and opression they are against now. Most recently the military supoport the UK gave Gadaffi in recent years. There are great photo op with the War Criminal Tony Blair and Gadaffi. To say this is a “humanitarian intervention” and turn a blind eye for Bahrain, Yemen, Honduras, is pure and simple hypocrisy.
    The US is responsible for the death of over a million Iraq civilians, where is the “Moral” argument there?!

  9. M. Smith

    110 cruise missiles slam into Libya. it has always worked so well in the past. and this is only the opening salvo. here comes the cavalry again!

    How many innocent Libyan’s -victims of the awful monster- dead from this salvo?

  10. Colm O' Toole

    Max Forte has a point. The leadership of the revolution is made up of a great deal of former Gaddaffi henchmen like former Minister for Justice Mustafa Abd-Al-Jalil who quit 4 weeks ago when he smelled the writing on the wall and sided with the rebels and begged NATO to intervene.

    You don’t battle oppression buy asking foreign oppressors to defend you against local oppressors. Of course the irony is that you have Libyan rebels battling a dictator that was supported by the West are now asking for the West’s help.

    Tell me Paul where do YOU think Gaddaffi got his fighter jets from? You know those French-made Dassault Mirage III fighter jets, wonder where they came from? Do you know that the BBC reported in 2009 that the SAS were in Libya training Gaddaffi’s special forces? No wonder the rebels detained the SAS team a few weeks back.

    But it’s all good now right because the West has the interests of the Libyan people at heart. So Paul Woodward can shake his fist at those fantatical “anti-Imperialists” and those “members of the Anti War movement” who won’t sign onto the hijacking of the Arab Revolutions by Western interests.

    The sloppiest part your views however are the following:

    I guess the “fall” of the Libyans actually took place the first day they started shooting back and revealed that they lacked Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence. If only they had possessed the moral strength of their Western supporters-now-turned-critics and realized that Gaddafi could be toppled with pure love.

    Don’t know who Paul has been reading but I haven’t seen a single person either here or anywhere else condemn the Revolutionaries for using violence. As Malcolm X said “I don’t mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do.” So I think that Paul is 100% wrong if he thinks “Anti-Imperialists” are dedicated to peaceful resistance only.

    Me personally I hope Gaddaffi spills as much NATO blood as NATO spills Gaddaffi blood. Let them wipe themselves out. That would be a real success for Revolutionaries worldwide.

  11. AMeshiea

    None, the awful monster was in Bab al Azaziya using the international press corps as a human

    Will this be a running commentary of the evil NATO Imperialists?
    Last time I checked they had no interest in helping Libya rid itself of a tyrant. Thankfully they changed thier minds.

  12. AMeshiea

    “How many innocent Libyan’s -victims of the awful monster- dead from this salvo?”

    My comment was supposed to be ironic as i consider Gaddaffi to be the monster in this sitauation.

    There may be civilian deaths over the next few days, but I can assure you they pale in comaprison to the thousands of civilain casualties already inflicted by GADDAFFI.

  13. rosemerry

    thanks M Smith for comments and ref. to Visser. Intervention is always selective. Imagine Saudi Arabia helping to save civilians from a tyrant! Thr rebels are not at all nonviolent, and everyone now involved wants to use force, so any remaining civilians are about as safe as the Iraqis.

  14. bobs

    @AMeshiea: You can’t assure any such thing. Or is your assurance also meant to be “ironic”? Shock-and-Awe alone killed over 3,000 people. The war in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands. Care to revise your assurance or is airing wild speculations the purpose of your comments?

  15. AMeshiea

    bobs, there is always a risk in war and there is always a risk in the face of slaughter. I perfer the former and seeing as family members are there, I do not throw these words out lightly. Your concerns for collateral damage are appreciated and warranted but 42 years of terror must end and they cannot end with a peaceful resistance from the people in Libya, this has been proven. The people pf Libya want and are thankful for help.
    Let us see how this plays out for my people. What would have played out withouot NATO is all too obvious.

  16. bobs

    @M Smith: You’re being unduly skeptical. Gaddafi’s opposition is led by his former Justice minister and the transitional national council includes former cabinet members and ambassadors who, until a few weeks ago, worked diligently to serve Gaddafi’s interests — so obviously people with a deep commitment to democracy and human rights. The way the rebels summarily executed the mercenaries they captured is another encouraging sign that post-Gaddafi Libya is sure to look so different from the current Libya. So, hey, why not bomb a third Muslim country to give Gaddafi lookalikes a chance!

  17. bobs

    @AMeshiea: Ahmed Chalabi was saying the same thing.

    It’s not “The People of Libya versus Gaddafi” (That’s Woodward’s mistake). This is a civil war. Like it or not, Gaddafi has a substantial amount of local support — support likely to grow with Western intervention. If the Arab League (another nest of despots) is so eager to help, then they can ask the Saudis to show us what they can do with the tens of billions of dollars they’ve spent on US/UK fighter jets.

  18. Renfro

    “to challenging the mighty forces of Western imperialism, and then the folks in Benghazi hand out an open invitation for NATO to come along and rescue them. Unforgivable!”

    Yep, they are sick.
    In many ways they are more disgusting than the neocons.
    They are like broken records….what we did yesterday, what we did yesterday, what we did yesterday, what we yesterday, we are evil, we are evil, we are evil, me,me,me, me, and my tender overloaded little psyche, it’s just tooo, tooo painful to my fine tuned humanitarian sensibilities to watch anyone do anything anything ever again, let’s just all lay down and die.

    The useless of the world.

  19. Christopher Hoare

    The peanut gallery sure is stirred up. Are you going to be as voluble when proven wrong by events? You should read your SunTzu and Lao Tzu.

    This situation reminds me very much of the position of European communists when suddenly Stalin became an anti-Hitler ally. After spending years condemning the Western powers they had to find ways of making the opposite ideas coming from their mouths credible. I’m also reminded of the 60s when I worked in Libya and, from the desert, we used to listen to BBC, Radio Moscow, and Voice of America to figure out the actual truth — particularly while the 67 war was raging and we were vulnerable. Then, for fun, we’d listen to Radio Tirana when Albania was a client of China and proclaimed everything was a plot hatched by the Americans and the Russians in concert.

    When you make yourselves subservient to dogma you cease thinking. I have done my share of aiming verbal abuse at Washington for its imperialism, but am independent enough to give them the benefit of the doubt this time. I’d like to point out that, on the contrary, there is no slack one can cut for Qaddhafi after his actions of the last three weeks (and not even mention his earlier crimes.)

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