Reuters reports that the CIA is now on the ground in Libya and the Obama administration is considering arming Gaddafi’s opponents.
This is some of the reaction from Firedoglake‘s David Dayen:
I can just go back to the American track record of arming insurgencies and it’s not very good. Robert Gates knows well from his experience in the CIA that when he armed or helped to arm the Afghan rebels to try to get the Soviets out, that didn’t end well for us.
I just don’t think we know enough about this opposition which is, I think, substantly [sic] different than the opposition that was in peaceful protest throughout the Arab world, to make that assessment that we are going to provide armaments and then possibly trainers to deal with the situation.
Let’s unpack this statement because there’s an awful lot embedded in it that reveals widely held assumptions among those who view Libya as a special case and believe what is going on there can be viewed as intrinsically different from the wider Arab democratic revolution.
Dayen refers to Gaddafi’s opponents as “insurgents” — a term generally applied to armed opponents of a legitimate government. But anyone who doubts that the Gaddafi government has lost its legitimacy needs to explain why so many of Libya’s ambassadors have defected — now even Moussa Koussa, Libya’s foreign minister, has fled to the UK.
I doubt that Dayen’s purpose is to legitimize Gaddafi, but this kind of language certainly delegitimizes those who are fighting to free Libya from Gaddafi’s control. Moreover, to refer to the US’s track record in supporting insurgencies is another way of casting aspersions at the Libyans by invoking memories of the counter-revolutionary anti-Sandinista Contras in Nicaragua or the Mujahadeen out of whose ranks al Qaeda later emerged.
Dayen then makes the ambiguous assertion that on the one hand we don’t know enough about the Libyan opposition, yet apparently we do know enough about them to know that they are intrinsically different from the revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia.
Are we supposed to distrust any uprising in which Facebook doesn’t play a prominent role?
Or is the fundamental reason for mistrusting the Libyan rebels because they fairly swiftly armed themselves after hundreds of unarmed demonstrators had been killed?
What would have placated the fears of those in the West who now view with suspicion Libya’s rag-tag army of rebel fighters? That several thousand more would have been killed before the peaceful protest movement transitioned into an armed uprising?
The fact is that peaceful protest movements can be crushed. The partial successes in Tunisia and Egypt says less about the indomitable force of people power, than it says about the extent to which the autocratic leaders in each of those countries were constrained in how far they could go in violently suppressing their own people while still retaining Western support. The West’s support for tyrants is utterly cynical but it does have limits and thus the awkward maneuvering we have repeatedly witnessed as Washington sustains its ties to old autocratic allies while simultaneously coaxing them to institute enough reforms that they might guarantee their survival.
In spite of his relatively brief political rehabilitation, Gaddafi knew from the moment the uprising burst forth, that he wasn’t going to get any protection from the West and thus he did not fear condemnation for his brutality. That’s why he has shown no restraint in his fight for survival. It would be ironic if he now found he was being offered a lifeline by those who oppose Western intervention in Libya.