Owen Jones writes: It’s called the pottery store rule: “you break it, you own it”. But it doesn’t just apply to pots and mugs, but to nations. In the build-up to the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, it was invoked by Colin Powell, then US secretary of state. “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,” he reportedly told George W Bush. “You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems.” But while many of these military interventions have left nations shattered, western governments have resembled the customer who walks away whistling, hoping no one has noticed the mess left behind. Our media have been all too complicit in allowing them to leave the scene.
Libya is a striking example. The UN-authorised air campaign in 2011 is often lauded as a shining example of successful foreign intervention. Sure, the initial mandate – which was simply to protect civilians – was exceeded by nations who had only recently been selling arms to Muammar Gaddafi, and the bombing evolved into regime-change despite Russia’s protests. But with a murderous thug ejected from power, who could object?
Today’s Libya is overrun by militias and faces a deteriorating human rights situation, mounting chaos that is infecting other countries, growing internal splits, and even the threat of civil war. Only occasionally does this growing crisis creep into the headlines: like when an oil tanker is seized by rebellious militia; or when a British oil worker is shot dead while having a picnic; or when the country’s prime minister is kidnapped.
According to Amnesty International, the “mounting curbs on freedom of expression are threatening the rights Libyans sought to gain“. A repressive Gaddafi-era law has been amended to criminalise any insults to officials or the general national congress (the interim parliament). One journalist, Amara al-Khattabi, was put on trial for alleging corruption among judges. Satellite television stations deemed critical of the authorities have been banned, one station has been attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, and journalists have been assassinated. [Continue reading…]
Jones concludes: “No wonder western governments and journalists who hailed the success of this intervention are so silent. But here are the consequences of their war, and they must take responsibility for them.”
Once again we are offered a picture of Libya, the uprising against Gaddafi, and the chaos that has followed, as something in which the interventionists are all powerful and the Libyans themselves are like headless chickens set loose by Western overlords.
But here’s a radical idea: Maybe the anarchic state into which Libya has fallen is primarily the responsibility of its militia rulers.
If the only way of holding a country together is through the force of authoritarian rule, is that an argument in favor of authoritarianism or does it merely reveal the flimsiness of national identity?
The anti-interventionists who seem to feel nostalgic about the stability of Libya and Syria pre-2011, also seem to find it very easy to tolerate oppression which they themselves do not face.
No one enjoying democratic freedoms has the right or should have the audacity to believe that they can instigate someone else’s revolution. But the one thing on which most observers agree is that the uprisings in Libya and Syria were homegrown.
Facing well-armed government forces, the revolutionaries sought foreign support, just as Americans fighting for independence from Britain gladly accepted weapons and money from France.
Beneath a facade of anti-interventionist harmlessness (“It’s none of our business to interfere in the political affairs of others”) lurks an Orientalist contempt for Libyans and Syrians — populations whose political aspirations could apparently have continued being effectively suppressed by Gaddafi and Assad were it not for the meddlesome interference of Western neo-liberal interventionists.
When Owen says that those who supported NATO intervention in Libya should now “take responsibility,” it sounds like he’s expecting mea culpas in the form like this: intervention turns out to be a terrible thing. I promise to never support it again.
Yet those who argue that intervention in Libya was a terrible thing, need to present a credible supporting argument which I have yet to hear: why they believe Libya would now be in a better condition had NATO not become involved.
Absent the intervention, would Libyans now be living in relative peace, or, on the contrary, might Libya now more closely resemble Syria?