Four years after the Libyan revolution

On February 23, 2011, CNN’s Ben Wedeman gave this report from a rally in Benghazi:

Some of us are suckers for these kinds of expression of “people power,” but for Glenn Greenwald and other prescient anti-interventionists, such scenes of joy must have been deeply depressing.

How could the Libyans (and those of us who supported their revolution) be so foolish as to not understand that they were hoping for too much if they imagined they might be entitled to the peace and freedom we in the West take for granted?

Less than a month later, as Gaddafi’s forces advanced on Benghazi, its residents warned of an impending bloodbath and appealed for international intervention. Their call was answered by NATO.

But just over two years later, Alan Kuperman, after gazing into his special crystal ball that reveals alternative futures, confidently asserted that “there was virtually no risk of such an outcome” — contrary to its residents fears, Benghazi was never really in danger, said the Texas-based scholar.

Again we were reminded of how ill-equipped ordinary Libyans are to recognize their own interests.

Some observers might think it’s hard to be sure what would have happened to Libya had NATO not intervened. Prophet Kuperman suffers no such doubts:

The biggest misconception about NATO’s intervention is that it saved lives and benefited Libya and its neighbors. In reality, when NATO intervened in mid-March 2011, Qaddafi already had regained control of most of Libya, while the rebels were retreating rapidly toward Egypt. Thus, the conflict was about to end, barely six weeks after it started, at a toll of about 1,000 dead, including soldiers, rebels, and civilians caught in the crossfire. By intervening, NATO enabled the rebels to resume their attack, which prolonged the war for another seven months and caused at least 7,000 more deaths.

Anti-interventionists such as Greenwald, believe that from the vantage point of the intervention’s architects, it was not actually a failure, since the secret motive of all such policies is — so he says — to create a justification for endless war.

[T]here is no question that U.S. militarism constantly strengthens exactly that which it is pitched as trying to prevent, and ensures that the U.S. government never loses its supply of reasons to continue its endless war.

Far from serving as a model, this Libya intervention should severely discredit the core selling point of so-called “humanitarian wars.” Some non-governmental advocates of “humanitarian war” may be motivated by the noble aims they invoke, but humanitarianism is simply not why governments fight wars; that is just the pretty wrapping used to sell them.

From both inside and outside Libya, there are now renewed calls for intervention, this time to thwart the rise of ISIS following the group’s latest atrocity.

Anti-interventionists, ever true to their convictions, presumably believe that no intervention is justifiable or could conceivably help.

But given that such a conviction must be based on an uncanny ability to foresee the future, why wait until the future is past to tell us what it might have been? Why not tell us all now what will happen if the world’s leaders follow your wise counsel?

Anti-interventionists might believe that it is their destiny to be ignored, but that really isn’t true. In 2011 they warned that Libya would set a dangerous precedent — that similar interventions were bound to follow the so-called Libya model. First Libya, next Syria.

It didn’t happen. Indeed, Syria can really be heralded as a triumph of anti-interventionism. Not even the use of chemical weapons was enough to trigger U.S. missile strikes. And once Obama finally mustered a nominal coalition of military forces, it wasn’t with the aim of toppling the regime. Instead they have become de facto allies of Assad, in a combined effort to push back ISIS.

If the lesson from Libya was that dictatorial rule is not such a bad thing, then Washington’s relations with Damascus and Cairo indicate that it has already taken many of the anti-interventionists’ cautions to heart.

Both in the U.S. and Europe, anti-interventionism, seemingly unbeknown to its loudest advocates, is altogether mainstream. In the aftermath of Iraq and Libya, Western governments are far from trigger-happy.

Italy’s Premier Matteo Renzi in spite of ISIS’s presence a stone’s throw across the Mediterranean, now says: “It’s not the time for a military intervention.”

“Wisdom, prudence and a sense of the situation is needed with regards to Libya,” Renzi said. “But you cannot go from total indifference to hysteria”.

Likewise, the UK has ruled out intervention in Libya “at the moment.”

Such caution may soothe some anti-interventionist fears, but there is little evidence supporting the sentiment behind the anti-interventionist position — that being, that if throwing fuel on the fire makes the fire burn more strongly then the converse will necessarily be true.

Sometimes it will be true and at others it will not, but those who refuse to remove their ideological blinkers will find it impossible to differentiate one case from the other.

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