Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More Libya

I would encourage the Western-based left-o-sphere to take a greater interest in the feelings of Libyans when deciding whether outside intervention is warranted in a conflict that impacts them daily.

Clearly there is some evidence of support for Western intervention amongst those doing the fighting against the Qaddafi regime. It's true that this evidence may not in itself justify the Western attacks, because we don't know whether it is representative of what the larger community wants. It could be that the community is merely caught in between, as is frequently the case in these scenarios.

Any use of force has to be justified vis-a-vis the preferences of the affected community; in the context of this fast-moving civil conflict, we should be trying all the more to understand what those are, since military force is already being used against Libyans by their own government. What Western bombs will add to the situation is a very, very good question; but ultimately it is not one for Westerners alone to answer.


Jack Crow said...

The feelings of unnamed, generic, unspecified, uncorroborated, unknown Libyans require domestic critics of the US government to refrain from noting its imperial and financial motives, and the falsity of its numberless claims to humanitarian impulse?

Justin said...

I'd guess there is hardly an invasion anywhere that some of the people there either welcomed/invited or expressed support for afterwards.

The prime consideration is the medium through which this support is offered - that of political and military entities that have proven time and again to be completely indifferent to the consequences of their actions on people (and usually actively supporting their repression.)

When I brought this up to people before the Iraq war, some people responded by saying well, even if the government isn't actually trying to help Iraqis, they could do so inadvertently in pursuing oil related interests by overthrowing a dictator. Good

Justin said...

Good luck with that.

ohtarzie said...

This has a lot of problems, beginning with how in the world you determine what the Libyans want.

Fortunately, there is no need to ponder this or any related questions since the consistent evil of US foreign policy moots the question. If there comes a time when the leopard can change its spots, leftists should take it up then.

In the meantime, there are many ways humanitarian types can engage that don't involve finding common cause with wars of aggression.

mp said...

I think most of us don't even know what a "Libyan" is. Isn't this another randomly drawn nation which includes a wide variety of tribes and interests? I'm sure some of them do want western intervention. I'm sure some of them don't. Are you sure you aren't hearing a Chalabi? Also, you've pretty much gone with a "shoot first, ask questions later" approach. This is a pretty harsh departure from your usual approach.

JRB said...

Dear friends:

Maybe I can offer a few things to help put this in context, at least as I understand it:

1) There is something akin to a civil war already happening in Libya; the government is attacking its population

2) The Libyan resistance requested the imposition of a no-fly zone, which for all practical purposes means strikes against some military targets, because they and everyone else were being shelled by Qaddafi

3)The Western-based left-o-sphere has a great critique of Western foreign policy, if you want to hear it

For my part, I am specifically interested in 1 & 2, since I presume that Libyans already have their own understanding of 3 -- and yet requested assistance anyway.

This raises questions for me that are not adequately answered by the fact that Western motives are self-interested, and suggests that other concerns may be relevant at the same time.

Jack Crow said...

Who are "the Libyans" who requested help?

Bruce said...

If Qaddafi is able, in any degree, to make this a "long war" does this enter into the calculus? What if there are more casualties as a result of intervention? If the hope is to help the Libyan people, shouldn't we assess the actual chances? What if we are just adding fuel to the fire (like we normally do)?

Justin said...

JRB - I'm just old enough to remember Iraqi exiles very actively lobbying for western involvement in overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Immediately after the UN vote passed, Qaddafi declared a cease fire. David Cameron, Hill Clinton and Obama all immediately said that this was not good enough, that they also wanted troop movements, and then they very quickly said that nothing short of regime change would stop their assault. This all happened within the span of a few days - and they made good on their threat - launching hundreds of missiles into Libya.

So, this is my point about intentions. What is going to happen now? The west have already proven that they are willing to gamble with Libyan lives to install a friendlier regime in Libya.

What are the possible outcomes of our involvement and how will they help the Libyans?

1. Qaddafi does not get overthrown, but is beaten back by western forces. The situation settles into stalemate, requiring the sustained involvement of foreign militaries to make sure Qaddafi doesn't start liquidating rebels en masse. Alternatively, the west stops fighting, leaving Qaddafi to come back at the rebels with an even greater thirst for revenge.

2. Qaddafi steps down, now what? The west is involved, again, in trying to create a government in another country, or they step back and let Libyans fight sort it out. Will another strongman take power in this scenario? Most likely if history is any guide.

3. Western forces put an end to the conflict without killing very many people or destroying much. Qaddafi steps down. More importantly, the follow through plays out peacefully with a less repressive government taking over with negligible violence or unrest. Here is the scenario the west is arguing will happen, if we take their concern for Libyans to heart.

Christopher M said...

"The Libyan resistance requested the imposition of a no-fly zone"

The "Libyan resistance" is not a monolithic group - nor has it been unanimous in advocating for Western military intervention. The discrete group that's been most often treated as identical with the larger popular rebellion is the National Transitional Council - a self-appointed group headed by a former Qaddafi thug - and whose status within the larger uprising has been challenged by other Libyans... including Libyans who have, in fact, opposed Western intervention! To take their stance as the default stance of "the resistance" is to fall into the trap of conflating governments with the governed and rulers with the ruled.

JRB said...


I don't have answers to the long-term problem of Western intervention in Libya.

If the people fighting Qaddafi in the context of an armed rebellion are asking for outside help against the regime's air force, for example, there is an obligation on our part to consider whether such a request might be justified under the circumstances. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't depending on many different factors; but we don't know that without turning to the people who are primarily affected first, others affected in the region second, and our own bottomless wisdom last.

That isn't easy, but it clearly precludes coming to a definitive conclusion right away, one would hope. There are consequences for people being killed by their own government which are worth bearing in mind here.

Christopher M said...

With regard to the justification of the use of force: let's be clear here. The "force" we're talking about is massive, state-powered, death-dealing, people-incinerating, war-machine force. It is a force which is never and has never been justified. The purpose of this power, like all power, is to serve the powerful. Its momentary attachment to the cause of an oppressed people is entirely incidental. It does not care about the Libyan people, in all their complexity and their divisions and their day-to-day struggles, any more than Muammar Qaddafi does; it cares about money and oil and force projection and more power, and the denial to its rivals of the same. And when the Libyan people come between that power and what it wants, the same thing happens to them that happens to anyone else. The hundreds of missiles pounding Tripoli should be proof enough of that.

JM said...

JRB, I hate you right now.

Christopher M said...

There are consequences for people being killed by their own government which are worth bearing in mind here.

Let me ask you a straight question: is there a significant moral difference between being killed by one's own government and being killed by someone else's government? With both Qaddafi and Saddam, I have been repeatedly assured that the proof of their damnable evil was the fact that they "killed their own people." But "my" own government has killed far, far more people than a dozen Saddams, than a hundred Qaddafis. Why should we give it the chance to kill even more?

ohtarzie said...

JRB, I hate you right now.

I second that. I am not sure which is worse - that there are alleged radicals who are only on the fence about the United States undertaking its THIRD official war in less than 10 years, or their arsenal of snide suggestions that those who think they are wrong are betraying racist arrogance or xenophobia.

Until there are some major changes in the relationship of the rulers and the ruled, I believe I am adequately served by the "Western-based left-o-sphere's great critique of Western foreign policy" which, contrary to your disingenuous phrasing, is largely fortified by accounts from non-Western intellectuals, witnesses and victims of imperial aggression. I would say that as a body of thought and discussion, it includes a more representative and honest sampling of invaded dark people than a smattering of Libyans popping up in Western media who seek a tactical alliance with the United States.

This critique has been extremely successful in predicting outcomes and it is truly amazing how swiftly, per Justin's account, Obummer and co got the point it would have predicted for this.

You say "I presume that Libyans already have their own understanding of 3 -- and yet requested assistance anyway." Precisely, which makes the people asking for that assistance all that much more suspect.

ohtarzie said...

Here's the thing, there may be people and entities with bad intentions who can unintentionally do good on the way to seeking their own ends. A super-power involving itself in a civil war is not one of those entities. It will kill people, destroy infrastructure and create chaos. That is what it has ALWAYs done. That is what it will ALWAYS do.

But I'm not a Libyan so what the fuck do I know.

Jack Crow said...


This is troubling:

"If the people fighting Qaddafi in the context of an armed rebellion are asking for outside help against the regime's air force, for example, there is an obligation on our part to consider whether such a request might be justified under the circumstances."

You have appropriated the royal we/our of the MSNBC hired generals, Barack Obama, George Bush and every neocon/liberal who's made a case for "humanitarian war" since the end of Vietnam.

And I'm not sure you're giving as much attention to who is asking for help as is expected of someone genuinely more thoughtful than this. You seem to be treating an alleged request by one faction in a civil war as if it's representative of the entirety of the Libyan populace, neglecting not only the artificiality of the designate, Libya, but of the official Western narrative regarding intervention and warfare.

I wonder what the various Kurdish groups who counted on that same intervention would have to say on the matter, so how well used and useful they were as examples of Saddam's perfidy and American largesse...

Christopher M said...

I suppose, because we're not Iraqis, and because Ahmad Chalabi was asking really nicely for an invasion of Iraq, that we all should've shut up about that little clusterfuck, too.

Justin said...

"If the people fighting Qaddafi in the context of an armed rebellion are asking for outside help against the regime's air force, for example, there is an obligation on our part to consider whether such a request might be justified under the circumstances."

Depends on what world you're living on, I guess. The one I am familiar with would suggest to me that there are countless examples of western military interventions that gave medicine with side effects to the patients that was worse than the sickness. That not just are they usually left in just as bad or worse shape, but there are chains of reactions beyond the immediate that lead to other terrible outcomes.

I can't think of very many that actually achieved the good outcomes that are promised.

Anonymous said...

Has someone taken JRB's handle and blog as "substitute" blogger?

Or is this the same JRB who's been blogging about power disparities?

I'm a little confused.

mp said...

I'm really surprised. In this way, you accept representation in a military conflict by the snakiest snakes in snakedom, entrusting them to carry out your desires to apply lethal force in a way you'd never entrust them to handle a single dollar. Welcome to the world of cop appreciation, and all that.

Anonymous said...


It is a tough problem. I think Gadaffi is a bad guy, too. But when he rails against fascists attacking his homeland he's dead right. Of course, he's probably dead whatever happens. You do not know who deserves to die and you know this. When someone drops bombs, he does not know who is going to die, he only knows that death will occur.

Please explain how US bombs are better than Libyan bombs. I say this not because I don't think bombs have their place but because there is no way you, or I or Obama can tell which Libyan deserves to die, regardless of their feelings.

Humbly, as JC might say.

JM said...

You say "I presume that Libyans already have their own understanding of 3 -- and yet requested assistance anyway." Precisely, which makes the people asking for that assistance all that much more suspect."

I must ask though, what do you think should happen to those who requested it? Do we want Qaddaffi to win just to prove a point or what?

In other words, should we go the Gowan's route despite his pro Mugabe, et al sentiments;

C-Nihilist said...

woah. lot of comments here i hadn't read before responding to the top post myself here:

James N. said...


If I understand your point, it's that whether a military intervention is ever appropriate/justified is a very complicated question, but one thing to take into account - maybe the first thing to take into account - is whether or not the locals have asked us to intervene.

(Recognizing that figuring out who the "locals" are, who speaks for them, and how to determine what they want is going to be complicated, maybe impossible, and likely lied about for political advantage.)

Have I summarized you accurately?

Because if that's what you're saying, I don't disagree: intervening in another society's affairs entirely against its will is completely wrong. But even if someone (whoever) is asking you to intervene, that doesn't mean you should. It's a necessary but not sufficient condition.

And specifically I think we should have stayed the hell out of Libya.

(Sorry my first post here is to give you grief over this.)

ohtarzie said...

"I must ask though, what do you think should happen to those who requested it? Do we want Qaddaffi to win just to prove a point or what?"

Oh, for God's sake, of course not.

Here's my position:

Bad shit is happening in Libya, which I deeply regret. In fact, I regret all the bad shit happening everywhere including that which does not impact US policy interests and thereby preoccupy the mainstream media and, by extension, the more credulous and/or bellicose members of the left.

I do not think the will of the Libyans with respect to US intervention can ever be known and the leaders of the resistance have no right to speak for them. I think leftists who talk about how we should consult the LIbyans before deciding whether to support US involvement, are mostly poseurs, with an extremely reductive view of what a Libyan is.

Since I can't know what the Libyans want, and since, as someone else pointed out, their views on the matter are only one of many considerations - certainly not the deciding one - I am left with the "Western-based left-o-sphere's great critique of foreign policy" and the commonsensical idea that superpowers with odious intentions never do good.

Therefore while I truly hope that Qaddafi loses and is replaced by something better, I oppose the intervention of the United States. It is actually possible to hold those two positions at once.

davidly said...


Abonilox said...

The more I think about it, the more disgusted I get about this whole state of affairs. JRB cannot be arguing as an "anarchist" in defense of US-sponsored aggression. The arguments in support of this action are not political, they appear to be humanitarian in nature. That's all well and good, but it makes me question the relevancy of the anarchist position.

Anonymous said...

Probably that would be due to the misunderstanding that intervention is an "anarchist position," which it is not.

Good idea to see where someone chooses intervention for reasons other than his or her political philosophy.

That seems to be what's happening now... people at wit's end on whether to support something, people in such situations are being tugged at, literally, with emotional and "humanitarian" pitches for intervention.

What I don't get is why this is any different from any other "intervention" where Uncle Sam has stepped in under some ostensible "local desire" for "liberation" or the like.

Supporting intervention in Libya means supporting it anywhere the "intelligence" suggests someone "on the ground" wants Uncle Sam there.

And it's not hard to find such a someone, in any country, anywhere.

Not hard at all.


Intervention is not what an anarchist would want, under anarchist philosophic grounds. An anarchist would say, let people do what they can, for themselves. And let people external to the country support the locals, on their own dime, on their own expense work-wise, life-wise.

Anarchism is about eliminating the State's coercion. Not about using it.

Sean said...

Intervention being the in thing nowadays, perhaps we should be encouraging Qaddafi to intervene on behalf of the Egyptians and Tunisians. How come the West gets to have all the fun?

Seems quite a few folks in Africa back in the day invited Daffy-Q to intervene on their behalf, but this is seen as evidence of his irredeemable malevolence.

Interventions can't be undertaken by just anyone. To be done right, they must be done White.