After Gaddafi

by Gilbert Achcar, David Wearing

As was the case with his earlier articles for ZNet on the situation in Libya, our recent interview with Professor Gilbert Achcar of SOAS elicited a good deal of responses, both in the comments under the article and from commentators elsewhere. Here, NLP’s David Wearing asks Achcar a series of follow-up questions on the criticisms of his position, and on the emerging situation in Libya.

Your position as I understand it is that, while NATO’s attempt to hijack the Libyan revolution for its own ends should be opposed, that opposition ought not to have been applied to the initial stage of the military action, which probably saved Benghazi from serious atrocities at the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces. After that, however, arming the rebels should have been preferred to continued NATO action in pursuit of regime change (which must be opposed on anti-imperialist grounds). Firstly, is that an accurate representation of your position, and if not, would you please clarify for us? Secondly, is it realistic to support, or not oppose, a limited NATO action that would have protected Benghazi, but to oppose further NATO involvement, given the high probability that the latter would proceed from the former? Wasn’t it always very unlikely in practice that NATO action would have stopped at Benghazi?

These are two questions in one, and I will answer them one at a time. Allow me, however, to start with a comment on the debate provoked by my position within radical left circles in Europe and the Americas. (I am specifying the area because there was nothing remotely comparable in the Arab-speaking world to which I belong, although my position got as much exposure in Arabic as in European languages, if not more.)

As many thoughtful people on the radical left emphasised, the Libyan issue was, and remains, a complicated one confronting anti-imperialists with an unprecedented situation as NATO claimed to intervene on behalf of a real democratic popular uprising. For those whose anti-imperialism is accompanied by a fascination for caudillos, the issue was settled from the start: Gaddafi is a “great revolutionary leader” and the Libyan insurgents are nothing but the equivalent of the Nicaraguan contras. Under such conditions, it is extremely difficult to hold any fruitful debate. For the anti-Stalinist left, however, one would have expected – or wished – a debate of a level of sophistication that matches the complexity of the issue. With rare exceptions, alas, that was far from the case.

To be sure, the position I expressed was itself an unusually complex one, reflecting the intricacy of the situation. But this can’t be a sufficient explanation, let alone an excuse, for the fact that my critics were on the whole unable to represent my position accurately, whether it was deliberate misrepresentation – for those who mistake caricature for argument – or as a result of misreading under the influence of the former. Thus, I had a first-hand experience of what Francis Bacon meant with his famous saying: “Slander boldly, something always sticks”. Even though I never ever “supported” NATO’s intervention, several detractors immediately distorted my position into one of “support to NATO’s no-fly zone”, which translated naturally into “support to NATO intervention”, nay, “support to imperialism” for the most overexcited, without ever producing a single relevant quote. And despite my continuous refutation of this caricature in subsequent statements on the matter, my recent NLP interview being only the latest, some people on the left keep “summing up” my position to this day as one of “support for NATO’s intervention”.

Now, my personal experience is secondary. Such assaults do not impress me at all, otherwise I would never have expressed my position publicly. In over forty years of political struggle on the left, I have had to face slanders on several occasions, and was never intimidated. If you don’t have the courage to uphold what you believe is right, you’d better drop out of revolutionary politics. Everything I bore is small beer and petty flak compared to what anti-Stalinists had to endure in the heyday of Stalinism. This said, if I did uphold the position that I expressed, it is first of all because I believed it was right, naturally, and my belief was only strengthened by the developments since then. But I also upheld it for the sake of advancing the political debate on the radical left, beyond knee-jerk positions in black and white. I feel it my duty as ever, like everyone who has been involved in the radical left under conditions similar to mine, to contribute to the left’s elaboration of the most effective position in the struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

Unfortunately, some people on the radical left are unable to engage in a comradely debate without invective. They perpetuate a detestable tradition rooted in a style of polemics that Lenin’s cult did much to expand, and that Stalinism pushed to extremes. Fortunately, the Libyan discussion also confirmed to me that there are important sections of the radical left, whether whole currents or individuals, that are not only true radical democrats, but also people who share my conception of the left: a left for which human emancipation from oppression is the highest value, while all the rest, including anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and socialism, are but derivatives of this primordial principle.

With apologies for that preamble, allow me to respond to your two questions:

First, the summary of my position that you offered – “while NATO’s attempt to hijack the Libyan revolution for its own ends ought to be opposed, that opposition ought not to have been applied to the initial stage of the military action” – is actually inaccurate. It is for me unquestionable that “NATO’s attempt to hijack the Libyan revolution for its own ends” ought to be opposed from start to end. What I said was simply – if I may use this term in describing a position that seems so hard to understand – that, whereas there should have been no illusion whatsoever about the real purpose of NATO, the initial stage of its military action in Libya, i.e. the destruction of Gaddafi’s forces concentrated on the outskirts of Benghazi and the destruction of his air force and major missile batteries, should not have been opposed, but only monitored with vigilance in order to denounce any NATO actions exceeding these goals.

Now let me clarify this issue of “non-opposition”. It is bewildering for me to see how much it is difficult for so many people to distinguish between “support” and “non-opposition”, even though they supposedly understand the difference between “voting in favour” and “abstaining”. For the sake of maximum clarity, I will translate the difference in organised actions, as didactically as possible.  Supporting NATO’s initial enforcement of the no-fly zone leads to demonstrating in its favour. Opposing it leads to demonstrating against it. Not opposing it in the initial stage means abstaining from demonstrating against it, or calling for it to stop, during its first days, while warning against its continuation in order to prepare for the next stage when opposing it, i.e. demonstrating against it, becomes possible and necessary.

The rationale here is that in opposing the no-fly zone from day one, you are rejecting a request made by the insurgents themselves, and you hence behave as if you regard the fate of Benghazi’s population as totally secondary to your sacrosanct anti-imperialism. What should have been done instead, as the major Arab anti-imperialist forces more or less did, was to tell the Libyan insurgents: “We regret very much that you were compelled to call for UN, i.e. Western help, but we understand that you were left with no alternative to this action of last resort due to the murderous brutality of Gaddafi’s regime, which bears full responsibility. We warn you nevertheless against any illusion about NATO’s intent to hijack your revolution. As soon as the threat against Benghazi will be removed and Gaddafi’s air force crippled, we will campaign for NATO to stop its direct involvement and to provide you instead with the weapons that you need, for we believe that you should liberate your own country by your own fight alone.”

As I said in my very first interview speaking about the UN Security Council deliberation on the resolution that authorised the no-fly zone: “One can understand the abstentions; some of the five states who abstained in the UNSC vote wanted to express their defiance and/or unhappiness with the lack of adequate oversight, but without taking the responsibility for an impending massacre”. Indeed, China had much more interests in Libya than it had in Serbia, and yet, along with Russia, it threatened to veto the 1999 Kosovo war, which NATO then waged in violation of international law. These two states threatened again to veto the 2003 invasion of Iraq (a country where they did have important vested interests), obliging the US-UK coalition to violate international law even more flagrantly. So why didn’t they veto the no-fly zone resolution about Libya? It seems clear to me that it was because they didn’t want to take the blame internationally for what was very likely to be a massacre on a large scale, perpetrated by a demented despot. They abstained therefore, but never ceased denouncing NATO’s campaign for its violation of the very same resolution that they had refrained from vetoing.

Now, once the initial stage was over, i.e. once the danger threatening Benghazi had been removed and Gaddafi’s air force had been destroyed, it became both possible and necessary to oppose the continuation of the bombing, which was clearly going beyond its initial official mission of protection – provided you link that demand with that of arming the insurgents. Had the left acted in this way, I believe that its impact on public opinion would have been significantly more effective than what it has actually been, with the weakest and most unpopular antiwar campaign of recent decades.

Secondly, you ask whether it was “realistic to support, or not oppose, a limited NATO action that would have protected Benghazi, but to oppose further NATO involvement, given the high probability that the latter would proceed from the former”. The answer is simple here again, and involves one more time the same distinction that seems to be so hard to fathom.

It was definitely impossible to “support” a limited NATO action with the illusion that it would remain limited. It would have been extremely naïve to behave on the basis of such an assumption. It might have been less incongruous to support a UN action short of NATO’s involvement, but such a position would have been purely theoretical. It was clear to me – like to most people who knew their real purposes – that NATO powers, once involved, would not limit their action to “protecting civilians”, especially given that the UN resolution had been written in such a form as to give them maximum leeway. However, for the reasons I have repeatedly explained, it was not only realistic, but necessary to delay our opposition to the NATO powers’ intervention until the initial, objectively positive, outcome was achieved, that is the outcome that was objectively in the interest of the population of Benghazi and the Libyan insurrection as a whole. This outcome was, of course, rescuing Benghazi and allowing it to continue its role as the epicentre of Libya’s democratic revolution, thus preserving the latter from suppression.

Due to the antiwar movement’s present weakness, this is no more than a matter of political pedagogy and effectiveness in countering imperialism. The antiwar movement can thrive indeed only if it acts from a stance of clear moral superiority, as was the case at the time of the Vietnam War. But imagine for one second that the antiwar movement had enough leverage to stop NATO powers’ intervention. Why would we have prevented Benghazi from being rescued, thus allowing the Libyan revolution to be crushed, instead of letting the rescue take place and only then stopping the intervention? It doesn’t make sense in the least.

In respect of your expectations about what would have happened to Benghazi if retaken by Gaddafi’s forces, the author Richard Seymour has argued, citing figures from Human Rights Watch and elsewhere, that no large-scale massacre of the kind you invoked took place in Misrata when regime forces had the opportunity to carry one out, so we cannot say for certain that one would have taken place in Benghazi. How do you respond to that argument?

This strikes me as an extremely weak and flawed argument. Before discussing its basic line, a brief comment is needed on the presentation of the facts. The first question that occurs to the mind of a serious researcher reading this argument is why does it refer to an insignificant news item about HRW’s report instead of the easily available original? I invite you to read the latter in full – it is not long – and you will understand: it demolishes completely – on both quantitative and qualitative levels – the benign picture of the regime forces’ behaviour in Misrata that the author you mentioned tried to give.

Let me now discuss the logic of the argument. Unless one has been involved in a civil war and has a clear idea of what it means to be in a city under siege, one ought to be more modest and circumspect in discussing such issues (especially when one has been proved so wrong already in assessing the Libyan situation). First of all, Misrata was simply never “retaken” by Gaddafi’s forces: the rebels always controlled a major part of the city. At the peak of their offensive on Misrata, regime forces did not manage to recover control over more than some 40% of the city, let alone the fact that they remained permanently engaged in highly intensive fighting.

Anyone who’s lived through a civil war, like the one in my country Lebanon, can tell you that civilians move a lot during wars: they flee from endangered areas to safer areas, or more accurately they flee from areas which they believe to be in danger to areas which they believe to be safe, and that can be in opposite directions when you have civilians belonging to clashing ethnic or political identities. In situations like the one in Misrata where you had very close fighting – house-by-house and street-by-street (to quote Gaddafi’s famous dreadful speech) – the front line gets emptied of civilians as it moves along. The buildings on the front line in Beirut and its suburbs were always empty of civilians who had taken refuge in safer areas. Besides, massacres of civilians are usually conducted cold-bloodedly, once the perpetrators are in control of the situation and they can afford to go after the civilians, searching homes and killing whoever they suspect to belong to the enemy camp; they are rarely perpetrated under fire and in the midst of intensive fighting.

Now, it is obvious that all those civilians in Misrata who had taken part in the uprising would not have remained in the areas taken by the dreaded Khamis (Gaddafi’s son) brigade, but would have fled to rebel-held areas, all the more that the latter included the harbour from where they could have been evacuated, had Gaddafi’s troops managed to push further their drive to recapture the city. Moreover, it is precisely the fear that regime forces would perpetrate a massacre if they were able to get hold of the whole city that inspired the rebellion there to resist so steadfastly against forces with overwhelming firepower, showering civilian areas with cluster bombs and Grad rockets from the early stage. A report in The Guardian on 24 March related the rebels’ belief that civilian casualties as a result of their resistance, were “a necessary price to prevent even greater loss of life if Gaddafi’s forces had continued their assault on Misrata and exacted revenge against the residents for their support of the uprising”.

Last but not least on the argument’s basic line: it doesn’t make sense to abstract NATO’s action from the picture in assessing what Gaddafi’s forces managed to do – or, worse still, what they would have done had NATO not intervened. No one can deny that NATO’s intervention, even after its very initial stage (and therefore when I myself was arguing against its continuation), did take care of protecting civilian populations – its purported mission – especially in rebel-held areas. It did not only perform actions that exceeded this purported mission. NATO’s air and firepower support provided the insurgent areas in Misrata with enough cover for them to be able to resist, and then launch a counter-offensive that was eventually victorious.

I will go even further than that. My main reference when it comes to what might have happened in Benghazi is what Syria’s Assad regime did in the city of Hama in 1982, killing 25,000 people (an average estimate) in a city with one third of Benghazi’s population. It took regime forces one week to recapture the city, a stronghold of Islamic anti-Assad opposition, after which they went on a killing spree for two weeks, searching the city house by house. Now look at what is happening today in Syria: a much bigger and larger uprising has been going on since mid-March. The city of Hama is again the stronghold of the uprising, the scene of spectacular demonstrations against the regime. For several days, it did even become a free city, abandoned by regime forces and run by grass-root committees. Regime troops eventually moved back into Hama.

Yet, the organisers of the uprising in Syria estimate the overall number of those killed since mid-March at close to 2,500 until this day – not in Hama alone but in the whole of Syria. There are two possible explanations for this: either you believe with Hugo Chávez that Bashar al-Assad is a “socialist and a humanist”, or you recognize that NATO’s intervention under UN cover in Libya acted as a powerful deterrent on Assad, leading him to restrain the use of his army’s firepower and the murder spree of his thugs and mukhabarat (intelligence services). There is no doubt in my mind that the Western intervention in Libya accounts for the relative – with emphasis on relative – restraint of the Syrian regime’s murderous behaviour until now.

The foreign intervention against Gaddafi’s regime strengthened the morale of the Syrian protesters who entered into action at precisely the same time when the UN deliberated on Libya, in the belief that the 1982 massacre would not be repeated under the new circumstances. Consequently, the triumph of the Libyan rebellion in liberating Tripoli boosted considerably the morale of the Syrian insurgents, who hailed it in mass demonstrations, as did the Yemeni insurgents. In addition to those I have already set out, this was, from the start, another major consideration underlying my position on Libya. Had Gaddafi been left to crush Benghazi, the whole momentum of the “Arab Spring” as it is called would have been choked off. The Libyan rebellion’s victory increased that momentum significantly, despite the fact that it is certainly tarnished by NATO’s attempt at hijacking it.

In our previous interview, you said that “the range of estimates of the number of people who were killed in Libya in the first month alone, before the Western intervention, starts at more than [2,000] and reaches 10,000”. Seymour has described this as unreliable, pointing to a HRW total of 233 for the first week, and a later estimate from the UN Secretary General of about 1,000. Does this affect your assessment of the situation in Libya at the point where NATO intervened?

Here again the way facts and figures are produced is extremely flawed. You quoted me correctly: I described “the range of estimates of the number of people who were killed in Libya in the first month alone”, i.e. between 17 February and 17 March, as starting at over 2,000. How could the figures you mentioned be given to dispute the reliability of the minimal estimate within the range that I have mentioned? The first figure is – again – an indirect reference to a HRW estimate. The original estimate of the human rights organisation is dated 20 February. It says that in only four days the Libyan regime forces killed at least 233 persons! At this killing rhythm, the death toll would reach 1,750 in one month, which is close to the 2,000 figure. However, HRW’s estimate was a very conservative one, explicitly presented as such by the organisation itself. It is clear, moreover, that with the subsequent extension and intensification of the uprising and with the regime turning its full military means against the people, the repression became yet more murderous. As for the 1st of March figure given by the UN Secretary General – another indirect quote – it was referring to his statement pronounced on 25 February, i.e. nine days after the start of the uprising, when he told the Security Council that “estimates indicate that more than 1,000 people have been killed”. At this killing rhythm, which itself was based on a conservative estimate (“more than”), the death toll would have exceeded 3,330 in one month, so we are already 50% above the most conservative estimate that I mentioned and that the author you quote disputed.

Now, it is clear that in a situation like the one that prevailed in Libya, it is impossible, for reasons obvious to all, to get an accurate figure of the death toll. This is why I always mentioned a range of estimates, from the most conservative given by very cautious sources to the highest figure in circulation, the 10,000 figure, which – although it was most probably a wild exaggeration when it was first given by a member of the International Criminal Court one week after the beginning of the repression – was still being quoted in mid-March. But recall the reason for my mentioning the range of estimates: it was to show that, by even the most conservative estimate, you had at least as many deaths in one month in Libya as you had in five and a half months (at the time of the interview) in Syria, the next bloodiest repression after Libya of all uprisings in the region. The Syrian figure of 2,200 was the one given by the Syrian opposition at the time of the interview.

As for the Libyan opposition, its spokesman declared on 20 March that “our dead and martyrs number more than 8,000 killed”. Why would one accept the Syrian opposition’s estimate and reject the Libyan opposition’s estimate? This would show a flagrant double standard: you accept an estimate as long as you sympathise with those who give it, and suddenly reject it when it gets quoted by Western sources in justifying their governments’ intervention. This said, the Syrian opposition’s estimate is certainly conservative since it records mostly reported and identified deaths – a body count that is possible when the rate of daily killing is not too high to assess. It was much more difficult to make such a count in Libya, and that is why one must give a range instead of a single estimate.

Let me now discuss what is much more important than this petty and sordid quibbling about the number of the deaths. Let us consider the basic point that my critic tried to make. In my previous NLP interview to which he was reacting, I quoted the range of estimates in answering a question about “the likelihood that if Benghazi had fallen there would have been a massacre”. My critic and others like him disputed this claim. They went therefore into a convoluted and rather macabre discussion of figures to explain that it was “not sure”, or that “there are reasons to doubt” that a large-scale massacre would have happened in Benghazi, had Gaddafi’s forces been able to subdue the city.

In doing so out of knee-jerk anti-imperialism, they ignored the crucial fact that the certainty that a massacre was impending was not one “invented” by NATO sources, but the strong belief of the population of the two besieged strongholds of the anti-Gaddafi insurrection, Benghazi and Misrata. The request by the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council (TNC) was made from the heart of the most endangered city, by people who had seen what the regime forces had done theretofore. Indeed, Benghazi was by that time full of refugees from other parts of Libya struck by the repression, who certainly understood the nature of that repression very well.

On top of their own experience of the situation, contrasting with the absolute inexperience of my critic, they were faced with a very explicit threat of massacre that I have summarized in a previous article on ZNet, which I will quote for you:

“On 22 February … Muammar al-Gaddafi himself gave one of the most dreadful speeches in recent historical memory, a speech whose tone and vocabulary (in particular the description of his opponents as rodents and insects) were reminiscent of the 1930s (only a partial and approximate translation of the speech is available in English). The Libyan despot evoked as precedents that he intended to imitate, among others, the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen and the 2004 one in Fallujah. He also evoked the 2008-9 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, an analogy that he reiterated on March 7 in an interview he gave to a French satellite channel. And in a further speech on March 17, the day resolution 1973 was to be adopted by the Security Council, he compared his assault on Benghazi to that of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s attack on Madrid, stating that he relied on the emergence of a ‘fifth column’ from among the city’s population to help him ‘liberate’ it. The regime forces had then started concentrating on the outskirts of Benghazi in order to launch their offensive on the city, which began on March 19.”

And in spite of this you find someone in London, from the comfort of his desk, basically telling the people in Benghazi: “I am not sure that you will be massacred, guys! I have reasons to doubt it. Be courageous and take the risk. You have only your life to lose, I have my bet. I am willing to take the risk that you might be massacred. This risk is anyhow less important a consideration than my own reflexive opposition to whatever the government of my country does. Sorry if you can’t understand.” This is the kind of attitude that I described as indecent. And please note: I never ever spoke of a “decent left” as my critic – who seems to be as careless with words as he is with figures – attributed to me, thus associating me slanderously with people whose positions I loathe.

Now enough is enough: I wouldn’t want to spend any more time engaging in the debate over what should have been done during the very first days of NATO’s intervention in Libya.

We see reports now of serious reprisals against pro-Gaddafi forces, and racist attacks on black Africans in Libya. How great is the danger of these serious abuses turning into full scale atrocities, and how can the European left best respond?

There have indeed been many atrocities and human rights violations committed by Libyan rebels. Black people have been particularly targeted from the very early stage of the uprising. This is due to the fact that a significant proportion of Gaddafi’s troops were composed of mercenaries recruited from poor African countries, like Chad, Sudan, Niger, and Mali. This old and well-known fact was compounded by the forced recruitment of African migrants to fight with Gaddafi’s troops when the uprising started, with such forced recruits often cruelly deployed on the front line. Google “mercenaries Libya”, restricting your research to the past month, and you will find a lot of reports on Gaddafi’s mercenaries, including interviews with many of them coming from various countries. So in a sense, and tragically, the targeting of Black people came as a “backlash” as The Guardian put it recently. Of course, this is no excuse at all. It is important and necessary for the left to denounce vigorously these acts. But Western governments are as keen on stopping them as the left for fear of the potential embarrassment should their present boastful attitude turn sour. Most if not all Western media have run reports on the persecution of Blacks by Libyan rebels, and that’s a good thing.

It would be very unfair, however, to blame the whole Libyan rebellion for such acts. From the very early stage of the uprising, the more organised and disciplined forces on the rebels’ side took counter-measures. Had atrocities, ethnic and colour profiling, and human rights violations been the result of instructions given by the central rebel leadership, or even a consequence of some hateful discourse emanating from its spokespersons, it would have deserved to be denounced and combated for that matter – no doubt about that. But the fact is that this leadership made repeated public statements condemning such acts, and calling for their immediate halt. In his first public statement after the liberation of Tripoli, TNC’s chairman, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil even threatened to resign if unlawful revenge acts and extrajudicial killings were committed by rebel forces. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International praised the TNC’s attitude, while urging it to take more measures.

It would be unfair likewise to take a negative stance towards the Libyan revolution because of atrocities committed in its course. The key point here is what defenders of the French Revolution stressed in its time: whatever atrocities were committed in the course of the revolution paled when compared with the atrocities that the Ancien Régime perpetrated over the long haul. Things are morally clearer actually in Libya: the amount of atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime over decades, as well as during the last few months, many of which are now surfacing for the first time, dwarf whatever atrocities have been carried out by Libyan rebels, who have alas not been educated in the spirit of humanism and internationalism under 42 years of ruthless and demented dictatorship. All revolutions evolving into civil wars saw atrocities committed on both sides: there is hardly any exception to this sad rule. Unfortunately, peaceful revolutions are not similarly possible under all regimes.

Going forward, what methods can we expect the Western powers to use to manipulate the current situation to their advantage, and how should anti-imperialists respond?

The most important issue in this regard is the unbearably boastful attitude of the likes of Sarkozy and Cameron and the Obama administration. The truth is that the “success” of NATO’s Libyan expedition is the exception that confirms the rule; it definitely does not constitute the rule, whatever “doctrine” they may want to build upon it.

There was indeed a popular uprising in Iraq hoping for foreign military protection in 1991: when the people got emboldened by their dictatorship’s defeat in the war over Kuwait, they rose up in March 1991 in the North and the South of the country. What happened then is that Washington colluded with Saddam Hussein to let him crush the two uprisings for fear they might lead to an Iranian takeover. The wars of Kosovo and Iraq 2003 were waged in flagrant violation of international law. In both cases, there were peaceful alternatives at hand. Those two wars and occupations created ugly outcomes, condemning the countries in question to instability for the long haul. The war in Afghanistan was waged in conjunction with ethnic minority forces against the Taliban’s hegemony over the largest ethnic minority. It only led to the reinforcement of this hegemony and, likewise, to protracted instability.

In Libya itself, even though NATO’s intervention contributed, to be sure, to the rebels’ victory, it was actually designed in such a way as to hijack the revolution, impose NATO’s tutelage, and try to shape Libya’s future government as I have explained at length in the article I wrote a few days before the liberation of Tripoli. Every element of NATO’s “conspiracy” against the Libyan revolution that I described in that article can now be verified on the ground. This is especially the case with the pressure from Western powers on the TNC to accommodate whole segments of Gaddafi’s regime in the new state structure, with holier-than-thou calls to “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”. There are even rumours about horse-trading behind the scenes for the integration of Gaddafi’s son Saadi into the TNC – a perspective that NATO powers certainly favour, but one that could hardly be implemented due to the huge uproar that it would create among the rebels. As it was indeed predictable, attempts at integrating men of the fallen regime in leading positions are already provoking opposition among the rebels, as reported recently in The Guardian:

“The second crack in the [rebel] coalition – the first was the still unresolved murder of its military commander in Benghazi, General Abdul Fattah Younis – emerged on Monday, when a protest erupted in Misrata’s Martyr’s Square over reports that the NTC was about to appoint Albarrani Shkal as head of security in Tripoli. Shkal, a key confidant of Gaddafi turned rebel informer, was operations officer for the infamous Khamis Brigade that murderously bombarded residential areas of Misrata during the long siege there. Within hours Benghazi had reversed its decision, choosing Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a former commander of a jihadist organisation with historical links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, as the new head of Tripoli’s military council.”

Belhaj, the new head of Tripoli’s military council was contested in his turn, as reported in the New York Times:

“Several liberals among the rebel leadership council complained privately that Mr. Belhaj had been a leader of the disbanded Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which rebelled against Colonel Qaddafi in the 1990s. Some said they feared it was the first step in an attempt at an Islamist takeover. They noted that Mr. Belhaj was named commander by the five battalions of the so-called Tripoli Brigade, rather than by any civilian authority. And they complained about the perceived influence of Qatar, which helped train and equip the Tripoli Brigade and also finances Al Jazeera.
‘This guy is just a creation of the Qataris and their money, and they are sponsoring the element of Muslim extremism here,’ another council member from the western region said. “The revolutionary fighters are extremely unhappy and surprised. He is the commander of nothing!”

Mixed with the ideological concerns, however, was an equal measure of provincial rivalry over who did more to liberate Tripoli. Not only was Mr. Belhaj an Islamist, the council member argued, but he had done less than the western rebels in the fight for the capital.

‘People in the west were saying to each other, What? This kid? This is rubbish! What about our top commanders?’ the council member said.”

As it happens, the Qatar-backed former jihadist, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, is the man who is dealing with Saadi Gaddafi, after having dealt with another of Gaddafi’s sons, the formerly Western-favourite Seif al-Islam, who let him out of jail a year ago. All this is but a pre-taste of the dissensions to come in a post-Gaddafi Libyan situation that will certainly be no less conflict-ridden than post-Ben Ali Tunisia or post-Mubarak Egypt. In the meantime, we see this headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Rift Over Libyan Oil Emerges Among Allies”. No further comment is needed.

Gilbert Achcar is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is the author of several books, including “The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder”; “Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy”, co-authored with Noam Chomsky; and most recently “The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives”.

David Wearing is a PhD student of political science at the School of Public Policy, University College London. His research topic is Britain’s response to the Arab Spring. He is a co-editor of New Left Project.

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First published: 04 September, 2011

Category: Activism, Foreign policy, International, Terror/War

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14 Comments on "After Gaddafi"

By Richard Seymour, on 04 September 2011 - 21:36 |

I appreciate the author taking the time to put some of my points to Gilbert Achcar, and I may take time to mull over some of this on my blog.  For the moment, I would say that Achcar missed the opportunity to take the points which I made, and which I am sure he has read in full, seriously.  Specifically:

1) There’s no question of giving a ‘benign’ picture of regime behaviour in Misrata.  The news articles are not minor at all, and they’re cited because this is where I found the figures in question.  (Given that Achcar appears to have depended on Wikipedia for some of his figures, which aren’t necessarily dependable, one would hope for him to understand that there are worse things than relying on the capitalist media.)  The post to which Gilbert Achcar is responding acknowledged the viciousness of Qadhafi’s repression, and specifically the willingness to kill civilians.  What one looks for in vain, however, is any sign of the sort of massacre on the scale that Achcar discusses.  Anywhere, not just in Misrata.

2) By way of explaining why this is, Achcar offers a prima facie plausible reason why a regime bent on massacre didn’t take the opportunity to do so in Misrata.  Yet, without some evidence to indicate that such a massacre is on the agenda, his point is question-begging.  That is, his explanation assumes the condition, an intent to commit a genocidal massacre, whose existence he needs to demonstrate.  (Needs to, that is, if he still wishes to maintain that doubt of this hypothesis is ‘indecent’.)

3) And this is where the argument about statistics comes in.  My argument regarding the use of mortality estimates is that Achcar used an unreliable datum, the higher figure of 10,000, that skewed the estimate range significantly upwards, so as to give the allegation of a looming massacre on a genocidal scale some solidity.  (In another light, if he was using this statistic in all seriousness - ie had he checked it properly, understood its implications and still accepted it - he would be predicting far more than a massacre.  At that rate, total deaths by the time of Qadhafi’s fall would have been close to a quarter of a million.)  Now I did not actually dispute the lower figure being true as of the NATO intervention, and it is disingenuous to respond as if the controversy was over that figure and not the higher one he cited.

4) By way of buttressing his position, Achcar offers the estimate of deaths given by the opposition spokesperson in late March, just as NATO was fuelling its bombers.  But the opposition has been the source of some dubious claims.  It is they who claimed that Qadhafi would kill half a million if he re-took Benghazi, a claim I doubt even Achcar would seriously entertain.  It is they who, today, claim that the total deaths from the civil war and NATO’s intervention, reached 50,000, which seems implausible.  More seriously, it is they who disseminated rumours of ‘African mercenaries’, resulting in lynch mobs.  It is they who fed international media stories of Qadhafi’s men taking Viagra in order to commit mass rapes.  It is they who fed the international media apparently unsubstantiated stories of Qadhafi using his air force.  There is a very good reason why this should be: when you’ve settled on the strategy of galvanising imperialist support, you need to reach international audiences, and doing so can involve crude propaganda.  This, by the way, constitutes another reason to doubt the claims of an impending genocidal massacre in Benghazi.  It is surprising, and alarming, that Achcar appears oblivious to this very obvious dimension of the war.

By David, on 05 September 2011 - 10:24 |

Thanks again for contributing, Richard.

You say:

“Achcar offers a prima facie plausible reason why a regime bent on massacre didn’t take the opportunity to do so in Misrata.  Yet, without some evidence to indicate that such a massacre is on the agenda, his point is question-begging.”

Gilbert cites above the speech where Gaddafi “evoked as precedents that he intended to imitate [once Benghazi was captured], among others, the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen and the 2004 one in Fallujah. He also evoked the 2008-9 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, an analogy that he reiterated on March 7 in an interview he gave to a French satellite channel. And in a further speech on March 17, the day resolution 1973 was to be adopted by the Security Council, he compared his assault on Benghazi to that of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s attack on Madrid”

I suppose once Gaddafi has said repeatedly that he intends to order a massacre, then we can at least say that such a massacre is on the agenda. Maybe there’s reason to believe that it still won’t happen, but I’m not sure I can see what that reason would be. You clearly agree that the Gaddafi regime’s contempt for civilian life is obvious. So why should we believe that Gaddafi wouldn’t do exactly what he said he would do upon re-taking Benghazi? This is what puzzles me about your position.

By Richard Seymour, on 05 September 2011 - 11:33 |

“Gilbert cites above the speech where Gaddafi “evoked as precedents that he intended to imitate [once Benghazi was captured], among others, the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen and the 2004 one in Fallujah. He also evoked the 2008-9 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, an analogy that he reiterated on March 7 in an interview he gave to a French satellite channel….”“

There’s no doubt that Qadhafi intended to crack down hard on the insurgency.  But there’s something more going on that you appear to have missed.  If you look at the speech cited here, what you find is Qadhafi trying to situate his coming crackdown in the context of global ‘anti-terrorist’ measures (counterinsurgency) - he’s trying to legitimise what he’s doing by reference to comparable examples of ‘terrorists’ and ‘crazies’ being hunted down.  This clearly expresses his willingness to crush the rebellion with brutality, but also importantly his need to *legitimise* the brutality by reference to a global norm instantiated in these examples.  Why would he be doing this?  What are Fallujah, Baghdad, Somalia and so on doing in that speech?  The obvious answer: the speech is dated 17th March, the evening of a United Nations vote on military intervention to be led by NATO powers.  He’s addressing his message as much to the US, and China, and Russia, as to the population of Libya.

But you say that “Gaddafi has said repeatedly that he intends to order a massacre”.  That is also the burden of what Achcar claims.  At *no point* did Qadhafi say that he intended to order a massacre.  The examples given clearly do not have Qadhafi expressing such an intention.  In fact, if we’re in the business of parsing Qadhafi’s speeches in search of evidence of what he intended to do, we can see that in one of those cited by Achcar, again from 17th March, he claims he will protect both civilians and the bulk of those who are armed: “Throw away your arms and find a way out of the city, and then you are saved ... the peaceful individuals of our people ... should put down their weapons, there is no danger.”  And so on. 

To avoid misunderstanding.  Qadhafi is quite clear that he intends to mercilessly crush the rebellion, and kill the rebel leaders.  Just as he used security forces to ruthlessly crush Islamist guerillas in the 1990s, for example.  And we only have to take his promise of an amnesty for those who throw their weapons away at face value if we’re determined to take the rest of his speech at face value.  (Otherwise, we judge what he’ll do based on what we know about how he has conducted the war and how he’s handled previous insurgencies; what we know about counterinsurgency doctrine; what we know about international pressures; how effectively we judge the opposition in Benghazi could resist any incursion; how we understand the possibilities for a negotiated settlement, etc.).  Yet, we are told not only that Qadhafi would crush the rebellion mercilessly, and kill its leadership, and conduct war crimes in the process, but that he was going to carry out a massacre in cold blood of up to 25,000 people in Benghazi upon its capture.  This would be tantamount to genocide, the pre-meditated destruction of a significant part of the population of Benghazi.  Under normal circumstances, such an allegation would require a significant burden of evidence.  Under circumstances where it is being used to disarm political opposition to a military intervention by NATO, I would say the burden of evidence should be even higher.  So far, we have been given nothing that would constitute plausible evidence of such a programme.  As such, I remain unconvinced that this constitutes an imperative looming reality, acceptance of which can work as an index of left-wing ‘decency’.

By David, on 05 September 2011 - 14:44 |

Not sure I’m convinced by this Richard. Yes, I dare say he did invoke those particular examples to legitimise what he planned to do, as you say. Nothing surprising there. It doesn’t really erase the fact that he’s invoked them - i.e. used those large scale massacres as specific examples of what he plans to do to Benghazi.

So when you say

“At *no point* did Qadhafi say that he intended to order a massacre”

I’m a little confused. In what sense is Gaddafi saying he plans to do to Benghazi what othes did to Fallujah and Gaza not him saying that he intends to order a massacre?

Nor am I persuaded by the idea that we have to take Gaddafi’s promise to show mercy at equal face value as his threat to replicate Fallujah. If a senior IDF figure were to threaten Gaza with a repeat of Operation Cast Lead, while also saying that civilian life would be spared, I think I know which of those statements I’d take more seriously, and the basis upon which I’d do so. Similarly, I think that if someone like Gaddafi threatens to replicate Cast Lead in Benghazi, that seems to me to be a threat worth taking seriously, with the burden of proof actually being on those who say or imply that he’s not actually going to go through with it.

And if Gilbert is saying that on this basis we should delay (not “disarm”, as is clear from the interview) our active opposition for the few days necessary for that immediate threat to be dealt with, then that strikes me as a pretty reasonable position.

By Chris, on 05 September 2011 - 16:45 |

“The rationale here is that in opposing the no-fly zone from day one, you are rejecting a request made by the insurgents themselves, and you hence behave as if you regard the fate of Benghazi’s population as totally secondary to your sacrosanct anti-imperialism.” Achcar.

The fundamental error made by the “left”  throughout this debate is to entertain the delusion that it matters to the imperialists what their views are. It doesn’t. NATO’s actions in Libya had nothing to do with protecting rebels in Benghazi, nor would a thumbs down from Professor Achcar have given them any pause. NATO,  and the never to be forgotten axis of Saudi-Qatari-Bahraini -Jordanian allies, were no  more influence by what the “left” wanted in Libya than they were in Yemen or Bahrain.

So those who, like me, opposed the No Fly Zone from the first as a curiously transparent fig leaf for a bout of regime change, an opportunistic move to clear up the outstanding issue of getting rid of Ghaddafi, had no impact whatever on the fate of Benghazi. Nor, for that matter did the champions of No Fly Zone, or the friends of NATO intervention, have any role in saving rebel lives. It is peculiar that anyone should think otherwise: did they give a damn what you wanted any where else? In Iraq? In Afghanistan? In Somalia? Of course not and massacres there are a daily event. 

But the question of Libya is not irrelevant just because Washington is not listening to us. On the contrary, it is the latest in a long line of challenges to “the left” to disavow western imperialism. To give up those old Cold War habits of seeing NATO and other organs of US imperialism as, in a manichean world, a shield against Stalinist invasion, the big bad Red Army with gulags and Show Trials in its baggage. 

It helps to understand what constitutes the European and north American left and has done so since the seminal 1948 Italian Election campaign which, amongst many other things, led to the splitting of the Italian Socialists and the creation of a new European left which was, before anything else, anti-communist and sympathetic to the US. 

This sympathy towards imperialism is a two edged sword: affinity with NATO abroad invariably means complacency towards neo-liberalism at home.  

Socialists must learn to operate against the state, which is the class state of the imperialists, and to use every opportunity to lead people into opposition to it. The correct attitude towards the Libyan adventure was not to support Ghaddafi (that is a smear) but to demand that the resources being employed to fuel the imperial war machine be channeled into pensions, education, health services, Full Employment at home. We should not be calling for intervention in Bahrain or Libya, Syria or Palestine. After all in every place the imperialists are intervening, and in every case local democrats and nationalists would be far stronger if the “west” were not intervening. Intervention is not the solution it is the problem (and by definition any imperialist intervention has “humanitarian” motives.) 
  “Hands Off the Middle East ! Full Employment and Social Security at home.”  

We have to put an end to this runaway train which is heading towards Syria and Iran and other points after that. Too many of the “left” are pretending that they can hitch a ride and save the price of a journey, on the Juggernaut. 

By Phil Ward, on 05 September 2011 - 17:09 |

I think it is interesting that the Richard Seymour article in the Guardian of 29th July, cited by Gilbert Achcar, presents the struggle fundamentally as a “war” - i.e. between NATO and Gaddafi, and that the rebellion, if it ever was significant, as just a side issue  Events have proved this prognosis wrong and Richard Seymour should be brave enough to admit it.

In my opinion, NATO doesn’t have a lot of room for manouevre and that (sections of) the rebellion is more radical and anti-imperialist than they anticipated.  Their position is also considerably weakened by the latest revelations of “rendition” by the UK and US of “suspects” into the hands of Gaddafi’s torturers.

By Chris, on 06 September 2011 - 15:19 |

Those interested in this matter ought to read Tariq Ali’s piece at the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website. 

By Phil Ward, on 06 September 2011 - 19:30 |

I agree with most of Tariq Ali’s piece, but he seems to assume that the imperialist powers don’t understand that they have got themselves into a quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think that they do understand this and are determined to avoid more such quagmires.  This has prevented them from sending ground troops to actively fight in Libya - and indeed they have protested time and again that they have no intention of doing such a thing.  

This constrains them and means that they will be unable to exercise the kind of control over the new government that they did in Iraq and Afghanistan (should such a government be formed, that is).

By JamieSW, on 06 September 2011 - 19:47 |

For those readers who don’t catch it before it slips off the CiF front page, the Tariq Ali piece being referred to is here.

By Chris, on 07 September 2011 - 03:21 |

 ” I think that they do understand this and are determined to avoid more such quagmires. “

 I don’t think that you are right. The dynamics of the Empire are complex: the military positively welcome quagmires, as being ‘jobs for life’. The arms manufacturers are no less complacent about long term drains of treasure and men. 
 Does anyone sense that the US President has any ideas of his own? That he has any objectives distinct from those of the Generals and the Industrialists? Or that the Financiers have any particular feelings about the war? It would seem otherwise. The ruling class is on auto-pilot. 
My guess is that the long standing fear of sending in ground troops, where there is any chance of major casualties, is dissolving. And that the advantage of using these wars to mop up some of the youth unemployment is not to be wasted by allowing foreign auxiliaries to get all the good jobs. 
 The underlying politics of these adventures is that the Achilles heel of the empire lies in its callous domestic programmes, its indifference towards its own base. Its own people.  The US Empire, since 1945, has been built upon the foundation of a prosperous “Middle Class”: the people that Michael Moore talks about, the Union members with kids at  U of Wisconsin, and Health Plans and Pensions to make them very happy. And homes that increase in value year over year. That class is withering away: the USA is a much meaner, much less secure, much less inclined to go along with Congress, society than it has been since before the early ‘30s. 
 The Social Contract- symbolised in the GI  Act- has been torn up, and it is catch as catch can, again. But this time without Jim Crow which meant that 20% of the working class was not  sharing the spoils. 

What you see on the US political scene: utter disarray as marginal clowns and monsters dominate and there is no obvious moral or intellectual centre;  a scene in which Ron Paul and Denis Kucinich are the voices of moderation and the middle is occupied, across the aisles,  by AIPAC fanatics; what this signifies is that the system is in crisis.

Unemployment is high and rising and the number of those who will never work again, and have nothing to lose, is greater than ever. And the options are narrower than ever before: in the 1930s, large numbers of Americans did not need jobs, between the commons, hunting and fishing and other remnants of the subsistence economy, a little  money went a long way. Those days are over, and there is no real welfare system  to substitute and to keep people alive. Just Food Stamps, in the end. And Medicare. And both are shrinking as demand is expanding. 
 Tens of millions of Americans live in terrible insecurity and poverty. And what this has to do with Imperialism is this: the nonsense that Americans are “making sacrifices” to make the world a better place, and that the cost of defence and the cost of removing dictators, is a burden they have shouldered, at the cost of necessary investment, infrastructure renewal, or whatever, depends upon the acceptance of the imperialist propaganda to the effect that the US state and its dependencies is intent on making the world a better place, saving lives in Benghazi and bringing elections to Iraq.  

The war in Libya was a distraction and an irrelevance. But it was also another Roman Circus to distract people from  understanding what is really going on in the world, which is not oppressed by Saddams and Milosevics and Noriegas and Ghaddafis but, as one might expect, by those who exercise the power in the world, who, not coincidentally, are also those who hold power in the United States and its allied countries. The same people who are deeply concerned, of a sudden, about the welfare and rights of Libyans (although they don’t give a toss about Moroccans or Tunisians) but determined to lower living standards, smash unions and sell off schools, hospitals and pension pots at home.
 So the deal is you get to be a shareholder in the “We brought Liberty to the Mahgreb” triumph (and much good may it do you) but there won’t be a health service when you need it,  jobs when your kids need them or education for your grandchildren. 

By Chris, on 07 September 2011 - 15:06 |

There are two intersting pieces at MRzine Website today. 
 This is one excerpt:
 Michael Parenti: Expect the same thing as you saw happened in Yugoslavia and in Eastern Europe.  There will be a massive privatization taking place.  The public economy that the Gaddafi government had built over 40 years, which included public subsidies for housing, for education, for healthcare—all those things will be privatized.  The oil fields will be handed over to private companies for private profit.  Death squads will come in to clean up those who might still have a commitment to a social wage or a communal wage.  This is what we have to look forward to, and that was the real intention.  It was to overthrow the government, it wasn’t any humanitarian concern, it wasn’t any concern for democracy.

By Richard Seymour, on 07 September 2011 - 17:13 |

I’ve just seen this:

“I’m a little confused. In what sense is Gaddafi saying he plans to do to Benghazi what othes did to Fallujah and Gaza not him saying that he intends to order a massacre?”

At no point does Qadhafi say he intends to do to Benghazi what others did to Fallujah and Gaza.  Bear in mind that these speeches are being cited as justification for a claim of a planned genocide, which it would be ‘indecent’ to deny.  That has been used to disarm political opposition to NATO intervention.  Given this, a considerable freight of strategic and moral calculation is being shoved onto these ranting, incoherent, defensive, self-aggrandising speeches.  So, while I appreciate you saying you aren’t convinced by *my* reasoning, I’m afraid the burden of evidence is on those, like yourself, who cite these speeches as a trump card.  If there’s a very clear statement that Qadhafi intends to carry out a massacre, which one could reasonably infer would involve the cold-blooded killing, post-conquest, of c. 25k people (that’s not even true of most of the examples he invoked in self-justification), then one can see a basis for stacking a political judgment on that.  As it is, however, we’re being asked to infer an awful lot from a very singular and elastic reading of Qafhafi’s rants.

“Nor am I persuaded by the idea that we have to take Gaddafi’s promise to show mercy at equal face value as his threat to replicate Fallujah. If a senior IDF figure were to threaten Gaza with a repeat of Operation Cast Lead, while also saying that civilian life would be spared, I think I know which of those statements I’d take more seriously, and the basis upon which I’d do so.”

Well, the problem is that you’re citing a pair of Qadhafi speeches as conclusive evidence of a plan on his part to carry out a cold-blooded, post-conquest massacre of the innocents, tantamount to genocide.  This is a huge claim on your part.  We’re not just talking about a violent counterinsurgency with war crimes and so on.  This much could be reasonably anticipated, as it was the sort of thing that had characterised Qadhafi’s approach to the war previously, as well as his handling of previous insurgencies.  We’re talking about the execution of tens of thousands.  This is what Gilbert Achcar invoked, repeatedly.  This was the basis for decent-non-opposition to the no-fly-zone.  And in these speeches, as I say, Qadhafi does not make such a threat.  And if you’re committed to citing these speeches as if they contained a clear and unmistakeable threat to decimate tens of thousands of lives as soon as the war was concluded (not even in the context of prosecuting the war), then it’s only reasonable to point out that there is nothing in the speeches that points to this conclusion, and points that militate against it.

“Similarly, I think that if someone like Gaddafi threatens to replicate Cast Lead in Benghazi, that seems to me to be a threat worth taking seriously, with the burden of proof actually being on those who say or imply that he’s not actually going to go through with it.”

On the contrary, the burden of proof is on those who say Qadhafi was going to carry out a genocidal massacre.  In this case, specifically, Gilbert Achcar and by extension, yourself.  You (and Achcar) cite the speeches in an attempt to partially meet that burden, and I’m pointing out how inadequate that is for your purpose.

“And if Gilbert is saying that on this basis we should delay (not “disarm”, as is clear from the interview) our active opposition for the few days necessary for that immediate threat to be dealt with, then that strikes me as a pretty reasonable position.”

I gather that you’re in agreement with Gilbert Achcar, but the reality is that if you’re attacking opponents of a no-fly-zone as “indecent”, which Achcar does a few times, that is an attempt to disarm opposition. 

Phil - “I think it is interesting that the Richard Seymour article in the Guardian of 29th July, cited by Gilbert Achcar, presents the struggle fundamentally as a “war” - i.e. between NATO and Gaddafi, and that the rebellion, if it ever was significant, as just a side issue Events have proved this prognosis wrong and Richard Seymour should be brave enough to admit it.”

This is a very confused representation of the argument.  My case is very simple: the revolution was successfully hijacked by NATO in alliance with the conservative and bourgeois leadership of the opposition, and the opposition thereafter acted in effect as the ground army of a NATO offensive, wholly dependent on imperialist power in the form of aerial bombing, special forces and intelligence-led strategies.  (There’s also Blackwater’s progeny to think about.  I seem to recall a British plan to send in private security contractors.)  So, the rebellion isn’t a side issue - it’s the material which was appropriated by imperialism, and with which it worked to achieve the end it sought: that is, a version of the regime they were previously entrusting young Saif to deliver over the longer run.

However, when you say that the prognosis (of the hijacking and thus throttling of the revolution) has been proven wrong “by events”, I’d like to know what events you are thinking of here.  The whole war was conducted by small armies.  Significant areas of Misrata changed hands with the involvement of just a few hundred troops.  The total rebel army consisted of only 1000 trained soldiers, plus special forces, plus intelligence, etc., a few tens of thousands of volunteer fighters.  And it was working under the direction of NATO.  This was far from the mass uprising that we saw in February: the masses were overwhelmingly excluded from the process, just as they are now excluded from the negotiations producing the new regime.  It strikes me that there’s an awful lot of wishful thinking on the Left about the ‘fluidity’ of the situation in Libya.  But in reality, the chief form of fluidity consists of internecine rivalry over political fiefdoms, with very little popular content in extant divisions.  And absolutely nothing that has happened has revived the defunct idea that a revolutionary process is underway.  Quite the contrary.  The new state is already acting efficiently as a neoliberal state, rewarding its ‘humanitarian’ benefactors with oil access.  The political leadership currently empowered consists largely of former regime elements, some of whom were carrying through privatization initiatives before the uprising, and business, military and academic elites who have little in common with the eastern working classes that drove the initial rebellion.  So, where is the revolutionary turmoil that disproves the thesis that the revolution was successfully hijacked?

By mutex7, on 10 September 2011 - 21:42 |

When you contrast the arguments of Chris and Richard Seymour with that of Professor Achcar I don’t think there is any contest.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that, due to the manifestly disingenuous nature of Professor Achcar’s positions,  they deserve to be met with abject disdain and derision by any objective reader.  As Chris stated, it is not the puppet dictators like the ” Saddams and Milosevics and Noriegas and Ghaddafis” but their puppet masters we should focus on because without the acquiescence of the imperial powers these guys wouldn’t last months let alone all these decades.  It isn’t currently popular to say but this was the message of Osama bin Laden.  No dictator who doesn’t have the support of his people can stay in power without outside support.  This is where the argument for NATO’s intervention (or the laughable ‘abstention’ that Professor Achcar speaks of) falls apart.  The people of the these corrupt regimes don’t need the support of the imperial powers…they just need them to STOP supporting the corrupt regimes!  Without the money, investment, weapons and, most of all, legitimacy provided to these dictators from the likes of the vaunted members of the UN’s security council these regimes would implode due their own corruption and self-evident illegitimacy.  Further, once you sign on to the premise of ‘humanitarian wars’ you sign a compact with the devil whether you intend to or not.  This idea that you can benefit from the forces of evil and not be tainted by it is ridiculous.  Even if you buy into Professor Achcar’s nonsensical idea that you don’t have to actually condone the actions of NATO, but just temporarily look away, you have given your tacit support.  It is a distinction without a difference.  We all know what it means for the camel to get its nose under the tent.

By Phil Ward, on 11 September 2011 - 16:36 |

This is the position of Alex Callinicos on Benghazi (Socialist Worker 2245, April 2nd 2011):

“The sad fact is that massacres are a chronic feature of capitalism. The revolutionary left is, alas, too weak to stop them.”

The importance of this statement is that he doesn’t say a massacre would not have happened, as most other critics of Gilbert Achcar do.  He, like the people on the ground, took Ghaddafi’s words at face value (and understood his dictatorship’s brutal record).  However, all critics of Achcar are avoiding the issue of what actually to do in the real, concrete circumstances, not in some abstract, pure scenario.  Callinicos acknowledges that there are times when “revolutionaries have sometimes been prepared to take help from imperialist powers”.  For some reason, despite acknowledging the likelihood of a massacre, he says that the Libyan rebels should not have called for such help.

I don’t agree that the revolution has been successfully high-jacked by NATO.  Of course, they are trying to do that, but even now, even with NATO having got far more militarily involved thanwas necessary to prevent Ghaddafi crushing the revolution, and having militarised the struggle, making it difficult for the masses to participate, they are not in control of the anti Ghaddafi forces.  If they were, then there would be nothing for it but to support Ghaddafi’s “anti-imperialist” struggle against their neo-colonial project.

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