Popular Rebellion & Imperialist Designs

by Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar is a Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  He is the author of a number of books on global politics, imperialism and the Middle East, most recently The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.  He spoke to Tom Mills about the rebellion in Libya and the motives behind NATO’s intervention.

At the onset of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya, the main justification for it was that Gaddafi’s forces would massacre the resistance and civilians living in the places taken by the resistance, especially Benghazi. What has been learned since then about how likely such a scenario was?

In situations of urgency, there is no better judge than the people directly concerned, and there was unanimity on that score.  Did you ever hear of any significant group in Benghazi opposed to the request of a No-Fly zone made to the UN and advocating another way to prevent Gaddafi’s troops from taking the city?  We all saw the immense popular relief that was expressed in the massive outburst of joy in Benghazi when the UN resolution was passed.  Journalists and reporters covering the events on the ground agreed likewise on the fact that Gaddafi’s forces would have had no difficulty seizing the city.  The remnants of the tanks and vehicles that were concentrated on Benghazi’s outskirts and were destroyed by the French air force are still there for everyone to see, I have been told.  On top of that, we have seen how long Gaddafi’s well-armed, well-trained and well-paid forces were able to carry on offensive after offensive, despite several months of NATO strikes, and how difficult and costly in human lives it has been for the rebellion, first to secure Misrata, which is much smaller than Benghazi, and then to break the deadlock on the Western front before finally entering Tripoli.  Anyone who from far away disputes the fact that Benghazi would have been crushed is just lacking decency in my view.  Telling a besieged people from the safety of a Western city that they are cowards – because that’s what disputing their claim that they were facing a massacre amounts to – is just indecent.

That’s about the balance of forces.  What about the likelihood that if Benghazi had fallen there would have been a massacre?  Isn’t that still a matter of speculation?

No, not at all.  Let me first remind you that the repression that Gaddafi unleashed in February, from the very beginning of the Libyan uprising, was much greater than anything else we have seen since then.  Take even the case of Syria: today, several months after the protest movement started in March, it is estimated that the number of people killed in Syria has reached 2,200.  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 that figure and reaches 10,000.  The use by Gaddafi of all sorts of weapons, including his air force, was much more extensive and intensive than anything we have seen until now in other Arab countries.

Furthermore, Gaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam, did not hide their intentions in the least.  They said from the start that they were going to be merciless and that they will crush the rebellion like rats and cockroaches and other nice ways of describing masses of protesters from among their own people.  We know what kind of regimes have used such terms about their enemies in the 20th century, and what mass slaughters and genocides they committed. In mid-March, there had already been massive killings in several Libyan cities. Given that Benghazi had been the heart of the rebellion from the start and became a liberated city, there is hardly any doubt that had Gaddafi forces been able to seize the city a huge massacre would have ensued.

I always give the example of the Syrian regime because it shares some features with the one in Libya, even though it is to some degree less bloody and murderous.  In 1982 when Hafez al-Assad crushed the city of Hama, which was a stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood in rebellion against him, the estimates of the number of people killed ranged from 10,000 to 40,000, with the most commonly quoted figure being 25,000 – this in a city which in 1982 had only one third of the population of Benghazi today.  So we know what we are dealing with here and we can take other examples from history.  When Adolphe Thiers’s forces took back Paris at the time of the Commune in 1871, with much less lethal weaponry they killed and executed 25,000 persons.  This is the kind of massacre that Benghazi was facing, and that is why I said under such circumstances – when the city’s population and the rebellion requested, even implored the UN to provide them with air cover, and in the absence of any alternative – that it was neither acceptable nor decent from the comfort of London or New York to say, ‘No to the no-fly zone’.  Those on the left who did so were in my view reacting out of knee-jerk anti-imperialism, showing little care for the people concerned on the ground.  That’s not my understanding of what it means to be on the left.

That said, I never held that we on the left, me included, had to support NATO’s intervention in Libya, or even support the UN resolution.  I criticised that resolution, and denounced from day one the intervention’s real motive and the fact that it smacks of oil.  But I said at the same time that we couldn’t oppose it from the start because of the reasons I’ve just explained.  Once the danger threatening Benghazi was over – and that was a matter of a few days, one week or ten days, by which time Gaddafi’s air force was crushed beyond repair – it became possible and even necessary to oppose the continuation of the bombing, which was clearly going beyond its initial and official mission of protection.  Here again, in line with my conception of what the left is – not primarily anti-imperialism of the knee-jerk kind, but being most of all concerned with people’s liberation from oppression – I called for the left to campaign against the continuation of the bombing, provided that it campaigns at the same time for the delivery of weapons to the rebels.  The rebels themselves requested arms very early on, and kept on requesting and increasingly so over the weeks and months.

I remained consistent in my position, which was that we should not campaign against the intervention as long as there really was a need to prevent a massacre, but we must monitor the situation closely nonetheless, and denounce anything that goes beyond that initial purpose.  I said that from day one in my first interview published on ZNet on 19 March, the one which provoked a deluge of discussion.  And indeed, once that initial purpose was fulfilled, I advocated a campaign on two inseparable demands: ‘Stop the bombing! Deliver arms to the insurgents!’

So moving on to NATO itself, given its humanitarian justification for the mission, it is important to know what the humanitarian impacts of NATO’s actions have been.  How much is known about the deaths, civilian and otherwise, caused by NATO, as well as other impacts NATO has had on the well-being of Libyans?

The humanitarian pretext is, of course, purely hypocritical. No one should believe for one second that NATO is motivated by humanitarian feelings. We’ve heard the humanitarian discourse so many times over the last two decades and we know exactly what it is about.  Whether in Iraq or Kosovo or even Afghanistan, it has been repeatedly used as a pretext and it is completely worn out.  I said from the very start that the Western powers’ intervention smacks of oil.

There was an indirect humanitarian concern however, as I tried to explain, in that had the massacre taken place Western governments would have been obliged to do what they are doing now for Syria.  If you are following the news, they have now decided to enforce oil sanctions against Syria.  Had a massacre occurred in Benghazi they would have had to do the same, all the more that the scale of the massacre would have been much larger than what has occurred so far in Syria.  This would have meant imposing an oil embargo on Libya, a measure which under the conditions of the oil market and the world economy would have been harmful for them.  So instead of having to react after a massacre and to bear the blame for having let it happen, they preferred to intervene.  That decision was therefore closely related to the fact that Libya is a major oil-producing country and that embargoing it would have a real implication on the world economy (unlike in the case of Syria).

Now even though they didn’t go there out of humanitarian feelings, since they invoked this humanitarian pretension they had to take care – as much as they could, striking from thousands of feet – to minimise casualties.  In the post-Vietnam wars, since Iraq 1991, we have seen that they have been trying to minimise civilian casualties using their new technologies.  This is not because imperialists have suddenly turned into humanitarians but because they know that Western populations do have humanitarian feelings and cannot morally accept seeing their governments killing civilians on a massive scale.  That was a key motivation for the huge anti-war movement at the time of Vietnam.  So they assimilated the lessons of the Vietnam War.  Anyone familiar with the evolution of Western military doctrines knows that.  So, to be sure, they tried to minimise civilian casualties in Libya.  The number of air sorties, and even more so the number of air strikes, has been anyhow of a lower intensity compared to the air campaigns in the Iraq, Afghanistan or Kosovo wars.  They even tried harder than average to minimise civilian casualties because they were running this campaign under UN cover and purportedly for the protection of civilians.  This is why the number of civilian casualties resulting from NATO’s operation, through what the military cynically call ‘collateral damage’, has been kept relatively low.

One must compare the civilian casualties that resulted from NATO strikes with the potential civilian casualties that they prevented through limiting the firepower of Gaddafi’s forces towards rebel-held populated areas.  There is no question in my mind that, even after all these months of NATO bombing, civilian casualties resulting from it remain much less than what they would have been had Benghazi been occupied by Gaddafi’s troops and the insurrection subdued in the whole country.  That said, the fact that NATO decided to continue its bombing over a long period, the fact that they tried to hijack the Libyan insurrection and control it by controlling the pace of events while refusing to give the Libyans the means to counter effectively by themselves Gaddafi’s forces’ superior firepower, the fact that NATO imposed itself as a full participant in the war since its initial phase, all this of course increased the number of civilians killed by NATO bombing.  Now if the number of civilians killed by NATO were the only consideration for opposing its continued intervention, anyone could tell me since I am advocating the delivery of weapons to the insurgents as an alternative, that had the civil war carried on longer and with heavier weapons in the insurgents’ hands, it might have led to more civilians killed.  That’s quite possible indeed, but the issue here is clearly a matter of speculation, not certainty.  What is most important is to be aware of NATO’s designs to impose its will on the Libyan people through its intervention, and to uphold the people’s right to self-determination.  It is the Libyans themselves who have consistently and insistently requested weapons from the beginning in order to fight their own war.

You suggested that the original motive was essentially to keep the flow of oil maintained.  But then, once the operation was underway, what is now the goal of NATO’s operation and how much influence are France, Britain and the US likely to have now on the future shape of Libya?

I didn’t say that it was to keep the flow of oil.  I raised that issue only in the negative form.  They wanted to avoid being confronted with the obligation to impose oil sanctions on Libya like those they have now placed on Syria.  Otherwise, of course, had they let Gaddafi carry out the massacre, he would have been happy to keep selling them oil.  He concluded oil deals with all Western countries, Italy especially, but also Germany, Britain, Spain, etc.  So we are not dealing with a situation where the regime is anti-Western.  Western sanctions against Gaddafi were lifted in 2004, after he gave George Bush and Tony Blair the gift of proclaiming that he was so impressed by them that he decided to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction.  They were very happy with that because they thought it gave some credence to the WMD pretext of their invasion of Iraq at a time when they were clearly failing to produce any evidence of WMD there.  Gaddafi has been visited in his tent since then by most Western leaders, as well as by hawks and neocons like Richard Perle, Bernard Lewis, Francis Fukuyama, Third-Way theorist Anthony Giddens, etc.  They all paid him a visit and have been generously rewarded for that.  So there was definitely no Western impulse for regime change in Libya in the years before 2011.

When the Arab uprising started, and after the successes of the masses in Tunisia and Egypt in toppling their pro-Western dictators, Western powers felt obliged to pretend that they stood on the side of the mass movement for democracy.  At the beginning of the protests in Tunisia, the French government supported Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a fact that turned into a big embarrassment in domestic politics.  Nicolas Sarkozy needed to distance himself from this shameful attitude.  He thus tried to outbid everyone in support for the Libyan revolution and it was all the more easy for him because France was not among the countries that maintained privileged ties with Gaddafi’s Libya.  Washington remained circumspect when the ‘Arab Spring’ started, and then felt it needed to come out in support of democracy.  It did so in Egypt even though the dictator there was one of Washington’s closest allies.  Gaddafi was certainly not dearer to Washington and London and Western leaders in general, with the exception of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, than Mubarak was.  So when Gaddafi went into his frenzy of repression and killing of those whom he called rats and insects, Western leaders could not turn a blind eye to that, especially given that they faced direct calls for help and intervention from the people in Benghazi who also confronted the Arab regimes with the same demands, leading the Arab League to call for the no-fly zone before the UN resolution.

A situation built up in which it became compelling for Western powers to intervene for all the reasons I have described, oil being of course central to them.  Now once they started their intervention and Gaddafi proved more stubborn and his regime more resilient than expected, they needed to carry on their bombing until the regime fell or bowed.  Otherwise they would lose face; lose their ‘credibility’ as they like to say.  Their single concern then became how to steer the war in a way that would lead to the best-case scenario in their mind.  What is this best-case scenario?  Given Gaddafi’s stubbornness, they needed him to clear the scene.  But above all they want a stable government in Libya, able to continue doing business as usual with Western companies and governments.  And that is why NATO’s main concern has been to make sure that what they call the ‘Iraq example’ is not repeated.  They refer to what is considered in Western capitals as the fatal mistake of dismantling the Baathist state that the Bush administration made when it invaded Iraq.  All the Baathist state’s key structures, including the army, the repressive apparatus, the ruling party – all of that was disbanded.  As the occupation of Iraq turned into a disaster for the US and the UK, they drew the conclusion that what they needed to do in Libya is to secure a transition which would keep the bulk of the regime’s institutions in place. 

That’s essentially why they have been waging this campaign of relatively low intensity, while refusing to deliver weapons to the insurgents and conducting intensive negotiations with the Gaddafi regime.  News of direct and indirect negotiations between Western governments and members of Gaddafi’s entourage, like his son Saif al-Islam, has leaked repeatedly to the world press.  They wanted to get a deal with the regime’s men and then exert pressure on the rebellion to accept it.  Contacts took place also between the Transitional National Council and the Gaddafi regime under NATO pressure, but all these negotiations led nowhere. The main stumbling block was Gaddafi himself.  There was no way the rebellion could accept him to remain nominally and officially the head of the Libyan state and he refused to step down from power.  Nevertheless, NATO kept its combination of bombing and negotiations, hoping that once there was a reversal in the military situation Gaddafi’s entourage would see that things are getting dangerous for them and would push Gaddafi aside and cut a deal with NATO, which would then impose it on the rebellion.

The idea for NATO was basically to sponsor a deal between the leading groups in the Gaddafi regime and the rebellion with NATO acting as the umpire, the arbiter of the situation.  London played a key role in designing such a blueprint.  A Financial Times editorial was saying only a few days before the liberation of Tripoli that the rebels should not launch an assault on the city.  The pretext given was that if they did there would be a bloodbath and thus it would be preferable that they only exert pressure on the regime in order to remove Gaddafi.  The Economist had earlier said the same.  These are the key mouthpieces of the British ruling class.

That’s what NATO was contemplating.  At the moment, however, it looks like this scenario is doomed because of the unexpected sudden collapse of the structures of the regime in Tripoli.  It looks like it was only wishful thinking for NATO to believe that they could keep the basic repressive structures of a regime which has been shaped over decades as the private business and private militia of the ruling family.  It can’t work that way in a situation where the people are being armed, with a majority of the armed rebels being civilians turned fighters for the occasion.  This is a real popular revolution, a real popular rebellion.  A lot of the rebels would hardly accept the continuation of the structures of Gaddafi’s regime.

Some people have suggested that the rebels themselves have been usurped by NATO but what you are saying is that the real plan was to keep the regime and use the rebellion to pressure Gaddafi to go.  So are you saying that NATO failed in that respect and how do the rebels fit into this picture?  It has been pointed out that there are former members of the regime leading the rebellion.

Of course there are former members of the regime among the people who are leading the rebellion.  After forty years of a totalitarian regime, what do you expect?  Are you surprised that there are people who held positions within the state, within the regime, who had little other choices to make their living in a country where the state is omnipresent, but who resent the dictatorship and the madness of the dictator?  We know from interviews with people who have been close collaborators of Gaddafi that many were appalled by his farcical behaviour.  Anyone with a minimum of intelligence would resent this guy.  That is why, except for unconditional admirers of the leader and people who are benefiting from his largesse, so many individuals switched from regime ranks to opposition ranks as soon as the movement began.

If this were any reason to hold a negative attitude towards the Libyan insurrection, then what can one say about Egypt?  There the army was seen as supportive of the protests in the sense that it refused to repress them and finally parted ways with Mubarak.  What do you have now in Egypt?  It is essentially the continuation of the same regime.  This doesn’t mean though that what happened in Egypt was not important.  It was a very important upheaval, but the revolutionary process is still ongoing and political struggles are raging.  Likewise in Libya the downfall of Gaddafi won’t be the end of the story.  The fight will continue – hopefully political rather than military.  One of the main issues at stake will of course be the nature of the new state and the degree to which there should be a radical break with the previous institutions.

The Transitional National Council circles include a few champions of neoliberal reforms – more in the executive committee, i.e. the cabinet, than in the TNC itself.  Among those who came back from exile, there is Khalifa Haftar, a CIA asset.  Such people are there.  But as far as we know, they carry little weight in the rebellion and are actually resented and ostracised by a lot of the rebels.  When the TNC makes big proclamations of gratitude towards NATO, we know from many reports that among the rebels there is no real gratitude towards it, there is rather a sense of frustration over the way in which NATO has dealt with the situation.

Many Libyans believe that in some way they hired NATO’s services like Gaddafi hired mercenaries.  They called for help and got it from the Western powers that are looking forward to being remunerated for that, and they assure them that they will get rewarded.  They will tell you, ‘We will carry on making deals with them as Gaddafi’s regime was doing anyway.’  Believing this is an illusion of course.  But the belief that NATO can control the situation from afar and without boots on the ground is also an illusion.  Many people in NATO circles are aware of that and have therefore designed plans for sending troops on the ground. 

For a number of reasons, political, financial and military, though, it would be very difficult for NATO to send Western troops.  The main reason is that the rebels don’t want foreign troops on Libyan soil and this has been their position from day one when they requested help.  They said, ‘We want a no-fly zone, but we don’t want troops on the ground.’  The point is that, without such troops, NATO will find itself with little leverage once Gaddafi is out of the picture.  This is because the leverage they have today is mostly due to their calculated indispensability to the rebellion in the war against Gaddafi’s forces.  But once this stage is over that leverage will shrink, and that is why they are designing scenarios for a ground intervention under a UN cover of forces from some Arab and maybe some African states, closely linked to Western powers, plus Turkey, a NATO member.  Turkey is today very much at the forefront of NATO’s Libyan operation and it is looking forward to playing a major role in the country and obtaining important economic benefits.

Now even if we suppose that the TNC would accept such a scenario of foreign troops deployments (a hypothesis that is highly unlikely at the present stage, short of a chaotic deterioration of conditions in their country), they would have a hard time selling it to the rebellion, to the masses of people who fought for freedom and self-determination.  In the Libyan situation there is a wide gap between NATO’s blueprint and what we will see on the ground.  It won’t be the first time that we have seen such a discrepancy between imperialist designs and the reality.  Think of Afghanistan, think of Iraq.  It will be the case in Libya as well; all the more so in the absence of Western troops on the ground and in the presence of a genuine popular uprising.

Tom Mills is a freelance investigative researcher based in London, a PhD candidate at the University of Strathclyde and a co-editor of the New Left Project.

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First published: 26 August, 2011

Category: Foreign policy, International, Terror/War

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62 Comments on "Popular Rebellion & Imperialist Designs"

By Michael Krog, on 26 August 2011 - 20:14 |

I find much of the, very long and detailed replies to fairly short and limited questions, rather odd. They appear strangely ‘sectarian.’ It’s as if one is trying to argue that even though the official justification for NATO’s attack on Libya, or intervention, is false, hypocritical, and blatantly imperialist, the result, the overthrow of a tyrant by a popular movement, is the main thing, and therefore, we can ignore that once again the UK, the US, and NATO, have launched another illegal, agressive, war, for the purposes of removing another Arab leader sitting on vast reserves of oil and gas. How convinient that our hated tyrants are so ‘unpopular’ and so rich in resources, funny that, isn’t it?

I fail to see the importance of the distinction between our massive use of airpower in the conflict in Libya and an invasion, or boots on the ground. The use of helicopter gunships and bombers is surely an invasion of Libyan airspace, no?

And we now know that UK special forces and mercenaries, or should we call them ‘advisors’ have been active on the ground in Libya for months, as have special forces from the tyranical Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.

But none of this seems to matter, the propaganda, the distortions, the lies, the exaggerations, the hypocracy, the ghastly rhetoric about our leaders’ love of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, as long as the goal, the result is ‘good’, that is, toppling Gaddafi. This is why I find the interview so sectarian. It reminds me of the ghastly debates one had with the braindead left in my student days. The end, for them, always seemed to justify the means, if the means meant the empowerment of the ‘masses.’

Personally I think the concrete evidence that what’s happening in Linbya can be defined as a ‘popular revolution’ is pretty thin. Arguably what we are seeing is more akin to a coup by one section of the old ruling elite, supported by the monarchs of the Gulf, and the world’s biggest military machine, opening Libya up like a can of tuna. I wonder though, will it turn into yet another can of worms for the west, and a what massive cost to the Libyan people?

By Michael Krog, on 26 August 2011 - 20:24 |

I suppose what I’m really getting at is, are we seeing the evolution of a new form of fascism, which even people who regard themselves on the ‘left’ can support? Now, that is quite an alligation, yet that is what I think is happening, the return of fascism but without the overt militarism in the public sphere, which, clearly, would be a giveaway, no?

By Damien, on 27 August 2011 - 03:27 |

All very ‘nuanced’ and ‘sophisticated’,but like everyone who has supported(either openly or ‘critically’)NATO intervention,Achcar’s arguments are all based on the premise that there would have been a massacre in Benghazi.If you argue against this and suggest there were other ways of supporting the rebellion,rather than inviting imperialism,you are essentially accused of not caring about the people in the city.Poppycock.

I am dumbfounded by his suggestion that the imperialists take note of ‘public opinion’ and actively try to reduce casualties.Is he an expert in the Middle East who has completely forgotten FALLUJAH?

By David, on 27 August 2011 - 06:44 |

Sadly, there will always be a handful on the left who, when faced with a detailed, informed piece of analysis that reaches conclusions they don’t accept, would rather just denounce it than engage with the arguments in a productively critical way.

Michael Krog - if we’re going to use a word like sectarian then I would use it to describe your remarks. There is nothing sectarian about Gilbert articulating a reasoned argument based on evidence, simply because you don’t like his conclusions. If you actually find detailed argument suspcious then you’ve come to the wrong website. In any case, your response is such a distorted caricature of what Gilbert said - often an outright misrepresentation - that I’m not convinced you even read the piece with any degree of seriousness.

Damien - Achcar’s arguments are not “based on the premise that there would have been a massacre in Benghazi”. Rather, he articulates an evidence-based argument that this would have happened. He doesn’t assume it, as you can see from reading the article.

What you need to do is counter his argument with your own, also based on evidence. That would be interesting for our readers. Rhetoric alone carries no value.

Also, I struggle to see why anyone on the left would be “dumbfounded” by the idea that political pressure, got up by ordinary people organising and campaigning against power, might have an effect on power. I agree with Gilbert’s account. If the Iraq war had happened in the 60s and 70s, the Sunni triangle would just have been carpet-bombed. Power will commit as much evil as it can get away with in pursuit of its goals. And that’s still a lot, but its a lot less than it was thanks to the political activism of anti-war campaigners and the cumulative effects of their effors over decades.

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 12:00 |

This is almost droll. I comment on my impression of something that reminds me of ‘student-style’ sectarianism, and unsurprisingly and characteristically, am tagged with the sectarian label myself. Gosh, it’s just like being back in the student refectory once more, those we the days.

But my major problem with Gilbert is his ‘evidence’, the assumptions, his premises, NOT so much his conclusions, which naturally and logically follow.

What he, and evidenctly you call ‘evidence’, isn’t anything of the sort. The attack on Libya by NATO and the reactionary Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, was based on a sophisticated propaganda offensive remarkably similar to the methods used to justify the attack on Iraq. In Iraq we had non-existant Weapons of Mass Destruction, in Libya’s case hysterical war-propaganda about mass rapes, massacres, bombing of civilians, cluster bombs, African mercenary armies, genocide, and a plan to slaughter tens of thousands of people in Benghazi. Interestingly, none of these stories, which stem exclusively from those nations involved in the plan to topple Gaddafi’s regime, and the rebels, people who, surely, cannot be considered impartial or neutral, none of these stories have been independently verified, on the contrary.

The is no actual ‘evidence’ that Gaddafi was planing a campaign of ‘genocide’ in Benghazi, and therefore, something had to be done. Why one earth would Gaddafi resort to genocide in Benghazi? That would be like ‘asking’ NATO to attack and topple his regime. A man who has survived for over forty years in the Middle East, isn’t that naive or stupid, but of course if he’s a pantomime madman, a new Hitler, then he’d fall into such a trap with his eyes open, poor fool.

If Gilbert’s premises are false, and, clearly, there was no ‘genocide’ in Benghazi, then regardless of the quality, or detail of his analysis, or the length, then the conclusion are wrong, or at least flawed.

I’m rather surprised that my comment has irritated you so much. I thought my alternative ‘analysis’ that this events in Libya aren’t really a people’s revolution, but can be seen as a factional, or even sectarian (sorry) coup by one group in the regime, backed by the Gulf States and an energy challenged NATO, fit the facts rather well.

Gilbert makes assumptions about what might have happened in the future to Benghazi, which surely, from a purely scientific perspective, is a bit risky, phrophecy I mean, so one should be careful and scpetical about looking into a crystal ball supplied by NATO.

That our politicians and media are mostly full of professional liars who make a living from propaganda, especially today, where imperialism is on the march again, and we are on a democratic crusade for ‘freedom’, or a mad, last, gasp, grab, for what’s left of the world’s oil… surely, after we were led up the garden path over Iraq, the only sensible stance is sceptism about our latest humanitarian war, its motivation,methods, and goals?

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 12:32 |

Well, spurned on by your criticism that I’d obviously missed something important, I read it again. It’s actually worse the second time around. I had missed things, none of which make it better, on the contrary.

True, it is closely argued and detailed, but rather superficial and based on a whole raft of questionable and very emotionally charged premisses, which don’t stand up to scrutiny, and are not based on ‘evidence’ at all, rather on propaganda, distortions, and exaggerations, which makes one sceptical of the conclusions. But I’m repeating myself here, sorry.

Bringing up the massacres following the Paris Commune in 1871, when tens of thousands were slaughtered, and implying, or stating, that Gaddafi was planning, or capable of the same is a bit of a stretch and slightly grotesque in my opinion. But then, and this is me looking back on history, the history of war-propaganda, before all wars, there’s normally a propaganda offensive of massive proportions designed specifically to justify the ‘moral’ character of the war. That Gilbert should swallow this stuff, and after Iraq, is extraordinary.

I’m not actually a supporter of Gaddafi or his regime, I’m actually more concerned about the quality of our democracy and the integrity of our politicians. If they can repeatedly get away with launching illegal wars of aggression against weak, but resource rich states, based on lies and propaganda, the more transparently absurd the better, where are we going as a democracy? Can one even have a democracy when are leading politicians are little more than warcriminals? By all means put the demon Gaddafi on trial for his crimes, but shouldn’t Cameron, Sarkozy, and Obama be put in the dock with him?

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 12:43 |

I can also appreciate Damien’s point about public opnion. The western powers are accutely aware of public opinion, which is why they invest so much time and resources on propaganda to manipulate it. In a way this shows how nervous they are that if the ‘truth’ about their motives was revealed, sorry if that sounds a bit dramatic, people would react very negatively indeed.

Public opinion matters and people do have a degree of influence, but not much, and increasingly, less and less, as we move closer to a new type of ‘fascism’ in the UK. We’re already a de facto one-party state, so we’re well on the way. Democracy with one party, what a lot of ‘choice’ we have!

Gilbert repeatedly calls the conflict in Libya a popular uprising by the masses, or words to that effect. I think this is romantic, leftwing, claptrap. But is that an argument, or an opinion, and based on what evidence exactly? Well, given that Gilbert’s argment’s are based on the evidence provided by the parties involved in the revolt to topple Gaddafi, and nothing more, I think I pass too.

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 13:49 |

A final, minor point, then I’m off, as, I fear, I may have outstayed my ‘welcome’, as I’ve been told I’ve come to the wrong website, isn’t there a fundamental contradiction in Gilbert’s anysis? Let me explain. Does anyone truly believe the ‘popular revolution by the masses’‘, or as I prefer, the coup, would have succeeded without massive foreign support?

I find the use of the term ‘evidence’ somewhat ironic, or perhaps that should be… grotesque in the contect of what’s happening in Libya, but nevermind; the ‘evidence’ is clear, without the support of NATO acting as the rebels airforce and special forces on the ground, mercenaries and from the gulf states, the ‘revolution’ would not have succeeded. There was no sign whatsoever that the Gaddafi regime’s forces would have been defeated anytime soon, on the contrary. Therefore, if the ‘revolution’ was a virtual impossibility without NATO, can one really, honestly call it a popular revolution? How does a few thousand rebels backed by the might of NATO become a revolution by the masses?

By David, on 27 August 2011 - 14:41 |

Michael Krog

There is nothing - zero - in Gilbert’s remarks to suggest that he is relying on NATO propaganda to make his judgements. You’ve had plenty of space to engage with the specifics of what he actually said, and its notable that you’ve failed to do so, preferring simply to make a string of assertions to the contrary. That doesn’t add much value, I’m afraid.

Actually, we would welcome critical contributions that challenged the specific points that Gilbert made. There is a powerful alternative argument out there, made by people like Seumas Milne. We want to host quality debates around these issues. That’s the purpose of NLP, and that’s why I find your remarks unhelpful.

By the way, what’s droll, or more accurately ironic, is that the sectarian charge was raised by you in the first instance to denounce a fellow left-winger as a dupe of Western propaganda, which denunciation was supported by many words, much rhetoric, but vanishingly little substance. Again, that doesn’t add value to the discussion, and nor do the equally ironic and fatuous references to “student politics”.

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 20:43 |

David, I think you are wrong, and Gilbert’s wrong in his analysis of the conflict in Libya, extemely wrong.

As the only sources for the propaganda justifying to attack on Libya come from those involved in the civil war, that is the belligerents themselves, clearly Gilbert is relying on NATO propaganda to make his judgements about the nature of the conflict in Libya. There is, or maybe I’m wrong, no independent, neutral sources, that support NATO’s claims about ‘genocide’ in Libya, on the contrary.

As to the use of rhetoric, well, that all depends what you mean by rhetoric. If one reads Gilbert’s piece carefully it’s full of emotive and rhetorical passages relating to Gaddafi’s ‘frenzy’, or is that purely scientific language, devoid of rhetoric? I could go on examining his use of language, there are numerous examples, but why bother?

The problem with Gilbert’s specific points is that they are based on a foundation of assumptions that are highly problematic and questionable, the main one being ‘evidence’ that ‘genocide’ was under way, or being perpared in Libya, everything else flows from that one, central, assumption. But if that is pure propaganda then the rest is, I would contend, irrelevant and a diversion.

It’s like you want me to play by a set of rules in a game which you control, which is perfectly acceptable, but I’m questioning the rules and the game, which I think are rigged in favour of certain set of conclusions, that this new war is morally right and there is a popular revolution by the masses taking place in Libya. Is that really true? How much of a ‘revolution’ has to be won by the massive intervention of foreign military force before it ceases to be a ‘people’s revolution’ at all, and is nothing more than another imperialist takeover of an oil-rich Arab country?

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 20:58 |

Also, I think it’s telling and unfair, that you are attempting to give the impression that my scepticism about this latest war, well, it more than scepticism, is somehow strange. In my professional capacity I travel very widly overseas. In the last few months I’ve been to Russia, China, South Africa, Venezuela, and I’ve got several friends in India. My impression was that my criticisms of the war and the propaganda offensive were widly held, and virtually nobody I met believed a single word coming out of the mouths of western leaders, their carefully controlled media, their journalists, or their stooges in the Gulf who have ‘history’ with the Gaddafi regime.

One can of course dismiss most of the rest of the world, ignore their attitudes, but one cannot deny the existance of their ‘scepticism’ of western motives in Libya and the results of the intervention, which most people I talked to thought would result in Gaddafi’s dictatorship being replaced by a pro-western dictatorship, which is the kind we prefer; but a successful socialist revolution by the masses? No way is that going to be allowed. Replacing a rightwing, nationalist, like Gaddafi, with socialism? I don’t think so.

By Michael Krog, on 27 August 2011 - 21:07 |

And finally, really, I do feel rather like a naughty boy whose pushed his way into a private party where there are a number of hidden assumptions about what’s considered polite and genteel behaviour, I’m sorry about that.

The reason I brought up my impression of ‘sectarianism’ was that clearly, (look at the rhetoric Gilbert uses himself) he has a great deal of antipathy towards Gaddafi’s regime and the man himself, which is OK with me, I’m not a fan of Gaddafi either; however, I think Gilbert’s distaste for Gaddafi colours and blinds him to what’s really happening in Libya, rather like what Juan Cole has been writing which is also highly problematic and I would contend ‘sectarian’ rather than science.

By Bàtjushka, on 27 August 2011 - 22:52 |

Mr Achcar says:

“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 that figure and reaches 10,000. The use by Gaddafi of all sorts of weapons, including his air force, was much more extensive and intensive than anything we have seen until now in other Arab countries.”

This is western propaganda, lies to justify the war. Is there any proof of it?
I quote from an article by John Pilger:

“The Nato attack on Libya, with the UN Security Council assigned to mandate a bogus “no fly zone” to “protect civilians”, is strikingly similar to the final destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999. There was no UN cover for the bombing of Serbia and the “rescue” of Kosovo, yet the propaganda echoes today. Like Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Gaddafi is a “new Hitler”, plotting “genocide” against his people. There is no evidence of this, as there was no genocide in Kosovo.”

By Chris, on 28 August 2011 - 03:45 |

  You simply cannot side with NATO and disassociate yourself from the “company you are keeping.” 
If you favour the NATO backed insurrection, you are marching side by side with the Saud family, the butchers of Bahrain, the Gulf emirs, Jordan, Hariri in Lebanon, the Zionists and the US-UK-France triumvirate. 
  Where else has NATO or the Qatari Royal family gone out on a limb to protect “rebels” against dictatorship? Was it in Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Gaza? Was it in Egypt or Tunisia?  Is it being suggested that Ghadaffi’s regime was particularly bloody, unusually hard on dissidents? Compared to Algeria or Morocco for example? 

 I suggest that this is simply a conjunction of opportunists, a wide and varied band of people who did not like the Libyan regime and joined together, without much thought of the consequences, to applaud military action being taken, for imperialist raisons d’etat, by NATO.

 Well, Juan Cole, David et al, here is your victory, this is now your Libya, made possible by your efforts, amongst others. We shall watch to see how you have improved matters. (You might begin, if you have any influence in NATO,  by asking your friends to stop executing black people on the grounds that they are mercenaries.)

By Damien, on 28 August 2011 - 04:23 |

I didn’t realise that in order to post a short comment on articles published on this website we had to have read all of the rules and regulations made up by the collective of academics who run it. Using the evidence of Achcar’s own words we can see that he hasn’t read the rules and regulations of the New Left Project either.

1.  “Did you ever hear of any significant group in Benghazi opposed to the request of a No-Fly zone made to the UN and advocating another way to prevent Gaddafi’s troops from taking the city?”

No we didn’t.Most of those commenting don’t speak Arabic and have no information other than that which we get from the capitalist media outlets or alternative bloggers(none of whom are actually in Libya).

2. ”  Journalists and reporters covering the events on the ground agreed likewise on the fact that Gaddafi’s forces would have had no difficulty seizing the city”

Really?Which journalists?Which organizations did they work for?Whose interests did they serve?

3. “Anyone who from far away disputes the fact that Benghazi would have been crushed is just lacking decency in my view.  Telling a besieged people from the safety of a Western city that they are cowards – because that’s what disputing their claim that they were facing a massacre amounts to – is just indecent.’‘

Great evidenced based argumentation this is.If you disagree that there was any possibility other than a massacre and therefore disagree with the need for NATO involvement(imperialist bombing) you are calling the heroic people of Benghazi ‘cowards’ and you are being ‘indecent’.This is just moralising of the sort we are bombarded with by the humanitarian intervention crowd.

Thank you for your rather patronising advice about ‘evidence’.Perhaps you could direct it towards Mr Achcar and he could use his long experience on the ‘Left’ to put forward an argument that strengthens working class independence.You might also like to have a look at some CLR James articles on ‘intervention’ in Abyssinia from the Marxist Internet Archive.

By David, on 28 August 2011 - 08:04 |

Chris - you say “You simply cannot side with NATO and disassociate yourself from the “company you are keeping”“. I have a lot of sympathy with that argument. I’m not sure if I accept it or not, but its certainly the right question to ask. Is it credible to support, or not oppose, a limited NATO action to prevent a bloody crackdown in Benghazi while opposing any more extensive involvement, when in practice it is very unlikely that you will get one without the other?

Well from an activist’s point of view, all you can do in any given situation is choose to engage in an effort to raise the political costs of certain actions taken by those in power. So on those terms, you can argue - if you take the view that Benghazi was in great danger - that it was right to only make those activist efforts against any widening of NATO’s actions (regime change, etc) beyond those in respect of Benghazi, rather than oppose the whole intervention. That’s Gilbert’s position.

On the other hand, you might argue that if you don’t oppose the whole intervention from the start, then you make it easier for NATO to begin an operation that is bound to go way beyond what you may deem was at least expedient in Behghazi: one that is likely to wind up with regime change and the hijacking of the revolution that Gilbert denounces. Obviously, it is easier to take that latter position if you disagree with Gilbert’s view that Gaddafi was about to do to Benghazi what al-Asad has been doing to rebellious towns and cities in Syria, for example. I’m not sure how credible that is though.

However, what I take issue with in your post - and those of others - is the suggestion that Gilbert or I need to have it explained to us that NATO was acting in an unprincipled, cynical and opportunistic way. Given that it is absolutely plain that Gilbert shares this view of the imperial nature of Western power, I am bemused that anyone thinks that this stunning revelation is enough to negate his argument by itself.

Is it too much to ask that people simply acknowledge the fact that - whether you agree with him or not - Gilbert’s position is born of an authenticly left-wing analysis of the situation, not a liberal or a pro-imperialist one? The fact that he supported, or didn’t oppose, 5% of what NATO did, and opposed the rest, is explicitly based on his view of the nature of NATO as being imperial, not benign.

Moreover, to claim that Gilbert owns any consequences of regime change effected by NATO, when he explicitly opposed NATO taking such action, betrays an intellectual dishonesty quite at odds with the moralising tone with which the accusation is made.

Are Gilbert’s critics unable to compute the fact that Gilbert sees both NATO and Gaddafi as deeply unpleasant forces? Are they unable to deal with his analysis on its merits, prefering to pretend that it fits in with standard liberal calls for “humanitarian intervention” made by fans of Western power, when it is plain to any literate person that it is nothing of the sort? I can well see why he views many of his critics as acting in a reflexive way.

Personally, I respect anyone on the left who weighed up the Libyan situation and the forces in play realistically, and gave the matter serious thought before reaching their conclusion on the right position to take, whatever that conclusion might have been.

By David, on 28 August 2011 - 08:30 |

Damien - on your points 1 and 2, obviously Gilbert does speak Arabic, and I at least am willing to credit him with the ability to sift through both the Western and Arabic reporting from LIbya and make a reasonable judgement about the reality of the situation there. The idea that Gilbert Achcar is so naive as to simply take Western propaganda at face value doesn’t strike me as very credible, but you can make it if you like.

By David, on 28 August 2011 - 08:45 |

Michael Krog

Of course you have read my post of 27 August 2011, at 14:41, so you know perfectly well that scepticism of Gilbert’s argument is viewed by NLP as neither strange nor illegitimate. And you have read Gilbert’s article, so you know that he not only shares scepticism of NATO’s motives, but regards them explicitly as imperialistic.

If you continue to attribute to people positions that they do not hold, even when they have said the precise opposite, then I will draw the conclusion that you are trolling - looking for an argument for the sake of one, rather than engaging sensibly and productively with people’s actual arguments on their merits. NLP has very low tolerance for trolling.

By David, on 28 August 2011 - 09:47 |

Bàtjushka - on the range of estimates, see this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libyan_uprising#Casualties

I wouldn’t characterise Iranian state media or the World Health Organisation as agents of Western propaganda.

By Greg McDonald, on 28 August 2011 - 12:23 |

I have one question. Speaking of evidence, how does the author arrive at the number of 10,000 Libyan casualties?

By David, on 28 August 2011 - 13:10 |

Greg McDonald - I asked Gilbet about the range of estimates he cited. See the previous comment

By Paddy Apling, on 28 August 2011 - 14:43 |

Michael Krog is nothing but persistent. but is incapable of recognising a people’s revolution when one occurs other than to criticise on a-priori “principles” assistance it decides to request.

If you want to insist on a completely “principled” revolution, Michael, you will never see one - let alone be a useful participant in one that occurs in your neck of the woods.

By Michael Krog, on 28 August 2011 - 16:23 |

At the risk of being tagged a Troll, or told that I’m merely using rhetoric, how Cicero would have been amused that particular concept, or that I’m not serious enough, or why can’t I take a few tips from Seamus Miline, or that I cynically distorting what Gilbert’s saying, I’ll try again.

I’m confused. What is Gilbert saying and arguing? And for that matter you too, David. Maybe the sophistication and subtly of the arguments are simply beyond me?

I don’t think I understand what Gilbert really means in relation to NATO, Libya, and the revolution.

And when you attempt to explain Gilbert’s position, I still don’t really understand. Is it because I’m particularly obtuse, or does it go over my head, from a purely intellectual perspective?

David, you write that Gilbert means that, despite what he knows about NATO, on balance, it was right to support a limited intervention in Libya to protect the civilians in Benghazi from the risk/probability that Gadaffi’s forces would have massacred them. Even though, not being ignorant or naive about the character of NATO, as an imperialist military alliance, the chances are that such a limited intervention would remain ‘limited’ and not escalate, and, futhermore, that the revolution would probably be hijacked by the west, was a risk worth taking to save the people of Benghazi. Or is this a distortion of your veiws too? Because I think it’s difficult to understand what your views are, exactly.

That one only felt this was a risk and not a absolute certainty, given the character of the intervention, is somewhat surprising in my view. An intervention led by, arguably the two most reactionary countries in the alliance, and the idea that they would blithely support a genuine, people’s, or ‘socialist’ revolution, seems somewhat fanciful.

But if the ‘price’ was saving the civilain population of Benghazi from ‘genocide’, the mass slaughter of tens of thosands, Gilbert draws a parallel with the massacre after the fall of the Paris Commune, then, of course it was right to stop such a massacre taking place. That bit makes sense.

But what about the methods employed by NATO to achieve these narrow and specific ends, and the consequences for Lybians, civilians, soldiers, and fighters, of getting it so wrong? Shouldn’t one have considered the costs of removing Gaddafi, and weighing them against the possible benefits? I mean if one is allowed to speculate about the consequences of letting Gaddafi’s ‘frenzy’ smash Benghazi, what about the consequences looking just a little further into the future?

I’m also confused about this entire concept of ‘activists efforts’ to pressure those in power not to widen and escalate the conflict from NATO merely protecting civilians, into NATO, in reality becoming the rebels airforce and stormtroopers. What activist efforts are we referring to exactly, compared to the challenge of influencing two very reactionary governments, the UK and France, let alone the Americans? Is this supposed to be an ironic argument?

Isn’t it cause to reflect that Gilbert has clearly got it so wrong? That the war did widen, escalate, and go far, far, beyond UN manate 1973, with collosal loss of life and destruction to follow, and that this disaster, the hijacking of the revolution was obvious from the beginning, given the character of NATO. That was my position six months ago, and my attitude has changed a bit, on the contrary.

David, it’s as if you give more weight to the theoretical quality and subtlty of Gilbet’s arguments about the need to intervene to save civilian lives and tangentally support the revolution, than you do to the fact that events have shown that his judgement was clearly wrong.

By Michael Krog, on 28 August 2011 - 16:37 |

Also, normally, in the west, we don’t give much ‘credibility’, that word again, to anything that comes out of Iran. Yet when the Iranians qoute a figure of 10,000 casualties, or is that just deaths, it is suddenly ‘credible.’ In fact the source for the Iranian figure, is the International Criminal Court, which got their figures from the rebels, and the ICC is anything but neutral. One could add that Gaddafi has had a ‘hisory’ with the Iranian revolution. He thought it was too Islamist, they thought he was too secular. So once again, botht common sense and science should err on the side of caution and seek multiple and as far as possible neutral, or non-belligerent souces, but in the heat and hysteria of battle and the propaganda war people forget this.

One also needs to be extremely critical about figures that come from the World Health Organisation as well, one cannot take any numbers on face value or because they are ‘credible.’ In wartime one has to really examine statisitics hard, accepting nothing as ‘true’ until one has checked things thouroughly. One only has to look at the example of the fugures presented by Iraq Body Count, to see how easily one can manipulate numbers to support ones ideological stance.

By Bàtjushka, on 28 August 2011 - 17:11 |

to David

I quote from that little paragraph you linked:

“Independent numbers of dead and injured in the conflict have still not been made available. Estimates have been widely varied.

On 24 February, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting reported that the International Criminal Court estimated 10,000 had been killed. The numbers of injured were estimated to be around 4,000 by 22 February.

On 2 March the World Health Organization estimated approximately 2,000 killed.[404] At the same time, the opposition claimed that 6,500 people had died. Later, rebel spokesman Abdul Hafiz Ghoga reported that the death toll reached 8,000.”

So here we have claims by the ICC (in the person of Moreno Ocampo, the same person who unashamedly accused Gaddafi of delivering to his army Viagra tablets for the purpose of raping the female population) by WHO (which i don’t think is a reliable source, certainly it just echoes the rebel’s claims) and finally by the rebels themself. I call this propaganda, since it comes from unreliable sources, which in times of war normally make use of lies to gain support from public opinion. As Pilger noted, there are only claims, and no evidence is shown to support the claims.

I was mistaken to blame only the West, since you could also mention Al Jazira and other arab sources, but it is clear that even in the arab world there are lots of people interested in a regime change in Libya, especially the american allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.).

By Michael Krog, on 28 August 2011 - 18:11 |


I assume you mean, Michael Krog is nothing if not persistant,  not, nothing but persistant? As to the true character of the revolution in Libya, whether it’s a people’s revolution or not, whether I’m incapable of recognising such a thing or not, isn’t it too early too tell what kind of a revolution it is?

Couldn’t one given the kind of fighing we’re are seeing, and those involved, equally term it, NATO’s revolution, or Saudi Arabia’s revolution, or the Gulf State’s revolution? I mean, honestly, who believes the people’s revolution would have succeeded against Gaddafi’s regime, without the massive support of the countries I’‘ve mentioned? But maybe just imagined their limited involvement?

I find myself incredulous that people on the ‘left’ would imagine that these nations, paragons of democracy themselves and unpholders of democratic rights, would actively support anything remotely resembling a people’s revolution, when they work so tirelessly to hinder the people from revolting in their own countries.

I’m afraid I don’t understand the bit about ‘principles’ in this context, could you be a bit more specific, please?


By David, on 29 August 2011 - 06:26 |

Michael Krog - “I’m confused. What is Gilbert saying and arguing? And for that matter you too, David.”

I think what Gilbert is saying, whether you like it or not, is perfectly clear from the interview.

For my part, I have made no argument on this thread. I have merely insisted that people who disagree with Gilbert do it with a minimum degree of seriousness, so that this discussion is productive. That means not caricaturing or misrepresenting Gilbert’s argument, but dealing with what he’s actually said and the actual basis upon which he’s said it. Basically, I’ve done no more than encourage Gilbert’s opponents to come up with some decent arguments. I find it very revealing that this has been met with consternation, peevishness, and sometimes outright hysterics. It says it all, really

By David, on 29 August 2011 - 06:47 |

Bàtjushka - thanks. Point taken about the ICC. Re.the WHO, it obviously doesn’t “just echo the rebels’ claims” since it gave a figure of 2,000 at the same time as the opposition gave a figure of 6,500. You are of course entitled to describe the WHO’s figures as unreliable, but you need to have some firm basis for that.

As far as the media goes, I am as supportive of Chomsky’s “propaganda model” interpretation of how media operates as anyone you will find. But even Chomsky does not argue that it is literally impossible to sift through media reports with a critical eye, weigh them against other sources, and piece together a reasonably workable account of what is happening in a given situation. Indeed, its on that very basis that he’s written countless books and articles on international affairs. To just say “we’re reliant on the media and they’re all biased” is oversimplified intellectual nihilism. As critics of Western power, we can do better than that.

By Michael Krog, on 29 August 2011 - 09:47 |

It’s not as if this ‘debate’ isn’t important, is it? If, if, if, as seems increasingly likey, in my opinion, the left has been led up the garden path by a carefully constructed propaganda offensive designed to deceive and conceal blantant imperialist agression in yet another oil-rich Arab state, then surely this should lead the left to reflect opon the mechanisms that led to this sad situation?

Of course the entire western press/media isn’t involved in massive conspiracy, there are notable acceptions, one could mention Seamus Milne, Cockburn, Fisk; but really their ‘critical’ voices aren’t exactly dominating the discourse on Libya. Often it appears they are merely employed as ‘figleafs’ in order to prove that the press isn’t as totalitarian as it apears. Though I often think tv journalists should wear military uniforms at time of war.

Milne and the others do, I would contend, opperate within a surprisingly narrow consensus, a burgeiois, liberal, concensus, which some people, from their perspective, see as a broad spectrum, like we are supposed to have spectrum of views reflected in our ‘free’ press.

I think there is a definite line over which one cannot cross, and still be regarded as credible in debate in our media and politics. One is either inside or outside the limits of the bourgeois concensus, and it’s perfectly possible to be both ‘leftwing’ and ‘bourgeois.’

In nearly all cases involving the media this entails not calling our neo-imperialist wars, criminal, or our democratic leaders war-criminals. This is going over the line, one steps outside the bourgeois concensus. They make mistakes, honest mistakes, like Blair and Bush, but they are not involved in war crimes on a massive scale, and our system, despite it’s faults, is fundamentally benign and our leaders are sincere about wanting to help and are honest when they raise concerns about human rights abuses, to the extent that they are even willing to spend hundreds of millions to protect foreigners and put our own people in harms way. But, to question these fundamental assumptions is to put oneself beyond the pale and lose cridibility.

This is just a detal, but telling I think. I was listening to the radio this morning. A correspondent was in Tripoli and complaining that most of the city was without water supplies and had been for almost a week and that it was important that the TNC got supplies up and running as soon as possible, how true,for obvious reasons. What they didn’t refer to, or seem interested in, was how come there was a break in water supplies to Tripoli, who, or what had cut the supply? Was it an act of God, and earthquake, a mistake? No, Nato bombed Tripoli’s water supply conviniently designating it a military target for the bombing, Nato also bombed the factory supplying the concrete pipes for the massive man-made river Gaddafi’s regime was so proud of to irrigate vast swathes of Libya. Both of these acts could be described as blatant war-crimes, yet one would never know this from our ‘free’ press, one wouldn’t even know they’d ever happened.

By David, on 29 August 2011 - 14:15 |

Richard Seymour’s response to Gilbert Achcar’s New Left Project interview is definitely worth a read

By mutex7, on 30 August 2011 - 00:32 |

The Professor states that “The fight will continue – hopefully political rather than military” and that the Libyan people will not allow foreign troops on the ground “short of a chaotic deterioration of conditions in their country”.  What makes the Professor believe that the Western powers won’t do everything in their power to ensure there is the necessary level of chaos to justify ‘boots on the ground’.

It is virtually guaranteed there will be more fighting and bloodshed either because of tribal conflict or because it serves the purposes of NATO’s true intentions.  The pretense of a humanitarian mission to protect civilians was just a way to get the camel’s nose under the tent.  There has been solid evidence that without incitement by covert western special forces the rebellion itself might have died out before it could reach critical mass.  These same forces will ensure that this mission reaches the conclusion the west desires.  Of course there is still every possibility (dare I say probability) that Libya will end up another quagmire similar to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have a feeling that the so-called Arab Spring may yet turn into the Arab Winter dragging the entire world into what may have always been the inevitable and disastrous conclusion to our addiction to oil.

By DM, on 30 August 2011 - 03:19 |

RE:  Libya, Dreams and Hopes for Freedom, Peace, and Prosperity
This is another very ugly, shameful chapter in world history. I am deeply troubled by the United Nations role in this deadly, senseless conflict.  Considering the devastating destruction of Libyan infrastructure, the deplorable living conditions for the Libyan people, and the LOST of so many lives, innocent men,  women and children, this is beyond disgusting; especially if this is about oil or facesaving.  Archcar presents a very convincing analysis about the Libyan conflict; however, considering the rebels’  ineffectiveness on the battlefield I believe this conflict could have ended months ago if so desired by NATO allies.
This VIOLENT overthrow of the Libyan government only proves that much of our thinking is just as BARBARIC, just as ruthless and coldblooded as what some say about Gaddafi or as we were centuries ago.
GREATNESS should be measured not by the amount of power that we have, but what we do with the power that we do hold.
On Sunday August 28 2011, Dr. Martin Luther King was to be honored in Washington DC, USA, for his role in the struggle for freedom, equality, and justice for all.  Despite being descendant of slaves, brutal treatment, pain and suffering; Despite all the church and house bombings; Despite being beaten, stabbed, jailed, and eventually assassinated, Dr. King never never aspired to OVERTHROW the U.S. Government.  Instead, Dr. King always called for PEACE; provided people HOPE; and always stood firmly for justice and equality for all people.
It is the People of Libya who unselfishly must determine their own future, their own destiny,  not the United Nations, not NATO and not The African Union; but All the People of Libya who must do this.
Hence, I vehemently oppose this VIOLENT overthrow of the Libyan Government or any government for internal conflicts;  VIOLENCE by the government or violence by the people is still violence.  The United Nations, a peacekeeping organization, should not be supporting this or any VIOLENT path toward democracy and freedom.  This is not sustainable and it must be corrected. 
First, let me be clear.  I SALUTE the People of Libya and ALL people who have democratic aspirations, hopes for freedom and sweet liberty; for having the courage to fight for a better life; however, VIOLENCE is not the answer.  In fact, rather than providing the people of Libya an opportunity to speak, the violence only begets more violence and is a serious threat to all freedom loving societies.
Second, let’s be honest:  If this is really about freedom and democracy in Libya, who elected NTC?  If we are truly trying to restore peace and stability in Libya, why has the NTC refused to negotiate a peaceful resolution to end this deadly conflict?  And why is NATO, the military forces of the world superpowers, providing cover so ARMED groups can ADVANCE on government forces?  If this is not ABUSE and misuse of the military forces of the world superpowers, it should be. 
Initially, the UN Mission to halt the violence and protect the Libyan people was a noble cause.  However, it is clear that NATO allies have exceeded the powers granted by the United Nations resolution.  The United Nations is sending the wrong message; and this, too, must be corrected.
This is 2011.  The 21st Century,  not 7th Century B.C.  Plotting to take cities by FORCE, ousting leaders, assassinating world leaders, firing on people from fighter jets,  in hospitals or religious institutions do not accurately represent the democratic process; and it is SHAMEFUL for anyone, anywhere, to say otherwise. 
After World War II, world leaders established checks and balances precisely so no one country, person or group would abuse its military or political power ever again.  In 1945, the United Nations was established primarily to promote peace and security; to solve humanitarian problems; promote fundamental freedoms and respect for human rights.
In Libya, where are the checks and balances of the military force by the world superpowers?    Here we have the military forces of the world superpowers dropping bombs on one side of the conflict; and providing weapons and military cover for the opposing side to advance.
To restore credibility, the world community must rethink the role of the United Nations and NATO for the 21st Century.  What kind of peacekeeping organization has the United Nations become?  What happened to resolving conflicts with peace talks, in the boardroom, in the courtroom, or at the ballot box.  We desperately need diplomacy, not all these wars and more wars.  It is clear that The NTC is unable to protect themselves or the People of Libya.  Therefore, this conflict could have ended months ago if the UN and NATO allies chose to do so.  Now is time for peace in Libya.  BOTH the Government and the Opposition Groups should be encouraged to CEASEFIRE immediately;  seek reconciliation and a peaceful resolution for the country, for the people of Libya.
Every crisis has both its dangers and opportunities.  It can either spell our salvation or doom.  All of the people of the world, without regard to political system, will have to discover a way to live in peace and harmony
How we deal with this crucial issues will determine our moral health as individuals, our cultural health as a region, our political health as a nation, and our prestige as leaders of the free world (mlk)
Peace Be With You And Around The World

By David Graeber, on 30 August 2011 - 18:39 |

This is a wonderful piece, and I want to thank the author first of all. I have so far stayed out of this debate because it tends to evoke such violent passions but also, because the terms of the argument seemed so skewed away from any politics I would recognize that I wasn’t sure my own position would make any sense to people. I look at this situation as an anarchist. So any question of “supporting” NATO is out of the question from the start. On the other hand, it was perfectly evident from the start that those people I would consider friends, comrades, and fellow spirits in Libya would, certainly, be on the rebel side. (Other people I couldn’t stand would also be on the rebel side, but that’s inevitable in a broad coalition organized against a widely hated dictator. How could it be otherwise?)

Arguing that no massacre would have taken place in Benghazi strikes me as the most extreme form of special pleading. Under what other circumstances would people on the Left end up insisting that, even though a dictator is loudly declaring he intends to carry out a massacre, he wouldn’t have really done it? This is the kind of argument you make only if you have already decided what you want to think and will say whatever it takes to justify it.

I think Michael Krog though really gave the game away in the following quote:

“I’m not actually a supporter of Gaddafi or his regime, I’m actually more concerned about the quality of our democracy and the integrity of our politicians. If they can repeatedly get away with launching illegal wars of aggression against weak, but resource rich states, based on lies and propaganda, the more transparently absurd the better, where are we going as a democracy/”

It is surely the case that politicians do launch illegal wars on the basis of lies, etc, but what Krog’s quote implies is that (a) he believes that it is possible to have a US or UK which would presumably still be world powers, but would not be imperialistic, would obey principles of international legality, would not make false statements, etc etc. In other words, he is from my perspective a state utopian. For me this is absurd. NATO is an imperial power and the idea that it would act as anything else is bizarre. How could it? We’re dealing with Darth Vader here. It’s unreformable. However, note also, (b) the post implies that his concern to see if he can’t have hypothetical decent, freedom-loving, principled, socially-conscious people take over or at least have control over the apparatus of terror and violence that is the modern imperial state, and its extensions like NATO, is far more important to him than the fate of actual, real, concrete, non-hypothetical decent, freedom-loving, principled, socially-conscious people who happen to live in Libya. Since all such people are going to be inevitably on the side of the revolutionaries (again, not all revolutionaries would fit this description, but those people who do fit this description can be expected to have been with the revolutionaries). So what Krog is basically saying is that whether or not those (non-white, non-Western) concrete revolutionaries get raped, tortured, and murdered is really not his primary concern - the real issue for him is whether the apparatus of global violence is under the control of the right sort of  (white, Western) politicians.

I imagine such people tell themselves their primary concern isn’t with the white power structure but its ability to attack non-white people but I think examples like this are telling.

Me, since I think NATO is Darth Vader, the problem doesn’t come up. If Darth Vader wants to intervene against some other mini-Darth to save a bunch of revolutionaries, how can one react but to say, “cool! that’s pretty ironic but I’m really glad it happened.” Does that mean I “support” Darth Vader? Of course not. He’s an evil imperialist. Does that mean I’ll be out protesting what he did just because I know his ultimate motives are bound to be insidious? No, of course not either, because first of all, protest implies I think Darth _could_ be acting in a more principled fashion, and second of all - and this is critical - I’m not a political party or government that has to have a “line” on every world issue anyway. But like the author of this piece, I will certainly step in to make my opinion known once Darth actively starts to try to subvert the revolutionaries, as he inevitably will.

I think the philosophical question is, when we see a conflict, who do we try to identify first? Do we try to identify who are the worst bad guys, and oppose them whatever they do? Or do we try to identify who are the closest to being the good guys, in the sense of, people who share our principles, values, dreams… and try to see how they assess the situation, and trust their instincts (since they’re there, and we’re not), and support them? I know that any anarchists in Libya right now are fighting on the revolutionary side (in fact I do know one Libyan anarchist, and he is), and I know they’d be happy Darth saved them from mass rape, torture, and killing, and if anything even more happy that they managed to outfox and outflank NATO’s determination to avoid a genuine insurrectionary situation. Good on them! 

From that perspective, the fact that some European and American leftists were happy to sacrifice them to a horrific fate - all the while insisting we can’t absolutely prove that fate would necessarily totally have happened - because what’s important to them is the dream of moving towards a kindler, gentler imperial center… well, it speaks to a very strange set of priorities.

By Michael Krog, on 30 August 2011 - 22:19 |

It’s a tad unfair to launch a long, and almost hysterical tirade against me, not for what I actually wrote, but for what you say I implied, and then take this implication which is your invention, or more kindly, interpretation, and run with it, over the hills and far, far, away.

You are, I think, just as confused as Achcar, about what’s really happening in Libya, based not on a rational analysis of evidence or facts, but on ideology and wishful thinking, linked to a partisan, sectarian, worldview, where genuine, people’s revolutions really exist, and not in the fantasies of revolutionists of whatever political colour or label.

Why you should think that Achcar’s piece is ‘wonderful’ is completely beyond me. It’s a strange word to use - wonderful. It may be many things, superficially well-argued, if one accepts its pemises, logical up to a point, but ‘wonderful’?

I also think that you have taken the quote out of the larger context of what I’ve written, and created an elaborate strawman which you then proceed with relish and a flourish to demolish. My, I feel almost sorry for the poor man of straw.

Unfortunately virtually your entire argment rests on the fallacy and mistake that what we are seeing in Libya is a genuine people’s revolution and not a coup, backed by Nato and the Arab despots, by one faction of the Gaddafi regime against the other, like rival gangs involved in a sordid power-struggle in Chicago.

Where exactly do you get your information from about what you say was happening in Libya, what are your sources? Neutral sources, that is sources and reports not produced by the rebels or revolutionaries, or coming from Nato, that is, the belligerents themselves, who obviously have an agenda and interests, tell a very different story about the conflict in Libya.

Why do you believe, or know, with such certainty that the rebel version of events is true? Where is your scepticism about them and their motives? Or have you, like Achcar a bizarre faith in the nature of the revolutionary masses?

You use a lot of very emotinal language, one is tempted to say rhetoric, but what is it actually based on? You have a very clear attitude towards Nato, but seem to have a strangely naive one towards the western mass media who function in times like these as the propaganda wing of Nato and the state. Are you sure it’s wise to put so much faith and energy into building an argument for intervention on such a questionable foundation? Is it likely that Nato for whatever reason, would support a genuine people’s revolution?

Finally, what if you’re wrong? What if this isn’t a people’s revolution? What if the poor suffering people of Libya have exchanged one Darth Vader… for another Darth Vader. May the force be with you.

By David Graeber, on 31 August 2011 - 00:38 |

Mr. Krog, we all know what a genuinely concocted revolt looks like. We’ve seen them in a thousand places, from Nicaragua to Mozambique - they are almost invariably heavy-handed and painfully obvious.  The idea that there were popular rebellions across North Africa starting at exactly the same time - but that the ones on either side of Libya, in Tunisia and Egypt, were spontaneous popular revolts, but the one that happened at the same time in the same way in Libya was a CIA plot or somesuch, is, just like the idea that a dictator is openly calling for” rivers of blood” but doesn’t actually mean it, so ludicrous it’s the sort of thing that only someone who has already made up his mind that his purpose is to oppose any intervention by any means possible and is just making up his evidence to suit his prior commitment.

The one thing we know is that any time a Western power intervenes on “moral” grounds anywhere, there will be some people on the left steadfastly insisting that whatever the atrocity was used as justification, it didn’t really happen, and whatever the popular movement they seem to be backing (even if only to subvert it) it isn’t really a popular movement. I’ve seen leftists say the Rwandan Hutu militias never really massacred Tutsis, indeed, that it is the duty of leftists to support them, on anti-imperialist grounds. Obviously this is an extreme case and in the US it was only the Worker’s World Party and similarly very extreme groups that took this line, but the point is, there will always be someone saying this, no matter what the situation. Therefore the fact that they are saying so is, as they say, “not information.” Therefore one can only fall back on common sense: what’s the likelihood of three simultaneous revolts in three adjacent dictatorships, all of which initially take the same form, two of which are legitimate and one of which is a CIA plot? What is the chance that a dictator vowed to massacre rebels but wasn’t actually going to do so? 

This is my logic.

By Michael Krog, on 31 August 2011 - 06:10 |

But, ‘logic’ isn’t the same thing as evidence, or even ‘truth’ is it, or reality? Is it sensible to base the premises for one’s logical arguments on sources, or infomation, provided by one side only, and that side contains all the belligerents in the conflict, apart from Gaddafi’s regime? Shouldn’t one err on the side of, at the very least, cuaution, when deal with war propaganda? It’s almost as if you don’t believe propaganda exists in warfare, that can’t be right, surely? I don’t believe I mentioned any CIA plotting, did I?

For months now two hignly influential and very well connected western PR angencies have been working with the NTC, they are The Harbour Group and Clime Communications, they’ve been fincanced by the UK, US, and the Gulf States, who as we all no are well-known supporters of genuinne people’s revolutions. Perhaps this is why so many of the stories coming out of Libya sound so much like propaganda, because they are.

Just one small example, though one which has had horrendous consequences, where are the thousands opon thousands of black, African, mercenaries that the Libyan regime was supposed to have hired? This story ‘works’ on a number of different propaganda levels, and the guy who thought it up should get a case of champagne as a bonus. However, they, thousands and thousands of African mercenaries don’t exist. The story is a fabrication. This, I would contend, should make one sceptical about many of the other stories coming from sources within the genuine people’s revolution. Among them the allegation that a city the size of Benghazi was in danger of genocide being unleashed on it. This seems highly unlikely. Benghazi a city of over 600,000 people protected by Nato. Gaddafi would really have to be mad to attack Benghazi and begin a systemtic mass-slaughter of tens of thousands of people under the noses of Nato and the world, and imagine he’d be allowed to get away with it, even if the logistical problems connected with genocide so far from his centre of power could be overcome.

One shouldn’t put too much emphasis on political rhetoric, what politicians say, anywhere, it’s mostly just that, rhetoric, words used for effect. This is true in the US, the UK, elswhere and even in Libya. Arabic isn’t English, which seems pretty obvious, still the use of language and words in Arabic is not the same as in English. Words and phrases used by Arabs and their politicians sound different to us in the west because we don’t share the same language. Arabs tend to use a more florid or colourful vocabulary than is normal in the west, so words or phrases, like Gaddafi’s taken out of context and isolated can appear far more shocking than they actually are. Gaddafi’s rhetorical style is not particularly sophisticated, you should read some of the things he’s said over the years, he really needed a good PR company on his side, but I imagine he was unwilling to listen to his kids’ advice to, “Tone it down, Dad!”

The latest piece of propaganda to emerge from Libya is shocking and audacious, the story about tens of thousands of prisoners being held in secret, underground, prisons. If they exist I’ll eat my hat. But finding them doesn’t matter once the story has been spread around.

I was talking to friend of mine who works in Wasghington, and for what it’s worth, make of it what you will, I’m pretty neutral about it, she told me the gossip is that there’s a debate in the Whitehouse about how to deal with the Arab Spring. One powerful group wants to back it 100% so the US appears to be on the side of history. That as revolutions are coming, with a growing and young middle class who are demanding reforms to fuedalism, a bourgeois revolution, one might as well support them and influence the outcome in ways the US can live with. Another group, a more conservative group, centred around Gates, is more sceptical, and doesn’t want to see the ‘stability’ baby thrown out with the ‘reform’ bathwater, because they don’t believe the new, young, pro-western, middle class, is strong enough to hold the masses in check once the old system has been swept aside, and that the masses are firmly ‘Islamist’ so one risks putting Islamists in power. So the empire faces a dilemma and a balancing act, and so much has the potential to go horrible wrong, like in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Michael Krog, on 31 August 2011 - 06:40 |

This is probably somewhat esoteric… but I find it curious, something that troubles me about the left, is how one sees and uses the catagory the ‘people’ or the ‘masses.’ I suppose I’m not alone here.

I highly critical and scpetical that the way these catagories are used is relevant, or that the people or masses even really exist in the real world, as opposed to the world of theory, which the left often seems to be happier with and prefers to inhabit.

This is of course a highly complex issue, so I’m only barely scratching the surface.

But the concept and catagory of the people and the masses, or Volk, appears to be intimately linked to the rise of the centralised, nation state, in the 18th century in Europe, and goes hand in hand with the rise of nationalism, with all that implies. Like the state and the nation, which are ‘artificial’ contructs and products of history, I would contend that the notion of the people is, in a number of ways, a myth. One could go further and argue that the state created both the nation and the people out of various desparate ingredients that were available. One of the prime ways one ‘created’ the people was through propaganda and war. The people were, after a fashion, welded together, created,  with blood and fire,  by the state and nationalism.

My own family, which is an old one, composed mostly of bankers and the military, spread over the entire continent, follow the money, opportunity, and war, can serve as an example of this historical process in action, the idea of the people, or romantic nationalism,  made flesh. My grandfather who died in Stalin’s gulag never, ever, bought into the idea of the people in Russia, he, from his surviving letters, thought that the idea of the people was a dangerous concept, worse than democracy, which he thought was an illusion as well, but then he was a aristocrat and a general and very, very, conservative. He didn’t think that ‘blood’ as a catagory to define a people existed, it couldn’t in our case as we were spread out across Europe and changed out nationality and alligences like other people changed their underwear.

It just seems odd to me that people on the left have so readily accepted the bourgeois concept of the people, with all that it implies and its consequences, when it is so wrapped up in romantic nationalist political rhetoric and supports the towering concept of the exclusive nation state, which has led to so much pain, destruction, waste, and slaughter in Europe, and elsewhere.

By Ndugu Sumu, on 31 August 2011 - 07:10 |

David- If I agreed with your perception of the facts, I’d wholeheartedly agree with your analysis. Empires do a good thing every now and then, and we should recognize it as such. Most of the initial crimes Gaddafi was accused of were either lies or exaggerations. In actuality, we prolonged a civil war between two morally ambiguous groups of people. NATO’s (illegal) decision to choose sides in a civil war costs thousands of lives. The left should have pushed for the AU peace plan, which was released days before the UN security council voted on a no-fly zone.

I’d just like to address a few points you made.

1) I recommend you read Feb-March Amnesty International’s and Human Rights Watch’s press releases critically (i.e. understanding that they have their own interests; these reports are understandably pro-rebel, because they want to please their donors). Their estimates was that previous to NATO intervention, less than 300 people died. While terrible, this statistic is a far cry from the 10,000 figure that the NTC and NATO used to justify the intervention. Moreover, neither organization could confirm the use of mercenaries, the use or the intent to use air power, or the use of rape as a tool of war. The International Crisis Group’s June 2011 report confirms many of those findings. Finally, according to Human Rights Watch, during the two month siege of Misrata slightly less than 300 people died (including Gaddafi forces). Less than 2% of those injured were women or children. This indicates that Gaddafi, at least in the beginning when his back wasn’t totally against the wall, did not have a strategy of massacring innocent people. I could go on and on about how there is little evidence for other rebel claims (‘Gaddafi killing soldiers who refuse to shoot protesters’, ‘snipers killing innocent kids to terrorize population’, etc), but that’s for another time.

2) You also make a point on how Gaddafi’s strong language against the rebels indicates a plan of massacring innocent civilians. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First off, a number of these quotes were taken out of context. Gaddafi repeatedly said that rebels who laid down their arms would receive amnesty, a deal which many people took up when the going got tough. Second of all, we assume these transcripts are accurate translations. Last I checked, most of these translators do not have a good understanding of Libyan culture. My guess is that most of these translators already assumed Gaddafi was a murderer and interpreted his words as such. (Do you remember how we all believed that M. Ahmadinejad said that he wanted to ‘wipe Israel off the map’? That translation was very poor, yet it literally informs many of our current policy decisions towards Iran). Third, even if we assume Gaddafi was using vile language, what about the rebels? The first group of people in Libya who denounced Gaddafi called him an ‘infidel’. Many people in Eastern Libya call him a ‘dog’ and call Gaddafi forces ‘rats’. If we deem Gaddafi a blood thirsty dictator because of his language, are the rebels vile Islamists? You can make the point that comments made by a section of the rebels doesn’t indicate their entire character, but the people fighting against the rebels were more than just Gaddafi.

3) There is the assumption that rebels were popular and that Gaddafi was unpopular, implying that it was obvious.  First off, that contradicts what the NTC was saying in the beginning. They specifically said they’d be crushed if they didn’t receive help, indicating that they were small and weak relative to a whole Libyan nation. Second, the rebels had massive amounts of military aid, NATO airstrikes and navy forces at their disposal, advanced military training, UK and French troops on the ground, every large international media station on their side, and strong sanctions against Gaddafi…yet it took 6 months for them to get to Tripoli. Most cities they tried to take after the first few months was met with severe resistance. Rewatch the Sky News/ Al Jazeera coverage when the rebels ‘took over Tripoli’, and you’ll notice that they were never greeted as liberators. Hell, there is STILL fierce resistance in Tripoli, Bin Jawad, Brega, and especially Sirte. There is talk of fierce resistance in Warfalla, too. There is now talk of an international police force staying in Libya for months to pacify the population. Oh, and interesting tidbit: According to the International Crisis Group, the calls for an uprising did NOT start in Libya. It started in the UK.

Michael Krog is absolutely right: This was one gang (collection of tribes) exerting power over another. In a way, this is in part due to Gaddafi’s regime. He played off tribal loyalties against each other to ensure his power. But that does not mean certain tribes did not love Gaddafi.

4) Regardless of popularity, I think we should consider the moral character of each group of people. In many ways, it is hard to distinguish between the two groups (once you stop considering the lies against Gaddafi). We all know that Gaddafi was corrupt, senile, unfair, and insensitive to many of his constituents.  Yet this downplays his Pan-African credentials (he was one of the lead proponents of the AU). He ensured that there was free housing, education, and healthcare (in theory) to Libyans. And, relatively speaking, was a proponent of women’s rights.

We’ve all heard the praises for the rebels, so I won’t repeat them here. What is alarming about this movement is that it is comprised of many Libyan elites, former Gaddafi ‘henchmen’,  Islamists, and racists. While there are signs that the ‘liberated’ populations are going against former Gaddafi ‘henchmen’ and even the foreign population, there is no sign that they are going against the Isamists or racists. The first group to call for a violent uprising (and not for reforms) were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which the US gov’t classified under the ‘Al Qaeda’ category. Libya has one of the highest suicide bomber per capita rates in the world, scaring even the US gov’t (according to Wikileaks). Now, some of the top generals are radical Islamists. This is all the more frightening given that the new constitution instituted Sharia as the basis of their law.

It is well documented that the Libyan rebels are notoriously racists against Black Africans. Hundreds of Black Africans were killed after being falsely accused of being a mercenary.  Read the latest NYTimes or CS Monitor about the article (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0829/In-Tripoli-African-mercenaries-at-risk). After looking into this more and talking to a few people in Tripoli, I can’t emphasize this enough, the rebels are committing GENOCIDE. But given the media doesn’t care about black Africans, I doubt anyone will pay attention to this.

5) Just to respond to your question: “what’s the likelihood of three simultaneous revolts in three adjacent dictatorships, all of which initially take the same form, two of which are legitimate and one of which is a CIA plot?”

Here are a few not-so-surprising coincidences: Gaddafi wanted to create a pan-African currency backed by gold. When you read about “Frozen Gaddafi Assets”, it’s actually “Frozen Libyan Assets primarily intended for this new currency”. A move to this currency would greatly hurt the Euro (many countries in West Africa have currencies pegged to the Euro) and to the dollar. [FYI: David Graeber wrote one of the best books on debt and monetary policy to date.]

Gaddafi also expected billions in repayments for the Lockerbie fiasco. The implicit agreement was that Gaddafi would pay Lockerbie victims for a crime he probably never committed, and the West would pay him back in the future. When the NTC head claimed he had evidence that Gaddafi ordered the bombing, Libyans most likely lost any chance of getting that money back. Also, just FYI, the NTC head never showed any evidence despite his proud claims.

Gaddafi was also renegotiating oil contracts with the top oil companies. Libya was expecting over a billion dollars from Goldman Sachs, due to Sach’s poor financial management of Libyan resources. I really doubt they’ll get that money back.

The question I ask myself: Was a NATO intervention really worth it? It has cost Libya thousands of functioning lives in this needlessly prolonged civil war. Now Libyans have a racist, possibly Islamist regime which will probably privatize a large number of Libyan resources to pay back the usurious debt, which they have amassed. Libya will obviously make advances in certain directions, but it will regress in others.

Now, just imagine if the AU peacekeeping mission got involved. No one party would be perfectly happy, but it’s far better killing innocent children with missiles.

Sources: Please ask me if you want any sources. The best to go on are Franklin Lamb, independent journalist in Tripoli. Peter Dale Scott is great on this topic, as well. http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/ is by far the best analysis for the Libyan civil war. I recommend you ignore some of his strong language and start from the beginning of the blog. Some of his exposes should be award winning journalism.

By Richard Seymour, on 31 August 2011 - 09:26 |

“Arguing that no massacre would have taken place in Benghazi strikes me as the most extreme form of special pleading. Under what other circumstances would people on the Left end up insisting that, even though a dictator is loudly declaring he intends to carry out a massacre, he wouldn’t have really done it? ... What is the chance that a dictator vowed to massacre rebels but wasn’t actually going to do so?”

The above is offered as logic, of all things.  Gilbert Achcar is invoking a systematic slaughter of up to 25,000 people, comparable to the crushing of the Paris Commune, or the massacre in Hama.  In one city in Libya.  The dictator, for all the shrill, bloody language used by Qadhafi and his adorable sons, didn’t “loudly declare” that this was going to happen.  So, the only appropriate way to judge this is by looking at the evidence.  In Libya, we see Qadhafi’s forces claiming a *lot* of lost territory in the early weeks of March.  At no point did we see a massacre of the kind that Achcar refers to.  In fact, the reconquest of Misrata and the ongoing struggles there was included in a two month period that saw an estimated 257 deaths - probably an underestimate, but certainly not by tens of thousands.  So, we can pay attention to what the evidence tells us, or we can fabulate scenarios to buttress a kind of spectacle-positioning.

Contrary to the language about “special pleading”, we have seen this before, many times.  It’s often the case that when the US intervenes somewhere, someone invokes the threat of a massacre if it does not.  Usually, we’re told that these have been foreshadowed in massacres already taking place - eg, 100,000 dead in Kosovo, genocide afoot.  And generally speaking, this is not so much fabricated as grossly distorted and exaggerated.  In Kosovo, a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the KLA was inflated into a re-enactment of the Shoah.  In this case, we have much the same process.  A genuinely bloody counterinsurgency is distorted and exaggerated, so that after one week of the uprising, rumours abounded of 10,000 dead and 50,000 wounded (that’s the basis for Achcar’s upper estimate of deaths).  I remember Libyan exiles debating this in London, and being absolutely insistent that this figure was true.  Yet, there seems to be no basis for it.  Similarly, when NTC officials began to call for intervention, they invoked the threat of half a million dead.  No basis for that either.  In fact, it’s well known that the rebel leadership spread a number of unfounded rumours in order to galvanise support.  They claimed that Qadhafi was hiring “African” mercenaries, with predictable consequences - racist lynchings aplenty.  They claimed that Qadhafi’s men were taking viagra and raping women en masse.  They actually sent people to the media and human rights observers with viagra tablets and claimed that they’d been recovered from dead soldiers.  Indeed, while genuine war crimes on Qadhafi’s part have been documented, a great deal of what has been attributed to Qadhafi has been absolutely certifiably false.  So we are not obliged to treat the claim of a coming massacre as an article of faith, and one should naturally suspect the motives of anyone who uses acceptance of such a claim as index of ‘decency’.  For, while you complain that every US war brings out left-wing apologists for dictators, it’s also true that every US war brings out a number of left-wingers who accept and reproduce what turns out to be war propaganda.  Indeed, leftists are particularly vulnerable to moral blackmail, because of their humanitarian and emancipatory commitments.

If you set aside such invocations, you have to reckon with the politics of intervention.  The most likely scenario here, based strictly on the evidence, is that the NTC leadership made a decision that the only way to avoid defeat was to galvanise international support for intervention, and that to do so it decided to invoke the threat of genocide, thus triggering a UN response.  For the relatively conservative ruling class and professional factions in the leadership of the NTC, it meant that their authority was hugely strengthened vs the popular base, which was largely excluded from the process once NATO was involved.  It meant that the politics of overthrowing Qadhafi would be determined by a coalition of former regime elements, neoliberals, military officials and the local bourgeoisie under the direction of NATO.  It meant that relatively small rebel armies working under overseas special forces and intelligence, (and Khalifa Hifter), were the ones taking control of the country.  Subtract the massacre from the equation, and what you have is a popular revolution hijacked by NATO with the connivance of its most right-wing, bourgeois elements.  And it is they, NATO and the NTC, that are responsible for the rumours of a coming massacre in the first place.

By Richard Seymour, on 31 August 2011 - 10:11 |

“No, of course not either, because first of all, protest implies I think Darth _could_ be acting in a more principled fashion, and second of all - and this is critical - I’m not a political party or government that has to have a “line” on every world issue anyway.”

This is a really strange argument.  Protest implies nothing more than that governments in capitalist democracies are susceptible to popular pressure given a certain critical mass.  And self-evidently, David, you *do* have a line on this.  You’ve just expressed it.  You’re line is that it’s really cool and ironic that NATO are doing this.  So, there’s nothing for you to protest over.  Because, while you don’t support NATO, you do approve of (support) what they’re doing here.  That’s the reason why you’re not out on the streets.  I don’t know why it’s necessary to tip toe around this with obvious fallacies.

By David Wearing, on 31 August 2011 - 15:06 |

Richard and Ndugu Sumu - thanks to you both for your comments here. And Richard, thanks for your response to this interview on your own blog. Your contributions to the debate are appreciated.

In respect of the key question of what was likely to happen to Benghazi, I wondered what your view is of the following passage from an earlier article by Gilbert on ZNet. Do you believe there are reasonable grounds for supposing that Gaddafi would not have carried out the threats that Gilbert quotes in this passage?

“On 22 February, two days after his son Saif had warned the protesters that Libya is no Tunisia or Egypt—meaning that the Gaddafi family would not relinquish power under political pressure—and threatened them with civil war, 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.”


By David Graeber, on 31 August 2011 - 16:47 |

 Well as I say, every time a Western power intervenes, there will be people on the “anti-imperialist” left who feel honor-bound to deny all atrocities, and attack the legitimacy of all resistance movements, used as an excuse. This is inevitable. The fact that people are making this argument means nothing, since it must always, necessarily be the case. But again consider logic: what’s the chance that no Western power has ever used an actual atrocity or an actual social movement as a pretext for an imperialist intervention?  Therefore it’s obvious many of those denials have been false in the past, and the fact that people like you make the argument means nothing - you’d be making it whatever were the facts on the ground, since the actual nature of the Libyan situation is of no interest to you except insofar as it can be used as an argument against the legitimacy of the intervention. 

Since the legitimacy of the intervention is of no interest to me, since I don’t accept the legal or power structure to begin with, this is not an issue for me.

By the way, for my having a “line” - actually, I have an opinion. Parties have “lines.” What I was specifically getting at is the logic that says if a state or group of states do something, one must either declare “support” or “opposition” = which strikes me as the logic typical of those who think of themselves as a political party (or actually represent a political party) which is by definition a group that has to imagine themselves as possibly someday taking power and becoming a state. I find this distinction important but I can see how many of those used to operating almost exclusively within this world might not be able to even see it.

By David Graeber, on 31 August 2011 - 17:36 |

And as for Ndugu Sumu’s intervention - while I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the position, there’s a bottom line here. Are there any Libyans with politics like us (on the anti-authoritarian left) who take this position? Or who do not support the revolutionaries? I haven’t seen any. Which is in itself kind of amazing because you have to imagine anti-imperialists have been searching desperately for such figures and if they existed their statements would be touted everywhere. 

Here’s the problem - I actually know some Libyan anarchists. People whose knowledge and perceptions I trust. 

Situations like this are a sea of misinformation and uncertainty on all sides, but ultimately, Gilbert Achcar is dead-on right. No one who believes in the principles we all claim to share has any business simply discounting what people who share those principles in Libya have to say and saying we know better than they do what’s good for them. That position is the very essence of imperialism.

By Ndugu Sumu, on 31 August 2011 - 20:13 |

@David Wearing- I read the February speech Archar cited. Archer interprets the speech as Gaddafi saying “If you rebels don’t stand down, I’ll recklessly kill you in the same way the US gov’t and the Israeli gov’t and the Chinese gov’t does, etc etc”. That is a willful misinterpretation. Gaddafi was pointing out the obvious hyporcisy of the nations who were criticizing his regime: They have done much worse when faced with a similar problem. He also heavily implies (and specifically states in other previous speeches) that the methods the other states have used to crush armed rebellion was stupid and inhumane. So if you believed every word Gaddafi said, one would expect that he’d have a better counter-insurgency strategy than, say, the US. In the end, talk is cheap. Stalin had great words too. We should judge someone on their actions (What previous commentators have mentioned was that Gaddafi’s actions did NOT indicate he was a blood thirsty animal.) But if we are going to criticize someone for their speeches, let’s at least get the correct interpretation.

I could not find a whole transcript for the March 17 speech. On the topic of speeches, I recommend you check out Saif al-Gaddafi’s speech (http://mylogicoftruth.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/full-text-of-saif-gaddafis-speech/). The media would quote him when he said “We will flight to the last man and woman and bullet.” If you read the article, you’ll notice that the media completely misses the point of the speech because they were anti-Gaddafi from the beginning. Frankly, elites like Saif rarely ever speak like Saif. Saif openly admits the tragedy the government caused, the need for dialouge and the need for radical reform. Would he actually lived up to his promises? Who knows. But the point I’m making is that we’re viewing someone’s words as a guide for their future action. Talk is cheap, and misinterpretations of that talk is worthless.

By David, on 31 August 2011 - 21:14 |

Thanks, Ndugu Sumu. Just to be clear, when you say “that is a willful misinterpretation”, you mean Gilbert Achcar is deliberately misleading people?

By Michael Krog, on 31 August 2011 - 22:00 |


The essence of imperiialism isn’t comparable to a debate in the Oxford Union about who knows best what’s good for the victims of imperialism, the victims, or imperialists. The essence of imperialism? Well, there is no ‘essence’ it’s lot more complicated than that. But really that debate, interesting as it is, is irrelevant here, and way too abstract. Though I can see why you want to move away form the concrete, facts, and evidence, and divert attention from what’s actually happened in Libya.

I don’t even understand what you mean by saying that ‘ultimately, Gilbert Achcar is deadn on right’. ‘Utimately’ what does that mean precisely? Ultimately right about what? At some time in the future, when will he be proved right? It’s bizarre. Achcar has already, today, been proved disasterous wrong in his analysis by facts on the ground. Nato’s intervention in Libya served Nato’s interests, not the Libyan peoples, not today, and not ultimately. That’s pie in the sky. Achcar’s arument is so full of holes it’s an embarrasment. Actually, I think I’ve been way too soft on him. I should have done a total demolistion job, only now I don’t have to, the ‘genuine people’s revolution’ have done that for me, which is probably how it should be. Facts instead of academic sophistry.

And if you are going to use logic like a banner, you really have to makes sure that your own comments make sense logically, unfortunately they don’t. You continually evoke starwman arguments to support you theories, (which are contradicted by events in Libya on close to a daily basis) and then, hey presto, you demolish stupid arguments which no one has actually made. This isn’t very impressive. I’m sorry if this sounds unduly harsh, but Christ we’re talking about a country that’s been ravaged by an agressive military aliance which has based it’s attack on a massive propaganda offensive, toppled one tyrant, and replaced him by a bunch of tyrants in waiting, from different and mutually hostile packs. It’s so obscene and grotesque, one couldn’t make it up.

I don’t really give a fuck what a handful of anrachists think about what’s happening in Libya. I’t mildly intersting, but hardly relevant or representative, it’s anecdotal. What matters is that Libya has been invaded by Nato and a non-friendly regime pushed aside for one we prefer. But as they will soon be fighting among themselves over the spoils and the loot, Nato may come to regret pushing Gaddafi aside, especially if Islamists take control.

You boldly state, with a flourish, that the legitimacy of the intervention doesn’t interest you. Well bullly for you! This isn’t an intervention, it’s an invasion and an illegal war of agression using a regional uprising in Benghazi as a cover and calling it a ‘genuine people’s revolution’ The prize for Nato is Libya’s oil wealth, which is obvious to anybody.

So the massive premise the attack on Libya is predicated on is a gigantic lie. The very idea that Nato, France, the US, and Britain would support a ‘genuine people’s revolution’ at any tiem and for any reason, is laughable.

Secondly why would any intelligent person who knows anything about how our media works, who journalists are, what role they play in the distortion of the news, information, and even reality, beleive a word the British press or the BBC says about anything, and not just Libya? Libya is a mere detail in prison-like structure of control of information and the destruction of critical thought, that characterises our media. In the UK, for example, there’s really only one newspaper, with a host of supplements, to give the impression, a false one, that there is choice. For example they all unanimously agree that the attack on Libya is right and good, and support the ‘freedom crusade.’ Of course there are a tiny handful of ‘tame’ dissenters, but they are without real influence, and are there like a figleaf.

Like our ghastly politicians, who are mostly professional liars, we live in culture of lies and structured falsehoods repeated over and over again like brainwashing. Our political process is corrupt to the core and resembles a dictatorship. We have no political choice to speak of as the three main parties are merely rival factions of the one ruling party, similar in many respects to the structure of the media in general. Democracy without real choice is a sham.

Finally even the idea that our political class gives a damn about what happens in Libya or to it’s people, human rights, democracy, freedom, is ridiculous. It’s shocking anyone, any thinking adult with a bit of education thinks this.

So, to sum up. We have a cynical, corrupt, and criminal, ruling class, that wants to invade Libya, change it’s regime and grab it’s oil and gas. They lead a massive media propaganda offensive to justify this crime as ‘moral’, like they’ve done so many times before. The political class is helped and supported by the corrupt media which plays its usual role in their wars, and always has done. Simultaneously they ‘create’ their own bogus ‘Arab Spring’  and a ragtag militia. The SAS and other special forces from the imperialist nations, lead and co-ordinate the war, doing most of the real fighting. One even imports soldiers from the other other Arab dictatorships, and hundreds of fighters from Afghanistan.which they carefully present through their docile and corrupt media, as a ‘genuine people’s revolution’

By Ndugu Sumu, on 31 August 2011 - 22:10 |

@David Graeber-I think “Are there any Libyans with politics like us (on the anti-authoritarian left) who take [the position of a peacekeeping force]?” is slightly misleading question. My opinion on situations like these inform my politics and my definition of ‘anti-authoritarian’.                                                                              Think about it this way. Say you are talking to your Zimbabwe friends. They are anti-authoritarian and socialist for the most part. You agree with them on many issues. A new situation arises and their government decides to launch a war on country XXX. Despite overwhelming evidence that their government is committing an illegal and inhumane war, your friends still support it for whatever reason. If your friends do not provide hard evidence, you simply stop identifying them as ‘anti-authoritarian leftists’. Maybe this is my bias, I have always viewed rushing into a country we knew little about and supporting a group of people we knew little about as, above all, wreckless. One value in my set of values which I call ‘leftist’ is not being wreckless.                                                                                  Certainly, if your friends provide evidence that we in the West did not see on why the rebels needed military support to crush the Gaddafi regime, I’m all for reading that. Given you are a greater writer, I’d, of course, look at it closely.                                                                                  The question I’d like to propose is “What makes NATO inherently better than an AU peacekeeping force?” After all, if there is a “sea of misinformation and uncertainty on all sides”, shouldn’t we try to figure out what’s going in the country before we start bombing them? I can think of thousands of reasons why such a peace keeping force would have been better than NATO’s regime change.

By Ndugu Sumu, on 31 August 2011 - 22:20 |

@David- I guess I used too strong of a phrase. I believe Gilbert Archar is a smart guy, who like most people, sees what he wants to see. He assumes Gaddafi is a crazy monster, and, interprets his speech in that light.                                        Thanks for moderating this, David. This is definitely a great website.

By David, on 01 September 2011 - 05:53 |

@Ndugu Sumu - thanks. Glad you’re enjoying the site.

The claim you’re making about Gilbert is still a pretty strong one. Gilbert speaks Arabic as a first language, and is Professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies. I find it quite hard to believe such a person would or could misinterpret Gaddafi to the serious extent that you suggest, and equally hard to believe that this could be attributed merely to his “seeing what he wants to see”. It just doesn’t seem like a credible claim to me. Why would he “want to see” the situation in this way, in any case? His politics clearly suggest that he’d prefer to see a popular revolution with the material strength to overthrow Gaddafi itself, and with no need for Western involvement. It seems to me that, whether you agree with him or not, he’s taken a rational view based on the evidence in front of him, and has come to the conclusion he’s come to.

By mutex7, on 01 September 2011 - 09:52 |

I think we can settle this debate rather simply.  The premise of this war on Libya was encapsulated in the theory of the world’s “responsibility to protect”.  If this is anything more than a fig leaf why, now that the people of Sirte have been told to “surrender or die”, hasn’t NATO come to their aid?  Where is the UN mandate in defense of these people?  For all those academics who want to argue that this time is different, that this time the wolves are coming to the aid of the lambs how do they justify their silence regarding the impending slaughter of the people of Sirte while they argued so vociferously that the hypothetical massacre of the people of Benghazi required over 17,000 bombing runs.
People have been twisting themselves into contortions to rationalize how or why NATO is somehow accidentally doing the right thing here.  Given the long, documented history of the actions and intentions of imperial powers shouldn’t we instead be trying to understand what is taking place in that context.  The handwriting is on the wall.  We are at the dawn of a fundamental shift in global politics and economics.  In this new information age it will become increasingly difficult for supposed democracies to support dictators.  China is challenging US hegemony, especially in places like Africa.  The imperial west is struggling to figure out how to maintain its power as the sands shift beneath its feet.  History will sort out the details but there is one thing we can be sure of…the tiger certainly has not changed its stripes.


By David Graeber, on 01 September 2011 - 21:54 |

to Ngudu”

“shouldn’t we try to figure out what’s going in the country before we start bombing them?”

what “we” kimosabe?

You seem to be reproducing exactly the logic I began by saying I did not subscribe to. NATO is an imperial structure which I do not identify with, or partake in, in any way - other than I happen to live under the control of a government that is part of it. I am against the existence of both the US government and the Libyan government, and I do not “support” NATO no matter what it does - even if it does something I am happy to see, as in (some of) this case. I am arguing that they engaged in an imperial intervention for various dishonest and calculated reasons that happens to have saved a bunch of people I do feel a kinship with - who I do see as part of a “we” which I would like to identify myself with, and hope they feel the same about me -  from being massacred. 

Incidentally as for the likelihood of their being massacred, I just chanced on a report by a reporter who caught up with a Taureg fighter who’d been part of Gadaffi’s army approaching Benghazi, but who later deserted and went home. Here’s an extract: 

“I asked about Qaddafi’s February speech, in which he pledged to hunt down protesters house by house and what his men were ordered to do if they encountered civilians. He paused before answering, “To be honest, it is true. We believed what Qaddafi told us. We believed we would go there and kill everyone.”
I asked if he had seen any civilians killed. In Misrata, he says, “We tried to find everyone there. One half of the city was cleaned.”
“What do you mean ‘cleaned?’” I asked.
“The people were killed. Women, children, everyone there.”
Who did the killing?
“Mostly it was Arabs but also some Tuareg.”
Did you kill any civilians?
“No.” He refused to elaborate.”

But of course we will now here immediate claims this is propaganda disinformation as well. Since there is no evidence that can be produced that cannot be refuted by saying “well I just don’t believe it.” 

By Chris, on 02 September 2011 - 00:54 |

“Arguing that no massacre would have taken place in Benghazi strikes me as the most extreme form of special pleading. “

You have evidently led a very sheltered life. Max Forte at Counterpunch deals with most of these claims and you would do well to read what he says. 
Early in the 1960s western socialists visiting North Vietnam asked Ho Chi Minh how they could assist the Vietnamese in their struggle against imperialist aggression. They specificallly suggested that they might form International Brigades to fight alongside the Vietnamese forces. He replied that they should make revolutions in their own country. Any genuine Libyan revolutionary would have told BHL and his ilk the same thing. 

In much the same way the assistance that the Russian Revolution (which at one stage was fighting 21 Foreign Powers) needed from Britain was provided in the form of the dockers’ refusal to load cargo on to ships taking arms to the counter revolutionaries. 
If the Libyan Revolution is real then it has nothing to gain and much to fear from foreign intervention. Given the source of that intervention, NATO and the most reactionary forces in the region, it is surprising that anyone would think otherwise. 

 The history of these interventions invariably shows us that imperialists will not support but will rather thwart popular forces. 

The truth is that if we, in the western countries, are really interested in helping democrats in the Arab world to free themselves we should be making it impossible for “our” governments to intervene in their countries. By backing the NATO effort in Libya we have given support  to the worst autocrats in the Arab world. We have aligned ourselves with the governments of Sarkozy, Berlusconi , Cameron and Obama and we have lent legitimacy to the bombing of undefended communities. 

It is time that those who call themselves part of the left struggled to make it impossible for their governments- guilty as they are of domestic neglect and negligence- to undertake any military action abroad. Currently the US/NATO forces are deeply involved in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other countries. In every case they support the wealthy and the powerful against popular forces. Their allies are invariably on the wrong side, in Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf tyrannies. In Egypt and Tunisia they backed the kleptocrats and oligarchs as long as they could, and they now seek to ensure that their replacements are equally committed to the Imperial agenda. 

Perhaps things are different in Libya, and, for some inexplicable reason, the enemies of democracy everywhere else side with it there. 

Let us watch and wait as NATO acts, in Sirte for example. Let us watch to see whether it makes any effort to restrain the racists lynching blacks. Above all let us try and count the Libyans to be found amidst the great mass of Arab and Afghan, Pakistani, Uzbek and European “volunteers” who constitute the rebel forces. 

By David Graeber, on 02 September 2011 - 13:45 |

That’s not a particularly well-chosen example, Chris. During World War II, Ho Chi Minh was happy to receive substantial military support from the OSS.

By mutex7, on 02 September 2011 - 15:15 |

“I just chanced on a report by a reporter who caught up with a Taureg fighter”—- Let me know if you chance upon a report from a rebel disserter.  I am very much interested in what they believe they are going to do to the people of Sirte when they get there.  Do you suppose they might plan on doing a little cleaning their ownselves?  Or does “surrender or die” have some colloquial meaning with which I’m not familiar?  This is a civil war in which the US and NATO inserted themselves and took a side that they believe will be beneficial to their interests.  It really is that simple.  One innocent civilain might get accidentally saved while another equally innocent civilian accidentally gets killed…if indeed the title of civilian has any meaning in a civil war.  Those defending this ‘intervention’ seem to once again be asking the world to ‘give war a chance’.  War does not bring peace and humanitarian missions do not kill people.  If western imperialists were truly interested in the subjugated people of Libya and other corrupt regimes they wouldn’t have spent over three decades providing money and weapons to dictators and they certainly wouldn’t ask us to believe that freedom and democracy are things to be defended on a “case by case” basis.  I thought Ghandi settled this argument for moral people.  Or would you have us believe that his teachings too must be applied only when it is convenient?  WWI was suppose to be the “war to end all wars”.  Every war is cloaked in some honorable quest but they all seem to end up in death and destruction, ultimately never solving anything.  It’s as if each war plants the seeds of injustice and the desire for revenge which in due course sprout into the wars of future generations and somehow, with each succeeding war, we think this time is different.  The lessons of history never seem to be learned.  Worse though are those who believe that they can temporarily partner with evil.  Naively believing they can reap the benefits but avoid the costs.  When you lie down with satan you will certainly wake up with moral fleas.

By David Graeber, on 02 September 2011 - 15:23 |

Just to follow up on my previous comment (the OSS, for anyone who might not be aware, was the wartime predecessor to the CIA)

(from http://www.politicalreviewnet.com/polrev/reviews/DIPH/R_0145_2096_325_1007621.asp)

Ho, who operated in China during most of the war, came to Fenn’s attention because of the Viet Minh’s repatriation of a downed American pilot in late 1944 and Ho’s contacts with the U.S. Office of War Information in Kunming. After the Japanese seized power in Indochina and disrupted the GBT spy network by interning the French, Fenn met with Ho on March 17, 1945. Impressed by Ho’s eagerness to cooperate, Fenn broke with Gordon’s policy of avoiding cooperation with Vietnamese, sending Tan and a Chinese radio operator overland to the Viet Minh base area inside Indochina.
Short on intelligence options and under pressure to gain information, the OSS sanctioned the venture. The relationship between Ho and the OSS became more direct after Captain Archimedes Patti, who was charged with launching a separate intelligence-gathering scheme (code named QUAIL), met with a Viet Minh representative in mid-April.
The latter connection led to the dispatch of the first element of the OSS DEER mission to Ho’s base area in mid-July, a group headed by Major Allison Thomas. After an airdrop of reinforcements and weapons at the end of the month, Thomas and his men started training a Viet Minh cadre. Emotionally attached to the Vietnamese he had trained, Thomas controversially participated in a Viet Minh attack on a Japanese garrison at Thai Nguyen, a highly symbolic skirmish that occurred after Tokyo’s acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration.

By Ndugu Sumu, on 02 September 2011 - 15:45 |

@David and David Graeber- With the evidence you’ve shown me, I am now much more open to the idea that Gaddafi did threaten Eastern Libya in his Feb speech. Or he could have blundered that speech (I believe it was impromptu). Or people in Eastern Libya could have had interpreted it incorrectly, due to years of (mostly justified) animosity towards their ‘leader’. The only thing I stress is that there lacks a definitive interpretation, given previous Gaddafi speeches where he explicitly criticized those military campaigns (look at his UN speech) and because we have a history of misinterpreting Gaddafi (again, look at the UN speech; it was widely described as rambling and incoherent, but if you get a decent translation, it’s actually a pretty good speech). If that speech is the backbone for one’s argument that Gaddafi would have ‘massacred’ plenty of civilians, then it’s inherently a weak argument.

By Paddy Apling, on 02 September 2011 - 19:26 |

It is 6 days since my brief intervention in this debate, during which time I have not been able to expand it, in the hope that the musings of an 86-yr-old, can give some little assistance in this discussion. 

First of all I must thank Michael for correcting my grammar - but should now give some summary of my assessment of the situation - and to explain what “principles” I felt Michael was upholding in his interventions.  The principal one may be expressed as no co-operation by revolutionaries with the imperialists whatever the situation ....

Binh made a very apt comparison somewhere else of the Arab Spring and the events of the European revolutionary year of 1848, because both revolutionary years involved “bourgeois revolutions” in which the incipient working classes played/are playing a major role.

As in Tunisia and Egypt the Libyan uprising began with demonstrations for “freedom” by well-educated youth, who rapidly found support from the general population, but an immediate violent military repression from the regime and its army.  I just cannot understand why there is a reluctance to some here to say the result is revolution…..

Of course the nominal leadership of the anti-Gaddafi forces, at least in diplomatic circles, the (NTC) is dominated by members of the old elite - just as the new regimes in Egypt and Tunisia are dominated by the old elite and the military - but the general activity of the masses is surely clear.

What then about NTC attitude to NATO involvement?  This seems to be the main question up for discussion;  it seems to be only sensible for the NTC to have welcomed the UN suggestion of a “no fly zone”; but it also seems fairly clear that the NTC is adamantly opposed to involvement by either UN or NATO ground forces, so perhaps they are not so naive as some suggest.

Why are the British and French governments so keen to be involved - and to keep saying they have no intention of using ground forces?  On the one hand, both major sections of the Libyan elite and NATO governments seek major power advantages for themselves in ridding Libya of its oppressive and incoherent Gaddafi government.

For the British and French governments it seems that national politics plays a major role - their claim of “humanitarian intervention” has undergone a nosedive in “public opnion” as a result of events in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the banking crisis (with huge bonuses still being sucked up by leading bankers, while social benefits and infrastructure are savagely cut - while they imagine they may get major commercial benefits from a new regime (of course they are not after “regime change” are they ?? !!)

Forecasting the future is not the role of revolutionaries - rather we must remain optimistic that the determination of the masses will lead successively to major improvements in freedom and living conditions. 

I see not reason NOT to be optimistic, and have never felt so optimistic and excited about world events since in 1945 one country after another was being liberated from the Nazi yoke
- when I had just graduated from Sandhurst (the UK equivalent of West Point) military Academy - where some of the tutors were already making clear to us that the break-up of the Grand Alliance of the 5 Great Powers (then known as the United Nations - with a Treaty of Alliance between UK and USSR) was being planned for ...... 

OK my optimism then proved to be unfounded and 66 years have passed before another real opportunity for major advances by the masses is on the cards.  We MUST do all we can to see successes made - and along the road compromises are so often both necessary and positive provided the dangers are appreciated and prepared for.



By David Graeber, on 03 September 2011 - 03:20 |

No, Mutex, I don’t. Why? Because if this were Gadaffi’s troops, they’d have been shooting missiles, artillery fire, and cluster bombs into the populated area continually for the last week, rather than sitting about patiently trying to negotiate a bloodless transfer of power. 

By mutex7, on 03 September 2011 - 15:57 |

Thanks for the response Mr. Graeber.  Perhaps you could provide me some facts since the mainstream media is doing such a poor job of it.  Subsequent to Gaddafi’s threat to weed out anti-government supporters house by house did his troops shoot missiles, artillery fire and cluster bombs into Benghazi?  If so how bloody was the attack?  How many people were killed or injured?  As for rebels and their impending attack on Sirte, time will tell just how bloodless the confrontation will be but my point was more pointedly about our collective forecasting abilities.  Objective viewers might wonder how the rebel threat to “surrender or die” differs substantively from Gaddafi’s threat.  Your argument seems to presume that Gaddafi is evil and the rebel forces (as disparate as they are) are good and your logic seems to depend on this point of view.  One might also question, if Gaddafi is the bloodthirsty tyrant he is made out to be, why would he make threats at all?  Don’t threats imply an alternative?  Aren’t they made to coerce an action from someone e.g. ‘do as I say or else’?  If Gaddafi merely wanted blood why not get on with the slaughter.  Why stop to make speeches?  When NATO and the rebel forces wait “patiently” before their attack you ascribe it to the altruistic desire to avoid bloodshed despite their proclamation of surrender or die while when Gaddafi pauses to make speeches and threats you infer it represents evil intentions.  I fail to see the difference.  What am I missing?

By David Graeber, on 04 September 2011 - 17:36 |

They weren’t in artillery range of Benghazi. They sure as hell did it to the other cities they successfully reduced. There was massive use of firepower into populated areas. All this is very extensively documented. It’s also pretty well documented that during the rebel counter-offensives, government forces in many areas refused to allow populations to evacuate because they knew that the rebels wouldn’t use heavy weapons when attacking in populated areas. Sorry, guy, Just sitting up screaming “everything we hear could be a lie so you’re biased in thinking one side behaves any better than any other!” is not really an argument. It just shows that you’ve already decided what you want to think for your own political reasons and don’t really care what the facts are on the ground. 

By Chris, on 04 September 2011 - 20:32 |

“They weren’t in artillery range of Benghazi. They sure as hell did it to theother cities they successfully reduced. There was massive use of firepowerinto populated areas. All this is very extensively documented. It’s alsopretty well documented that during the rebel counter-offensives, governmentforces in many areas refused to allow populations to evacuate because theyknew that the rebels wouldn’t use heavy weapons when attacking in populatedareas.”

What Ghaddafi said or meant only matters if you believe that NATO’s actions were in any way related. In fact the intervention was ready long before Ghaddafi said anything.
 The point is that what you are supporting is a NATO attack on Libya. Are you suggesting that NATO is motivated by concern for the welfare of Libyan civilians?   Is that what imperialism is about? Was the US government motivated by its concern for democracy in Cuba to organise the Bay of Pigs expedition? Was Leopold in the Congo to put an end to internecine warfare and slave trading? Did the US support Diem as an alternative to Stalinist authoritarianism from the North? Did Georgia invade south Ossetia to re-unite a divided people?    Were the King of Bahrain, a big supporter of this campaign, the Sultan of Qatar and the Saudi King supporting the rebels for reasons that bear scrutiny? Were their majesties shocked by the threat to Benghazi’s people?  No,  this was an imperialist expedition, an opportunist adventure which you and other apologists from the “left” are claiming as your own ( a harmless fantasy) while affording moral comfort to tyrants and bullies (far from harmless) and confusing popular rebellion with aggressive warmaking. 

By mutex7, on 04 September 2011 - 21:15 |

I’m not sitting around screaming anything.  I’m asking what, at least from my perspective, are logical and objective questions.  I am truly unaware of how many people government loyalists slaughtered in the lead up to the attack on Tripoli by rebel forces and NATO.  In time hopefully we will all be able to sort out fact from fiction.  The reason I mentioned Benghazi is that I believed that the threats against the people there in Gaddafi’s speech were the primary reason for the UN mandate regarding the responsibility to protect.and the subsequent NATO bombing attacks to protect civilians.  I think it is pretty apparent at this point that NATO was interested in regime change from the start and not just some generalized humanitarian mission.  It is this giant lie, and several other easily proved smaller lies, that cause me to question the entire story we are being told.  Another thought occurs to me though.  Just what is the appropriate level of violence for a government to use to put down a rebellion.  In the US civil war General Sherman, under the orders of President Lincoln, committed some pretty horrifying acts and yet President Lincoln is remembered as one of our greatest Presidents, in large part for preserving the union.  Putting aside for the moment just who is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in this war in Libya can’t we question whether Gaddafi’s actions, when viewed from this perspective, be seen as pursuing a similar goal.  Since the west had taken substantial steps to legitimize the Gaddafi government with the world community over the past several years doesn’t it strike you as the least bit hypocritical that they now believe that his actions to ‘preserve his union’ are not only illegitimate but war crimes?  I’m not defending Gaddafi per se but rather questioning the seemingly circular argument being used to justify NATO intervention.

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