Re: Libya disaster
Source Gar Lipow
Date 14/11/11/12:07

Just three years after NATO’s military
intervention in Libya ended and was widely
heralded by its proponents as a resounding
success, that country is in complete collapse.
So widespread is violence and anarchy there
that “hardly any Libyan can live a normal
life,” Brown University’s Stephen Kinzer
wrote in The Boston Globe last week. Last
month, the Libyan Parliament, with no
functioning army to protect it from well-
armed militias, was forced to flee Tripoli and
take refuge in a Greek car ferry. The New York
Times reported in September that “the
government of Libya said . . . that it had lost
control of its ministries to a coalition of militias that had taken
over the capital, Tripoli, in another milestone in the disintegration
of the state.”
Sectarian strife and economic woes destroyed efforts by the U.S.
and U.K. to train Libyan soldiers, causing those two nations last
week to all but abandon further programs: “not a single soldier had
been trained by the U.S. because the Libyan government failed to
provide promised cash.” AP reports this morning that an entire city, Darna, has now pledged its
allegiance to ISIS, “becoming the first city outside of Iraq and Syria to join the ‘caliphate’
announced by the extremist group.” A report issued by Amnesty International two weeks ago
documented that “lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya
are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes.” In sum, it is almost
impossible to overstate the horrors daily faced by Libyans and the misery that has engulfed the
All of that prompts an obvious question: where did all of the humanitarians go who insisted they
were driven by a deep and noble concern for the welfare of the Libyan people when they agitated
for NATO intervention? Almost without exception, war advocates justified NATO’s military
action in Libya on the ground that it was driven not primarily by strategic or resource objectives
but by altruism. The New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof wrote: “Libya is a reminder that sometimes it
is possible to use military tools to advance humanitarian causes.” Former Obama official Anne-
Marie Slaughter argued that intervention was a matter of upholding “universal values,” which itself
advanced America’s strategic goals. In justifying the war to Americans (more than a week after it
started), President Obama decreed: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in
other countries. The United States of America is different.”
But “turning a blind eye” to the ongoing – and now far worse – atrocities in Libya is exactly what
the U.S., its war allies, and most of the humanitarian war advocates are now doing. Indeed, after the
bombing stopped, war proponents maintained interest in the Libyan people just long enough to
boast of their great prescience and to insist on their vindication. Slaughter took her grand victory
lap in a Financial Times op-ed headlined “Why Libya sceptics were proved badly wrong,” Dismissing
those who were telling her that “it is too early to tell” and that “in a year, or a decade, Libya could
disintegrate into tribal conflict or Islamist insurgency, or split apart or lurch from one strongman
to another,” she insisted that nothing could possibly be worse than letting Gaddafi remain in
power. Thus: “Libya proves the west can make those choices wisely after all.”
Kristof similarly took his moment in the sun to celebrate his own rightness, visiting Tripoli in
August and then announcing that Americans were regarded by grateful Libyans as heroes. While
carefully larding up his column with all sorts of caveats about how things could still go terribly
wrong, he nonetheless trumpeted that “this was a rare military intervention for humanitarian
reasons, and it has succeeded” and that “on rare occasions military force can advance human rights.
Libya has so far been a model of such an intervention.” When Gaddafi’s defeat was imminent, the
White-House-supporting Think Progress blog exploited the resulting emotions (exactly as the GOP
did when Saddam was captured) to taunt the Republicans: “Does John Boehner still believe U.S.
military operations in Libya are illegal?” – as though killing Gaddafi somehow excused the waging
of this war in the face of Congressional rejection of its authorization, let alone guaranteed a better
outcome for Libyans.
The same scene of smug self-congratulations repeated itself in other countries participating in the
war. “Even as Canada staged a lavish November 2011 victory parade and flypast over Parliament
Hill in Ottawa, Libya was fast descending into absolute anarchy,” reported The Chronicle Herald. In
September, Christian Science Monitor described how “Western leaders are swooping into Tripoli to
celebrate the rebels’ victory and offer support for the new Libya, whose success they see [as a] model
for other Arab revolutions.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David
Cameron (pictured above) basked in the thanks from NATO’s favorite Libyan transition leaders for
having fought a war on a “purely humanitarian basis.” A der Spiegel headline pronounced: “Sarkozy
and Cameron in Libya: Heroes for a Day.” Finally, the west had found its Good War about which it
could feel pure and proud.
What’s most notable here isn’t how everything in Libya has gone so terribly and tragically wrong.
That was painfully predictable: anyone paying even casual attention now knows that
killing the Bad Dictator of the Moment (usually one the U.S. spent years supporting) achieves
nothing good for the people of that country unless it’s backed by years of sustained support for re-
building its civil institutions. And even then, better results are very difficult to achieve. That was, of
course, one of the prime arguments made by those who opposed the intervention in Libya: that it
would achieve nothing good for the Libyan people while creating untold chaos and killing many of
its citizens.
What’s most notable is how brazen these war advocates were about completely ignoring Libya once
the exciting bombs fell and their glorious war victory dances were over. With a couple of notable
exceptions, such as Juan Cole who visited the country, the most prominent war advocates in both
government and the commentariat seemed to completely forget that the country and its people –
whose welfare so profoundly moved them on a deep humanitarian level - even existed. As the
country spun into chaos, violence, militia rule and anarchy as a direct result of the NATO
intervention, they exhibited no interest whatsoever in doing anything to arrest or reverse that
collapse. What happened to their deeply felt humanitarianism? Where did it go?
There are all sorts of reasons to oppose so-called “humanitarian interventions.” To begin with,
virtually all wars, even the most blatantly aggressive ones of conquest (such as the Iraq War) are
wrapped in humanitarian packaging. Moreover, there should be enormous doubt about the ability
of the west to use bombs and military force – in distant lands with radically different and complex
cultures – to manipulate political and social outcomes to its liking (except where total disorder is
what it craves, in which case it likely can achieve its goals). Beyond that, the devastation and human
costs from having the powerful U.S. military bomb countries are enormous, and will virtually never
be outweighed by supposed “benefits.”
But the most compelling reason to oppose such wars is that – even if it all could work perfectly in
an ideal world and as tempting as it is to believe – humanitarianism is not what motivates the U.S.
or most other governments to deploy its military in other nations. If you have doubts about that,
just look at how the supposed humanitarian concern for Libyans instantly vanished the moment all
the fun, glory-producing and self-satisfying bomb-dropping was done. If there were any
authenticity to the claimed humanitarianism, wouldn’t there be movements to spend
large amounts of money not just to bomb Libya but also to stabilize and re-build it? Wouldn’t
there be just as much horror over the plight of Libyans now: when the needed solution is large-
scale economic aid and assistance programs rather than drone deployments, blowing up buildings,
and playful, sociopathic chuckling over how we came, conquered, and made The Villain die?
I’d be much more inclined to believe in the professed humanitarianism of these war advocates if it
lasted longer than the fun imperial ritual of starting distant and risk-free wars in other countries
and then reveling in the Glory of Victory. The way most war advocates instantly forgot Libya
existed once that fun part was over is the strongest argument imaginable about what really
motivates these actions. In the victory parade he threw for himself, Kristof said the question of
“humanitarian intervention” will “arise again” and “the next time it does, let’s remember a lesson
of Libya.” About that, at least, he’s absolutely right.

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