1. What is “The West”? A lot of the rhetoric surrounding this side of the debate operates under the perception of The West as a monolithic giant, a collective of unchanging governments independent of the people running them or the society they govern. When we accuse the collective West of being incapable of handling a foreign humanitarian crisis with grace and goodwill we’re committing the same crime as those who call “The Arab World” incapable of democracy or giving freedom to its people. There are so many different factors playing into this, including evolving motivations, governments, ruling parties, etc. I know as much as the next guy about politics and history, but I do know it’s not A + B = C.
Judging by the first words in abudai’s next question (“2. The West has intervened before in the name of humanitarian interest”) it’s fine to talk about the West as long as you’re praising it. But if you’re criticizing it then suddenly the term is too confusing to understand. One of the standard ways to divert from any topic and evade obvious truths is to ask for definitions of ordinary terminology, to pretend that the terms are too vague. So if someone says the sky is blue, and you don’t like it, then you can ask for their exact definition of the sky. Or if someone says, as I did, that “the problem with the West’s record is much more than just Iraq
,” and you don’t want to admit that, then you can ask for the definition of the West. Maybe it’s an interesting question as is the question about the sky, but it’s obviously beside the point. The tactic works insofar as people are willing to divert from the real issues. Anyone who sincerely wants to know what terms mean should start by consulting a dictionary
. The record of Western intervention in recent decades, dominated by the U.S.
(both major parties), is readily available and increasingly well-known and very poorly regarded. That’s how the U.S. became the most feared country in the world (even by Europeans
). Call it something else if you like but people still won’t trust it. What matters is the factual record and the record is not good.
2. The West has intervened before in the name of humanitarian interest. See: Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda. What did the U.S. gain in involving itself in the conflicts of those nations? Nothing comes to mind, but let me know if something comes to yours.
Every intervention is “in the name of humanitarian interest,” even Hitler’s interventions, etc. Only lackeys take the pious statements of politicians on faith. Obviously we have to judge for ourselves what the real and consistent goals of policy are. Regarding abudai’s examples of innocent Western intervention: the NATO intervention in Bosnia was understood as a pretext for NATO’s continued existence after the fall of the USSR, the failed Somalia intervention was regarded as a PR operation gone awry, and of course Rwanda is most famous as a case of inaction not intervention (although Paul Kagame’s U.S. training and support from 1990 to the present should be investigated in connection with the subsequent horrors in Rwanda and the Congo). These examples do not reflect well on the U.S. record but even if they did it wouldn’t be enough to justify the current U.S. intervention in Libya because there are more recent actions including Obama’s ongoing war crimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan
as well as other recent wickedness (military support to criminals in Israel, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, etc, not to mention Libya
3. Using Israel as an example is an oversimplification of this issue. Israel ISN’T involved (thank God for that) and they weren’t asked to be involved. It makes no sense to compare the U.S. or Great Britain or Qatar or all the other intervening nations with Israel. Libyan leadership of the Revolution asked the West for help. They’ve suffered— and continue to suffer— great losses for the right to self-rule, and in their first act of freedom, in their first role as democratic players on the world stage, they asked the U.N. to intervene. They’ve decided for themselves that this is what they want.
Obviously the reason I used Israel as an example is because of Israel’s terrible record. And, as I said, the U.S. record is far worse. It’s pure hypocrisy to “thank God” that Israel hasn’t intervened and yet defend the U.S. intervention.
4. Who else would intervene? No, seriously. Who else has the military power to intervene? You think the Arab world’s going to be jumping at the chance to help one of their peers join the democratic world if they’re stifling those same movements back home? China and Russia have already expressed they’re opposed to the intervention but even if they did, you think they have a better record than the U.S.? Japan? Antarctica? Who else would help? Who’s going to save my family from the fatal grip of Muammar Gaddafi? WHO? Because, to be honest, I sleep a lot better at night knowing, at least, that they’ve got some help on their side. And they do too.
First of all, the idea that China’s record on foreign intervention is no better than the U.S. is blind Western fanaticism. China’s record is incomparably better in this dimension. Setting that aside, consider the comments of Noam Chomsky three weeks ago on this very question - the question of who should intervene if there must be an intervention:
Suppose we agree that there should be a ‘no-fly zone.’ Does the West have to impose it? How about the Arab league? … They easily have the military capacity to impose it. I mean the dictators in the Arab world - Arab League - they’re collapsing under the weight of high-tech foreign aircraft, tanks, everything else, that the West has been lavishing on them to recycle petrodollars. So they got all of this. Or take say Turkey, which is the most respected country in the region by far. Look at the polls. It’s a NATO power, a major military force. I mean are they talking about military intervention? They could certainly carry it out. I should say that the Arab press has been condemning the Arab dictatorships for not doing anything. So maybe there ought to be intervention. But should it come from the most hated countries in the region [the U.S. and France], with a long history of destruction violence and repression? Or should it be internal? Well those are considerations that should be raised.
There are good questions about whether a ‘no-fly zone’ should be imposed. But should it be imposed by the government [U.S.A.] that 90% of Egyptians think is the major threat to their interest - and similar figures throughout the Arab world? And when you move over to Northwest Africa - Tunisia, Morocco - it’s France that’s regarded as the major enemy.
- Noam Chomsky, March 16th 2011
5. “Division of the Libyan rebels into pro- and anti- U.S. factions is just the most obvious of many plausible effects.” Are you serious? Arabs aren’t stupid. Libyans aren’t stupid. They know the U.S. is helping them. THEY ASKED FOR IT. Intervening in this conflict— at the request of those involved in the conflict (i.e. unlike Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.)— is probably the best thing the U.S. can do to improve its image in the Middle East. I’ve mentioned this before but I whenever someone is attacking the U.S. for their intervention in Libya, it always stinks of condescension and superiority towards Arabs. And I know that’s not what you think of them, but your rhetoric is either a product of that popular perception of the Arab World or one of things perpetuating it. We have no hand in deciding the fate of the Libyans— they decided it themselves when they knowingly, willingly, pleadingly asked for a No-Fly Zone. They know what they were asking for. We don’t need to draw pictures for them or remind them of the West’s history in these conflict. Also, who’s to say Libyan lives— of which so many have already been lost— are worth your flimsy predictions and your desire to cling to factually independent ideologies?
The point is elementary: a victory that is perceived to be deeply flawed or corrupt is an unstable victory. Of course no one can predict what will happen but there are already serious divisions arising. For example the Asia Times’ Pepe Escobar
reports that the “laudable, indigenous February 17 Youth movement - which was in the forefront of the Benghazi uprising - has been completely sidelined” in favor of the “Interim National Council (INC) - a dodgy cast of characters including former Justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, US-educated former secretary of planning Mahmoud Jibril, and former Virginia resident, new ‘military commander’ and CIA asset Khalifa Hifter,” (link
) while Michael McGehee writes on ZNet
that blacks, “the most oppressed group [are] not only uninvolved with [the Libyan] revolution but fleeing it in terror.”
(The suggestion that there is something anti-Arab about opposing Western intervention is a bizarre one and it seems unnecessary to address it.)
6. What’s the alternative? I think arming the revolutionaries is a great idea, but NOT as an independent gesture and I’ve explained why here. So what are you thoughts? Keep sending humanitarian aid in the form of medical supplies? Or wait until they’ve run out of human lives to save?
The use of force is a very serious matter requiring very serious and persuasive justification. “What’s the alternative?” is not a justification at all and it’s not a serious question either. There are two mistaken presumptions behind the question: that we have the right to intervene in the first place (we would never take the question seriously if it came from an enemy, for example), and that there is no answer because there are no other credible actors. Neither presumption is accurate. If we were serious about humanitarian intervention then a military that is relatively trusted in the region (maybe Turkey, for example) would be asked to do it, with rigorous regional oversight. Constant aggressors obviously do not get the benefit of the doubt.