Empire burlesque, March 19, 2011
When the UN intervention into Libya was first announced, we immediately heard how the United States would not be in the forefront of the military action; the lead would be taken by other nations, with US acting largely as a supplier and facilitator for the "broad-based coalition" arrayed against Libya (including some real live Ay-rabs! as the interventionists enthusiastically noted.) But it took less than two days to give the lie to this claim.
On Saturday, just after the French -- who have extensive oil interest in Libya -- jumped the gun on the UN coalition and started attacking Libyan ground forces, the United States joined in with a missile attack on Libyan cities. Not a few missiles; not 10 or 30 or 50 missiles -- but a full barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles, slamming into Tripoli and Misurata.
This was always in the cards, from the earliest mooting of a "no-fly zone." This PR concept conjures up the idea of knightly pilots chasing the aircraft of the evil ones from the sky -- a jousting between combatants high in the heavens, far removed from the people below. But "no-fly zones" are always accompanied, of necessity, by attacks to "degrade" the "command-and-control centers" of the designated enemy of the day. (Almost always a heinous dictator swimming in arms and money given to him by the West before he did something to displease his patrons and business partners.) This means attacks on ground installations and headquarters -- which, as in the United States, are often located in the midst of civilian areas, and, as in the United States, filled with civilian workers. It also means, invariably, attacks on regular miltary forces of the designated enemy who are helping sustain the miscreant's operations. A "no-fly zone" always means a full-scale military attack with everything except ground troops, with an inevitable harvest of civilian deaths. Hell, you can even conduct a whole war with this mechanism, as the United States and its allies did against Serbia.
In any case, the game is now afoot. Barack Obama has drawn his first blood from Libya, which now becomes the sixth (at least) Muslim nation in which he has launched deadly military actions, joining Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. (Of course, the Administration has bragged that it is carrying out secret wars and covert operations in more than 70 countries, with several other Muslim nations certainly among that number.) The West and its reliable dictators in the Arab world are now fully committed to one side in the Libyan civil war, and are actively seeking to bring to power an armed opposition group led by a man who was a chief agent of Gadafy's repression. (As As'ad AbuKhalil has noted, Gadafy's erstwhile strongmen have "hijacked" the Libyan revolution.) Meanwhile, the autocratic allies of Barack Obama and the other interventionist powers continue to kill and repress unarmed civilians in Yemen and Bahrain without the slightest negative consequence, beyond a few hackneyed harrumphs served up briefly for public consumption by their string-pullers back in Washington.
But this too is another invariable by-product of armed intervention: murderous hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, Abdel al-Bari Atwan (editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the pan-Arab newspaper based in London) asks some pertinent questions about the intervention in a Guardian piece aptly titled, "Relief will fade as we see the real impact of intervention in Libya":
First, what motives lie behind this intervention? While the UN was voting to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, at least 40 civilians were killed in a US drone attack in Waziristan in Pakistan. And as I write, al-Jazeera is broadcasting scenes of carnage from Sanaa, Yemen, where at least 40 protesters have been shot dead. But there will be no UN no-fly zone to protect Pakistani civilians from US attacks, or to protect Yemenis. One cannot help but question the selective involvement of the west in the so-called "Arab spring" series of uprisings. ...
Gaddafi knows how to play the Arab street, too. At the moment he has little, if any, public support; his influence is limited to his family and tribe. But he may use this intervention to present himself as the victim of post-colonialist interference in pursuit of oil. He is likely to pose the question that is echoing around the Arab world ľ why wasn't there a no-fly zone over Gaza when the Israelis were bombarding it in 2008/9? ...
Finally, there is the worry that the Arab spring will be derailed by events in Libya. If uprising plus violent suppression equals western intervention, the long-suffering Arab subjects of the region's remaining autocrats might be coerced into sticking with the status quo.
The last point may be the crux of the matter. Western leaders have obviously been casting about for some way to put the brakes on the Arab Awakening before it sweeps away any more of their reliable client-dictators. Libya presents the perfect opportunity for them to muddy the waters, and try to turn the whole movement into the usual murky, bloody quagmire of global power politics. In any case, it is hard to believe that a burning, yearning solicitude for the people of Libya is what is actually motivating our noble interventionists -- who haven't shown the slight crumb of concern for the Libyan populace until now.
NOTE: To decry the course of action being taken by the interventionists in Libya is not to "support" Gadafy. (Unlike his present attackers, who have supported him most sumptuously for years.) This should go without saying, but of course it can't; this witless denunciation is invariably trotted out against anyone who does not immediately jump on the bloodsoaked bandwagon whenever our leaders start killing people. (You can only oppose this mass production of foreign corpses after it's over -- and even then, you can only describe it as a mistake, or an example of good intentions gone awry through incompetence or happenstance.) But as I noted in the comments here recently:
To oppose an outside military invention is not the same thing as "supporting" whomever the intervention is aimed against. It is simply to look at the historical record and see what the fruits of these interventions actually are. They are, invariably, a widening of the conflict, a vast increase in civilian suffering (even in interventions ostensibly launched specifically to prevent civilian suffering), years of widening, rippling instability, pervasive corruption by war profiteers, and a further militarizing of world society. It is exacerbating an evil by contributing an equal or even greater evil to the mix.
This is especially true in this case, as at present, the Libyan opposition is being led by a breakaway faction of Gadafy's own thuggish regime. The leader of the opposition was, until just a few weeks ago, an integral part of Gadafy's use of "brutality against his people." If he and his clique are the ones who take power after an intervention, we will have merely exchanged one faction of Gadafy's regime for another. But I doubt if this would bother our humanitarian interventionists; they have been making profitable deals with Gadafy for years. They can go on making profitable deals with one of his former henchmen just as well.