Why Supporters of the Arab revolutions should oppose Western military intervention in Libya
The US led NATO air attack on Libya, widely trailed for the past few weeks, raises an urgent demand for political clarity on the part of supporters of the Arab revolutions. Things are going to get much more complicated in the Middle East now as regimes which the US and its allies would be happy to see toppled, such as Syria, face off against potential revolutions. Difficult arguments are going to happen, and it is as well that we clarify them now.
Anyone seeking a understanding of the Western liberal fetish for armed intervention – and have you noticed how the TV is now filled with ‘strategic expert’ types visibly glistening at the thought of a cruise missile rather than heroic young revolutionaries ? – should of course turn to Richard Seymour’s book The Liberal Defence of Murder. While you find it on your bookshelf, consider the arguments of Gilbert Achcar, the Lebanese leftist. Gilbert argues, in a vein with which many will agree, that the No-fly zone, and therefore the bombing required to enforce it, should be supported because:
if Gaddafi were permitted to continue his military offensive and take Benghazi, there would be a major massacre. Here is a case where a population is truly in danger, and where there is no plausible alternative that could protect it. The attack by Gaddafi’s forces was hours or at most days away. You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of cops in the bourgeois state, you can’t in the name of anti-capitalist principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.
Now, aside from the implicit acceptance of the liberal imperialist vision of Western military power as global police , this argument is simply that something must be done and that NATO are the only people who can do it – ‘there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.’
Is this right? Why believe that Western military intervention would, as an unintended consequence of the duplicitous imperialist intentions that such an experienced observer of the scene as Achcar must recognise, prevent Gaddafi’s overcoming and killing the opposition? Is there an example of where a no-fly zone has done this and then led to the desired outcome of the fall of the regime?
No-fly zones were enforced on northern and southern in 1992, ostensibly to prevent Saddam’s further repression of the Shi”a rebellion in the South and the Kurds in the north. The Kurds did succeed in fighting off Saddam’s forces only then to fall into vicious civil war amongst various externally backed factions themselves. Incidentally, the Kurdish autonomous region has seen some of the most violent suppression of the recent mass demonstrations in Iraq that form a little known part of the current popular upsurge. In the South, where the rebellion had been defeated before the no-fly zone was announced, Saddam carried out some of his worst acts of repression – summary executions of civilians picked at random, the destruction of city blocks by tank shelling, the draining of the marshlands to drive out their inhabitants – under the no-fly zone. They did not lead to the ousting of Hussein but eventually to the 2003 invasion. We all know how that turned out.
Neither the Bosnian no-fly zone nor the Kosovo war led to the toppling of Milosevic – although most refugees fled Kosovo after the Western bombing began. It took mass demonstrations and strikes to get rid of him.
But hasn’t such a movement risen in Libya and now faces extinction, which can only be prevented by Western military intervention? The desire to prevent a massacre, and the wish of the Benghazi government to have air support is understandable. But the dynamics of revolution are fundamentally political – it seems that the initial momentum of the revolution politically winning people to its side was lost as the Gaddafi’s patronage networks functioned effectively in the centre of the country, forming a block to the revolutionary advance on Tripoli. The attack by foreign planes is going to exacerbate, not alleviate that political problem. This leaves the door open at best to a semi-partition of the country, of the kind that prevailed in Iraq between 1991 and 2003.
Second, this process is not confined to Libya. It is not mere rhetoric to contrast the military intervention in Libya with the silent support for the vicious represssion in Yemen and Bahrain, now invaded by Saudi troops. Each case of revolution has been boosted by previous popular victories – but the NATO bombing gives unneccesary credence to the regimes’ claim that the popular movements are foreign stooges. Yes, the Arab league has called for this no-fly zone, perhaps as a quid pro quo for the invasion of Bahrain. But the very fact that this assembly of despots supports it should make us think twice about the effects of this policy on the revolutionary process. Nor will these public pronouncements make any difference to the mukhabarat and official propaganda who will use the Libyan example to the hilt to discredit the movements.
This does not – absolutely does not – mean support for Gaddafi. This is not the case of the Lebanese war of 2006. If you want to support the revolutions and not the hypocrisy of the Western powers, I suggest the following demands:
Release the Gaddafi regime funds to the revolutionaries and allow them to buy weapons
Condemn the Saudi (GCC) invasion of Bahrain, cut ties with both regimes and with Yemen’s Ali Abdallah Saleh – removing also the military aid to his regime. Cancel all military contracts with them.
Allow Benghazi to become an open port for Arab -or other – revolutionary volunteers to join the fight.