Juan Cole’s Conveniently Partisan Intervention Issues

“The Libyan Revolution has largely succeeded,” Middle East scholar Prof. Juan Cole says in his recent article about Libya, rapturously recommended by “progressive” anti-revolutionary MSNBC Obama shill Rachel Maddow, who had him on her show last night. This was before the rebels had actually broken into Gadhafi’s compound or controlled much of anything.

“Muammar Qaddafi was in hiding as I went to press, and three of his sons were in custody. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi had apparently been the de facto ruler of the country in recent years, so his capture signaled a checkmate.” Oops. It turns out they never had Saif al-Islam, and Mohamed escaped. Pish. Details! Cole seems to believe anything the rebels claim — after all, UN Amb. Susan Rice told CNN today, despite blatant rebel lies, the Transitional National Council is “credible and responsible.” Or maybe it’s more faith-based, as with France’s philosopher-idiot-cum-military strategist Bernard-Henri Lévy, who believed the assassination of TNC leader and “former” Gadhafi man Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes by the rebel council itself was committed by Gadhafi plants despite all evidence. Checkmate indeed.

I’m not sure how Prof. Cole slipped into our antiwar band in the years after 9/11. The man thinks US-EU interventions in the Balkans were good — in Libya, he said, we should “replicate the successes in Kosovo and not the failures in Iraq.” Presumably the difference is the party affiliation of the president in charge of each operation.

Anyway, it seems obvious that the regime will fall, or already has as I write. And this is certainly a good thing. Gadhafi was a terrible fiend who strangled Libyan society with his bizarre Islamo-socialist philosophy, the undermining of any natural social alliances that could challenge him, and everything else your typical dictator does. This brings me to the first two items on Prof. Cole’s “nyah-nyah” list of “Top Ten Myths About Libya.”

“1. Qaddafi was a progressive in his domestic policies… 2. Qaddafi was a progressive in his foreign policy.”

No, this is either ignorance of those of us who oppose intervention or an attempt to paint us as reflexively pro-Gadhafi. The man is a cretin, and no number of stunning enameled Africa broaches would change my opinion of him. Real antiwar opponents of this stupid intervention can skip this. So we’re left with 8 of 10 pro-war points.

“3. It was only natural that Qaddafi sent his military against the protesters and revolutionaries; any country would have done the same. No, it wouldn’t, and this is the argument of a moral cretin.”

Cole goes on to note that Egypt and Tunisia’s officer corps refused to fire on peaceful protesters. This is true to an extent — many hundreds were killed in Egypt, though it was not quite a systematic slaughter and did not use military-caliber weapons as Gadhafi’s men did. In Libya, as many as 1,000 protesters were killed in the first week of the Libya uprising — an absolute horror since repeated in Syria. I’d say this bullet point has some merit, but it still doesn’t make a full argument for intervention. After all, thousands more were killed since NATO began bombing Libya.

None of this would be an issue, of course, if the same governments now agitating against Gadhafi hadn’t armed him in the first place. If statists have taught me anything, it’s that they love to defuse crises brought about by previous interventions with further, bigger interventions. As with the economy, so it goes in foreign policy.

“4. There was a long stalemate in the fighting between the revolutionaries and the Qaddafi military. There was not.”

True, while the gains ebbed and flowed maddeningly, the fighting was constant. This seems a minor point and does not make any case for intervention; the length of a fight is irrelevant to opposing or supporting it.

“5. The Libyan Revolution was a civil war. It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic.”

This is pretty disingenuous. Cole notes a few of what he deems to be “genuine” pro-Gadhafi civilians fighting rebels, but we can’t know the extent of this. In fact, we saw plenty of evidence that the Gadhafi regime, for whatever reason, did enjoy some popular support — a dictator, after all, must not just frighten but also please various segments of the ruled, or no amount of weaponry will keep him in power. So this could still very easily still be classified as a civil war. Which again, does not undermine opposition to foreign interference in it.

“6. Libya is not a real country and could have been partitioned between east and west.”

Prof. Cole’s comment on this is to say that all modern nation-states are artificial in some way. This is also true. And after a civil war, they often split along historic ethnic/cultural lines. Point? Who knows. The fewer big states to be ruled by evil dictators, the better. Let East and West split, and North and South and any other traditional voluntary social structures that emerge within Libyan territory. Would Cole support a Tripoli-based TNC’s crushing of locally emerging alternative examples of governance? It’s a real question.

“7. There had to be NATO infantry brigades on the ground for the revolution to succeed.”

That’s not the view of the pro-revolution, anti-intervention crowd. We are as sure that a revolution could have succeeded in Libya as we are it can in Yemen and Syria and anywhere else people are fed up and realize they don’t have to take it anymore. A system can come crashing down if you can convince enough people. No bombs can prevent that — that’s not cheesy romanticism, that’s just a fact. Fear and favor, not force itself, is what really keeps regimes intact.

No, not only didn’t Libyans need Western ground troops, they didn’t need NATO bombs. There’s no reason why we should expect a rebel rush across physical territory should be considered a bigger coup than the slow, steady undermining of a horrible regime that completes one goal before moving onto the next. I personally advocated solidifying the gains in Benghazi and other breakaway areas first and choking off Gadhafi from his oil supply, among other things.

The obsession with taking Tripoli is actually detailed in Prof. Cole’s point #6. “This generation of young Libyans, who waged the revolution, have mostly been through state schools and have a strong allegiance to the idea of Libya. Throughout the revolution, the people of Benghazi insisted that Tripoli was and would remain the capital.” How stupid. Nationalism surely killed many of these cats.

“8. The United States led the charge to war. There is no evidence for this allegation whatsoever.”

Cole says Glenn Greenwald claimed the Europeans would never have gone to war without US “plumping” for intervention. I don’t disagree with Cole — the French and Brits were looking to lead a charge to distract their plebes from problems at home, and France especially was looking to separate itself from its recent cuddling up to Arab dictators. Not that that was a new thing. This, of course, is no argument for intervention. It could actually be seen as one against it: civilized people do not bomb aspirin factories to distract from stained dresses.

Cole said on the Maddow show that despite the large fingerprint of foreign intervention, the Arab “ownership” of the fall of Gadhafi is legitimate. Really? A rebel force that he argues could not have ever successfully fought Gadhafi regime somehow “own” their recent success? This is a rape of logic. In fact, it fits the characterization made by Arab revolutionaries and us Western antiwar activists that it subverts Arab ownership of their recent accomplishments. It’s fitting to recall yesterday, as I watched CNN, the two white men nodding in agreement that Libyans could never have won their freedom if not for the help of white countries. It’s in insult and it’s untrue, as we have other current examples of ongoing revolutions making progress despite Western involvement. Or does Prof. Cole prefer not to notice Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia at this inconvenient moment?

In March, Cole made the case on Antiwar Radio that the Libya intervention could be a template for subsequent attacks on the governments of Yemen and Bahrain — but of course we know that the US doesn’t attack useful allies like Bahrain, though it has since turned its back on Yemen’s Saleh when it was no longer convenient to be his friend. Don’t worry, the US continues to support, arm, fund the Yemeni regime. Cole also predicted Gadhafi would invade Tunisia for some reason. Mkay.

“9. Qaddafi would not have killed or imprisoned large numbers of dissidents…”

Cole disagrees, citing a list of cities threatened by the dictator. Ah, the Benghazi Massacre myth, my favorite. It’s simple. That Gadhafi speech all the officials refer to, like the purposely mistranslated Ahmadinejad comment on “wiping Israel off the map,” is more or less purposely misconstrued. Muammar’s threat to “exterminate the rats” obviously referred to rebel fighters — indeed, he talked at length about “freeing” the civilians of Benghazi. Unless he was being cute, he probably didn’t mean “from this mortal coil.” But we can’t know, obviously. That’s why the best policy is to stay out of things that don’t concern us. The “knowledge problem” is real.

Cole goes on to cite the shelling of Misrata — a terrible crime against humanity — as proof that Gadhafi meant to kill the civilians of rebellious cities. But the one to two thousand allegedly killed in those attacks are not the hundreds of thousands we were warned against in Benghazi. And as I said already, many thousands of people have been killed across Libya anyhow, by all sides — 30,000 were reported dead by the end of April alone. As we don’t have crystal balls, we don’t really know what might have happened in an alternate reality in which Western militaries did not intervene. But that won’t stop Libya intervention proponents from saying we do.

“10. This was a war for Libya’s oil. That is daft… just a conspiracy theory.”

This is a bit of a smear tactic, though funnily is usually used by right-wing proponents of war against those wacky peacenut lefties who think everything is a conspiracy to kill for profit. Oil alone is never the reason for any war. Many interests come together to make war possible — international conflict is not something you blunder into, it’s purposeful and requires a massive movement of resources. It’s been widely noted that European and American oil companies have been looking to shake up the distribution of oil rights in Libya. Nothing like a successful regime change to get that process going, and the Europeans Cole credits with being the main pushers of the war — mostly France and the UK — could see their para-state oil companies win big over Italy’s Eni; Italy was reluctant at first to join in the action maybe precisely because they stood to lose the most. And that is the New York Times‘ take, not mine. The US also had its issues with Gadhafi and his irrationality on oil, as WikiLeaks disclosed this year.

So, war for oil? Not totally. But because wars have many catalysts, oil could certainly have sweetened the deal, paired with the political profit mentioned above. Indeed, previously troubled Sarkozy now has even the opposition eating out of his manly, warlike hands.

Professor of economics Chris Coyne wrote a book entitled After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy, describing why occupations do not work. It’s not because of this or that mistake; it is the nature of intervention. We can’t know local conditions better than the locals. We see this in every single occupation in history — if you think it was American occupation that fixed Germany and Japan, you’re misinformed and should read Coyne’s book.

This is why intervening in what we don’t know enough about is ill-informed and reckless. As in medicine, the main principle of foreign relations should be “First, do no harm.”

Given we still don’t know the plan for post-overthrow Libya — there are rumblings about occupation — the case in favor of humanitarian intervention is far from a closed. And Cole’s little list does little to advocate in its favor.

12 thoughts on “Juan Cole’s Conveniently Partisan Intervention Issues”

  1. so when exactly where you going to refute any of his points? Reading one article after the other you basically agree with most of what he says

    1. But that's not the point. The point is whether or not these points require or merit military/NATO intervention.
      But apart from that, there are major disagreements :
      The dubious impending massacre at Benghazi. Jeremy's analysis seems more nuanced than Cole's.
      Cole's discounting of the oil interests as a "conspiracy" also flies in the face of all evidence. No one has ever said (at least any rational observers) that oil has been the only factor – but to ignore it completely just doesn't hold up.

      It's also easy to make the mistake to think that those criticizing intervention somehow don't wish Libyans well; this is totally baseless.

      1. Jeremy's 'analysis' of the Benghazi justification seems to consist of a link to an article where someone says in their opinion there wouldn't have been a massacre. Obviously we can't 'know' what would have happened, no-one is saying that. But Gaddafi's actions up to that point and prior to the revolution suggest he was unlikely to treat either those in Benghazi or any other cities lightly once he had regained control of the country, which he was about to do. Whether he had actually carried out a massacre at the time we intervened is neither here or there – thats the thing about preventing things, unless you stop them actually in the act of being done, you can never be 100% certain they would have happened. Either way, im pretty confident that the people in Benghazi are better off now than had there not been an intervention. Ditto Misrata etc.

        The problem with the whole oil story is it has be so stretched to make any sense. The only thing the many variants I have seen have in common is they satisfy the need for everything that the west ever does to be an evil plan to steal oil. Were there some consistency to these different accounts, I might take one of them more seriously. To take just one point, it seems quite strange that the plan to steal Gaddafi's oil was to wait till there was a revolution, then allow it to be largely crushed, then at the last minute to intervene with air power, and hope the unknown and unpredictable bunch of rebels would both win the war quick enough for it to be worth the cost, and reliably serve the oil up on demand at the end of it. If that's a conspiracy, its a pretty rubbish one. I can't see how these stories seem to tally with the NTC announcing in the last couple of days that they would honour all gaddafi's oil deals either.

        The one big flaw in Jeremy's argument seems to be his assumption that the rebels could have won without the intervention. Whether or not you believe a massacre was about to take place, Gaddafi armour and troops were on the outskirts of Benghazi when the UN finally passed the resolution, had the bombings not taken place he clearly would have taken the city and reimposed his rule. As in Tripoli and elsewhere, the protestors would have been forced underground and the revolution ended – the secret police could do the rest of the job nice and quietly. How in this situation the protestors would have been able to succeed I dont know, this seems a leap in logic much greater than any belief that Gaddafi would have continued with his past behaviour when threatened.

        1. "I can't see how these stories seem to tally with the NTC announcing in the last couple of days that they would honour all gaddafi's oil deals either. "

          The NTC did not say they would honor "all gaddafi's oil deals." They said they would honor "all legal oil contracts" consummated by Quaddafi. It remains to be seen which deals will be deemed "legal" and by what standard. Regardless, don't be surprised if many of the deals involving Russian, Chinese, and Brazilian companies are deemed "illegal." Moreover, the NTC said nothing about proposed oil deals which had yet to be completed. It's a safe bet that any deal which wasn't signed and sealed will be re-opened for fresh round of bidding.

          One of the main reasons for the West's rapprochement with Quaddafi in recent years was that Western oil companies were desperate to get back into Libya. The "Quaddafi has renounced nuclear weapons and is now a partner in the War on Terror" justification for bringing Quaddafi back in from the cold was a red herring from the get-go. Nonetheless, I suspect the NTC will play the West like a fiddle the same way the post-Saddam government in Iraq has. They'll deal with the highest bidder whether that bidder is Chinese, American, Italian, et al. Once again, US taxpayers will foot the bill, a handful of politically-connected corporations will reap the benefits, and we'll still be left with a Muslim country hostile to the West.

  2. Well done, Sapienza! U bust the myth-making MYTHOP that is Cole's alleged myth-busting. I bow in ur vrtl drcxn. Here's why:

    #7: "Fear and favor, not force itself, is what really keeps regimes intact." YES!

    Riddle me this: How are whole nations jacked to war against their will: by external force? No, we get jacked 2 hell 'n back, stuck with the bills in every way, from within.

    IOW, to myth-jack whole naxns to war against their will, use their own mythology (belief system) agains them. Kinetics r Shocking,

    and Power of Myth is Awe-ful; aka Shock & Awe. APA and the Pentagon weaponized Psychology into PSYO, right? Who made Comparative Mythology into MYTHOP?

    For starters, Joseph Campbell himself lectured at the State Dept's Foreign Service Institute for decades, beg. 1956 (http://www.pacifica.edu/innerContentlib.aspx?id=1754). Just look at our use of weaponized perversions of belief systems since.

    How do we jack whole nations to war again and again, against their wills? By the Power of Myth, naturally.

  3. Juan Cole endorsed the Iraq war too. He doesn't seem to think very hard about the outcomes of what he supports. It is easy to support things that one doesn't understand when you personally aren't affected by them.

    Removing Saddam was worth it says Juan Cole: http://www.juancole.com/2003/03/my-mind-and-heart

    In Baha'i Faith, fanaticism is forbidden, and one supposed to abstain from partisan politics. Does Cole know this? Funny all that Kumbaya unity of the faith doesn't extend to homosexuals. I don't see why they shouldn't be apart of the unity of mankind. How much does this religion guide his thinking I wonder?

    1. Juan Cole is not a Baha'i, anymore, since the time he started his "Informed Comment" blog. Many of us Baha'is were against the Iraq and Libya wars and even myself, I tried to reason Juan Cole to no avail till my comments were deleted form his blog.

      As for people who are homosexuals, Baha'is respect them, since we know some might have been born like that, but we also believe they should do their best to get assistance that may help them, to abandon such lifestyle since we believe procreation is the only natural lifestyle, for humankind to follow.

  4. Seems the good professorial Cole can't walk and chew gum at the same time. It boils down to the "legality" of Obama's intervention. Seems the Obama has none. In open and clear violation of the War Powers Act. So call the war "humanitarian intervention", circumvent Congress, and what you've got is ducks quacking. Quite like Cole. Cole quacks a good quack. According to Cole, Bush's Iraq adventure was a war of naked aggression and all that entails. I'd have to agree with Cole. But, Obama's Libyan "intervention" is good because Cole maintains it to be so. Ergo, war that Cole doesn't agree to is bad and wars that Cole finds agreeable well, s'all good. Cole does NOT get to have it both ways.
    Cole has become way too comfy with the pseudo-intellectual accolades that are heaped on him by the likes of Rachel the MadCow. Well and her ilk.
    I read Cole's banal 'top ten list' about Libya. Bunkum. Pure and simplistic warmongering. Cole will not touch the Bahrain atrocity with a ten foot pole. Cole is just any other passive-progressive fanatic of slaughter. As long as the slaughter is in agreement with Cole's preferred "enemies list" well, kill the bastards.
    What comes around Juanito, goes around.
    post scripto – Seems that Voltairenet.org's Thierry Meyssan is in Libya. Meyssan reports an entirely different perspective on the haps in Libyan hell courtesy of US/NATO.

  5. Think how much worse Libya and Syria would be now if Gaddafi
    would have been allowed to slaughter his people unrestrained. He
    would have retained power stopping the Arab Spring in it’s tracks.
    Would have encouraged Assad to even greater brutality, disheartened
    the Syrian people and kept both regimes in power. Now they are
    both on the verge of collapse. Throwing Libya into the same category
    as Iraq or, at this point, Afghanistan is not a fare comparison of
    circumstance or condition. Those who argue otherwise are the
    same people who argue that American intervention in the Second
    World War was bad.

    For peace to have a chance, sometimes, tyranny must be resisted
    by force, but only as a last resort.

    I supported Obama’s decision for intervention in Libya, and think it
    was done well, keeping the initiative with the Libyan people to fight
    for their own freedom, and was a last resort.

    1. "Would have…would have…would have…would have." These are all assertions presented without a shred of evidence to back them up. We get this kind of propaganda out of our government all the time, and most people seem to believe it. Easier than actually learning about the subject and thinking for yourself.

    2. It was not at all a last resort, even if it had merits. It was rushed into recklessly and incorrectly, even if you assume there is a correct way to bomb another country.

  6. The main question is why is Juan Cole listed as a contributor to AntiWar? Is it necessary to have the imperialist point of view? It is absolutely absurd that Juan Cole is listed as a contributor to AntiWar
    since he is clearly a member of the War Party. You either have editorial credibility or you don't. Juan Cole should be allowed to write his twisted views but they should be exposed as part of the pro imperialism he represents. However in no way should Juan Cole be listed as a contributor to the principles of AntiWar and printed daily on the front page of your website.

  7. What I want to know is, and yes, I am anti-j.Cole cause of his proLibya unconstitutional intervention, is:
    If he is MR "Progressive", doesn't he know that all this military intervention is expensive and accelerating the decline of the standard of living of the American people?

  8. Juan Cole's thought has been slowly but surely growing reactionary and conservative, his Un-"Informed Comment" not worth the space wasted in publishing it. I was surprised recently he never made a comment on Israel's J14 movement, and shot an e-mail to him asking him to give some light on the issue. Until now, I haven't seen anything at all, and I might have missed a post on the issue, since I lost interest on his blog. It looks like Israel, for Juan Cole, is not part of the ME. Or he's afraid of the Jewish lobby.

    In any event, he has turned into yet another mouthpiece for the National Security Complex, under the guise of "academic objectivity.

    Poor soul, sold for a few coins.


  9. Cole flatly asserted Libyan guilt over Lockerbie revealing just how uninformed his blog has become now it has strayed from the Middle East. Cole is a tool in every sense.

  10. I thought the point of intervention was to prevent Gadhafi from bulldozing Benghazi and killing thousands. That seemed to work. And if NATO had pulled out before the rebel advance on Tripoli, wouldn't that have been a real possibility again?

    1. I explained above why this is wrong. Please click on the "Benghazi Massacre Myth" link.

      1. Your link proves nothing, its one other guy saying that he doesn't think there would have been a massacre, because 'it wouldn't have been in Gaddafi's interests'. His one piece of 'evidence' is that there hadn't been any massacres in the other cities recaptured by Gaddafi at that point, which is hardly case closed. Revenge tends to happen after you've won, which at that point he hadn't.

        1. well then you've proved Jeremy's point then. There wouldn't been a massacre because he hadn't won.

        2. There is nothing to prove. The "Benghazi Massacre Myth" was written to point out the weakness of the "Benghazi Massacre Myth" which was being used to justify dropping bombs on people. If you want to drop bombs on people, the burden of proof is on you.

  11. All of you are arguing about whether intervention would be a good thing for Libya or not. But there's another reason to oppose it. It doesn't matter in the slightest to Americans who runs Libya, or any other foreign country.

    All I care about is my dollars not being wasted. Whether girls in some Muslim country get shot in the head going to school is of no concern to me at all. Whether some guy kills or kills another guy, both of them calling themselves 'democrats' or 'lovers of human rights'… phooey on the lot of them.

    I don't oppose crazy wars because they are morally unjustified or successful or unsuccessful in the eyes of some foreigner. I oppose them because I don't want to pay for them, and I don't care what sort of lives foreigners have.


  12. Late to the party, but what the heck. Not criticizing the author here, just a general comment.

    Critical analyses and "nuanced" commentary, whether by Joes off the street or (pseudo) "intellectual" academics, from any side of a debate, mean absolutely nothing when fundamental principle, objective logic, and rationality are subordinated to small picture empiricisms, emotionalisms, and "facts" put into selective context.

    Any argument (rationalization) that promotes concepts based on details in conflict with the larger more general principle encompassing those fineries makes the argument logically invalid by default. The only thing that looking at nuanced minutiae before satisfying the basics does is to undermine one's adherence to principle via distraction, then diversion, then dilution, then dissolution.

    This kind of "thought" process is like an inventor who promotes the nuanced technical details and "benefits" of his energy machine while never stepping back to realize (or admit) that it violates the 2nd Law, thus making everything about the contraption related to energy a wasted effort, i.e. the whole thing is meaningless / fraudulent.


  13. …. Cont.

    When this kind of intellectual gaming happens by accident, it's the result of simple brain laziness. When it happens intentionally, where one employs fine points to rationalize against basic principle, it's dishonest. When it comes to rationalizing non-defensive war using class-warring or otherwise divisive rhetorical manipulation, it is immoral and sociopathically criminal on the highest level possible.

    What is the larger principle here? Simple – The only justifiable use of force, military or otherwise, is to defend from an act of physical aggression or imminent threat of same. There is no such thing as a morally warranted use of non-defensive force. That whole concept is insane.


  14. … Cont.

    Libya (and a host of other nations we've been engaged in recent years) did not attack the U.S., nor was it threatening to, therefore our military involvement was an irrational, immoral, unprincipled, wasteful, societally-destructive negative-sum folly regardless of how much people who dishonestly prefer to focus on pixels instead of seeing pictures argue over contrived national security issues, "strategic" matters, oil or any other resource, religio-cultural talking points, and what is probably the most piously dishonest justification of all – "humanitarianism," manipulating emotionally-indulgent etherealisms to justify mass murder. Imagine that, killing in the name of kindness.

    The only thing that seeing the Libyan skirmish as a victory (if one can call it that in good conscience) does is to give false credence to the "effectiveness" of non-defensive military actions (for deposing bad people, "installing" democracies, etc), essentially paving the way for future transgressions by whatever emotion-hoaxing sound-good justifications that politicians can conjure up.


  15. … Cont.

    When one is honest and simply adheres to basic principle while on the alert for diversionary talking points, everything else, all the arguments and political / media-spun garbage, simply falls by the wayside as meaningless fluff, as would a backyard inventor's hype over his perpetual motion machine.

    We were not attacked by [ any of several nations ] and were not going to be. Period. End of story. When will people ever get this somewhat less than rocket science fact through their f'ing heads?

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