“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.