1. Is Qaddafi socialist? Was he ever?
Socialists believe that people should democratically and collectively control all aspects of their lives. Qaddafi has ruled Libya as an absolute dictator — the very antithesis of socialism — for more than four decades. The fact that he calls his political system a direct democracy is as relevant as the fact that East Germany used to call itself a People’s Democracy or that the Pentagon calls itself the Defense Department.
It is true that Libya, because of its oil wealth, has a relatively high human development index (HDI), a UN-developed measure that takes account of income, literacy, and life expectancy. But this no more makes it socialist than the even higher HDIs of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, or the roughly equivalent HDI of Saudi Arabia make any of them socialist.
2. Is Qaddafi an anti-imperialist? Was he ever?
When Qaddafi deposed the Libyan king in 1969, U.S. policy makers judged him to be thoroughly anti-communist and a useful bulwark against a more radical regime. For example, he turned over for execution the leaders of a left-wing coup attempt against the pro-U.S. regime in Sudan, and aided pro-Western Oman in its war against the Dhofar guerrillas. “I guess we were kind of euphoric about him at first,” said former Secretary of State William Rogers.
But Qaddafi soon came into conflict with U.S. oil companies and challenged other imperial interests in the region, turning himself into a major enemy of the U.S. government. Washington accused him of terrorism — which was true, though on a smaller scale than that being carried out by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran regime — and tried its best to undermine his rule.
Then, in 2003, Qaddafi agreed to end his weapons of mass destruction programs and his support for terrorism, and to pay $1.5 billion to settle the Lockerbie bombing case, in return for re-establishing ties with the United States. Qaddafi then became a close partner with Washington in its “war on terror.” (Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, the captured al-Qaeda operative who, under torture, gave false information regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, was secretly sent home to Libya by the CIA; when he was discovered in a Libyan prison by a human rights researcher, he conveniently committed suicide.) In 2009, Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham met with Qaddafi, praising him as an “important ally” in the “war on terror” and promising to help his air force secure delivery of 8 transport planes. Qaddafi had also developed especially warm relations with the rightwing Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, including shared family business investments.
3. Is Qaddafi not socialist and not anti-imperialist, but a progressive in the Arab world?
Qaddafi lent support to several progressive struggles over the years. But he also was a leading backer of many of the most brutal and corrupt dictators in Africa, as well as murderous insurgents such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh. When the Arab Spring came to Tunisia, Qaddafi declared that Ben Ali was the best leader Tunisians would ever have.
Some have been impressed that Qaddafi’s body guards are all female, but more telling is the fact that his regime arbitrarily detains women in “social rehabilitation” facilities for alleged transgressions of moral codes, locking them up indefinitely without due process.
The Libyan Government told the UN’s Committee to End Racial Discrimination (CERD) that “It is possible to state categorically that there is no racial discrimination of any kind in Libya,” because Libya has no “religious or ethnic communities that are defined by their religion, race, language, gender, colour or political affiliations.” CERD, however, noted the rather glaring “discrepancy” between Libya’s claim and “information indicating that Amazigh, Tuareg, and Black African populations live in the country.” Far from being colorblind, Gaddafi has collaborated with the rightwing Berlusconi government in Italy in blocking African refugees from Europe, declaring in Rome in 2010: “what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans…We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent, or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.”
4. Are critics of Qaddafi’s human rights record just the powerful Western states?
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed to the “callous disregard for the rights and freedoms of Libyans that had marked the almost four decade long grip on power by the current ruler.”
On March 1, 2011, the General Assembly by acclamation so suspended Libya from membership on the UN Human Rights Council, the first country ever to be suspended. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed deep concern about allegations received, according to which hundreds of enforced disappearances have been committed over the last few months in Libya.
On March 25, the newly operational African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights demanded that Libya refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or physical integrity of persons.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference condemned the Libyan government’s excessive use of force against civilians.
5. Who is the opposition to Qaddafi in Libya?
As in all the uprisings occurring across the Arab world, the opposition in Libya is very broadly based. It includes students, human rights activists, Islamic fundamentalists, tribal elements, low income working people, better off lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc., some small businesspeople, and even some with major property holdings, as well as defecting members of the government, including some who resigned in outrage over Qaddafi’s attacks on civilians and others trying to save their skins.
The various components of the opposition differ on many issues, but what unites them is a belief that Qaddafi must go and that the Libyan people are entitled to some sort of democratic society. Their program seeks a bourgeois democratic state, with regular elections, civil liberties, women’s rights, and religious freedom.
The opposition seems to have no significant left presence. And a Libya that reflected the views of its people would surely have a substantial Islamic influence. But a Libya with the possibility of democratic contestation would allow for the rebuilding of the left, something impossible under Qaddafi.
The more the opposition becomes dependent on military means, the more influence will be accorded to those within their ranks with military skills, which means defecting soldiers, those with experience fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, or those connected to past paramilitary groups. The more dependent the opposition becomes on the Western powers, the more influence will be accorded to those with connections to and views compatible with these powers.
6. What is the role of al Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists in the opposition?
No one knows. There are certainly some of the former and more of the latter involved, and these may represent a larger fraction of those with military experience. What is significant, however, is that the U.S. Government — whom one can assume would be especially vigilant to avoid strengthening al Qaeda — does not consider this a major concern.
U.S. officials believe that there are a relatively small number of Islamist fighters in Libya and their role is limited. (Yes, Washington happily used Islamic fundamentalists against progressives or the Soviet Union in the past, but U.S. collaboration with Qaddafi in recent years in the “war on terror” indicates which one U.S. policy makers consider the greater evil.)
7. Has the opposition conducted pogroms against African immigrants in Libya?
There have been credible reports of serious abuse in opposition held-areas of workers from sub-Saharan Africa who have been falsely accused of being mercenaries recruited by Qadaffi, and of killings by the opposition of prisoners of war suspected of being mercenaries.
According to Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, “Certainly, Qadaffi has used, in the past, mercenaries from other parts of Africa, and our information is that some of these are likely involved in the current situation on Qadaffi’s side.” But this is obviously not a justification for mistreating foreign workers or prisoners.
There is a long history of pervasive anti-black racism in Libya, and such attitudes no doubt are present among the opposition. The Qadaffi government has contributed to the spreading of these retrograde views. In 2000, government officials blamed African migrant workers for rising crime, disease, and drug trafficking, and dozens of these workers were killed in the streets. The “vast majority” of migrants interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported having “seen or experienced physical harassment or violence … often with little intervention by the police,” and sometimes carried out by the police.
Racism, and racial discrimination must be unequivocally condemned, as must the mistreatment of prisoners. But there is no basis for claiming that the reports of mistreatment represent the basic nature of the opposition. The initial reports of killings have not been repeated, the rebel’s Interim National Council has aired a statement promising to respect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and there is video showing opposition members protecting an alleged captured mercenary from abuse.
8. What are the overall aims of U.S. foreign policy? Is morality a significant goal of U.S. foreign policy?
In President Obama’s speech regarding Libya he was quite forthright about this. We cannot intervene everywhere there is injustice or even threat of massacre, and we should not, he told the public. Where then should we employ our assets? Where our “interests and values” are at stake, he decreed. And then two sentences later the figleaf rationale that the word “values” connotes disappeared as he reported that “we must always measure our interests against the need for action.”
So at the very most “values” — which rhetorically suggest freedom, dignity, etc., but more technically in government-speak typically mean open markets, private ownership, etc. — enter in only after it has been determined that “our interests” warrant actions.
But who does “our” refer to? And what is meant by “interests.”
U.S. foreign policy pursues U.S. international interests. These are not, however, the interests of the U.S. population much less respected aims such as justice, legality, or freedom. Instead, U.S. international interests are the interests of U.S. elites, meaning the class of property owners plus various political decision makers and other wealthy, empowered sectors.
But what are these elite interests that flow from the structure of American industry and polity? “Our interests” are that U.S. foreign policy should maximize profits of U.S.-based corporations as well as U.S. influence over world events.
This general aim becomes wired into the make-up and behavior of people who succeed in elite positions — and this includes not just those holding government office, but key media roles as well. However, even if this aim didn’t penetrate elite actors’ personal mindsets and preferences, it is compelled by the competitive and other structural features of business and policy making: those who don’t pursue “our interests” are removed.
Presidents and pundits alike of course claim “our interests” are humane and caring — since claiming so helps to engender support for pursuit of sordid interests. However, this is no different from other imperial powers claiming their interests are humane, including even the most blatant butchers and bandits.
In the end, U.S. policy makers pay attention to popular and international dissent only insofar as either could threaten future elite aims. Profits and power trump all other concerns. Humanitarianism arises only as rationalization, or sometimes tangentially when consistent with the dominant aims.
9. What have been the more specific general aims of the U.S. in the Middle East and north Africa?
The region is rich in oil and oil is the energy source and lubricant of international commerce and transport, both private and military. A primary goal in the area, therefore, is to exploit, and even more to control the dispersal of oil. We know this is the aim in the region not solely because it corresponds to logic and to our understanding of the involved institutions and actors, or because it is utterly obvious from U.S. actions for decades, but also because U.S. policy admit it: the State Department stated in 1945 that Middle East oil was “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”
Friendly dictatorships are welcome. Hillary Clinton, well before the recent events, described U.S. hopes for Libya: “I am very pleased to welcome Minister Qadaffi [a son] here to the State Department. We deeply value the relationship between the United States and Libya. We have many opportunities to deepen and broaden our cooperation. And I’m very much looking forward to building on this relationship.” And, indeed, the relation has been undeniably warm and cozy since 2003.
Of course one could also point elsewhere in the region, to Egypt’s Mubarak, to the Saudi royal family, and so on, to see how our supposed and widely proclaimed humanitarian impulses fair against the contrary implications of “our interests.” In typical times, U.S. support for dictators and even kings is considered wise, prudent, and even moral because it abets “our” agenda of profit and power which, in the region, largely means controlling access to oil and supporting supine regimes willing to further our interests.
10. What are the most likely specific aims of the U.S. in Libya right now? Why did the U.S. intervene?
Recent events throughout the Middle East and north Africa were not foreseen, nor sought, by Western or any other states, though they are incredibly important to Western and all other states.
Washington’s concerns regarding what has been called the Arab Spring involve oil access and domination. The daily life circumstances of the people of the region are simply irrelevant. As evidence, we note that the United States has routinely supported all manner of horrendous regimes there, and elsewhere, with zero concern for affected populations. For example, the Obama administration continues the decades-long close U.S. relationship with the incredibly repressive Saudi royal family. Washington decried Mubarak only when he could no longer hold on to power, trying to insinuate itself with his successors, ignoring its decades of support for him. The same goes for U.S. support to Qaddafi. Indeed, Obama would be continuing relations unchanged with Mubarak and Qaddafi, and not just the Saudi royal family, but for recent unanticipated, uninvited, and — for Washington — unwanted, events.
Revolts started breaking out across the Arab world, however, and threatened U.S. interests. In accord with U.S. policy making more generally, as soon as the situation became evident Washington’s priority predictably shifted to mitigating the dangers associated with the Arab uprisings, or, if possible, channeling them into paths benefitting U.S. power and profits.
This has called for different choices in different places. In Egypt the U.S. had to basically watch, and now the U.S. works, no doubt double-time, to try to insinuate Egyptian actors friendly to U.S. corporate interests into the new government.
In Bahrain it has meant accepting the Saudi Kingdom’s repressive intervention to try to forestall dangerous dissidence, due to the extreme costs of failing to retain influence there, including possibly losing the option of housing the Fifth Fleet.
In Libya, given Qaddafi’s instability and the large opposition, and given the danger of a massacre that would be blamed on the U.S., the U.S. was backed into having to take action. Against its preferred agenda for the area, which was stable docility imposed by authoritarian regimes, including Qaddafi’s, the U.S. has thus had to relate to the upheaval, even risking more instability.
Note that it wasn’t the tally of dead Libyans if Qaddafi entered Benghazi that mattered to U.S. policy makers, as it would matter to a humanitarian, but it was instead the cost of being accused of ignoring Libyan pleas for help, as well as the effect on Europe of a flood of immigrants, both concerns brazenly admitted by Obama himself saying “we knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world…. It was not in our national interest to let that happen…. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders.”
Proximate, detailed short run goals in Libya are impossible to know for sure, but the broad overarching goals seem quite obvious. The events threaten U.S. interests so policy makers seek to engineer outcomes that will minimize that threat and, if possible, even yield new benefits. By providing military support, weapons, and anything else Washington can offer without tangentially incurring undo risk to what it is trying to protect — which is U.S. profits and power — the United States hopes to wind up with a new government headed by pro-U.S. sectors and individuals with minimal disruption to U.S. interests in the region.
11. What is the CIA’s role in the opposition?
Given U.S. motives are to insure that post-crisis outcomes are as positive as possible for U.S. regional dominance with zero regard for the well being of Libyans, we can pretty confidently deduce the role of the CIA in Libya, which will be to do a certain amount of tactical activity, perhaps including some assassination or other violent activity, but mostly to gather information and to create personal and working ties and especially develop connections to possible new government officials and influential actors in Libyan society. They will also presumably help with targeting for air strikes.
No doubt the CIA had, even before the uprising, contacts among dissidents and even greater numbers of contacts with the Qaddafi government. This does not mean that the opposition can be seen as a pawn of the CIA any more than it means that Qaddafi’s government which had been working closely with the CIA since 2003 was or is a pawn of the CIA. Still more untenable is to claim that the popular uprising against Qaddafi was a CIA plot. That the CIA will try to get the best possible outcomes for U.S. elites is a truism. How well it will succeed, or fail, depends on many variables, not least informed opposition.
12. Why, in general, should we oppose intervention by Western powers in the affairs of other states?
There are many reasons to reject foreign intervention.
People should be allowed to decide their own affairs without outside intervention. The act of a people pursuing their own interests develops their capacity for self-determination in a way that even (improbably) humanitarian outside intervention cannot.
If the outside intervention is military in nature, again even if it is improbably well-intended, it may undercut opportunities for peaceful resolution. And military actions (whether from inside or outside) tend to strengthen the hand of those with military means, not those with the best values. But mainly, even with initially improbably good intentions, outsiders will almost always act so as to further their own interests, and at best only secondarily those of victimized people.
More typically, when outsiders are quite obviously acting out of self-interest, as in the case of the United States, they will try to control events for their own purposes rather than for any humanitarian end. Intervention will tend to give outsiders more leverage over internal developments, allowing outsiders to subvert potential long-range progressive outcomes. Outsiders, especially those with an imperial history, will often provoke extreme nationalist hostility trumping any other more positive results. Interventions, even if tangentially valuable in a particular case, may set a precedent for other, not necessarily valuable interventions, and may loosen the general constraint against intervention. Consider an example: Should police engage in a warrantless search even in a case where they know it will have positive social benefit? Doing so, however, will make it easier for warrantless searches where there is social harm, and that’s why we favor a general rule against warrantless searches.
In addition, outside interventions will often strengthen the hand of the outsiders (unless they get horribly bogged down, as happened to the United States in Vietnam and Iraq, or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan), increasing their capabilities for future unjustified interventions elsewhere.
13. Should opposition to Western intervention be an absolute principle, and if not, what guidelines should apply in the case of exceptions.
Even wise absolute principles often break down in extreme cases, particularly when the principles themselves are derived from contextual considerations. For example, where large numbers of lives might be at stake, intervention might be justified, but only if the benefits exceed the full costs of the intervention, including both in the immediate situation and more broadly in terms of such considerations as bad precedents.
Different forms and degrees of intervention will likely have different likely costs and possible benefits so the guidelines for those rare cases where the presumption against foreign intervention ought to be overridden include: minimize the scale of the intervention, minimize the degree of influence and control accorded to the foreign interveners, and constrain as much as possible the degree to which the interveners can act with their own discretion.
14. Was Libya a case where an exception to the argument against intervention applied?
Qaddafi’s forces were on the outskirts of Benghazi, the opposition stronghold with some 700,000 people. His military units had repeatedly used lethal violence — including air power — against unarmed demonstrators. Qaddafi didn’t try to argue that the killings were the work of overzealous subordinates; rather he declared that he had done nothing that Israel hadn’t done in Gaza — maybe true, but hardly an exoneration for anyone who cares about justice. Qaddafi declared as well that anyone who didn’t love him didn’t deserve to live and that he would hunt down his opponents house to house; “There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight.”
One of course doesn’t know what would have happened had Qaddafi’s forces taken Bengahzi. But the prospect of a major atrocity was entirely plausible.
The Libyan opposition asked for a no-fly zone, while rejecting any foreign ground troops. It seemed that a limited military action that declared a no-fly zone and kept tanks away from Benghazi could save many lives without incurring too many of the adverse consequences of intervention. There being no ground forces would make it harder for outsiders to control the situation. A well-defined and limited military action would not give foreign powers the ability to make crucial decisions, would not be long enough to evoke a nationalist backlash, and would cause minimal collateral damage.
15. Were there other means on March 17 of preventing a massacre in Benghazi?
Several alternatives were proposed to avert a massacre in Benghazi. All had their problems.
* Peaceful settlement. Had Qaddafi’s forces halted their advance before reaching Beghazi, talks and mediation might have enabled a solution without recourse to foreign military action. But when the Qaddafi regime declared its support for a ceasefire, yet continued to push its armored column toward Benghazi, talks could not address the urgent situation.
* Arm the opposition. Arming rebels often provides less leverage to outsiders and provokes less nationalistic backlash than does direct foreign military participation. The fact that arming rebels accords less control over the rebels and their weapons in the future is one reason why major powers are often reluctant to employ this approach. It is of course still a form of intervention and there is the possibility that an outsider who is the sole weapons supplier can achieve decisive control by turning on and off the arms spigot. Nevertheless, this option was not adequate to address the imminent fall of Benghazi. Getting arms in and people learning how to use them takes time, and could not have had an immediate effect.
* Send in some sort of peacekeeping force — UN, Arab League, Egyptian — to protect the civilian population. This is quicker than arming the rebels, but slower than air strikes, and unless started much earlier not quick enough for Benghazi. There is also the danger that peacekeepers might pursue the interests of various outsiders, and, having boots on the ground, will be better situated to control events.
* Persevere with non-violent struggle. The experience of non-violent struggle, even in the face of ruthless dictators, has often shown that it can achieve social change at lower human cost than armed struggle. It is unclear whether this possibility was foreclosed in Libya by Qaddafi’s actions or by mistaken choices of the opposition. Either way, however, it may not have been relevant to Benghazians on March 17.
16. How do you assess UN SC Resolution 1973?
Had there been a UN resolution narrowly tailored to address the immediate threat of massacre and carefully constrained to avoid putting things in the hands of the leading Western powers, this might indeed have been an exception to the usual arguments against intervention.
Resolution 1973, however, was not narrowly tailored at all. It appropriately authorized steps to protect civilians and precluded foreign occupation. But it left the definition of these things entirely up to the states that took it upon themselves to take “all necessary measures.” And although it provided that the intervening states had to report to the Secretary General on what actions they were taking, and “coordinate closely” with him, it provided no real mechanisms for doing so.
Consider a few decisions that were made:
* In establishing a no-fly zone, should hundreds of targets across the country be struck? In Bosnia there was a UN-imposed no-fly zone where planes and anti-aircraft facilities were not preemptively attacked. Thus it is possible to institute a no-fly zone without first launching multiple attacks. Was this possible or advisable in the Libyan case? That is debatable, but why should the matter be left up to the U.S. government to decide? (Presumably it’s safer for U.S. pilots to perform no-fly duties after 120 Tomahawks have hit targets, but it might be safer for Libyan civilians in Tripoli to withhold the Tomahawks unless and until anti-aircraft weapons are fired.)
* Attacks were made on Libyan government command-and-control facilities, including a headquarters where Qaddafi may have been. (Recall that in 1986 the U.S. bombed Qaddafi’s barracks in Tripoli and Benghazi, on the grounds that these were the command-and-control centers for terrorism.) Perhaps an argument can be made that it is justified to assassinate a leader if doing so will save large numbers of lives. But is this really the sort of decision that should be left up to London, Paris, and Washington to decide?
In addition, and worst of all, the resolution does not specify when military action should stop. It is apparently up to the intervening powers to make this determination.
So, in our view, resolution 1973 was not the sort of limited and focused resolution that might have been justified to avert slaughter in Benghazi.
17. Have the US and its allies adhered to the letter and spirit of Resolution 1973?
Even though resolution 1973 had inadequate controls on the actions of those taking the “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, it had some restrictions, and these have been violated. Several countries that supported the resolution in the Security Council have stated that they considered the way it was being carried out to go beyond the terms of the resolution.
So, for example, while hitting tanks that were about to break into Benghazi could be justified on the basis of saving civilians, hitting tanks in retreat or Libyan government forces in Sirte, one of the few places where Qaddafi had significant support, had little to do with protecting civilians from imminent massacre.
18. Can someone have favored a “no-fly” zone and associated bombardment, yet be a staunch advocate of national self-determination and a stalwart opponent of imperialism in all its forms?
Yes. A person could fully understand the more gross military and also more subtle manipulative dangers of U.S. involvement for Libya and by precedent more widely as well, but still feel that to reject a no-fly policy and some additional defense for civilians would have meant, or would still mean, a massacre disastrous not only for those assaulted, but also for the direction of Libya and the region.
Believing these implications, one might then say, I cannot stand U.S. foreign policy in this or any other case due to its obviously imperial priorities, and I will of course work hard to mitigate and reverse problems incurred as a result of those priorities, but I must nonetheless support no-fly and attendant acts because the costs of not having no-fly would be greater.
Such a person is thinking clearly and evidencing fine and worthy values, whether his or her assessment of the likely implications is correct or not.
19. Conversely, can someone have opposed a “no-fly” zone and yet care about the well-being of Libyans?
Yes. A person could fully understand the horrible ramifications of Qaddafi utilizing his advanced armaments without being restrained by external force and be sick over the carnage that would result, yet nonetheless feel that external force would be so likely to morph into even greater carnage as well as imposing no chance of uncorrupted opposition victory that he or she had to oppose it.
Such a person is thinking clearly and evidencing fine and worthy values, whether his or her assessment of the likely implications is correct or not.
20. Okay, which view did you hold?
We did not reject out of hand the idea of a no-fly zone or even a no-fly zone plus a no-drive zone around Benghazi. The danger was real and the humanitarian stakes significant. But the response had to be one that minimized the attendant costs by carefully constraining the discretion of the United States and the other Western powers, and by restricting the scale and the duration of the action. So constrained and restricted, a no-fly zone could have saved many lives without excessive adverse consequences.
Resolution 1973, however, was too open-ended. The good that would be obtained by preventing a massacre would likely be exceeded by the negative costs of enlarged intervention — in Libya (civilian deaths from collateral damage, weakening the independence of the opposition, encouraging the move from a political struggle to a military one, giving Qaddafi a nationalist image) and beyond (making it easier for imperial powers to intervene in the future).
But we found the situation to be very tough: and we appreciate that contrary views could be consistent with our values. We don’t and can’t know what scale of massacre would have occurred without Resolution 1973. We don’t know how effective a more restrictive Resolution would have been. We don’t know the extent to which international outrage can and will restrain the intervention. We don’t know how much harm the intervention will impose, with and without restraints. Historical judgements are hard.
We don’t think it makes sense to point fingers in either direction because such behavior is counter-productive and also because in this case the general lessons to be drawn actually have little to do with proximate right and wrong for Libya — which determination is literally unique to Libya’s case — but, instead, have to do with how to think about the issues and how to relate to others once one has a view.
21. What could both sides of this debate agree on going forward?
Despite their differences on the question of the no-fly zone, both sides agree on several key points.
Neither supports Qaddafi, and both support the Arab revolution.
Both sides agree too that there are very powerful general arguments against foreign intervention. While the two sides disagree on whether the urgency of preventing a massacre outweighed the negative costs in this case, both sides agree that the negative costs are not outweighed in the case of helping one side in a civil war, however worthy, to defeat its opponents. Therefore, both sides oppose the ongoing bombing being conducted on behalf of the rebels, particularly when the rebels are going on the offensive.
Both sides also agree that the motives of the United States, the UK, and France are geo political self-interest, not humanitarianism, and that it is imperative to obstruct and hopefully prevent them from subverting and or bending events throughout the Mideast and north Africa to their own ends.
Of course both sides agree on opposing U.S. or any other foreign military bases in Libya. But their agreement can go beyond this in demanding that there be no financial, political or military aggrandizement for Washington or the other interveners as a result of the intervention.
The logic is rather elementary in other domains. Consider an executor who is entrusted with administering a fund on behalf of a victim needing help. If the executor were to make decisions based on maximizing his or her own income, this would clearly be unethical and would expose as totally fraudulent any claims by the executor to be acting in the best interests of the victim. Ethical principles preclude such self-enrichment.
Translated to Libya, we can insist on the same ethical principle: no outsider should be benefiting from a claimed humanitarian intervention. Therefore, we should demand that the U.S., the UK, and France — and whoever else becomes involved — should foreswear any financial, political, or military benefit resulting from the intervention.
This demand “Libya for Libyans, not outsiders,” could galvanize movements opposed to enlarging the military intervention and eager to prevent occupation to a far more radical stance for Libya that would also establish precedents bearing on events all over the world, even as it would elevate humanitarian concerns to paramount position.
22. How can typically anti-interventionist and anti-war activists who disagreed drastically about supporting or not supporting the initial Libya intervention work effectively together?
Those who share an opposition to imperialism and to Arab dictators, including Qaddafi, can work together on the many points on which they agree.
There is nothing in the disagreement about no-fly that precludes having a movement in which there are different views, at least for all those who want to aid Libyans and restrain the U.S. This should be obvious, and indeed, if disagreeing about difficult contextual judgments implied an inability to work together in an overarching movement, we would be doomed. It is not only possible but inevitable, that any massive anti-war movement, or peace movement, or justice movement of any kind, will contain many different ideas and priorities among its participants within a broader framework of agreement.
Of course, the different points of view on the initial no-fly zone need to be vigorously debated. But this doesn’t mean denouncing each other as the enemy or impugning each other’s motives or political credentials. Instead what is needed is a little humility toward the possibility of being wrong and thus a little willingness to take seriously other’s views, and a little recognition that people can have broadly similar values and ultimate aims, and see even the same evidence, and yet arrive at different positions on important short term issues.
By contrast, folks with inflexible and unyielding mindsets will often split over their differences, or maintain at best tenuous relations that obstruct successful practice. More, they may regard people outside the movement with the same type of dismissive and denigrating judgments.
23. What tactics and demands may succeed in limiting the current Libyan intervention and preventing subsequent occupation?
The U.S. government seeks to defend elite interests. Unfolding conditions in Libya will of course affect its calculus. For movements to affect it as well requires sending elites the message that if they persist in trying to control outcomes in Libya opposition will grow, broaden, and deepen to the point where the dangers of losing power and profits are more risky if they continue their interventionist policies than if they relent.
For a movement to be very militant but small or shrinking will not send that message. For a movement to be very narrowly focused will also not pose a particularly serious threat. What will turn elite heads is a movement steadily growing in size, in means of manifesting itself, in militance, and in diversity of aims — and thus threatening an ongoing threat to power and profits.
This suggests that movements should go multi focus as much as possible, addressing with visible placards and demands issues of foreign policy but also of race and gender, the economy, the legal system, etc. Movements should welcome diversity of all kinds as much as possible, foster militance but not at the expense of growth, and create movement relations that sustain members and deepen member commitment rather than frustrating members and leading to member attrition.
People will have diverse ideas about how to best accomplish all these ends, but if movements follow the precept of making room for difference, not least to discover rather than merely to argue about what works best, they can influence policy.
This article was originally published on ZCommunications.org.