Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Libya and the peace movement
Before the notion of Western intervention in Libya had even been mooted, there were those in the "peace" movement who were already suggesting an imperialist smash-and-grab operation was about to seize control of Libyan oil fields at the barrel of a gun.
While predictable and by now rather tedious, this reflex is not an altogether baseless one. When United States military action is entertained one should always engage one's critical faculties and remember the numerous governments deposed with the help of the US military during the 20th century - governments whose only crimes were having the temerity to implement modest social-democratic reforms in often impoverished conditions.
Anti-interventionism, however, has taken a more sinister turn of late. Anyone familiar with the conflict in Kosovo will already be acquainted with the sordid apologetics and outright denials deployed by those who could see nothing wrong in what Slobodan Milosevic was doing - so long that is, as he remained antagonistic towards the US. In this vein was the response of the American academic and Noam Chomsky associate Edward Herman. On Kosovo, Herman, wrote John Feffer in Foreign Policy in Focus, "manages to construct an alternative universe in which Serbian military forces only acted in defence, Slobodan Milosevic was a benevolent Gorbachev figure, and the international legal community functioned as some kind of adjunct to NATO".
Christopher Hitchens was equally lucid is picking up on this tendency in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, remarking that "if there is now an international intervention, whether intelligent and humane, or brutal and stupid, against the Taliban, some people will take to the streets, or at least mount some ‘Candle in the Wind’ or ‘Strawberry Fields’ peace vigils. They did not take to the streets, or even go moist and musical, when the administration supported the Taliban."
For the anti-war movement, any action taken by the West - whether in Kosovo, Rwanda, or Afghanistan – could, and did in some instances, lead to a complete inversion of the role of perpetrator and victim.
To go into the rights and wrongs of specific wars would be to miss the point. Principled advocates and opponents of both conflicts can be found with ease. Based on their record of absolute opposition to intervention of any kind, however, it is the anti-war movement who should perhaps be a little more modest when pulling out the “Hands off Libya” placards. Were it to have got its way over the course of the last 20 years, Saddam Hussain would have annexed Kuwait, Slobodan Milosevic would have made Bosnia part of a Greater Serbia, and the Taliban would still be in power in Afghanistan.
It might be argued that what resulted from the subsequent interventions was worse than what would have befallen the peoples of those countries had no action been taken; and in certain cases I might agree. But not having to deal with the consequences of inaction is one of the luxuries of not being in power and never being likely to hold any office of power. It is also worth remembering that it is not any particular intervention that is opposed by the anti-war faction, but the very concept of intervention itself – unrelated to circumstances on the ground. However bad things get, the placards will still come out.
In Libya, one need not see America as a disinterested superpower to acknowledge that without the no-fly-zone Gaddafi will probably triumph and cling on to power. “Peace”, as the Stop the War Coalition defines it, is an easy objective to achieve, and in reality means the immediate rebel capitulation to Libyan Government forces.
The word peace, however, is misleading, for it is not the overriding concern of the anti-interventionist crowd. For that we need look no further than an anti-imperialism which trumps any consideration for the lives of other human beings. As long as one never, ever gives an ounce of support to Western foreign policy one can willingly sit by while comrades in far-away lands are massacred. Whether that means giving “critical support” to tyrants like Gaddafi or the Iraqi “resistance” is unimportant. Masturbating in that fashion is never likely to have any real consequences for those espousing it; and in contrast to the struggles being waged in Libya, contradicting the “anti-imperialism” of your peers on the far-left may get you shouted down at a meeting or two.
It is not peace, but justice - by which I mean the removal of Gaddafi from power by the rebels with any necessary help - that will admittedly be the more difficult but infinitely more rewarding outcome in all of this.
That the Libyan rebels appear to be demanding more, not less in the way of air strikes is unimportant to the peace crowd, however. To them it is the posture that matters. The cost falls on those they will never have to face and never have to address. And of course, why would they? They themselves uniformly live in liberal democracies.