Libya and the left

My thoughts on the intervention in Libya are clear: I'm for it 100%. And my friend and colleague Marc Cooper, a journalism prof at the University of Southern California, explains better than anyone else why leftists are wrong to oppose it. So I am going to quote him in full:

This Is Not Iraq

 Michael Moore accuses Barack Obama of acting like George w. Bush.  Danlel Ellsberg gets himself arrested outside the White House. Others on the left waffle and shuffle and — in my view– abstain on the moral issue underlying the U.S. and allied attack on Gaddafi. (Though it isn’t clear if Ellsberg, whom I generally respect, was protesting only the anniversary of the war in Iraq or was also opposing the action in Libya).

I have no idea what the outcome of this will be. I don’t know what the endgame is, or if Obama and his allies know either.  Nor do I know what all the consequences of this action will be.

I do know this much: if every exercise of American military power took place in the context we see today, I would be much less of a general opponent of its use. Notice I said general opponent. That’s different than being an automatic opponent as some apparently are.  If one believes the old Maoist claptrap that the “primary contradiction” is between “the people of the world and U.S. imperialism” then you should probably stop reading now.

The world, as it turns out, is a much more complicated place with myriad faces of evil (including Mao’s heirs) and to choose up sides in a dogmatic, knee-jerk fashion is something we can ill afford.
In short, as I said weeks ago, it will give me great pleasure to see Gaddafi’s planes blown from the skies, his tanks burnt to a crisp and his regime smashed to smithereens. Nor would I mind terribly much if a missile hit his compound while he donning one of robes in the shower.

Do I believe that the interventionist forces are selfless humanitarians? Hardly.

Do I think they are hypocrites for intervening in Libya while giving cover to the repressive regimes in Bahrain and Yemen (and Saudi Arabia and Jordan). You bet.

Do I think this intervention is a horrendous blunder and act of aggression as was the invasion of Iraq? NO.

Absolutely not. Double absolutely not.  Libya has been the stage for a popular uprising for the last several weeks, the same one sweeping much of North Africa and the Arab world.  The western military intervention now taking place against a clearly delusional and butcher dictator comes, effectively, in direct support of the revolutionaries facing down the regime. This action also comes with the full support of the Arab League. It comes with no opposition from any member of the UN Security Council.
Further, this action comes at a time when not only Libyans, but also tens of other millions of Arabs have invested their hopes in regional renaissance.  I am proud, I am happy that the U.S. — for once and for whatever calculation– finds itself on the side of those fighting against oppression. In some sense, then, I see this action by the Obama administration to be somewhat redemptive. After decades of supporting one Arab dictatorship after another and, precisely, after watching the Iraqi debacle of the last decade, I feel we sort of OWE the Arab world the surprise of showing up, albeit erratically, on the right side of things.

Let me also add that the success of the Gadaffi regime in smothering the rebellion in blood would be quite a destabilizing force for the very young and unsure Arab revolution which has sprouted in Tunisia and Egypt and which struggles to be born elsewhere. I feel great solidarity with the insurgents in Libya and would aid them any way I could. If the U.S. Navy wants to pitch in, I’m good with that.
So with all of the reservation noted above, of course, I support the military action.  My greatest fear, only, is that it won’t be effective enough.  But I stand with the Arab League, with the National Council in Benghazi and with the overwhelming majority of Libyans in supporting this action and hoping it will accelerate the fall of Gaddafi,  I support this action just as I would have supported a U.S. military strike in favor of the Kurds and Marsh Arab uprising that took place right after the Gulf War. I support this action the same way I would have supported the U.S. opening an air bridge before it was too late in Rwanda.

I am ready to be called a Cruise Missile Leftist or a running-dog imperialist rather than have silently watched Gaddafi carry out his threat of two nights ago to enter Benghazi, show “no mercy” and hunt down his opponents door to door.  I will leave that latter task to Hugo Chavez.

Let me also concede, in advance, that there will be civilian casualties involved. This is inevitable in any armed conflict.  I supported the Salvadoran revolutionaries in the 1980′s and I saw with my own eyes more civilian casualties than I cared to count.  There were piles of civilian casualties during the Spanish Civil War and IF only the West had militarily intervened on the right side it would have saved the Spanish from four decades of Franquismo.

But it is Gaddafi,  not the cruise missiles, that has already killed thousands and who rather blithely threatened to kill thousands more.  Want to stop the killing of civilians in Libya? So do I. The best way is to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

P.S. Here is the worst sort of mumbo-jumbo from your run-of-the mill “leftist analyst” (whom I have know for years — even back when she was a Maoist and relaundered herself as some sort of reasonable “analyst” an shrouded with the legitimacy of the Institute for Policy Studies).  Strip away all the bullshit and her argument seems to boil down to a fearthat the Western powers will actually expand their actions to overthrow Gaddafi — even though she claims she would like to see him go. Huh?  My fear is that they won’t!

What she doesn’t say, which is the real point of her piece, is that she plain opposes the use of American military power under any conditions and for any reason–period.  She says she wishes, instead, there were some of global anti-intervention force like the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Another huh?  Those brigades were boots on the ground, a step farther than the evil imperialist powers say they are now willing to go. So, apparently, she would support a ground-based armed force to support the Libyans, so long as they were unofficial poorly-trained Communists and not professional Americans or Brits?

A couple of untidy historical reminders. The International Brigades, for better and for worse, were directly supported by the Communist Third International and therefore by a state power, known as the Soviet Union. If the Republican forces had won, they would have a had a real problem mediating the geopolitical interests of the Soviet state which had its direct representatives under arms on Spanish soil.  Personally, I think the Brigades fought on the right side and many of their members were great heroes in spite of their Stalinist pedigree.  But they lost. Remember?  They lost because the Western Powers would not intervene in Spain for the Republicans (as they were mostly sympathetic to the fascists) nor did the Soviets (and anyway they were on the verge of signing the Hitler-Stalin pact). Well, to be more precise, the Soviet army did not intervene on the Republican side but the ComIntern and KGB agents  were very much in Spain and helped to royally fuck up things. I would suggest a reading of Orwell’s magisterial Homage To Catalonia to get a good sense out of the less than honorable role played by the Communists in undermining the Spanish Revolution and squandering the sacrifice of many of the individual Brigade fighters.

But back to the point. Bennis’ argument is really gibberish. And it’s sad that the official left employs such pathetic arguments at this point in history. Her solution to the crisis? Issue manifestos and pine for a non-existent brigade of global socialists to intervene. No thanks.

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Andrew Hunt said…
Hi Michael!

I hope all's well with you. I've been reading your Blog and meaning to comment on how much I enjoy it. I hope you and your family are doing well.

I wanted to take a moment to post to let you know that I do take issue with this post by Marc Cooper. Here, in a nutshell, is why: Suppose the so-called "Left" in the United States (that is, progressives, lefties, socialists, left libertarians, activists, shit disturbers, etc. etc.) were to support - from a purely human rights perspective - the intervention in Libya. Shouldn't they admit they're wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan and support those interventions as well? The very same reasoning that Marc uses to justify intervention in Libya was often cited by apologists for intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. Like the Iraq War or not, it did get rid of one of the worst despots in the region, a man committing human rights violation that equalled if not far surpassed those of Gaddafi. And the Taliban - my God, the Taliban - they were the Khmer Rouge of South Asia. I don't need to run down a laundry list of the hideous atrocities they committed.

I pose the following question not to be combative, but as food for thought: Why is this intervention OK and those two aren't? Is it because this is a Grenada/Balkans/Somalia get in/get out quick/fast intervention with no commitment of combat troops, therefore it's OK? That, in my opinion, is not a defendable position. That's what my grandpa would've called "chickenshit reasoning." Is it because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not really about overthrowing despots but something more sinister? If we accept at face value that the current intervention in Libya is about protecting human rights (with no ulterior motives on the part of the intervening coalition), then why can't we accept that Iraq and Afghanistan - for all their faults, and despite being economically costly - were carried out for the same reason?

When the Bush administration sent troops into Afghanistan, I didn't protest because I knew Al Qaeda was using the country as a huge base camp, and I knew the country would be better off without the Taliban. But the chorus of protest was loud on the left. I did oppose the Iraq War (and still do) because I thought that a better way to topple Saddam Hussein was for internal resistance, backed by the west, to mobilize against him. Had we gone that route, I'm sure Saddam would've lasted for several more years, but he likely wouldn't have made it past this latest round of pro-democracy protests in the Mideast (or he would've cracked down hard on the dissenters). It seems to me, though, that the human rights element of these wars has to be acknowledged and grappled with if the "Left" is also going to support Libya, so that arguments for intervention make sense and are properly justified. It also seems like Phyllis Bennis, slammed by Marc Cooper in a sort of mean-spirited FoxNewsish manner, is simply being consistent with those who opposed interventions in Afghanistan (a war Marc doesn't mention in his post) and Iraq. No? Yes? Am I missing something here?

Nothing against your post, Michael. Just some food-for-thought questions as I ponder my own position...