Archive for the ‘Libya’Category

Libya backlash

I’m fresh off a roleplay for a course where I had to argue that, in hindsight, the Libyan intervention was a bad idea. Being given a role to play can make thinking through tough issues deceptively easier — your mind is made up, so you just have to sort through the available evidence and narratives to make the best possible case for that decision. If I had had to choose my own position, well… I’m much more conflicted. The media narrative of the moment is that Qaddafi’s death proves that the Libya intervention was a success. Maybe I’m under the influence of my assumed position, but here are two alternate perspectives that I think are extremely valuable.

First, Daniel Larison, writing at The Week, says the Libya war is still a failure. It weakened the “responsibility to protect” principle and has already made it harder to respond to other situations (such as in Syria):

Instead of protecting the population of Libya — which is what the U.N. authorized — the West’s intervention allowed the conflict to continue and consume perhaps as many as 30,000 Libyan lives, including many thousands of civilians, in addition to tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands displaced. Rather than the “limited” war presented by the intervention’s defenders, it immediately expanded into a policy of regime change. The official goal of protecting civilians was subordinated very early on to the real purpose of the war — namely, the destruction of the existing government and the elimination of its leaders.

Contrary to the hope that Libya would provide a deterrent to regime violence elsewhere, the political fallout from the war has stalled any international response to Syria’s crackdown. By exceeding the U.N. mandate they received in March, the U.S. and its allies have poisoned emerging democratic powers such as India and Brazil against taking any action in other countries. Libya has confirmed every skeptic’s worst fears that in practice, the “responsibility to protect” is little more than a pretext for toppling vulnerable governments.

And David Rieff, writing at Foreign Policy, calls Qaddafi “the man who knew too much”:

Qaddafi was, quite simply, a man who knew too much. Taken alive, he would have almost certainly have been handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which had indicted him — along with his son, Saif al-Islam, and brother-in-law and military intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi (whereabouts unknown) — for crimes against humanity in late June. Imagine the stir he would have made in The Hague. There, along with any number of fantasies and false accusations, he would almost certainly have revealed the extent of his intimate relations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the details of his government’s collaboration with Western intelligence services in counterterrorism, with the European Union in limiting migration from Libyan shores, and in the granting of major contracts to big Western oil and construction firms.

He would have had much to tell, for this cooperation was extensive. In the war against the jihadis — a war to which Qaddafi regularly claimed to be as committed to prosecuting as Washington, Paris, or London — links between Libyan intelligence and the CIA were particularly strong, as an archive of secret documents unearthed by Human Rights Watch researchers has revealed. If anything, the CIA’s British counterpart, MI6, was even more involved with the Qaddafi family. As the Guardian reported in early September, it was Sir Mark Allen, then the director of the counterterrorism section of MI6, the British overseas spying agency, who was the key figure on the Western side in the secret negotiations to get Qaddafi to give up his WMD programs. The Guardian story further laid out how, after failing to become director of MI6 in 2004, Allen went into the private sector, becoming a senior advisor to the Monitor Group, a consulting firm that was paid huge fees by Qaddafi to burnish his image around the world, and, while they were at it, helped Saif (who had been his father’s initial envoy to MI6) research his PhD thesis for the London School of Economics (LSE). Allen was also an advisor to BP, helping the oil giant secure major contracts in Libya from the Qaddafi regime.

Messy all around.

25

10 2011

Timing

This week in one of my classes we were scheduled to discuss humanitarian intervention and the “responsibility to protect” principle. Our case study is on Libya, and especially on the initial decision to intervene. Not coincidentally, one of the professors for the course is Anne-Marie Slaughter (see her NYT editorial in support of action, just days before UN Resolution 1973).

The news of Gadhafi’s death broke just before class. Then, after a session touching on these topics in the context of broader theories of international relations, I found myself in a computer lab with several of my classmates. We were mostly checking our email or printing assignments, but the conversation turned to Libya. Someone mentioned that a video had been posted of Gadhafi still alive when he was captured (see here), and we started pulling up different videos and trying to piece together what happened. What order, who did what, how we should react, and so forth.

Separate from the implications of Gadhafi’s death for the future of Libya, there’s a question of how quickly media has changed how we interact with world events, and how participants in those events seek to portray them. A century ago radio brought real-time news, followed a few decades later by TV. The last decade has seen the proliferation of digital video cameras and the rise of sites like YouTube where anyone can disseminate footage to the entire world, at first side-stepping the old media and then being amplified by it.

I don’t know how this situation would have played out a few decades ago, but here we were watching videos taken earlier the same day by rebel forces in Libya. Has there ever been faster turnaround between the fall of a despot, the spread of imagery to shape the narrative of what happened? As viewers and discussants we were participating in the immediate struggle to claim responsibility.

20

10 2011

Libya

I saw this anti-war poster next to the Hopkins shuttle stop in Baltimore:

A mixture of probably true and not-so-true rhetoric about Libya. It’s about oil! Well, partly — but a single intervention can have multiple motivations, both humanitarian and otherwise. And then: “Attacking LIBYA is Attacking AFRICA!” which is helpfully illustrated with a map of Libya showing that it’s, well, in Africa. This is a fascinating reimagination of the “all Africa is the same” meme. Another interesting observation: the poster is all about the Pentagon, with no mention of President Obama.

On the other hand, I think anti-war voices are healthy and helpful, even if the rhetoric is misguided. I’m torn on the Libyan intervention — I believe it’s justified, but I’m deeply worried about what happens next. Sometimes there are no good options, and the best possible option (intervening) can still lead to terrible outcomes.

Kristof provides this powerful justification that I can’t get away from:

I’ve seen war up close, and I detest it. But there are things I’ve seen that are even worse — such as the systematic slaughter of civilians as the world turns a blind eye. Thank God that isn’t happening this time.

But another valuable voice is Alex de Waal, who doesn’t have quite the audience of Kristof. De Waal shares these troubling thoughts:

Much of Libya is now ungoverned. That is particularly true of southern Libya. There has been little attention to the towns of the south, such as Sebha and Kufra, with no international correspondents there. These places are matters of great concern to neighbouring governments such as Niger, Chad and Sudan, because these towns have served as the rear base for armed rebellions in their countries, and rebel leaders still reside there. Gaddafi’s opening of the Libyan arsenals to anyone ready to fight for the regime, and the collapse of authority in other places, means that such rebels have been able to acquire arms and vehicles with ease. [….]

I spoke with one African military officer who welcomed the NATO action in Libya, saying “nothing could be worse than Gaddafi.” I suggested that he wait and see.

Update: Andrew Sullivan links to Daniel Larison’s critique of Kristof’s view that the intervention averted civilian slaughter:

Saying that the war has averted a humanitarian catastrophe is an extremely useful claim, and there’s no obvious way to disprove it. Outside governments intervened, and a humanitarian catastrophe hasn’t happened, and supporters of the war take it for granted that one would have happened otherwise. Of course, this is why they supported the war, but this points to the dilemma that humanitarian interventionists have. If they intervene in a timely fashion and don’t make the situation drastically worse in the process, there is nothing concrete they can point to that vindicates the decision.

25

03 2011