This is a collection of recent postings on Libya from the blogs I follow
from Glenn Greenwald by Glenn Greenwald
At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky today says that while President Obama “hasn’t been much of a domestic-policy president from nearly anyone’s point of view” (he apparently hasn’t read Steve Benen or Ezra Klein lately), the war in Libya highlights how “one can see how he might become not just a good but a great foreign-policy president.” Tomasky’s argument is somewhat cautious and expressly contingent on unknown, future events, but is nonetheless revealing — both in what it says and what it omits — about how some influential progressives conceive of the Obama presidency.
First, I’m genuinely astounded at the pervasive willingness to view what has happened in Libya as some sort ofgrand triumph even though virtually none of the information needed to make that assessment is known yet, including: how many civilians have died, how much more bloodshed will there be, what will be needed to stabilize that country and, most of all, what type of regime will replace Gadaffi? Does anyone know how many civilians have died in the NATO bombing of Tripoli and the ensuing battle? Does anyone know who will dominate the subsequent regime? Does it matter? To understand how irrational and premature these celebrations are in the absence of that information, I urge everyone to read this brief though amazing compilation of U.S. media commentary from 2003 after U.S. forces entered Baghdad: in which The Liberal Media lavished Bush with intense praise for vanquishing Saddam, complained that Democrats were not giving the President the credit he deserved, and demanded that all those loser-war-opponents shamefully confess their error. Sound familiar?
No matter how moved you are by joyous Libyans (just as one was presumably moved by joyous Iraqis); no matter how heinous you believe Gadaffi was (he certainly wasn’t worse than Saddam); no matter how vast you believe the differences are between Libya and Iraq (and there are significant differences), this specific Iraq lesson cannot be evaded. When foreign powers use military force to help remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.
Tomasky acknowledges these uncertainties yet does not allow them to deter him, but that makes no sense: whether this war turns out to be wise or just cannot be known without knowing what it unleashes and what follows. Just as nobody doubted that the U.S. could bring enough destruction to Iraq to destroy the Saddam regime, nobody doubted that NATO could do the same to Gadaffi; declaring the war in Libya a “success” now is no more warranted than declaring the Iraq War one in April, 2003.
Then there’s the issue of illegality. Tomasky pays lip service to this, dismissing as “ridiculous” Obama’s claim that he did not need Congressional approval because the U.S. role in Libya didn’t rise to the level of “hostilities.” By that, Tomasky presumably means that Obama broke the law and violated the Constitution in how he prosecuted the war. Isn’t that rather obviously a hugely significant fact when assessing Obama’s foreign policy? The Atlantic‘s Conor Freidersdorf argues that no matter how great the outcome proves to be, Libya must be considered a “Phyrrhic victory for America” because:
Obama has violated the Constitution; he willfully broke a law that he believes to be constitutional; he undermined his own professed beliefs about executive power, and made it more likely that future presidents will undermine convictions that he purports to hold; in all this, he undermined the rule of law and the balance of powers as set forth by the framers.
Similarly, The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson warns of the serious precedential dangers not only from Obama’s law-breaking but from our collective willingness to overlook it. Honestly: can anyone claim that if George Bush had waged an optional war without Congressional approval — and continued to wage it even after a Democratic Congress voted against its authorization — that progressives would be lightly and parenthetically calling it “ridiculous” on their way to praising the war? No, they’d be screaming — rightfully so — about lawlessness and the shredding of the Constitution; that this identical contempt for the law by Obama has become nothing more than a cursory progressive caveat (at most) on the way to hailing the glorious war is astounding.
That leads to an equally dangerous precedent from acquiescing to illegality that has not received nearly enough attention. There seems to be this sense that while it’s regretful that Obama had to break the law to wage this war, the outcome is so good, the cause was so imperative, that we can accept this.
As someone who spent years arguing literally on a daily basis about Bush’s lawlessness, I can assure you that this rationale was exactly the one offered by Bush followers over and over again: even if it was technically illegal to eavesdrop without warrants, it was justified because (a) FISA is too restrictive a law on presidential authority and (b) the cause — detecting Terrorist plots — is so important and just. Replace “FISA” with “War Powers Resolution” and “detecting Terrorist plots” with “vanquishing Gadaffi” and one finds that mentality in full force today (in December, 2005, I wrote a post entitled “Claiming the Right to Break the Law,” highlighting how Bush officials such as Condoleezza Rice were defending the NSA program on that ground that stopping Terrorists was so vital that it justified the warrantless eavesdropping (and see the discussion there of how Bush followers justified anything their leader did even when it was illegal), and in January, 2006, I wrote a post entitled “The Bad Law Defense,” critiquing the claim from Gen. Michael Hayden that illegal eaveasdropping was permissible because FISA was too restrictive). As I wrote back then about that latter view:
As always, the first — and, for this scandal, the dispositive — principle is that the solution to a bad law is to change the law, not to break the law in secret and then claim once you’re caught that the law you broke was a bad law. If the President has the power to comply only with those laws he likes but to violate the laws he dislikes – and that, at bottom, is the Administration’s position —then we have a President who, by definition, does not believe in the rule of law and refuses to comport himself to it.
And as I wrote in my first book, How Would a Patriot Act?, about Bush lawlessness and the NSA scandal:
The heart of the matter is that the president broke the law, deliberately and repeatedly, no matter what his rationale was for doing so. We do not have a system of government in which the president has the right to violate laws, even if he believes doing so will produce good results. . . .
An illegally fought war isn’t some minor nit on Obama’s foreign policy record generally or the war in Libya particularly; it’s fundamental to what he did and how it should be assessed.
Then there are the multiple claims and promises of Obama’s that were clearly breached by this war. When running for President, he vowed that “we will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers” and: “no more ignoring the law when it’s inconvenient. That is not who we are.” He unambiguously told The Boston Globe that “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” And he told the nation when explaining the war in Libya after he ordered U.S. involvement that the purpose was protecting civilians, not regime change, and that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.” All of those public vows were simply brushed aside — blithely violated — without the slightest explanation.
But even more confounding than the praise Tomasky heaps on the war in Libya is his broader admiration for Barack Obama’s foreign policy generally. Not only has the Democratic President escalated the war in Afghanistan, but he’s dramatically increased American violence and aggression in multiple countries around the world, including Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. His actions have ended the lives of dozens upon dozens of innocent civilians, including a single cluster bombs attack in Yemen — cluster bombs — that by itself killed 23 children and 17 women; his own top General in Afghanistan described an “amazing number” of innocents killed at checkpoints; drone attacks continue to pile up the corpses of innocent human beings. None of this massive war escalation, increased aggression, and civilian death at Obama’s hands even merits a mention from Tomasky, let alone impedes the gushing; all of that has just been whitewashed from the progressive mind.
Then there is Obama’s continuation — and strengthening — of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism and civil liberties template that many progressives once pretended to find so deeply offensive. Perhaps Tomasky could argue that these don’t belong in a critique of Obama’s foreign policy (though I was just told by Scott Lemieux that these issues don’t belong in a discussion of Obama’s domestic policy), but surely some of it does. Obama has fought to deny Afghan prisoners any minimal habeas corpus rights, employed Somali proxies to house accused Terrorists in black sites, used “detention and torture by proxy” in Kuwait and elsewhere, targeted U.S. citizens for due-process-free assassinations, and vastly bolstered the secrecy regime surrounding his actions. Maybe some of that should be taken into account by progressives rushing to proclaim Obama’s foreign policy Greatness?
Stranger still are the alleged accomplishments Tomasky cites in his concluding paragraph:
But it’s hardly impossible to envision an Obama administration in a few years’ time that has drawn down Afghanistan and Iraq, helped foster reforms and maybe even the growth of a couple of democracies around the Middle East, and restored the standing of a country that Bush had laid such staggering waste. And killed Osama bin Laden. If this is weak America-hating, count me in.
That’s all very moving, except for the fact that none of it is real. Obama hasn’t “restored” America’s standing; granted, the country is more popular in Western Europe, but in the crucial Middle East and predominantly Muslim regions, America, if anything, is viewed more negatively now than it was under Bush. There’s no sign that Obama is “drawing down” in Afghanistan (his announced “withdrawal” plan would leave more troops than were there when he was inaugurated), and he’s currently working hard to pressure Iraq to agree to U.S. troops in that country beyond the repeatedly touted deadline (beyond the private army to be maintained by the State Department). And Tomasky’s fantasy that Obama will spawn “the growth of a couple of democracies around the Middle East” — the hallmark of neocon yearning — is revealing indeed; it’s also quite redolent of this bit of speculative presidential tongue-bathing about Bush’s democracy-spreading from Time‘s Joe Klein in 2005:
But that is where the democratic idealism of the Bush Doctrine has led us. If the President turns out to be right — and let’s hope he is — a century’s worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.
Tomasky is right about Obama’s tonal improvements over Bush: as I’ve noted before, his less belligerent rhetoric is welcome. And it’s also true that it’s impossible to imagine Obama landing on an aircraft carrier wearing a fighter pilot costume (though he was hardly shy about dispatching anonymous aides leaking classified information to cover him with glory over the bin Laden killing). And Obama deserves credit for more effective use of the U.N. and alliances to manage American wars. But much of that is atmospheric, and it is setting a very low bar indeed: he’s not as much of an overtly chest-beating play-acting warrior as George W. Bush is not exactly greatness-establishing.
On the level of actions, any progressive decreeing Barack Obama’s foreign policy Greatness can do so only via willful blindness and/or a complete repudiation of previously claimed progressive principles. Both are vividly on display in Tomasky’s salute.
* * * * *
On the subject of Libya and Obama’s foreign policy generally, Jeremy Scahill’s appearance this morning onMorning Joe, in which he tries to explain some basic facts to a very confused Howard Dean and Tina Brown, is a must-watch:
- More: Glenn Greenwald
from ‘Just World News’ with Helena Cobban by Helena
The NATO-assisted uprising in Libya is now in the last phases of taking the whole country. These phases may well be marked by some major rights abuses– conducted in the name of “mopping up” operations and motivated by some combination of vengeance and triumphalism.
I hope that such excesses are kept to a minimum and that reporters on the ground are careful both to pay attention and to report accurately what they see.
Meanwhile, I see that Ben Rhodes, a former speechwriter who somehow got elevated to “deputy national security adviser for communications” has been doing a bit of a victory lap with Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin.
This part of Rogin’s report struck me as particularly worrying:
- President Barack Obama’s strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also
will form the basis of Obama’s preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
“There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it’s far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers,” said Rhodes. “Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn’t bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions.”
Why would we imagine that the U.S. president should even be in need of any form of a “model” for “future military interventions”?
But more to the point, the real “victory” for Libya’s people, if there is to be one, is still very far indeed from having been won.
Do we have any assurance at all at this point that the situation in Libya, in 2020, will be any better than the still-tragic situation in Iraq today, eight years after the U.S. victory on the battlefield in Iraq in 2003… Or, than the still-horrendous situation in Afghanistan today, nearly ten years after the U.S. victory on the battlefield there in 2001?
Libya, after 40 years of Qadhafi’s rule and the recent five months of armed conflict, has very few institutions of good governance and almost no culture or tradition of good governance left to it. We have also seen very disturbing social fissures opening up during these most recent months of war– between easterners and westerners, and between Arabs and Imazaghen. I am trying hard to muster some hope that the country’s “transition” to a decent level and quality of self-governance can be well achieved within the next 2-3 years, but it is really hard to see any indications of how this might be achieved.
What is true is that, given its geography, Libya is a real and present challenge primarily for Italy and the other countries of Europe— and also for its two in-transition Arab neighbors Egypt and Tunisia. But Egypt and Tunisia are both extremely (and rightly) busy with their own concerns; and Egypt is anyway somewhat buffered from events in Libya by large expanses of desert.
As for Italy and the other European countries– well, they all also have huge concerns of their own right now, and probably not a lot of attention or resources to devote to providing useful help to the Libyans.
It is thus almost impossible to identify any non-Libyan power who can provide solid, disinterested, useful help to Libya’s people as they face the present challenges of post-war social reconstruction. Possibly Turkey? Who knows?
What is clear now, though, is that this task will be huge, and it has barely even begun…
Libyan rebels have consolidated their grip on the capital of Tripoli by capturing Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s main compound, but the whereabouts of the Libyan leader remain unknown, and he has vowed his forces would resist “the aggression with all strength” until either victory or death. Reporters in Tripoli say heavy gunfire could still be heard nearby the area of the Rixos Hotel, where dozens of international journalists guarded by heavily armed Gaddafi loyalists are unable to leave. The Arab League said on Tuesday it will meet this week to consider giving Libyan rebels the country’s seat at the League, after it was taken away a few months ago from the Gaddafi government. Today Britain’s National Security Council is meeting to discuss unfreezing Libyan assets to financially assist the National Transitional Council. We speak with Gilbert Achcar, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “Who are the rebels? Well, this is actually the $1 billion question,” says Achcar. “Even in NATO circles, you find the same questions.” [includes rush transcript]
Abdel Fattah Younis, military leader of the Free Libya Forces, was assassinated Thursday. Younis was too close to Qaddafi, despite his defection, to remain truly popular with the rebels, and it is a little unlikely that his death will affect the terms of the uprising, despite what some observers are saying. He was not allowed to be a field officer because of the mistrust, so his absence would not affect the battlefield.
In fact, the hardy Free Libya forces of the Western Mountain regions took a strategic town near the Tunisian border as news of his assassination was announced. And, Brega, though being cleared of mines, has fallen to Free Libya forces in the east, a major advance for the rebels. Western observers keep looking for a stalemate, but the rebels have in fact steadily advanced.
Aljazeera English is even reporting that Younis is accused by some of having been a double agent. I have no way of knowing if the allegation has any truth to it, but obviously if it were correct, then that would affect how we should interpret the news of his demise.
Aljazeera English reports:
On the other hand, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, a leading figure in the Transitional National Council and also a defector from the Qaddafi regime, issued a statement blaming a small armed cell for the assassination and said one had been arrested. Benghazi will now ban the carrying of arms inside the city. Abdel Jalil is clearly afraid that the Obeidat tribe to which Younis belonged might be angered over his death and desert the rebel cause, and went out of his way to reassure them. (In the interests of TNC unity, it is a better story that Qaddafi loyalists got through to Younis than that he was taken out for being a double agent).
The rebels’ reversal about the Qaddafi son’s capture led to some finger-pointing among the rebels. “I learned not to trust the people from Benghazi who are telling me these stories,” said Anwar Fekini, a rebel leader from the western mountains who had repeated the news Monday. At a news conference in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mr. Jibril, the rebel prime minister, said it was essentially a misunderstanding, suggesting that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, had mistaken an early notification of an unconfirmed rumor for an official report of Seif al-Islam’s capture. There was no explanation why the misunderstanding went uncorrected for two days. As for the reported capture of another Qaddafi son, Mohammed, Mr. Fekini confirmed reports that he had escaped and acknowledged some responsibility. Mohammed had played little role in the Qaddafi political machine, so Mr. Fekini said he and others agreed to place him under house arrest. Unfortunately it was naïve,” he said. “We are too humane to be warriors.””
…But it is arguably in the arena of post-conflict planning that the British have been most active…Diplomats have been engaged in drawing up a blueprint for a post-Gaddafi Libya, including humanitarian aid, help with policing, governance and reform of the military. The prize of being seen as a “friend” in a stable, oil-rich Libya isconsiderable…”” (thanks Nu`man)
from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by email@example.com (Democracy Now!)
Fighting continues in parts of Tripoli, the capital of Libya, where rebels are reportedly battling with Muammar Gaddafi’s forces outside his heavily fortified compound. Reports by the Libyan Rebel Council that Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, had been captured were contradicted late Monday when he emerged amongst supporters in front of foreign journalists in Tripoli. The International Criminal Court had claimed he had been in the custody of anti-Gaddafi fighters for the past 24 hours. The rebels have also claimed that two of Gaddafi’s other sons were detained but have provided no evidence. Meanwhile, details have emerged that U.S. and NATO forces played a key role in the Libyan rebel push into Tripoli, carrying out 17 Predator drone strikes and 38 air strikes since August 10. Overall, the U.S. has carried out 1,210 air strikes and 101 Predator drone strikes in Libya since April 1. NATO says it will keep up pressure on Gaddafi and that its “mission is not over yet.” We are joined by Phyllis Bennis, who is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. [includes rush transcript]
from Glenn Greenwald by Glenn Greenwald
In April, 2003, American troops entered Baghdad and Saddam Hussein was forced to flee; six months later, the dictator was captured (“caught like a rat in a hole,” giddy American media outlets celebrated) and eventually hanged. Each of those incidents caused massive numbers of Iraqis who had suffered under his decades-long rule to celebrate, and justifiably so: Saddam really was a monster who had brutally oppressed millions. But what was not justifiable was how those emotions were exploited by American war advocates to delegitimize domestic objections to the war. Even though opposition to the war had absolutely nothing to do with doubt about whether Saddam could be vanquished by the U.S. military — of course he could and would be — the emotions surrounding his defeat were seized upon by Iraq War supporters to boastfully claim full-scale vindication (here’s one of my all-time favorites from that intellectually corrupt genre).
So extreme was this manipulative way of arguing that then-presidential-candidate Howard Dean was mauled by people in both parties when he dared to raise questions about whether Saddam’s capture — being hailed in bipartisan political and media circles as a Great American Achievement — would actually make things better. Dean’s obvious point was that Saddam’s demise told us very little about the key questions surrounding the war: how many civilians had died and would die in the future? What would be required to stabilize Iraq? How much more fighting would be unleashed? What precedents did the attack set? What regime would replace Saddam and what type of rule would it impose, and to whom would its leaders be loyal? That a dictatorial monster had been vanquished told us nothing about any of those key questions — the ones in which war opposition had been grounded — yet war proponents, given pervasive hatred of Saddam, dared anyone to question the war in the wake of those emotional events and risk appearing to oppose Saddam’s defeat. That tactic succeeded in turning war criticism in the immediate aftermath of those events into a taboo (the same thing was done in the wake of Mullah Omar’s expulsion from Afghanistan to those arguing that the war would result in a “quagmire”).
As I’ve emphasized from the very first time I wrote about a possible war in Libya, there are real and important differences between the attack on Iraq and NATO’s war in Libya, ones that make the former unjustifiable in ways the latter is not (beginning with at least some form of U.N. approval). But what they do have in common — what virtually all wars have in common — is the rhetorical manipulation used to justify them and demonize critics. Just as Iraq War opponents were accused of being “objectively pro-Saddam” and harboring indifference to The Iraqi People, so, too, were opponents of the Libya War repeatedly accused of being on Gadaffi’s side (courtesy of Hillary Clinton, an advocate of both wars) and/or exuding indifference to the plight of Libyans. And now, in the wake of the apparent demise of the Gadaffi regime, we see all sorts of efforts, mostly from Democratic partisans, to exploit the emotions from Gadaffi’s fall to shame those who questioned the war, illustrated by this question last night from ThinkProgress, an organization whose work I generally respect:
The towering irrationality of this taunt is manifest. Of course the U.S. participation in that war is still illegal. It’s illegal because it was waged for months not merely without Congressional approval, but even in the face of aCongressional vote against its authorization. That NATO succeeded in defeating the Mighty Libyan Army does not have the slightest effect on that question, just as Saddam’s capture told us nothing about the legality or wisdom of that war. What comments like this one are designed to accomplish is to exploit and manipulate the emotions surrounding Gaddafi’s fall to shame and demonize war critics and dare them to question the War President now in light of his glorious triumph.
Of course, ThinkProgress could have just as rationally directed its question to President Obama’s own Attorney General, Eric Holder, and his Office of Legal Counsel Chief, Caroline Krass, and his DOD General Counsel, Jeh Johnsen, all of whom argued that the war was illegal on the same grounds as Boehner did. Or they could have directed their comment to the numerous House Democrats who vehemently protested the war’s illegality, and tothe 60% of House Democrats who voted to de-fund it. Or they could have even directed it to ThinkProgress’ own Matt Yglesias, who repeatedly expressed doubts about both the legality and wisdom of the Libya war, andlast night wrote:
Let’s wish the best of luck to the people of Libya. Part of the problem with this intervention has always been that the fall of a dictator seems to me just as likely to lead to a bloody civil war or a new dictatorship as the emergence of a humane and stable regime. The effort to build a better future really only starts today.
Those are among the key questions that remain entirely unanswered. No decent human being would possibly harbor any sympathy for Gadaffi, just as none harbored any for Saddam. It’s impossible not to be moved by the celebration of Libyans over the demise of (for some at least) their hated dictator, just as was the case for the happiness of Kurds and Shiites over Saddam’s. And I’ve said many times before, there are undoubtedly many Libya war supporters motivated by the magnanimous (though misguided) desire to use the war to prevent mass killings (just as some Iraq War supporters genuinely wanted to liberate Iraqis).
But the real toll of this war (including the number of civilian deaths that have occurred and will occur) is still almost entirely unknown, and none of the arguments against the war (least of all the legal ones) are remotely resolved by yesterday’s events. Shamelessly exploiting hatred of the latest Evil Villain to irrationally shield all sorts of policies from critical scrutiny — the everything-is-justified-if-we-get-a-Bad-Guy mentality — is one of the most common and destructive staples of American political discourse, and it’s no better when done here.
UPDATE: Former MSNBC Donahue producer Jeff Cohen, in his book “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media,” documented the following from MSNBC in April, 2003, as U.S. forces entered Baghdad:
On April 10, three weeks into the war which he portrayed as mission accomplished, [Joe] Scarborough delivered a wacky commentary demanding that “disgraced” war skeptics like Jimmy Carter and Dennis Kucinich admit that “their wartime predictions were arrogant . . . misguided . . . and dead wrong.” This on a show in which he spoke of Iraq possessing WMD. Scarborough was gleeful that antiwar “elitists” like Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Janeane Garofalo were facing cancellations and boycotts. [Michael] Savage joined the conversation to say that “Hollywood idiots” are “absolutely committing sedition and treason.” Scarborough responded, “These leftist stooges for anti-American causes are always given a free pass. Isn’t it time to make them stand up and be counted for their views?“
With Gadaffi reportedly on the verge of falling, there certainly is a lot of similar chest-beating and boastful demands that war critics confess their shameful error — as though anyone ever doubted that Gadaffi would fall — and it all seems every bit as premature and manipulative as this April, 2003, orgy of self-celebrating war dances that took place on the MSNBC precinct of The Liberal Media.
from Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss
I’ve kept myself from exulting over Libya too much because the left is divided on Libya, but I’m exultant. There is an old journalistic rule that a trend requires three events, and Libya consolidates the Arab spring as a trend of great revolutions across the Arab world. It has uprooted a hateful tyrant, it has added auto-mechanics-turned-armorers and geologists-turned-generals to the west’s new image bank of Arab ingenuity. It has silenced all that tribal talk in the name of democracy. And America was on the right side.
The neocons and neoliberals have battened on to Libya as a sequel to Iraq. They bring up Iraq all the time, they want to justify their murderous occupation in Iraq by claiming Libya. I don’t buy it, but I can tune them out.
I am hopeful that ten years after 9/11 America has learned something, that it can be on the side of the people in the Arab world, on the side of a genuine popular uprising, which is what Libya is. When the Libyan ambassador to Washington, Suleiman Aujali, said yesterday that NATO was there in our hour of need, I was stirred by that. We can change our paradigm in the Arab world. And I believe there is a way for the west to participate in the rebuilding of Libya without a foremost imperial interest. And if Europe cares about oil or refugees, again, I don’t really care. Look what the refugee problem has done to the Palestinian issue, and Somalia. And as for oil, I want the left to talk conservation, and global warming.
Ten years ago Arundhati Roy wrote a famous essay in the Guardian attacking the U.S. military-imperial presence in Asia, and I want to believe that era is ending. Roy said that we don’t see Asians on TV; but we have seen Arabs all over television this spring, in inspiring roles, and I believe in the American story enough to think that our civil rights movement and feminist movement and gay rights movement are available to the world; and that after 7 decades of demonizing Arabs, 7 decades since FDR promised King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia that he would consult the Arab neighbors on the future of Palestine, and that promise was voided, we will begin to apply the principle that All men are created equal to the Arabs world.
The contradiction here is Palestine. Israel is the reason that “Arabists” were marginalized in the State Department. Israel is a good part of the reason that we were sold a “clash of civilizations.” Right now on MSNBC Jane Harman, a stalwart of the Israel lobby, was saying that our real enemies are Syria and Iran. They threaten our “strategic interest,” Israel.
But I say Libya’s liberation hurts that agenda, it does not advance it. The Arab spring is a great motion of history in our lifetimes. It is eroding Zionism in the name of democracy. Of course it will be a great contradiction if a month after the U.S. helps the rebels capture Tripoli, we work against Palestinian self-determination in the U.N., but it took Jews and Americans a few decades to fall into the messianic trap that is Zionism, and it is going to take us a while to dig out, and it actually helps this process that all the contradictions of our Palestinian policy are being held up to the light. We are for human rights in Libya, against them in Palestine. For the International Criminal Court in Libya, against it in Israel. For self-determination and democracy in Libya, against them in Palestine and Israel. These contradictions are too stark to be ignored. They show that the special relationship is unprecedented, they show that what we readily endorse in Pakistan, East Timor, and Kosovo — self-determination– we cannot tolerate in Palestine. Americans are being educated. The Arab spring will change us too.
from Informed Comment by Juan
The illegal American invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation was so epochal a catastrophe that it spawned a negative phrase in Arabic, “to Iraqize” or `arqana. Tonight I heard an Alarabiya anchor ask a spokesman for the new government in Libya whether there as a danger of the country being “Iraqized.” He was taken aback and asked her what she meant. Apparently she meant chaos, civil war, no services, etc. (Those Neoconservatives who trumpet their Iraq misadventure as a predecessor to the Arab Spring should take a lesson; no one cites Iraq among the youth movements except as an example of what must be avoided). The Libyan intervention was legal in international law, authorized by the UN Security Council, and so can hope to have a better outcome. So how can Libyans and the world avoid the Iraqization of Libya?
1. No Western infantry or armored units should be stationed in the country. Their presence would risk inflaming the passions of the Muslim fundamentalists and of the remaining part of the population that is soft on Qaddafi. The presence of Western troops in Muslim lands creates terrorism, which then produces calls in the West for more Western troops, which creates more terrorism. It is the dialectic of a horror movie. The hawks who believe people can be bludgeoned into acquiescence have been proven wrong over and over again, in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. If large numbers of Western troops could always prevail, the Algerian Revolution of 1962 could never have succeeded.
The Qaddafi government collapsed in the east of the country in February, and Benghazi, al-Bayda, Dirna and Tobruk have been tolerably stable. There is no reason to believe that the west of the country need be less so once the fighting subsides. Security is not perfect, but let the Libyans supply it. Already in Tripoli, neighborhood watch groups have been formed to supply local security, and aside from the hated Bab al-Aziziya compound, there has been little looting.
2. As much as possible of the current bureaucracy, police and army should be retained. Only those with innocent blood on their hands or who were captured rather than surrendering or switching sides should be fired. The EU is doing the right thing in trying to ensure the bureaucrats get paid their salaries in the aftermath of the fall of Tripoli. The descent of Iraq into looting under Rumsfeld in spring of 2003 marked the beginning of a long gap in security. In Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi fired tens of thousands of capable Sunni Arabs who had been mid-level Baath Party members, thereby depriving the country of the people who knew best how to accomplish things and deliver government services, and driving them into violent opposition instead.
3. Some Libyans are complaining about the prospect of retaining the same police as in the old regime, and want local security committees instead. A compromise would be to establish a strong civilian oversight over police.
4. Avoid being vindictive toward former Qaddafi supporters, and avoid purging all but the top officials from the body politic. Egypt perhaps hasn’t gone quite far enough in removing Mubarak cronies, which provoked the July demonstrations. And it is important to prosecute secret police and others with blood on their hands. But moderation and wisdom should be used, in hopes of knitting the body politic back together. Note that once the Anglican Church in the United States renounced allegiance to the British king, it was given full rights in the new American republic, even though Anglicans in general had opposed the revolution.
5. Avoid a rush to privatize everything. Oil countries anyway inevitably have large public sectors. Impediments to entrepreneurship should be removed, but well-run state enterprises can have their place in a modern economy, as some of the Asian nations have demonstrated. Rajiv Chandrasekaran demonstrated in his Imperial Life in the Emerald City how the US fetish for privatization destroyed state factories that could otherwise have been revived and that could have supplied jobs.
6. Consult with Norway about how it is possible for an oil state to remain a democracy. The petroleum income can make the state more powerful than civil society, and there is [pdf] a statistical correlation between have a state that depends heavily on a single primary commodity and a tendency to despotism (as well as a tendency toward violence, since such commodities can be smuggled and cartels emerge to fight over smuggling rights). These problems of dependence on a high-priced primary commodity can be seen in Iraq, where the prime minister has increasingly become a soft strong man, in part because of government petroleum revenues.
7. Use the Alaska dividend system to share the oil wealth with Libya’s 6.5 million people. This model was often discussed with regard to Iraq but was never implemented.
8. Democratization and economic growth cannot be attained through oil exports alone. Having a pricey primary commodity like petroleum causes a country’s currency to harden. A harder currency means that manufactures, handicrafts, and agricultural produce from that country artificially cost more to countries with softer currencies. This effect is called the “Dutch disease” because the Netherlands developed natural gas in the late 1960s and found it actually hurt some parts of their economy. The cure is to diversify the economy. The most clever way to do so is to use the petroleum receipts to promote other industries and services. Libya has a high literacy rate and could potentially attract investors to put its population to work in other sectors.
9. Recognize Berber as a national language. The TNC has stress that the new Libya will be pluralist and multicultural, and the new constitution does not assert that Libya is an Arab state, as the intrepid Brian Whitaker has pointed out. There is no reason for which the important Berber minority should not be given its due. It is obviously important for national unity there be a strong Arabic component in the schools.
10. Once it gets on its feet socially and economically, Libya should go forward with bruited plans to get into solar and wind energy big time. Petroleum will always have value in petrochemicals, but burning it is bad for the earth because extra carbon in the atmosphere causes global warming, which will hit Libya especially hard. It is a delicious irony that the petroleum revenues could make it possible to ease the transition to solar power. Libya’s big desert is ideal for photovoltaic panels. Transitioning away from petroleum exports as the major industry would help economic diversification and increase the likelihood of a retention of democracy, as well as likely contributing to social peace. Not to mention that you don’t want it hotter in Libya in the summer than it already is.
from Informed Comment by Juan
The USG Open Source Center summarizes what is known about television and social media penetration in Libya (see below).
Television is light years more important than the internet. Almost everyone has access to television, while only 5.4% have internet (and of course Qaddafi cut off the internet for the past few months).
All those wonderful Twitter feeds on Libya? They mostly aren’t Libyan, given that only 1% of the population uses that service (65,000 persons). The rate of Facebook use is somewhat greater, and most Facebook afficionados are young men under 35 (though to be fair, that is a major chunk of the population).
The fall of the Tripoli television station is therefore much more important for politics in Libya than the restoration of internet service.
Qaddafi is reduced to trying to appear on al-Ouruba, a satellite station based in Damascus, Syria, while the easy-to-get broadcasts are now those of the new Libyan government.
Since the popular uprisings in urban areas from February 17 in Libya did not look different from those in Tunisia and Egypt, I think we may conclude that social media weren’t that central to these revolutions. Chanting in the streets, passing slogans and demands from balcony to balcony and neighborhood to neighborhood, was the real social media.
“Summary of Libyan Media Developments as of 2100 GMT 23 August
Country/Region — OSC Report
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Report…
Use of Social Media in Libya
Limited Third-party media studies show that television reaches a far larger segment of the Libyan population than does the Internet. World Bank 2009 statistics indicate that TV reaches 93% of average-income Libyan households; in contrast, Libya’s Internet penetration rate is only 5.4%, according to the website InternetWorldStats, citing June 2010 data.
Libya’s Twitter penetration rate is 0.96%, based on April 2011 data reported by the Dubai School of Government Arab Social Media Report (Vol. 1, No. 2). The same report cited Libya’s Facebook penetration rate as 3.74%, while social media tracking website SocialBakers reported Libyan Facebook penetration as 1.34%, when accessed by OSC on 23 August. Statistics in both the report and the website indicate that the majority of Libyan Facebook users are males under 35 years of age.”
Libyan revolutionaries have captured the Bab al-Aziziya compound of deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. CNN’s Sara Sidner reported it live and on site (video here). The revolutionaries delieriously fired their weapons in the air in a crescendo of celebratory fire.
The compound was one of a handful of pockets of resistance remaining in the capital where Qaddafi loyalists held out. Another is out at the Mitiga air force base and airport in the east.
It is not clear if Qaddafi and other members of his family were in the compound. It is alleged to be honeycombed with underground tunnels and there is a four-story underground bunker. If they were there, they escaped.
The revolutionaries at one point said they had three Qaddafi sons in custody, but at least two, Muhammad and Saif al-Islam, escaped. Apparently the naive revolutionaries put them under house arrest, but their houses had escape tunnels.
Saif did an impromptu interview with Matthew Chance of CNN and another later with Aljazeera. In the Aljazeera one he announced victory over what he characterized as the thugs brought in by sea by NATO transport planes. Then he said f**k the International Criminal Court and walked off into the night. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi was said to be the real ruler of Libya in recent years, but is also said to be flaky and unable to make decisions or keep promises. From what we saw on screen, he suffers from something of the same mental problems as his father– paranoia, denial of reality, aggressiveness. Falling Dictator Syndrome.
If you had been the ruler of Libya and been given the great boon of an escape, if you were wise you would go underground and keep your enemy guessing. Coming on television is suicide by narcissism. It relieves me that the Qaddafis are somewhat unlikely to be capable of fighting any sort of rear guard battle. Out of power, their daffiness should become apparent to everyone.
from Informed Comment by Juan
Despite the unfinished character of the Libyan Revolution, it is clear that the days of Muammar Qaddafi are numbered. How has this news been received in the rest of the world? There is a lot of hope for Libya as an independent country, yet one friendly with neighbors and new allies. Even those lukewarm about the NATO intervention are now accepting reality. But the new Libya itself is eager to dispel any illusion that it might like a Western military base on its soil.
The Arab League says that it will take up the matter of giving the Transitional National Council Libya’s seat in the organization at its next meeting. The Arab League kicked off the outside intervention by asking the UN Security Council for a resolution authorizing other countries to protect Libya’s protest movement.
Abdel Moneim al-Huweini, the TNC delegate from Libya to the Arab League in Cairo reaffirmed Libya’s commitment to the League, saying,
“Libya is an Arab and Islamic nation before NATO and after NATO . . . the Libyans revolted from the 1970s against Western bases and there will be no non-Libyan bases.” He said the revolutionary government is grateful to NATO for minimizing the death toll in Libya through its air strikes [on attacking Qaddafi forces].
(Huweini was referring to the US Wheelus Air Force base in post- WW II Libya, which the Qaddafi government closed in 1970).
The Saudi-owned Arab News editorialized with guarded optimism about the fall of the old regime. It condemned Qaddafi’s so-called socialist-masses state (it wasn’t actually very socialist toward the end) as an absurdity. It noted with satisfaction that the Transitional National Council will want to be close to those countries that supported it, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and Western Europe. The editorial applauded that Libyans’ achievement of control over their own destiny. That is, this middle class Saudi newspaper is glad that Saudi Arabia (an oil state with an alliance with the US and the North Atlantic countries) will have a new friend in the region. The editorial hopes for a Libyan democracy, and it is an irony of the Arab Spring that Saudi Arabia, itself an absolute monarchy with some theocratic tendencies, has backed some democratic reform movements purely on pragmatic grounds. It supported the Libyan uprising, and led the charge to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council. It is seen by many as hypocritical, insofar as Riyadh helped the Sunni Bahrain monarchy crush the democracy movement among the majority of Bahrain citizens who are Shiites.
At the opposite side of the sectarian and ideological spectrum, a member of parliament in Iran welcomed the revolution and said that it was an object lesson to the region’s dictators. Mohammad Karamirad said he hoped Libya would become independent, and not bound to foreign patrons. (Iranian politicians have been in the paradoxical position of supporting the revolutionaries but condemning outside assistance to Libya).
The Shiite Party-Militia of southern Lebanon, Hizbullah,, warmly congratulated the Libyan people on the overthrow of Qaddafi, praising “their victory over the rule of the tyrant.” Qaddafi is suspected in the murder and disappearance in summer 1978 of Shiite leader Mousa Sadr.
On Monday, Future bloc MP Khaled Daher demanded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “step down and flee” before he met Qaddafi’s fate.
The Future Party of former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri groups most of Lebanon’s Sunni Arabs, and is said to have ties to Saudi Arabia.
Daher’s sentiments were implicitly shared by the foreign minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, who told a news conference:
“The change taking place in Libya in compliance with people’s demands, following the one in Egypt and Tunisia, should teach a lesson to everyone… Leaders of other countries must also be aware of the fact that they will be in power as long as they satisfy the demands of the people.” Observers saw his statement as referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Davutoglu added, “Today is a historic day for Libya … One of the most important stages to rebuild a new Libya is taking place. This new Libya must be a democratic, free and united one meeting the demands of the people.”
Turkey, as a member of NATO, helped impose a naval blockade on weapons imports to Tripoli, though early on it was more interested in seeking a negotiated settlement than in arranging for a rebel victory. Turkey had expended some diplomatic capital in reestablishing good relations with Qaddafi, and it took time for the Turks to decide that the relationship was over with. Over time, Ankara forged links to the TNC, and last month formally recognized it as the government of Libya.
China, which had called for a ceasefire last March (which would have left Qaddafi with half the country), changed its stance. Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said, “We have noticed recent changes in the Libyan situation and we respect the Libyan people’s choice.” China is Libya’s biggest oil customer in Asia and probably would like to make oil investments in the new Libya. Likely, however, it will be frozen out in favor of countries that more warmly supported the Benghazi revolutionaries.
from Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place by Richard Silverstein
As the Gaddafi regime slowly crumbles there are many questions to ask about what comes next both there and in the broader region. What will be the nature of the government which takes over from the former dictator? Will it be a tolerant one? Will it be democratic or at least more inclusive than Gaddafi’s was? Or will it be a captive Islamist regime? I ask these questions because it is very important both for Libya and for the region that there not be bloodletting in the aftermath of the soon to be ex-ruler’s fall. As Ban Ki Moon has said today, he should be handed over to the ICC for trial. There should be no blood vengeance against Gaddafi, his family, or members of the former élite as tempting as it may be for those who suffered to take it out on them.
Shoes for Bashar (Bulent Kilic/AFP-Getty)
The Israeli government and the anti-Islamic far-right is eager for Libya to lapse into chaos. This would prove their certainty at the perfidy of Arabs and Muslims, their certainty that there can never be peace with them. This will in turn reinforce the Occupation and continue the bloodshed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As Gaddafi falls, Tom Lehrer would be singing the lyrics to his song, Who’s Next. Surely it is Bashar al Assad of Syria. His opponents are legion, they are brave, they are unarmed, they are fearless. They deserve freedom. But they have not raised an army as the Libya resistance did. The only way to use force to topple Assad would be if Turkey wishes to use its own army to do so, which is questionable. Certainly, NATO will not get involved. Barring the use of force, it may take quite a while for Assad to fall. It would require more of the élite to desert him and even more forceful and popular resistance.
But certainly, in essence, Assad no longer rules Syria. He has no government that rules the entire country. There is a restless patchwork of regions and towns in varying stages of rebellion. As soon as one rebellion comes to a boil, the army marches in, slaughters a few dozen, and then moves on to the next restive town or city. This is certainly not governing. So it’s only a matter of time before Assad goes, but go he will eventually.
The question becomes what sort of government will replace him? As far as Israel is concerned, it’s even more critical that the new rulers emulate the Egyptian model by ruling in a moderate fashion that eschews violence or revenge. It is also important that the Muslim Brotherhood not take sole control of the country, since that too would play into the hands of Israel’s extreme right. A new regime would also likely reject Assad’s alliance with Iran, which also would be a positive development for overall peace in the region.
I recently read that Iran is furious with the Hamas leadership in Damascus because it has withheld support for Assad in his hour of need. In return, Iran has turned off the spigot to the Palestinian Islamist group preventing it from paying salaries in Gaza this month. Also, Assad recently attacked the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus in a clear message to Hamas that he was unhappy with its retreat from him. I don’t believe the Syrian dictator wanted a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until Israel gave him back the Golan. So Assad was an obstacle to I-P peace.
The fall of Assad holds out hope that a new Syrian government might exert a moderating influence on Hamas leading to a potential resolution of the conflict with Israel, though I realize that this is an uncertain prospect.
Israel, in turn, should not expect Syria to be as restrained as Assad was in keeping a lid on anti-Israel sentiment within the country. A new Syrian government, possibly in alliance with Turkey and Egypt, could exert formidable pressure on Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This can only be a good thing.