An Open Letter to the Left on Libya

As I expected, now that Qaddafi’s advantage in armor and heavy weapons is being neutralized by the UN allies’ air campaign, the liberation movement is regaining lost territory. Liberators took back Ajdabiya and Brega (Marsa al-Burayqa), key oil towns, on Saturday into Sunday morning, and seemed set to head further West. This rapid advance is almost certainly made possible in part by the hatred of Qaddafi among the majority of the people of these cities. The Buraiqa Basin contains much of Libya’s oil wealth, and the Transitional Government in Benghazi will soon again control 80 percent of this resource, an advantage in their struggle with Qaddafi.

I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on, and glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention has saved them from being crushed. I can still remember when I was a teenager how disappointed I was that Soviet tanks were allowed to put down the Prague Spring and extirpate socialism with a human face. Our multilateral world has more spaces in it for successful change and defiance of totalitarianism than did the old bipolar world of the Cold War, where the US and the USSR often deferred to each other’s sphere of influence.

The United Nations-authorized intervention in Libya has pitched ethical issues of the highest importance, and has split progressives in unfortunate ways. I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here.

On the surface, the situation in Libya a week and a half ago posed a contradiction between two key principles of Left politics: supporting the ordinary people and opposing foreign domination of them. Libya’s workers and townspeople had risen up to overthrow the dictator in city after city– Tobruk, Dirna, al-Bayda, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Zawiya, Zuara, Zintan. Even in the capital of Tripoli, working-class neighborhoods such as Suq al-Jumah and Tajoura had chased out the secret police. In the two weeks after February 17, there was little or no sign of the protesters being armed or engaging in violence.

The libel put out by the dictator, that the 570,000 people of Misrata or the 700,000 people of Benghazi were supporters of “al-Qaeda,” was without foundation. That a handful of young Libyan men from Dirna and the surrounding area had fought in Iraq is simply irrelevant. The Sunni Arab resistance in Iraq was for the most part not accurately called ‘al-Qaeda,’ which is a propaganda term in this case. All of the countries experiencing liberation movements had sympathizers with the Sunni Iraqi resistance; in fact opinion polling shows such sympathy almost universal throughout the Sunni Arab world. All of them had at least some fundamentalist movements. That was no reason to wish the Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians and others ill. The question is what kind of leadership was emerging in places like Benghazi. The answer is that it was simply the notables of the city. If there were an uprising against Silvio Berlusconi in Milan, it would likely unite businessmen and factory workers, Catholics and secularists. It would just be the people of Milan. A few old time members of the Red Brigades might even come out, and perhaps some organized crime figures. But to defame all Milan with them would be mere propaganda.

Then Muammar Qaddafi’s sons rallied his armored brigades and air force to bomb the civilian crowds and shoot tank shells into them. Members of the Transitional Government Council in Benghazi estimate that 8000 were killed as Qaddafi’s forces attacked and subdued Zawiya, Zuara, Ra’s Lanuf, Brega, Ajdabiya, and the working class districts of Tripoli itself, using live ammunition fired into defenseless rallies. If 8000 was an exaggeration, simply “thousands” was not, as attested by Left media such as Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! As Qaddafi’s tank brigades reached the southern districts of Benghazi, the prospect loomed of a massacre of committed rebels on a large scale.

The United Nations Security Council authorization for UN member states to intervene to forestall this massacre thus pitched the question. If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.

The arguments against international intervention are not trivial, but they all did have the implication that it was all right with the world community if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds just exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to petition their government. (It simply is not true that very many of the protesters took up arms early on, though some were later forced into it by Qaddafi’s aggressive military campaign against them. There still are no trained troops to speak of on the rebel side).

Some have charged that the Libya action has a Neoconservative political odor. But the Neoconservatives hate the United Nations and wanted to destroy it. They went to war on Iraq despite the lack of UNSC authorization, in a way that clearly contravened the UN Charter. Their spokesman and briefly the ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, actually at one point denied that the United Nations even existed. The Neoconservatives loved deploying American muscle unilaterally, and rubbing it in everyone’s face. Those who would not go along were subjected to petty harassment. France, then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz pledged, would be “punished” for declining to fall on Iraq at Washington’s whim. The Libya action, in contrast, observes all the norms of international law and multilateral consultation that the Neoconservatives despise. There is no pettiness. Germany is not ‘punished’ for not going along. Moreover, the Neoconservatives wanted to exercise primarily Anglo-American military might in the service of harming the public sector and enforced ‘shock therapy’ privatization so as to open the conquered country to Western corporate penetration. All this social engineering required boots on the ground, a land invasion and occupation. Mere limited aerial bombardment cannot effect the sort of extreme-capitalist revolution they seek. Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way.

Allowing the Neoconservatives to brand humanitarian intervention as always their sort of project does a grave disservice to international law and institutions, and gives them credit that they do not deserve, for things in which they do not actually believe.

The intervention in Libya was done in a legal way. It was provoked by a vote of the Arab League, including the newly liberated Egyptian and Tunisian governments. It was urged by a United Nations Security Council resolution, the gold standard for military intervention. (Contrary to what some alleged, the abstentions of Russia and China do not deprive the resolution of legitimacy or the force of law; only a veto could have done that. You can be arrested today on a law passed in the US Congress on which some members abstained from voting.)

Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:

1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)

2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).

3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.

Absolute pacifists are rare, and I will just acknowledge them and move on. I personally favor an option for peace in world policy-making, where it should be the default initial position. But the peace option is trumped in my mind by the opportunity to stop a major war crime.

Leftists are not always isolationists. In the US, progressive people actually went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, forming the Lincoln Brigade. That was a foreign intervention. Leftists were happy about Churchill’s and then Roosevelt’s intervention against the Axis. To make ‘anti-imperialism’ trump all other values in a mindless way leads to frankly absurd positions. I can’t tell you how annoyed I am by the fringe left adulation for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the grounds that he is ‘anti-imperialist,’ and with an assumption that he is somehow on the Left. As the pillar of a repressive Theocratic order that puts down workers, he is a man of the far Right, and that he doesn’t like the US and Western Europe doesn’t ennoble him.

The proposition that social problems can never be resolved by military force alone may be true. But there are some problems that can’t be solved unless there is a military intervention first, since its absence would allow the destruction of the progressive forces. Those arguing that “Libyans” should settle the issue themselves are willfully ignoring the overwhelming repressive advantage given Qaddafi by his jets, helicopter gunships, and tanks; the ‘Libyans’ were being crushed inexorably. Such crushing can be effective for decades thereafter.

Assuming that NATO’s UN-authorized mission in Libya really is limited ( it is hoping for 90 days), and that a foreign military occupation is avoided, the intervention is probably a good thing on the whole, however distasteful it is to have Nicolas Sarkozy grandstanding. Of course he is not to be trusted by progressives, but he is to his dismay increasingly boxed in by international institutions, which limits the damage he could do as the bombing campaign comes to an end (Qaddafi only had 2000 tanks, many of them broken down, and it won’t be long before he has so few, and and the rebels have captured enough to level the playing field, that little further can be accomplished from the air).

Many are crying hypocrisy, citing other places an intervention could be staged or worrying that Libya sets a precedent. I don’t find those arguments persuasive. Military intervention is always selective, depending on a constellation of political will, military ability, international legitimacy and practical constraints. The humanitarian situation in Libya was fairly unique. You had a set of tank brigades willing to attack dissidents, and responsible for thousands of casualties and with the prospect of more thousands to come, where aerial intervention by the world community could make a quick and effective difference.

This situation did not obtain in the Sudan’s Darfur, where the terrain and the conflict were such that aerial intervention alone would have have been useless and only boots on the ground could have had a hope of being effective. But a whole US occupation of Iraq could not prevent Sunni-Shiite urban faction-fighting that killed tens of thousands, so even boots on the ground in Darfur’s vast expanse might have failed.

The other Arab Spring demonstrations are not comparable to Libya, because in none of them has the scale loss of life been replicated, nor has the role of armored brigades been as central, nor have the dissidents asked for intervention, nor has the Arab League. For the UN, out of the blue, to order the bombing of Deraa in Syria at the moment would accomplish nothing and would probably outrage all concerned. Bombing the tank brigades heading for Benghazi made all the difference.

That is, in Libya intervention was demanded by the people being massacred as well as by the regional powers, was authorized by the UNSC, and could practically attain its humanitarian aim of forestalling a massacre through aerial bombardment of murderous armored brigades. And, the intervention could be a limited one and still accomplish its goal.

I also don’t understand the worry about the setting of precedents. The UN Security Council is not a court, and does not function by precedent. It is a political body, and works by political will. Its members are not constrained to do elsewhere what they are doing in Libya unless they so please, and the veto of the five permanent members ensures that a resolution like 1973 will be rare. But if a precedent is indeed being set that if you rule a country and send tank brigades to murder large numbers of civilian dissidents, you will see your armor bombed to smithereens, I can’t see what is wrong with that.

Another argument is that the no-fly zone (and the no-drive zone) aimed at overthrowing Qaddafi not to protect his people from him but to open the way for US, British and French dominance of Libya’s oil wealth. This argument is bizarre. The US declined to do oil business with Libya in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, when it could have, because it had placed the country under boycott. It didn’t want access to that oil market, which was repeatedly proffered to Washington by Qaddafi then. After Qaddafi came back in from the cold in the late 1990s (for the European Union) and after 2003 (for the US), sanctions were lifted and Western oil companies flocked into the country. US companies were well represented, along with BP and the Italian firm ENI. BP signed an expensive exploration contract with Qaddafi and cannot possibly have wanted its validity put into doubt by a revolution. There is no advantage to the oil sector of removing Qaddafi. Indeed, a new government may be more difficult to deal with and may not honor Qaddafi’s commitments. There is no prospect of Western companies being allowed to own Libyan petroleum fields, which were nationalized long ago. Finally, it is not always in the interests of Big Oil to have more petroleum on the market, since that reduces the price and, potentially, company profits. A war on Libya to get more and better contracts so as to lower the world price of petroleum makes no sense in a world where the bids were already being freely let, and where high prices were producing record profits. I haven’t seen the war-for-oil argument made for Libya in a manner that makes any sense at all.

I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical progressive position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya. If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness). It is now easy to forget that Winston Churchill held absolutely odious positions from a Left point of view and was an insufferable colonialist who opposed letting India go in 1947. His writings are full of racial stereotypes that are deeply offensive when read today. Some of his interventions were nevertheless noble and were almost universally supported by the Left of his day. The UN allies now rolling back Qaddafi are doing a good thing, whatever you think of some of their individual leaders.

Posted in Libya | 373 Responses | Print |

373 Responses

  1. The central point is about spreading understanding of how imperialism works, and not posing “Are you for or against this?” ultimatums. That some Left groups have been recommending maximum distrust of Western rulers does not seem to be a bad thing. This distrust will be needed for a very long time, in Libya and elsewhere. The best way out would be for the Libyan revolution not to take into account imperialist interests (like paying Gaddafi’s debts or guaranteeing oil for the West). This will be harder now but can be done.
    Even a civil war is first and foremost a political event. Some of Gaddafi’s soldiers have been persuaded to change sides on the ground. Air strikes will *not* be the number one element in the next few months in deciding who wins.

    • My opposition isn’t based on pacifism. I’m not a pacifist. For example, I was opposed to the 1991 Gulf War not out of “pacifism”. I protested outside the White House in 1991 before imminent military action took place to expel Saddam from Kuwait. The reason? Because I knew our actions would come back to bite us in the ass. I was proven correct on Sept. 11, 2001. As you know, one of the three stated reasons for the 9/11 attacks was stationing US troops on the holy land (Saudi Arabia), troops that were put there in order to execute the 1991 Gulf War. In addition, Reagan bombed Libya in 1986, something everybody thought was just wonderful. I remember thinking, “This will come back to bite us in the ass.” I was proven correct (again) on December 21, 1988 when Pan am 103 was bombed out of the sky. You and my fellow libs are making a huge mistake because more American civilians will have to die in retaliation for our actions in Libya today. Somewhere there’s an angry Muslim (probably male) who is so pissed off right now that he’ll take revenge. If Libya was central to America’s national security, I would support your views here, Mr. Cole. But I don’t.

      • Your opposition is based on fear of harm to yourself or countrymen. Let me ask you, would you ever risk your own safety to protect others from violence?

      • Yeah we have to be nice to fascists and other dictators, otherwise their henchmen may “bite us in the ass”! We all need to wave the white flag of survival in front of any tyrant, a totalitarian movement, a tyrannical state power, a nasty corporation, or a person who is a bully, just to be sure we are sage – right?

        Only then the “peace for our generation” will arrive, I am sure of that.

        • Pick your fights wisely, DOUGH. Most of the fights America has engaged in the last 30 years have been unnecessary and promoted MORE, not less, violence against American civilians. Saddam’s invasion of tiny Kuwait did not threaten U.S. interests. He had no intention of invading other nations. His dispute was with Kuwait only.

        • Dough I love your response dripping with Sarcasm. Most of the worlds dictators have been put in place by the US. Your country sells them weapons, buys their oil until such time as it sees an opportunity to oust them and replace them with another dictator. Quite the holier than thou biblical rubbish and wake up and smell and the coffee. If you are going to interfer, you will be interferred with. That is the point of Jim’s response. IF the US just kept to itself, a lot less wars would be waged around the world and maybe you could get your own house in order before messing up everyone elses.

        • Most of those opposed to the U.S. military intervention do not have any illusions about Kaddafi and wish that the people’s movement had succeeded in overthrowing him. There is a small group of fanatics who insist that Kaddafi is a great revolutionary leader, and who believe all his propaganda. But they are a tiny group even in their world of tiny groups.

          The problem with U.S. support isn’t that it is “not nice” to Kaddafi, as you so childishly assert, but that is that it is given with the blessings of John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and the CIA-Congressional-Military Complex while being led by the vacuous Barack Obama, whose only thought is to strike a pose that will help him be re-elected.

          These gibbering loons have control of what will happen over there.

          Thus, now that some weeks have passed without Kaddafi’s overthrow, the boys from the CIA are moving in. As in Afghanistan, they are turning to their tried and true book of magic formulas for infiltration of insurgency, co-optation of revolution, and regime change.

          This is the magic prescription that brought us calamity in Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran, and that, even by imperialist standards, has failed horribly wherever it has been tried for more than fifty years.

          We forget that the Taliban in Aghanistan were a tyranny hated and resented by most Afghans. Few governments in modern times have been worse.

          When the Afghan war started, there were two large armies, both Afghan to the core, contending in Afghanistan. “We” provided air support to the then “rebel” side–and they won their part of the war. This was not a Vietnam-style case of a foreign-built army that did not wish to fight.

          In spite of this, and in spite of an undeniable element of justice at the beginning–who could support the Taliban?– the Afghan war became the longest-lasting, least justifiable, and most horrific of out unjustifiable small wars.

          The only clear objective of our part of the Afghan war–to “catch” Osama bin Laden–was never achieved, and the war continues now only because our brave oligarchs lack the courage to take the consequences of ending it.

          Far from ending “the terrorist threat,” we are breeding a hatred that will pursue us throughout our lifetimes, creating more and more “terrorist threats” the longer we intervene.

          If Kaddafi had stepped down initially, it might have been possible to shut down the NATO operation and allow the Libyans to work out their fate in relative peace. But we are past the tipping point. Bastard that he is, Kaddafi is nonetheless proving to be a tough son of a bitch. So, once again, shock and awe have failed.

          As long as this intervention continues, it will become more and more a story about the United States, the corrupt interests we defend, and the civilians we kill. Our boots will be on the ground, and we will become the enemy of all Libyans.

          Already the brave young people who demonstrated in Green Square and its equivalents throughout Libya (and then armed themselves with astonishing success) are being excluded from the fighting by professional military in consultation with “us.” Faceless “professionals” are taking over.

          In the end, this revolution will belong to a clique of conquerors–if not Kaddafi’s clique, then something as bad or worse from what is now “our” side.

          The Libyan people will have no say in what happens to them. The rebel forces now being excluded from fighting will be forced into guerilla warfare, and we will have a new crop of terrorists enemies. That is what will follow our intervention whether we (or the Libyans) like it or not.

          That is why, sadly, we must oppose this intervention, which, if it follows the only course the U.S. knows how to follow, will necessarily create a tyranny and a terror equal to or worse than the one we now pretend to be fighting.

      • So is your response based on fear? It would be legitimate, so I don’t say that dismissively. But surely not taking action because it could “bite us in the ass” would be the same fear that Libyan rebels feel when stepping out to fight for their country, their freedom, or their lives. A fear, in other words, that has to be faced up to if we are to prevent innocent people from being killed. Except actually, having the luxury of facing our fear purely by expressing political support rather than stepping out into gunfire is something the Libyans don’t have. Your view is isolationist, and offers no positive alternative. Sceptical though I am of all military intervention, and the latest Gulf war would support your views perfectly, a limited, well-supported intervention to achieve a discreet humanitarian aim should not be curtailed because of the myriad unfortunate consequences – not when the reality before us is already just as vile as the possibilities of resisting it.

      • Jim

        So is your response based on fear? It would be legitimate, so I don’t say that dismissively. But surely not taking action because it could “bite us in the ass” would be the same fear that Libyan rebels feel when stepping out to fight for their country, their freedom, or their lives. A fear, in other words, that has to be faced up to if we are to prevent innocent people from being killed. Except actually, having the luxury of facing our fear purely by expressing political support rather than stepping out into gunfire is something the Libyans don’t have. Your view is isolationist, and offers no positive alternative. Sceptical though I am of all military intervention, and the latest Gulf war would support your views perfectly, a limited, well-supported intervention to achieve a discreet humanitarian aim should not be curtailed because of the myriad unfortunate consequences – not when the reality before us is already just as vile as the possibilities of resisting it.

    • The West has forty (40) times more oil than Libya just in the form of oil sands in Canada, recoverable at $50 a barrell. Libya only has 0.8% of world oil reserves. I will not be so worried about “guaranteed” contracts to the West – after all there is such thing as an oil market and there is absolutely no reason for the LTNC to enter into below-market deals, and if it did – such contracts will come to surface. The LTNC is already selling its oil (300,000 bbl/d) to the market today (via Qatar).

      This is not a civil war as witnessed in Zawiya, Misrata, and Tripoli. It is a classic war of domestic liberation fueled with Islamist ideology.

      • The West’s tar sand oil takes 1 gallon of oil to produce 7 gallons, not to mention huge amounts of water. Libya’s oil is the finest quality in the world, and with 1 gallon of oil they produce over 35 gallons.

        I seriously doubt your $50 number as well; what is your source?

        • My latest intel says more likely close to 100 $ p/b. Could be more if environmental issues of this type of mining become more apparent. Other than that it is justified to say that, considering limited production in Libya, oil is not the issue at stake here. It is the fact that if Kadhaffi survives, this is THE signal to other autocrats in the region that more suppression and slaughtering your own people is the recipe for staying in power. Which in itself contains a whole array of risks that is the multiple of those involved in getting at least something done.

          So, all in all, the risk of doing nothing is substantially higher than intervening. Which is indeed a risky process with an unsure outcome. If it were we would be on another planet. Only one rather important code should be adhered too: a lasting and consequent support for democratisation, human rights, a free press etc. and a constant pressure on dictators. Which obviously includes those who used to be our allies like Saudi-Arabia and the likes. No more shitty talk about “strategic interests” and “stability” and no more of this unfounded talk about Islamic jihadists coming to power. This “better the devil you know” approach has to stop for once and for all.

    • In reply to John Mullen, by all accounts air strikes have been the number one and perhaps only reason that Gaddafi’s opposition held onto Benghazi and retook Ajdabija all the way to the outskirts of Sirte. We cannot know how critical air strikes will be in the next few months – if this takes that long. We only know that they’ve been critical so far.

      • Peter. The dangers of a renewed Gadaffi are indeed far greater than the alleged dangers of destroying the arsenal we sold him., by all “necessary measures”.
        If Libya does fall back into Gadaffi’s hands, as would happen if the pacifists have their way, Egypt and Tunisia can kiss their embryonic democracies goodbye. They will be too busy dealing with the madman on their border, who will then believe he is immortal and omnipotent, and will do everything he can to get as many nuclear weapons as possible. ‘Wot about Israel?!’ Why don’t we attack them?!’ Because they have nukes, that’s why.
        For those who want to know the ‘obective’, the ‘Endgame’, it is to stop Gadaffi becoming a nuclear warlord.

        • Little Richardjohn, I submit you err on at least two points.

          The easier is in your citing a single ‘objective’ or ‘endgame’, in a decision process (the warmaking decision) well known to encompass multiple actors with different goals.

          The more subtle error is your causality theory for future nuclear war. In your model, the critical factor is controlling nuclear proliferation; in my model, the critical factor is building moderate and enlightened regimes disinclined to use them.

          Within my theory of preventing future wars and keeping us all safe, the US military is counterproductive and our only really effective option is things like spreading education, access to Internet and media, reducing hunger and disease– just being good friends to the people. By the time you have a war (as in Libya today), you’re only harvesting the results of decades of neglect of better options.

          In fact it was unnecessary for the population to depose Gadhafi, and unwise to stand up to his gunfire. Wiser to let the caesar stand, let the education and awareness grow another few years. I don’t support violent civil war over slices of the economic pie. You’re better to bide your time, just as we are doing in the U.S.

      • I have gone between cheering the rebels and glad to help them, to having many doubts.
        Then I heard Nato was dropping ordinance with DUI in it!!
        That’s crazy, and criminal if true…”Help” them by poisoning their land!? The only thing that would serve is the oil interests…”get those pesky humans out of there!’

    • Three key points are missing from this discussion.

      First are the pragmatic questions. If you support the intervention, who pays for it? How long do you pay for it? What is the opportunity cost in financial terms for an intervention? What is the tactical exit strategy? How long will the no-fly zone be maintained? Will the international community be okay with an extended no-fly zone, like the twelve-year no-fly zone like in Iraq? If combat operations cease and Gaddafi begins perpetrating violence again, do we intervene again? None of these questions are addressed.

      Next, you exclusively analyze this from an international perspective, without looking at the grave costs of intervention for the US. By intervening unilaterally without debate, Obama has set a precedent that not even W. was willing to do. What about debating this issue before the fact and not ex post facto? How long will we be on the hook to pay for this war that we can’t afford? Again, what is the opportunity cost of intervention vs. non-intervention? These issues are completely ignored and ones that the Left in this country care deeply about.

      Finally, the oil issue is more complex than you make it out to be. What if intervention had to do with the fact that the Western powers wanted to stabilize the jittery oil markets, so as not to precipitate a double-dip recession? This idea was again not even raised in this discussion.

      While I understand and commiserate with the humanitarian appeal, I believe Glenn Greenwald clarified this issue best:

      “Obviously, a strong humanitarian appeal can be crafted in support of military intervention in Libya. Any decent human being would loathe Moammar Gadaffi and find his attacks on his unarmed population to be repulsive. But exactly the same could be said — and was constantly said — about the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. There’s an obvious emotional appeal in vanquishing murderous tyrants out of power through the use of force. But even leaving aside the question of whether the U.S. can effectively shape outcomes in distant lands with complex foreign cultures — even after a full decade, our confusion seems greater than ever in Afghanistan — nations don’t fight wars primarily with humanitarian aims; they fight them to advance their interests.

      Humanitarianism is the pretty package in which every new war is wrapped. That’s just the Manichean propaganda tactic needed to induce public support for killing human beings: it’s justified because we’re there to destroy Evil and do Good. Wars can sometimes incidentally produce humanitarian benefits, but that isn’t the real aim of war. We can (perhaps) remove Gadaffi from power, but we’ll then up defending and propping up (and thus be responsible for) whatever faction will heed our dictates and serve our interests regardless of their humanitarian impulses (see our good friends Nouri al-Malaki and Hamid Karzai as examples).”
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      • It seems to me that the west’s best option to stabilize jittery oil markets would have been to have allowed Gadaffi to get on with obliterating the opposition – quick, brutal and cost-effective, and it would have sent a clear message to Arab governments in other oil-rich states (and a clear warning to would-be revolutionaries), that they would be given a free hand to crush any inconvenient protests – and that also would have tended to calm the markets.

      • One key point is being routinely ignored, which makes all the academic speculation irrelevant and obstructive. Namely, the demonstrated, unquenchable will of the Libyan people to control their own future. They have shown no signs of compromising the sacrifices of their dead by surrendering to any external power once Gadaffi has gone, whether corporate or Divine.

  2. I agree, o the principles at least.

    My reservations on the intervention are entirely practical. If Gaddafi is the brutal and effective dictator he pretends to be he will be even now swapping his military vehicles for civilian one and ditching his armour for human shields. Then it will get messy, and bloody and our moral principles may look at little tarnished.

    Similarly if Sarkosy gets re-elected and sends the Foreign Legion in to seize the oil fields then I’ll have to admit that this really was an exercise in Imperialism.

    Mainly though I’m concerned that the economic, environmental and demographic problems behind the current unrest in the region can’t be solved from 30,000 feet with guided bombs and that Arabis is about to disappear into a bloody civil war that will last a generation or two.

    However I agree with your analysis. To suggest that Arabia was happier under its dictators is to disinter Henry Kissinger’s realpolik and give it a liberal makeover.

    • Who are the liberals who suggest that “Arabia” was happier under its dictator? I am reminded of Charles Blow’s column in the NY Times (Jan 15, 2011) in which he claimed,without substantiation, to know “liberals” who were secretly happy about the Tucson massacre. If you’re going to make an outrageous, defamatory slur, back it up with facts.

  3. Juan, I love this piece. Your thinking is outstanding, and your positions courageous. I have one thing I’d like you to consider, for another day, and that is nonviolence. What you have said is true-sounding to me regarding nonviolence. I am a pacifist, though perhaps not absolute. But your use of the term absolute is prejudicial; it is not necessary to be absolute to be a pacifist. It is useful in discussions of theory, but we all know life is real and not theoretical.

    You point out that there are occasions when violence is useful, even necessary, and that it is a short-term tactic (I hope that doesn’t reach too far from your comment). That’s true, but I find it very difficult to allow it. That doesn’t mean I won’t allow it, in fact in the case of Libya, I did.

    Gandhi called himself a practical idealist. I am not a scholar, and may be rebuked for this, but my sense of reason tells me that if taking out a few tanks can save a mass murder of thousands, which appeared the case, then the goal of peace is forwarded by that action. It is a practical action and it saves lives. It is not perfect. But advancing the cause of peace can and should be incremental. We are not going to vote for peace on the world stage and have it adopted and watch peace ensue.

    So I ask you to consider that pacifism is relevant, and powerful, and be approached incrementally. It is a messy thing to think about and to discuss, but how else are we going to move toward peace? I certainly do not advocate killing, and I would not put my imprimatur (if I had one) on willy-nilly warmaking at the drop of a hat. But as you stated, there are conditions for which a plausible action is to prevent great harm, and we should always consider that, and it does not detract from one’s overall pacifism.

    Thanks for another excellent article, and for your work on our behalf.

  4. I just want to thank you, Prof. Cole, for saying, and saying well what so many of us have been thinking throughout these events. I would only add that I have found myself not merely embarrassed but downright outraged at those on the “left” whose positions on this issue are as callous to human suffering and oppression as they are untenable. They have handed the right wing abundant fodder — while appearing as stupid and insensitive as them.

  5. Who do we trust to intervene with force on supposed humanitarian grounds? The United States, France, and Britain? Did these powers not cause the death of 100,000+ people in Iraq? Did the US not cheer the birth of a “new Middle East” as a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed by Israel? Didn’t these countries stand by as Israel sent its tanks into Gaza and used white phosphorous in urban areas?

    In Libya, remember that civilians can be combatants. The rebels are mostly civilians, but they’re also combatants. You mask that fact when you talk about “civilian” deaths. The non-combatants who are dying are caught in the cross-fire between the rebels and the government.

    There would be no war if the rebels did not take up arms. Without a rebellion, we’d just have a classic police state, no doubt with *some* violence, but nothing like a civil war and its inevitable horrors. It’s the civil war that is causing the death of civilians, and the rebels bear 50 % of the responsibility for the civil war.

    The UNSC is dominated by the allies. It’s a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. But oddly enough, the allies don’t even intend to honor their own UNSC resolution. They’ve already gone far beyond the mandate established by the UNSC. All the evidence shows that the bombing is not intended merely to protect civilians–it is intended to help overthrow Ghaddafi.

    This disagreement does not diminish my respect for you.


    • How can you call a crowd of peaceful demonstrators who are shelled with artillery and tanks “combatants”? Did you follow the news at all over the past few weeks? If a man beats his wife is his wife 50% responsible because she put up her hands to deflect some of his blows?

    • I think you’re being very unjust towards the rebels with this:

      “It’s the civil war that is causing the death of civilians, and the rebels bear 50 % of the responsibility for the civil war.”

      Using this argument, Ghandi was 50% responsible for the Amritsar massacre.

      • You write, “Using this argument, Ghandi was 50% responsible for the Amritsar massacre.”

        Ghandi would have condemned the rebel’s taking up arms. That’s where the difference lies.

        Civil war by definition involves two groups that are using weapons to attack each other.

        The Libyan rebels are no pacifists. They are rebels. They have guns. They shoot those guns. They kill people.

        If you want to argue that their cause is just: fine. I might not disagree. But portraying them as non-combatants is just nonsense.

    • “The United States, France, and Britain? Did these powers not cause the death of 100,000+ people in Iraq?”

      Spot the mistake.

      • You’re right. I should’ve referred to French as the protectors of the “genocidaires”–i.e. those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

        To hear France talk about protecting civilians now in an oil and gas-rich country is amusing.

    • “we’d just have a classic police state, no doubt with *some* violence, but nothing like a civil war and its inevitable horrors. It’s the civil war that is causing the death of civilians, and the rebels bear 50 % of the responsibility for the civil war.”

      What an uninformed digusting and horrible standpoint! Gaddafi came to power and 1200 people were hanged in the stadium at Benghazi – this is your “classic police state” which should be indefinitely endured instead of being removed by a polpular uprising!

      On Feb17 a peaceful demonstration in Benghazi was dissolved with bullets, soldiers refusing to shoot at the demonstrators were executed in dozens, other soldiers defected, … that’s how the uprising began. And you suggest that people should rather let themselves be killed than getting rid of this crimnal dictator and his family gang (though necessarily through an armed uprising).

      As I remember a few years ago the “Left” was quite clear concerning one issue: Self-defence of a people (“revolution”) against bloody dictators (the Hitlers, Stalins, etc.) is justified, even if it is armed.

      • “Gaddafi came to power and 1200 people were hanged in the stadium at Benghazi…”

        Libya was a monarchy, supported by the U.S. before the revolution lead by Colonel Gaddafi. An unfortunate consequence of war and revolution is that man deemed “traitors” are hung. How many “traitors” were hung by the people who fought the American revolution?

        It’s too bad the Cuban revolution had to have the same ignominious end with many executions… also regretful was that so many of the rich oligarchy escaped to the United States and built the political power to hold the rest of their countrymen under a cruel embargo for over fifty years.

        Call me cruel… I’m not a “lefty pacifist” either.

      • At the trial that would send him to prison for 27 years, Nelson Mandela explained:
        “it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle… the government had left us no other choice.”
        Now that the Libyan people face the same dilemma, they are right to accept aid from anyone. Just as Mandela was right to accept aid from Gadaffi with which to fight Apartheid.

  6. You seem to be sure that the conflict in Libya is still Quaddafi and his goons against the rebellion of the people.

    For me it seems that lines have been drawn. Warfallah tribe in the western regions has sided with Qaddafi and that is more or less 1 million people. It seems that this rebellion started as genuine uprising, but always complex tribal politics has turned it into civil war.

    • Nick Nolan,

      How does the geographic hypothesis work with the report that by mid month cities west of Tripoli were rebel-controlled and remained that way until Qaddafi’s tanks retook them?

    • There is little evidence that this is a tribal war. Libya’s GDP per capita stood at $12,500 before the turmoil. At these rates, tribes lose their anachronistic meaning. Tribes have a presence but not more than what we saw in Iraq.

      This is a classic war of internal liberation, fueled by Islamist ideology, and some background tribal noise.

      It is funny how some leftists want to deny that this is a pro-democracy movement through mental contortions. Could it be that for these leftist democracy is just a piece of convenient rhetoric on the way to power? So far, the evidence points to democracy being a disposable construct for the socialist.

      • You can find plenty of evidence of “democracy being a disposable construct” to capitalists also. The reason some leftists have a hard time admitting the legitimacy of the libyan rebellion is that it goes against their anti-imperialist instincts to admit that the US and its allies could be doing something good. And 99% of the time that instinct is correct.

        • Steffan, there has been no such evidence since the demise of the S.U. (1989) – that western capitalists prefer that democracy be disposed.

          Fact is that there can’t be liberal democracy without (small-scale) capitalism such as in social democracy, in the first place. Democratic socialism is an oxymoron.

      • You are wrong!
        (such a tired old disproved canard!)

        Socialism and Democracy go together far better than Democracy and Capitalism….or haven’t you looked over the pond lately?
        …or haven’t you noticed how miserably our Capitalism has mucked-up our Democracy!?
        It is “Capitalist Democracy” that is the Oxymoron!

        • Hi Bia

          I’m writing from around 4 miles from the City of London – hardly a centre of Socialism! I appreciate that in the USA words such as “socialism” and “liberalism” have a different meaning from over here – I think quite a few people on your side of the pond, would, had they looked carefully enough, have regarded Margaret Thatcher as a “socialist”.

          Anyway my point is that all the succesful democracies on this side of the pond have strong and thriving capitalist sectors which provide the tax base for European state welfare systems.

  7. Juan, I can understand your position but I don’t think you’ve grasped why those of us who you call “anti-imperialists” (although we are a mixed bunch) oppose this intervention.

    Anti-imperialism is not about thinking “all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong” but part of an understanding of how capitalist relations play out at the level of the international state system. So it’s a strategic issue about what imperial powers are seeking to do in intervening here — to re-establish some of the systems of regional control that the Arab Spring has messed up.

    These systems don’t have to be directly aimed at a particular economic interest (e.g. Libya’s oil) but are better understood in terms of how great powers seek to advance their interests within a system of global geopolitical competition (which also includes elements of between-nation cooperation).

    The revolution in Libya has been part of the Arab revolutions more generally, but we have to ask why it has descended so quickly into a more conventional military conflict. It seems to me that the rebellion has not found a way to foment an uprising in regions where Gaddafi is stronger, and so has turned to Western intervention as an alternative. But to imagine that Western intervention won’t have even more distorting effects on the balance of forces within the revolutionary camp is to suddenly forget how great powers work: Backing local allies in order to restore some semblance of stability.

    And if Gaddafi manages to hold the loyalty of many people in his parts of the country, what will be the result: Partition? A bloodbath of Gaddafi “loyalists”?

    Given your otherwise essential and insightful coverage of the region, I have been surprised by your take on this, although I do understand where you’re coming from. There are no easy answers on Libya.

    I’ve written about this more here: link to

    • “The revolution in Libya has been part of the Arab revolutions more generally, but we have to ask why it has descended so quickly into a more conventional military conflict. It seems to me that the rebellion has not found a way to foment an uprising in regions where Gaddafi is stronger, and so has turned to Western intervention as an alternative.”

      You can’t be serious. No, the reason Libyans started asking for Western intervention was not because they couldn’t muster more support; it was because Qaddafi started shooting at them. Thousands of people died. Libya is different from Egypt and Tunisia because the militaries of those countries expressly said that they would not be turning their guns on their own fellow citizens.

      It may be true, although I do not take it for granted, that the economic interests of Western powers coincide with the interests of the civilians (now turned rebels) who were initially peacefully protesting and then massacred; but that is hardly a reason not to be supportive of an intervention to prevent their massacre.

      What are you more concerned with; that regular civilians seeking a more democratic form of government aren’t massacred in the streets, or that the West doesn’t win some sort of political or economic victory?


  8. Extremely well-said. It’s a thoughtful and cogent argument, and I hope it gets spread around the Left blogosphere.

    It is quite odd for me to suddenly endorse a military action when I’ve been a staunch opponent of the US campaigns in Iraq, but you are correct that we need to be able to reason through these and pay close attention to the principles we hold and their consequences.

    I do take one issue: “The other Arab Spring demonstrations are not comparable to Libya, because in none of them has the scale loss of life been replicated.” The first place that comes to mind is Bahrain, which is being brutally repressed by the government (as you mentioned in earlier posts). It’s scale of casualties is smaller because Libya is 8x the size in population. I think it should get a similar amount of our attention. The fact that the government is calling in foreign troops from Saudi to help put the protests down is worrisome. International action won’t work the same way, but I’d like to see either international action to prevent Saudi (and Iran) from stepping in, or at least some US pressure to get both sides to back off.

  9. Dear Professor Cole

    The trouble I find with your position is that you set a precedent, despite you pooh pooing the idea. The precedent is set in the minds of the general public who expect their governments to do something and provide pulpit for congressional demagoguery.

    If you substitute Syria for Libya you start to get the kind of thinking shown in today’s New York Times.

    Syria, however, is the more urgent crisis — one that could pose a thorny dilemma for the administration if Mr. Assad carries out a crackdown like that of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who ordered a bombardment in 1982 that killed at least 10,000 people in the northern city of Hama. Having intervened in Libya to prevent a wholesale slaughter in Benghazi, some analysts asked, how could the administration not do the same in Syria?

    Though no one is yet talking about a no-fly zone over Syria, Obama administration officials acknowledge the parallels to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Some analysts predicted the administration will be cautious in pressing Mr. Assad, not because of any allegiance to him but out of a fear of what could follow him — a Sunni-led government potentially more radical and Islamist than his Alawite minority government.

    I am indeed chewing gum while I walk by rembering that the first thing you do when you move an artillery battery in anywhere is plan how to get it back out again.

    I echo the words of Guido Westerwelle that “It is easy to iamgine how to invade somewhere, far harder to figure out how to get out again”.

    From a practical point of view where do you draw the line at the amount of violence a government may legitimately use to maintain order among its citizens?

    There is always the danger that some charismatic individual will declare himself Messias or Mahdi or Palin and will lead his/her followers on an orgy of pillage. If you look at the casualty figures at Omdurman you can see what the results of this can be. Hafez al Assad had no choice in Hama.

    If you substitute Saudi Arabia for Libya where on earth do you end up?

    The insitution of a ‘no fly zone’ as a pallitive where we are in fact lending some local heroes air superiority, has a poor reputation since it was used in Afghanistan.

    The Mediterranean is a difficult area where getting sucked into fighting small wars should be avoided. Small wars tend to grow into larger wars that need large armies to finish them. Try asking yourself who has a large army in the Middle East and North Africa and see what sort of a mess you end up with when they start moving. The Arab League supported the No Fly zone becasue they have 1.5 million Egyptian citizens working in Libya.

    One wonders why President Sarkozy isn’t railing at President Boutefliqa in Algeria. Perhaps “Algerie Francaise” is too emotional a phrase to be heard during the presidentielle?

    The only note of hope I see is that there might be a 90 day timelimit on the North African intervention. That gives us time to imagine the outcome in Libya with Ghadaffi still in power, and with AN Other in power.

    If we are lucky then the shooting might have died down by then. If not and the Levant is in flames then we will have a good old fashioned problem on our hands.

    I wonder if the Russians will manage to upgrade the Iranian air defences in time.

    • I wonder who will come help US against our own military dictatorship when the time comes?

      Don’t have one here, you say?

      Just get enough people out in the streets to protest the government, and it’ll appear, alright.

  10. Juan, IMHO your pollyanna jubilation at this naked aggression in Africa sullies your otherwise illuminating and clearheaded journalism over the years.

    Constitutional scholar and Nobel Peace Prize winner President Barack Obama should be impeached immediately for making unprovoked war on Libya in direct violation of the US Constitution, and in abuse of the dubiously legal WPA of 1973.

    During his campaign for president, candidate Obama stated unequivocally and in writing:
    “The President does not have the 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.”
    The Constitution specifically reserves the following powers EXCLUSIVELY to Congress: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies…; To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia…”
    Libya did not attack the US; Libya is not a threat to the US. And incidentally, the pretext of “humanitarian intervention” is just another big lie. Many of the leaders of the “freedom-loving” rebels are directly supported puppets of foreign powers.

    Imagine if instead of the US, it was Iran that invaded Libya. Do you think anyone would believe the lame excuse that its intention was just the humanitarian protection of civilians? Just how stupid do they think we are?

    If his humanitarian pretext was sincere, where’s our war criminal president’s similar concern about the killing of innocent civilians in IRAQ, PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, YEMEN, PALESTINE, BAHRAIN & SOMALIA, most of where he already has civilian blood on his hands?

    Why hasn’t our news media reported that hundreds of US, British and French military “advisors”, including intelligence officers and special forces were dropped from warships and missile boats at the coastal towns of Benghazi and Tobruk on Thursday, February 24th for a covert mission that included organizing locals into paramilitary units, teaching them how to use the weapons they captured from Libyan army facilities, providing military and combat training and preparing infrastructure for the intake of additional foreign troops? (

    This fact alone alters the whole complexion of this enterprise rather dramatically, don’t you think?

    Why hasn’t our news media pointed out that the rebels in Benghazi use as their flag the red, black and green banner with the crescent and star (the flag of the monarchy of King Idris) which symbolized the rule of the former colonial powers?

    Couldn’t the CIA’s graphics dept at least design them their own flag? I guess they thought we wouldn’t notice.

    Our true objective of invading Libya is not the propaganda canard of establishing democracy or saving civilian lives, but to take possession of Libya’s oil and gas reserves and transfer its wealth (including 3.5% of the world’s oil reserves, more than twice that of the US) into foreign hands. And don’t forget the billions of dollars of Libyan assets in deposited in Western banks that the US and its confederates intend to steal.

    The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency. If Libya wants to sell its oil to other nations it is obliged to accept payment in US dollars. So the US recently placed hard sanctions on Libya prohibiting any trade in US dollars in anticipation of this planned invasion. Now international banks refuse to exchange US dollars with Libya so they can’t sell their oil except via limited back channels. (link to

    Our repeatedly tried and proven playbook for conquest, now being reprised in Libya is: 1. Destabilize the nation’s economy; 2. Foment tribal, ethnic and/or sectional strife via provocateurs, puppets and false-flag operations; 3. Inject disinformation, propaganda and psy-ops directed within the country and to the outside world; 4. covertly support with arms, money and training, then install and recognize the strongest puppet(s) as our new ‘democratic partners’.

    Sound familiar? Light the fuse, get away fast, use under adult supervision, right?

    Financial institutions which had prior knowledge or intelligence of events in Egypt and Libya have already made billions of dollars in speculative gains in the futures and options markets for crude oil. Advance knowledge of political or military events and how they affect markets combined with manipulation and/or control of financial news relevant to these events are indispensible to this investment (betting) scheme.

    It should come as no surprise that powerful institutional speculators on Wall Street with links to the US military and intelligence establishment are raking in billions of dollars in speculative gains not only in the oil market but also in the commodity and foreign exchange markets.

    Interestingly, it appears the Libyan opposition movement is sharply divided regarding the issue of foreign intervention. The majority of the Libyan population, both loyalists and rebels are opposed to foreign intervention, but the US supported “leaders” of the armed insurrection are in favor of intervention on “humanitarian” grounds.

    Besides the small detail of stealing Libya’s oil, gas and money under the guise of humanitarian intervention, this military operation is intent upon establishing US hegemony in North Africa, which provides the US with powerful strategic and competitive advantages vs. Europe and Asia, and especially vs. China.

    “Operation Libya” is part of the broader military agenda in the Middle East and Central Asia which consists in gaining control and corporate ownership over more than 60% of the world’s reserves of oil and natural gas, including oil and gas pipeline routes. For more on this see: (

    Whatever one thinks about the policy of destabilizing, invading and stealing the resources of sovereign nations, it is illegal, unconstitutional and a war crime. Our congressional representatives, as corrupt as most of them may be, are being denied their constitutionally-mandated right to declare or not declare war on our behalf that then demands our lives, our honor and our money.
    President Obama is not just our first black president. He is also our first undisputed Emperor, and is lording over the transformation of our democratic republic into the world’s ‘big dog’ corporate ‘banana republic’.

    • You are the most intelligent and honest man. Спасибо.

      • @ Gurien – “If his humanitarian pretext was sincere, where’s our war criminal president’s similar concern about the killing of innocent civilians in IRAQ, PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, YEMEN, PALESTINE, BAHRAIN & SOMALIA, most of where he already has civilian blood on his hands?”

        What a bunch of lousy “whataboutary”. If there is civil strife in Yemen, that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the massacres in Libya. So much for the anti-democratic left’s morals.

        7,500 people have been massacred in Libya in the past month. How many in Palestine and for what reason? Neither are these whatabout places suffering from a war of liberation which automatically imposes a moral responsibility on all of us.

        Nobody is getting killed in Iraq today by the state.

        Get your facts straight and drop this childish whataboutary and equivalency.

    • Thank you Nathaniel, well put. I would add that it is beyond ridiculous to compare an imperialist invasion to the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. I would gladly have supported an effort based along the lines of the International Brigades in Libya. And I find it difficult to imagine that similar ideas were not already floating around the Middle East.

      Professor Cole paints a false dichotomy when he argues that if we do not support this invasion we are isolationists. In the end the best support we can offer for to the people of Libya, and Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and on and on, would be to start working towards a popular uprising in the belly of the beast. But this is an unimaginatively more difficult task than conceding the right of Obama to get his very own war, the most prized possession of every U.S. president…

      • It is ridiculous and cowardly NOT to compare and contrast the Libyan revolution with the betrayal of Spain, and consider the demands that were made for intervention at the time, and how the revolution was crushed, and the disastrous consequences of inaction for millions in the following ten years.
        It is absurd and appalling and blind to allow self-indulgent petty legalistic historicism to distract from the desperate plight of the people of Misratah.

    • Just one comment, which is irrelevant to all you have written here, but highly relevant to the repercussions of this in U.S. politics.

      The NY Times’ Bob Herbert put it best: “When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.” link to

      It does look like this intervention had a high probability of success in allowing the Libyans to have influence proportional to their numbers, rather than proportional to their armor and money. If it is successful, it will greatly enhance the UN’s legitimacy as well as the US reputation; even if not successful, so long as the UN and the US do not overreach the attempt will be seen as a good thing.

      But here within the US we should scream loudly that Obama has yet to show this kind of audacity in taking on the distribution of power in the US, which seems more and more in proportion to money than numbers of people. If Obama has the audacity to order military action based on a UN mandate and without consulting congress, shouldn’t he also have the audacity to direct TARP funding away from Wall Street and toward Main Street and state government, or the audacity to make HAMP work for homeowners instead of mortgage servicers, or the audacity to make recess appointments to fill FED vacancies, etc. etc.

      Skepticism about US military action abroad is warranted, but should be tempered by realism. But John Stewart is right: it’s simply wrong to fire Tomahawk missiles and teachers at the same time.

    • Very well said. Do not forget another goal for the empire: The eastern part of Libya, where the Oil is, will be the HQ of AFRICOM which till now, USA can not find a free African Country to host it. AFRICOM is leading the US participation in Operation Libya, from Germany, its temporary HQ for the time being.

    • Regarding your statement: The Constitution specifically reserves the following powers EXCLUSIVELY to Congress: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies…; To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia…”

      You obviously are completely unaware that there is an entire body of constitutional scholarship that concludes that Congress’s power to declare war does not preclude the President from exercising his powers as Commander in Chief to engage U.S. Armed Forces in hostilities when he deems it appropriate and necessary to do so. The phrase “to declare war” does not mean “to make war” or “to engage in war.” Rather, it is a term used to define a legal state of war for purposes of establishing the status of troops engaged in hostilities, sequestering of enemy property, etc. In fact, in the entire history of the U.S. since the adoption of the Constitution there have only been five Congressional declarations of war: The War of 1812, the Mexican War, The Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. A declaration of war clearly is not required in order for the President to commit U.S. Force into hostile situations.

    • The goal of the NATO mission in Libya is “establishing US hegemony in North Africa”? What a silly, nonfactual statement. Did you even read what Juan wrote about BP’s interest in Ghadaffi staying in power?

    • I believe you are confusing Peter Hitchens with his brother Christopher. I have no doubts that Christopher Hitchens would agree with Prof. Cole’s article in most respects.

    • I wonder if “by Professor Cole’s old sparring partner Mr Hitchens” you were thinking of Christopher Hitchens, that DM article is by his brother Peter.

      I think Christopher is in currently hospital, I doubt that Chris would have targeted Martin Amis in the manner that Peter did at the end of that article; Chris’s memoir is testament to his relationship with Martin, which may have something to do with Peter’s bitchy comment.

    • That link is to Peter Hitchens, not Christopher Hitchens. It’s the latter who is Juan’s sparring partner. Peter is against all internventions on paleoconservative grounds. He was against the invasion of Iraq IIRC.

  11. Why do people allways have to brake it down liberal or conservative. How about stopping a massacre was the right thing to do

    • Exactly. The problem is that the anti-democratic left, exemplified in the many comments here, puts socialism and anti-colonialism (whatever that is) way over and above democracy and human rights.

      In fact there is scant evidence that the hard left and the socialist care for democracy and freedoms, to start with.

      • Well, then, Mazlum, enjoy your Bought-and paid for Sham Democracy and your Capitalist overlords’ treatment of you when you get in their way as a “Useless Eater”…see how much your measly vote, or your Democracy and freedoms means to them compared to their PROFITS..
        Your heroes are well on their way to destroying all the social programs and rights we’ve enjoyed as a civilized society, so, hope you’re happy and will continue to be after they bleed you dry and come arrest you for protesting and not being a Good little Consumer anymore!

        • Bia – you refer to “Sham Democracy” but what is your alternative – would it be so unfair to call it “Fantasy Democracy”? Perhaps like Lenin you regard all existing forms of democracy as disposable in the pursuit of the final Utopia and as hopelessly flawed when compared with that Utopia. And perhaps like Lenin you would see nothing wrong in ruthlessly suppressing all opposition to the movement which is intended to culiminate in that Utopia.

    • Scroll up, dude. They’re saying it’s an imperialist invasion and nothing more.

      Fucking idiots.

      That’s right. I said it.

  12. “I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here.”

    “I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time.”

    By itself, the second quote moves any possible discussion away from being calm and civilized. Earlier this week, you used “silly” and other like derogatory terms to reference those who disagree with you, venturing into an ad hominem attack. Referencing Qaddafi as a “Mad Dog” as well discourages what you allege you want. (Qaddafi’s actions are indeed more than reprehensible; labeling the man so negates any desire to engage the argument.)

    While your arguments are worthy of consideration, it isn’t clear you have an interest in a civil engagement with others’.

  13. I hear your concern for civilian protesters, who could face dire consequences should Qaddafi’s forces take over cities such as Benghazi.

    Still, I am not convinced the way the intervention is being conducted is the best in the long term, both for Libyan’s and also, here in the US, as another precedent of US military action without congressional approval prior. Granted, it is a good thing the UN gave approval first.

    There have been a number of opportunities for negotiation, which have been apparently rejected by the Libyan opposition: at one point, the Venezualan president had convinced Qaddafi to negotiate. More recently, after the no-fly zone had been imposed, I believe there have been further opportunities. These should be encouraged.

    But look how this situation came about: Qaddafi was armed by the West for the most part. It would be better for the population of countries around the world if the sale of weapons was not so little regulated. Arms should not be sold much and to dictators not at all! Meanwhile, the number one exporter of terrorism, according to internal US state department comments, Saudi Arabia, is sold billions in weapons?

    There does appear to be quite a troubling double standard. In Bahrain, protesters are viciously suppressed by a Saudi intervention, and we hear little complaint. Similarly in Iraq, protesters are viciously suppressed by the US backed government, and there is little response internationally. Thus, it appears the same actors who say they are on the side of the protesters in Libya, perhaps are more there because they are against Qaddafi. The fact is the well being of the Libyan people has nothing to do with the intervention: the intervention is due to dislike of Qaddafi and the fact that Libya has significant oil reserves. A quick glance to the south and to an estimated 2-3 millions who have died in equatorial Africa over the past couple decades should be sufficient to convince anyone that well being of citizens is not high on the list of elite concerns.

    Your discussion above of oil motivations misses the point that as oil prices rise, consumption drops and the global economy slows. This costs the elites. The health of the global economy demands oil prices be stable, thus they are willing to act for economic reasons to maintain that stability. At this time of limited oil supply, any sources of oil taken off the market threaten the global economy in this way.

    So yes, let’s support intervention now, not militarily, but preemptively, in banning weapons sales, and perhaps use other non-violent economic methods, against dictatorships who are today being supplied by Western countries armaments and technology of suppression around the world, before those weapons are exercised against the people of those regimes, or in the case of Saudi Arabia, the people of neighboring countries.

    • But the price of oil is dropping already, in large part because of the huge hit the quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters have inflicted on Japan’s people, factories, and electrical grid, which has resulted in a severe drop in oil demand from a major oil user.

      In addition, the nuclear disaster at Fukushima has spurred the nations you mention into working ever harder to transition to renewables and away from coal, oil and nuclear power. Angela Merkel, in a complete turnaround from her previous stance and in what has turned out to be a failed bid to stave off election defeat in a key German state and Conservative Party stronghold, promised last week to work to wean Germany off nuclear power and onto wind, solar and geothermal energy as soon as possible.

    • “Your discussion above of oil motivations misses the point that as oil prices rise, consumption drops and the global economy slows. This costs the elites. ”

      Not really – what happens is that capital moves from the consumer to the treasuries of oil producing nations, or to the oil companies that have reserves.

      This will not induce global recession unless this capital is put to wasteful work. In fact it could be positive if it cuts wasteful consumption. And it has nothing to do with “hurting the elite”. I am sure the Sheiks are very happy with rise in oil prices.

      More pseudo-economics.

      • Prof. Nouriel Roubini of NYU is considered one of the most respected economists globally:

        link to

        Mazlum you need to follow your argument another step – once the money flows out of the consuming economies at too fast a rate (at too high prices of energy), the result is a contraction of those economies.

        No, the Sheiks do not mind, but even they do not want to encourage the consumers kicking the oil habit, which will happen with oil at $140/barrel. However, the Sheiks are only a small part of the global elite. Most prefer lower stable oil prices, and continued growing economies.

  14. Amen. Well thought out and reasoned. I was not for a no fly zone if we went it alone. The president has made sure we haven’t. The people in the left that wish to make Obama=Bush for their blog clicks to increase are just wrong. I don’t know how this will turn out, but hearing Gadafhi say he would go house to house and kill his own people was the final straw for me and it should have been for the pro left as well.

  15. Thank you for this.
    The main difficulty for the left seems to be that the current situation challenges deeply held beliefs and assumptions. Many people have argued the same line for so long that it has become automatic, leaving no room for doubt. Certainty seems to have ruled out compassion.

  16. I would put more store by the UN if they did not fail to act over other civilian deaths in other conflicts. It is easy to hate Quadaffi and act against him, harder to tell your allies to stop bombing heavily populated areas and stop selling them weapons. To me this looks like moral low-hanging fruit and it will be back to business as usual when we extricate ourselves.And given our history, I will believe that the brave Libyan people will get the benefit of their oil wealth only when I see it.

    • Penny, I think your term “moral low-hanging fruit” is extremely apt.

      Given the West’s history of questionable interventions and incoherent, contradictory policies towards different states in the Middle East, any path taken over Libya would be by its very nature hypocritical.

      But an act being hypocritical doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.

      Is bombing Gaddafi’s troops while staying silent on Bahrain’s crackdown hypocritical? Yes, it is.

      Would refusing to intervene while Gaddafi slaughters rebels and civilians – while claiming to support the Middle East’s democratic uprisings – also be hypocritical? Yes, it would be too.

      Everyone’s history in the Middle East is murky. Intervening in Libya is indeed a “low hanging-fruit” where humanitarianism, democratic progress and interests conveniently, if imperfectly, align. It won’t erase the past, it morally absolves nobody, and it certainly doesn’t preclude future outrages. But, right now, it’s the right thing to do.

  17. I support the intervention in Libya, but I’d say the primary argument against it is that, if our goal is simply humanitarian intervention, the money spent could help many more people (admittedly, in a less glamorous way) via helping make clean water systems in Congo, mediating the conflict in the Ivory Coast, pressuring devolution of power in Bahrain and Yemen. The fact that we throw up our hands at problems requiring non-military actiion and eagerly jump in when military action can be used is not unexpected but still rather disheartening.

    • Oh, exactly. One can back military action that was made necessary by the failure to act non-militarily, and still lament its necessity.

  18. Dr. Cole:

    Last summer when the BP oil well was fouling the Gulf of Mexico, my “go to” source for the best information available was The Oil Drum blog. For the Lybian conflict, it’s Informed Comment.

    Thanks for all the thoughtful analysis and values clarification. It’s good to know some progressives lealize some things are worth fighting for.

    • Ditto for The Oil Drum. OT I wish there was such a site for the Nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

  19. There are numerous other reasonable objections, Juan. The desire to de-militarize American diplomacy. How much effort was put into negotiation prior to military intervention?

    The lack of understanding of Libyan realities. In this respect Libya is almost identical to Iraq with our shallow base of knowledge of the tribal and religious complications of this society.

    Blowback. Even the most sincere humanitarian efforts have unintended consequences. That in itself would not be such a big deal were it not for my final objection, which is

    Fanning the well deserved flames of anti Americanism. It is time that we are seen and experienced as something other than brute force in the Middle East. Were this intervention not coupled with appalling silence on movements in Bahrain and elsewhere, this aspect might play out differently. But the Us has been selective about where people should and should not be free. Could Obama at least condemn the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, cut military contacts? No, this is not possible because we are talking about interests rather than some gauzy desire to see freedom bloom.

    The so-called humanitarian intervention should be rejected.

    • I whole heartedly agree. Leave them alone to solve their problems.

      “I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own — and if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the “haves” refuse to share with the “have-nots” by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don’t want and above all don’t want crammed down their throats by Americans. ”

      Commandant of the Marine Corps 1960-63, Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Medal

      160 cruise missiles at 1,900,000 each…rotation of $tock
      more blood money.

      Leave them alone and quit meddling in their affairs.


    • Also these arguments fail to acknowledge the fundamental difference between the war against Iraq (which I, together with Fischer&Schroeder who happened to run the german administration at that time fiercly opposed) and the support of the Libyan uprise:

      In Iraq it was a GB/US intervention based on a lie (WMD) and without any idea about the longstanding sunni/shia and arab/kurd conflicts.

      In Libya it is a UNSCR 1973 legitimized international police action and definitely not a US intervention.

      Unfortunately UNSCR was not backed by the conservative Merkel/Westerwelle government (who, fortunately, received a smashing defeat by the voters yesterday in an important regional election also for that reason).

      After all your comment is a typical US-centered and, therefore, in my view arrogantly imperialistic statement (US congress must be asked – what the rest of the world wants is irrelevant), which does not envisage multilateralism as a goal. No difference to the US neocons detectable in this respect!

  20. Thank you for your well reasoned post on the logic of intervening in Libya.

    I really can’t believe the wimpery of the Left (with which I usually side) on this issue.

    For example, Josh Marshall’s hand wringing could have hand washed my undies for the next two years.

    Walk and chew gum as the same time? Yes, and grow a pair.

  21. A truly excellent article. I just want to point out that when you worry about the negative influence that a Gaddafi victory would have on Egypt and Tunisia, it is equally pertinent to be concerned about Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Pakistan and all the other countries that are also experiencing nascent freedom movements. If Gaddafi wins, the rulers of these countries are going to learn one lesson about popular opposition: hit hard and hit fast. And thus hope for change in the Middle East will vanish again for a generation.

  22. As long as we have a world where the United States must be the chief actor in any sort of military intervention, then as Americans, we have to be prepared to pay the price. It is our tax money being diverted to military use, our nation that receives the criticism and even hostility from those who oppose our interventions, and our soldier’s lives lost as a result.

    Ideally, the “world community” needs to be able to intervene forcefully and rapidly wherever there is a threat – Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Ivory Coast, or anywhere else. The decision to intervene needs to be made by some democratic means, not by fiat of the US administration. The troops involved and their armaments need to be international, not dominated by the US and its puppet NATO.

    Clearly we are no where near achieving such an ideal, but if we don’t want the US to be the de facto global policeman, then we have to develop and support an alternative. Until then, we have to acknowledge that the US, like any other nation, is not intervening anywhere for totally pure humanitarian motivations. If we did not believe it to be in our national interest (as defined by the foreign policy and military-industrial elites) to intervene in Libya, we would not be doing it. We can also be clear that our failure to intervene in the other similar situations also reflects our national interest. Trying to second-guess what those “national interests” are is beside the point. We need to support an independent alternative global peacekeeping force, perhaps under UN control, or work to so change our national priorities that we are no longer expected to act as Globocop.

    • work to so change our national priorities that we are no longer expected to act as Globocop.

      The US is not expected to act as Globocop, it chooses to do so of its own volition. It self declares that it is the world’s indispensible nation, and it does all that it can to make it so. That has been the overarching foreign policy of the USA since the end of WW2 at least, and arguably earlier. I think of it as Empire Building by Stealth.

      • Excellent remark!

        Moreover Charles D as a typical representative of the Empire considers NATO as a puppet of the US. No, Charles, we are independent allies with independent hearts and minds (EU is maybe not a centralized entity like the US but by no means a puppet).

  23. Dear Professor Cole,

    I read your diligent and nicely put analysis with some delight also because I am somewhat nauseated by the german branch of the Left (der Partei die “Linke”), who combine an alleged radical pacifism with a principal “antiimperialism”).
    Moreover, I do consider it as a shame for germany that Westerwelle/Merkel abstained in the UNSC – a decision that was vigorously applauded by the “Linke” in german parliament and by Gaddafi on TV.

    When searching for the reasons of Merkels descision there are in fact two:

    (1) Best businesses with the Gaddafi-Family through decades. Therefore the official justification for abstaining in the UNSC on 1973 was that “one does not know what will be the outcome of an intervention”. In this respect you wrote correctly: “Indeed, a new government may be more difficult to deal with and may not honor Qaddafi’s commitments.” implying the danger of bad businesses for german im- and exporters.
    (2) Imminent local elections and remembering that Schroeder once won an election by refusing to take part in Iraq: Markel/Westerwelle now thought that they could also benefit in this way.

    However it may be that they underestimated the moral and political judgements of the voters – seeing a dictator shelling with artillery indicriminantly towns in his own country is a crime unprecedented in history. It is fruthermore a progress that the USA acts upon a UNSC resolution following a clear call for help by ordinary Libyan citicens.

    To sum it up: I wholeheartedly sign your open letter.

  24. I found this generally fairly interesting. I’ve found this to be a hard one from the beginning. It is quite possible that the upshot of the intervention will be a good one, but it is also still possible that it will end with effective US control of a new dictator. But I mainly want to comment on a single sentence, one that really undercuts the call to fair discussion.
    “The arguments against international intervention are not trivial, but they all did have the implication that it was all right with the world community if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds just exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to petition their government. ”
    This is patently unfair. No one implies that it is all right for anything of the sort. To argue that x is terrible, but the available responses to x are all worse – and this simply assumes that no one on the left proposed any other ways to help, but let’s grant that – is simply not to argue that x is really all right. (By this logic, opposing the Iraq invasion is saying it is really all right to have Saddam in power.) Let’s be serious in admitting this is a hard case and not caricature those we disagree with.

  25. ‘m impressed. While I don’t agree with everything you’ve put together, two things were impressive: 1) That you could come up will all that in less than a month-of-Sundays, and 2) It’s clear there is no simple answer to a complex question.

  26. I completely agree about the Left’s gum-chewing/walking limitations. But it’s really just willful blindness created by an over-arching, post-colonial mind-trap. That is why the Left ‘privileges’ Israel as the Middle East’s worst bully and is, almost uniformly, unable to empathize with Arabs brutalized by their own regimes. Where are all the demonstrators chanting ‘we are all Libyans, Yemenis, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese(and on and on)now?’

    • “Where are all the demonstrators chanting ‘we are all Libyans, Yemenis, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese(and on and on)now?’”

      They’re all telling each other that the Libyan rebels are simultaneously deadly nasty highly skilled/committed Al Qaeda bombers and incompetent hacks numbering fewer than a thousand.

      It’s Kosovo redux, with the same old “it’s all about the oil and the victims are icky Muslim scumbags anyway” arguments being made; all that’s been done, it seems, is that the old-anti Kosovo rants are dusted off and edited to have “Libyan rebels” replacing “Kosovar Muslims” and “Al Qaeda suicide bombers” replacing “gangsters and drug dealers”.

  27. “A war on Libya to get more and better contracts so as to lower the world price of petroleum makes no sense in a world where the bids were already being freely let, and where high prices were producing record profits. I haven’t seen the war-for-oil argument made for Libya in a manner that makes any sense at all.”

    Because the purpose of the war is to REDUCE the amount of oil and thus increase the price, and in any event to run up the price.

    Read up on Greg Palast and what he discovered about the reason for the Iraq oil war. The purpose was to get much of Iraq’s oil off the market and prevent Saddam from messing with the oil price. This has been proven by official State Department documents actually authored by US oil company executives.

    Look it up.

    It’s almost certainly the same rationale for the Libya case. There may be additional political and geopolitical reasons for the intervention, but this was undoubtedly the main one. And I’m not arguing that the intervention has not been beneficial to the rebels and that is a Good Thing to a limited degree, but the only reason the US and EU do such things is for their own interests. There was nothing “humanitarian” about this except in the side effects.

    • Good points Richard. And what about Bush orchestrating the demolition of the World Trade Center, not to mention, Obama wasn’t born in the USA.

      Keep up the intelligent and thoughtful push-back.

    • If it’s about reducing the supply and driving up the price, then it’s not working very well: The price has dropped nearly twenty cents a gallon in my neck of the woods since the war started — largely as a result of the Japanese triple disasters taking down a big chunk of Japan’s industrial output for at least the next two years, if not longer.

      But that’s a refreshingly different theory. Usually, the theory’s that the great powers are doing it to keep oil flowing cheaply, not more expensively. (Though why the great powers would want to further endanger their already-tottering economies by forcing up oil prices is something this “make it more pricey” theory doesn’t explain.)

  28. Concider this my written version of a standing ovation. I agree with absolutely everything in this piece absolutely. I particularly like the metaphor of the Berlesconi (sp?) uprising. Bravo professor Cole, bravo indeed.

  29. ‘I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time.’ Hey, thanks for the advice pal but anyone who doesn’t view all American military operations with cynicism hasn’t analysed the last 150 years of US military history. Largely, it’s been criminal and disgusting.

    Nevertheless, you’ve put forward a good case for supporting the Libyan people and I hope the results of this military intervention are positive.

    • “..anyone who doesn’t view all American military operations with cynicism hasn’t analysed the last 150 years of US military history.”

      Damn straight Waldo. Screw all that collateral freedom people got in the USSR, S Korea, Europe, Iraq, etc, etc, while the Imperialist Capitalist bastard were trying to grab their land, labor and resources.

      We on the left should not let a piss-ass little country like Libya divide us. Cynicism has served us well so far, and the land, labor and resources of Libya must be protected from the evil empire, even if it takes Colonel Gaddafi to do it.

  30. Juan,

    there is an interesting argument about the role and efficiency of non-violence in these arab uprisings.

    The demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt remained mostly non-violent, and some analysts believe this is may be why they were successful : non-violence is deeply unexpected and disrupting, and it creates division among the power, some people feeling uneasy at the prospect of using violence against their own non-violent people.

    In the case of Lybia, I think it can be argued that Kaddafi’s sons only managed to rally their militia after the people from Benghazi started to move west and conquer cities by force; some violence from the revolutionaries would have triggered a vicious reaction from Kaddafi’s clan, which triggered the UN resolution and the air campaign; and what next ?

    An other issue at stake is of course whether the demonstrators are indeed perceived by those in power as being their own people. This was obviously the case in Tunisia and Egypt, and it is probably more or less the same in Yemen; in the case of Libya, where tribes are more important and Benghazi has always opposed Tripoli, maybe it was less true; in the case of Bahrein, where the people in power are sunni and the demonstrators are shia, it is obviously not the case. And as far as Syria is concerned, I wonder, since I understand the country is mostly sunni but the president an his clan are alaouites.


  31. You have made some powerful and compelling arguments which I appreciate – but I just don’t think you have addressed the domestic precedent of a expanding the president’s ability to unilaterally make war. I can just see no way in which the UN Sec Council resolution trumps the Constitutional restrictions on presidents making war without Congress. The Obama claim that this is not “war” is frankly Orwellian; I can hear the same argument being made if there is a “kinetic military action” against Iran.

    The other thing that you don’t address is the contradiction of turning to such a violent, antihumanitarian, and repulsive organization as the US military for a short term positive. Or the contradiction of approving of the US leading such an operation when it has supplied and approved the mass slaughter of unarmed civilians by Israel – most recently in Lebanon and Gaza.

    • Another fan of the US Empire (US constitution more important than UN charta) – it is frightening to see how this unilateral and imperialistic way of thinkung is deeply rooted in the minds even of “progressive” US citizens.

  32. Though I am indeed an anti-interventionist on the Left and have doubted the motives behind the military campaign, I find your argument wholly persuasive. I will debate and encourage my friends to adopt your suggestions and provide support to those who would implement them. Thank you for setting the record straight.

    However, I would still caution that it is irresponsible in the extreme to conduct costly military operations in a time that basic services and support for the middle-class are disappearing in our own country. Prudence and fairness both require that we immediately establish a surtax – preferably entirely on the rich – to cover the cost of this operation, which will likely exceed a billion dollars.


    • Oh, indeed. If I were in Congress, I’d be pushing this as why we need to repeal the Bush tax cuts and slap on a surtax. Never before the Bush years has America ever cut taxes during wartime; under Bush, they were cut not once but twice. But of course if I’d ever made it to Congress, any such ability to think outside the box like this would have likely been beaten out of me.

  33. Mr Cole I think you and the ‘left’ view the world with vastly different assumptions. I am still shocked when I see blogs of yours buying into the idea that the US government is generally moral. Trusting the US/UK to take military action for the benefit of poor people in another country is like trusting a fox to guard the chickens. Sure, a few ferrets may be scared away, but the chickens are still on the menu.

    I found it a little weird that you hold up the Lincoln Brigade as an example of Western Intervention. Not only were members of the Brigade viewed as commies and a security risk by the US govt, but I don’t think it is reasonable to compare the morally guided actions of volunteers with the actions of a state (any state). The number one lesson I took away from reading Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ is that the major powers (US/UK & USSR) did not care about the average person at all. The US/UK supported Franco and the USSR would rather see the Franco win than see the anarchists gain more influence than the Communists.

    I just don’t see how any serious scholar of international relations can take US (or any states) pronouncments of spreading democracy seriously. Eisenhower wrote “It was generally conceded that had an election been held, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected Premier.” Yet the US killed 4 million Vietnamese in order to try and stop Ho Chi Minh coming to power (and lets not forget about the countless Laotians and Cambodians killed when their countries were secretly bombed). How did the US spread democracy by supporting the Contras against the FSLN? How did the US spread democracy by backing Mubarak for 30 years? How many Catholic priests and nuns were killed by those trained explicitly to hit ‘soft targets’ at the School of the Americas?

  34. I have moved oo – I left you with the neoliberals. I will devote all my limited energies in supporting a progressive/civil libertarian coalition to defeat all the entrenched lobbies including the Democratic war party.

    Good by.

    PS – there was no intervention in Prague because Russia had nuclear weapons. Hopefully, Iran will get them before the next invasion.

    Richard Vespa

  35. I wouldn’t compare Libya 2011 to Iraq 2003; how about Iraq 1991 (post-Desert Storm)? When we encouraged Iraqis to rebel against Saddam and then abandoned them? Perhaps Libya 2011 will turn out to be what that WOULD have been if we had backed the Iraqi rebels with more than words.

  36. Thanks,

    This needed to be said, and you have done so eloquently and documented your positions. It is definitely true that some on the left need to develop the ability to view a situation from more than one perspective. I’m a pacifist, but I couldn’t countenance the slaughter of Libyan citizens by ignoring Qaddafi’s history of abuse toward them. I also see a huge difference between the multilateral approach President Obama took in Libya and the unilateral approach GWB took in Iraq, and imo, it’s a much needed improvement.

  37. As a daily reader of Informed Comment I applaud your vast knowledge of the middle east and it’s nuances. However, I resent the statement about walking and chewing gum. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the left to be suspicious of western governments intentions and agendas when looking at this intervention. I believe it’s too early to tell how this conflict will play out, and the proof of the pudding will be later when possibly a new government will be formed.
    It will be then when the motives and agendas will crystalize. As for hypocricies, let’s wait and see how the western gov’ts respond to the other arab awakenings. At this point I’m still very sceptical that our actions will be applied in a consistent manner across the middle east.

  38. “If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor”

    If you are going to use that rhetorical move, I do not see how you can avoid retrospectively agreeing with all those who said exactly the same thing about “de facto acquiescence” in Saddam’s (equally undeniable and heinous) crimes by the opponents of the Iraq offensive.

    The language of “de facto acquiescence” is a pretty blunt instrument.

  39. You obviously make some strong points. I do consider myself on the Left and oppose this military intervention.

    We know the limits of air attacks, that slippery slope seems almost designed to lead to boots on the ground. Maybe you should start a pool now. How many doubt that we will have combat forces on the ground in Libya?

    You speak of the morality. Being among the Left, I can’t forget the number of U.S. children that live in poverty and go to bed hungry. We know our 600-one trillion dollar military budget that allows for this show of military might comes at their cost. Right now our Congress is cutting funds that would directly impact the needy. Let’s not forget all of the costs inherent in battleships, aircraft carriers and support personnel committed to just this one military engagement. Yes we need to make hard choices each and every time.

    Contrary to your assertion (“the abstentions of Russia and China do not deprive the resolution of legitimacy or the force of law; only a veto could have done that.”) there were five abstentions, Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia. Maybe you could address the problems and intricacies that led to a third of the security council abstaining. You must know the U.S. maneuvered that result (the abstensions). At a minimum such a high percentage has got to indicate a problem.

    Here in South America, there is almost universal rejection of this action. Again, the idea that the whole world is behind military attacks on Libya because the UNSC voted (10 voted) for this action is wildly distorted. I am not forgetting the Arab League support although that seems tepid at best.
    One last point which I know will be contentious but undermines this UNSC vote again which you seem to hinge most of your pro-attack Libya argument on, is that can you imagine a successful UNSC vote on Gaza. What country has the power to get the U.S. to abstain? Let’s take away the veto and see what kind of votes emerge from the UNSC. As it currently stands the UNSC is hardly a dependable gauge.

    For me, this military intervention does not pass the smell test.

    • @Mark — Thank you for adding your views about the abstention from voting in the U. N. Security Council by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Germany. I, too, found the good professor’s views on this subject simplistic to the point of irrelevance. A veto would have prevented the United States from injuring itself and its own interests, so why interfere? On the other hand, refusing to aid the United States in yet another of its belligerent military interventions carries no penalty, but can only leave these other countries in a more advantageous position to pick up the pieces after all the dust and blood settles on the damaged combatants. I count the true vote in the United Nations Security Council as SANITY: 5, CHEST-THUMPING VAINGLORY, 3.

      Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy — all conservatives — each have domestic popularity problems due to their stagnant economies and simultaneous class-warfare attacks on workers (in the guise of balancing budgets unbalanced by rampant military spending and tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy). They have the usual complement of bureaucratic rivals (many in their own parties) sniping at them from the right over alleged “weakness” somewhere on the other side of the globe (Who lost China, Vietnam I, Vietnam II, Algeria, etc.) Nothing like a “splendid little war” to prove their martial mettle and pump up those worrisome poll numbers. Everyone, after all, loves a war for at least the first month. Or so they think. So why on earth would the leadership of Brazil, Russia, India, and China want to risk their own national interests over something as venal and petty as the domestic political squabbles currently roiling the United States, Britain, and France? Better to stand aside and let the Lunatic Leviathan and its two attendant camp followers go blundering by to their own detriment.

      I don’t think that the emotionally overwrought Professor Cole understands how important nations view the conduct of foreign policy in the pursuit of genuine national interest. I say this while neither walking nor chewing gum.

  40. 90% of Americans would actively oppose Obama’s wars if all Americans (conscription) had to participate and these wars had to be paid for while being fought (tax-increases).

    Look out on your classroom and imagine the actions that the parents, of your students, would take if their little darlings had to participate in Americas military misadventures.

    American empathy for the Libyan rebels would disappear – just as it never existed for those American kids, lacking other economic opportunities, that ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan over the last decade.

    • Our “Little Darlings” ARE being forced into the military by our sinking economy and lack of good jobs.

      I have a friend in depressed rural Georgia who is expecting, and dreading, a visit tomorrow from the recruiter who wants to hornswaggle her 17 year-old son into the military.

      She’ll present him with tough questions, to be sure, but the deciding factor will be economics.

  41. Good stuff, Juan, your take on the Libyan conflict is insightful, and useful to someone trying to make heads or tails of it… it matches my own instincts on the matter, though I’ll be sure to get a second and third opinion on all things related.

  42. And, since this is such a great idea, your military recruiter’s office will be open Monday morning lest you be chickenhawks.

    Let me put this in a way the politically motivated cowards who argue for intervention in Libya but opposed Iraq and Afghanistan tooth and nail can understand…

    Bok-bok-ba-kok. Chickenhawks.

    • Ah, so you’re saying that Iraq and Libya are exactly the same?

      How did you feel about Kosovo? Or World War II, for that matter? Take your time, I’ll wait.

      • Alas, PheonixWoman, you may be waiting a long time.
        Your support has been well noted and thanks.

    • @Captain Obvious — I have opposed American military interventionism since I graduated from Jr. High School in 1961. Yet my “dirty fucking hippie,” or “leftist” objections have typically met with nothing but scorn from my chest-thumping fellow citizens, whether unapologetic Republican fascists, or just bullied and browbeaten right-wing “Democrats” trying so desperately to look “tough.” The Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon intervention in Southeast Asia cost me six years of penurious indentured servitude in the United States Navy — the last eighteen months of that dreary duty in the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam. I earned my anti-war skepticism about “humanitarian intervention” the hard way, and so I have opposed every military intervention by every American president for most of my life. Yet the interventions do not cease, but continue to grow more numerous, frequent, and ruinous.

      The chicken-hawks have won — again. And I have lost — again. But I do not despair of opposing the execrable exercise of desperate, panic-stricken Executive War, now euphemistically referred to as “kinetic military action.” As Edna St. Vincent Millay said simply of the awful reality of life:

      “I know.”

      “But I do not approve.”

      “And I am not resigned.”

  43. The best objection to intervention in Libya is based on empiricism: these things usually don’t end well.

    So, yes, we do care about people being oppressed in foreign lands. At the same time, we do realize that history shows that using state-based military force has a dismal record.

    • @Liberal — excellent comments about good intentions and the road to hell that they historically pave. As David Halberstam recounted in “The Best and The Brightest” (the classic tale of how the good intentions of all-tough-and-stuff “liberals” led to America’s debacle in Southeast Asia):

      “John Kenneth Galbraith always argued with [McGeorge] Bundy about the use of force, and Bundy would tell Galbraith with a certain element of disappointment, ‘Ken, you always advise against the use of force — do you realize that?’ Galtraith would reflect on that and then note that Bundy was right, he always did recommend against force, in the belief that there were very few occasions when force can be used successfully.”

      Those who argue against the desperate, ad hoc and ill-considered use of force — by which I mean WAR — can do so not only on the basis of principle, but on grounds of historical counter-productiveness as well. And none of this reasonable and reasoned opposition to gratuitous, state-sponsored violence has anything to do with walking or chewing gum.

  44. Professor Cole,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, both as a Muslim and as a progressive American. I think the left is simply confused. After the disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are understandably reflexively opposed to another intervention in a Muslim country. But as you stated, the situations are completely different. They seem to forget that humanitarian intervention of this sort is exactly what the UN is supposed to do. We can point out many other incidents, such as Rwanda, where the UN shamefully failed to act, but here is an opportunity to showcase the benefits of international law and the UN system. Of course France, UK, and the US have there own motives. But ultimately the action in Libya is good for the Libyan people.

    • Thanks for mentioning Rwanda. One of the reasons former president Bill Clinton has cited for intervention in Kosovo was because the US and the rest of the world, stung by Somalia, didn’t intervene in Rwanda until it was too late and over 800,000 had died. But you never hear the words “Rwanda” or “Kosovo” brought up in these discussions much lately, perhaps because they dilute the intense efforts being made to make “Libya” equate exactly with “Iraq”.

    • …unless NATO is indeed dropping DUI ordinance!
      Then it’s bad for EVERYONE!

  45. Applying the war crimes frame: We are, in essence, responding to a crime by calling in the mafia (working on the assumption, I think shared by most here, that the American empire is best thought of as a criminal enterprise, both at home and abroad).

    It is, of course, possible to advocate for neo-liberal humanitarian interventionism with the purest of motives, but let’s be prepared to entertain the idea that our third on-going war in the region — WaPo is already floating a trial balloon for “advisors” — may not net out positive.

  46. “Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:

    1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)
    2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).
    3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.”

    Sheesh, talk about straw men. Anytime you find yourself arguing against “Absolute ____”, that’s a pretty good hint you’re not really giving the opposition’s position serious consideration.

    • Oh, really? Want some examples? Here you go:

      1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong) —

      David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, about which a favorable review from Dave Lindorff states “David Swanson has taken the mantle of AJ Muste, who had the guts and the audacity to declare World War II to have been unnecessary and wrong. Swanson takes Muste’s argument further to make the audacious claim that all wars are not just unnecessary, but a crime.”

      (I’m a little surprised that Nicholson Baker of Human Smoke infamy hasn’t shown up to try and worm his way back into polite society with a similar argument, but I guess he might need a little more time and preparation.)

      2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong) —

      Hell, I don’t even have to go outside the comments in this thread for examples of that one.

      3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.” —

      Again, I don’t even have to go outside the comments in this thread for examples of that one.

      So it looks like the straw men you say you see are actually clothed in flesh and blood.

    • 1. As a matter of fact, “war” — or the “use of force” (for the euphemistically inclined) — almost always goes wrong.

      2. As a matter of fact, Imperialism came to a bad end halfway through the twentieth century. National independence took its place — not that the American government seemed to notice.

      3. As a matter of fact, military force seldom, if ever, solves social problems — unless one wants to argue for it as a means of reducing “excessive” human populations. Most often war creates more social problems than it solves. I give you Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C.

      Those arguing for aggressive war seldom advance arguments worthy of serious consideration. Fighting to defend one’s home and family has some justification, but the imperial United States of America at present merits no resort to this argument. Neither Libya nor Iraq nor Afghanistan nor Pakistan has attacked or threatened to attack American homes or families. Therefore, the United States of America has no business visiting vast military destructiveness on these countries, their homes, and their families.

      Q. E. D.

  47. Well said, other bizzare arguments include the war costing too much for individual nations, as well as the talk of a precedent-as if the UN is a machine which can only adjust their opinions once per seismic shift in local geo-politics

    Making it sound as if any time something vaguely similar to the events in Libya happening the Planes will launch themselves while diplomats sit back and say “Oh if only we did not set a precedent this could have been avoided”

    Then the same people forget that they had to dodge questions about civilian losses and Qaddafi’s “No Mercy” quote, yet open their new argument in much the same way as the previously defeated one

    I’d say that was being narrowminded, but let us be thankful the people making these arguments did play a part in making these decisions

  48. Professor –

    I am sorry we’ve lost you to the Neo-con cause. Thank you for your service over the years.

    When will you be signing on with FOX?

    • Chris — It’s so easy to be snide. Anyone who differs in the slightest particular with the accepted left line has to be shunned completely, exiled, you seem to be saying.

  49. Thanks for this reasonable summary. Another progressive with Arabist credentials who has written cogently about the matter is Gilbert Achcar. It’s amazing to hear certain opportunistic arguments against UNSC 1973, such as that Libya is “tribal” (right out of the colonial handbook) or that we should wait for negotiations by the African Union (the Gaddafi-funded dictators’ club which as we speak continues to cover for Abidjan’s Gbagbo). The so-called Left has to outgrow the manichean good vs. evil mindset which informed geopolitics in the cold war; history is fundamentally an open process which must allow for novel events of which the Arab spring is surely one. Gradually the Ottoman aftermath is being excavated–mostly though regrettably not entirely with people’s bare hands–and new social forms are being built. Sooner or later this “wind of change” will reach Saudi Arabia and Palestine, and as that happens we need to be intelligently critical of the government which we supposedly elect, but whose establishment remains captive of Big Oil and The Lobby.

    • Thanks for mentioning this side of the debate. There is never only one “left”, domestic or abroad.

      I tried to mention this late yesterday, but there was some other blog malfunction.

  50. Thank you. My only fear is that the Left will succeed in stopping what’s been begun.

    I can’t bear to visit any of the sites in my formerly beloved lefty blogosphere for all the foaming at the mouth. The conflation of Libya with Iraq, etc. is nearly universal. Michael Moore in particular has completely lost his mind. I keep thinking of how France helped the American colonies in their war for independence, and also the Spanish Civil War you reference. Here we have a chance to be the “good guys,” and they’d have us walk away in shame and cowardice.

    • I’ve read this blog for a long time and generally agree with the sentiments presented here. This time, unfortunately, Prof. Cole has been overtaken by the emotion of the moment.

      The closest parallel is the war in Afghanistan; not the one we’re in now, but the one that started back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This war has been described in “Charlie Wilson’s War” by George Crile, and in “Ghost Wars”, by Steve Coll. During this war, conjured up by the neo-con Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter’s national security advisor), the US , Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and several other Islamic counties financed, coordinated and executed a covert war against the Soviet Union. This war, too, was heartily endorsed by the powers-that be. There was no internet then, but is was hard to escape the general idea that this was the best thing since sliced bread. And when the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan and communism eventually collapsed, there was cheering all around. Unfortunately this was both premature and wrong. Communism would have collapsed under its own weight because it doesn’t work, and the Afghans are fierce fighters, as every nation which has tried to occupy Afghanistan has discovered.

      In those days, the “mujahadeen” were portrayed in the US media as heroic “freedom fighters”, much like the Libyan “rebels” are being portrayed in the media today. I can still recall in my mind’s eye the image of Dan Rather, hunkered down somewhere in Afghanistan, lauding the mujahadeen for “taking the fight to the Russians.” (While conveniently neglecting to mention anything about their source of funding, weaponry, intelligence, logistics or operational wherewithal.)

      So what happened when the Russians left? The Taliban rose to power, and were much worse–on any scale–than the the Russians could ever have been, even if they had prevailed in the war. And one of the offshoots of the war was the creation of Al Queada, which was the group responsible for 9/11. It was the ultimate “blowback”.

      People who think we are helping create a new nation of Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison’s, steeped in Western notions of participatory democracy are being gulled into a fantasy.

      Don’t be surprised in a decade or so if the very same elements that are being lionized in the media today turn out to be our worst nightmare.

    • What about minding one’s own business and not killing unknown foreigners should cause a person to feel “shameful” or “cowardly”? The American military blasting away at Libya from high altitude and long range faces almost zero danger of coming to the slightest harm. The chest-thumping chicken-hawks at home in the U. S. face even less than zero chance of suffering the least inconvenience from whatever happens in Libya, one way or another.

      I can’t speak for Michael Moore, but I personally lost my own mind back in Southeast Asia helping my country destroy Vietnamese villages in order to save them. Consequently, the ongoing American military debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan — although initially wildly popular in America — have come as no surprise to me. Nothing that the American government has done over the past forty years — especially in the realm of killing foreigners for peace and freedom — has convinced me that the virulent American brand of belligerent “sanity” has anything to recommend it.

      America does not have a “Left” worth mentioning, which accounts for the country’s long slide rightward into crony-corporate crypto-fascism. And no matter what happens in Libya, the non-belligerent Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Germany will most likely profit from not getting involved in the first place.

      I wonder what President Obama will wear when he lands on the aircraft carrier flight deck to exult: “In the battle for Libya, America and its allies have prevailed!” Perhaps in the subsequent power vacuum and civil war in Libya, and with President Obama’s glorious words ringing in his ears, the unemployed American with no home or health care can scrape together two bucks for a cup of over-priced coffee at Starbucks — and feel just too proud and brave about Libya to notice his own poverty and human degradation.

  51. Just as I think it’s a mistake (or even a libel) to characterize the uprising as Al Qaeda, I think it’s a mistake to ignore the question of who we will likely be dealing with if Gaddafi is overthrown. The concern about Al Qaeda influence did not emerge from a total vacuum. As I pointed out in a previous thread, there is a report by two academics at West Point that very cautiously says that the support for the non-native Iraqi anti-American resistance in Iraq (which comes out in short hand as “Al Qaeda” but should be “‘Al Qaeda’ in Iraq”) was disproportionately Libyan. The authors themselves say that the documents their data come from are at odds with other analyses.

    I’ve listed a number of additional reasons why that report should be treated skeptically. But I think it has to be acknowledged and not simply dismissed. I would also say that it is a bit late to oppose the war based on any set of principles–we are in the war and, agree with it or not–we should focus on figuring out the end game. That end game includes getting to know who we are likely to be dealing with if Gaddafi falls. There is almost no question that the opposition will be more nationalistic and probably more religious in character than Gaddafi. Within very broad parameters, neither should be a problem for a US government that is not interested solely in extracting oil at the lowest possible royalty rate.

    • Exactly. We have to go into this with clear eyes, and not as the Bush people did as a pretext to find cushy gigs for otherwise-unemployable ideological hacks (see also: Paul Bremer, CPA).

      But this argument cuts both ways: The same people that, for instance, brush off troubling evidence of Hugo Chavez’ less-than-stellar commitment to democracy (and I say that as someone who admires what he’s done for the poor majority in his nation and cheered when he beat back the coup attempt against him) cannot then go and put the Libyan rebels under the microscope they refused to use on Chavez.

  52. Professor Cole,

    I want to qualify my criticisms by saying I enjoy your blog, think you are one of the best sources of analysis on the Middle East, and respect your opinion.

    You set up some straw-man criticisms of the left critiques. Most of the criticism I have read has not been that this is a neo-conservative plan. Liberal politicians have often instituted awful wars (Clinton – bombing a pharmacuetical factory in Sudan, murdering half million children in Iraq w sanctions during no fly zones, Carter – supporting Iran and Nicaragua until the last minute, supporting Indonesia, Kennedy Vietnam and Cuba, Wilson – all over the place, etc). The better critiques understand this.

    US instituted interventions are not for humanitarian reason, rhetoric aside. There is a reason the US is not involved in Bahrain or threatening to cut off military aid to Saudi Arabia. They are allies rich in oil. Gaddafi is an enemy in an oil rich region. Bombing is much more severe an action than cutting off military aid, yet the easier action is not even contemplated while the later is actually happening. This is not to say that the rebels shouldn’t be protected, rather that the USA’s intentions are geo-political (domestic politics also plays a role, i.e. public image in front of a domestic politics that learns that Libya even exists through the corporate media with little to no context) not humanitarian. It’s the same reason there has been talk of bringing Gaddafi up on war crimes while Mubarak will live out his life in comfort, not much different from Pinochet in Chile.

    Some of the many arguments I’ve seen against bombing are: US interventions have never ended well, the US will use the intervention to control the shape of the revolution in Libya to suit US interests, the bombing campaign will ossify the fighting creating a divided Libya, the US will have an example and place to springboard into other interventions, the intervention is extremely costly (keeping in mind the US could support other uprisings, not to mention the Palestinians by cutting off military aid elsewhere, which it will never do because it is not a moral agent), that it is likely to escalate into an actual ground war, that the US has a long history of murder of civilians through bombing, that the movements of the democratic revolutions have been viewed as (because they are) indigenous and now may be seen (within the rhetoric of the dictators clinging to power who still hold some sway on their military and civilian populations) as tools of the US/CIA, that the people being bombed are not just Gaddafi but also many innocent civilians being bombed to smithereens (no bombing to smithereens has failed to have this effect.

    Domestic politics is now a consideration. Continuing to do business with Gaddafi after his dispicible crimes would be difficult for US. While western oil companies are involved in Libya, they may be pressured out because of the public spotlight on the crimes of Gaddafi, which the US and the oil companies are well aware of.

    I also think attributing clear objectives and an intelligent strategy to the United States is a mistake. It clearly is concerned about the current uprising. “National interests” are at risk. The United States may not know what it is doing but realize it needs to do something before the people of the region decided to use the best resource they have for their own benefit rather than the benefit of an elite in the US and the elite plutocracy the United States supports. Looking back on Vietnam and Iraq, it is clear that the United States has had shifting objectives and unclear, figure it out as you go plans in the past. I see no reason to think Libya may not fall in the category.

    As to the Security Council, as you know, there is little that is legitimate about it the way it works. The veto mechanism is undemocratic and designed to allow the 5 members with the veto to control the process. While abstentions don’t negate measures that are passed, they are generally recognized as signs of disapproval though not to the degree that abstaining members are willing to override their other interests. They realize one hand washes the other both in trade and in diplomacy. How high a priority is Libya to China and Russia (also not moral agents but countries with their own geo-political interests).

    Noble positions are different that positions where actions, as opposed to interests converge. I am uncertain that we shouldn’t support a no fly zone. I’m not sure if there is a good answer. I am sure that little of what you mentioned is among the stronger arguments from the left. Phyllis Bennis, Majorie Cohn, and many others have made much stronger arguments, not the strawmen you mention above.



    • Thanks for this very thoughtful response. You wrote

      Bombing is much more severe an action than cutting off military aid, yet the easier action is not even contemplated while the later is actually happening.

      But both actions are good for business. Most military aid is in the form of weapons & munitions manufactured by the likes of Chrysler, Honeywell, Lockheed, Boeing etc. Bombs and missiles dropped & fired have to replaced by the likes of General Dynamics, Raytheon, MDBA etc.

  53. you’re so right about this juan. wish you had been invited as a guest on bill maher’s hbo show on friday to make that exact case. he had jeremy scahill on – someone whose work i’ve admired and usually agreed with. but scahill’s easy – and breezily snarky – putdown of “liberal interventionists” made my blood boil. this is nothing of the sort. it’s a limited military action backed by the un security council. i’m so sick of the naive left argument that goes “well, you’re hypocrites. why intervene in libya and not yemen? is it because they are strategic allies and libya is not?” blah, blah. blah. in yemen’s case, what they ignore is that it’s a snake pit that we wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of “fixing.” and the bigger point is that intervention is always going to be selective. the us would be foolish to invest its efforts in more iraqs. by contrast, stopping qadaffi’s forces from carrying out their attacks against civilians is relatively straightforward.

    i suppose part of the problem here is that we’re still tagged by the legacy of the iraq intervention, when many liberals cheered on the idea of replacing saddam before he could deploy nukes and his other non-conventional armaments. when we later discovered that he didn’t have any ABC stockpiles, it was too late. the damage had been done.

    well, time for the left to move on. the liberals were wrong on iraq. it doesn’t mean they’re wrong on libya.

    my 2 cents, fwiw

  54. “This argument is bizarre”

    Years ago, I was in graduate school in philosophy, and I noticed then that using the word “bizarre” in an argument was the last refuge of somebody trying to win by intimidation and ridicule. Of course the intervention in Libya by France, Italy and the United States would be noble and productive if all the qualifications and presumptions you list prove out to be true, but they won’t. It will be a horrible bloody mess, and the most powerful interest will prevail. I have always found it unconscionable for someone in a safe and secure position to advocate a course of action in which other people will be killed. If you think it is a good thing to help the Libyans, you should be willing to go and put your own life on the line.

    One other thing: There is no such thing as “The Left”, or for that matter, “The Right”, “The West”, “The East” or any other mental construction. When I run into this terminology, I usually stop reading, but I kept on with this article because you are usually a smart guy.

    • Except that he did explain why he thought it bizarre — you chose not to listen.

      Here is what he wrote right after he wrote “This argument [that it’s all about the oil] is bizarre:

      The US declined to do oil business with Libya in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, when it could have, because it had placed the country under boycott. It didn’t want access to that oil market, which was repeatedly proffered to Washington by Qaddafi then. After Qaddafi came back in from the cold in the late 1990s (for the European Union) and after 2003 (for the US), sanctions were lifted and Western oil companies flocked into the country. US companies were well represented, along with BP and the Italian firm ENI. BP signed an expensive exploration contract with Qaddafi and cannot possibly have wanted its validity put into doubt by a revolution. There is no advantage to the oil sector of removing Qaddafi. Indeed, a new government may be more difficult to deal with and may not honor Qaddafi’s commitments. There is no prospect of Western companies being allowed to own Libyan petroleum fields, which were nationalized long ago. Finally, it is not always in the interests of Big Oil to have more petroleum on the market, since that reduces the price and, potentially, company profits. A war on Libya to get more and better contracts so as to lower the world price of petroleum makes no sense in a world where the bids were already being freely let, and where high prices were producing record profits. I haven’t seen the war-for-oil argument made for Libya in a manner that makes any sense at all.

  55. Excellent article and summary–thanks for posting. A few comments:

    “Some have charged that the Libya action has a Neoconservative political odor. ”
    Most Neocons and Rightists in the US oppose the intervention. Given all the flip-flopping (e.g., Gingrich and McCain), a good case can be made that they simply oppose everything Obama says and does, to support their stated first priority of electing a Republican president next year. But still, the Neocons are hardly rallying the public behind the intervention.

    Secondly, a good case can be made that the Libyan conflict is simply a tribal civil war; there is no reason to think the rebels are any more humanitarian than Qadaffi. We may just be helping one butcher replace another.

    Third, given the current situation in Congress, with Republicans urging massive cuts in social spending (as well as meaningless, ideological actions like further restricting abortion and de-funding NPR, which don’t save the taxpayers a penny), every dollar spent in Libya will probably be matched with a dollar cut from the domestic budget. At $100 million per Tomahawk (I think that’s the correct figure), that adds up.

  56. Outstanding post; it covers all or most of the bases that lefties will invoke if they are being knee-jerk. My two questions are:

    Is it possible for NATO, the EU, and the US to screw this thing up somehow, and if so, how, and what might some of the consequences be if they manage to do so?

    What is the desired end-state of this initiative and how do the involved parties know when this has been achieved?

  57. “Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:”

    …and you proceed to leave out all the arguments made by right-wing anti-interventionists in the American conservative and libertarian camps, represented by several prominent magazines and think tanks.

    So, if your argument is really with anti-interventionism, then why just focus exclusively on the left?

    Can you think and chew gum at the same time?

    • Please feel free to list them — one of the big arguments the anti-interventionists on the left are using is that the Republicans are all for it and so that automatically makes it wrong. (In fact, most Republicans and conservatives like Michael Gerson are pretty much for any old war, and seem to object mainly to the idea of letting France and the UK lead the coalition; though as Jon Stewart pointed out last week, it’s amazing how many Republicans that were bludgeoning Obama for not backing a no-fly zone have suddenly changed their stance once he did start backing it.)

  58. You’re smarter than this.

    This is not sleeping with the enemy, it’s volunteering to be gangbanged by it.

    Reality check please: NATO. The US war machine. Look em up.

  59. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I am a generally pacifist leftist but I have thought this was the right thing to do – and should have been done sooner. But I have had a very hard time with my friends and colleagues. Thank you for articulating the argument much more clearly and completely than I can! I am now going to share it with everyone I can!

    Frances Smith

    • What is ‘generally pacifist’? …similar to ‘mostly vegetarian’ and ‘virtually a virgin’????

  60. You go very quickly from

    “I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here.”


    “The arguments against international intervention are not trivial, but they all did have the implication that it was all right with the world community if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds just exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to petition their government.”

  61. The issue I take as an American with this war (intervention is a pretty word for an ugly thing) is that our involvement occurred illegally. It is very clearly stated in our Constitution how the USA may become involved in warfare, but that did not happen. No vote was taken, no representatives discussed – a unilateral decision was made by the elites within American society, and off to war we went.

    This is a legal war internationally, but under US law our involvement is not. War must be declared by the Congress, not casually begun at the imperial discretion of the executive. That’s just such a horrible precedent to set, especially by a peace prize-winning “Constitutional scholar” like Barack Obama. You try to dismiss such criticisms of the UN action by pointing out that security council is not a law-making body, but precedent is still a valid concern. Like Nixon and presidential lawbreaking, like Clinton and intervention in Kosovo, this action lays another stone in the path toward an imperial executive – a path, I should add, this nation has taken about 20,000 steps too far down.

    I do not doubt that Barack Obama will never be seriously challenged on his involvement. The elites love war. The middle classes love winning. The poor have no representation. Who then will dare challenge the legitimacy of a popular sitting president, even if he has acted illegally? The precedent will stand, of that I am sure, and the next intervention (war) will be all the easier.

    But let us say our involvement in the war in Libya were legally ratified. (It hardly lacked support among the elites.) I would still then be in opposition. The reason is simple: we cannot afford to feed American children. We cannot pay for basic services. We have no money for schools, for roads, for healthcare or for childcare. Yet somehow, we have many millions more for war – money heaped upon the trillions already spent to fight wars across the world. Millions for Death in Libya, while people starve slowly in the American street; it would be a dark comedy if not for the truth in it.

    I condemn the war in Libya because we are paying for it with our national credit card, and show no intention of paying things back. Surely there is some value in the preservation of human life, but why must it always be paid for with American missiles, and American planes? What moral legitimacy is there in claiming that this time, the bombing and killing is noble and right, because the opposition are bad guys? I have received no hurt from Quadaffi, and likely never will. He and his forces have done horrible things, surely, but are we not simply choosing to keep Libyan rebels alive at the expense of letting American poor, American homeless, and American future generations suffer and die for lack of aid? The choice is not mine, and that is fortunate for the Libyan rebels indeed, for I do not see their fight as my own, or that of my countrymen.

    I would make a poor American President, because unlike them, I am more concerned with the people of my nation than I am with preserving our hegemony abroad. This is written on my phone – I apologize for disorganization and any errors.

    • Like the UK, Americans would be able to ‘feed their own children’ if EVERYONE paid their way. Arguments concerning Libya are the same here as with the USA. One tomahawk missile strike costs the equivalent of 50 public libraries due for closure due to cuts. Astounding statistics.

      Meanwhile some snotty ‘socially useless’ ex investment banker who’s actions reduced RBS to ashes has the gall to put out a superinjunction forbidding the press to refer to him as an ex banker because of the smell. The rest of the establishment can evade or avoid paying the correct tax rate purely because of the status quo.

      Perhaps if EVERYONE did the right thing at home as well as abroad your children and mine would be fed without problems.

  62. So you’re pushing the NATO version of events. Big deal. Let’s see how long it takes for the first McDonalds to open in Tripoli.

    • Rather the freedom/opportunity to choose whether one might wish to patronise a McDonald’s eatery (or any other for that matter) than have the current starvation diet on which the Libyans find themselves?

      • I’m actually closer to Prof. Cole’s side here. But I don’t see much evidence for starvation as having been a condition of life in Libya prior to the civil war. We need to talk factually.

        • Ryan, you’ve obviously been avoiding the facts: Libyans have been starving for years under Gaddafi. The fact that Americans may only be able to find Libya on a map due to recent events, notwithstanding.

  63. I certainly hope that the recent rebel advances indicate that Qaddafi’s military is crumbling. But that happy interpretation is far from certain. His forces have been directed cautiously from the beginning of this, and caution right now would dictate that they withdraw from forward positions in rebel territory that they were trying to seize quickly before NATO could intervene. I would not interpret the rebel gains as at all indicative of Qaddafi collapse unless they are accompanied by the capture of large numbers of Qaddafi soldiers.

    The point is that the case for NATO intervention is only tenable if our side wins without the need for NATO ground troops. That still seems an unlikely result.

    If the rebels cannot win without NATO ground troops, there will be the committment of NATO ground troops.

    As your own care to refute the idea that the rebels are at all linked to al Qaeda indicates, you understand perfectly well that US, at least (maybe our NATO allies are somewhat less institutionally insane), intervention can easily swing out of any rational control if there is any identification of any of the local players with the current object of US foreign policy paranoia. The concern should be that the US electorate can be made to see Qaddafi’s side as the supposedly existential threat that pushes our intervention over the edge into blindly irrational destruction, rather than anything at all amenable to doing anything constructive for the people of Libya.

    Your three categories of skepticism about the use of military force are fair enough, but they are general and abstract, and therefore significantly incomplete when the particular military forse whose use is contemplated is that of the US in 2011. I am almost rigidly and categorically skeptical of any idea of using US military force for any good, since use for good would require rational oversight, but US military force today exists only as a result of institutionalized paranoia. It cannot be used moderately or rationally. Its use will turn the operation over to direction by the supidest and worst fears of a US electorate that has been systematically prepped over two generations to believe that the most extreme and unbridled violence against civilians is absolutely necessary to insure our very survival.

    I’m not worried about Obama. It is fairly clear that he recognizes the problem, given his obvious reluctance to intervene, and his inistence on minimizing the US role. But I am deeply worried about any US president’s ability to keep rational control over any US intervention.

    Near the beginning of this carefully cultivated insanity, Senator Vandenburg famously explained to Truman that to get the needed expenditures for his Cold War approved, he would have to “scare the Hell out of the American people”. There actually was a half-way real and credible foreign threat of world domination then that perhaps actually justified some fear, but even then, the dynamic created by fear-mongering often got out of control and prodded us to irrational acts. Since 9/11, that dynamic of terror, the self-terrorization that has us spending zillions on military capabilities that do nothing to make anybody anything but less safe, has become the only thing driving our use of military force. It’s not a bug anymore, it’s the sole feature of our use of military force.

    Now that we have officially labeled the rebels as the “good guys”, and Qaddafi as the man with the black hat, no US president would be able to allow the good guys to lose, even if that means ground forces. And once there are US ground forces at risk, the gloves come off completely on the mindless slaughter of any Libyan civilians caught in the cross-fire, and the US is so much more technically proficient at mindless slaughter than Qaddafi that malignity or benignity of intent no longer figures into the size of the butcher’s bill.

    If it comes to that, it really doesn’t matter how wise and courageous Obama, or any US president, might be. If he refuses to scare the hell out of the American people over Qaddafi, there are Republicans lined up in the wings to do that with glee and gusto. Xenophobia is a feature for that crew, not a bug.

    I look with extreme skepticism on any idea that US military force can be seen as a tool equally amenable to any sort of use, good as well as bad. We only have this hugely oversized — compared to any ratioinal defense needs — military, for one reason; tow generations of institutionalized insanity, 60 years of scaring the hell out of the American people. It cannot be used, unless the use is over and done before the electorate’s terror can be invoked, except in service of blind terror.

    So let’s hope Qaddafi’s forces really are in full collapse, and this will all be over before the Rs can do their thing with ginning up the paranoia. But hope is not a plan.

  64. I agree with Juan Cole, but I sure do wish people on the left would quit using terms like “the ordinary folk.” I remember listening to Bernard-Henri Levy one time and, with a heavy French accent, he kept saying, “Zee cummun peepPUL”. Hearing it made me want to throw up a little bit. I kept seeing BHL waving to adoring crowds from a demagogue’s balcony, with his blond bombshell wife Arielle Dombasle on his arm. link to

  65. “I can still remember when I was a teenager how disappointed I was that Soviet tanks were allowed to put down the Prague Spring and extirpate socialism with a human face.” – Juan Cole

    Saudi tanks rolling into Bahrain to crush the pro-democracy movement there didn’t seem to matter or motivate Cole to call for Western intervention. (The fact that the U.S. is in fact, intervening to _support_ the regimes also doesn’t seem to outrage Cole.) In fact, it didn’t motivate him to call for a NFZ either.
    There’s a reason Cole doesn’t directly mention Bahrain and Yemen. Like Hillary Clinton this morning on Face the Nation, he seems to think intervention is more worthy in Libya because the scale of oppression is much larger.

    The humanitarian situation in Libya was fairly unique. You had a set of tank brigades willing to attack dissidents

    The problem with this is, of course, that the violent suppression of freedom movements in Bahrain and Yemen occurred PRIOR to the uprising in Libya. An accurate chronology can complicate things for the liberal interventionism crowd. (I remember when the term “Liberal Interventionism” was considered an oxymoron.)

    Cole, therefore, has to answer why he was so opposed to intervention in those cases, but so in favor now? Especially knowing full well that the U.S. is deeply entwined in both countries, and, therefore, had a more propitious set of circumstances to intervene in a much more powerful and less violent way to stop the atrocities.
    This simple fact is why his article has no credibility.

    • “There is a reason why Cole doesn’t directly mention Bahrain and Yemen.”

      Actually, there are likely two (2) reasons: #1 — doing so would make an already-lengthy blog post into a novella, and #2 — He’s already mentioned them at length recently.

      Example #1, Bahrain, 03/14/11:

      Bahrain police abruptly broke up a peaceful demonstration in downtown Manama on Sunday, deploying tear gas and rubber bullets at close range.
      Despite warnings by US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates that half-measures are insufficient, the Sunni Bahrain monarchy has found itself unable to offer any substantial concessions to the Shiite citizen majority.


      The Guardian goes further and reports that the Bahrain government may ask Saudi troops to come in to quell the protests. This step would be a game-changer in Bahrain, and it is hard to see how the Sunni monarchy could retain any legitimacy at all among its Shiite subjects if it took this desperate step.

      Example #2, Yemen, 03/19/11:

      Thousands of protesters in Yemen mounted a massive protest in the capital of Sanaa on Friday, but ran into a trap set by government forces, which fired on them from rooftops and killed 46, wounding some two hundred. It is alleged that the troops set tires on fire and created walls of flame with gasoline, trapping the crowds and allowing snipers to fire into them as though they were fish in a barrel.
      Thousands of protesters nevertheless stood their ground at what they have dubbed ‘Maidan at-Taghyir’ (Change Square, a pun on Cairo’s Tahrir or Liberation Square). Some invaded government buildings and laid hands on the snipers.
      As news of the massacre spread throughout Yemen, thousands of protesters came out in provincial cities, as well.
      President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared a state of emergency, as a member of his cabinet resigned in disgust, the first to do so.

    • Juan mentioned military logistics as an argument against military intervention in certain situations.

  66. Thank you! This also pro-interventionist leftist (who is in fact also at UM) agrees wholeheartedly with what you have to say. I’ve been surprised by all the arguments against interventionism.

  67. Rethink your letter in terms of the following.

    1. There is no singular left or progressive position in opposition to going to war in Libya. Don’t try and justify it by reference to artificial constructs about opposition to the war, and then argue against them.

    2. At the core of opposition is the sense that we embrace warmongering principles, and the fact that it may be a little more reasonable here than elsewhere does not undermine this objection. Saddam was a far greater tyrant to his people than Qaddafi, and that war was purportedly justified based on the humanitarian wonderfulness of getting rid of that dictator. Why this does not give you pause here when advocating war with Libya is surprising.

    3. On what basis can it be said that the rebellion will be a better thing? Should we have imposed no-fly zones in Iran 1979 if the Shah was similarly murdering his people? The history of civil war and armed rebellion is less than glowing that armed resistance to awful dictators results in sweetness and light afterwards. If we are going to intervene, should we also seek to exercise significant control over the rebels to insure that the better elements in fact win the post-war, or is that too much intervention for your tastes?

    4. The concept of antiseptic warfare with “no-fly” zones is itself a sick aspect of the intervention mantra (as if we wont be killing civilians with bombings). If you support military intervention in the civil war, you should support boots-on-the-ground real dirty nasty stuff to bring it to a swift end. That is what it means to advocate war – so advocate it for real and not pretend. It must drive the military folks crazy to be tasked to fight half-wars which they doubt can achieve the desired ends. Libya presents a better than average situation for it since airpower dominates desert terrain, but that is no excuse for fighting stupid wars. A willingness to only halfway fight the thing likely will prolong the suffering. We lucked out in Kosovo in the late 90s when the Serbs decided to back down in response to aerial warfare. What is they had not?

    There is a basic problem in our world, which is that outrages against civilians by dictators go unchecked everywhere. At the same time that we intervene in Libya to assist rebels against dictators, we do nothing while Saudis murder Bahrainis (who do seem to be clearly advocating democracy) to maintain those dictatorships. The same UN powers exploiting the Libyan situation to intervene can hardly be said to have humanitarian impulses at the core of their motivation, since they are so fickle about when they feel those impulses (don’t even bring up Darfur). Before you embrace the wonderfulness of intervention here, please have some circumspection to think that maybe this is about something other than humanitarian concerns. And if you advocate war, then please take the full measure of responsibility for it BY ACTUALLY SUPPORTING WAR – not some half-baked version that allegedly avoids its unpleasantness.

    And oddly, the lesson here to Iran or North Korea is that if you do bargain to give up nuclear technologies, expect the West to undermine you at the next chance and even go to war with you to destabilize your control.

    • “1. There is no singular left or progressive position in opposition to going to war in Libya. Don’t try and justify it by reference to artificial constructs about opposition to the war, and then argue against them.”

      Except you then go on to show that at least one of his “artificial constructs” (and very likely all three) is indeed being espoused by at least one anti-interventionist lefty, namely you. (Unless you’re really a Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan libertarian, which I somehow doubt.)

      As for other real-life, non-straw examples of all three of his “artificial constructs”, go here.

      • Your response makes the same error as Cole, which is to define the dispute based on artificial constructs of what others are allegedly contending, and then argue against those positions as alleged proof of the propriety of the military intervention.

        Debate the merits of the policy, and the merits of the counter-arguments. Nothing you say actually replies to the substance of the issues.

        At the core of what I believe is that military intervention, if it is to be undertaken, should be undertaken completely. That means boots-on-the-ground and a swift regime change to bring an end to the war, and then nation building to turn over power to the rebels that are indeed motivated to bring about in Libya what we hope will happen by intervention. The failure to do so gives Qaddafi hope that he can survive in the long run. If you think that to be “too much,” then you are a fool about advocating wars.

        It is critical to observe that so much of the force in favor of intervention is based on the wrong-headed notion that maybe we can get way with just some untroubling amount of force to get an outcome we desire. That was likely to be wrong from the beginning, and unfolding events are suggesting it will be very wrong. Tom Friedman today opined in the NY Times that boots on the ground are going to be needed – just not ours. Expect that to soon mutate to it being ours as long as token number of others are sent.

        A war policy should not be based on a possibility that maybe things will go as we hope if we half-way do it. And I think that so much of the opinion in favor of intervention in Libya and elsewhere is based on the idea that we can advocate half-wars without taking full responsibility for waging wars.

        • dmbeaster – you are confusing a war of liberation to an invasion-occupation. Think Bosnia or Kosovo, and the errors of your analysis becomes apparent. And also – the Shah did not kill anywhere close to what Ghaddafi is killing today and the Shah never had his army shell the cities. Another incorrect equivalency.

          Saddam was deposed with minimal force. The issue with Iraq was the post-Saddam Baathist-Islamist uprising and the sectarian war that followed. Neither is the case here.


      1. In your first point you deny the existence of a ‘singular left or progressive opposition to going to war in Libya’. However, in your second point you define it.

      2. There are no guarantees that the opposition will be a ‘better thing’. However, to have allowed Gaddafi to retain power by slaughtering its members wholesale would evidently have been a ‘worse thing’, to reflect your rather vague rhetorical question. Your reference to the Shah is anachronistic in the extreme, ignoring as it does the radically different context and affects of the bi-polar, cold war dynamic which dominated international relations at the time.

      3. Your point with regards to ‘anti-septic warfare’ assumes that coalition strikes are causing civilian casualties. I am not aware of any credible reports of civilian casualties caused by coalition forces, if you are, I would be obliged if you would make them known. Even if we were to accept at face values the claims of the Gaddafi regime with regard to casualties that have been caused (and add them to the six Libyans injured during the recovery of the F-15 pilots), the numbers presented are dwarfed by the estimates of civilians killed by the Qaddafi regime in attempting to put down the rebellion.

      4. There are a multitude of reasons why we can’t or won’t intervene in other places such as Bahrain. In the case of Libya our intervention is less complicated and more feasible than it would be elsewhere. When we have the opportunity to be benevolent, we should take it.

      5. The use of ground forces in significant numbers would destroy international and domestic support for the operation. It would also make enemies of the Libyan opposition. Taking responsibility for war means doing what is necessary to attain success, including avoiding defeat at the political level. What we have seen so far would seem to indicate that use of air power will provide us with sufficient means to meet our objectives.

      • Just a partial response:

        2. There is nothing anachronistic about a reference to the Shah. The basic point is valid today, which is that the revolutionary forces you end up supporting by intervention in order to curb the humanitarian abuses of the dictator may be worse than that dictator. That is why policy of intervention cannot just be justified by humanitarian impulses, and therefore justifying war simply to prevent Qaddafi outrages is weak tea.

        3. Bombing always kills civilians. It is naive to pretend otherwise, even in this era of high tech weaponry (see Afghanistan). And my point about antiseptic warfare is not so much simply that civilians might get bombed, but a broader point that the amount it takes to overcome hesitation about advocating war wrongly gets lowered because of the belief that it can be waged without too much ugliness. Embrace the ugly if you are going to advocate war – you accept it as the ugly downside to hopefully achieve a greater good. Don’t dumb down how much ugly is going to be involved, which is what Cole is doing and so much of the pro-interventionists do.

        4 and 5. Realize that you are defining humanitarian intervention based on expediency – hence not in Bahrain but yes in Libya. That is prudent, but my point is that you are making a huge error in defining the alleged expediency of intervention in Libya. The air-only approach (and it immediately went from “no-fly” to aggressive air strikes – notice the mission creep?) will most likely not succeed. Indeed, my broader point is that there is a history of underestimating the cost of interventions based on false notions that a little dab will do ya. And there is a history of warmogering forces in the US exploiting a lowered threshold for initiating wars.

        Hence, your point that boots-on-the-ground is a political non-starter should make it clear that intervention is immediately heading down a stupid path of half-assed measures that interventionists pray will be enough. Think Viet Nam and the Powell doctrine in response to that. Half-measures predictably won’t be enough, as I expect Qaddafi to craftily play a long running game that exploits his overwhelming ground strength against the rebels.

        Which is why I make the point that war interventionists need to be advocating the legitimacy of full blown war, and making sure it is carried out swiftly and decisively. Prolonging the conflict because of half-measures is likely to create similar humanitarian crises as doing nothing. Supporting wars because they allegedly can be fought on the cheap is a long-term horrible policy.

  68. Superbly well said, sir. You have caught the dilemma faced by many on the Left, argued down those who are simply incapable of seeing the differences between this intervention and Iraq, and exposed a good deal of the whining on the Left as either groundless or hypocritical. The reason I no longer comment on or associate with sites like e.g. Balloon-Juice is that they refuse to think through their arguments, and have no plan for the future beyond deploying snark and clutching their pearls when Obama acts for the greater good of the global community. I have been and remain proudly of the Left, but I can no longer abide those who want the Left to be eternal victims of their own self-righteousness.

    • I agree completely, Professor Cole. You’ve articulated how I’ve felt about this, as well as my frustration with Leftists “thinking” with their limbic systems rather than their grey matter. Note the sullen, lazy comment above, wondering how long it will be until there’s a McDonald’s in Tripoli. Give me a break.

      I am very left, but I’m a human being before I’m a political function generator. Sometimes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, you’re lucky enough to encounter a problem that’s actually is a nail. This was problem that could be solved by blowing up tanks. I, for one, am glad those tanks have exploded. If that means that a Libyan eats a Big Mac in ten years, so be it.

  69. My tweet of this was

    Rational argument for Libran intervention. It’s a shame we can’t trust our government or media with same judgement link to

    I trust and agree with your judgment. You have changed my mind on this issue. However, it is a measure of how debased our government and media “information commons” to coin a phrase has become that I could not trust the White House, Pentagon, or our media with the truthfulness of their arguments or justifications.

  70. I’m so glad that a professor who is funded by taxpayers to the tune of $119,000 for part-time work, is able to spread his left-wing ideals on the blogs as well as in the classroom.

    Oh yes, let’s applaud the actions of the US and the United Nations in interfering with the internal affairs of Libya.

    Let’s just hope the US and UN continue this partnership and expand their role of Worldwide Global Policeman.

    Why, wouldn’t it be great if the UN was able to intervene in the US and stop all the crime that we have here?

    • Heh! Funny, does that mean Michael Gerson’s a lefty? Try again, sir.

      As Jon Stewart showed recently, the US conservatives were agitating for a no-fly zone only so long as they thought Obama was going to resist calling for one. When he finally acquiesced to France and the UK’s persuasions, they suddenly all did 180s or attacked him for letting furriners lead the effort.

  71. The problem is principle. If the principle is to save lives, great, lets look at all the ways we can save lives and where we get the most return for our lifesaving investments when considered against our other priorities and do it. If it’s to topple bad regimes, ditto.

    The problem is that our leaders have no credibility. They are bought and paid for by Wall Street. When they act, the likelihood is that they are doing it for the wrong reasons.

    The left’s questions about the Libyan intervention are justified and thank you #MMFlint !

  72. While this post does a great job of defending the conceptual critiques of the Libyan conflict, I don’t think Juan has adequately dealt with the major practical critique of the war: that an allied air campaign will most likely produce an unstable and dangerous Libya. I my mind, the three most likely outcomes are:
    – a post-Qaddafi state fragmented on tribal lines, most likely without any central authority or military.
    – a stalemate, in which the rebel state in east Libya is only maintained by allied air power and continuing military casualties.
    – a resurgent and victorious Qaddafi, who now poses a direct threat to western powers.

    Any of these three situations would be worse, in terms of American security interests

    • “In my mind the three most likely outcomes are …” and I ask you:

      What knowledge about the young libyan (tunesian, egyptian) population nourishes your judgement?

      Let me remind you: Everyone in the western (and eastern) world was surprised about this uprising and you are sure about the outcome in this particular case.

      Suggest you better visit the following pages:
      link to
      link to

  73. BTW,

    What is the definition of being evil and rich?

    A salary above $100,000 per year maybe?

  74. I would have preferred if you had taken on the arguments of those who think the U.S. is in no position to afford this adventure, however meritorious.

    • think less about merit and more about business – not oil – the US other big export WAR …its like the goose that lays the golden egg.

  75. Excellent analysis, especially how you broke down three main objections & countered them with a strong reasoned & principled response. My only disagreement, is that we didn’t respond to an even more brutal genocide in Darfur (and Rwanda), because situation on ground could not have been solved by air strikes.
    Speaking as a US Army Special Forces soldier, you are correct that air strikes were not a military option in sub-Saharan genocides, but unlike the well-armed and professional soldiers & mercenaries with Qaddafi, the genocidal maniacs could have been stopped easily with a strong, determined effort by a relatively small number of special operations soldiers & should have been done. It would not have been comparable with Iraq, or even Somalia, because the killers on the ground had no capacity or capability to take on well-planned special ops intervention.
    Iraq was not at all comparable, being a large and sophisticated country whose Sunni/Shiite split was made up of highly trained ex-Hussein Sunni soldiers & a much larger Shiite population with sophisticated arms & support easily slipped to Shiites in Iraq by Iran). Somalia, has been loaded with highly armed factions for years, easily supplied by land & sea, where Sudan & Rwanda had no where near the fighting capability as Somalian war lords who have been stockpiled & experienced in real armed combat. The people slaughtered in Sudan & Rwanda were often just killed by bands of people with small arms & machetes, & were successful because they were attacking completely unarmed & untrained civilians with no ability to resist.
    The two time I wish the US could have used its capability to STOP innocent people from being slaughtered we didn’t act. I am glad, that like Eastern Europe we DID act in an appropriate military manner to the situation on ground in Libya, but that does not absolve us of ignoring a much more deadly, & easier to stop genocide, from occurring in Rwanda & Sudan.

  76. The fact that Bahrain is the site of bloodshed is awful and the lack of any support by the U.S. for the opposition is depressing and disgusting. But it does not follow then that the U.S. should not intervene to prevent a greater massacre happening in Libya.
    @Eli: Understanding a proportionality between affront and response does not undermine the position of Cole. In fact, it is the delinking of any relationship between affront and response that has led to some of the worst excesses and failures around the globe in recent times. What do you mean by “a much more powerful and less violent way” and do you have any authority? You seem not to understand the way that arguments work. And your ad hominem assertion that “his article has no credibility” is, frankly, bizarre. As someone that has been on the Left for many decades, it is precisely attitudes like yours that leaves us in the margins. Pathetic.

  77. I agree with you sir, but have another angle to offer. Would you agree that corporations (including oil ones) are the defacto decision makers or at least their influence is overwhelming in decision making in Washington? Would you also agree that such corporations (in particular the oil ones) exercise much more weight in controlling (buying off or else) the decision making process in smaller weight countries? While I have no proof the following is what is taking place, it is still a thought to explore, that those oil companies who “invested” heavily in “Qaddafi’s Libya”, don’t want to lose this golden egg (3% of world’s reserves and by far the largest reserves in Africa). So when they realized that the Libyan PEOPLE might actually take over in a matter of days after actually controlling the east basin of oil (more than 50% of Libya’s oil) and that if these PEOPLE win, they might renegotiate the contracts to more fair ones, or even worse kick these companies out in favor of others, they (oil companies) supported Qaddafi and supplied him with whatever he needed to crush the revolution including bringing in the “African mercenaries”. Remember that the Libyan PEOPLE were termed “rebels” as soon as they controlled the oil of the east. Then when it became “unbearable” and too much killing took place and to solve this problem, they exercised their influence on Washington and others so they can keep the profits and change the puppet. Remember that if the Libyan PEOPLE were allowed to win, they would have had a real democracy to the benefit of the Libyan PEOPLE with all what that entails not only in Libya, but else where. So a “humanitarian intervention” “was needed” to save the Libyan “people” (I mean oil) and by the way make sure the new regime is a puppet that is beholden to the corporations and the west rather than to the Libyan PEOPLE with a true democracy. Do we think that the money spent whether in oil investments or on weapons and ammunition that are being used to destroy the Libyan army were a gift to humanity? Also, by destroying the Libyan army, any new government in order to build its defenses needs to rebuild the army, and we can imagine, if we install another puppet regime, which makers would that armor be coming from. Isn’t that why Russia and China abstained in the UNSC? I think you get the gist of it. If this sounds too far fetched or too conspiratorial, I’m sorry, but history is full of stories that…well, you know better.

  78. “Foreign intervention” (or non-intervention in the case of the Civil War) has been a significant factor in every US conflict since before the American Revolution. In theory it is a neutral factor, neither absolutely good nor bad. In Libya, Foreign Intervention, is justified in the first instance because the failure to intervene would have led to genocide. Thus we see UN, Arab League and African Union support for the Libyan No Fly Zone (“NFZ”). Mission accomplished? Hardly. With all due respect to Sec. Gates, the geo-stability of Middle Eastern regimes (read: Islamic states) is of vital interest to the West. Think: oil and Israel, to name two such interests. Going beyond the initial NFZ is also justified for a number of reasons. In addition to being an international criminal (Lockerbie, Munich), Qaddafi trods brazenly upon the human rights of Libyans. He simply must go. Libyans have the right and desire, but for reasons beyond their control, not the power to achieve popular government by self-determinatation. There is no electoral process and the populace is under-armed and routinely abused by the regime’s security forces. Foreign Intervention is “leveling the playing field” to allow the majority of Libyans to realize their objectives, whatever those may ultimatley be. A theocracy? A republic? A loose federation of tribes? The form of what emerges is less important than the fact that something reflecting the will of the Libyan people emerges. Could the new Libya become a rogue state? Possibly; but unless or until that were to begin to happen, we should give the People of Libya the benefit of the doubt, stand aside and allow them to determine their future for themselves. If they choose wisely, the world will be a better place than it is today with Qaddafi in power.

  79. The reason I do not support this intervention is that I no longer have any trust what so ever in the institutions that are telling us that this intervention is neccessary.
    These people have run this sort of scam over and over and over again for the past 60 years.
    Most people just do not get it. They say, “What are you talking about? Obama is not Bush. Obama is not Johnson.”
    That is why the majority of the people are being fooled time and time again. The fact of the matter is not only is Obama Bush, Johnson is Goldwater, and Obama is Johnson and Goldwater, and Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond to boot.
    I doubt that most people ever will figure it out. If the Turkish and German governments were not willing to support a no fly zone I find it very hard to conclude that there were barbaric massacres occuring. Anyone not in a uniform but carrying a gun could be labled a civilian. Furthermore just how was the government able to rally the tank crews to counter attack? Who knew something important that the otherside did not know those military forces that defected from the government or those that rallied to support the government?
    The story for intervetion smells like stale coffee to me.
    Now if someone that I know and trust would have said that what is going on in Lybia rises to the level of a massacre of innocent non combatants and we need to intervene then that might sway me. Yet the only people that I can think of who I trust to make a determination on this are
    Bradely Manning, Ehren Watada, the independent reporter from Alaska (of Lebonese decent I think) who reported from Iraq a number of times whose name I unfortunately forget right now, Russel Means, William Kustler, Cynthia McKinney. Some of these people are dead or in jail.
    The number of trustworthy is few. Only dissedents need apply.
    In this Libyan conflict I hope the best person wins. I do not pretend to know who that is. No one in Lybia should expect me (us) to know. If I did think that I knew I would support selling or loaning or giving them some weapons.

  80. I thank you for your reasoned response. I am of the Left. Further, I am a Quaker. Nevertheless, I support this intervention, as I wrote here:

    link to

    Humanitarian issues should always trump ideology or theology. I agree.

    From a military standpoint, intervention should, however, be with as massive a force as possible, because it actually minimizes suffering on both sides. I wanted the no-fly zone earlier. I suspect that there must be some boots on the ground to coordinate supplying the opposition and providing humanitarian aid. If done in cities well behind the front lines, it avoids direct military confrontation by ground troops.

    Ultimately, the regime cannot be toppled merely by air power. It will take forces on the ground, but those may not all be military. If it becomes clear that the dictator and regime can be toppled, I suspect you will see massive defections – some from the actual military (Kristof has written about dissension in the Navy), some from some of tghe tribes whose support is critical for Ghadaffy’s survival.

    I also suspect that some of his mercenaries might decide to go back to their own nations if they are worried about being captured by the forces of the opposition in the aftermath of a regime change.

    Again, thanks for this thoughtful piece.

  81. Thank you Mr. Cole.

    I think this will also help the Iranian people to rise up against the Mullahs. I was born in Iran and I totally supported President Obama in his handling of the Iranian situation in 2009 and I also support him in Libya.

  82. You are so right, accurate and logical Prof Cole.

    But as we see by some of the responses you can’t force people to see their ‘one size fits all’ ideology for what it is.

    The “absolute” fringes of left and right are both alike.
    They hunker down on one absolute belief in one absolute course for every problem, maybe because it’s mentally easier and doesn’t require any real examination or judgement or they are just incapable of analyzing or distinguishing between one situation and another.

    The Obama adm made the right moral and foreign policy choice in this case, the critics of the left and right are just the usual noise.

  83. Juan Cole’s logic is unassailable, his morality decent and humane, and he has his facts straight.

    We would foolish indeed to oppose the lawful and decent UN intervention in Libya as knee jerk reaction, just because it’s thought by some to superficially (only very, very superficially) resemble Bush, Cheney and Blair’s indecent and unlawful invasion of Iraq.

  84. “There still are no trained troops to speak of on the rebel side.”

    Not strictly true: whilst they’ve not switched sides in battalion-strength, there have been, thankfully, many defectors from the Libyan armed forces joining the side of the rebel movement.

    Important to note, too, that the Libyan armed forces (i.e. Gaddafi’s forces) are not an army/navy/air force as we in the West understand such forces: rather they are forces for internal oppression and containment of the the Libyan people at the whim of the Gaddafi crime family.

  85. Your summation of the humanitarian motivation for the West’s intervention is the best I have seen yet. Clearly so many factors came together to justify the aerial campaign, not the least of which was the tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi.

    Thanks for this clarity of perspective.

  86. As a long time reader of this blog, it occurs to me that if you have to compare this situation to Churchill and Hitler, it may be time to rethink your own position.

  87. Well argued–helped me resolve some of my own internal debates. And I especially enjoyed the line “I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time.”

  88. There is so much wrong with this piece, but I’ll limit myself to one overarching issue: the attempt to describe the objections leftists are making. Nowhere are described the actual, sophisticated objections we are making: that air bombardments are militarily innefective against ground forces, dangerous to civilians, and will come with long strings attached to the new government. Only the most crude RCP-esqe objections are (far to easily) taken on, along with those of absolute pacifism. This strawman creation belies the “let’s have a civil debate” introduction. Either Cole hasn’t bothered to read substantive left criticism, or is choosing not to engage it.

    Cole also ignores the PR boon Gadaffi has been handed by the re-enactment of the 1986 bombings. Such attacks offer no support to the revolution while reminding the world of Gadaffi’s sole claim to anti-imperialist legitimacy.

    Really there is so much obviously wrong here, delivered in such professorial verbiage, that I can’t help but conclude that Cole’s intened audience is not the Left, but centrist Democrats who need a tool to dismiss growing criticism, without having to actually engage it. “See Juan Cole’s piece here” Times columnists may now tweet. “It must be filled with definitive refutations of the Left because It’s so long that can’t finish it, and it must be a legitimate Leftwing position because it talks about pacifist without sniggering.”

  89. Many of the comments have made this point in different ways, so I’ll just add that it’s sad to see an intellect of Cole’s level construct an argument against the weakest possible objections to military intervention in general and the current military intervention in Libya. It’s especially disheartening to see the Bushesque dichotomy–if you don’t support this you affirmatively support the murder of civilians–in the service of this argument.

  90. Thank you much for this article. It thoroughly and concisely addresses all the major arguments leftists have made against intervention. Some of their objections seemed truly paradoxical, considering the very dire situation that existed in Libya when Resolution 1973 was adopted. I am sure that when this is over and the full scope of the suffering in Libya is known, the revelations will shock the world. Your article will help me to answer some of the criticisms I have received for my own position on this issue.

  91. Imperialisms always justify their wars as having a humanitarian basis and, as sure as birth, death and taxes, social democrats always use that element as a justification for supporting those wars and criticizing those to the left of them who don’t. Juan, you’ve spent the past week and some presenting a plethora of apparently reasoned and impassioned arguments, all quite self-consciously defensive in nature, to justify as “humanitarian” and “liberating” the multinational military attack on Libya. It’s telling, however, that when push comes to shove, your call for civilized discussion turns immediately into the same old red baiting – “chewing gum and walking at the same time” – that all the others before you, dating back to the German Social Democrats of 1914, have resorted to. It makes it hard to take your arguments at face value (though that’s a necessary thing to do).

  92. Thankyou so much. Here it is in Spanish:

    Carta Abierta a la Izquierda sobre Libia
    Publicada el 27 de marzo de 2011 por Juan Cole
    Tal como yo lo esperaba, ahora que la ventaja de Gadafi en materia de blindados y armamento pesado ha sido neutralizada por la campaña aérea de los aliados de las NNUU, el movimiento de liberación está reganando territorio perdido. Los libertadores han retomado las localidades petroleras claves de Ajdabiya y Brega (Marsa al-Burayqa) entre el sábado y la mañana del domingo y parecían decididos a avanzar más hacia el oeste. Con certeza este rápido avance se ha hecho posible en parte gracias al odio a Gadafi que impera en la mayoría de la población de eses ciudades. La cuenca de Buraiqa contiene gran parte de la riqueza petrolífera de Libia y el Gobierno de Transición en Benghazi volverá a controlar en breve el 80 por ciento de este recurso, una ventaja en su lucha contra Gadafi.
    Yo estoy abiertamente alentando al movimiento de liberación, contento de que la intervención autorizada por el Consejo de Seguridad de Naciones Unidas los haya salvado de ser aplastados. Aún recuerdo lo desilusionado que estuve de adolescente cuando se les permitió a los tanques soviéticos ponerle fin a la Primavera de Praga y extirpar el socialismo con rostro humano. Nuestro mundo moderno multilateral tiene mayores espacios para el cambio exitoso y el desafío al totalitarismo que lo que tenía el antiguo mundo bipolar de la Guerra Fría, cuando los EEUU y la URSS frecuentemente se respetaban mutuamente sus esferas de influencia.
    La intervención en Libia, autorizada por Naciones Unidas, ha puesto en el tapete cuestiones éticas de la mayor importancia y ha dividido a los progresistas de un modo desafortunado. Espero que podamos tener un debate sereno y civilizado de los aciertos y errores a este respecto.
    En la superficie, la situación en Libia hace una semana y media planteaba una contradicción entre dos principios claves de una política de izquierda: apoyar a la gente común y oponerse a la dominación extranjera que les afecta. Los trabajadores y el pueblo de Libia se habían levantado para derribar al dictador de una ciudad a la otra – Tobruk, Dirna, al-Bayda, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Zawiya, Zuara, Zintan. Incluso en la capital Tripoli, los barrios obreros tales como Suq al-Jumah y Tajoura habían expulsado a la policía secreta. En las dos semanas que siguieron al 17 de febrero casi no habían signos de que los manifestantes estuvieran armados o fueran violentos.
    La calumnia levantada por el dictador, de que los 570000 habitantes de Misrata y los 700000 de Benghazi eran partidarios de “al-Qaeda,” no tenía fundamento. Que unos cuantos jóvenes libios de Dirna y alrededores hayan combatido en Iraq es simplemente irrelevante. La resistencia árabe sunita en Iraq en su mayor parte fue llamada ‘al-Qaeda’ de manera imprecisa, lo que es un calificativo propagandístico en este caso. En todos los países con movimientos de liberación existieron simpatizantes de la resistencia sunita iraquí; de hecho las encuestas de opinión demuestran que tales simpatías son casi omnipresentes en el mundo árabe sunita. En todos esos países existió al menos algunos movimientos fundamentalistas. Eso no era razón suficiente para desearles mal a los tunesinos, egipcios, sirios y otros. El asunto es qué tipo de liderazgo estaba surgiendo en lugares como Benghazi. La respuesta es que simplemente fueron los notables de la ciudad. Su hubiera un levantamiento en contra de Silvio Berlusconi en Milán, probablemente congregaría a empresarios y obreros fabriles, católicos y seculares. Sería simplemente el pueblo de Milán. Es posible que aparezcan unos pocos ex miembros de las Brigadas Rojas, así como quizás alguna figura del crimen organizado. Pero difamar a todo Milán en base a ello sería pura propaganda.
    Entonces los hijos de Muammar Gadafi lanzaron a sus brigadas blindadas y fuerza aérea a bombardear a las multitudes civiles y a dispararles con proyectiles de tanque. Los miembros del Consejo del Gobierno de Transición en Benghazi han estimado en 8000 las muertes ocurridas cuando las fuerzas de Gadafi’s atacaron y sometieron a Zawiya, Zuara, Ra’s Lanuf, Brega, Ajdabiya y los distritos obreros de la propia Tripoli, usando munición de guerra disparada a manifestaciones indefensas. Si 8000 era una exageración, simplemente “miles” no lo era, como lo atestiguan medios de izquierda tales como Democracy Now! de Amy Goodman. Cuando las brigadas de tanques de Gadafi arribaron en los distritos sureños de Benghazi, se alzó la perspectiva de una masacre de gran escala entre los rebeldes comprometidos.
    La autorización dada por el Consejo de Seguridad de Naciones Unidas para que estados miembros de NNUU intervinieran para evitar esta masacre planteó entonces la interrogante. Si la izquierda se oponía a la intervención, de hecho aceptaba la destrucción, por parte de Gadafi, de un movimiento que representaba las aspiraciones de la mayor parte de los trabajadores y los pobres de Libia, junto a gran número de empleados y capas medias. Gadafi habría restablecido su dominio, habiendo aplastado al movimiento de liberación como a un insecto y el país puesto de nuevo bajo el imperio de la policía secreta. Las consecuencias del resurgimiento de un perro rabioso, enojado y herido, sus arcas repletas de miles de millones petroleros, podrían haber sido perniciosas para los movimientos democráticos a ambos lados de Libia, en Egipto y en Túnez.
    Los argumentos en contra de la intervención internacional no son triviales, pero todos implicaban que la comunidad internacional aprobaba el que Gadafi desplegara tanques en contra de multitudes civiles inocentes que no hacían más que ejercer su derecho de reunión pacífica y de petición para con su gobierno. (Simplemente no es verdad que gran número de manifestantes haya tomado las armas desde un principio, aunque algunos fueron después forzados a hacerlo por la campaña militar agresiva de Gadafi en su contra. Aún no existen tropas entrenadas dignas de mención del lado rebelde).
    Algunos han levantado el cargo de que la acción de Libia tendría un olor neoconservador. Pero los neoconservadores odian a las Naciones Unidas y la quisieran destruir. Fueron a la guerra en Iraq pese a la falta de una autorización por parte del CSNU, de una manera que claramente contravenía la Carta de Naciones Unidas. Su portavoz, con breve pasada por el cargo de embajador ante Naciones Unidas, John Bolton, efectivamente en un momento negó que las Naciones Unidas siquiera existían. A los neoconservadores les encantó desplegar el músculo norteamericano unilateralmente y refregárselo a todos. Los que no estuvieron de acuerdo fueron objeto de acosos no menores. Francia, según prometió el entonces viceministro de defensa Paul Wolfowitz, sería “castigada” por negarse a caer sobre el Iraq al antojo de Washington. La acción de Libia, por contraste, cumple con todas las normas de derecho internacional y consultas multilaterales que los neoconservadores desprecian. No ha habido mezquindad. A Alemania no se le ‘castiga’ por no participar. Por otra parte, los neoconservadores querían ejercer todo el poder militar anglo-estadounidense para dañar al sector público e imponer una privatización con características de ‘terapia de choque’ con el fin de abrir el país conquistado a la penetración de las empresas occidentales. Toda esta ingeniería social requería botas en terreno, una invasión y ocupación terrestres. Un mero bombardeo aéreo limitado no podía tener por efecto aquella revolución capitalista extrema que buscaban. Libia en 2011 no es como Iraq en 2003 de ningún modo.
    Permitir que los neoconservadores se apropien de la intervención humanitaria como su marca registrada, afirmando que siempre sería un proyecto de ellos, le hace un grave daño al derecho internacional y a sus instituciones, dándoles un crédito que no merecen, por asuntos en los que de hecho no creen.
    La intervención en Libia se realizó de manera legal. Fue provocada por un voto de la Liga Árabe, que incluía a los gobiernos egipcio y tunesino, países recién liberados. Fue una resolución del Consejo de Seguridad de Naciones Unidas, el estandar de oro para intervenciones militares, la que instó a su realización. (Contrariamente a lo que algunos alegaron, las abstenciones de Rusia y China no le restan legitimidad ni fuerza jurídica a la resolución; solamente un veto podría haber tenido ese efecto. Cualquiera puede ser arrestado hoy en base a una ley aprobada por el Congreso, en cuya aprobación algunos diputados se hayan abstenido.)
    Entre las razones dadas por los críticos para rechazar la intervención se cuentan:
    1. Un pacifismo absoluto (el uso de la fuerza siempre es equivocado)
    2. Un anti-imperialismo absoluto (cualquier intervención externa en asuntos de los países es equivocada).
    3. Pragmatismo anti-militar: una creencia de que ningún problema social puede resolverse de manera útil por medio del uso de la fuerza militar.
    No abundan los pacifistas absolutos y yo voy a asumirlos simplemente y seguir adelante. Yo personalmente prefiero una opción por la paz en política mundial, en la que ésta debería ser la posición inicial por defecto. Pero la opción de paz se falsea en mi mente ante la oportunidad de parar un crimen de guerra de mayor envergadura.
    Los izquierdistas no siempre son aislacionistas. En EEUU, gente progresista de hecho fue a pelear en la Guerra Civil Española, formándose en la Brigada Lincoln. Esa fue una intervención extranjera. Los izquierdistas no tienen problemas con la intervención de Churchill y después de Roosevelt en contra del Eje. Hacer que el ‘anti-imperialismo’ anule a todos los demás valores de manera poco reflexiva lleva a posiciones francamente absurdas. Me faltan palabras para expresar lo molesto que estoy por la adulación de la franja de izquierda del presidente iraní, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sobre la base de que este sería ‘anti-imperialista’ y bajo el supuesto de que sería, de algún modo, de izquierda. Como pilar de un régimen represivo teocrático que reprime a los trabajadores, él es un hombre de extrema derecha y el hecho de que no le gusten los EEUU ni Europa Occidental no lo ennoblece.
    La tesis de que los problemas sociales no se resuelven exclusivamente por la fuerza militar puede ser cierta. Pero hay algunos problemas que no se pueden resolver sin que haya antes una intervención militar, dado que no llevarla a cabo permitiría la destrucción de las fuerzas progresistas. Los que argumentan que “los libios” deberían arreglar el asunto entre ellos están deliberadamente ignorando la inmensa superioridad represiva que le es dada a Gadafi por sus jets, helicópteros armados y tanques; los ‘libios’ estaban siendo aplastados inexorablemente. Tal aplastamiento puede mantenerse en efecto durante décadas.
    Suponiendo que la misión de la OTAN en Libia autorizada por la ONU es realmente limitada (esperan que a 90 días) y que se evite una ocupación militar extranjera, la intervención probablemente sea cosa buena en su conjunto, por muy desagradable que sea la grandilocuencia de Nicolas Satkozy. Por supuesto que no merece la confianza de los progresistas, pero, muy a su pesar, sus posibilidades están crecientemente acotadas por las instituciones internacionales, lo que limita el daño que podría causar mientras la campaña de bombardeo llega a su fin (Gadafi solamente tenía 2000 tanques, muchos de los cuales en mal estado, y no tardará en llegar el momento en que le queden tan pocos y los rebeldes hayan capturado una cantidad suficiente para nivelar el campo de juego, que poco más se pueda lograr desde el aire).
    Muchos lloran hipócritamente, citando otros lugares donde podría ponerse en práctica una intervención o expresando temores de que con Libia se establezca un precedente. A mi no me convencen esos argumentos. La intervención militar es siempre selectiva, en función de una constelación de voluntad política, capacidad militar, legitimidad internacional y limitaciones prácticas. La situación humanitaria en Libia era bastante singular. Se tenía a un conjunto de brigadas de tanques dispuestas a atacar a los disidentes, ya responsables por miles de víctimas y con la perspectiva de otros miles de muertos por delante, siendo que una intervención aérea por parte de la comunidad mundial podía marcar una diferencia rápida y eficaz.
    Esta situación no estaba dada así en la región de Darfur, en Sudan, donde el terreno y el conflicto eran tales que la sola intervención aérea habría sido inútil y solamente con tropas terrestres habría podido tener una esperanza de se eficaz. Pero oda una ocupación norteamericana del Iraq no pudo evitar los enfrentamientos urbanos entre sunitas y chiítas en los que murieron decenas de miles, por lo que incluso con botas en el terreno extenso de Darfur la operación podría haber fallado.
    Las otras manifestaciones de la Primavera Árabe no son comparables con Libia, porque en ninguno de esos países se ha visto una escala tal de pérdida de vidas humanas, ni ha sido tan central el papel de las brigadas blindadas, ni han pedido los disidentes una intervención, ni tampoco la Liga Árabe. Para la ONU, así de la nada, ordenar el bombardeo de Deraa en Siria en este momento no lograría nada, aparte de suscitar probablemente la indignación de todos los involucrados. El bombardeo de las brigadas de tanques que iban rumbo a Benghazi fue diferente.
    Es decir, en Libia la intervención fue pedida por el pueblo que estaba siendo masacrado, así como por las potencias regionales, fue autorizada por el CSNU y pudo en la práctica lograr su objetivo humanitario de prevenir una masacre por bombardeo aéreo y de brigadas blindadas asesinas. Y la intervención podía ser limitada y aún así lograr su objetivo.
    Tampoco entiendo la preocupación referente a sentar un precedente. El Consejo de Seguridad no es un tribunal y no funciona por precedentes. Es un organismo político y trabaja por voluntad política. Sus miembros no están obligados a hacer en otras partes lo que están haciendo en Libia, a no ser que así les plazca, y el veto de los cinco miembros permanentes asegura que una resolución como la 1973 raramente se dé. Pero sí hay un precedente que realmente se está sentando y es que si gobiernas un país y envías brigadas de tanques a asesinar un gran número de disidentes civiles, podrás ver tus blindados bombardeados en pedazos. No logro ver, qué hay de malo en eso.
    Otro argumento es que la zoma de no vuelo (y la zona de no transitar) se establece con el objetivo de derrocar a Gadafi, no para proteger a su pueblo de él, sino para abrir el camino para una dominación de las riquezas petroleras de Libia por EEUU, Gran Bretaña y Francia. Este argumento es bizarro. Los EEUU se negaron a hacer negocios en petróleo con Libia a fines de los 1980 y durante los 1990, cuando podrían haberlos hecho, porque le había impuesto al país un boicot. No quería tener acceso a ese mercado petrolero, que entonces le fue ofrecido a Washington repetidamente por Gadafi. Después de que Gadafi “volvió del frío” a fines de los 1990 (para la Unión Europea) y después del 2003 (para EEUU), las sanciones fueron levantadas y las compañías petroleras occidentales acudieron al país. Las compañías estadounidenses estuvieron bien representadas, junto a la BP y a la empresa italiana ENI. BP firmó con Gadafi un extenso contrato de exploración y no es probable que haya querido que su validez se pudiera en duda por una revolución. Para el sector de la industria petrolera no hay ventajas que se deriven de la remoción de Gadafi. De hecho, es posible que sea más difícil tratar con un nuevo gobierno o este puede no cumplir los compromisos adoptados por Gadafi. No existe la perspectiva de que a las compañías occidentales se les permita poseer campos petrolíferos en Libia, que fueron nacionalizados hace mucho tiempo. Por último, no siempre es de interés de la gran industria petrolera tener más petróleo en el mercado, ya que esto reduce el precio y – potencialmente – las ganancias. Una guerra en contra de Libia para obtener más y mejores contratos como para hacer bajar el precio mundial del petróleo no tiene sentido en un mundo en el que las ofertas se transan libremente y los altos precios han estado produciendo ganancias récord. No he visto que el argumento de la “guerra por el petróleo” aplicado a Libia tenga sentido alguno.
    Me gustaría instar a la izquierda a aprender a masticar chicle y caminar al mismo tiempo. Es posible razonar hasta el final, caso por caso, a una posición ética progresista que apoya la gente común en sus tribulaciones en lugares como Libia. Si simplemente no nos importa que la gente de Benghazi sea víctima de asesinato y represión a vasta escala, no somos gente de izquierda. Deberíamos evitar hacer de la “intervención extranjera” un tabú absoluto a la manera en que la derecha hace un tabú absoluto del aborto, si el hacerlo nos hace ser gente sin corazón (adoptar posiciones inflexibles a priori frecuentemente tiene ese efecto). Ahora es fácil olvidar que Winston Churchill ocupó posiciones absolutamente odiosas desde el punto de vista de la izquierda, que era un colonialista insufrible que se oponían a dejar ir a la India en 1947. Sus escritos están llenos de estereotipos raciales que son profundamente ofensivos cuando se los lee hoy en día. Algunas de sus intervenciones fueron, sin embargo, nobles y contaron casi universalmente con el apoyo de la izquierda de su época. Los aliados de las Naciones Unidas que ahora hacen retroceder a Gadafi están haciendo una buena cosa, cualquier cosa que se piense de algunos de sus líderes individuales.

  93. Dear Mr. Cole,

    Thank you for this highly thoughtful, rational, and cogent letter to “The Left”. As a progressive, and American, and someone who cares deeply about the Human Condition the world over, I agree completely, and commend you for using your voice to address increasingly irrational, absurd, and illogical positions in America re: the Libya intervention. This is a just mission that was initiated, and is being pursued properly, unlike the “interventions” the neocons, and their supporters, are always so willing, and happy, to crow about. Thankfully this situation in Libya, and the Mideast, happened on the watch of a reasonable, thoughtful, and rational American president with an excellent intellect who is willing to take the time to do things right despite the criticism, and political heat, he will surely receive from ALL quarters in the process. Finally, for once, we are doing the right thing, and I applaud you, sir, for standing up for this much needed action. Peace.

  94. Prof. Cole,

    I’m a long time admirer of your work.

    What is the end state you envision for Libya? What are the alternative scenarios? How probable is each outcome?

    I don’t feel I have enough information to evaluate probability for myself, but I do not trust the government and media to accurately evaluate the situation. The Iraq War was simply too big a blow to the establishment’s credibility for me to accept their judgment without an independent source that I trusted corroborating the evaluation.

  95. More of the same– solutions in a vacuum.

    For Libya, the US, France, and other global arms allies, are the exact same partners that armed Qaddafi to the teeth– and yet now are the ones most needed to make sure he doesn’t use those arms!

    (((Its never to little to ask about the monetary angle involved…))

    But as for the sort of thinking on display here…. It pretty much lands your desire for the tribe to “chew gum and walk at the same time” in the same camp of a lot of whats wrong with the leadership mentality of the USA today.

    Unfortunately muddled, without principle, and in the service of a global monetary elite.

    You land with a thud in nothing but a variation of the “we broke it so now we have to fix it” mantra of shallow thing that been going on and on across the board (and we’ll fix it with even more of the same). The same sort of crap on display with the bailouts and loss of civil liberties… Iraq, TARP, Patriot Act, Bailouts, Libya… its a long line.

    As for the Left here, it is intellectual pretending that its not being a tool to play along (as wannabee imperialist liberals) with the neocons (as if one just needs to figure out a rationale that posits pragmatic realism as a principle). Can’t we just cut the bullshit and explain its a “make it up as it goes” which just is another way of same the more of the same.

    And my gawd MORZER, is mouthing a shallow slogan like “the greater good of the global community” what passes? Even while in service of the neocons you ought to demand more of yourself!

  96. I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time.

    Perhaps you should consider that the people you disparage have very good reason to suspect armed intervention in the Middle East by us. It’s been a decades long version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, with the ostensible beneficiaries of our altruism paying the biggest price.

    The burden of proof is on those who say (as they always do), “It’s different this time!”

  97. Mr Cole: we are not intervening merely to stop the potential massacre in Banghazi! That is every interventionist’s best argument, and it would be persuasive if the revealed objective of the intervention had been to stop it. Please, argue for the intervention that has actually taken place, for which stopping the massacre was a side-benefit used as an excuse for regime change.

  98. More of the same– solutions in a vacuum.

    For Libya, the US, France, and other global arms allies, are the exact same partners that armed Qaddafi to the teeth– and yet now are the ones most needed to make sure he doesn’t use those arms!

    (((Its never to little to ask about the monetary angle involved…))

    But as for the sort of thinking on display here…. It pretty much lands your desire for the tribe to “chew gum and walk at the same time” in the same camp of a lot of whats wrong with the leadership mentality of the USA today.

    Unfortunately muddled, without principle, and in the service of a global monetary elite.

    You land with a thud in nothing but a variation of the “we broke it so now we have to fix it” mantra of shallow thing that been going on and on across the board (and we’ll fix it with even more of the same). The same sort of crap on display with the bailouts and loss of civil liberties… Iraq, TARP, Patriot Act, Bailouts, Libya… its a long line.

    As for the Left here, I see intellectual pretending that its not being a tool to play along (as wannabee imperialist liberals) with the neocons (as if one just needs to figure out a rationale that posits pragmatic realism as a principle). Can’t we just cut the bullshit and explain its a “make it up as it goes” intervention theory which just is another way of saying more of the same in the service of the same.

    And my gawd MORZER, is mouthing a shallow slogan like “the greater good of the global community” what passes? Even while in service of the neocons you ought to demand more of yourself!

  99. I am a member of the Socialism and Freedom party in Brazil, and was feeling very isolated in my position to support the Freedom Fighters in Libya, and the coallition air attacks, until I read your article. Very well put. The left here only points the imperialist “façade” of the coallition, some parties even criticize Gadaffi as a dictator, while the PC’s support him, but no one offers any solution. Mass killings in Benghasi? It is as if it doesn’t concern the left. Declarations, meetings and manifestations don’t have any effect on murderer’s states.
    Your comparision with the Prague Spring will catch them by the balls, pardon my language.
    Best regards.

  100. ” In the US, progressive people actually went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, forming the Lincoln Brigade. That was a foreign intervention.”

    This is one of the most bizarre arguments I’ve seen in a long time. The Lincoln Brigade is somebhow comparable to bombing in support of a no-fly zone? Really? I would have thought that going to fight in Libya against Gaddafi would be a comparable action.

    That’s even assuming that the differences between Nationalist and Republicans in Spain were in any way similar to the differences between Gaddafi and his opponents, which claim would take a great deal of intellectual gymnastics to maintain.

    It’s all very well to cry “it’s not like Iraq” – as if, indeed, opponents of military intervention only talked about Iraq, whereas in fact they refer also to the long, long list of dubious, failed and disastrous military interventions that preceded it. But if you’re going to complain that this war is not like the Iraq War, you scarcely support your case by claiming that it’s like another war which it does not very much resemble.

    It’s a confused case you make, but for that matter it’s a confused intervention, the nature of which will surely change, as will the justifications that are made for it. But whatever else it is, it isn’t Spain.

  101. Professor Cole’s open letter is a quite persuasive argument. My one concern with the Libya actions is that it sends the message that making a deal with the U.S. on weapons of mass destruction means that the U.S. will turn around and crush you. When talking about the dictators in Iran and North Korea, perhaps that message doesn’t matter.

  102. well, when does America impose a no fly zone over Gaza or defend Bahrain?

    Oil, Oil, Oil. and Israel.

    walking and chewing gum at the same time!!!

  103. I just had to register to thank you for this detailed and thoughtful article. I agree with every word.

    I hope this goes viral.

  104. Cogent, ethical, empathetic assessment, Professor.

    And, this part is, worthy of wide distribution:

    “I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical progressive position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya. If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left.”

    So true. So, very true.

  105. I thought that “Al Qaeda” was code for “Islamists,” not the actuall Al-Qaeda.

  106. I think the intervention is likely to achieve its short-term Humanitarian goals. But Humanitarianism is only the indirect motive. I see the oil contract situation differently than Cole.

    It is true that the foreign energy/oil companies have been successful in Libya recently. The recent lifting of political barriers has given them access to the largest oil reserves in Africa. If Qaddafi had quickly suppressed the protests then it would have been business as usual.

    Also, it was initially possible that the rebels could have withstood the tanks & planes and quickly replaced Qaddafi. In this case the contracts would likely have been continued.

    But the rebels had so much early success that it was taking a civil war, with tanks and planes versus civilians, to suppress. The result was that Qaddafi was winning.

    But Qaddafi did not have that much, what to call it, “international political capital” to spend. The world could have let Qaddafi massacre the rebels, but then they would have been obliged to keep up the sanctions and embargoes that had already been quickly slapped into place. This would have cut off the new energy/oil business contracts.

    Qaddafi winning at this cost in civilian lives was the clear and present danger to the energy/oil companies. This is why the Libyan rebels got their Humanitarian intervention, because Qaddafi was reverting to being too unloved and villainous to do business with. The killing of civilians on this scale did trigger Humanitarian disgust and, in Libya, this disgust was returning Libya to embargoed status.

    The Humanitarian impulse thus did save the rebels, but only in the context of immanent oil embargo.

    This is why I think the other countries killing protesters are different. There is no history of sanctions and embargoes like in Libya, and there is no danger the world will impose embargoes for the deaths of the protestors. Even if tanks and planes were used against civilians I do not think the same embargoes would materialize.

  107. You raise some excellent points in defense of intervention in Libya. Other points maybe aren’t so excellent. But the bottom line is nobody cares what the Left thinks about Libya, just like nobody cared what we thought about Iraq or Afghanistan. So your post, while it has some compelling points, is largely irrelevant, as is the Left in the United States right now. Whether we’re for it, against it, or straddling the fence, the locomotive of history will head where it’s going to head, with or without us.

  108. I strongly agree. I depend on Juan Cole for solid information and clear insight, and you have come through again. I base my own evaluations and hopes drawing upon my experiences in Central Europe, starting in the seventies. I too remember the despair of 1968 and truly enjoyed 1989 and its complicated aftermath. I hope for a mission creep supporting a successful Arab Spring, link to The aftermath will be messy but is the region’s great chance.

  109. Thank you for this. I agree.

    But I noticed that you did not address Bahrain which is similar to Libya in the “uniqueness” of its humanitarian situation, as you say in paragraphs 16 and 18):

    In Bahrain, you have a set of tank brigades willing to attack dissidents (and actually attacking them), responsible for as large a percentage of casualties in Bahrain as they are in Libya and with the prospect of more to come if the protestors do not stop (which they won’t) and a political solution cannot be found once “national dialogue” begins (IF it begins, such a solution will most certainly not be found), where minimal (but not in this case, aerial) intervention by the world community could make a quick and effective difference, and where the dissidents have asked for UN protection and therefore international intervention. As for the Arab League, I’m not sure what principle of the Left would make it okay to support ANYTHING they Arab League asks for when it is run by dictatorial regimes (though I acknowledge that it was good for PR that it asked for Libyan intervention).

    The elephant in the room for Bahrain is, of course, Saudi Arabia. But I’d like to see Saudi Arabia stand up to a UN Resolution by the Security Council that it has to stop supporting Bahrain’s brutal repression of its own people–it would not happen. The Saudi regime is at its base a bunch of weak cowards who are only effective at crushing unarmed civilians. They couldn’t even handle the invasion of Kuwait without crying out for big brother USA to help them. The West’s hypocrisy on Bahrain is intolerable. And it will come back to haunt us.

  110. This article attempts the impossible:to convince the Left to support the present imperialist intervention at all. I am afraid, in order to convince us to support such horror, Mr. Cole would have to do much more than just preoccupy us with a list of arguments and counter arguments. Mr. cole would have to overturn our political,psychological, economic,emotional and intellectual constitution. Even more, the author of the above article would have to delete whatever collective memory leftists, especially Arab leftists have about the workings of Empire.
    The thread unifying this listing of arguments for or against is maintained by an unseemly assumption that, unlike the Left, Mr. Cole, and the boring missile-firing-gang-of-arab-hating-colonialists, are the only ones who care about the vulnerability of Libyan civilians.
    Liberals of our time (the time of revolution and counter-revolution) may celebrate the arguments made in the article at a huge cost: excrutiating nausea. However,the big questions that must be answered will still need to be at least asked. Will this intervention protect civilians? Will it lead to a revolutionary change in Libya? Who is it the Nato led bombing is killing? Who is running the “revolutionary” show in Libya? Where are the Libyan masses that can convince us of the possibility of a revolution without a revolutionary leadership? What secret services are at work? What is Nato’s next Arab target? Syria? Iran?
    Let me finish this comment insired by the sour feelings that Cole’s appeal has generated, let me finish by saying, that any leftist who supports the intervention has indeed joined Hitchen’s camp of betrayal. A leftist is not only someone who must have answers to every bloody question, but, first and foremost, someone who can endure the tragic grounds upon which s/he lives, struggles, dreams, desires. A revolution in Libya or anywhere else is not only about toppling a dictator like Qaddafi, but is about recapturing our ability to dream up a trully honorable life. Like Che said: never trust imperialists, NEVER.

    • Well as an “Arab Leftist” I never needed any convincing that what Cole was getting at was correct.

      Try the argument from another Arab Leftist and staunch anti-Imperialist Gilbert Achcar for size:
      from: link to

      “A final comment: for so many years, we have been denouncing the hypocrisy and double standard of imperialist powers, pointing to the fact that they didn’t prevent the all-too-real genocide in Rwanda while they intervened in order to stop the fictitious “genocide” in Kosovo. This implied that we thought that international intervention should have been deployed in order to prevent or stop the genocide in Rwanda. The left should certainly not proclaim such absolute “principles” as “We are against Western powers’ military intervention whatever the circumstances.” This is not a political position, but a religious taboo. One can safely bet that the present intervention in Libya will prove most embarrassing for imperialist powers in the future. As those members of the US establishment who opposed their country’s intervention rightly warned, the next time Israel’s air force bombs one of its neighbours, whether Gaza or Lebanon, people will demand a no-fly zone. I, for one, definitely will. Pickets should be organized at the UN in New York demanding it. We should all be prepared to do so, with now a powerful argument.

      The left should learn how to expose imperialist hypocrisy by using against it the very same moral weapons that it cynically exploits, instead of rendering this hypocrisy more effective by appearing as not caring about moral considerations. They are the ones with double standards, not us.”

      Ideology is sometimes the enemy of rational thinking as well as moral reasoning.

  111. Professor – The elephant in the corner of this piece is the lack of Congressional approval for this action. It is all well and good that the Arab League and the UN passed resolutions. I don’t care. If Presidents want to use US force, they should have to get Congressional approval first.

    • Here spoke another friend of the US empire and enemy of the UN – this way of thinking seems to have an overwhelming majority in the US

    • “Professor – The elephant in the corner of this piece is the lack of Congressional approval for this action. It is all well and good that the Arab League and the UN passed resolutions. I don’t care. If Presidents want to use US force, they should have to get Congressional approval first.”

      Did Reagan seek or get it before he sent US jets to bomb Libya in 1986, after the attacks on the Berlin disco?

      Did Bush jnr seek it, immediately after 9/11, before announcing on the still smouldering rubble of the Twin Towers, whilst surrounded by firemen and other emergency workers, “I hear ya – and the people who did this will be hearing from us pretty soon, too!”?

      Did Bush snr seek it before invading Panama in 1989?

      Did Reagan seek it prior to the invasion of Grenada in 1983?

      Did Bush snr seek it when establishing the Iraqi No-Fly Zones immediately after the First Gulf War (1991/2)?

      And lastly, the President doesn’t require Congressional approval for every NATO mission (as is the case today in Libya) in which US military assets are used – Obama has obviously been the polar opposite to all three above named GOP presidents in thinking about a US response long and hard – and that in the face of Hawk/Fox ‘News’ whining.

    • I already said I would have preferred a Congressional resolution, last Monday.

      But the Senate did overwhelmingly call for a no-fly zone over Libya, early in the crisis, so they cannot complain very much (in fact none of them is complaining at all).

  112. Prof. Cole, You seem very much informed about the Libyan issue, so, please, inform us if there are any atrocities committed by the armed rebels, i.e. they are no more “innocent civilians”. I have heard them describing how they approach a city, conquer it, clean it of Qadafi supporters, but have not say how they implement this “cleaning”. Do they take prisoners? or do not.

  113. Oh, and your view that the Soviets were “allowed” to put down the Czech uprising seems naive in the extreme. The was no realistic opportunity for any outside power to prevent the Soviets from invading. It wasn’t just a question of willpower, it was a matter of facts on the ground. Sad to see a professional historian dabbling in easily disproven delusions. Doesn’t exactly strengthen the impression you seek to convey, that the West can fairly easily dispose of matters in Libya as they choose.

    • Odd, my main critique of you piece was not posted but this minor addendum was.

  114. if we’re too damned broke to fix our schools and roads and bridges, then we have no need to rebuild such infrastructure in iraq or afganistan or now in libya where we blew them up for a cool $150 mil and counting. we are not the policeman to the world and the number one issue in america is JOBS, or rather the lack thereof. blowing up evil dictators may make the newspaper, but it does little to help america in the long run, especially come election time when it doesn’t matter where obama was born or the color of his skin, but the fact that he’s done jack diddly to protect the middle classes from getting financially raped by the assholes who stole our jobs and sold them to india.

  115. The support for this war appears widespread, if the media are to be believed. Many of my regular correspondents on email lists and Facebook however, understand the truth: it will turn out badly. Juan, there is a good reason for pacifism –you might regard it as pragmatic, just as you did your third subtype “antiwar pragmatists”. Pacifism is the logical approach for people who understand that physical things are unimportant beyond the necessities of life. It is true that one can experience pleasure or unpleasure by wealth or other physical configurations around us, but ironically, it is far easier to become happy by reconfiguring one’s mind by reducing its desires. I do confess to needing food and shelter etc. — I’m not talking about that, and, Libyans were not starving. They’re engaged in a struggle over nothing. I don’t know why you’re glad that one side or another is ‘winning’ nothing. If I were Libyan I would stay away from the fight.

    • That’s pretty easy for you to say as you have never lived under a dictatorship. Under those circumstances you may reconsider the position of willful obedience.

      Its equally easy to clutch at principles of pacifism when your family’s life is on the line. I doubt you could find a single Qaddafi stooge that would share your moral conviction.

      • Thank you Meshiea. I’ve heard the same challenge many times. If forced to fight, then most people fight. My point is, given the alternative (fleeing to the refugee camps, etc) most people take it. You seem predisposed to violence, or at least, insufficiently aware of the many options of avoidance–especially with adequate forsight and recognition of emerging threats (requiring intelligence), and strength of will to migrate and leave ones tribe behind.

  116. It seems that most of the comments here prove Dr. Cole’s points about worrying about abstract principles like anti-colonialism and foreign intervention (which fyi for all those worried about inconsistency, was requested by Libyans but not by Yemenis or Bahrainis or Syrians) over the lives of people in Benghazi. I haven’t seen a single commenter say what they’d do to protect those people, unless I missed something (special kudos to the guy who wants Iran to get nukes).

    • The honest ones admit that’s it not about oil or Al Qaeda or because we haven’t done the same for Bahrain or Yemen or Ivory Coast — it’s because of the money and the fact that it will be used as an excuse to slash more of America’s social safety net. (Which is indeed a real concern, and why if I were in Congress I’d try to push for undoing the Bush tax cuts so we can pay for it. Never before Bush has the US ever cut taxes during a war.)

  117. Juan,

    I have admired you for years and been a daily reader of the blog. However, I must part company with you regarding the intervention in Libya.

    I am an ‘absolute pacifist’, in that I would never countenance violence, not even in self-defense.

    That personal opinion aside, however, it is unequivocally true that America’s intervention is unconstitutional, and that this is an impeachable offense.

    It is also screamingly obvious that, once again, our foreign policy is being driven by oil. Intervention only became ‘imperative’ once Gaddafi announced that he would no longer do business with the US or European countries other than Germany.

    The governments of Yemen and Bahrain also cracked down on their citizens–but those governments are ‘the good guys’, so we cannot intervene on behalf of those ‘rebels’.

    I understand that a number of the Libyan opposition leaders are deeply unpleasant former Gaddafi colleagues. Meet the new strongmen, same as…

    Thanks for all you do, and I’ll continue to read you on a daily basis, even though I strongly disagree with you on this issue.

    • Actually you are wrong regarding the legality of the military option.

      He still technically has 90 days under the War Powers Act and he did inform congress prior to action. In addition as a signatory to the UN the president has authority to intervene in a military action approved by the UNSC:

      See this for the specifics: link to

      As pointed out by another poster above Yemen Bahrain Syria have not formed a coalition of town-city leaders and asked for an NFZ, neither is an entire city on the verge of an imminent slaughter. (Why does this have to be repeated ad nauseum?).

      The skepticism about what will come next reminds me a lot of the Right wing orientalist tendency to see it as impossible that the genuine motives of Arab people could be to aspire to freedoms that the West seems to take for granted as “self-evident.”

  118. I don’t consider myself a person of the left, a progressive or a liberal, so perhaps I should not comment. When the Secretary of Defense says, without having resigned, that a country in which we are militarily engaged affects no vital interest of the United States, as a citizen of our bankrupt country, I stare in slack-jawed wonder.

    Resources are limited. War is a horror, justified only in extremis. Our liberal interventionists seem ready to go to war because Anderson Cooper is upset. We need a radical cutback in our overseas entanglements, a severe reduction in our military budget, and the eloquent clown in the White House gives us a third war, while Kristof and Cole applaud.

    Sorry, don’t get this a-tall.

  119. I should add – Wikileaks cable 07TRIPOLI1056 was released on 31/01/2011. This might be highly significant in the sequence of events.

  120. It seems the invasion of Libya was designed to further divide the Left…

  121. “The Left” could ask you to “chew gum and walk at the same time” yourself. I don’t particularly disagree with you on UNSC 1973, but your silence on Western support for other regimes in the region that are cutting down un-armed non-violent protesters — as compared to Libya’s cutting down of an armed insurgency — is ringing in my ears. Particularly after laying out this battery of straw men against unnamed, possibly imaginary opponents.

    Maybe I don’t read enough of “the left”, but the arguments I’ve seen in the wild have been: the usual complaints regarding the coalition leaders’ war powers lacking legislative approval; that to the extent that the coalition is using the cover of 1973 to support the rebels against the regime it’s in contravention of the UN Charter’s prohibition against interfering in the internal affairs of member states; and, beyond rule of law concerns, perfectly justifiable skepticism about the means and intentions of the states leading the coalition. As far as that goes, applauding this intervention without having such reservations would be incredibly naive, and there’s scant reassurance to be found here, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a retort addressed to nobody in particular.

  122. Prof Cole’s argument leads to this:
    1) The Israelis are apparently preparing for Cast Lead, The Sequel against Gaza, which will feature planes and tanks killing and injuring thousands more defenseless civilians–just as Qaddafi’s forces have done.
    2) The Arab League will surely advocate intervention against Israel–just as they did against Qudaffi.
    3) Therefore Prof Cole will advocate that the US support a UN security council resolution authorizing a no-fly, no-harm-to-civilians zone throughout Israel and Palestine.
    4) The US will introduce such a resolution, it will pass, and an international coalition will bomb Israel from end to end to destroy its air defenses, planes, tanks, armored personnel carriers, navy bases, and other targets including command and control centers–just as the coalition is doing in Libya.
    But everybody knows this will not happen. What is the difference?

  123. Terrific article Juan – for a veteran like me, this article is pleasantly unbelievable. Some sense and decency in the ranks of the left.

  124. Well written , lots of words..but after all that the question remains for both the left and right: Do we have any idea exactly who “the rebels” are and what will transpire when and IF Qadaffi is gone?

    • Care of Gilbert Achcar:

      from: link to

      “So who is the opposition? The composition of the opposition is — as in all the other revolts shaking the region — very heterogeneous. What unites all the disparate forces is a rejection of the dictatorship and a longing for democracy and human rights. Beyond that, there are many different perspectives. In Libya, more particularly, there is a mixture of human rights activists, democracy advocates, intellectuals, tribal elements, and Islamic forces — a very broad collection. The most prominent political force in the Libyan uprising is the “Youth of the 17th of February Revolution,” which has a democratic platform, calling for the rule of law, political freedoms, and free elections. The Libyan movement also includes sections of the government and the armed forces that have broken away and joined the opposition — which you didn’t have in Tunisia or Egypt.

      So the Libyan opposition represents a mixture of forces, and the bottom line is that there is no reason for any different attitude toward them than to any other of the mass uprisings in the region.”

  125. The powers that be in the USA don’t give a shit about the Americans who are dying from lack of health care, don’t care about the Americans how have lost their jobs, their pensions, their homes due to financial crimes (that NO ONE has been arrested for), and surely don’t give a shit about your average Libyan.

  126. I divide “the left” into two broad camps here.

    1. Democracy now kids who ARE absolutists, who view everything through the lens of evil American IMPERIALISM, and are full of Chomskyish arguments that are designed to persuade the fat lady with a flag pin in front of them in line at the Cinnabon at their local mall. Wide-eyed and unsophisticated, these tools of counter-propaganda are cute, but not worth arguing with.

    2. People like Greenwald, Jon Stewart, Michael Lind, Hitchens, etc, who can admit that our species is still a few centuries away from eradicating war. The opposition coming from these people is more baffling. I think it is largely shock from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    These people need to consider what kind of foreign policy they want!

    This intervention is NOT “Liberal Internationalism,” and it’s OBVIOUSLY NOT MUSCULAR WILSONIANISM! (Thank you for pointing that out Prof. Cole!)

    Libya make look like liberal internationalism, it may sound like liberal internationalism, but it really, really is a policy of restraint. In fact, it’s basically the foreign policy I prefer, which I call “Restraint Plus,” since I consider human rights and democratization as valid FP goals, unlike the “realists” who generally prefer “dry” restraint.

    We basically had everyone who matters (Arab League!?!) begging us to go in. Instead of barging in, we are sauntering in at the nick of time, to tip the scales in our favor. And furthering the democratization wave IS in our favor. This is restraint, these are the fruits of restraint, and anyone who can’t see the restraint for the UN resolutions shouldn’t be commenting on foreign policy matters. Personally, I consider this a new leaf. Let the era of American Dithering begin!

    Let’s talk about what’s happening in the region. This is a crucial region for energy security. We have been fucking up there for the past decade, and Iran is becoming powerful. The locals will not abide our occupations, and good for them, but we don’t want the Mullahs to have their hand on the spigot, either.

    Having a middle east with independent, democratic Arab states is the next best thing to the immoral goal of US Imperialism. And it’s a moral outcome! The people who fought the US tooth and nail are not going to be any more accommodating to Chinese hegemony. They ARE going to be focused on providing jobs to their people, which means peaceful participation in global systems. That means they aren’t going to be bandwagoning with the Mullahs, either.

    This is a rare moment. Bombing is one of the only policies that is easy to get through our political system, and here it is actually a good thing. This basically never happens, and we should be appreciative.

    • “everyone who matters”? Well, except the US Congress, which wasn’t consulted. Which of your two simplistic camps do they fall into? And you have no clue who the rebels even are, so why do you assume this is a democratization movement? Finally, if “We have been fucking up there for the past decade” as you say, it is because of exactly the actions we are now using in Libya: bombs instead of diplomacy. Qaddafi was the friend of American and European leaders for decades, until he decided to cut western oil companies out of his game. Then, behold! We found our humanitarian hearts and invaded Libya. And guys like you drank the kool-aid.

  127. I appreciate your knowledge and feel better for having read this article, but you truly lost me at the title. Sick and tired of everything being viewed through right and left lenses. I just don’t think that way nor do I care what one team is arguing. Too much time, print, words and intelligence wasted on it instead of thinking of better solutions. Move forward, not back and forth.

  128. He mis-characterizes some of the opposition arguments for intervention, but does make some good points. My position isn’t that Libyans should just be slaughtered, but if it’s a UN resolution to bomb Libya, why does the US need to take the lead? If we are unable to afford to pay teachers and government workers, how do we have the money to get in a fourth (including Pakistan) war? Will saving Libyans mean letting Americans starve? Also, for every life “saved” by bombs, how many are taken away?

  129. Professor–

    As a conservative, I normally find myself in stark disagreement with you. But this piece was cogently and convincingly argued, and I found myself nodding in agreement. Very well done, one of the most articulate and thoughtful analyses I have read about the intervention.

  130. While it is almost a given that this so-called “humanitarian intervention” will end badly for the people of Libya, one factor that should not be ignored since it was used to justify the intervention in the first place were the repeated threats by both Khadafy and playboy son Saif al-Islam to carry out a door to door bloodbath against the people of Benghazi. Dictator and son declared them to be foreigners in the pay of Al-Qaeda and Libyan tanks and armored personnel carriers were on the road to Benghazi to carry out their threats when they were attacked by French aircraft and destroyed.

    Whether they would actually have carried out what they promised we will never know but it must be understood that their threats to do so were the equivalent of an engraved intervention to intervene.

    The idea that any country and I mean ANY country would conduct its foreign policies based on humanitarian principles is belied by history and the records of the US, UK and France are certainly proof of that.

    France’s Sarkozy acted quickly because he stood to be embarrassed by the close relationship he had with both the colonel and his son which reportedly included the latter contributing considerable sums to his election victory. British ties to the Khadafi regime also included payoffs to important Brits and the report that part of the deal to allow BP to obtain a lucrative exploration contract with Libya was the release from a Scottish prison of the man convicted, probably wrongly, of the Lockerbie bombing.

    There is strong evidence that this intervention was not something the Obama administration wanted or needed at this time and remember, it was Defense/War Secretary Gates who first publicly objected to the no-fly zone because it could not be enforced without taking out Libya’ air defenses which would be an act of war. The French and British positions made it difficult for Washington not to participate.

    What is curious is that there has been no mention by those defending Khadafi of his collaboration and that of his intelligence services with the CIA in the so-called “war on terror” and reports that Libya was part of Bush’s “extraordinary rendtion” network.

    Nor have we heard about his ordering the murder of 1200 prisoners in Benghazi in 1996.

    This sad state of events exposes a glaring problem that has characterized a significant segment of the US and Western Left going back to the days of Stalin, and that is its tendency to see everything in black and white terms.

    To this segment, which has been out in full force on this issue, the only criteria that is necessary to judge a dictatorship or a dictatorial central committee is where it stands in respect to US and Western imperialism.

    If it is opposed by the US and it allies, it must be defended, regardless of the fact that it might be a police state which denies to its peoples the right to dissent politically from official government policies and practices and to organize opposition to that government. In other words, the double standards of that segment of the left are no different from those wielding power in Washington.

    This is one of the reasons the peoples of the former Soviet satellites, all of which were police states, when they were struggling for their liberation, turned to the likes of Reagan and Thatcher who opportunistically reached out to them and not to the so-called Left in the US and the West that had shown them their backs as they are doing to the people of Libya today.

    P.S. The report, noted in an earlier post, that 300 US and British troops had landed in Eastern Libya to advise and train the rebels, was linked to the website of Debka, an Israeli “intelligence” cite with known links to Mossad. That this is the only source for the story should make it subject to question.

    The same can be said for the same writer’s citing of Greg Palast, an avid defender of Israel and who once called Al-Jazeera, “the terrorists’ network,” that the war for Iraq was to keep Iraqi oil off the market and that this was the reason behind the intervention in Libya.

    Let that writer and Palast explain why as soon as it was possible, seven Western oil companies scrambled to get a piece of Libya’s valuable crude.

    • Jeff

      You write:
      “This sad state of events exposes a glaring problem that has characterized a significant segment of the US and Western Left going back to the days of Stalin, and that is its tendency to see everything in black and white terms.

      To this segment, which has been out in full force on this issue, the only criteria that is necessary to judge a dictatorship or a dictatorial central committee is where it stands in respect to US and Western imperialism.”

      I fully agree with this. There is, however, something I would like to add here, which in a way forms a postscript to my earlier comment.

      In that comment I asked why many on the left seem so oblivious to the crimes of dictators who are not in some way affiliated to the west, while they are intensely alert to all crimes which can be attributed to the west.

      It occurred to me that for these leftists the crimes of the anti-western dictators are in a certain sense, irrelevant, they are detours from, distractions from, the main flow of history, the central struggle of our times, namely that of the left against capitalist democracy (and I’m sure some on the left would consider that to be an oxymoron).

      These same leftists also consider themselves to be combating imperialism. In passing one might note here that many dictatorships implement what, in its structure, might be said to be a form of “imperialism in one country”. But that is not the point which I emphasize here.

      In drawing attention to the criteria much of the left use to judge dictatorships, namely whether they pro or anti western imperialism, you are drawing attention towards something which tends to get missed in these kinds of discussion.

      For the left the 200 year struggle between the left and capitalism is the central historical conflict of our times. For the much of the left everything which happens in the third world is evaluated through the lens of this conflict.

      But, if we change our point of view somewhat, we might see the struggle between the left and capitalism as an internal conflict within the west, part of the western political tradition. From this perspective to view third world events primarilly through the lens of this tradition is to impose a western viewpoint on those events.

      I am not saying here that people in the third world may not come to identify with this struggle, but rather that to insistently impose this perspective tends to blind the left to anything which does not fit the template of this struggle.

      Even worse it encourages a view in which people in the third world are seen largely as active or passive actors in this struggle, so, for example, the victims of state crimes are evaluated in terms of whether or not they are victims of capitalist imperialism.

      This discource, without consciously intending it, tends to reduce the people of the third world into the raw materials of ideological combat – this victim was tortured by the west – so a good victim for our purposes – this victim was tortured on the orders of Kim Jong Il – so not much use for us.

      I would contest that the discourse of much of the left retains a fundamentally imperialist structure. This, is of course, unsurprising. The discourse of the left is the child of western political discourse, and as the left considers itself to be resolutely anti-imperialist it is unsurprising that it should fail to look at itself to see whether it might have inherited something of the imperialist structure of thought so prevalent in the west during the left’s own formative period.

      • Well said – though the last paragraph was some bit of contortion and reduces the aggregate strength of your argument.

        On the other hand – there are good theories why democracy is limited to liberal-capitalist societies, and that democratic socialism is an oxymoron. Compare the Soviet Union to America – which of them has a stronger claim to democracy?

  131. as some one else said your standing as a commentator remains undiminished despite the straw-manish special pleading character of your piece; the left’s assessment of MQ in Libya is problematic at best,
    1) the main problems of your arguments center around (as many commentators note) the fact that there are few calls for intervention in other ME country’s where governments are mowing down citizens; substantial experience makes that fact alone a very strong signal that the real motives are other than those stated

    2) the points made @J.Kessler are dead on; since the early 20th century political defeat of outright US Imperialsts, the issue is never about direct control of the OIL (or other resource) fields, simply that production continues to the benefit of the US/EU economies which are facing rising OIL Prices in the context of economies which are shaky at best.
    There can be little doubt that the rebels are the best option for achieving the goal of re-starting OIL production/exports most quickly and are most likely to let the vast OIL reserves at the most favorable terms.
    The first step will immediately reverse the current upward trend on OIL prices and the latter (not withstanding the longish lead time to bring on line) will likely bring them down significantly. This twofer on world OIL prices will almost certainly be a major domestic political boost to Sarkozy, Obama, etc. all of whom are on shaky political ground as it is, just as Bush was in 2001-3.
    So once again
    Oh, Oh, Oh What a Lovely War

  132. Juan, Please tell me where to confirm the numbers you refer to. “8,000 killed”. Also, I watch Democracy Now everyday and have not seen a reference to “thousands killed” please give date of show and segment.

    If your numbers are correct, I believe this may be a justified action, but I can not find confirmation.


    • There are at the minimum 50 killed a day as reported by the media – so that amounts to at least 2,000 killed in the past 40 days. At the start of the uprising and during the battles of Zawiya and Ajdabia and Benghazi – there were spikes in killings. Also at least 1,000 of Ghaddafi’s security forces have been killed.

      Then there are the “disappeared” which can double or triple that number easily.

      The rebels now claim over 10,000 killed.

      Pls. check with the reporting agencies.

  133. Prof. Cole,

    I highly respect your analysis and opinion on the Middle East. As a matter of fact your website is usually the first one I read every morning. However, there are many good reasons to be very skeptical of the military intervention in Libya.

    1) It sets another precedence of imperial presidency. Whatever happened to the constitutional requirement that wars can only be declared by the congress?

    2) While an intervention in Libya is the right thing to do, why does it always and immediately have to be a military one? Have all other options been sufficiently tried? Certainly not. This sets another precedence for militarization of world politics.

    3) When GB, France and US military pounds an Arab state and when their leaders take a holier than thou attitude, this may fool western audience – but believe me not the people of the south or the east. Historical facts overwhelmingly tell them to be cautious, very cautious.

    4) If one billion dollar has to be spent for this military intervention (estimate from Aljazeera), then it is legitimate to ask why not other humanitarian causes, of which many, many exist and which would have helped many more
    civilians than being helped in Libya.

    I don’t care for “left” or “right’ labels, but I am very glad that these skeptics are making themselves be heard. Based on the above mentioned and many more reasons (and based on historic evidence) I find it irresponsible to trust them blindly.

    • This comment is once again a typical US Empire standpoint: UNSC is not even mentioned neither is the associated international legitimation of the police action against the Gadafi damily gang. In view of this US centered thinking there is obviously a lot of work left to anchor multilateralism and the rule of (international) law in the minds of US citizens.

  134. Thanks Juan, for the clarity of your arguments.

    I watched the Sunday political discussions and was very dismayed to see a lack of opinions from ‘people of color’. I don’t ascribe this to any plan. It just reminds me of what it feels like when panels of men discuss women’s issues. A different perspective could be helpful.

  135. I just heard on the radio that Berlusconi and Merkel are engineering a cease fire and an exit strategy for Gaddafi & Sons Inc. The latter would be given sanctuary in Italy (Sardinia perhaps) and/or Germany (maybe Berchtesgaden). From where I assume they can direct terrorist operations, against Britain and France.

    I made comment the other day suggesting that the use of the word “allies” to describe those implementing UN-SC 1973 was inappropriate, as it harked back to “Allied Powers” and “Allied Forces” as used in WW1 & WW2 respectively.

    If what I just heard is true, then might this a reconstitution of the Axis Powers

    I found this Turkish report which hints at what I just heard ===>>> link to

    Here is a Google Translation

    Berlusconi Sarkozy: just can not let us out of pure

    Gathered in Brussels for crisis EU summit in Libya, then to France sharply criticized Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, “They (the Allies) wants to leave us out of pure. But we also have ideas about the subject until at least the French. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel bulaşmamakla this business have been hit, “he said.

    Berlusconi “This summit, just plenty of prattle and was babbling. I fell silent. But when it comes time to talk. It’s too painful to talk, “he said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi aimed at David Cameron, “that they do not even know what our role in our in Libya. International rights unaware. Initiatives in the news does not bring any results. I still do not think Gaddafi will resist until the end. However, more than expected according to the chair seat to me. To go into exile, but maybe I can convince him, “he said.

    Freedom, 27-03-2011 11:01 (GMT)

  136. An excellent statement of principles and a forthright taking of a public position. Quite frankly, this is a time when I am personally very happy to be obscure and allowed to go back and forth as I puzzle things out and watch them play out.

    IMHO, there is one key dimension you leave out of your survey of the possible left positions: results. Your position seems built on the assumption that the rebels will quickly overthrow Gaddafy. If they do it in less than 90 days, and the no-fly zone is not renewed, it would indeed seem hard to make a retrospective case against it.

    There is however another possibility: that rebels never overthrow Gaddafy, and that the result is a permanent aerial occupation (since any withdrawal in the future would let loose the slaughter that the zone is holding back today). That is precisely what happened with the first no-fly zone, set up in Northern Iraq 1991. (Which was also legalized by a UNSC vote, passed on April 5, 1991, and also called up in a very similar way: France, the UK and the US were embarrassed into something they were initially against by civilian suffering and the promise of more to come.)

    Perhaps you would also support it in that case, that it led to a de facto division of the country for decades. But at any rate, it’s not addressed. It seems to me a ground for reasonable people to disagree, this evaluation of probabilities. And I would certainly love to hear your reasons why you think the probability of successful overthrow is so high.


  137. If I remember my history correctly, the Sunni Ottomans, during their wars with the Iranians, once proclaimed that it was better to kill 1 Shiite than 10 Christians.

    It occurs to me that this apparently curious logic is reproduced in much of the left’s thinking regarding intervention against the likes of Gadaffi and Saddam. People who are clearly intelligent and well-informed (no gum chewing problem here) seem highly alert to the human rights abuses commited by the west and at the same time curiously oblivious to the abuses committed by what may in a very general sense be characterised as anti-western dictatorships. It is, to take one example, as if torture only began in Abu Ghraib with the onset of the American occupation.

    Having said that, the same dictatorial abuses may be awarded much more prominence if an argument can be produced to blame them on the west. This argument often takes the form of “the dictator is/was a puppet of the west”.

    This observational bias has long puzzled me, but when I think of the Ottoman injunction regarding the relative worth of killing Shiites and Christians things seem to become clearer. The struggle of the left is a struggle not so much against the west but within the west. The enemy is not Gadaffi, or even Kim Jong Il, but the capitalist democracy which is perceived as blocking the road to a better future. This capitalist democracy is not alien in the sense of a third world dicatator involved in the specific power struggles of his country, rather it is part of a culture, a tradition of argument to which the western left also wholely belongs.

    It seems to me that once this is taken on board, then the strange blindness of much of the left to the crimes of third world dictators becomes much easier to comprehend. The abuses of Gadaffi, Saddam and Kim Jong Il are tangential to the course of history as understood by much of the left, they are, as it were, sideshows, blind-alleys, distractions from what really counts, namely the struggle of the left against capitalism – and what is that but the great 200 year domestic quarrel of the west, just as the Sunni/Shiite division has been the great domestic quarrel of Islam.

    • That’s likely part of it — perhaps at the root of it. But in American opposition to involvement, as was pointed out below, another factor is the very real likelihood that rather than do something sensible like raise taxes to pay for the intervention, it will be used as a pretext for more cuts in the already hacked-to-ribbons social safety net in order to “fix” the deficit.

      Of course, saying that “we can’t afford this war” out loud, while popular among the right-wing opponents of intervention, is comparatively rare among those opposing it from the left, probably out of fear that admitting to it makes one look callous and cruel. I suspect that’s why one’s far more likely to see lefty opposition couched in terms of worrying that Al Qaeda runs the rebel movement and will turn it over to bin Laden tout de suite, even though the main opposition group cited as having Al Qaeda ties isn’t the only opposition group or even the most powerful one.

  138. I would like to believe that the intervention on behalf of the Libyan insurgents is a rational and righteous defense of human aspirations to freedom, fairness, and equality that will enable the Libyan people to make their own lives better. However, it troubles me that this humanitarian effort included at least one aerial attempt to assassinate the tyrant. How does targeting of the individual at the head of the government fit with the UN authorization and the practical goals of the mission?

    • This answer is simple: Gadafi (and his family) is the underlying cause why lifes of Libyan “civilians” are threatened. If these causes cease to physically exist, the civilians are “protected”. In this sense UNSCR 1973 legitimizes the assasination of the dictator.

    • I agree Furious. How does targeting Gaddafi help the Libyan people. Every life is precious.

  139. For me the issue is not whether the bombing of Libya is right or its wrong, or whether the left, liberals, neo-cons, libertines or trotskyites are in favour or against. For me its a fait-accompli, better to think about what next; rather than what if, if only, if never.

    The UN Mandated Forces are systematically destroying the weaponry of the Libyan Government Forces.

    The UN Mandated Forces are not supplying weapons to the Libyan Opposition Forces.

    I find that interesting, [i]very interesting[/i], why, I ask, would they do that.

    Libya’s eastern neighbour is Egypt, it has a strong military, a large population (80m), but it hasn’t got much revenue generating capacity. Libya will soon have a very weak military, it has a small populations (6m), but it has a lot of revenue generating capacity because of its oil.

    You should be able to see where I’m going. Libya in whole or in part will become an Egyptian vassal state. With control of Libya’s oil Egypt will become a more powerful state. One which can offer a better vision to the region than that offered by the House of Saud.

    I guess I’m an ultra-neo-con :)

    • That’s an interesting take, especially as various people insist that Egypt and the Saudis are funneling tons of arms to the rebels:

      link to

      link to

      I’ve never been able to understand why the Saudis, who fear the spread of the Arab Spring so much that they’ve sent troops to Bahrain to crush it there, would be willing to aid the Libyan rebels carrying the Arab Spring virus — and sure enough, they’ve so far refused to do so even though they despise Gaddafi intensely:

      Desperate to avoid US military involvement in Libya in the event of a prolonged struggle between the Gaddafi regime and its opponents, the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. The Saudi Kingdom, already facing a “day of rage” from its 10 per cent Shia Muslim community on Friday, with a ban on all demonstrations, has so far failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request, although King Abdullah personally loathes the Libyan leader, who tried to assassinate him just over a year ago.

  140. This is plain eurocentrism despite the good intentions of the author.

  141. You left out my reason, as a radical lefty:

    We always have more than enough money for war. We have NOTHING for our crumbling infrastructure, the staggering numbers of unemployed, nothing for the armies of teachers we’re laying off and nothing for the children who will grow up in this impoverished environment and lack for basic nutrition, medical care and education.

    Look, I understand that Libya is a good cause. But I’m just sick and tired of dumping trillions of dollars around the globe while the source of that wealth is sucked dry. I’m sure they’re in a f*cked up situation and my heart goes out to them, but we’re in the middle of some deep crap ourselves. And while freedom bombs made from the emulsified tears of laid off teachers and the children they won’t be teaching will do enormous good, I can’t help but be a bit selfish when I watch my own state, region, city and neighborhood descend into a third world country.

    In a perfect world, sure. But quite frankly we have a shit load of crap that needs far more attention at the moment.

    But hey. Freedom bombs are free.

    Just don’t pigeon us all into the three bins you have in this post. Some of us agree with you, but wonder if simply not f*cking with the rest of the world might do wonders for them and allow us to take care of our own home at the same time.

    • “…wonder if simply not f*cking with the rest of the world might do wonders for them and allow us to take care of our own home at the same time.”

      How’s this worked out in the past Hal? Did you fail to get History classes for lack of teachers?

      We live in a global community whether we like it or not. Mafia and murderers must be stopped and brought to justice. If it takes imperialists to do it, fine. Socialist seem to have a problem doing anything, since Stalin.

    • Bombs are not free. War is a big industry – one of the big US exports ….with things so dreary you should be happy someone is drumming up trade.

      & I can’t agree with the sentiment of your last paragraph enough – yes, please go home and stop looking after us :)

    • Thanks for your honesty. It is definitely a valid reason, perhaps the most valid reason of all that are given, but not many people dare admit to it openly as it’s not as noble-sounding as, say, opposing aiding the rebels because you think they’re led by Al Qaeda.

      Which reminds me — the group that is invariably pointed to as evidence that Al Qaeda runs the rebels is not only not the only Libyan rebel group, it’s not even the most powerful, oldest or most respected. That honor belongs to the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, one of whose members, Khalifa Hifter, is the rebels’ military commander:

      link to

  142. An air raid on Sirte, Gadhafi’s home town and according to the Associated Press a “bastion of support” for him, — is that to protect civilians from massacre?

    • Of course it is. Misurata – the largest city (pop 670,000) is under siege by socialist nationalist Ghaddafi troops and hundreds are getting killed there due to shelling and sniping ny Ghaddafi’s forces. The Pro-Democracy forces need to arrive and save Misurata civilians from the massacre by tanks and howitzers. Sirte is blocking their way to save Misurata.

    • What do you think’s been happening to dissidents in Iraq in places he controls? Google “Gaddafi crackdown thousands” sometime to see what’s been happening just since February 17.

    • In fact, one of the reasons that France and the UK pushed for the NFZ is because they feared being overrun by an influx of tens of thousands of Libyans fleeing the Gaddafi crackdown.

  143. Thank you so much for saying this! I’m sick of people telling me I’m being naive and being imperialist for supporting intervention in Libya, even though I opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the start, and I understand and know the history of American imperialism. Regardless of the motivations, people in Libya are not being slaughtered and they are moving west. Hopefully they can remove Gaddafi without much more bloodshed.
    I do disagree about the significance of UNSC approval, however. The main product of resolution 1973 seems to be that people who rise up against oppression/whatever in the future will actually expect more out of the international community (not that that’s a bad thing) when they are being killed. This is already happening in Bahrain and Yemen, though on a smaller scale. And I think it makes us look morally wishywashy, and could encourage some resentment if the international community fails to react.
    That being said, reading that at least one Libyan couple named their child “Sarkozy” is a little disconcerting, but I suppose it’s a well-earned homage as French planes were the first to protect Benghazi.
    Thank you again for your insight!

    • Athena,

      You really are being naive and imperialist for supporting intervention in Libya.

      You’re welcome.

  144. If the Western military do do some stuff which helps the Libyan people, we don’t have to thank them. They’re giving back one millionth of what they have taken from the poorer countries, and they are planning to turn on the people at any moment.

  145. I am presently in Madrid, where there was a major debate in the legislature the other day about Spain’s role in the intervention. Zapatero received almost total support – 3 votes against. This in a socialist government. The intervention has been clearly explained and accepted as an action to support the UN Security Council resolution, not as a declaration of war (which the King must announce on advice from the legislature). The public seems perfectly ok with this – there are no demonstrations underway.

    It could be quite useful to the Left in the US to read and consider the arguments in other countries, particularly those that are much more socialist/progressive than the US is!

  146. Is NATO now the army of Eestern Europe ? Has Article 5 been abandoned ?
    “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

  147. Ein Offener Brief an die Linken zu Libyen
    Veröffentlicht am 27/03/2011 von Juan Cole
    Wie zu erwarten war, erobert die Befreiungsbewegung verlorenes Gebiet zurück, nun da Gadaffis Überlegenheit bezüglich Panzer und schweren Waffen durch die Luftschläge der UN-Alliierten neutralisiert wird. Die Befreier haben die Erdölstädte Ajdabiya und Brega (Marsa al-Burayqa), die eine Schlüsselrolle spielen, vom Samstag bis zum Sonntag Morgen wieder eingenommen und scheinen entschlossen zu sein, weiter westwärts vorzudringen. Dieser schnelle Vormarsch ist gewiss zum Teil durch den Hass auf Gaddafi ermöglicht worden, der bei der Mehrheit der Einwohner dieser Städte vorherrscht. Das Buraiqa-Bassin enthält einen Großteil des libyschen Ölreichtums und die Übergangsregierung in Benghazi wird bald wieder 80 Prozent dieser Ressource unter ihrer Kontrolle haben, ein Vorteil in ihrem Kampf gegen Gaddafi.
    Ich unterstütze die Befreiungsbewegung vorbehaltlos und bin froh darüber, dass die vom Sicherheitsrat der Vereinten Nationen autorisierte Intervention sie davor bewahrt hat, niedergeschlagen zu werden. Ich erinnere mich immer noch daran, wie sehr ich als Jugendlicher enttäuscht war, als sowjetische Panzer nicht daran gehindert wurden, den Prager Frühling zu zerschlagen und so den Sozialismus mit menschlichem Antlitz zu vernichten. In unserer multilateralen Welt gibt es mehr Freiräume für erfolgreiche Veränderungen und für Widerstand gegen Totalitarismus als in der alten bipolaren Welt des Kalten Krieges, in der sich die USA und die UdSSR oft aus des Anderen Einflusssphäre heraus hielten.
    Die von den Vereinten Nationen sanktionierte Intervention in Libyen hat ethische Fragen von größter Bedeutung aufgeworfen und das Feld des Fortschritts in unglücklicher Weise gespalten. Ich hoffe, wir können eine ruhige und zivilisierte Diskussion zu Für und Wider haben.
    Oberflächlich gesehen warf die Situation in Libyen vor zehn Tagen einen Widerspruch zwischen zwei Schlüsselprinzipien linker Politik auf: die einfachen Leute zu unterstützen und sich ihrer Beherrschung aus dem Ausland zu widersetzen. Libyens Werktätige und Einwohner waren Stadt um Stadt aufgestanden, um den Diktator zu stürzen – Tobruk, Dirna, al-Bayda, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Zawiya, Zuara, Zintan. Sogar in der Hauptstadt Tripoli war die Geheimpolizei aus Arbeitervierteln wie Suq al-Jumah und Tajoura verjagt worden. In den zwei Wochen nach dem 17. Februar gab es kaum ein Zeichen dafür, dass sich die Demonstranten bewaffnen oder gewalttätig werden würden.
    Die vom Diktator geäußerte Verleumdung, die 570000 Einwohner von Misrata oder die 700000 Leute in Benghazi seien Unterstützer von “al-Qaeda”, war unbegründet. Dass eine Handvoll junger Männer aus dem libyschen Dirna und Umgebung im Irak gekämpft hatten, ist einfach irrelevant. Der sunnitisch-arabische Widerstand wurde in den meisten Fällen ungenau “al-Qaeda” genannt, in diesem Fall ein Propagandabezeichnung. In allen Ländern mit Befreiungsbewegungen gab es Sympathisanten des sunnitische irakischen Widerstands; tatsächlich zeigen Meinungsumfragen solche Sympathien fast durchgehend überall in der arabischen Welt auf. In allen gab es zumindest einige fundamentalistische Bewegungen. Das war kein Grund, den Tunesiern, Ägyptern, Syriern und andern Böses zu wünschen. Die Frage ist, welche Art von Führung an Orten wie Benghazi im Entstehen begriffen war. Die Antwort darauf ist, dass es sich ganz einfach um die Honoratioren der Stadt handelte. Wenn es in Mailand einen Aufstand gegen Silvio Berlusconi gäbe, so würden sich wahrscheinlich Unternehmer und Arbeiter, Katholiken und Freidenker darin vereinen. Es würde sich einfach um die Leute von Mailand handeln. Ein paar ehemalige Mitglieder der Roten Brigaden könnten durchaus dabei sein und vielleicht einige Vertreter des organisierten Verbrechens. Aber ganz Mailand auf solch einer Grundlage zu diffamieren wäre bloße Propaganda.
    Dann brachten Muammar Gaddafis Söhne seine Panzerbrigaden und Luftwaffe ins Spiel, um die zivilen Menschenmengen zu bombardieren und mit Panzergranaten auf sie zu schießen. Mitglieder des Rates der Übergangsregierung in Benghazi schätzen, dass 8000 Menschen den Tod fanden als Gaddafis Truppen Zawiya, Zuara, Ra’s Lanuf, Brega, Ajdabiya und die Arbeiterbezirke von Tripoli selbst angriffen und niederzwangen, als sie mit Kriegsmunition auf schutzlose Demonstranten schossen. Sollten 8000 übertrieben sein, dann sind einfach “Tausende” es nicht, wie von linken Medien wie z.B. Amy Goodmans „Democracy Now!“ bezeugt. Als Gaddafis Panzerbrigaden die südlichen Bezirke von Benghazi von Benghazi erreichten, drohte ein groß angelegtes Massaker an bekennenden Rebellen.
    Die den Mitgliedsstaaten durch den UN Sicherheitsrat erteilte Erlaubnis, zu intervenieren, um dieses Massaker zu verhindern, warf also die Frage auf. Wenn sich die Linke gegen die Intervention aussprach, würde sie de facto die Zerstörung durch Gaddafi einer Bewegung billigen, die die Hoffnungen der meisten libyschen Werktätigen und Armen, im Verein mit einer großen Zahl Angestellter und Angehöriger der Mittelschichten verkörperte. Gaddafi hätte seine Herrschaft wieder hergestellt, die Befreiungsbewegung wie einen Käfer zerquetscht und las Land wieder unter das Regiment der Geheimpolizei gebracht. Die Auswirkungen eines wieder hergerichteten, wütenden und verletzten tollen Hundes, die Kassen gefüllt mit Öl-Milliarden, für die Demokratiebewegungen beiderseits Libyens, in Ägypten und Tunesien, könnten ohne weiteres verderblich gewesen sein.
    Die Argumente gegen internationale Intervention sind nicht trivial, aber sie alle hatten zur Folge, dass es die Weltgemeinschaft ganz in Ordnung fand, wenn Gaddafi Panzer gegen unschuldige zivile Menschenmassen einsetzte, die nur ihr Recht auf friedliche Versammlung und auf Petitionen an ihre Regierung ausübten. (Es ist einfach nicht wahr, dass sehr viele der Demonstranten schon früh zu den Waffen griffen, obwohl einige später durch die aggressive militärische Kampagne Gaddafis dazu gezwungen wurden. Es gibt immer noch keine nennenswerten ausgebildeten Truppen auf Seiten der Rebellen).

    Einige haben vorgebracht, die Aktion in Libyen habe einen neokonservativen politischen Geruch. Aber die Neokonservativen hassen die Vereinten Nationen und wollen sie Zerstören. Sie gingen trotz fehlender Genehmigung durch der Sicherheitsrat in den Irak-Krieg, in einer Art und Weise, die sicherlich gegen die UN-Charta verstößt. Ihr Sprecher und kurzzeitiger UN-Botschafter John Bolton hat an einem Punkt tatsächlich bestritten, dass die Vereinten Nationen überhaupt existierten. Die Neokonservativen haben den Einsatz brachialer amerikanischer Gewalt gerne vorangetrieben und jedermann ins Gesicht gerieben. Wer nicht mitgehen wollte wurde kleinlichen Schikanen ausgesetzt. Frankreich, versprach der damalige stellvertretende Verteidigungsminister Paul Wolfowitz, würde dafür „bestraft“ werden, dass es sich weigerte, gemäß Washingtons Laune im Irak einzufallen. Die Libyen-Aktion erfüllt dagegen alle Normen der Völkerrechts und multilateraler Konsultationen, die von den Neokonservativen verachtet werden. Da gibt es keine Schikanen. Deutschland wird nicht dafür ‘bestraft’, nicht mitzumachen. Außerdem wollten die Neokonservativen vor allem die anglo-amerikanische militärische Macht in den Dienst der Schädigung des öffentlichen Sektors und de Durchsetzung einer Privatisierung als “Schocktherapie” stellen, so dass das eroberte Land für das Eindringen westlicher Unternehmen Eindringen geöffnet würde. All dies Social Engineering erfordert Stiefel auf dem Boden, eine Boden-Invasion und Besatzung. Bloße begrenzte Luftangriffe können diese Art einer extrem-kapitalistischen Revolution, die sie suchen, nicht auslösen. Libyen 2011 ist in keinster Weise wie der Irak 2003.

    Die Intervention in Libyen wurde auf legale Weise vollzogen. Sie wurde durch eine Abstimmung der Arabischen Liga provoziert, an der die Regierungen der neuerdings befreiten Länder Ägypten und Tunesien teilnahmen. Sie wurde in einer Resolution des Sicherheitsrats der Vereinten Nationen beschlossen, dem Goldstandard für militärische Interventionen. (Im Gegenteil zu dem, was einige behaupten, entziehen die Enthaltungen Russlands und Chinas der Resolution keinerlei Legitimität oder Gesetzeskraft; nur ein Veto hätte eine solche Wirkung gehabt. Jedermann kann heute aufgrund eines Gesetzes festgenommen werden, bei dessen Annahme durch den Kongress sich einige Abgeordnete der Stimme enthalten haben.)
    Zu den Gründen, die von Kritikern zur Ablehnung der Intervention angegeben werden, zählen:
    1. Absoluter Pazifismus (die Anwendung von Gewalt ist immer falsch)
    2. Absoluter Antiimperialismus (alle Interventionen Außenstehender in der Weltpolitik sind falsch).
    3. Antimilitaristischer Pragmatismus: die Überzeugung, dass soziale Probleme nie durch den Einsatz militärischer Gewalt sinnvoll gelöst werden können.
    Absolute Pazifisten sind rar und ich will ihre Existenz einfach nur bestätigen und gleich weitermachen. Ich persönlich ziehe eine Friedensoption in der Weltpolitik vor, in der diese die Standard-Ausgangsposition ist. Aber die Friedensoption wird in meinem Kopf durch die Gelegenheit übertrumpft, ein groß angelegtes Kriegsverbrechen zu verhindern.
    Linke sind nicht immer Isolationisten. In den USA gingen progressive Menschen tatsächlich nach Spanien, um im Bürgerkrieg zu kämpfen, und bildeten die Lincoln-Brigade. Das war eine Intervention von außen. Die Linken waren etwa mit Churchills und dann mit Roosevelts Intervention gegen die Achsenmächte einverstanden. Den “Antiimperialismus” gedankenlos als Trumpf über alle anderen Werte zu stellen führt zu absurden Positionen. Ich kann nicht sagen, wie verärgert ich über die Lobhudeleien vom linken Rand für den iranischen Präsidenten Mahmud Ahmadinedschad bin, mit der Begründung, er sei “anti-imperialistisch” und in der Annahme, dass er irgendwie links sei. Als Standsäule einer repressiven theokratischen Ordnung, die Arbeiter unterdrückt, ist er ein Mann der extremen Rechten, und dass die USA und Westeuropa nicht mag adelt ihn nicht.

    Der Lehrsatz, dass gesellschaftliche Probleme nie durch militärische Gewalt allein gelöst werden können, mag wahr sein. Aber es gibt bestimmte Probleme, die ohne eine vorherige militärische Intervention nicht gelöst werden können, da das Gegenteil die Vernichtung der fortschrittlichen Kräfte bedeuten würde. Wer argumentiert, “die Libyer” sollten diese Probleme unter sich lösen, ignoriert vorsätzlich die überwältigende repressive Übermacht, die Gaddafi durch seine Jets, Kampfhubschrauber und Panzer gegeben ist; die ‘Libyer’ waren dabei, unerbittlich zermalmt zu werden. Solch eine Niederschlagung kann Jahrzehnte lang wirksam bleiben.
    Unter der Annahme, dass die UN-sanktionierte NATO-Mission in Libyen wirklich begrenzt ist ( man hofft, au 90 Tage), und dass eine ausländische militärische Besetzung vermieden wird, ist die Intervention wahrscheinlich insgesamt eine gute Sache, so geschmacklos Nicolas Sarkozys Effekthascherei auch sein mag. Natürlich ist ihm seitens der Progressiven nicht zu trauen, aber ihm sein, zu seinem Schrecken, von den internationalen Institutionen immer mehr Schranken gesetzt, wodurch der von ihm bis zum Ende der Luftschläge anzurichtende Schaden begrenzt wird (Gaddafi hatte nur 2000 Panzer, viele davon in schlechtem Zustand, und es wird nicht lange dauern bis er über so wenige verfügt und die Rebellen so viele in Besitz genommen haben, sodass sich die Bedingungen der Auseinandersetzung angleichen und durch Luftschläge wenig mehr zu erreichen ist).
    Viele lamentieren sich heuchlerisch unter Verweis auf andere Länder, denen eine Intervention drohen könnte, oder sind darüber beunruhigt, dass Libyen einen Präzedenzfall schaffen könnte. Ich finde solche Argumente nicht überzeugend. Militärische Interventionen sind immer selektiv, gemäß der jeweiligen Konstellation von politischem Willen, militärischen Fähigkeiten, internationaler Legitimität und Sachzwängen. Die humanitäre Situation in Libyen war ziemlich einzigartig. Da waren eine Reihe von Panzerbrigaden, bereit, Dissidenten anzugreifen und bereits verantwortlich für Tausende von Opfern, sowie mit der Aussicht auf weitere Tausende Tote, während eine Intervention aus der Luft durch die Weltgemeinschaft schnell den entscheidenden Unterschied ausmachen konnte.
    Diese Situation war im sudanesischen Darfur nicht gegeben, wo das Gelände und der Konflikt dergestalt waren, dass eine ausschließliche Luftintervention nutzlos gewesen und nur der Einsatz von Bodentruppen Aussicht auf Erfolg gehabt hätte. Aber eine vollständige US-amerikanische Besetzung des Irak ist ja nicht in der Lage gewesen, die sunnitisch- schiitischen Fraktionskämpfe in den Städten zu verhindern, die zigtausende Leben gekostet haben, so dass auch Bodentruppen in den Weiten Darfurs hätten scheitern können.
    Die anderen Demonstrationen des Arabischen Frühlings sind mit denen in Libyen nicht vergleichbar, denn anderen Fällen hat es weder in ähnlicher Größenordnung Opfer gegeben, noch ist dort die Rolle von Panzerbrigaden derart ausschlaggebend gewesen, noch haben dort die Dissidenten um eine Intervention gebeten, noch die Arabische Liga. Die Vereinten Nationen würden nichts damit erreichen, wenn sie aktuell, aus heiterem Himmel, die Bombardierung von Deraa in Syrien anordnen würden, sondern wahrscheinlich die Empörung aller Betroffenen auslösen. Die Bombardierung der Panzerbrigaden auf dem Weg nach Benghazi war etwas anderes.
    Das heißt, in Libyen wurde die Intervention sowohl von den Leuten gefordert, die gerade massakriert wurden, als auch von den regionalen Mächten; sie wurde vom UN-Sicherheitsrat genehmigt und konnte bereits in der Praxis ihr humanitäres Ziel der Verhinderung eines Massakers durch Luftangriffe auf mörderische Panzerbrigaden erreichen. Und die Intervention kann beschränkt bleiben und trotzdem ihr Ziel erreichen.
    Ich verstehe auch nicht die Sorge um die Schaffung von Präzedenzfällen. Der UN-Sicherheitsrat ist kein Gericht und richtet sich nicht nach Präzedenzfällen. Er ist ein politisches Gremium und handelt gemäß politischem Willen. Seine Mitglieder sind nicht gezwungen, anderswo das zu tun, was sie aktuell in Libyen machen, es sei denn sie wollen es, und das Vetorecht der fünf ständigen Mitglieder stellt sicher, dass Resolutionen wie Nummer 1973 selten bleiben werden. Aber wenn tatsächlich ein Präzedenzfall hergestellt wird, so handelt es sich darum, dass wenn jemand, der ein Land regiert, Panzerbrigaden aussendet um zivile Dissidenten in Massen zu ermorden, dann werden seine Panzer in Stücke gebombt. Ich kann nicht erkennen, was daran falsch sein sollte.
    Ein weiteres Argument ist, dass die Flugverbotszone (und die Fahrverbotszone) darauf abzielen, Gaddafi zu stürzen, nicht um sein Volk vor ihm zu schützen, sondern um den USA, Großbritannien und Frankreich den Weg zur Beherrschung des libyschen Ölreichtums zu öffnen. Dieses Argument ist bizarr. Die USA lehnten es Ende der 80er und in den 90er Jahren trotzdem es durchaus möglich war ab, mit Libyen Erdölgeschäfte abzuschließen, weil sie das Land mit Boykott belegt hatten. Sie wollten den Zugriff auf jenen Ölmarkt nicht, der damals von Gaddafi wiederholt an Washington herangetragen wurde. Nach Gaddafis Rückkehr aus der Kälte, Ende der 90er Jahre (für die Europäische Union) und nach 2003 (für die USA), wurden die Sanktionen aufgehoben und westliche Erdölkonzerne strömten ins Land. US-amerikanische Firmen waren darunter gut vertreten, zusammen mit BP und der italienische n ENI. BP unterzeichnete mit Gaddafi einen teuren Vertrag zur Erdölsuche und kann unmöglich dessen Gültigkeit durch eine Revolution in Zweifel gestellt haben wollen. Aus der Entfernung von Gaddafi ergeben sich für den Ölsektor keinerlei Vorteile. In der Tat könnte sich der Umgang mit einer neuen Regierung als schwieriger erweisen; sie dürfte Gaddafis Verpflichtungen nicht honorieren wollen. Es gibt für westliche Firmen nicht die Aussicht, in den Besitz libyscher Erdölfelder zu kommen, denn diese wurden schon vor langer Zeit verstaatlicht. Schließlich ist es nicht immer im Interesse der großen Erdölkonzerne, mehr Öl auf dem Markt zu haben, denn das senkt den Preis und gegebenenfalls die Unternehmensgewinne. Ein Krieg gegen Libyen für mehr und vorteilhaftere Verträge, um den Weltmarktpreis für Erdöl zu senken, macht keinen Sinn in einer Welt, in der das Angebot frei ist und wo hohe Preise zu Rekordgewinnen führen. Ich habe das Krieg-ums-Öl-Argument bisher bezüglich Libyen nicht in einer Weise vorgebracht gelesen oder gehört, die überhaupt irgendeinen Sinn macht.
    Ich würde die Linken gerne dazu drängen, es zu lernen, beim Kaugummi Kauen gleichzeitig zu laufen. Es ist möglich, auf dem Weg der Vernunft, von Fall zu Fall, zu einer ethisch progressiven Position zu gelangen, die das einfache Volk bei seinen Sorgen und Mühen wie in Libyen unterstützt. Wenn es uns egal ist, ob die Menschen in Benghazi Mord und Unterdrückung in ungeheurem Maßstab ausgesetzt sind, dann sind wir keine Linken. Wir sollten es vermeiden, ‘ausländische Intervention’ in der Weise zu einem absoluten Tabu zu machen, wie die Rechten die Abtreibung zu einem absoluten Tabu machen, wenn uns das zu herzlosen Geschöpfen macht (unflexible a priori Positionen können oft zu Herzlosigkeit führen). Es ist nun leicht, zu vergessen, dass Winston Churchill Positionen vertrat, welche aus einer linken Perspektive als absolut scheußlich zu bezeichnen sind, und dass er ein unerträglicher Kolonialist war, der dagegen eintrat, Indien 1947 gehen zu lassen. Seine Schriften sind voller rassistischer Stereotypen, die tief beleidigend sind, wenn man sie heute lieft. Einige seiner Interventionen waren dennoch edel und wurden seinerzeit fast überall von den Linken unterstützt. Die UN-Verbündeten, die jetzt Gaddafi zurückdrängen, tun etwas Gutes, unabhängig davon, was man von einigen ihrer einzelnen Führer denken mag.

  148. Hi,
    I uploaded a Spanish translation yesterday and a German now. Please tell me if you need them in ny other format. Please help distributing beyond USA – I almost don’t have channels.
    Thank you again, very important contribution.
    Ralph Apel

  149. The US is laying a bargaining chip on the table before the Libyan player has even sat down (that player, of course, is busy driving to Tripoli and trying not to get shot). Why now?

    These air raids are understandable as a US attempt to visibly re-insert itself as a player in a string of events that have brought into question its own ability to steer history. The American administration has grown tired of looking like it is playing chase while its staff has exhausted itself managing the fallout in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia.

    The imminent slaughter of the Libyan rebels at Benghazi was the ideal -perhaps only- moment to play a hand. A convenient way to explain this: if bombing had commenced at any other time, Dr. Cole’s argument would not be nearly as convincing.

    Only when Qaddafi’s forces arrived at Benghazi was the humanitarian catastrophe pungent enough to evoke anything other than dismay and muted press conferences. In other terms, the fight was really great to watch on the Internet until it looked like the gig was up. Bombing any later, of course, would mean losing the axle of any potential campaign.

    And that rationale is what Dr. Cole rests his argument on: the salvation of forces that demand basic liberal rights from a despot that wants to brutally slaughter them. Fair enough. Yet we are also told that the only reasons for opposition to bombing Libya are pacifism, anti-imperialism, and anti-military pragmatism. If this is the case, then Dr. Cole should not just be supporting the bombing but rather regretting his belated support. The conditions of his support were met considerably in advance of the bombs dropping.

    What Cole should have written is not a letter to the Left in support of the bombing that has already occurred, but instead a letter to the Left calling for the immediate bombing of Libya – 2 weeks ago.

    But then again, at that time he described such a stance as “hawkish”.

  150. “Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:

    1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)

    2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).

    3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.”

    Missed one:

    4. Skepticism about violence and presumption that acts of violence, particularly attacks by powerful countries on less powerful ones, are illegitimate until shown otherwise, and being unpersuaded that arguments favoring the current attack are enough to defeat the presumption.

  151. You’d be more convincing if you addressed actual progressive arguments against the war. Such as:

    4. We’ve already played this game before and are still mired in two wars at a cost of over a trillion dollars because of it.

    5. We are currently cutting billions of dollars in “non-defense discretionary spending” in the U.S. while we expand our list of military adventures.

    6. We were already promised a war that would last “day’s possibly weeks, I doubt months”. It lasted 7 years and we still have nearly 50,000 troops in the country.

    7. We don’t know who the rebels are or what they would do in Qaddafi’s place.

    8. The current “90-day”, “no boots on the ground” strategy is likely to turn this into a protracted bloody civil war, since the rebels are not capable of winning a one-on-one battle with Qaddafi’s forces.

  152. Sticking to facts give credibility. You said ” In the two weeks after February 17, there was little or no sign of the protesters being armed or engaging in violence.”
    Here is the fact: Day Feb 20: The protestors declared Benghazi liberated and was confirmed by Tripoli on live television the night of Feb 20. The communications came from phone calls from Benghazi in arabic and that was the only way of communications at that times. I heard everyone of them. Here it is: They took control of Benghazi and hunting down any pro Gaddafi, they took control of weapon depots, police stations and they are roaming on top of the tanks. Other calls Gaddafi bombed them from the air. Gaddafi’s son came on TV and said, yes they took over and roaming on tanks and want to declare a ‘Islamic state”. He admitted to the world that they lost control of the Benghazi and tried to scare the world from an islamic state in the east.
    If that is not enough, I can send you more. The notion that they got control less than 4 days into protests with just sticks and stones is not even logical if you to discount everything else. And on Feb 23 when first international correspondents arrived to Benghazi, they were greeted by anti Gaddafi with machine guns on the border. I stopped reading after you said that.

  153. John, re your argument that these rebels are not Al Qaeda, you’re basing your dismissal on faulty precepts. It’s not my assertion that they’re definitely Al Qaeda, but you’re certainly ignoring the stronger evidence that they could be. Check this out: link to

  154. Despite my long-term admiration for Prof. Juan Cole, I find his defense of the US/NATO intervention in Libya vastly disappointing. At least he spares us the usual cant about “no fly zones.” Clearly, the US/NATO attackers are now providing close air support for rebel troops, assaulting retreating Libyan soldiers from the air, and preparing to bombard cities in which Gaddafi commands substantial mass support. But Cole swallows the imperialist line on Gaddafi’s unpopularity whole. “If the Left opposed intervention,” he avers, “it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people.”

    What?? Has Cole taken a poll of “Libya’s workers and poor” to determine this result? Does he believe that the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which has been backed by Britain and the U.S. since 2005, is the authentic representative of the Libyan working class? Or that the rebel groups armed by Saudi Arabia have the masses’ best interests at heart? The rhetorical game he is playing here is that invented by those great leftists, Sarkozy and Cameron: in order to characterize Gaddafi as an isolated figure opposed by the entire population, one implicitly denies that Libya is experiencing a civil war in which BOTH sides command significant mass support .

    But the image of the isolated dictator is nothing more than US/NATO propaganda. The case-by-case pragmatism Juan Cole espouses still requires some minimal respect for facts. And calling Gaddafi a “mad dog” does not negate the fact that a great many Libyans consider him their legitimate leader. Nor does it justify equating a possible defeat of the rebel army with a “massacre of civilians.” In a civil war, there are armed forces and civilians on both sides. And there is no evidence in this civil war that either side has committed or wants to commit massacres of civilians.

    Above all, what is most disappointing about the Cole piece is the leftist author’s assumption, again mirroring that of his current Western heroes, that there is nothing to do in this civil conflict but take sides militarily. What about diplomacy? What about conflict resolution? What about Gaddafi’s repeated offers to negotiate with the rebels, which they scornfully rejected when they thought they had him on the run? Does Cole forget that Libya sent diplomats to every European capital and Washington before the UN Security Council vote, and that no Western regime would agree to talk with them?

    One would not expect an anti-militarist commentator to adopt the militarists’ favorite excuse for violence — that, having refused to investigate any of the non-violent alternatives, there is no alternative to war. But Cole’s implicit adoption of the “duty to protect” framework apparently blinds him to the realities that there are people to protect on both sides, and, on both sides, people willing to talk peace.

    Juan Cole is a persuasive man. Too bad that he persuaded himself to choose sides in somebody else’s civil war. The results are likely to be ghastly for all concerned.

  155. Prof Cole, with due respect, please do not compare the Lincoln Brigade intervention in the Spanish Civil War with the current NATO intervention in Libya civil war. I am Spanish and feel the utmost respect and gratitude for the american volunteers that fought and died in my land side by side with my grandfather, and I feel an insult to their memory the slightest comparison with NATO imperial machine.

    International Brigades were composed by volunteers from all around the world that risked their own lives to reach Spain by any means to join the revolutionary side. Teachers, factory workers, farmers, students who joined their spanish brothers in the armed struggle against fascism and capitalism.

    Nothing in common with a proffesional bomber-pilot who today bomb a Libyan tank, tomorrow blow up to pieces an Afghan family and the next month can be gunning down Bahrain rebels if they came close to overthrown the monarchy. NATO armies (including Spanish army of course) are mercenary armies that respond to mercenary interests.

    While I am totally oppossed to the NATO attacks on Libya, I would appreciate an influx of egyptians or tunisian rebels joining the Libyan rebels if they actually share common goals. Indeed, I feel weird the current lack of this kind of solidarity between neighbouring peoples. This is another factor that make me wonder about the true nature of the Libyan rebels. If their uprising where similar to the egyptian and tunisian ones, I would expect their neighbours to be staging daily rallies of support and crossing the borders to join the rebel ranks.

  156. I predict 3 things: 1) at the end of this conflict there will no longer be a Libyan National Oil Company; 2) the Libyan state will no longer provide health care; 3) the standard of living for the common Libyan person will fall drastically.

    • Yes. Another experimental proving ground for The Shock Doctrine of Global Privatization just begging for a little “humanitarian” killing to provide the necessary regime-change opening. I have little doubt but that L. Paul Bremer has already gotten his advance notification for assuming the “Viceroy” job, dismissing the Libyan army, losing nine-billion dollars of Libyan oil wealth, selling off government-owned assets to crony-connected Western corporations, and writing the Libyans’ new constitution for them.

      But first things first. Gaddafi must go. What comes later? Oh, no need to worry about minor details like that.

  157. My experience tells me that governments are not moral beings. They act out of self interest, not altruism. If this is so, what is to be gained by these governments’ intervention in Libya? As another commentor said above, these governments “do not give a shit about the average Libyan” and may I add “any more than they do about the average Palestinian”.
    And Mr. Cole, the Lincoln Brigade’s “intervention” in Spain was one of morally committed *individuals* who took action because the governments of the time would do nothing to defend the Spanish democracy being attacked by Hitler and the fascists. Shame on you for attempting to obfuscate this fact and equate it to governments’ self interested interventions.

  158. I agree John Mullen. While the action of Qaddafi is savage with no doubt, imperialists are not saviors. Analyzing the intervention from the trajectory of procedures – the legality – of the security council is not sound either. In the first place we should not forget the subtlety of Imperialism and what the UN means for them.

  159. “[Depleted uranium tipped missiles] fit the description of a dirty bomb in every way… I would say that it is the perfect weapon for killing lots of people.” ~ Marion Falk, chemical physicist (retd), Lawrence Livermore Lab, California, USA

    In the first 24 hours of the Libyan attack, US B-2s dropped forty-five 2,000-pound bombs. These massive bombs, along with the Cruise missiles launched from British and French planes and ships, all contained depleted uranium (DU) warheads.

    DU is the waste product from the process of enriching uranium ore. It is used in nuclear weapons and reactors. Because it is a very heavy substance, 1.7 times denser than lead, it is highly valued by the military for its ability to punch through armored vehicles and buildings. When a weapon made with a DU tip strikes a solid object like the side of a tank, it goes straight through it, then erupts in a burning cloud of vapor. The vapor settles as dust, which is not only poisonous, but also radioactive.

    An impacting DU missile burns at 10,000 degrees C. When it strikes a target, 30% fragments into shrapnel. The remaining 70% vaporises into three highly-toxic oxides, including uranium oxide. This black dust remains suspended in the air and, according to wind and weather, can travel over great distances. If you think Iraq and Libya are far away, remember that radiation from Chernobyl reached Wales.

    Particles less than 5 microns in diameter are easily inhaled and may remain in the lungs or other organs for years. Internalized DU can cause kidney damage, cancers of the lung and bone, skin disorders, neurocognitive disorders, chromosome damage, immune deficiency syndromes and rare kidney and bowel diseases. Pregnant women exposed to DU may give birth to infants with genetic defects. Once the dust has vaporised, don’t expect the problem to go away soon. As an alpha particle emitter, DU has a half life of 4.5 billion years.

    • I was hoping someone more knowledgeable than I would bring up the environmental damage caused by these attacks. Thank you.

  160. Not about oil?

    Qaddafi may have been a friend to western oil interests a while back, but that’s old news. On March 2, Qaddafi threatened to cancel the contracts of western oil interests and replace them with Chinese or Indian companies. That’s a pretty significant threat to their interests. Additionally, sanctions against Qaddafi (should he retain power)could threaten these oil interests even if he were to change his mind and honor these contracts.

    The interests of Qaddafi and Big oil are not the same. It is in the interests of Big Oil to depose him.

    link to

    Also, according to the New York Times, Qaddafi and his sons have been more aggressive on demanding kickbacks than western multi-nationals would prefer.

    link to

  161. Dear Prof. Cole:

    Sorry to disagree with you on the intervention issue. I believe that the distance between a: it’s a good idea for humanitarian purposes to unleash industrial methods of mass destruction on a country that has/can not attacked us


    b: handing the operation over to a bunch of bloodthirsty, greed besotted political leaders who plainly have their own agendas that will overshadow and obliterate the original purpose.

    I mean, we all have a vision of a better world that we might realize if we just kill all the right people. Except, it never works out that way, does it?

    Peace brother!
    Mike Castellaneta

  162. Cole has a number of cogent arguments to support his position, and I quite agree with many of them. It all comes down to the point that when the people revolt, you have to support them. But the Libyan revolution has had a number of setbacks that reduce its long-term potential. The first was the continued obedience of large portions of the army. The result was the crushing of the peaceful, unarmed uprising in Tripoli. Libyans began killing each other in large numbers, sowing a bitter, divided future. And that led to the involvement of the conservative governments of France and the UK, who have long anti-immigrant and anti-Arab records. They are ironically facing mass protests in their own countries over their austerity measures. And then that always (and all ways) temporizing centrist Barack Obama joined the interventionist camp. These people are not our friends, nor do they have the Libyan people’s interests in mind. Though foreign intervention may have been critical in the short-run, there will be a price to pay further on. Libyans will find the exploration of their political, economic and social options circumscribed by the outside forces and the alliances they have formed with anti-government figures. Remember that the revolutions in the Middle East have been spurred on by neoliberal policies advocated by Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama. The vast wealth transferred by the privatization of the state’s resources accompanied by the poverty of social services has to be confronted if these revolutions are to be fulfilled.

  163. I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time.

    This line is gnawing at me. You’re mistaking adhering to understandings of class principles as a kind of ineptness. That’s just so wrong. As Americans we might have to make difficult choices and cast votes for candidates we know will do us wrong because the alternatives might be worse. But we also know what our government’s inherent nature is in the world. Imperialism — especially imperialism pretending to be humanitarian — is a much greater danger than Qaddafi might ever be. Opposing our own government’s attempt to manipulate others as pieces on a gameboard for its own purposes is our sacred duty and something we CAN actually do. The main enemy remains at home.

    link to

  164. I’m very pleased that tonight Obama will finally be giving the excellent speech that will give all the “progressives” actual reasons to support the Libyan policy they have already decided to support, because, after all, he’s Obama. Well done, all.

    * * *

    NOTE Since Bradley Manning is being tortured, and Obama took personal responsibility for the matter by declaring his treatment “appropriate,” that makes all of Obama’s remaining supporters pro-torture. That’s why I had to put the word progressive in quotes. Too bad, but there it is.

  165. Obama preaches that we must “tighten our belts” and cut spending. i.e. austerity. Yet somehow the government always has more than enough for bombs and war.

  166. Thanks for the open letter. Here’s an open letter back. Are you totally insane? When has a U.S. intervention resulted in anything but mayhem? Name one.

    Do you have principles? Do you recall Senator Byrd’s principled speech on why Bush’s pre-emptive attack on Iraq was so wrong? What’s the difference here? At least Bush had the courtesy to cook up phony pictures and stats and notify Congress.

    Are you pulling a Marc Cooper on us? Aging lefty needs some testosterone, finds a war he likes? War is grotesque and kills civilians, and you do it as a last resort if you are under attack. Western powers are not qualified to intervene in the complexities of any nation’s inner politics. Tomahawk missiles don’t have the sophistication to sort things out either.

    I’m shocked.

  167. You say “the arguments against international intervention are not trivial” and then present three very flabby straw men arguments with extreme views that no one really supports (absolute pacifism, absolute anti-imperialism, absolute anti-military pragmatism). I believe none of those hard-line positions, and yet I disagree with you one hundred percent.

    The people defending the president are operating as if political parties are sports teams. The thinking is that if “our side” commits a foul, maybe the referee should look the other way, but for the “other side” to commit the same crime is heinous and inexcusable. It is hypocrisy in every sense.

    Consider the point of view of someone who is not invested in either sports team, but just wants a good wholesome game with a positive outcome. From that point of view, which is not that of any of your straw men, the action in Libya is beyond the pale.

    Do you honestly believe big oil does not benefit from having more petroleum on the market? I can’t believe I read that, so I am going to ignore that you said it. I’m also going to ignore that Libya’s oil reserves are tenth in the world, and that we didn’t start to get involved until our Big Oil companies didn’t have access to Gaddafi’s oil wells any more. I’m also going to ignore that both Castro and Chavez predicted exactly what was going to happen weeks before our invasion (YES it is an invasion, more on this below). Instead, I am going to concentrate on one issue: WHERE IS DIPLOMACY?

    Gaddafi called for international observers. He didn’t get them. Instead, he got the UN security council’s approval for a no-fly zone. He got Tomahawk missiles streaming into his living room. Where were the international observers?

    He also didn’t get a talking-to by our diplomats. Sure, there was rhetoric, but Mr. Obama stopped short for weeks and weeks of calling for him to step down.

    Don’t even begin to compare his regime against insurgents to Darfur. He isn’t committing genocide, but instituting the same policies that other totalitarian governments do–from Saudi Arabia to Burma–as horrific as those actions are. And what really makes his regime any different than Iraq? If anything, we had MORE justification in Iraq, since Saddam Hussein did threaten us directly.

    You can’t look me straight in the eye and tell me this case is “special” and merits extra attention. Ivory Coast has been in an even worse situation for longer, and the media barely mentions them at all.

    My point is: we can’t afford to be the World Police. That isn’t our job. If we are the World Police, we are cherry-picking, and is it a big or a small coincidence that who we choose to invade coincides with our own economic interests? At least Kissinger has the audacity to be honest about it.

    I hear other Obama apologists claiming that we haven’t put our troops in the way and don’t consider it an invasion or a war. Well, when two USAF pilots landed their boots in the country after their airplane came down, what do you call that? If we are blowing up people by remote control, whether it is a Tomahawk or a military drone, does that qualify?

  168. Juan, you say

    “But if a precedent is indeed being set that if you rule a country and send tank brigades to murder large numbers of civilian dissidents, you will see your armor bombed to smithereens, I can’t see what is wrong with that.”

    I can see two things wrong with that.

    First, the bombing campaign is bound to kill some civilians: they always do. How can you then claim that its purpose is to save civilian lives? It is an absurd concept. How can it be morally justified for A to kill B in the course of stopping C from killing D, when B and C are equally innocent victims?

    Second, the tanks being bombed contain human beings. Just because they are soldiers, have they forfeited the right to life? If they have willingly and knowingly obeyed illegal orders to harm unarmed civilians, they are morally culpable and have committed a crime. But I suspect most are not in this category. What gives the attacking powers the right to take their lives?

  169. I think this piece panders to like minded readers who are trying to come to terms with the President’s decision to engage in Libya and find a way to distinguish it from other similar situations (i.e. Iraq) so that they can continue to support their elected leader without feeling bad. Subsequently, the article seems to selectively present only a few of the many arguments held by the “neo-cons” or I guess anyone disagreeing with the above assertions. I didn’t see anything about the finanical justification of this military endeavor in the thick of economic and budgetary crisis in the US or the lack of understanding as to who and what the opposition in Libya really is and why we sould support them, other than to protect civilians from oppression. While I agree with the latter portion of that sentence, the same argument doesn’t seem to hold in places like Afghanistan where many of my friends on the left think we should leave local issues to local people and stop trying to police the nation, or just let the Taliban role back in so that we can exit out of a moral quaqmire. The reality is, that in Afghanistan, international military forces reduce and prevent or at least mitigate a significant degree of brutality against women, children, and vulnerable communities at large. If we are making this argument for Libya, it should apply everywhere. Evidence to suggest that the Libya airstrikes are the right strategic move is not overwhelming and I am shocked that anyone on the “left” (and quite frankly, anyone at all- I am not picky) who reads and supports this piece seems to feel confident that our President and government exercised a comprehensive analytical process before making the decision to engage in this joint military effort. What troubles me about the airstrikes in Libya is that we have elected to engage based on very little strategy, no evident outcome analysis, and in the absence of unified leadership (not just within the coalition but within our own government). Says the author: The UNSC is a political body, and works by political will.” The day we, as a nation, make our military decisions based on the collective political whims and agendas of UN member states is a sad one. When was the last time Italy or France made a good strategic military decision? Oh wait, there was the maginot line…

  170. Will you still be cheering after we’re in Libya for 5 or 10 years, as seems to be our pattern? The fact is, Obama started a war without congressional approval, so beyond the “right or wrong” of being in Libya is the important fact that Obama did not follow Constitutional procedure. And yes, this is important if we want to maintain the veneer of a democracy. If this war is so damned important and necessary, then why not subject it to a congressional debate and do it legally? No Leftist should support an illegal war. Period!

  171. Professor Cole, your piece is persuasive regarding the international realm, at very least requiring serious consideration and respect. However, you do not at all address the domestic constitutional implications of the Obama administration making this war completely off its own bat, without any effort or hint at Congressional authorization.

    Robert Naiman now has written about this, framing his arguments as a response to you, though really they address an entirely different dimension of the issues posed by the UN authorized intervention in Libya, and I don’t think many if any of your substantive arguments. His arguments also seem to me persuasive on their own concerns, however.

    link to

    It would be interesting to know your response.

    • The Senate voted overwhelmingly for a no-fly zone before the Arab League did.

      I have already said I would have wanted Congressional approval.

      The Korean War, however, is at least some sort of precedent, about which there is some legal argument.

      • You “would have wanted” Congressional approval — you just wouldn’t insist on it. So you didn’t get it. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” or so I think I once heard candidate Barack Obama proclaim.

        • Congressional approval was not legally necessary and waiting for the House to decide (Senate had already debated and seen in favour although didn’t vote) would have made action moot.

          Your quote comes from Fredrick Douglas.

          Now NATO forces are demanding Ghaddaffi relinquishes power and it will eventually have the desired effect.

          Progress 3 Regress 0

  172. Prof Cole,

    I have a lot of respect for your analysis. Yet I must say that I am surprised by this post considering your profession as a historian. I am struggling to think of one case of “humanitarian intervention” that achieved the stated goals; if the last 30 years are any indication, when the United States intervenes for humanitarian intervention, with or without the international community, it creates more of a mess than there was to begin with. That is in part because there is no such thing as “humanitarian intervention,” contrary to what the Samantha Powers of the world wish to believe. While I agree that Western powers can do things to prevent bloodshed in Libya, I do not think that military intervention, in the long run, should be one of them. Please show more consideration for the historical record on these matters in making your moral argument.

  173. I do not believe that this article adequately addresses many of the concerns about intervention in Libya.

    Right now, there is little reason to believe that the rebels will actually succeed in overthrowing Gaddafi. Most military experts have already made it clear that air power alone will not be nearly enough. The rebels lack arms and organization. There does not appear to be any consensus among the rebels (at all levels) regarding who is actually in command. Sectional and tribal splits do nothing to convince me that this movement is popularly backed.

    In the meantime, the Allies do not appear to have much of plan. No end game has been defined. What if Gaddafi manages to overcome resistance, as feared by many? Will we be compelled to escalate the conflict in order to avoid embarrassment? Prolonging the conflict indefinitely will worsen the situation for everyone involved. America simply can not afford to be embroiled in yet another Middle Eastern quagmire.

    “But if a precedent is indeed being set that if you rule a country and send tank brigades to murder large numbers of civilian dissidents, you will see your armor bombed to smithereens, I can’t see what is wrong with that.”

    So if such a precedent is set, how do we respond if there are calls to intervene in Bahrain or Syria? Obviously the international community cannot be concurrently involved in two or three Middle Eastern countries, IN ADDITION TO Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Opposition to intervention does not make us cold-hearted, callous devils. There are simply too many variables in play, and not enough resources to account for all of them. The mission has already gone beyond mere humanitarian intervention to forcing regime change…winding down this conflict is going to get more and more difficult as all sides choose their paths.

  174. Actually, we CAN afford to be the World Police – sometimes.

    I agree with Prof. Cole, that this is one of those times where a limited use of US military capital can make a big difference in a positive way.

    Why Libya, and not Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, etc?

    Partly because we can do something, partly because we can get away with it.

    Libya is a coastal state on the Med; we have a big navy, plus bases & allies in Europe. France & Britain each have one aircraft carrier; we have 11, each approx twice the capacity of the Charles De Gaulle. Qadhifi’s military depends on armor. Tanks beat guerillas, but airplanes trump tanks in a desert hands down. This has already worked.

    We can’t go after Bahrain – or even Yemen – because we dare not freak out the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Sure, I’d love to knock those clowns off their throne, but it’s not worth the gamble (food supply depends on gasoline).

    In Tunisia & Egypt, US-backed autocrats resisted the “Arab Spring”, but their militaries chose change over genocide. Libya was a more extreme case. The Libyan military was not a separate institution; it mostly acted as the Army of Qadhafi, not Libya. Gandhian passifism is – sorry – trumped by force, if that force is willing to exterminate resistance. Qadhafi was willing – even eager – to crush the revolution.

    We had the leverage, and reason to use it.

    That said, my qualms are these:

    I agree in theory with those who say that the US Congress should have to declare war before the US attacks another country. But can you imagine the republican-led congress agreeing to anything, uh, really, anything, ever? They would have hollered for blood – mostly Obama’s – until the revolution was wiped out, then blamed Obama for it.

    I also agree with the concerns about the “end game”. I think Obama will be able to avoid putting “boots on the ground”, so I think the US will come out ahead in general. The hard part will have to be done by the people of Libya – putting together a reasonable country after 40 years of Crazyism. Sure, they could screw it up, but I’d bet on pretty much anybody over the “devil we know” in this case.

    Which reminds me, where did the “we don’t know who the rebels are” meme get started anyway? NPR?

  175. AMEN, JUAN! AMEN! Thank you so much for this. I’ve been an active demonstrator and vocal, obnoxiously-sanctimonious railer against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with railing against Obama’s weak health-care “reform,” his subservience to Wall St., his perpetuation and expansion of W.’s oppressive national security state and military budget… I’ve made lots of “comrades” in that time, and I’m split from nearly all of them in supporting this intervention in Libya. Your piece needs to be read widely.

  176. “So we don’t get very hung up on this question of precedent because we don’t make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent. We base them on how we can best advance our interests in the region.”

    -Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough

    Unless Lybian civilians are “our interests,” now what?

    This is emblematic of the problem at hand. We go to war with supposed altruistic motives, when clearly they are not. If we were to intervene as an impartial third party, I’d have significantly less problem with Obama doing his dance. As it stands though, we are not. Obama wants Gaddafi gone, yet US and other Western actions have resulted in far greater civilian casualties than what has occurred to date in Lybia (hello Iraq). And where was he in Palestine and Lebanon when Israel took it upon themselves to demonstrate their US purchased weaponry…?

    So one has to begin to ask: Why is Obama acting here and not in other circumstances which are equal to if not worse? And why is it that the UNSC mandate of protecting civilians does not mesh with his stated goal of regime change? This gives the impression of the UNSC being a trojan horse for a broader campaign. And his foreign policy record to date causes one to pause and does not result in him being given the benefit of the doubt when things look questionable. Further, he has not explained himself, his goals or motivations in enough detail. And unlike Iraq 2003, while GWB went against the UN, he did at least seek Congressional authorization, which places additional questions around the rationale for Obama’s actions. That’s the crux of the issue…not what Cole has asserted in this column.

    I always thought Obama would be simply too impotent to actually follow through on his campaign slogan. I never thought he’d actually be doubling down on the stupidity of the past presidency of GWB.

  177. Professor Cole, I’m impressed by most of your arguments and by the general tone of your article. As your example of leftists supporting Churchill (on certain select occasions), it’s a fact of life that sometimes, even rather bloody-minded imperialists can play a positive role in the world, both politically and morally.

    Nevertheless, your list of the reasons why many American leftists oppose the Libyan intervention seems to have one large gap. Regardless of the possible morality, even the putative humanitarian urgency, of the US air strikes to protect the Libyan rebels against Qaddafi’s relation, it’s a fact that this possibly “good” US military intervention is a part of a much larger pattern of U.S. imperial bullying and realpolitik that stretches back more than a century to before the Spanish American War. Since McKinley’s decision to go to war against Spain in the 1890s — allegedly for the benefit of the suffering Cuban rebels — American presidents have shown a remarkable consistency in launching “small wars” in Latin America, Africa and Asia, very frequently in the name of protecting human rights and democracy. Some of the small wars, and some of the big wars, too, seem in retrospect to have been progressive, just, moral — whatever positive label one chooses to put on them — but a large portion of them do not. As an admittedly complex and argument somewhat contradictory totality, America’s “open door” empire seems to be heavily based on baser motives — the capitalist drive for open markets and open investment opportunities, geopolitical advantage, and sometimes simple racism and cultural or religious arrogance. Yet the harsher sides of American military rule do not negate the fact that “good” interventions and wars sometimes do occur.

    What I think both the defenders and the critics of President Obama’s Libyan adventure are missing is a sense that what the traditional left calls “imperialism” can be over-determined, morally complex, and blessed with a good deal of political endurance precisely because it mixes moral as well as amoral and immoral elements. J.A. Hobson’s classic 1902 work “Imperialism: A Study” is remembered by a few leftists today mostly for Hobsons conclusion that the “tap root” of late Victorian and early Edwardian imperialism was “economic.” But what Hobson also noted in passing in “Imperialism” is that a bizarre coalition of strange bedfellows supported the British imperial project: Christian missionaries eager to evangelize Africa, principled abolitionists who looked to the Royal Navy (and to British commerce) to rid the world of slavery and slave trading, more than a few Social Darwinists and self-identified races who welcomed the empire as an occasion for racial war, and of course assorted British military men and British merchants who earned their living from the empire in one form or another. Hobson saw international finance capital — which unfortunately he seemed to identify with prominent Jewish bankers like the Rothschilds — as ultimately guiding and directing the British Empire, but his book outlines how British humanitarians, anti-humanitarians, merchants, social servants and the odd social reformer all played along with the game.

    Isn’t the sort of imperialism that Hobson described close to the sort of imperialism that the US has developed today? I don’t mean the Leninist caricature of greedy Western bankers ruthlessly dividing up the world, but a more variegated system that unites genuine humanitarians, intelligent or not so intelligent military leaders, feminist politicians, rightwing Christian evangelists, tireless apologists for Zionism, corporate CEOs eager for Third World resources and investment opportunities, and some very decent NGO volunteers into an impressively nuanced movement for constant American interventions and constant American domination of the world?

    What is fundamentally wrong with the Libyan intervention to many American leftists, I think, is that this intervention supports that sort of “Hobsonian” empire. And for many American leftists, even that nuanced and complicated form of empire, with its capacity for moral as well as cynically self-interested actions, is fundamentally unacceptable, just as the British Empire for all its occasional virtues was fundamentally unacceptable to Orwell.

    I’m not sure this argument fits very well into your blog, which is more focused on the Middle East than on the United States. But I think many of us who are uneasy about the Libyan air strikes are ultimately more concerned about the United States than we are about Libya. We find our society addicted to what William Appelman Williams termed “Empire as a Way of Life,” and this latest military episode just another illustration of it. I also think some of us dread the American jingoism that may arise from this war even more than we dread collateral Libyan and/or American deaths and casualties.

    • Andy Feeney, please post a link to your site or blog if you have one, and if you don’t – please take this as encouragement to make your voice heard. Yours is the soundest commentary I’ve read on the situation so far.

    • “Economic”? Feeney you are disingenious. Libya has only 0.8% of world oil reserves. There is nothing economic about UN or western intervention in Libya as Prof. Cole has stated. Economics is a pretty exact science and no amount of anti-imperialist language games you play can make the sky green.

  178. Just a note about what’s being destroyed by the intervention.
    It seems that the target of the UNSC authorized intervention is the war-making capacity of Qaddafi (aircraft, armour, artillery and munitions along with the command/control technology). The irony is in the fact that most of these hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons were sold to Qaddafi by the very forces (American, British and French) that are now destroying them.
    And the irony extends to include cynical moves like the current Canadian federal gov’t sending fighter-bombers to join the now NATO led intervention. But the Harper gov’t is doing so, largely in order to shore up and highlight its upcoming purchase of some $30 billion worth of new F-35 “next generation” fighters for its armed forces.

  179. “Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.”

    So this means if Gaddafi had picked up some predator drones and stuck with them, we could have avoided this whole mess, right?

  180. Ok, popular post-good to hear people take an interest

    Very good point from Harry Flashman-Lack of N. African Influx. Straw man arguments show up frequently amongst comments, but why are Tunisia and Egypt standing by-surely the local links created by a revolutionary bond would last for decades, financially, diplomatically and in the hearts and minds of the people-giving legitimacy to the cause of the Arab Spring

    Rather amusingly, a bloc of commenters appeared claiming that absolute pacificts and anti-imperialists did not exist, and then present a part pacifist part financial argument for not getting involved in any war anywhere unless Libyan forces in APC’s were rolling down Madison Avenue or the Taleban were mounting an amphibious assault on New York-not going to happen. There is a word for that sentiment, a once established and still rather popular one-namely-isolationism

    Proud nations such as Finland, Switzerland and Thailand-few others now and then-technically Japan as well-once too the US, before a series of convenient events led to her entry into World War one. Now, the Sleeping Giant status is admirable, reasonable and financially sustaining-but it means you leave the international community apart from trade-and retrench US influence to the Americas.

    Note that as i type 11:38 GMT the word Isolationist appears thrice, once in the original article, once by a certain Mr Jonathon at 1:22 on the 27th of March-Making a good point that someone should be going in to support them, but not officially, or not with jets anyway-and i agree with him about the International Brigades
    the third time that the word appears is in the german translation of the original article

    Yet it seems people who maintain a policy of holding aloof from affairs of other countries or political groups are offended when called isolationists
    Look it up, its the Oxford definition, nothing to be ashamed of, protecting american citizens is understandable.

    But if you wish to be fully part of an international community then the worlds business becomes your business
    Like it or not, the nation with the most influence, power and military has always been the worlds policeman

    At the end of the day-a revolution in Libya has a chance of bringing a leader who’s rhetoric hardly makes him seem reasonable (“It is crazy, if the west goes crazy so will i” “No Mercy, door to door, house by house”) and others.
    If we keep bringing up Iraq and Afghanistan, Sarajevo, (noone has mentioned the Korean war, despite the fact that a democratically leaning Cyraneica and a backwards Gaddafiland around Sirte remind me of the North South Korean Divide), West wanted to do something, and for once it did-Unless one claims Isolationism is the way, The people on the ground should be the deciding voice

    I can understand the points of isolationists, i disagree with them because when one sees crowds chanting “Thank You Cameron” and “Thank you Obama”, sounds like success to me. Concerns about the future and redrawn spheres of influence are valid, but for now-the cavalry has arrived, saved benghazi and now the paperwork and formality that comes with decisive action will be worked through

    Now those who looked on at the Hungarian, Czech, East German, Nigerian and other revolts be ignored by the west silently celebrate, and dare not voice their support for fear of being labelled a warmongering neo-conservative imperialist

  181. Many thanks, Juan, for your thoughtful article. I agree with a number of your points, but I come out with the opposite conclusion. Let me explain why, going thru some of the points in your piece.

    The Libyan uprising against their longstanding dictatorial regime clearly emerged in the context of the region-wide Arab Spring, and our support for it remains grounded in that broader support. The claims about al Qaeda leading the uprising, of Benghazi’s population all being Islamists or drugged are certainly ridiculous – the fact that an Islamist movement has long had a presence in eastern Libya doesn’t change that, nor does the fact that some people may be proud of the few hundred young Libyan men over the years who joined resistance forces of whatever sort in Iraq or elsewhere.

    Now my first disagreement – whether a bloodbath in Benghazi was certain and imminent. In fact, Gaddafi’s tanks had already attacked Benghazi and had been driven out by the armed power of the opposition forces – that’s why the tanks were outside the city when they were destroyed by the French warplanes. Was there danger to Benghazi and other parts of the country? Of course. But it is far from certain that the opposition, albeit less well-armed than the government’s forces, lacks the power to fight back. We’ve heard a great deal about military forces who defected with their weapons – in the east apparently Gaddafi lost the ability to deploy any of his military forces very early on. We haven’t seen many of them fighting, but they are a key resource for the opposition. (I’m not sure what you base your claim on that there are no trained troops on the opposition side – where do you think all those soldiers, formerly deployed in eastern Libya, went?)

    On the broad question of intervention – somehow we have all fallen into the trap of equating intervention with military intervention. Everything else somehow gets ignored. The UN resolution’s calls for an immediate ceasefire, for negotiations to reduce rather than escalate the level of bloodshed, for accountability – all were sidelined or ignored as soon as direct military engagement was on the table. And then it’s too late.

    And by the way, you’re absolutely right that there’s no logical argument to call this a “war for oil” since the Libyan government and Libyan oil deals had been in bed with the Europeans and the U.S. since the 2003 rehabilitation of Gaddafi. That’s why most of us aren’t making that argument.

    You make a very serious allegation that equates criticizing this western military assault (yes, western– I’ll get to that in a minute) with the belief that “it was all right…if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds.” Some of us don’t believe this was the best way to protect Libyan civilians, we have different assessments of what was needed, we are concerned about the civilian casualties of no-fly zones, we have a host of other concerns that do not equal supporting a massacre. Your assessment implies that anyone who did not call for no-fly zones and airstrikes in the DRC, in Cote d’Ivoire, in Sierra Leone is therefore fine with the massive bloodletting. How about in Gaza, where we “only” tried to get the U.S. to stop enabling the Israeli assault, but we didn’t call for establishing a no-fly zone or U.S. airstrikes against Israeli military targets, does that mean we were supporting the massacre?

    You say that Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003. I agree. But it’s way too close to Iraq 1991. Like Desert Storm back then, the Libya intervention was made legal by the UN resolution. But legality is not the same as legitimacy. In 1991 the U.S. used bribes, threats and punishments to coerce the Security Council into endorsing their war – what Eqbal Ahmad called “a multilateral figleaf for a unilateral war.” This is different, the Libya intervention was not initially a U.S.-led campaign in the UN, but instead was begun by France and the UK, only then the U.S. joined in. The refusal of important countries – Brazil, China, Russia, India, Germany – to accept the resolution is only part of why the legal vote doesn’t make it legitimate. You’re right that it’s not the Chinese and Russian abstentions that deprive the resolution of legitimacy– legitimacy isn’t about who abstains but about whether the resolution helps “end the scourge of war” or not, a decision every movement and ultimately every person has to decide. In 1990 the U.S. bribed China to abstain on the go-to-war resolution against Iraq, after Beijing claimed for weeks it would veto. That abstention didn’t make the resolution legitimate – the U.S. instrumentalization of the United Nations to provide political cover for war was what made it illegitimate.

    The Obama administration itself recognized that distinction between legality and legitimacy – and insisted on Arab League and African Union endorsement even though legality requires only a Security Council vote. Early on it became clear the AU (for all the usual reasons that have nothing to do with humanitarian concerns) wasn’t going to join the campaign, so the U.S. quietly dropped that requirement. Instead they focused only on the Arab League, which was reluctantly pulled in to support “only” a no-fly zone, not air strikes or other military actions. Amr Moussa came out against it, then wiggled around again, the League now remains officially on board but seriously divided. Overall, despite the cosmetic participation of two U.S.-provided Qatari warplanes, this is a western intervention – the quarrelling over command between NATO and its various powerful member states doesn’t change that.

    (In the AU, many of the African leaders have relied on Gaddafi’s money and backing. In the Arab League, made up of 22 governments whose leaders, with the exceptions only of newly democratizing Egypt and Tunisia, are all under enormous public pressure at home to either give up much of their power or to step down outright – all but three or four are completely dependent on the U.S. for military and/or economic support. So the AU’s refusal, and the Arab League’s willingness, to support the no-fly zone proposal was predictable. Why would we expect either organization to go against the immediate narrow interests of its member governments?)

    My own view is that since, unlike the other uprisings of this Arab Spring, Libya’s uprising turned into a military confrontation, some kind of military assistance might have made sense. I hoped that, in the absence of Spain-style International Brigades, which I would have supported, the possibility of some military assistance from Libya’s newly-militarized neighbors in the form of arms, etc., might have been appropriate. It was not impossible – civil society organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, were able to deliver boatloads of medical supplies directly to at least one of the coastal cities, other deliveries might have been possible as well. This assessment is linked, of course, to the recognition that the Libyan opposition actually has military capacity, as they’ve shown in repelling Gaddafi’s forces in numerous places. And that the vast majority of casualties were caused not by Gaddafi’s airstrikes, but by tank and artillery ground attacks; thus the focus on a no-fly zone as the centerpiece was also misplaced. And that a large-scale western assault that quickly moved beyond a no-fly zone to attacks on isolated military bases, planes on the ground, command-and-control centers that happen to be in the midst of heavily populated areas, far beyond the immediate “protection of civilians” authorized by the UN, was not the appropriate answer.

    As to the length of time for this operation, the UN resolution itself implies a long war. It calls on the secretary-general to report to the Security Council “in seven days, and every month thereafter.” While some may hope for 90 days, once military battle is joined it is virtually impossible to control or even determine how long things will go.

    On the hypocrisy argument, yes military intervention is always selective. And that’s just the point. This isn’t about weighing all the various humanitarian crises, and deciding where and how to respond on the basis of which ones impact the most people, which ones are the bloodiest, which ones are closest, which ones have the most brutal dictator… this is about moving directly to military intervention in a few select cases, while other humanitarian crises are not responded to at all, even by non-military means. It would be easier to believe that military intervention in Libya really was based on humanitarian motives if non-military but active intervention was already underway in other similar (if so far smaller) crises. For example, if the U.S. had immediately cut all military and economic aid to Bahrain at the first sign of its king bringing in foreign troops to suppress the uprising. If the U.S. had immediately ended all arms sales and stopped the current weapons pipeline to Saudi Arabia when its soldiers crossed the causeway. If the U.S. had announced a complete halt in all military aid to Yemen when Saleh’s forces first attacked the demonstrators. (Not to mention the possibility of a decision to cut military aid to Israel and end the decades of U.S.-granted impunity for war crimes.) All of that is possible. When none of it is done, it’s hard to accept the claim that military intervention in Libya is really grounded in humanitarian motives.

    You say that the other uprisings of the Arab Spring aren’t comparable to Libya’s because of the difference in scale of civilian death. That’s true. It’s also true that Libya’s experience is different because the opposition took up arms itself – different than every other one so far (except in a few isolated and discrete incidents), even in the face of horrific lethal attacks by military and police and government loyalist forces, attacks which have left scores or hundreds dead in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria. And there’s the difference that in Libya people asked for foreign assistance. That certainly seems true – though many said they wanted only a no-fly zone, no other foreign intervention. But do we really think the Obama administration – or any government in any country – would actually commit their military forces because people in another country asked them to? I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. It also remains a question whether the request of “the Libyans” (as if there was only one voice) will prevail when and if they ask U.S., NATO, British, French or other planes, ships, troops to leave their territory, their skies, their territorial waters. Who will call the shots then? The other uprisings have made their independence from outside help a point of pride; it’s understandable why desperate people in Libya might make a different decision, but there are consequences. It’s not clear yet how they will rejoin the historical current already underway.

    I do not view the world in absolutes. I am not an absolute pacifist. I hold anti-imperialism as a principle but I do not equate that to opposition to any intervention anywhere. As I already mentioned, I believe there are many kinds of intervention, including those aimed at diplomacy, negotiation and accountability. And I actually do believe in some military interventions as well. I see the anti-fascist International Brigades in Spain as great heroes, I supported Vietnam’s overthrow of the Pol Pot dictatorship in Cambodia back in 1978, I condemned the U.S. and France for preventing (yes they were far more active than simply ‘standing back’) the UN from sending Blue Helmets to Rwanda in 1994. There could be other examples. But I do not think that internationalizing, and thus escalating, the war in Libya – it had already become a civil war with the two sides, albeit unequally, holding and fighting for territory – is the way to go.

    The U.S.-led (NATO cover or not) military intervention is underway. Our job now is to make sure it does not escalate even further into full-scale invasion, and to try to end it as soon as possible. And then to work as hard as we can to support the efforts to consolidate and expand the extraordinary accomplishments of the uprisings of the 2011 Arab Spring – in Libya and the rest of the region.

  182. Professor Cole, I, like you, am cheering the opposition. I won’t write a treatise. I agree with your points.

  183. Juan, while your debate with debate this morning on “Democracy Now” with Professor Vijay Prashad was cogent and empathetic, there was one piece of very significant but hidden information that bears strongly on such debate about the prudence of US military intervention in Libya.

    This un-debated hidden factor is whether the ruling-elite global corporate/financial/militarist Empire which now has ‘captured’ and almost fully controls our former government, by hiding behind the facade of its bought and owned TWO-Party “Vichy” sham of faux-democratic government and equally “Vichy” corporatist media, is actually planning and executing its military intervention in Libya as a ‘kick-off’ element of the global war planning strategy contained in Thomas Barnett’s 2004 Naval War College (and ‘hot read’ national security state) book, “The Pentagon’s New Map” —- which outlines the use of “Leviathan” military influence to cut a 5000 mile swath across the entire N. African, Middle Eastern, and SW Asian countries of the “Crescent of Unrest” from Mauritania to the Afpak’s boarder with India.

    This nasty possibilty seems to comport very significantly with the ‘hint’ of intelligence information that no less than CIA connected ‘journalist’ Bob Woodward mentioned just this weekend on “Meet the Press” when he said:

    MR. WOODWARD:  “I’m not sure whether it’s unrest, an upheaval, whether these are revolutions.  But in a 5,000 mile area from Mauritania to Afghanistan, you have to kind of put all this together.  The president has a mammoth management problem.  There is deep unhappiness, as there should be, about do we know what’s going on in these countries?  And the intelligence agencies are scrambling because they cover the leaders and not the people who are the revolutionaries or the rebels or the people involved in this upheaval.”

    Juan, I strongly believe that both your position and that of Professor Vijay Prashad would be more complete and balanced if the sleeping issue of Barnett’s strategy for the “Gap” being subsumed into the “Old Core” (his more polite term for the US centered Western global Empire) were to be seriously considered in any debate about the progressive or reactionary intervention in Libya.

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine
    Liberty over violent empire — People’s Party 2012

  184. Great article. I was not aware there is a fringe left adulation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but I’m not surprised. The far left has long held an unfortunate fetish for dictators like Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Castro and the list goes on. However, I take extreme exception to your over statement that “Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way”. No matter how unskillful the Bush administration was in conducting regime change in Iraq, that country and the world will be better off in the long run without Saddam and his brutal Bath regime. In fact, Saddam and his war machine were far more heinous than Qaddafi. In fact, the end game of regime change that Obama wants in Libya is quite comparable to the regime change that Bush sought in Iraq. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise. I’m not a neocon. I’m a progressive liberal who has always voted left and believes that Obama has made a tough call while discovering that being POTUS is much more difficult than being Leftist. Bush got regime change but will Obama?

  185. For several days this statement written on has hung over me like a dark cloud: “United Nations Security Council resolution, the gold standard for military intervention” Today it suddenly came to me,the real Juan Cole would never make such a statement. “Gold Standard..,???” This explains the aggressive,unleash the U.S. war machine stance in recent posts.

    Who kidnapped Juan Cole? And who is this imposter?

  186. I appreciate Cole’s arguments, and I am concerned about civilians lives, however I must ultimately disagree with Juan’s “unabashed” support for this US-led Western intervention.

    In my view, the military action in Libya does reeks of realpolitik “Military Humanism”. While there are concerns about the lives of civilians, I believe that, as Achcar and Tariq Ali (link to ) have pointed out, at bottom this intervention is really about oil and an attempt to assert Western control over events in the region in order to achieve “stability”, and that to achieve this goal the US and the West is engaged in selective, cynical vigilantism. The hypocrisy of our intervention is too much to stomach on this score. Do we really think that the US under Obama has committed us to a new and enlightened foreign policy? A kindler, gentler empire? To ask the question is to answer it.

    Cole’s contrast in his discussion with Vijay Prashad on Democracy, Now! (link to between Libya and Bahrain is flawed in 2 ways: the fact that the scale of the uprisings in Libya vs. Bahrain is different in size and that the civilian casualties suffered is higher in Libya than Bahrain does not eliminate the anti-democratic logic of the West’s intervention, nor that of the despotic monarchy’s that the West props up.

    Finally, Cole’s claim that Obama does not want to overthrow Gaddifi “directly” but not putting boots on the ground is laughable from a “practical” military point of view: An A-10 Warthog and a C-30 Gunship will do just fine, thank you very much.

  187. Dear Juan Cole,

    I just heard the interview you held with Democracy Now. There are several statements that have been manipulated and which continue to surface. I would invite you to look further into two of these which I find particularly disturbing.

    Obama, last night, say the following:

    “At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared he would show no mercy to his own people. He compared them to rats and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city.”

    This statement is a distortion of what Ghadaffi actually said. In the original speech in Arabic on Libyan TV and in the first available translation of that in Aljazeera, he was addressing the armed rebels in Benghazi concretely, NOT the civilian population!

    He said, he would show no mercy with those who would not put down their weapons and pardon those who did. He also said, addressing the people directly, that he would guarantee the safety of the civilian population when his troops entered Benghazi and that “they” would not have anything to fear.

    Now, REGARDLESS of how you or I might feel about the true intentions behind those statements, this is what he said! When we fail to name this, when we instead either tow the line of falsely constructed translations or outright deceptive statements, we do our own quest for justice and truth a major disservice.

    This also applies to the statement of thousands of dead in Libya you also mention in your interview with Amy (as opposed to the 20 in Bahrain.) There is no independent confirmation of any such figures! Not even close! This too was an early media fabrication about the civilian deaths in Benghazi and elsewhere, which were never confirmed or even followed up on, even as the rebels held those cities. No hospital reports, signs of plane bombs, nothing!. Still, these never confirmed or proven claims, remain advanced weeks later as fact. Just as you did. They are not fact.

    All that I am asking you is to do some additional independent facts checking about both of these statements.

    The original text of Ghaddafi’s “no mercy” statement can be found easily on Aljazeera English and Arabic.

  188. Great post, Juan. I’ve mentioned your post on my own blog. I understand the opposition to this intervention, and yet for me the most important element is the wish of the Libyan people. Without a doubt Obama prevented a massacre, and MUST be commended for that.

    This does not mean that the US should be trusted. Get in, do the job, get out as soon as possible. And to be fair, that seems to be the plan. Obama seems to understand the potential for bad publicity in this, both at home and abroad. He prevented the collapse of the revolution; well done, but now it is time to turn it over to the US’ allies, and get out of there. Let others deal with it.

  189. I hate you so much for beating me to the Churchill point. I have been plugging the Spanish Civil War angle myself. There are a thousand other valid historical illustrations of how the pacifist left are getting it wrong. But very few historical arguments against this intervention, since the entire map of power has altered. never before has a revolution happened before the massed eyes of the population. And never before has it been able to express its opinions instantly and without interference. And never before has a revolutionary people had such an armoury of information tools and such a degree of classic political consciousness. Progressive thought should take heart from all the evidence that the Marxist tipping point is being reached, while Consumerism is obviously collapsing under its own weight. But the soft centre seems to be determined to fight the battles of the past all over again. They seem entrenched, and display all the reflexes of the shell-shocked.

  190. HELP!

    I have been getting notifications from this site even though when I click on “manage subscription”, it says I am blocked.

    Who do I contact? It is driving me crazy. I can’t contact Juan Cole either, the email doesn’t go through!


  191. “It simply is not true that very many of the protesters took up arms early on…”

    The Guardian reported as early as Feb 18th that 50 mercenaries from Chad were executed by rebels in al-Bayda. [1] That’s THREE DAYS after the first accounts of a 200 people strong demonstration in Benghazi. [2]

    Now *that’s* early.

    [1] link to
    [2] link to

    • That’s the day after mass slaughter of unarmed peaceful protestors by Gadaffi thugs using heavy weaponry.
      That’s totally understandable.

  192. Thank you for a well presented defense of this bloody mission.

  193. Thank you for this.
    I agree completely, and will forward the link on to friends I am discussing this with.
    I note with amusement that 1) at least half the angry comments are those taking offense at being told to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time–not in dissent so much as peevishness on their own behalf and 2) the most cranky dissents are the longest, as though putting the whole encyclopedia in their posts makes them correct.

    Thanks too to Phoenix Woman for her insights and facts.

  194. “All this social engineering required boots on the ground, a land invasion and occupation. Mere limited aerial bombardment cannot effect the sort of extreme-capitalist revolution they seek. Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way.”

    “Mere limited aerial bombardment” accomplishes NOTHING but mayhem. The “Rebels” are impotent and will be for at least many months. The establishment of a military that will defend a national government instead of parochial interests takes years. Libya will need foreign army boots on the ground or is destined to fester is civil war for years.

    Name a single military expert that would agree with Cole.

    • “Libya will need foreign army boots on the ground or is destined to fester is civil war for years” So Gadaffi’s arsenals are infinite, you’re saying. But just imagining that such a thing is unlikely, who will rearm him?
      The truth is that every shot his troops fire brings his inevitable end that much closer. And if every time he uses his heavy weapons, they are destroyed, he will learn not to use them. Any allied heat-seeking technology will find an artillery muzzle flash.

  195. Very shortly, Im rather annoyed that the debate about “How to help the rebels” collapsed rather quickly into a false dichotomy: either Bomb the Tyrant Back to the Stone Age or Allow the Tyrant to Run Rampant.

    In american public debate, the problem seems to be that the Neocons — having converted from Maoism in the 80s — seem to have brought their belief that power comes only from the barrel of a gun. So: no non-military options were ever put on the table.

    It would be in the rebels’ best interest to form a provisional government, encompassing rebellion territory (this is a territorial civil war at this point, not the type of insurgency that Al Qaeda ran in Iraq). It would be in our best interest to recognise the international legitimacy of that rebellion government. With a government in place, we would be able to provide official military aid — one thing these guys need need NEED is formal training.

    We can also enforce a no-fly zone with the stated aim of providing a nascent East Libyan state with breathing room.

    If this pisses off the Colonel … umm … so what? He isnt gonna pull another Locherbie, not in the post-9/11 era.

    But what we have now is a policy whose stated goal is the removal of Colonel Qadaffi, without providing the means or the method for same. Not to mention jackholes like Newt Gingrich, who will inevitably claim that our inevitable failure to remove Qadaffi in a television-friendly length of time proves the “WEAKNESS!!!” of the United States and, specifically, Obama. While those of us who labour in the reality-based universe roll our eyes and remember that saying things more loudly dosent make them true (a tactic honed, apparently, by my five year old). Fail–fail all around.

    In fact, the resemblence to Clinton’s Iraq policy, especially after the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, should be uncanny.

    Bottom line: We can support the rebels. We can sell them guns (although they need training more than shiny new kit). We can run a no fly zone to to provide them with TIME. We can help them set up a central government. We can even help them remove Muammar Qadhaffi. But removing Qadaffi is NOT OUR JOB and, for this reason, should not be the goal of the mission.

  196. I appreciate Juan Cole’s Open Letter. I include my own thoughts on the subject, below, because I’ve not found anywhere else to express them. MG, Jr.

    Sentimentalism, Artillery and Independence
    (Can One Be Pro-Freedom And Anti-Imperialist?)

    Manuel Garcia, Jr.
    30 March 2011

    I recall visiting my grandparents in Havana during a summer vacation in 1958. The colors, the warmth, the sounds and the odors were all rich, pungent and sensuous. Equally impressive to a boy growing up in New York City was the flagrant poverty of many Cuban people: adults with naked rented children huddled at street intersections begging from the passing tourists. Fulgencio Batista was Cuba’s dictator, whose regime Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. characterized this way: “The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution.” Bohemia magazine — the equivalent in Cuba of Life magazine in the U.S. at that time — would print pictures of revolutionaries shot dead during gunfights with Batista’s police, lying rumpled in pools of blood on the street. I only heard the adults talk Cuban politics back in New York, when I was taken to the upper west side of Manhattan, our old barrio, for haircuts at the Cuban barbershop below the elevated train along Broadway, and in the brownstone apartments of relatives and family friends during Sunday visits. Everybody was anxious, everybody wanted a free Cuba, everybody was thinking of Fidel.

    That fall my father bought our first car, a 1959 Ford Fairlane with a two-tone paint job, white and caramel, “café con leche.” It seemed pretty clear that our family would stay in the U.S. for good. Then, on the first of January 1959, Batista fled the island and Castro’s victorious army rolled into an ecstatically jubilant Havana seven days later. We returned in June for a long summer vacation. Even in the Cubana de Aviación airliner (a Lockheed Electra) flying from New York’s Idlewild Airport, one could sense the uplift, the general sense of exhilaration with the arrival of the Cuban Revolution. But the real impact of that revolution hit me when I exited the stale air-filled vibrating metal tube that was that airplane, and walked down the stairs onto the tarmac and into the lush aromatic heat of a tropical country whose people were rapt with joy. The beggar “families” were gone, smiles were ubiquitous, and “barbudos” — the bearded ones — were everywhere. The barbudos then were revolutionaries in pristine khakis, with gunbelts holstering highly polished and uniquely detailed pistols, some silver-colored, some gold-colored, some gun metal blue, some with very long barrels, some with artistically engraved handles. Only the beards were shaggy, all other items from boot soles to cap crests were neat, shiny and crisp. At first I was a little nervous when a barbudo would climb onto a streetcar or bus and sit near me. But they were invariably well-behaved and I soon got used to sitting next to gold-plated long-barrel (to the knee) Lugers (very pretty), gleaming mirror-finish silvery Colt 45s, and robust Smith & Wesson 44 caliber six-shot revolvers. Some barbudos might have rifles, but sidearms were universal and definitely the display items of identity.

    During that summer of 1959, we travelled all over the island, saw many scenes (like a tour through a bullet-pocked hospital in the countryside, once the scene of a battle, now happily back in service), and many happy people. I even met Fidel at Isla de Pinos (now Isla de la Juventud). However materially poor some Cubans could be, especially “campesinos,” peasants in the hinterlands, they were all just so happy: believing themselves free, life despite its burdens was now a joy. Every person, every place, every moment exuded the same sense of uplift. I was immersed in a national sense of freedom, and it soaked into my psyche and bones. This experience permanently magnetized my political compass, so that regardless of verbal arguments and logical constructs in later years, my compass always points my sympathies toward freedom for any people.

    During the 52 years since my immersion in revolutionary effervescence, I’ve learned from the erosion of natural joy by abrasive experience that to fully relish their freedom a people have to individually commit to responsible and considerate behavior. As Aristotle said so well, “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.” So, my bias is to favor freedom for others, with the hope that their appreciation of that freedom will express itself as Aristotelian neighborliness.

    Today, I see the people of Libya, and Bahrain, and Syria as similar to the Cubans I lived among in my grandparents’ house in Batista’s Cuba. They want freedom from their dictators, and I am incapable of being unsympathetic to their desires. Perhaps if I studied their cultures and histories, I’d find good reasons to overcome my emotional impulses in their favor. Perhaps I’d find backward attitudes among them, say as regards religion, or the status of women, or racial prejudices, or the administration of justice, or the treatment of animals, and these deficiencies relative to my own culture would alert me to become more logical and mature in my evaluation of their worthiness of my concern, and especially for any consideration of political and material support from my country’s government. I might learn that “countries don’t have friends, they have interests.” If so, I would want to make sure that I did not compromise anything I had an interest in — my principles and causes, and national resources that could be used for social benefits domestically — by thoughtless support of foreign revolutions. After all, such sentiments can be exploited by power cliques and governments to craft foreign interventions that are instances of thinly disguised imperialist opportunism.

    However, probably because of the immediacy of today’s internet telecommunications, I find it impossible to conceive of the individuals I see and hear on the streets of North Africa and the Middle East as being that remote from my experience, especially the “wireless” younger generation. They look like my kids. Do I really prefer to make logical arguments in favor of Muammar Gaddafi because it accords with my interest to oppose Western imperialism disguised as “humanitarian intervention”? I do not. Can I really put aside any consideration of the specificity of this particular revolution at this particular time (quite inconveniently timed), and see a greater good in opposing any help to the anti-Gaddafi rebels because their personal freedom is not as important in the overall scheme of things as the effort to maintain strict nonintervention by Western powers (in particular the U.S.)? I cannot. I am unable to forget the people.

    So let me ask you, is it possible to have a bias for freedom, an opposition to dictatorship anywhere, and also oppose the capitalist-imperialist policy that governs so much of (all?) U.S. and European foreign policies? Is it possible to support popular revolutions against tyrants and dictators — no matter how benevolent these dictators can be on certain occasions and before Western audiences — even to the point of agreeing with “2nd amendment remedies,” the arming of popular revolutions so they can credibly match the firepower of their oppressors? In short, can anti-imperialists elevate freedom to a guiding principle? Is our solidarity with ideological consistency, or with masses of human beings throughout the globe?

    To answer yes to the above is to believe it possible to identify situations worthy of support, where a people are visibly demonstrating their desire to throw off tyranny and govern themselves democratically; and their dictatorial regime is demonstrating its utter lack of legitimacy. In popular fiction, the character of Rick Blane, played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 movie “Casablanca,” could identify and support such revolutions. (Can as radical a movie be filmed in the The French prefect of police in Casablanca accuses Rick Blane of being a “sentimentalist,” because “In 1935 you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain on the Loyalist side.” Blane replies sardonically “And got well paid for it on both occasions.” The prefect rests his case, “The winning side would have paid you much better.”

    So, can we be sentimentalists? Was the French fleet at Yorktown in 1781 under the command of the Comte de Grasse entirely a matter of interests and not friends, or was there some sentimentalism involved? I leave it to you to decide if this French intervention was a good thing or a failure for history. Can the Cuban-led defeat of the South African Defense Forces at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 during the Angolan Civil War, with the liberation of Namibia and the initiation of the subsequent fall of apartheid in South Africa, be seriously regretted? The 2289 Cubans that died during Cuba’s intervention in southwest Africa, and the 450,000 Cuban soldiers and development workers who spent time in this effort, were probably sentimentalists even if many were too young to remember Havana in 1959.

    News reports now suggest that President Obama and the British government are contemplating the possibility of arming the Libyan revolutionaries (link to Is this sentimentalism, or a cynical exploitation of public sympathy for the Libyan rebels, perhaps arming them slightly as part of a larger move to gain control of Libya’s destiny? Maybe somewhat better armed Libyan revolutionaries would be able to do the dirty work of finishing off Gaddafi, and absorbing the casualties necessary for that task without then requiring the exposure to risk for NATO troops. Also, the tactic of a military assistance program might co-opt Libya’s post-Gaddafi security and military services (as was done by the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations with several South American police and military forces during the 1960s). On the other hand, maybe the Libyans are smart enough to use any gifts of guns for their own liberation without losing their national sense of direction. Should NATO nations arm the Libyan rebels?

    If the NATO nations give the Libyan revolutionaries enough heavy weapons (and perhaps a few suggestions on military tactics) to overcome Gaddafi’s forces, they will ensure the success of the revolution. If that revolution leads to a stable democratic government, then the cause of freedom will have been very well served, especially if that post-Gaddafi government is clearly independent. If the NATO nations are unable to accept the possibility of an independent post-Gaddafi Libyan government, they won’t supply the revolutionaries with sufficient arms for a quick and decisive victory. Instead, they will dribble in just enough resources to keep Gaddafi confined to his corner while they try micromanaging the gestation of the eventual post-Gaddafi government so that it emerges as a client regime. This would be like Stalin’s policy in Spain during 1936 to 1939. This attitude was captured succinctly in the film “Lawrence Of Arabia,” where General Allenby is asked if he intends to keep his earlier promise to T. E. Lawrence, to arm the Arab troops with artillery in addition to small arms, so their revolt against Turkish rule can advance significantly (link to “If you give them artillery you’ve made them independent.” But, Allenby knowing what London wants, replies: “Then I can’t give them artillery, can I?”

    Sentimentalists hope the Libyan revolutionaries get their artillery soon, and enjoy their version of 1959 Cuban euphoria, however inconvenient their freedom turns out to be for the ruling powers. Sentimentalists prefer to have friends rather than just interests, and you can’t tolerate others being oppressed or enslaved if you want them as friends.

    We should not let our opposition to the misdeeds, mistakes and misapplications of our governments throttle our willingness to take advantage of spontaneous events that can lead to the overthrown of tyrants, and the release of political freedom for more people.


    Manuel Garcia, Jr. is a retired physicist (U.S. nuclear bomb testing), and his e-mail is         

      • Paul Tavan: thanks.

        I agree with Little Richardjohn @ 4/04 5:47AM. My own comments in a similar vein, but different style, have been posted:

        Rules Of Rebellion
        6 April 2011
        link to

        This is a follow-up to the disputatious replies I got to “Sentimentalism…” (above).

  197. Interesting to see that the Red Cross has sent in teams to monitor the killing in Cote D’Ivoire, where they’ve reported seeing hundreds of dead bodies and have estimated 800 deaths.

    Juan Cole mentions the rebels’ estimate of 8,000 civilian deaths in Libya. That’s a lot more than in Cote D’Ivoire. I’m surprised that the Red Cross hasn’t sent a team to Benghazi to check out the situation. Perhaps it should re-examine its priorities.

    • there is no independent confirmation of Juan’s or other similar claims of thousands of civilians dead in Libya…

      A week or so into the uprising, unconfirmed reports of all sorts were being framed by the media as authentic fact…Only if you followed the stories did you come to realize, they were unconfirmed and never to BE confirmed. I have said as much here…Please produce the evidence for the “thousands” of civilians dead. Simple answer? It never happened, and those who in their academic or journalistic bias or laziness have partaken in the spreading of dangerous mis-information, should have the professional courage to revisit their towing of false claims and retract them…

      • Adrian: How about the 400 wounded people from misrata on the turkish ferry, how about the killing of Mohammed Nabbous (, how about the rape of Eman al Obeidy, …: “It never happened”??

        Oh yes, and the earth is a plate …

  198. well this is nice. it’s nice to see that Juan Cole is ok with the US/UN action in Libya. I haven’t made myself super-knowledgeable about the issue. I understood that all the Libyan rebels requested was a no-fly zone so that Gaddaffi’s air force wouldn’t be able to bomb them, and it did seem like the US was taking it further than that.

    But I found that I just couldn’t get up any energy to protest what the US is doing there. I mean, I went to all the big anti-war marches for Iraq and Afghanistan, I stood vigil every week on a local streetcorner. But Libya — it seemed like for once the US might be doing a truly humanitarian thing without a not-very-well-hidden agenda of its own. So I like the validation from Juan Cole, I’m happy to share whatever views he has on the middle east.

    maybe I’m just getting too old for all this protest. not that I’m any less cynical about what the US is doing overseas, I’m not. but to tell you the truth, I’m far more upset with Obama for not showing up in Wisconsin to support the trade unionists than I am about him overstepping what the Libyan rebels requested.

  199. Give us a break with this print option. I do NOT need to print 385 comments!

  200. Any and every excuse is being wheeled out in throw the Libyan revolution to the dogs. Apparently, nothing can be done before all the arms trading stops and the Israel/Palestine problem sorted out. To do anything about rescuing Bengazi without this state of grace is to be ‘hypocritical’, apparently. Queue-jumping at least, very rude.
    To demand that the world becomes perfect before the Libyan people can be helped is tanatamount to signing their death warrants. Those trying to intellectualise Gadaffi away are indulging their taste for armchair fantasy political games at the expense of real people’s lives.

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