Sunday, 21 August 2011

As Gaddafi's end nears...

Libyan rebels are making a push towards Tripoli. Having captured a military base 16 miles west of the capital, it is now almost guaranteed that victory will come soon. Seeing the civil war over and Gaddafi deposed is now far more likely than it was just last month. What comes afterwards, however, is far less certain.

Without a doubt, for the people of Libya getting rid of Gaddafi has to be seen as a good thing. Having kept power through a "mastery of tactical manoeuvring," Gaddafi's human rights violations include everything from a Law of Collective Punishment to placing bounties on the heads of its critics and making the foundation of political parties a crime punishable by death. Moreover, that the uprising began as a protest movement in line with the rest of the Arab Spring before erupting into civil war shows the depth of feeling amongst the populace, and that this was not merely a different faction vying for power.

However, whilst it isn't difficult to demonstrate that liberation is a key motivator of the rebels, the same cannot be said of NATO and the United States. The US severed its support for Libya when it became clear that the violent crackdown on dissidents faced significant opposition across the world in the context of what was going on in Egypt and Tunisia. No doubt, the criticisms that sprung from the more obvious u-turn from support for Mubarak at the height of the movement against him to touring Tahrir Square in the wake of the revolution will have played a part in this response. But the key concern will have been that support for Gaddafi was no longer viable for US interests in the country.

On the same day that the perilous position of the dictator became clear, oil prices climbed to fresh highs. Partly, this will have been as a result of the wider Arab unrest, and "anxieties" that "no one knows where this ends." But there was also the fact that, though it accounts for less than 2% of the world's oil supply, Libyan crude is magnified in importance by its high quality. But the strategic value the country holds wasn't safe in the hands of an already unreliable dictator now rapidly losing his grip on power. Thus, allegiances had to be switched.

Similar strategic calculations can also explain why the US continued to back the dictators when it came to Yemen and Bahrain, and why the brutal repression in Syria has elicited little more than harsh words from the west. Liberals may have lapped up the "humanitarian intervention" line with the Iraq war now fading into the past, but it remains hopelessly naive to believe that states ever intervene in world affairs for that reason.

The exemplars of such a position are Harry's Place. They proclaim that "once Gaddafi is gone, the Libyan people will remember who took their side at a crucial moment, and who didn’t." But it is worth looking back at the support they offered for the Iraq War, and the reality that came from it - not only in terms of atrocities such as Fallujah but also in economic terms, with 25% of the population below the poverty line. Even before this became apparent, to argue that any state would "seek to give real practical support" to opposition movements solely for the cause of " human rights, justice and social progress" is an absurdity. Harry's Place contributor Johann Hari came to realise this fact in 2006, but it seems that his fellow liberals lack even the foresight of a journalist stripped of the Orwell Prize for plagiarism.

True, the critics of the war in Libya that they cite - Hugo Chavez and George Galloway - are not opposing the war from the same position I am. Chavez is an ally of Gaddafi, whilst Galloway is a hardline Stalinist who once shook Saddam Hussein's hand and whose main objection to state violence in Syria is that it "leaves the country at risk of imperialist invasion." But to put everyone objecting to the war on a par with these two is the same as equating them to Nick Griffin, whom they also cite as an opponent of the war in a blatant ad hominem.

However, my opposition (as the opposition of many others) doesn't equate to support for Gaddafi, or whatever other absurdities the "pro war left" cares to concoct. Rather, as I've said before;

The other point in this debate, of course, is that those of us musing on blogs or in newspaper articles are not discussing what "we" should do. We are discussing what the state should do. As we are discussing it whilst in no position to influence government policy and (in my case) from the understanding that said policy has to reflect the rough consensus of the elites rather than popular will anyway, it is something of a moot point.

States will always act as they need to in order to serve the power behind them. The masses will combine when they wish to break free of that power and act for themselves. Rather than speculating on the power plays of the ruling classes and presuming benevolent motives that aren't there, we should be taking the side and agitating in the interest of ordinary people. Everywhere. Always.
As such, I find no contradiction in both supporting the efforts of the rebels to oust Gaddafi and opposing the motivations of the western powers who have intervened through NATO.