Suffice it to say that in today’s world, zealous declarations about protecting civilians and humanitarian intervention is the newest cipher for Western strategic operations.
When Obama, Sarkozy, and their allies make broad claims about saving humanity from evil, they are merely using the publicly acceptable rhetoric for business as usual.
In a few hours, the nebulously group known as the Libyan “rebels” will be making their first oil sales to Qatar. We should recall that Qatar was the front-runner of the Arab nations coalition that was so vaunted by Obama-Sarko when they insisted that this time it was not the West, it was the West version 2.0. Fresh cheap oil is evidently Qatar’s quid pro quo for helping the Obama-Sarko coalition save face by supplying brown faces to the line-up of the usual white suspects.
We laughed at the audacity of a Gaddafi’s who insisted hourly to the media that he had implemented a cease-fire, even while his troops outside pounded shells into the crowds. He was buying time by saying exactly what he knew we wanted to hear.
But Obama is doing no differently. He and the NATO allies talk the talk – humanitarian invention, massacre prevention – while on the ground they just simply take sides in a civil war.
The CIA has been on the ground for weeks now training the rebel forces (here and here); arms are being supplied through Egypt; NATO planes, with total air superiority, have repeatedly bombed Gaddafi’s compound, have taken out columns tanks; and mistakenly bombed rebel troops – all with perfect impunity and imperfect media coverage.
Why did we bomb those Gaddafi tanks? Oh, to save civilian lives, of course. Why did we bomb his compound? Also to save civilian lives. Basically, no matter what we do, you can count on the fact that we are doing it to save civilian lives.
As one columnist puts it, “In essence, and without ever saying so, the message to Gaddafi is that he must stop defending himself from those who would overthrow him.”
Richard Falk (law professor at Princeton and UN special rapporteur) aptly translates the double-speak:
“What the world actually witnessed was mainly something other than an effort to protect Libyan civilians. It was rather a an unauthorised attempt to turn the tide of the conflict in favour of the insurrectionary campaign by destroying as many of the military assets possessed by Libya’s armed forces as possible.”
More importantly, he goes on to describe the basic problem here. “How can such a struggle, involving a challenge to the dynamics of self-determination, be won by relying on the bombs and missiles of colonial powers, undertaken without even the willingness to follow the attack with a willingness to engage in peacekeeping on the ground?”
We should recall our horrible record in the last decade at correctly predicting the end game of a war intervention.
Exhibit 1: Iraq. Exhibit 2: Afghanistan.
So now Libya is to be exhibit 3?
It is not that any of us wanted Gaddafi to win. It should be clear that we were all, from Obama’s centrism to the far left, cheering hardily for Gaddafi to go down in the flames of a populist uprising. And there was a significant uprising, as Juan Cole tells us incessantly. The question though was what to do about it.
Scenario one involved leaving Libyans to fight their own revolution. If they get massacred, we would mourn; if they won out, we would cross our fingers that the new government has a more democratic architecture.
Scenario two involved doing their fighting for them. And that is what we are doing.
But now we are stuck. If Gaddafi wins, we made matters worse for everyone. If the rebels don’t win quick (and this appears to be the way things are going), then we made things a lot more complicated, and very possibly worse than if we had done nothing.
So we’re stuck trying to (uncovertly) help the rebels win, trying to manufacture a government with/for them, while pretending to only be intervening to protect the hapless civilians.
But here’s where it gets very problematic. Just because there is a revolution, doesn’t mean the world is transformed for the better.
We already see that there are new treaties being negotiated, new interests imposing control over the resources. Oil contracts are already being made in the name of the Libyan people still fighting Gaddafi’s tanks with their machine guns.
Perhaps the rebels will win, and perhaps they will institute a government that will be better than what was. But even if they do win, it is far from clear that the ordinary people will be better off than before; while the Western powers will have again shaped the world in the strategic interests of a greater hegemony.
Moreover, Richard Falk, among many, is pessimistic about the very possibility of longer-term success in Libya:
“…the odds of success would still remain small. If we consider the record of the past sixty years, very few interventions by colonial or hegemonic actors were successful despite enjoying overwhelming military superiority.”
Oh yes, and this: