Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why the West should intervene in Libya

The "Libya-has-oil" argument is at risk of becoming the first time people are penalised for sitting on natural resources.

With civil war escalating and Libyan rebel forces losing ground to Gaddafi's troops (see here), a number of people have called against Western military intervention against the Libyan regime (see for instance the excellent Daily Maybe).

In short, the case against stepping in consists of:

a) the painful legacy of the Iraq war (which this blog opposed consistently from the outset); b) the fact that stepping in would hand Gaddafi a powerful ideological card; c) cries of hypocrisy related to the West's continuing support of other dictators in the Middle East (ie Saudi Arabia); d) the certainty that "[intervention] in Libya has more to do with control of that country's oil resources than with support for Libya's people" (also see Noam Chomsky on the matter).

No doubt their case has some merits. If there's one thing the world should have learnt from the devastating legacy of the trigger-happy Blair/Bush years, that is that military might should only be deployed as a very last resort.

But here is the thing.

Gaddafi is winning. What is currently looking like a massacre will turn into genocide the moment the entire Libyan territory returns under his complete control. That is possibly the only thing we can be sure of. The man is a sanguinary madman and he's already promised "a bloodbath".

Imagine for a second that David Cameron turned from jumped-up Tory to sanguinary dictator overnight and started slaughtering, say, tens of thousands of people in those Northern areas where local councils are opposing his cuts. Imagine you were stuck there, witnessing reprisals, massacres and disappearances.

Your side has tried to resist for weeks, but the battle is looking increasingly desperate and the prospect of a total bloodbath nearer. How would you feel if the rest of the world expressed their support simply by "freezing assets abroad" or expressing "firm condemnation" via a UN-sponsored piece of paper?

Would you not welcome foreign troops to save the lives of those around you?

"Will [military intervention] do any good?" asks Jim Jepps. I ask him to simply consider what will happen the moment Gaddafi's troops bag their victory. What good will come from that is beyond me.

And the oil thing.

We're witnessing the paradox of penalising tens of thousands of innocent people just because their country happens to be oil-rich.

Would you idly stand by the Srebrenica massacre if you found out that Bosnia was sitting on huge oil resources, just in case accusations of predatory opportunism may be levied?

Can you honestly say to those people "sorry to hear your house got bombed, mate...I'd help you if your country didn't have oil resources but, seeing as it has, we'll let Gaddafi slaugher you otherwise it looks bad on us?".

How does that work? It would probably be the first time in history people were actually discriminated in reverse on the basis of oil.

And yes, the West is propping up some appalling regimes around. It is right that we point out the hypocrisy.

But, given the failure to stop genocide in both Rwanda and in Bosnia, wouldn't it actually be refreshing - for once - if Western governments showed that military might can be used to genuinely rescue people from mass slaughter instead of the usual display of botched-up ideological crusades a-la Iraq?

It's true. Western leaders (with Blair and Berlusconi at the forefront) were kissing Gaddafi's hands for years. They armed him and pampered him. But so what? Isn't making amends and reversing crap and unethical foreign policy something to welcome with open arms?

Also read: When America left Arab Rebels to the Slaugher.


Jim Jepps said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

I'll concentrate on your response to my 'will military invention do any good' line I think.

I don't think it's enough to say that there is a genocide on the cards (I agree) so we have to do something. I'm specifically asking whether a NFZ would a) prevent that taking place and b) actually hold back the revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

A NFZ (which is a specific and limited form of military action) would certain disable G's airpower, but would it prevent genocide?

If anything my argument is that a NFZ is the worst of both worlds. We have the political damage that Western military intervention causes (which has a material impact on G's ability to remian in power) without preventing the tanks, artillery and infantry mercenaries killing men, women and children.

I don't accept this is an argument about whether we are in favour or opposed to genocide but whether these proposals will prevent that.

McDuff said...

That... is a bloody good argument.

But. I admit to bias. We have a bad track record here, and I worry about using the Superman conditional tense when talking about the various things we, the almighty imperialist powers, could do for good in the world.

I think particularly given the Libyan oil situation, it would be wishful thinking at best to expect that a rebellion aided by the US would be able to do anything except let the US install its next corrupt puppet government in charge. And then, what is the point of the rebellion?

I appreciate there may well be accusations of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here, but I am still concerned about our capacity to not fuck it all up royally.

claude said...

I agree that a No-Fly Zone could be useless or even counterproductive.

I'm of the opinion that more would be needed (ie aiming at pro-Gadafi ground units).

believe me, I do share your concerns. But I apply the lesser of two evils here. We shoud not repeat the mistake of Rwanda and Bosnia just because there may be a chance that we may fuck it up royally.

Paul said...

'Would you not welcome foreign troops to save the lives of those around you?'

Well this has happened before, and then Al Qaeda and the regions lunatics flocked to fight the infidel invader. No reason to suggest this would be any different. Please note I'm not necessarily disagreeing with what you say just pointing out the pitfalls. Also what would we intervene with? Our troops have their hands full with the legacy of Blair's wars.