The threat of intervention in Libya

March 3, 2011

Calls for "humanitarian intervention" in Libya are masking the fears of Western officials that the revolts in the Middle East may threaten their interests, writes Richard Seymour, author of The Liberal Defence of Murder and a blogger at Lenin's Tomb.

IRONIC, IN the middle of a revolutionary upsurge in the Middle East, that an unholy alliance of security experts, politicos, European Union (EU) personnel[, ambassadors and house babblers is once more bruiting the shop-soiled commodity of "humanitarian intervention."

Forget the recent embarrassment over the loss of Tunisia and Egypt, and the sweats over uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen. It's all about Libya. And having spent the last few years arming Qaddafi, selling him to international audiences as a former madman who has seen the light, the U.S. and EU are now simulating mortal affront over the use to which Qaddafi is putting those weapons.

Having waited and watched, and made initially very equivocal statements, they've determined that Qaddafi's regime is finished just in time to avoid any faux pas, such as Joe Biden or Tony Blair bigging up the man's courage or denying his dictatorial proclivities.

More, they're ready to fight on the side of the Libyan revolution. Neocons are once more clamoring for the breach. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the "Wilsonian" former head of U.S. State Department policy planning, is also tweeting for the intervention. British Prime Minister David Cameron is raising alarm over the prospect of chemical weapons being used as justification for imposing a "no fly zone."

A U.S. Navy jet touches down on an aircraft carrier
A U.S. Navy jet touches down on an aircraft carrier (Rosa A. Arzola)

That this should be so amid a revolution that is actually on the verge of deposing Qaddafi, possibly not the last of recently U.S.-backed dictators to crumble in the Middle East, is interesting. For anyone following the news, Qaddafi is hanging on in a few enclaves of Libya, he's lost most of the police and army and the "tribes" that backed him, and the revolutionaries are advancing on his last strongholds even as I write. The regime can't re-take lost towns, which means it is militarily and politically finished.

The massacres that Qaddafi's thugs have perpetrated in defense of the regime are very real and very grisly, and I can't have much respect for the argument from some that Qaddafi's regime was historically progressive and thus worth defending. But these massacres aren't going to stop the regime from falling.

Now, the ideology of "humanitarian intervention" is among other things a form of racist paternalism. It maintains, through its affirmations and exclusions, that people in the Third World cannot deliver themselves from dictatorship without the assistance of imperialist Euro-American states.

Even if they do, the ideology in its present permutation maintains that they won't be able to maintain a decent society by themselves. In fact, there's a palpable fear of the Arab sans-cullotes among Euro-American elites--even the express motives for "humanitarian intervention" are not entirely altruistic.

Bernard Lewis, Niall Ferguson and those ambassadors security experts all seem to worry about what will happen in the "vacuum"--which, significantly, depicts Libyan people, the revolutionaries who are bravely undertaking this historic struggle, as a mere absence. Are Arabs ready for democracy? Will the "disorder" allow "al-Qaeda" to "reappear"? What will happen to oil prices?

And this seems to be the point. It is precisely because they know that Qaddafi will not survive and are desperately worried about what sort of independent political forces may follow--it has nothing to do with "al-Qaeda"--that they are anxious to "help."

What I think is happening here is that the U.S., its EU allies and its assorted experts, intellectuals and lackeys have been looking desperately for a way to insinuate the U.S. directly into that revolutionary turmoil--to justify the projection of military hardware in a situation where American interests are decidedly counter-revolutionary.

The attempt to envelope this complex field of social and political struggles in the dilapidated ideological frame of "humanitarian intervention" provides just the entry point that the U.S. and its allies have been looking for. The call for "humanitarian intervention" has nothing to do with rescuing Libyans, who are proving quite capable of rescuing themselves. It is the tip of a counter-revolutionary wedge.

First published at Lenin's Tomb.

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