Why we oppose the air strikes on Libya

April 12, 2011

CHRISTIAN WRIGHT'S letter ("Is intervention a necessary evil?"), written in the immediate aftermath of U.S./NATO air strikes on Libya, claims that our article ("Nothing humanitarian about U.S. intervention") is a "cop-out" for not "taking a stand on whether or not they as socialists, and as well-meaning human beings in general, support or oppose the air strikes of the past 30 hours or not."

In fact, our article was unequivocally opposed to the air strikes, stating that "it will be important for those who support the popular uprisings in the Arab world to oppose the West's war on Libya."

But the central argument that Christian makes is not only that the U.S./NATO bombing campaign was essential to preventing a massacre, but that it's also the "only reason that the revolution in Libya is still alive."

Again, we beg to differ. The U.S. didn't intervene in order to prevent a massacre--or to defend the Libyan revolution in particular or the Arab revolutions in general. In fact, precisely the opposite is the case, as the U.S. arrangement with Saudi Arabia illustrates. As Asia Times Online columnist Pepe Escobar described the deal:

You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck between the Barack Obama administration and the House of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a "yes" vote by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya--the main rationale that led to United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.

This is precisely what happened. Simultaneous with the imposition of the "no-fly zone" in Libya, the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen dramatically increased their use of violence against democracy movements. The choice was not, as Christian thinks, between "stopping a massacre" or "defending the revolution" on the one hand, and "doing nothing" on the other.

As it turns out, the U.S. is using the alibi of "stopping a massacre" in order to crush the revolution. Thus, opposing U.S. intervention is doing something very important indeed: it is standing against the U.S. attempt to introduce counter-revolution to the region.

In the words of author and activist Tariq Ali:

The U.S.-NATO intervention in Libya, with United Nations Security Council cover, is part of an orchestrated response to show support for the movement against one dictator in particular, and by so doing to bring the Arab rebellions to an end by asserting Western control, confiscating their impetus and spontaneity and trying to restore the status quo ante.

This is the reason that the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt, who can hardly be accused of indifference to the plight of the Libyan revolution or Libyan civilians, also oppose Western intervention in Libya:

Intervention means the sacrifice of a few scapegoats, while working to contain the Arab revolutions within the framework of "democratic" niceties and easing the pressure from the masses, in exchange for the removal of social and economic demands, and the national demands of anti-imperialism.

TO THINK that the U.S. can be called upon "in the short term" to intervene on behalf of revolutionary forces without simultaneously acting to prop up their longstanding dictatorial allies across the region is to engage in the very evasion that Christian accuses us of.

We should not turn a blind eye to the fact that the U.S. again and again claims to act to "prevent a massacre" while going on to perpetrate a far greater atrocity than it had supposedly intervened to prevent.

Of course, the U.S. always has a "noble purpose" for its wars and occupations--to "liberate women from the Afghan Taliban" or to "free Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein"--both of which long enjoyed the support of the U.S., as Qaddafi did during the Bush and Obama administrations, before becoming "evil incarnate."

Yet the evidence is in that these justifications have nothing to do with the reality of hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians and millions of refugees--a fact that Christian not only knows, but agrees with, given his opposition to those wars.

Thus, Christian has to explain why he thinks that the U.S. can be trusted in Libya to do something different than what it did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Certainly, the many Iraqis who rejoiced when the U.S. swept Saddam Hussein aside now feel different about the U.S., which has systematically destroyed Iraq, turning it into a neoliberal fantasyland while allowing basic needs like potable water and electricity to go unfulfilled.

In fact, we don't need to scratch below the surface to know the U.S.'s reasons for waging war on oil-rich Libya. Nor does Obama require us to. In his March 28 speech on the Libya intervention, Obama explicitly stated that the U.S. is pursuing its own aims through its "freedom bombs." "When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act," said Obama.

As the American revolutionary John Reed put it almost a century ago:

The American capitalists promise bread to Armenia. This is an old trick. They promise bread, but they never give it...At a time when the starving Estonians had nothing but potatoes, the American capitalists sent them ships laden with rotten potatoes, which could not be sold at a profit in America.

No, comrades, Uncle Sam is not one ever to give anybody something for nothing. He comes along with a sack stuffed with straw in one hand and a whip in the other. Whoever takes Uncle Sam's promises at their face value will find himself obliged to pay for them with blood and sweat.

The aims of U.S. intervention in Libya are not an exception to this rule, but are part of the West's overarching campaign to put down the Arab revolution and reassert control over a region with vast oil reserves and decisive geostrategic location.
Tom Arabia, Boston, and Eric Ruder, Chicago

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