The Libyan Tragedy: lessons for the western left
By Tim Anderson
One might have thought that with the "humanitarian' pretexts for the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan fairly fresh in the mind, the western "left' might have hesitated before backing (or refusing to oppose) a similar stunt in Libya.
Apparently not. Perhaps caught off guard by the rapid development of events, many of those who consider themselves "left' or progressive, in the western-imperial cultures, happily joined in the big-power-orchestrated chorus against "dictator' Gaddafi. In doing so they helped legitimise the overthrow of one of the more independent regimes in the middle east, and helped extend big power control of the region.
Never mind some quibbles over the carpet bombing and eventual public torture and murder of Gaddafi himself. Never mind the complaint that a "no fly zone' should not have meant missile attacks. The damage was done. By joining in the chorus against this western-designated "dictator', they effectively backed his very public torture and murder, along with the destruction of an independent political will in that small country.
The consequences of the "humanitarian intervention' in Libya were pretty well understood by most of the left in developing countries (i.e. in most of the world). Fidel Castro, notably, expressed scepticism about Gaddafi's political philosophy and some of his practice, but strongly opposed any NATO intervention (1). The western "left', by contrast, was fragmented and confused on matters of basic principle.
I suggest here some lessons for a western "left' that seems to have found itself deeply embedded in imperial culture:
1. Beware the "humanitarian' pretexts for war and imperial intervention against "dictators'
The "civilian massacres' by Gaddafi were invented. The insurrection, armed by NATO from day one (2), was being put down by the Libyan army, and the "rebels' cried "we are civilians' as they were being beaten. Others claimed attacks, such as the alleged air strikes on civilians of 22 February, were simply fabricated (3). After a while, the armed insurrection could be "justified' by reference to the Libyan government's earlier attacks on "civilians'. Later on the cluster bombing of the town of Misrata, by NATO, was falsely blamed on Gaddafi (4). The western "left' should have recalled that most imperial wars and interventions were started on similar false pretexts. If Gaddafi and a relatively independent state could be wiped out so easily on such a pretext, the same could apply to many dozens of other independent states.