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Mar 22, 2011

Libya ... US move really a police intervention

It's the Libyan rebels who've shown a capacity to be reflexive, risk-taking, and radically oriented to the future and its possibilities -- including the possibility that it may go terribly wrong.

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The Libyan revolution has been restarted by the support given to it by Western powers, and Libyan rebels have started to reverse the gains made by Gaddafi’s force in the past few days.

They have already retaken Ajdabiya and Zuwaytinah, two towns to the west of the rebel capital of Benghazi, and would appear to be on the march westward.

Though there is still a chance that the revolution will bog down into a protracted territorial civil war or stalemate, a more rapid victory may also be possible.

As Patrick Cockburn has noted, Gaddafi has only been able to call on a few thousand troops in his assaults — their lethality and power has been augmented by his forces’ continued reliance on firepower.

Should he be prevented from using them — which appears to be the case — a space may well open up whereby dissent within his western strongholds becomes possible.

Half the army or more has already deserted — there is no reason to believe that with some more pressure on the ground and from the air, it will dissolve altogether, and the revolution will be won.

Though they have launched attacks on his compound, the US and other forces claim they have no interest in a direct military assassination. It is hard to know whether to believe this.

Much of the anti-support sentiment wants to argue both sides of this;  that the US is seeking to dismember Libya, and impose its will, to which end assassination is being employed — and that international forces are involved to stabilise the situation, to frustrate the revolution in its final victory.

Since the Libyan revolution appears to have come within 12 hours of breathing its last before international support came in, such assessments do not make a blind bit of sense.

But nothing has, in the concerted anti-imperialist opposition to the strategic imperatives of an actual revolution.

Indeed by Monday morning there was a wider question — had the survival of the Libyan revolution emboldened people elsewhere? Had it contributed to the progress of uprising in Yemen, following the killing of 40 protesters on Saturday?

With generals now defecting, and the army appearing to turn against President Ali Saleh, his regime would appear to be near collapse.

Whether that will result in anything more promising than a takeover by the army remains to be seen.

Quite possibly the process was entirely autonomous to the Libyan revolution — and quite possibly the rebel resurge in Libya was what was required as encouragement to push forward.

After all, Tunisia and Egypt were relatively non-violent revolutions — and the latter substantially involved a handover to the army.

Libya was the first uprising with met with concerted opposition — which in turn created a genuinely revolutionary situation, dissolving existing institutions, emboldening people to struggle for radical freedom.

It was thus pretty important that it survive by any means necessary. The alternative was that it be another valiant defeat, another “not-yet” — a situation that many who were opposed to foreign involvement half seemed to welcome.

As international military action intensified, notions of an “imperialist” takeover being spruiked became positively mystical, and increasingly conspiratorial.

Contrary to the likely scenario — that the US had been dragged into a conflict with a petro-dictator they had spent years cultivating — the “anti-imperialist” version has been that the US, broke and with two wars under way, had been desperately looking for a way to insert itself into the conflict.

The analysis stems from an archaic theory of imperialism, formed in the era of the Belgian Congo, and solidified, if not petrified during the decades of the Cold War.

It sees power as expressed only and always in military dominance, territorial occupation, and high capitalist exploitation.

Not only does it fail to consider the contradictions of different types of power — the rather desperate need for the US not to have further drains on its resources, for example — it also fails to consider any process by which ideological fantasies, obsessions, self-delusions might motivate action.

The result is to cede an awesome degree of power and knowingness to great powers that showed, in the Iraq war, that they were utterly incapable of imposing a desired monolithic order.

It would seem obvious that this is the case with the French today. It is also to deny subjectivity or knowingness to the people conducting the revolt, whose wishes those opposed to military support for the revolution have largely ignored — and projected onto them a simplistic anti-colonialism, which it is clear is far from uppermost in their minds.

It’s one reason why US acquiescence in the “assistance” — really a police intervention — by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, has had such importance attached to it. If you believe imperialism to be a monolithic force — really an idea, rather than an ensemble of material practices — then the fact that it might be capable of having its actions split, set against each other and rendered contradictory, does not occur.

It’s the Libyan rebels who’ve shown a capacity to be reflexive, risk-taking, and radically oriented to the future and its possibilities — including the possibility that it may go terribly wrong.

Meanwhile, in Syria, protesters have torched the ruling party HQ … and Al Jazeera is keeping a keen eye on Algeria …

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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18 comments

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18 thoughts on “Libya … US move really a police intervention

  1. Dr_Tad

    Guy seems to be creating straw men about the Left at an alarming rate now. Take these about those of us trying to point out the reasons for the striking repetition in destructive behaviour by great powers by analysing geopolitical power relationships in terms of what we call “imperialism”:

    As international military action intensified, notions of an “imperialist” takeover being spruiked became positively mystical, and increasingly conspiratorial.

    The analysis stems from an archaic theory of imperialism, formed in the era of the Belgian Congo, and solidified, if not petrified during the decades of the Cold War.

    Not only does it fail to consider the contradictions of different types of power — the rather desperate need for the US not to have further drains on its resources, for example — it also fails to consider any process by which ideological fantasies, obsessions, self-delusions might motivate action.

    The result is to cede an awesome degree of power and knowingness to great powers that showed, in the Iraq war, that they were utterly incapable of imposing a desired monolithic order.

    I could try to respond to these straw men but I actually feel that most of Guy’s interlocutors on the Left (myself included) have addressed most of them directly already. It seems that every attempt to engage in serious debate about the nature of modern great power strategy and its likely outcomes is lost on him, to be dismissed rather than considered.

    As Western missiles rain down on another Arab and Muslim country it becomes ever clearer that Guy is much more interested in talking at the Left than with us.

  2. Bob the builder

    If people would like to see some of the anti-imperialist left’s viewpoints, this is an example – http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/bombing-libya-to-save-libya-emergency-demos.html

    I agree with Rundle that they are ossified and weak on analysis. I am still ambivalent about the whole thing, and deeply suspicious of the involvement of the western military. If it can be used to support a genuine revolution – if such a think is afoot – great! But the perils are many.

    A very difficult situation to understand and another thought-provoking viewpoint from Rundle is very welcome, even though he’s starting to sound strangely like Christopher Hitchens (not that I’m suggesting he has had a similar loss of sanity, it just highlights the complexity of these events).

  3. Guy Rundle

    well, a few points –

    – all due respect to the subs, i suggested that saudi arabia’s move into bahrain was a police intervention, not the libyan thing. quite quite different

    – Swany, yes, bombs kill. So do tanks and militias. The rebesl were determined to fight on, so people were going to die one way or another. You sound like a pacifist. a fair enough position, but not mine.

    – Steve, you dont identify a revolution simply by the leaders that history has selected. i very much doubt that most participants in the english revolution knew cromwell’s name until well after that long process was underway – and many were passionately opposed to him. there’s clearly a leadership in place. revolutions are often led by elites, from the aristocrat Lenin to the Xhosa prince Mandela. this onee has more of a mass character than most. It was restarted, in the sense that it was given an opportunity to start fighting back, and move forward again. military support restarted it, the west didnt.

    – Frank, there’s both a revolutionary leadership – the transition council – requesting external support, and every report, run in media of every conceivable affiiliation and politics, has featured fighting people demanding support from outside – and (implicitly) for people who call themselves revolutionaries to show solidarity by arguing for that support. In such circumstances you have to choose, and inaction is a choice. This is clearly a majority revolution against an erratic, sclerotic and vicious dictatorship, and the only rational political step is to support them, even if it goes horribly wrong.

    – Tad, i notice there’s a slippage in your assessment of the course of events from ‘certain outcome’, to ‘likely outcome’. The passage you quote is an argument, and one ive amplified at great length at ‘the stump’ and will continue to do so. You don’t reply to these arguments, you tend to simply repeat assertions about the monolothic character of imperialism. yes missiles are raining down on an arab and muslim country – cheered on by arabs and muslims rising up. A situation which reduces you to non sequitur rhetoric.

  4. Steve Painter

    Guy, we’ll soon know whether this was a popular revolution or an abortive uprising, encouraged to a certain point by people who wanted to overthrow Gaddafi (a worthy aspiration) but then betrayed by an elite who want to govern but don’t want the populace organised into popular militias and organisations of popular democracy.

    The initial rag-tag advance towards Tripoli looked very like it was encouraged by people who wouldn’t mind seeing the most militant elements wiped out. There appeared to be very little organisation despite the fact that elements of the military were present among the rebels in Benghazi to provide organisation and military strategy.

    I can understand why you, and others, support anything that will avoid a massacre of civilians and insurgents, but I don’t think you’ve got a scrap of evidence to call this a revolution.

    Revolutions are not made by people who let their militants march off to be slaughtered while they sit tight in Benghazi waiting for the US-UN Tomahawk missiles and Stealth bombers to start striking.

    This is looking very like the creation of another US client state, with very little prospect that it will be any better than Gaddafi’s regime.

    You can forget about democratic revolution. The next government will be made up of elements beholden to the US, and most likely chosen in large part by its operatives in the region. There probably will be a sham election to appease mass sentiment for democracy.

    I could be wrong. Perhaps this will turn out to be the first revolution made by Stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

  5. michael r james

    Here is a post I wrote on Slate yesterday (as an addendum to a much longer post):

    [Addendum: Maybe one of the first ripples around the region has just occurred (or reported just an hour ago): (NYT online)
    “In an apparent erosion of military support for Yemen’s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, five army commanders on Monday threw their support behind protesters calling for his immediate ouster.”
    Let’s hope we see the same in the Libyan army soon.
    (slate.com/id/2288758/pagenum/all/#p2) Yesterday, 11:11:33 PM]
    ………………………………………..
    But, GR, the reason I post this is just a lead into my question/observation concerning your drastic change of style with today’s article. You have adopted the one sentence/one paragraph style. I am wondering if you did this or some Crikey subbie has. (This is relatively short for a Rundle piece so perhaps they felt a need to stretch it so we readers were suckered into thinking it was the usual?) It is a common style on online newspapers etc. and for a while I just thought I must be some kind of old-school curmudgeon because I hate it so! (One of the most extreme practitioners is Annabel Crabb on ABC Drum where she does it religiously over a 2,500 word article.) Of course I understand why it is applied in actual print newspapers though I remain unconvinced even there that it makes for better readability. But online I think it distinctly leads to poorer readability. We write in paragraphs to improve readability, to group linked subjects or themes etc. the equivalent of breathing pauses in spoken word etc.

    Anyway the link with my post above is that Slate does NOT follow those rules! They write in long paragraphs if they wish, and I love them for it. If a long Hitch article was stretched out in one sentence per para I doubt it would be as pleasurable or comprehensible. I am quite sure the same would be true if one of your (in)famous looong pieces was similarly presented on the page.

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