Iran was the goods, uprising wise, for the neocons. Evil, Islamist/Shiite anti-Western dictator, good folks on streets, twittering away. Brave young folk, women being extra-persecuted, etc, etc. Slam dunk.
Tunisia? Pretty good. Place didn’t matter, uprising wasn’t Islamist, could make a claim that Dubya lit the (extremely slow-burning) fuse of freedom, etc, etc.
Egypt? Tricky. Really tricky. Our pharaoh in Cairo, keeping a lid on the Muslim Brotherhood, backstopping Gaza. On the other hand, the protesters sounded pretty modern, and dammit they had media access. Had to talk about the shadowy Islamists behind it all, and the damn Right got split down the middle by it.
Bahrain? Christ, there’s a US fleet there. It’s less a country than a jetty.
Libya? Libya?? Libya????? Oh shut up.
The Right’s gradual and encroaching silence about the Arab uprisings is a wonder to behold. On National Review, the US conservative website, which ran wall-to-wall coverage of the Iranian protests in 2009, and berated the left for not praising the brave Iranians, there is barely a word — just as there has been barely a word on Bahrain. In The Spectator, Melanie Phillips focused on the attack on US reporter Lara Logan, taking her attackers to be representative of the whole crowd — and not the women protesters and soldiers who rescued Logan. In Oz, the Bolter has a straight news rundown on his blog, and manages to use the Libyan thing to attack … the United Nations. Nothing at all on Quadrant. The News Ltd Blogger Who Cannot Be Named because S/he Will Sue (TNLBWCBNBS/HWS) confines self to a side issue. And at the Oz, a contribution from the opinion page is confined to … Strewth.
Why such reticence? The bravery of the Libyans is immense, inspiring. And they appear to be winning against a heavily armed regime whose fearsome power is crumbling …
Ah, of course. It is precisely because the Libyan uprising has occurred at all that it makes so little appearance on right-wing radar. For it kicks away another prop from the neocon argument about the Iraq invasion, and intervention more generally — that some regimes are so heavily armed that a people’s liberation must be done on their behalf. This was fall-back position No.2 in the war, as I recall, after the WMDs thing. For a giddy while there in 2003-4, the debate was mainly around who we’d invade next — Zimbabwe? North Korea, with nukes (Johann Hari’s choice)? Eventually we settled on the Northern Territory.
The “proxy liberation” defence survived for quite a while. Desperate members of the British Labour Party adopted the mantra — “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein” — although they didn’t mention the 200,000 or so other people the world was deprived of in the ensuing years.
The Libyan revolution makes it clear that the Iraqi people could have, and almost certainly would have, stood up to Saddam in this current wave of uprisings — taking upon themselves the responsibility for their own liberation, and the sacrifice of it. It’s a process whose importance lies as much in the meaning it gives to death — chosen, willed, as opposed to getting shot at a checkpoint or bombed — as it does to life. Furthermore, as the other uprisings have shown, it would have generated genuine solidarity among people, rather than the seemingly permanent divisions created by the US’s clientalism.
That’s a clue to the second reason why the Right has lost any ability to speak — the argument that there were anti-American ultra-dictators made it possible to defend dictators such as Hosni Mubarak. Thus Melanie Phillips in one of her 50,000 jeremiads bemoaned the simple abandonment of America’s allies in a process that would not challenge America’s enemies.
That got even more complicated when one of Gaddafi’s sons came on TV, in junior Dr Evil garb, to say that his dad was all that stood between his country and the Islamists.
The Right’s paralysis is that on the one hand this may be truer of Libya than of other places, due to the absence of organised political opposition. But they can’t support Gaddafi.
The confusion is now total for them — principally because the one thing they can’t admit is that had there been no Iraq invasion, Iraq would now be part of this process.
From there, it ramifies endlessly. For all the talk of not appeasing dictators, the red carpet has been rolled out for Gaddafi, ever since it became clear that Libya might have quite a bit more oil left than some of the other Arab states.
This involved a largely ceremonial process whereby Libya was welcomed back into the trade club after it surrendered its vestigial WMD program, and cemented further when Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi was released with extensive UK government support. Tony Blair is one figure who put a lot of hope in Gaddafi as “someone we can do business with”. There are more photos of Blair with Gaddafi, than with his youngest child.
Now the nightmare scenario has occurred. The Libyan UN delegation has quit the government en masse and asked the international community to intervene and help ordinary Libyans. Goddamit — after all that talk about the West having a mission for international solidarity and the defence of universal values, somebody actually believed it.
Listen to the sound of the pro-war party rushing to demand that their governments respond to the Libyans’ call.
Nevermind, some of them are on the case. David Aaronovitch has intervened — to remind us that a WikiLeaks associate once said some nice things about Gaddafi. Meanwhile in Cairo, where the public is starting to square off against the military, David Cameron has arrived … with the heads of eight arms manufacturing companies. You couldn’t make it up.
You don’t really need to. Can anyone not say that military humanitarianism is finally, utterly dead?