Sunday, April 3, 2011

Comment: 'Editorial on the Crisis in Libya: Caught Between Qadafi and Imperialism'

The editorial to which this comment is directed can be found on the New Socialist webzine.

By Ali Mustafa

"If imperialist powers are able to impose their will in Libya, it will be a blow to the revolutionary wave in the country and beyond."

Yes, but so too would a massacre of rebels and civilians by Gadhafi forces.

This position puts us in a bit of a bind, does it not?

Obviously Western powers are guided by their own overall interests, but just because they choose not to intervene everywhere does it necessarily follow that they should not intervene anywhere, ever? This editorial fails to seriously explore this important question.

While it is necessary to continue to point out everything wrong about the UN no-fly zone and the wider intervention it has allowed, I think it is a mistake, at this point, to take any definitive stance on the issue without putting forward a viable alternative - hence why I was in the minority amongst the other editors about the final published version of this editorial, which for me misses some very key nuances to an earlier version I preferred (and is now posted on my website here).

Unless a realistic and practicable alternative is offered - or those of us of fighting age and ability are ready to board the next airplane to Libya to join the resistance - we should seriously caution any reflexive and outright rejection of the intervention, much less turn to harsh public denunciations of anyone on the Left who happens to be in support of it (ie. Gilbert Achcar).

The reality is clear: first, the majority of us do not even pretended to have any such alternatives to offer; second, even if we did, we do not at this time have nearly the necessary capacity, influence, or popular will to do anything about it. Western powers have made the fateful decision to intervene and, sadly, we can do nothing but engage in a public debate about an issue over which we have absolutely no real impact.

Furthermore, simply taking a stance 'for' or 'against' the no-fly zone already suggests it to be a legitimate debate to have in the first place, and allows the Western powers who are involved in the operation to limit the parameters of the discussion for us on their terms. The longer we spend debating the no-fly zone, the less time we are actually dedicating to putting forward actual alternatives - exactly everything that makes the Left so weak, marginalized, and largely irrelevant today concerning issues of such vital importance as the crisis in Libya.

Where does that leave us? We need to begin considering far more proactive solutions. If the Left and other broadly aligned forces made it a key priority to oppose the sale of weapons to despots like Gadhafi we could have very well avoided the current crisis.

A serious regulation of the global arms trade may serve as a key strategy looking forward, and one that appeals far beyond the already radical Left. A colleague of mine recently suggested that the argument is not a very sound one because we should also be opposed in principle to Canada and other Western powers having such weapons. While I obviously share that sentiment, the major difference is that one suggestion is purely idealistic, while the other is actually a realistic, strategically effective, and universally supportable demand around which a solid grassroots campaign could conceivably be built. A call to regulate the global arms trade would also bring no foreseeable negative impact on Libyans, or any given civilian population (which merely supporting or opposing a no-fly zone incidentally both do).

Why, after all, should foreign military intervention be both the start and end point of the debate?

I am also not convinced by the argument to arm the rebels; we have seen on too many occasions the US and other global powers try to play both sides in a conflict - in this case, arming Gadhafi with one hand, and now trying to arm the rebels to overthrow him with the other. Such a strategy only further militarizes the conflict when we should instead be exploring ways to peacefully bring it to an end. If the US decides to go ahead and arm the rebels, not only will troops or operatives of some kind need to be brought in to train them, but it will only add to the real risk of civil war and, ultimately, partition.

I find it very irresponsible (but mostly a gesture of genuine desperation) for anyone to be calling for an increase to the flow of arms in a war zone. The proposal to arm the rebels only serves the purpose of reducing everything to a military solution, upholding the status quo as a result (it is thus no coincidence that the US is so seriously considering it). Granted, the rebels may not be the Afghan Mujahideen of the 1980s, but can we realistically expect that these arms will be abandoned after Gadhafi is finally ousted from power?

Whatever their overall aims and interests may be, the rebels we are so eager to support in any way possible today will be the new military overlord in charge of maintaining 'order' and 'stability' at the barrel of a gun tomorrow, just as the West would like to see it. It is typically those outside of war, or in the business of war, who are the ones most readily open to such solutions, although in this particular case some of the key proponents have rather curiously been important voices of the Left.

Now that this operation has clearly evolved into something far beyond a mere no-fly zone, we need to be ready to offer something in the way of solidarity to the Libyan resistance that is a lot better than what we have been able to do until now. What will that look like? Canada has a federal election coming soon; we may want to consider using PM Harper's involvement in the NATO operation in Libya as an opportunity to discuss the military budget at home and weapons sales abroad as an election issue, in the context of the wider global arms trade.

No, it is not a very radical approach, but until I hear something better from the Left I am willing to entertain any and all ideas that may help move us forward.

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'From Beyond the Margins' by Ali Mustafa is licensed under a Creative Commons License.