#Libya and the interventionist dilemma…
The news coming out of Libya tonight is grim. Air strikes on protesters, rumours circulating of the execution of members of the armed forces who refuse to attack the Libyan people and a rising death toll. Everything seems to point to a regime that will may well be toppled but will drench Libyan sands in blood long before it is finally brought down. In this situation it would be inhuman not to want to intervene, to do something to tilt the heavily-weighted scales away from a despotic regime towards the people and their legitimate demands for freedom. This is not Iraq and it’s not Afghanistan.
In neither country were there movements from below at the time actively seeking regime change. Military intervention by Western powers in these two instances substituted itself for the democratic movement of the people and that’s what made it wrong. If you want a comparison with the past, the situation is more comparable to what occurred in Kosovo where a fighting force and movement of the people from below clearly existed but was subject to brutal repression and the odds were stacked heavily against it. Furthermore, the form intervention took was not directed at effecting regime change in Serbia. To be sure, NATO’s actions assisted the creation of that movement but troops were not marched into Belgrade and it was a democratic and revolutionary movement that effected regime change in the end.
In cases like Kosovo I find the case against interventionist policies much harder to swallow because although it may well be done with reactionary intent and all the other blah-blah the actual protection of the Kosovar Albanians was a worthy goal. Similarly, in Libya, the protection of the people is a necessity and to a large degree a ‘greater good’ than scoring political points off of Western regimes. In the concrete, doing nothing equates to effectively aiding and abetting the current regime because of the objective balance of forces. This is where we have to judge things; not in the abstract context of how we fight an imperialism that existed a hundred years ago but has changed substantially in that time.
As socialists, we call on capitalist governments to do things all the time. We call on them to effect measures that we know have no chance of ending capitalism in and of themselves but do effect marginal but real improvements in the lives of people. Nothing wrong exists with this. It’s the right thing to do because we have to live in the world as it is to change it to how we want it to be. Sometimes, if it suits the powers that be, these demands will be conceded and that is a real and worthwhile victory.
Similar logic applies to this case. We cannot bury our heads in the ‘sacred texts’ and merely condemn everything. No answers of value lie therein. Early socialists and Marxists lived in a very different world and the imperialism they critiqued and dealt with was a very different beast. For one thing it exercised control much more directly through direct military occupation and puppet governments. Today’s imperialism exists in the much more nebulous world of economic ties and institutions like the IMF. Comrades may well retort with the ‘politics of the third camp’ but the reality is in this situation, the ‘third camp’, the Libyan people is under aerial bombardment by the first and if the second, even for its own nefarious reasons, is willing to protect it at this juncture then so be it.
So, when it comes to Libya I have no problem saying that we should demand the imposition of a no-fly zone even if it is NATO which enforces this. We take the West to task enough for its hypocrisy. Rightly so. However, if we are not prepared to deal in concrete reality and sometimes ‘dirty our hands’ and call for people we know are hypocrites to end their hypocrisy and act, for once, in a way which is consistent with their professed values are we not guilty of hypocrisy as well? I rather think we are and people especially those in distress like the Libyans are right now will rightly turn away from us.