Re: [OPE] Challenging the Left on Libya

From: Paul <>
Date: Mon Mar 21 2011 - 11:03:12 EDT

An alternative view of the same data:
Gilbert Achcar: "You can't in the name of anti-imperialism oppose preventing
a massacre"
Masrch 21, 2011
Who is the Libyan opposition? Some have noted the presence of the old
monarchist flag in rebel ranks.

This flag is not used as a symbol of the monarchy, but as the flag that the
Libyan state adopted after it won independence from Italy. It is used by the
uprising in order to reject the Green Flag imposed by Gaddafi along with his
Green Book, when he was aping Mao Zedong and his Little Red Book. In no way
does the tricolor flag indicate nostalgia for the monarchy. In the most
common interpretation, it symbolizes the three historic regions of Libya,
and the crescent and star are the same symbols you see on the flags of the
Algerian, Tunisian and Turkish republics, not symbols of monarchism.

So who is the opposition? The composition of the opposition is -- as in all
the other revolts shaking the region -- very heterogeneous. What unites all
the disparate forces is a rejection of the dictatorship and a longing for
democracy and human rights. Beyond that, there are many different
perspectives. In Libya, more particularly, there is a mixture of human
rights activists, democracy advocates, intellectuals, tribal elements, and
Islamic forces -- a very broad collection. The most prominent political
force in the Libyan uprising is the "Youth of the 17th of February
Revolution," which has a democratic platform, calling for the rule of law,
political freedoms, and free elections. The Libyan movement also includes
sections of the government and the armed forces that have broken away and
joined the opposition -- which you didn't have in Tunisia or Egypt.
So the Libyan opposition represents a mixture of forces, and the bottom line
is that there is no reason for any different attitude toward them than to
any other of the mass uprisings in the region.

Is Gaddafi -- or was Gaddafi -- a progressive figure?

When Gaddafi came to power in 1969 he was a late manifestation of the wave
of Arab nationalism that followed World War II and the 1948 Nakba. He tried
to imitate Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who he regarded as his model
and inspiration. So he replaced the monarchy with a republic, championed
Arab unity, forced the withdrawal of the U.S.'s Wheelus Airbase from Libyan
territory, and initiated a program of social change.

Then the regime moved in its own way, along the path of radicalization,
inspired by an Islamized Maoism. There were sweeping nationalizations in the
late 1970s -- almost everything was nationalized. Gaddafi claimed to have
instituted direct democracy -- and formally changed the name of the country
from Republic to State of the Masses (Jamahiriya). He pretended that he had
turned the country into the fulfillment of socialist utopia with direct
democracy, but few were fooled. The "revolutionary committees" were actually
acting as a ruling apparatus along with the security services in controlling
the country. At the same time, Gaddafi also played an especially reactionary
role in reinvigorating tribalism as a tool for his own power. His foreign
policy became increasingly foolhardy, and most Arabs came to consider him

With the Soviet Union in crisis, Gaddafi shifted away from his socialist
pretensions and re-opened his economy to Western business. He asserted that
his economic liberalization would be accompanied by a political one, aping
Gorbachev's perestroika after having aped Mao Zedong's "cultural
revolution," but the political claim was an empty one. When the United
States invaded Iraq in 2003 under the pretext of searching for "weapons of
mass destruction," Gaddafi, worried that he might be next, implemented a
sudden and surprising turnabout in foreign policy, earning himself a
spectacular upgrade from the status of "rogue state" to that of close
collaborator of Western states. A collaborator in particular of the United
States, which he helped in its so-called war on terror, and Italy, for which
he did the dirty job of turning back would-be immigrants trying to get from
Africa to Europe.

Throughout these metamorphoses, Gaddafi's regime was always a dictatorship.
Whatever early progressive measures Gaddafi may have enacted, there was
nothing left of progressivism or anti-imperialism in his regime in the last
phase. Its dictatorial character showed itself in the way he reacted to the
protests: immediately deciding to quell them by force. There was no attempt
to offer any kind of democratic outlet for the population. He warned the
protesters in a now famous tragic-comic speech: "We will come inch by inch,
home by home, alley by alley ... We will find you in your closets. We will
have no mercy and no pity." Not a surprise, knowing that Gaddafi was the
only Arab ruler who publicly blamed the Tunisian people for having toppled
their own dictator Ben Ali, whom he described as the best ruler the
Tunisians would find.

Gaddafi resorted to threats and violent repression, claiming that the
protesters had been turned into drug addicts by Al Qaeda, who poured
hallucinogens in their coffees. Blaming Al Qaeda for the uprising was his
way of trying to get the support of the West. Had there been any offer of
help from Washington or Rome, you can be sure that Gaddafi would have gladly
welcomed it. He actually expressed his bitter disappointment at the attitude
of his buddy Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, with whom he
enjoyed partying, and complained that his other European "friends" also
betrayed him. In the last few years, Gaddafi had indeed become a friend of
several Western rulers and other establishment figures who, for a fistful of
dollars, have been willing to ridicule themselves exchanging hugs with him.
Anthony Giddens himself, the distinguished theoretician of Tony Blair's
Third Way, followed in his disciple's steps by paying a visit to Gaddafi in
2007 and writing in the Guardian how Libya was on the path of reform and on
its way to becoming the Norway of the Middle East.
What is your assessment of UN Security Council resolution 1973 adopted on
March 17?

The resolution itself is phrased in a way that takes into consideration --
and appears to respond to -- the request by the uprising for a no-fly zone.
The opposition has indeed explicitly called for a no-fly zone, on the
condition that no foreign troops be deployed on Libyan territory. Gaddafi
has the bulk of the elite armed forces, with aircraft and tanks, and the
no-fly zone would indeed neutralize his main military advantage. This
request of the uprising is reflected in the text of the resolution, which
authorizes UN member states "to take all necessary measures ... to protect
civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan
Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation
force of any form on any part of Libyan territory." The resolution
establishes "a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab
Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians."

Now there are not enough safeguards in the wording of the resolution to bar
its use for imperialist purposes. Although the purpose of any action is
supposed to be the protection of civilians, and not "regime change," the
determination of whether an action meets this purpose or not is left up to
the intervening powers and not to the uprising, or even the Security
Council. The resolution is amazingly confused. But given the urgency of
preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault
on Benghazi by Gaddafi's forces, and the absence of any alternative means of
achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it. One can
understand the abstentions; some of the five states who abstained in the
UNSC vote wanted to express their defiance and/or unhappiness with the lack
of adequate oversight, but without taking the responsibility for an
impending massacre.

The Western response, of course, smacks of oil. The West fears a long drawn
out conflict. If there is a major massacre, they would have to impose an
embargo on Libyan oil, thus keeping oil prices at a high level at a time
when, given the current state of the global economy, this would have major
adverse consequences. Some countries, including the United States, acted
reluctantly. Only France emerged as very much in favor of strong action,
which might well be connected to the fact that France -- unlike Germany
(which abstained in the UNSC vote), Britain, and, above all, Italy -- does
not have a major stake in Libyan oil, and certainly hopes to get a greater
share post-Gaddafi.

We all know about the Western powers' pretexts and double standards. For
example, their alleged concern about harm to civilians bombarded from the
air did not seem to apply in Gaza in 2008-09, when hundreds of noncombatants
were being killed by Israeli warplanes in furtherance of an illegal
occupation. Or the fact that the US allows its client regime in Bahrain,
where it has a major naval base, to violently repress the local uprising,
with the help of other regional vassals of Washington.

The fact remains, nevertheless, that if Gaddafi were permitted to continue
his military offensive and take Benghazi, there would be a major massacre.
Here is a case where a population is truly in danger, and where there is no
plausible alternative that could protect it. The attack by Gaddafi's forces
was hours or at most days away. You can't in the name of anti-imperialist
principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In
the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of
cops in the bourgeois state, you can't in the name of anti-capitalist
principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of
being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.

This said, without coming out against the no-fly zone, we must express
defiance and advocate full vigilance in monitoring the actions of those
states carrying it out, to make sure that they don't go beyond protecting
civilians as mandated by the UNSC resolution. In watching on TV the crowds
in Benghazi cheering the passage of the resolution, I saw a big billboard in
their middle that said in Arabic "No to foreign intervention." People there
make a distinction between "foreign intervention" by which they mean troops
on the ground, and a protective no-fly zone. They oppose foreign troops.
They are aware of the dangers and wisely don't trust Western powers.

So, to sum up, I believe that from an anti-imperialist perspective one
cannot and should not oppose the no-fly zone, given that there is no
plausible alternative for protecting the endangered population. The
Egyptians are reported to be providing weapons to the Libyan opposition --
and that's fine -- but on its own it couldn't have made a difference that
would have saved Benghazi in time. But again, one must maintain a very
critical attitude toward what the Western powers might do.

What's going to happen now?

It's difficult to tell what will happen now. The UN Security Council
resolution did not call for regime change; it's about protecting civilians.
The future of the Gaddafi regime is uncertain. The key question is whether
we will see the resumption of the uprising in western Libya, including
Tripoli, leading to a disintegration of the regime's armed forces. If that
occurs, then Gaddafi may be ousted soon. But if the regime manages to remain
firmly in control in the west, then there will be a de facto division of the
country -- even though the resolution affirms the territorial integrity and
national unity of Libya. This may be what the regime has chosen, as it has
just announced its compliance with the UN resolution and proclaimed a
ceasefire. What we might then have is a prolonged stalemate, with Gaddafi
controlling the west and the opposition the east. It will obviously take
time before the opposition can incorporate the weapons it is receiving from
and through Egypt to the point of becoming able to inflict military defeat
on Gaddafi's forces. Given the nature of the Libyan territory, this can only
be a regular war rather than a popular one, a war of movement over vast
stretches of territory. That's why the outcome is hard to predict. The
bottom line here again is that we should support the victory of the Libyan
democratic uprising. Its defeat at the hands of Gaddafi would be a severe
backlash negatively affecting the revolutionary wave that is currently
shaking the Middle East and North Africa.


-----Original Message-----
From: []
Sent: 21 March 2011 13:58
To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Subject: Re: [OPE] Challenging the Left on Libya

> I read this McGehee article which according to you "challenges the Left".
> However he concludes that social liberation is simply "not on the cards"
> Libya.

Hi Jurriaan:
It is part of a conclusion which stems directly from the analysis in the
article, especially concerning the social composition and politics of the
Here's his conclusion:
"When and if Gaddafi is toppled Libya will likely get, what is for the US,
the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Libyan junta without Muammar al-
Gaddafi. Version 2.0. Social liberation just isn't in the cards for
Libya right now. We should accept that and be there with our support when it
is. And we should stop allowing groupthink to blind us to the ugly side of
those we identify with."

> What an astonishingly arrogant pronouncement!
Arrogant? I don't see that at all. Given what you've written elsewhere I
would have thought you would have welcomed his urging us to stop allowing
"groupthink to blind us to the ugly side of those we identify with."
Obviously, I was wrong in believing that you would agree with that
'pronouncement'. I guess it just shows once again that our beliefs are
by social practice and this practice exposes the contradictions of groups,
movements, and individuals.
To think that social liberation will be brought to Libya through the
medium of a 'rebellion' in which a significant percentage of the population
1/3 of African origin who are not Arab) aren't participating and/or
are opposed, led by former generals and career politicians under Gaddafi
who openly fly the flag of the monarchy - brought to power by the military
might of the US, France, and the UK! - is hopelessly naive.

In solidarity, Jerry
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Received on Mon Mar 21 11:04:32 2011

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