Wednesday, October 31, 2012

no one declaring victory on Libya could possibly care about Libyans

Back when the Libyan intervention was happening, and previously anti-interventionist liberals were pulling their hamstrings in their rush to the complete opposite side, I pointed out that political victory is short, but genuine humanitarianism takes time. Improvement in the material conditions of human lives is indifferent to the election cycle. The reality in Libya will continue to develop for years and decades. If you actually care about the Libyan people, you can't be declaring victory now.

So take something like Jonathan Chait's piece on why he's totally crushing on Barack O. Chait breezily asserts Libya as some sort of a victory, without bothering to justify that idea. (That breezy quality is indicative of the whole piece; the word "drone" does not appear within in.) If your actual concern is the well being of the Libyan people, this is an incredibly premature stance. But more importantly, even right now, it's absurd to call Libya a "win." Some of the very first actions taken by the new government were to codify homophobia; the Libyan delegate to the United Nations said that gay people threaten the future of the human race. Large parts of the country are outside of the control of the government. The country is torn by constant tribal violence. Minority groups within Libya such as black Africans and Christians, protected by the Qaddafi government, have met with brutal oppression and violence. The Libyan economy faces enormous challenges. And as for the most basic desire of those who supported the toppling of Qaddafi, removing an authoritarian dictator-- the new government shows major signs of being itself an unaccountable and strong armed entity. All of this doesn't even begin to discuss Benghazi and the simmering anger it revealed.

So why does Chait get away with offhandedly asserting that Libya is a positive for Barack Obama? Because the conventional wisdom is cool with it. The conventional wisdom likes short-term answers, shallow understanding, and glob assignations of good or bad. And despite the brief flirtation with notions of American failure during Iraq, the conventional wisdom prefers to talk about American triumph. So Chait can throw the ludicrous claims of Libyan victory out there, aware that most of his audience will just suck it up.

26 comments:

tonycpsu said...

Ctrl-F, "victory"

(Page scrolls down past body of article into comments.)


Ctrl-F "win"

(Page scrolls down past body of article into comments.)


Huh, so Chait doesn't actually call Libya a "victory" or a "win" which you scare-quote as if it's his own words and not your interpretation.

Let's see what Chait actually says about Libya...

Ctrl-F "Libya"

On Libya, Obama’s staff presented him with options either to posture ineffectually or do nothing; he alone forced them to draw up an option that would prevent a massacre.


I don't think Chait's saying that all future massacres were prevented by Obama's decision -- he's just saying that the violence that was already happening at the hands of Qadaffi's regime were stopped. In place of those massacres, we have more bloodshed and political turmoil. Which is better? I don't think either situation is a picnic, but you can't say things are bad now without comparing them to the way things were or could have been, and I think your reading and paraphrasing of Chait's argument is somewhere between misguided and dishonest.

matt said...

For many internationalists, the question isn't 'is the populace better off?' This is a political question that can only legitimately be addressed by the country in question-- self-determination, and all that. It's rather the much narrower question: 'did we prevent some crime against humanity, without making things significantly worse?' Not that this would be a slam-dunk for the Obamists, nor that you are obliged to accept this narrow, sort of legalistic interventionism, but it might give you some idea of why some are satisfied with the Libya intervention.

Freddie said...

Right, because the sub-Saharan Africans and Qaddafi loyalists that have been put to the knife don't count as a massacre.

Anonymous said...

Conventional wisdom is the village ether. It makes our rulers and their courtiers all down with what Glen Ford calls the “Imperial Hegemony Dome.” They’ve been sucking that obfuscatory shit up for so long that they’d not recognize reality if it crawled up their backside. Their raison d’être is to apply layers of rhetorical shellac to the steaming pile of shit that is the American empire.

As brother George said: “Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” That should be the motto for our media writ large. It should be on the application forms to the Columbia School of Journalism as well.

tonycpsu said...

Right, because the sub-Saharan Africans and Qaddafi loyalists that have been put to the knife don't count as a massacre.

Like I said, there was bloodshed before and bloodshed after. I don't think you or I have the requisite knowledge to know whether the body counts are higher now or before our intervention, but even if you're right that we're worse off now, Chait simply did not call Libya a victory, and he didn't say there would be no more massacres after Obama's decision to intervene.

Cian said...

he's just saying that the violence that was already happening at the hands of Qadaffi's regime were stopped. In place of those massacres, we have more bloodshed and political turmoil.

It depends what you mean by violence. The massacres that were alleged at the time were propaganda cooked up by the opposition. There was violence, but nothing like the level alleged to justify action.

On the other hand the US managed to force its own long departed exiles into government, so RESULT.

Freddie said...

"It is noteworthy that four of the best decisions that Obama made during his presidency ran against the advice of much of his own administration."

Seriously. Dude. What I am saying is that claiming Libya as a "best decision" is absurd, and demonstrates that Chait cares more about short-term political victory than the welfare of the Libyan people.

Freddie said...

I mean, if you're going to be calling people out for not quoting fairly, you should probably be a bit more careful about your own conduct, homeslice.

tonycpsu said...

Cian: So Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court were all in on the plan to inflate the perception of violence under Qadaffi? That's one hell of a conspiracy.

Freddie: I realize that US-led regime changes don't often end well, especially given the hypocrisy of our tacit support of Qadaffi for so many years, but there's always a period of instability after revolutions, and my impression from reading The Guardian, Al Aribiya, Al Jazeera, and other media reports is that violence is down compared to before the intervention. Maybe I'm wrong on this, but the chance to put in place a democratic system is worth something, and I think if you're going to call Libya a strategic error, you should explain in detail how the violence that exists now is worse than the well-documented violence that existed prior to our intervention.

As to your misrepresentation of the Chait article, I think he was saying it was a political *and* foreign policy victory. He never said that it erased all traces of violence, which is the bar you seem to have set.

cian said...

Cian: So Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court were all in on the plan to inflate the perception of violence under Qadaffi? That's one hell of a conspiracy.

I have no idea what this is referring to. However it is generally accepted by these agencies that the news reports that came out prior to the decision to get involved were greatly exaggerated.

Best I can tell, the atrocities committed by the "good" guys have been worse.

tonycpsu said...

I have no idea what this is referring to. However it is generally accepted by these agencies that the news reports that came out prior to the decision to get involved were greatly exaggerated.

Can I get a cite on that?

I don't know about the ICC, but AI and FIDH generally have their own assets on the ground in these countries, or do their own investigating and visitation of the affected areas for their reports. Obviously the fog of war is going to get in the way of having a perfect assessment, but I trust their reports more than I trust the news agencies who are relying mostly on quotes from U.S. officials or Libyans with a political dog in the fight.

Brian M said...

When Syria descends into an abyss of ethnic cleansing and Salafiist dictatorship, will tonycpsu be posting paens to the Obama Administration's support of the "freedom fighters"?

Brian M said...

Bottom line: Why is it OUR business to drop tons and tons of bombs on a country thousands of miles away because the government doesn't meet our (convenient) standards? If they elect Todd Akin in Missouri, will Bomb Bomb Tony be calling for UN Peacekeepers or European intervention?

Tom Allen said...

And then there's the (presumably unintended) consequence that the Libyan intervention has led to civil war in Mali, which it looks like we're about to get involved in as well.

From Moon of Alabama:

"It is obvious that the Algerian and other African governments were right in their prediction. Tuareg who had served in Gaddhafi's army took their weapons with them and revolted against the government in Mali. They were supported by newly armed AQIM forces. These are now the new rulers of northern Mali with Timbuktu as their new center."

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/10/repeating-the-libya-mistake-in-mali.html#more

tonycpsu said...

You don't know me, Brian M, so please to be dispensing with the snarky monikers. I'm generally anti-interventionist, but from everything I read and heard leading up to the NATO bombings, the case for trying to stop violence that was already underway was strong. If I read or heard the wrong accounts, then I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but your name-calling doesn't make your factual case any stronger.

With respect to Syria, there are obviously far more impediments to our ability to effectively intervene than there were in Libya, so the scale of the humanitarian crisis would have to be much stronger to justify action, and due to the geography and population density differences, would require ground troops, something I would not be in favor of except under the most dire circumstances.

The idea of the U.S. as the world's policeman is not something I support, but when there's a case for multilateral action with our allies to stop very bad things from happening, I don't dismiss it out of hand. You can go ahead and paint me as a jingoist, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Nony said...

What Brian said. While I rarely say what Digby said, during the runup to Libya she was puzzled by "liberal" support for Obama's plan, asking when are our interest EVER altruistic. When is the agenda other than dark matter about markets and resources.

"The idea of the U.S. as the world's policeman is not something I support, but when there's a case for multilateral action with our allies to stop very bad things from happening, I don't dismiss it out of hand. You can go ahead and paint me as a jingoist, but nothing could be further from the truth."

Yes, when that case is made by democrats, then partisans like Tony are down with the bomb bomb. If Bush has made the same case not so much. And no that's no jingoism that's tribalist contortionism and it's all the rage.



mick said...

Anyone who claims that Obama's primary problem with his base is a bad economy probably isn't going to have the most nuanced take on Libya.

From Chait's article, "The sense among Obama’s wavering supporters that he has failed rests upon a two-part indictment. The first and most potent is that he has presided over a weak economy." I'm sure one could be found, but I've yet to hear a liberal/left criticism that the poor economy is Obama's fault.



tonycpsu said...

Bush had zero credibility on the use of force, while Obama has overseen the end of the Iraq War, an end to the bellicose talk towards Iran and the imposition of far more effective sanctions, an end to the "we'll do whatever Bibi tell us to do" Israel policy, and, yeah, the bin Laden operation. I would have been wrong to oppose Bush doing what we did in Libya, but he would have never gone the multilateral, largely France/UK-led route, because that wasn't his style.

I also lives me some Digby, and it's interesting to note that Digby's co-blogger David Atkins has a different point of view on the intervention. I wouldn't call Atkins a reflexive partisan or military hawk, and I think his presence on Digby's blog shows that there's room in the liberal tent for multiple points of view on the Libya intervention without calling anyone who favored it a trigger-happy tribalist.

Patrick Meighan said...

"an end to the "we'll do whatever Bibi tell us to do" Israel policy"

What are some of the things that Bibi has told us to do that the PBO administration has not, in fact, done? Please list those many, many things.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Nony said...

Bush had zero credibility on the use of force, while Obama has overseen the end of the Iraq War, an end to the bellicose talk towards Iran and the imposition of far more effective sanctions, an end to the "we'll do whatever Bibi tell us to do" Israel policy, and, yeah, the bin Laden operation. I would have been wrong to oppose Bush doing what we did in Libya, but he would have never gone the multilateral, largely France/UK-led route, because that wasn't his style.

“In 2011, Obama was simultaneously waging drone and bomb wars against five countries: Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan (he’s currently down to four, plus a proxy terror war in Syria). Romney applauds all of these aggressions, with the caveat that he would bring superior ‘leadership’ to the carnage.”

http://blackagendareport.com/content/obama-and-romney-brothers-same-imperial-lodge

I also lives me some Digby, and it's interesting to note that Digby's co-blogger David Atkins has a different point of view on the intervention. I wouldn't call Atkins a reflexive partisan or military hawk, and I think his presence on Digby's blog shows that there's room in the liberal tent for multiple points of view on the Libya intervention without calling anyone who favored it a trigger-happy tribalist.

David “Operative” Atkins? Digby always seems to temper any trenchant criticism with heavy doses of Atkins and h/t(s) to TBogg, hippy-puncher extraordinaire. Here’s the dilly O—liberals OUAT found Ron Paul or Gnome Chomster’s fo-po more attractive than the noxious snake oil Obama and Hillary are selling. Their media apologists and servile followers are complicit in the worst excesses by the rotating villains in the White House. I can stomach folks down the evils of empire for the sake of their declining comfort* but those completely blind to nakedly bipartisan commitment to murder and mayhem…

http://www.infowars.com/empires-then-and-now/

Anonymous said...

so the scale of the humanitarian crisis would have to be much stronger to justify action

Wow. Just wow. So if the crisis is 'huge' we MUST act? Well, there are too many examples of where we did not act to even seriously consider this as a useful standard-even for the blatantly self serving.

Or if the crisis is 'small' and we CAN act, we must? In all instances? Well, no you say? Because obviously we have not done that either.

Well, just what are your bright line moral criteria? No a moral choice you say? Well, just WTF kind of choice are we dealing with here?

Is success the only metric? What kind of 'morality' is that?

tonycpsu said...

@Patrick Meighan:

Our handling of Iran's nuclear ambitions has been on our terms, not Israel's. If Bibi were driving the bus we'd be on the brink of war with Iran instead of potentially bringing them to the table after our election to talk about dismantling the weapons program.

Obama hasn't been as aggressive as I'd like in pushing them to stop settlements, but if he did, the GOP would have probably initiated impeachment proceedings. Unwinding our overcommitment to Israel will take decades, and I'm glad we're at least starting to move in that direction.

@Nony:

I didnt' say Obama was a dove, and the drone program is despicable, but it was started under Bush, and had the technology been where it is now, do you doubt that he would have used them far more than Obama has? Note that I'm not comparing Obama favorably to Jimmy Carter, I'm comparing him favorably to George W. Bush.

I'm not sure what you have against Atkins (or TBogg for that matter) but I think Atkins' argument that we don't want another Rwandan genocide has merit. You can disagree, and these decisions are never easy, but there is a point at which standing by and watching the massacre is the wrong move.

@Anonymous:

It's not as simple as the scale of the atrocities, or how risk it is for us, but these are relevant factors. I would like to think our economic interests shouldn't be a factor, but of course it always is, and that's wrong.

Read my link to Atkins above. Like him, I think failing to intervene in Rwanda was a mistake. There are other times where we've gotten involved that were mistakes (Vietnam, of course, Reagan's Latin American misadventures, etc.)

These decisions don't lend themselves to rigid equations with absolute answers as to whether it's proper to intervene. My default position is non-intervention, but we ought to have an interest in stopping mad men from killing tens and hundreds of thousands, engaging in ethnic cleansing, etc. and when we can stop it without extreme losses on our side, we ought to try.

But since y'all have decided I'm just another O-bot cruise missile liberal, I don't suppose my arguments are going to be persuasive, so I'll show myself out.

Patrick Meighan said...

"Our handling of Iran's nuclear ambitions has been on our terms, not Israel's. If Bibi were driving the bus we'd be on the brink of war with Iran instead of potentially bringing them to the table after our election to talk about dismantling the weapons program."

Okay, so what exactly are the specific, tangible things that Bibi has told us to do and that PBO has then refused to do? Exactly how many such instances are we talking about over the 4 years of PBO's administration, and what exactly are those instances, specifically?

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Anonymous said...

"I wouldn't call Atkins a reflexive partisan or military hawk,"

Atkins is pretty much your standard liberal humanitarian interventionist, along the lines of Samantha Power (the most overrated human rights writer alive). Incidentally, I don't know if the Libyan intervention was good or bad--I try to evaluate these things as I would any country that pretends to be noble. Occasionally, for reasons having nothing to do with non-existent good intentions, an intervention might do more good than harm, as when Vietnam overthrew Pol Pot. I have no idea what the level of violence in Libya is now compared to before, so I don't know if things worked out better or worse.

"I'm not sure what you have against Atkins (or TBogg for that matter)"

Both Tbogg and Atkins ridicule people who oppose the drone policy. Classic mainstream liberal hippy punchers.

Anonymous said...

"Classic mainstream liberal hippy punchers."

That could be interpreted in two ways. I meant that brand of mainstream liberal who likes to punch hippies to gain credibility with Serious People. The New Republic is full of such.

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