Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Orwell's Take on Libya

Tribune, 8th April 2011

Ian Williams
Support the Good Deed, Not the Doer of It!

Orwell's Take on Libya

“What would George Orwell have said?” is an old game that is nonetheless relevant for Tribune, whose pages the grumpy “lower upper middle class” columnist graced for so many years. On Libya, there is little doubt that he would have supported intervention. Just as, almost certainly, the ranks of opposition to intervention include many of those who saw Orwell as a traitor to socialism for telling the truth about Soviet tyranny and exposing the eccentricities of some true believers on the Left, among whom, we can be sure he would pilloried some of anti-imperialist tourists who have made the trip to Tripoli to learn from the “Libyan revolution.”

Orwell, with his pragmatic realization that the world was not divided into saints and sinners, would certainly have supported intervention. “There is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more of less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction,” he wrote after he returned from Spain, where, let us remember, he was on the liquidation list of the Soviet agents whose supporters were and are so quick to denounce Orwell as a traitor to the left.

He was well aware of the imperfection of the side he was fighting for. Of course, if the Spanish Republicans were to apply the same high ethical standards demanded by some on the Left of those now intervening in Libya, they would have scorned Moscow’s help. The famine, the purges and the camps were all in operation and at the time Stalin had far more blood on his hands than either Hitler or Mussolini. But nobody else was offering. It would indeed have been much better for France and Britain to have lent support to Madrid’s democracy, but as we know, in London at least there was a tendency to think Franco could be a force for stability. Who knew what would happen if the Republicans had won? After all, there were provably more Anarchists among the Republicans than Al-Qaeda among the Libyan opposition. And possibly some of the Left would have opposed such imperialist ventures - they did after all oppose intervention on behalf of Poland.

There are, of course, those who can greet with equanimity atrocities perpetrated under the guise of anti-imperialism, either by denying or ignoring them. The Slobodan Milosevic fan club that ignores the stench of Bosnian mass graves from Srebrenica, or of rotting Kosovo cadavers discovered under police stations in Serbia, is made of strong enough stuff to regard a few dead Libyans as a small price to pay to fight imperialism.

In contrast, this intervention is mandated by the United Nations Security Council and was response to the threat by the Libyan regime to massacre its own citizenry in Benghazi and Tobruk. The intended victims pleaded with the world to help them. So the real question to pose to those who oppose intervention is “What would you do about it?”

The dilemma is most manifest in Moscow. Russia could have vetoed Resolution 1973. It could have supported it, amended it, and insisted on a share of command and control. It did not. It recognised that even by its own relaxed Chechnyan standards, what Gaddafi was doing was insupportable. So it adopted the harlot’s prerogative of power without responsibility. It let the intervention go ahead and now carps from the sidelines to preserve its own purity.

Ideally of course, it would be better if the intervention had been conducted by countries without imperialist pasts, or oil interests. But Timor Leste, or Ireland, or Jamaica, do not have the wherewithal for such operations, and generally have their own problems. When the Good Samaritan crosses the road to help, we do not question whether he was point scoring over those bloody Pharisees, or checking the victim’s pouch to see if there was anything left, or even whether he treated his servants and wife well. We support the deed, not the person, or the country.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Goldstone yet again

It is still a mystery why he wrote the Washington Post article or what it was meant to achieve, but Goldstone sets the record straight - and if possible has made even worse enemies in Israel. I wonder if the invitation still stands?


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Debating Intervention

Strategic Dialogue: Libya War

By Robert Naiman and Ian Williams, April 5, 2011

In the second part of our strategic dialogue on the Libya War, Robert Naiman and Ian Williams respond to their initial essays. You can read the original essays here: Naiman’s anti-intervention essay Surprise War for Regime Change in Libya is the Wrong Path and Ian Williams’ pro-intervention essay Armchair Anti-Imperialists and Libya.
Ian Williams

Robert Naiman makes many excellent points, which tend however to prove my major point. Like many peers he looks at intervention in Libya from a narcissistic Americo-centric point of view, evading the key question. When a group of people who are about to be massacred ask for help, what do you do?

Instead, Naiman presents a survey of constitutional positions and American attitudes to the war which essentially replicates the lessons of 1939. The default American position is usually isolationist, and the Good Samaritan is not a popular parable in American political discourse.

It was not the White House that started the operation. The Libyan plea went to the Security Council of the United Nations – with the support of much of the Libyan diplomatic corps, one might point out. The UN resolution does not call for a no-fly zone. It called directly for military intervention to protect civilians – and to assuage those justifiably wary of US involvement in the region after Iraq, or indeed Susan Rice’s veto of the resolution against Israeli settlements, it precluded occupying forces.

It is not unilateral, or even mainly U.S. military intervention, and all the evidence is that Washington was chivvied into helping by its Middle Eastern and European allies. Washington, as we have seen, has been happily buying oil from Gaddafi and has a high tolerance for atrocities by its allies.

In fact, one would never guess that from news reports most of the close-up air sorties are being flown not by Americans but by French and other air forces, who, one hopes, would have proceeded regardless of the U.S,Congress.

Frankly, I wish the United States had stayed out of it and simply blessed and assisted the Europeans and Arabs. But having by far the world’s biggest military occasionally entails obligations as well opportunities for aggression.

It is indeed entirely possible that the respite awarded the rebels will result in regime change. And why is that a bad thing? This regime responded to peaceful demonstrations demanding popular power by gunning down its own people. This regime accepted the validity of the UN resolution and immediately declared a ceasefire, just before launching indiscriminate air and artillery attacks on its own cities.

If Hugo Chavez’s negotiations had delayed the attacks on Gaddafi’s tanks, Benghazi and its citizenry would today be a smoldering pile. The International Criminal Court referral was intended to send a message to Gaddafi that there would be consequences, that he had no impunity. He ignored that message. Is there a way to protect civilians that leaves intact a dictatorial regime that has pledged bloody vengeance against its own citizenry?

In the end, those who oppose the intervention would do so whether or not Congress approved it, just as those who opposed intervention in Iraq because it had no UN mandate, even though Congress shamefully approved, now oppose this one even though the UN voted for it – and Congress has not said anything either way.

When people cry for help you do what you can. And yes, what happened in Bahrain is shameful, even though the regime has yet to use airpower and artillery against its own city. So rather than opposing intervention in Libya, it would be much more constructive to call on the United States to cut off relations with Bahrain, or indeed Saudi Arabia, until the repression stops. But opposition is always easy, while calling for action involves taking responsibility for the results.
Robert Naiman

Ian Williams's initial tone is disturbing but perhaps revealing. He begins with an assault on progressive critics of the Western military intervention as "comfortable Western leftists" engaged in "cultural imperialism." The thrust of his argument here seems to be that if you criticize the Western military intervention, you must be a Gaddafi-lover.

Such insults are depressingly familiar. When we opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we were called Saddam lovers. When we questioned the indefinite U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, we were accused of supporting the Taliban.

Some may find such "arguments" convincing. On me, they have the opposite effect. If critics of military intervention are being accused of devotion to a foreign political force, probably the intervention is a rotten enterprise. After all, if supporters of military intervention had good arguments, presumably they would lead with those.

Williams suggests that "Libyans" support the current Western military intervention. Indeed, some Libyans do support it. Other Libyans do not. Clearly, many Libyans in Benghazi support the current Western military intervention. Just as clearly, many Libyans in Tripoli and Sirte don't support the current Western military intervention. If we care about the opinions of "Libyans," it's not obvious why the opinions of these Libyans in Tripoli and Sirte should count for zero.

Anytime the United States intervenes militarily on one side of a civil conflict there will be people in the country - and exiles - in favor. There were Iraqis who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There are Afghans who would like U.S. troops to stay indefinitely. Is the fact that this is so the end of discussion? We have to support a foreign military intervention if a group of Libyans, Iraqis, Afghans support it? These views should certainly be considered, but are we not allowed to consider anything else? Should the fact that a group of people support a Western military intervention automatically trump all other concerns? This argument does not seem serious to me.

Williams appears to be unconcerned by, and indeed to welcome, the morphing of the military intervention from "protecting civilians" to "regime change." But indifference to or support of this transformation would make a mockery of any kind of accountability for Western military operations. You could sell public opinion on one thing, obtain a UN Security Council resolution, and then do something else entirely. This would mean that "Responsibility to Protect" would become "unlimited license to do anything." One might think those who support the principle of "Responsibility to Protect" would see this as a threat to the invocation of this principle in the future. I was more sympathetic to "Responsibility to Protect" before I saw how it was used in this case; if the conclusion of the current military operation is military regime change rather than a negotiated solution, I will hold that against future invocations of "Responsibility to Protect."

Williams dismisses concerns of critics of the military intervention as "ad hoc." But many of these concerns are longstanding. We are concerned about the exclusion of Congress and the pubic, as before. As I argued, this is not a side issue to those working against U.S. wars. Rather, it is crucial to future efforts. We are concerned about the expense of foreign military intervention at a time of domestic cuts, as before. We are concerned about proposals that the United States arm people who may have been involved in terrorism in the past and may be involved in terrorism in the future, as before. We are concerned about selective focus on abuses of a U.S. "enemy," while the abuses of U.S. "allies" are ignored and even encouraged, as before. And, as I argued in my piece, this is not merely a question of "hypocrisy" and "double-standards." In general, selective focus contributes to indifference and support of abuses by allies. In the present case, there is considerable evidence that the military intervention in Libya is directly related to effective U.S. support for the crackdown in Bahrain.

Williams does acknowledge problems going forward, when he suggests Russia (and presumably others) could be a better watchdog. Here we agree. But for this to happen, some things must change. It's hard to be an effective watchdog if those you're monitoring have carte blanche. This means we must insist that Security Council resolutions not give carte blanche in theory or practice and that sharp distinctions be maintained between "protecting civilians" and other measures undertaken and considered, such as supporting rebel military advances with air strikes, attacking military forces not engaged in attacking civilians or poised to do so, arming rebels, and military regime change.
Ian Williams

There is no doubt that some of the opposition to intervention does indeed come from Gaddafi lovers. As we saw with Saddam Hussein and see with Hugo Chavez now, an anti-U.S. posture seems to give sundry authoritarian thugs a lot of leeway in some sections of the left. But I did not once suggest that equation.

However the key issue is not affection for Gaddafi but rather indifference to suffering and injustice elsewhere. It is indeed possible that there was a cynical trade-off between Bahrain and Libya. But is anyone suggesting that if there had been no action in Libya, the United States would have swooped to the defense of Bahraini dissidents?

The issue is irrelevant to the core question. Did the intervention stop massacres of Libyans? The answer is, irrefutably, yes. The question now is: will it continue to improve their lot? The answer to that is probably yes, but naturally we cannot be entirely sure.

The simple test of Gaddafi’s popularity would of course be an election – which he refuses to allow, suggesting that whatever his eccentricities, deep down he is in touch with reality. I am all in favor of changing regimes that are oppressive and murderous, even though the principle, especially with foreign interference, is to make sure that the cure is not worse than the disease. That was certainly the case in Iraq, despite Blair’s attempt to mask it as a humanitarian intervention. It is not the case in Libya, as many living citizens of Tobruk and Benghazi can now testify.

As for the carte blanche, any reading of Resolution 1973 would show that far from carte blanche, it hemmed the operation in with many provisos, including a ban on occupying forces. Some of those restrictions actually increase the risk of civilian casualties but were understandable in the context of previous U.S. abuse of UN resolutions. But the apparatus for monitoring is clearly laid out in the resolution, more strongly than in previous Chapter VII resolutions. If the Russians had eschewed posturing for a domestic and international audience they could have refined those provisions and involved themselves more closely.
Robert Naiman

Again Ian Williams comes with the gratuitous insults: "narcissistic," "Americo-centric," etc. And again I say: among fair-minded people, those who engage in gratuitous ad hominem attacks weaken rather than strengthen their argument.

I see Williams’ argument as amounting to a classic bait-and-switch. On the one hand, all of us must declare whether we would support Western military intervention to block the Libyan government's assault on Benghazi, and we must answer this question in isolation. In answering this question, we are not allowed to consider anything outside of this. Most importantly, we are not allowed to consider where the Western military intervention would lead and what other consequences it would have.

But once we say yes to this hypothetical - hypothetical because the event does not exist in isolation - then it's made clear that what we have agreed to is not something that we can purchase a la carte. Rather, it is part of a package deal, "terms subject to change without notice," which may, among other things, include: bombing Libyan soldiers who are not attacking or menacing civilians, arming rebels, overthrowing the Libyan government with foreign military power; and increased likelihood of U.S. military interventions in the future.

Let's sharpen the hypothetical. Suppose that on the Saturday morning that the United States began bombing, President Obama called me on the phone and said, "Now, I realize that until now I haven't allowed you to have any effective input into this decision. But now I'm letting you decide. If you say yes, I go forward. If you say no, the military operation is called off. It's all up to you. But let me make one thing clear: this is the last time I will ever consider your opinion. If you say yes, you agree to everything that happens afterwards, in which you will have no say whatsoever."

At its root, this is the question I understand Williams to be asking.

And my answer is that I emphatically reject the premise. The central organizing principle of my political work on this front since 1983 is to reject the premise that I and my fellow members of the general U.S. public have no say in U.S. foreign policy, except perhaps to ratify wars that other people have already decided to embrace. If that will be called "narcissistic" and "Americo-centric," so be it. I take responsibility for living in the United States. Others should too.

Robert Naiman is the policy director at Just Foreign Policy and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. Ian Williams, senior analyst and long time contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, is a New York-based author and journalist. He is currently working on a new edition of his book, The UN For Beginners.

Stoning Goldstone

Why Did Richard Goldstone Throw the Goldstone Report Under the Bus?
Foreign Policy in Focus
By Ian Williams, April 5, 2011

GoldstoneI spoke to Richard Goldstone several times after his eponymous Report came out, and it was obvious that the personal slander and vilification from so many in his own community was wearing him down. He was certainly naive and did not expect the excreta storm that would head his way.

He had always been a person of integrity and his editorial in the Washington Post, allegedly “retracting” the Report named after him is saddening. If it had appeared the day before, one would almost suspect it of being an April Fool’s parody.

Indeed, the wording of the editorial, while confused and evasive, was eloquently indicative of heavy pressure -- not least since only two days before at a debate at Stanford University, he is reported as maintaining that “all the investigations showed that, thus far, the facts were as they were reported.”

One cannot help wondering what happened in the next two days to change his mind. Did his daughter, ex IDF and self-confessed Israeli patriot, pull the family chains? It certainly betokens a personal tragedy, since it will detract from his reputation and integrity in the human rights and international law field, with no chance at all of earning the forgiveness of the rabid and vindictive Zionists who have been hounding him mercilessly for two years.

Indeed, reading the editorial reminded me of Comrade Rubashov in Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness At Noon” -- a true believer doing one last duty for the group he had lived with for so many years. It reads like a “confession” rung out from someone trying to free hostages near and dear to him by giving the kidnappers what they want while trying to hold on to one’s own integrity and dignity. Sadly, of course, those who attacked his morals and probity before, will never, ever forgive him for telling the truth originally -- and like Rubashov, he will be shown no mercy once his confession has served its purpose for the cause.

It suited the Lobby to highlight Goldstone, a Zionist and judge whose international reputation made it even more difficult than usual to bury the message especially among Jews. However, those other members are distinguished jurists in their own right who were commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council and whose report became the property of the UN General Assembly, neither of whom are likely to drop the report just because complicit Israeli ministers misinterpret Goldstone’s editorial with the same liberty that they misinterpreted the original report -- which after all simply asked the parties to conduct credible investigations.

The core “retraction” in the editorial is the sentence, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” which is about as retractable as a rubber band. It certainly does not substantiate Netanyahu’s reaction “Everything we said was proved true,” although it does raise suspicions that Avigdor Lieberman’s attribution of the editorial to “diplomatic efforts on behalf of Israel,” might conceal some heavy advocacy conveying difficult-to-refuse offers.

Goldstone is a lawyer, and this imprecisely flexibly wording of “different document,” could mean almost anything. If he knew about the ferocity of the tribal scapegoating that was to follow? If he knew that the report was going to spur Israel into mounting a series of pseudo-independent investigations into events that they refused to look into earlier? It certainly is far from an unequivocal retraction of the original, which is not “his” to retract since it was, after all, the product of a team including three others, commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

His claim that Israeli investigations “also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy,” does not contradict his early report, which never suggested that. The My Lai massacre, for example, was no less a war crime because the Pentagon did not directly order it.

His most wrenching default is when he says “the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently (my italics) the consequence of an Israeli commander's erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly.”

Looking at the abysmal track record of Israeli investigations -- and bearing in mind that it was the original Goldstone Report that brought about the apology for an investigation he refers to here, Judge Goldstone really has to explain to his own conscience on what grounds he is “confident” of an appropriate response, let alone how the finding of “negligence” came about.

Throughout, he is upsettingly equivocal. “While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn't negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”

But then later he says “McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree.” How significant is “significant” if after two years, “few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded” and if the proceedings, conducted by the same military body that defends the military, are carried out in private?

In the face of that, his second thoughts about calling upon Hamas calling for its own inquiry are totally gratuitous. Surely he never expected them to. But they did let him and his colleagues in to investigate themselves, which Israel did not, and which, as he reiterates, refused to present evidence to his committee.

Even though it is unlikely that the UN bodies will drop the report, Goldstone’s pseudo-retraction has provided the opportunity for Israeli “Hasbara” to trumpet its misinterpretations. It does a disservice to international justice and humanitarian law and tries to accord to Israeli leaders the impunity which he had spent his career fighting, in South Africa, Rwanda, the Balkans and Central America.

It is a tragedy that such a career should end this way, generating as much sorrow as anger. Sorrow for the damage it has done to the universality of justice, and anger at the unscrupulous manipulation of familial and tribal loyalties that likely brought it about.

For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Armchair Anti-Imperialism

Armchair Anti-Imperialism and Libya

Foreign Policy in Focus
By Ian Williams, April 4, 2011

In the first part of a new FPIF Strategic Dialogue on the Libyan War, Ian Williams argues that the choice is clear: to support the popular uprising and not the unpopular tyrant. See Robert Naiman's anti-intervention argument here.

Ian WilliamsIt is a particularly pernicious form of cultural imperialism for comfortable Western leftists to disregard what the actual Tunisians, Libyans, Kosovars, or Bosnians themselves have asked for - intervention to stop “their” rulers killing them. This setting aside of the wishes of people threatened with massacre in favor of Western armchair anti-imperialism is all the more remarkable coming from the left, which once swore by internationalism.

The calls to respect national sovereignty echo those of the despots of Africa and other regimes around the world who believe that it’s nobody’s business what a ruler does in his “own” country. Or even worse, such calls emulate the know-nothing isolationists on the right who do not care what happens to foreigners.

The ad-hoc arguments marshaled against the intervention in Libya have included:

The unconstitutionality of the president ordering military action
The expense of military action at a time of cuts
The invalidity of a UN resolution passed with abstentions
The Security Council exceeding its authority by violating Libyan sovereignty
The self-interested motives of those intervening
The “discovery” of ex-al-Qaeda supporters among the rebels
The failure of the West to intervene in other places where civilians face potential massacres such as Bahrain, Gaza, Ivory Coast, and Yemen

Many of these arguments are deployed to flesh out an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative that evades the crucial question: should the world let Libyan civilians die at the hands of a tyrant?

Gaddafi’s heavily armed forces were headed to Benghazi, in defiance of Security Council resolutions, to carry out acts against international humanitarian law. In fact, they had already started bombing and shelling the city indiscriminately and had a track record of massacres, mass arrests, and brutality in cities they had already occupied.
Intervention: Always Wrong?

Opposition to interventionism has sometimes been muted in other circumstances, for instance Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia and Laos, Tanzanian intervention in Uganda, or indeed India's military incursion that gave birth to Bangladesh. In none of these cases was the result utopian, but in each case it certainly improved the situation. Indeed Cuban intervention in Africa and Che’s disastrous guerrilla escapades in Latin America are the subject of reverent leftist legend rather than calumny.

Perhaps the archetypal case, in leftist lore, is the Spanish Civil War. Few of those opposing intervention in Libya are likely fans of George Orwell who, after returning from Spain, commented that “there is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more of less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction.” Orwell and many others went to Spain to fight Franco and supported calls for intervention by the Western powers to help the Republic.

Orwell was also well aware of the imperfection of the side he was fighting for, since he not only witnessed the repression of dissidents on the Republican side but barely escaped with his life from KGB agents. Of course, the Spanish Republicans should have refused aid and weapons from the Soviet regime, which was already killing people in quantities that at the time exceeded what the Nazis were accomplishing. But nobody else was offering.

However, all the bluster notwithstanding, intervention, as now enshrined in the “Responsibility to Protect,” is now an established part of international law. The intervention in Libya is legal. Whether it was the right thing to do, or whether the United States should be involved, is a separate issue, as indeed is the permanently debatable but entirely domestic issue of presidential versus congressional prerogatives on the matter of war powers.

A British or European might want to point out, however, that many of us are glad that Franklin Roosevelt did an end run round Congress in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, even if his clear aim was to grab the British Empire before it fell into Axis hands. Indeed, the non-intervention rule is particularly ironic for the United States, which owes its independence to the timely intervention of a reactionary French Royalist regime.

There would be more consistency, and indeed humanity, if protestors refined their arguments so they did not oppose intervention in general, but specified why they opposed intervention by particular countries, which in this case means the United States.
Should We Oppose the U.S. Involvement?

As a rule of thumb, one should always be wary of U.S. intervention, and it is indeed always worth questioning both Washington’s motives and its methods.

But the positions of many of those who have reflexively opposed the implementation of the UN resolution on Libya do not really involve questioning. Rather they consist of a series of dogmatic assertions, which tend to distill down to the assertion that the United States is always wrong. Even a stopped clock is right occasionally, and their assertion of perpetual American malice and greed is a form of metaphysical mirror image of the equally untenable premise that the United States is always virtuous and right.

In the case of Libya, as in Kosovo, the United States was dragged unwillingly into its role by the Europeans and others and by the events on the ground, namely Gaddafi’s murderous threats and actual behavior. The United States had developed cynically good relations with Gaddafi. The West had no problems gaining access to Libyan oil. Regime change puts these relationships at risk.

Above all, the Security Council mandated this intervention, fulfilling its mandate to preserve peace and security, as interpreted by the General Assembly, which decided that that remit includes the failure of governments to protect their own people - or their persistence in attacking them.
The UN Resolution

UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was the classic smorgasbord that comes out of negotiations, with potential vetoes lurking in the background. To assuage the fears of those opposed to U.S. imperialism rightly concerned about what happened in Iraq (without a UN mandate), the resolution precluded troops on the ground. Sadly that left air operations as the only weapon. U.S. affection for massive fire power and force protection perhaps led to the unnecessarily massive bombardment of the first days. But on the other hand there has been no significant anti-aircraft action from Libya. Libyan geography has also lent itself to attacks on military columns strung out along the few roads with less risk of civilian casualties.

The mandate to protect civilians is at once limited - and flexible. If a regime shows no intention of stopping its repression and bloodshed, the mandate can't be fulfilled without getting rid of him.

Frankly, Libya and the world would not suffer from Gaddafi's departure.
Why Libya?

Frequently, opposition to intervention has depended, oddly, on the traditional “Israeli defense” at the UN. Israeli diplomats often argue that no one should criticize Israel when there are so many Arab states guilty of similar or worse atrocities. In this context, the West's silence and inaction – indeed, the complicity in the repression in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria – preclude any action in Libya.

In the real world, of course, such an all-or-nothing approach translates into “nothing.” In Libya, the deployment of aircraft, tanks, and artillery against civilians certainly goes a stage beyond the admittedly pernicious use of small arms in those other countries - not of course in Gaza, but we know the circumstances there.

In fact, the UN-sanctioned intervention in Libya seems so far to have fulfilled the promise of the Responsibility to Protect. It averted the threatened massacre of the citizens of Benghazi by Gaddafi’s supporters. It has so far crippled the regime’s main strength, its heavy weaponry, so that the local Libyan opposition has been driving the former government forces out of city after city. So far, unless you take the word of the mendacious Gaddafi regime, there have also been minimum civilian casualties.

Humanitarian intervention under the auspices of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is indeed a dangerous tool, subject to expedient abuse. Which is why its proponents insisted it needed a UN mandate. The Libyan intervention has that. The Security Council needs to monitor its execution carefully, and it could do that much more effectively if Moscow, in particular, would stop flip-flopping.

Behind Russian discomfort over R2P is its all-too-apparent relevance to Chechnya. But Moscow could have vetoed the resolution. Its abstention implicitly went along with the wording of the resolution, and its experience of the Gulf War resolutions taught it what to watch out for in terms of mission creep. If it stopped grandstanding and got more actively involved, it would be a better watchdog.

Gaddafi’s is clearly a failed regime. Its collapse in almost every population center when challenged demonstrates a lack of popular and institutional support. The provisional government in Benghazi has claimed democratic principles and has so far lived up to them. There are some strange stirrings of Islamophobia among anti-interventionists who claim either that intervention is anti-Islamic or that the new government will be fundamentalist Islamic.

In any case, the rebels seem to have popular support. Those who respect popular sovereignty, as opposed to state sovereignty, should really let the Libyans decide whether it is better to die in a flood of tanks and rockets, or overcome them by calling for international aid.