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.

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