> Le Monde diplomatique, April 2011
> English edition
> Diplomatic Channels
> There are now no Middle Eastern certainties
> No good choices
> The democratic Arab revolts are redrawing political, diplomatic and
> ideological boundaries in the Middle East. Repression in Libya
> threatened this dynamic process, and we do not know where the UN-
> approved actions of western forces in support of the Libyan rebels
> will lead
> by Serge Halimi
> Even a broken watch tells the right time twice a day. So a UN
> Security Council resolution authorising the use of force against
> Libya is not necessarily wrong just because it was a US, French and
> UK initiative. Unarmed rebels facing a reign of terror may have to
> seek the assistance of an international force; preoccupied with
> their own sufferings, they will not refuse help just because the
> force may be deaf to appeals from other sufferers (for example, in
> Palestine). They may even forget that the alliance is better known
> for repression than aid.
> But reasons that make sense to Libyan rebels in extreme danger
> cannot justify yet another western war on Arab land. Intervention by
> Nato member states is not an acceptable way to topple Muammar
> Gaddafi. If intervention seems the obvious solution – insofar as we
> are required to choose between western bombardment and the crushing
> of the Libyan uprising – that is only because other solutions, such
> as a joint intervention by UN, Egyptian or pan-Arab forces, have
> been dismissed.
> Going by past record, it is impossible to believe the generous
> motives for sending in western troops that are currently being
> claimed. In fact, it is hard to believe that any state anywhere
> would spend money and deploy forces to achieve democratic goals. And
> recent history shows that battles fought for those goals may have
> widely acclaimed initial success, but what comes after is chaotic,
> more dangerous and less spectacular. The capitals of Somalia,
> Afghanistan and Iraq fell years ago, yet the fighting goes on inside
> those countries.
> The Libyans would have preferred, like their Tunisian and Egyptian
> neighbours, to end Gaddafi’s despotic rule without outside help. The
> intervention of external forces places them under an obligation to
> powers that never had any real interest in Libyan freedom. Gaddafi
> is primarily to blame for this regional exception. Without 40 years
> of his violent repressive regime (which shifted from an anti-
> imperialist dictatorship to a pro-western despotism), without his
> diatribes against the “agents of al-Qaida” and “rats in the pay of
> foreign intelligence services”, the Libyan people alone would have
> been able to determine their own destiny.
> Security Council Resolution 1973 authorising the bombing of Libya
> may have prevented the crushing of a revolt with military means too
> slender to succeed. But it has opened the door to much hypocrisy.
> Gaddafi’s troops were not bombed because he was the most vicious or
> bloodthirsty dictator, but because he was the weakest, without
> nuclear weapons or powerful friends to shield him from military
> reprisals or speak for him at the Security Council. The decision to
> authorise intervention confirms that international law has no clear
> principles whose violation is subject to universal sanctions.
> Gaddafi’s close friends
> Diplomatic whitewash is like money laundering: one good action
> covers decades of wheeling and dealing. So President Nicolas Sarkozy
> could order air strikes against Gaddafi, his former business
> partner, whom he received in 2007 although the nature of Gaddafi’s
> regime was evident. (We can count ourselves lucky, though, that
> Sarkozy didn’t offer Gaddafi the “French security forces’ expertise”
> that he extended to Tunisia’s now ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben
> Ali in January.) And Silvio Berlusconi was a “close friend” of the
> Libyan Guide, who visited him in Rome 11 times, yet Berlusconi
> managed reluctantly to join the coalition.
> The Arab League, full of old men who dread democracy, welcomed UN
> action but were horrified when the first US missiles landed. Russia
> and China could have opposed the Security Council resolution or
> introduced amendments to define the action and reduce the risk of
> escalation, saving themselves from having to “regret” the use of
> force later. The rectitude of the international community is also
> clear from the text of Resolution 1973, which condemns “arbitrary
> detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions”
> in Libya. Of course, these things don’t happen in Guantanamo Bay,
> Chechnya or China.
> No one questions the imperative of protecting civilians. But in
> armed conflict that means bombing military objectives, including
> troops, many of them civilian conscripts, mingling with unarmed
> crowds. Aircraft patrolling a no-fly zone may be shot down, their
> pilots captured, and special forces will then be sent in to release
> them. However much the vocabulary is doctored, there is no euphemism
> for war.
> War is in the hands of those who declare it and conduct operations,
> not those who believe in short wars with happy endings. It is fine
> to draw up plans for a conflict without hostility and no collateral
> damage, but the military forces that execute these plans will follow
> their own inclinations, use their own methods and have their own
> agenda. The consequences of Resolution 1973 may include retreating
> Libyan troops mown down by machine guns, as well as crowds rejoicing
> in Benghazi.
> Progressive opinion on Libya is divided, according to whether it
> stresses solidarity with an oppressed people or opposition to a
> western war. Both objectives are legitimate but cannot always be
> Forced to chose, there is a decision to be made on what an “anti-
> imperialist” label gained in the international arena authorises by
> way of daily suffering imposed on people.
> Wilful silence
> Many leftwing governments in Latin America, notably Venezuela, Cuba,
> Nicaragua and Bolivia have maintained a dignified silence about
> Gaddafi’s repressive measures, which seems all the more bizarre
> since his opposition to the West is pure facade. He claims to be the
> victim of a “colonialist plot”, after having assured the old
> colonial powers: “We are all embroiled in the fight against
> terrorism. Our security services cooperate. We have helped you a lot
> these past few years” (1).
> Like Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro, Gaddafi claims the
> attack on him is “all about oil”, although Libyan oil is already
> controlled by the US, UK and Italian companies Occidental Petroleum,
> BP and ENI (see The subtleties of Libyan crude). Just a few weeks
> ago, the International Monetary Fund had welcomed Libya’s “strong
> macroeconomic performance and the progress on enhancing the role of
> the private sector” (2). Gaddafi’s friend Ben Ali was paid a similar
> compliment in November 2008 by IMF director general Dominique
> Strauss-Kahn – who had just returned from Tripoli (3).
> Anthony Giddens, theoretician of the Blairite ‘Third Way’, also
> seems to have overlooked Gaddafi’s old revolutionary, anti-
> imperialist veneer, carefully restored in Caracas and Havana, when
> he observed in 2007 that the “ideal future for Libya in two or three
> decades’ time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous,
> egalitarian and forward-looking” (4). Gaddafi has duped many
> impressive people. He may not be quite as mad as we thought.
> There are many reasons why leftwing Latin American governments
> misjudged Gaddafi. They hoped he was the enemy of their enemy, the
> US, though that was no reason to believe he was a friend. They
> didn’t know much about North Africa – Chávez phoned Gaddafi to find
> out what was happening in Tunisia – so they were against what Castro
> called “the colossal campaign of lies unleashed by the mass media”.
> The events revived irrelevant personal memories, hence Chávez’s
> comment on Libya: “I don’t know why, but the things that have
> happened and are happening there remind me of Hugo Chávez on 11
> April” (11 April 2002, when the Chávez government in Venezuela was
> almost overturned in a coup with strong media support).
> Revolutionary veneer
> There were other reasons for the failure to understand events in
> Libya: decades of US military intervention and domination in Latin
> America, Libya helping Venezuela to gain a foothold in Africa, Latin
> American states’ role in Opec and the South America-Africa Summits,
> and Venezuela’s diplomatic moves to strengthen South-South relations.
> Chávez also assumed that close relations between states meant close
> relations between heads of state: “King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was a
> friend of mine, King Abdullah is a friend … The emir of Qatar is a
> friend, and the president of Syria, he came here too. And
> Bouteflika” (5). When Gaddafi (“my old friend”) and his regime
> turned repressive, the friendship proved a handicap. Chávez missed
> the chance to present the Arab uprisings as younger siblings of the
> leftwing movements in Latin America he knew so well.
> It is in the diplomatic arena that one sees most clearly the dire
> results, in all countries, when power is held by a single
> individual, and orders are issued without parliamentary control or
> democratic deliberation. And when, as in the Security Council,
> diplomats proudly declare war in the name of democracy, the contrast
> is particularly glaring.
> Gaddafi first claimed to espouse the cause of opposing the West and
> to be defending natural resources; then he played his final card –
> religion. He explained on 20 March: “The great Christian powers have
> launched a new crusade against the Muslim people, and the people of
> Libya first. The aim is to wipe Islam off the map.” Just a fortnight
> before, he had compared his repressive measures to an action in
> which 1,400 Palestinians had been killed: “The Israelis had to use
> tanks to deal with the extremists in Gaza, and we are in the same
> position … Detachments of the Libyan army had to be deployed against
> small pockets of al-Qaida” (6). This was unlikely to increase his
> popularity in the Arab world.
> But it has one virtue at least. It makes evident the damaging
> political effects of language that reflects in reverse the
> neoconservative talk of crusades and empires. The Arab uprisings
> with their secular and religious support, and opposition, may end
> the rhetoric that claims to be anti-imperialist when it is merely
> anti-West. There may be no more talk in which hatred of “the West”
> conflates all that is worst (gunboat diplomacy, contempt for the
> “natives”, wars of religion) and all that is best (from the age of
> enlightenment to social security) without distinction.
> Orientalism in reverse
> Not long after the 1979 Iran revolution, the radical Syrian thinker,
> Sadiq Jalal al-Azm defined, and criticised, an “Orientalism in
> reverse” that eschewed secular nationalism and communist revolution,
> and wanted a return to religious authenticity as a weapon against
> the West.
> The principal tenets of this “culturalist” concept, as summarised
> and refuted by Gilbert Achcar, were that “the degree of emancipation
> of the Orient should not and cannot be measured by western standards
> and values, such as democracy, secularism and women’s liberation;
> that the Islamic Orient cannot be grasped with the epistemological
> tools of western social sciences and that no analogy with western
> phenomena is relevant; that the key motional factor in Islamic
> history, the primary factor setting Muslim masses in motion, is
> cultural, ie religious, taking precedence over the economic and
> social/class factors that condition western political dynamics; that
> the only path of Muslim lands toward their renaissance is through
> Islam; and that the movements that raise the banner of the ‘return
> to Islam’ are not reactionary or regressive movements as they are
> perceived through western lenses, but indeed progressive movements
> prompted by western cultural domination” (7).
> This fundamentalist political vision has not completely disappeared,
> but the shock waves from Tunisia suggest that its relevance is
> widely questioned in Arab states where people no longer want to be
> “with the West, or against it” (8), and where they may be equally
> critical of a state that is pro-US (Egypt) or against it (Syria).
> Far from fearing that civil liberties, free speech, democratic
> policies, trade unions and women’s rights are “western” priorities
> masquerading as universal liberation, people in Arab states are
> adopting them as a sign that they reject authoritarianism, social
> injustice and police states run by old men who treat their people
> like children. This great drive, reminiscent of other revolutionary
> movements, these unaccustomed social and democratic victories, this
> burst of energy all come when “the West” seems divided between fear
> and apathy, with a necrotic political system, running on automatic
> toward the same outcomes and on behalf of the same interests,
> regardless of which coalition is in power.
> There is no guarantee that the courage and energy of the Arab people
> will continue to win easy victories. But they open unknown
> possibilities. In Article 20 of UN Resolution 1973, the Security
> Council “affirms its determination to ensure that [Libyan] assets
> frozen pursuant to [an earlier resolution] shall, at a later stage,
> as soon as possible be made available to and for the benefit of the
> people of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” So assets can be frozen and
> returned to the people. This lesson will certainly be remembered,
> that the state can serve the people. In the past few months, the
> Arab world has reminded us of another universal truth: the people
> can shape the state.
> April 2011
> Translated by Barbara Wilson
> More by Serge Halimi
> (1) Interview, Journal du dimanche, Paris, 6 March 2011.
> (2) “Le FMI tresse des lauriers à Kadhafi”, Le Canard Enchaîné,
> Paris, 9 March 2011.
> (3) See “STRAUSS-KAHN - ou le génie du FMI - soutient Ben Ali !” on
> (4) Anthony Giddens, “My chat with the colonel”, The Guardian,
> London, 9 March 2007.
> (5) 25 February 2011. See “Chávez: ‘Nos oponemos rotundamente a las
> pretensiones intervencionistas en Libia’” on aporrea.org.
> (6) France 24, 7 March 2011, “Interview de Kadhafi 07/03/2011 pour
> france24 part 2/2”.
> (7) Gilbert Achcar, “Orientalism in Reverse: post-1979 trends in
> French Orientalism”, 4th Edward Said Memorial Lecture, University of
> Warwick, 20 November 2007. First published in Radical Philosophy,
> London, no 151, September-October 2008.
> (8) See Alain Gresh, “‘Neither with the West, nor against it’”, Le
> Monde diplomatique, English edition, March 2011. In a speech
> delivered on 19 March, Hizbullah’s secretary general Hassan
> Nasrallah said that “any accusation that the US manufactured and
> launched these revolutions [the Arab revolutions] is unjust speech
> toward these peoples.”