Like Bright Green, I’m depressed by the realism with which our states will act to prevent carnage at the hands of some homicidal authoritarian regimes and not others. Take Laurence Gbagbo, the squatting president of Ivory Coast who first delayed elections and then, when he lost them, disputed the international observers’ assessment that his opponent Ouattara had won, then arranged for the shelling of civilians shopping in a market in Abidjan. Take Congo. A recent UN report said that the slaughter of a mind-boggling 5 million people in a proxy war by its neighbours could be classified as a genocide. No intervention. Take the Fur in Darfur, slaughtered in huge numbers by the Sudanese army and Arab militias. Al Shabaab stalk Somalia. No UNSC resolutions.
I think it may have been the Stop the War (No! Not That One) Coalition who warned against military intervention in Libya simply because we feel compelled to “do something”, and probably them who simultaneously argued that if you can’t to everything you shouldn’t do anything. Reading some internal messages from a group I can’t name, funny how people who were prepared to believe news of the systematic targeting of civilians during Operation Cast Lead are skeptical the reports of the same from Benghazi. The ideologically-motivated sowing of doubt is pretty disgusting when lives are at stake.
If you support the (admittedly ambitious) ‘responsibility to protect‘ ethos, when masses of civilians are liable to be targeted by their governments surely the only question should be, what kind of intervention and by whom? The charge of hypocrisy when governments pick and choose their causes does not in itself have any bearing on whether a government should or should not intervene. It’s kind of narcissistic, if you think about it – these interventions are supposed to be carried out as part of a coalition precisely in acknowledgment of the differing interests of states.
The argument that oil is behind our governments’ military adventures in the Middle East have become so axiomatic that it is hardly ever evidenced these days. I haven’t read Stiglitz’s Three Trillion Dollar War but, generally considered a good authority on the economics of war, he leads us to doubt the explanatory power of oil in accounting for war – wasn’t the price of oil calculated to rise in the light of the Iraq war, for example? Yesterday was the 8th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, and at this stage in Stiglitz’s analysis the costs (now estimated at up to $6 trillion in money alone) far outweigh the benefits, at least at this stage. Congo, on the other hand, has enormous mineral wealth – including the kinds of minerals a high-tech industry needs – but the UK has kept out of that conflict too. In terms of arms, the UK may be a net weapons exporter, but when it comes to using them ourselves we’ve been making cuts. On the other hand, the world #3 arms exporter according to Wikipedia, Russia, abstained from UN Resolution 1973. The arms trade doesn’t explain this intervention. I find it hard to distinguish a pattern in why this country goes to war and am entertaining the idea it’s a mixture of terrorist threat, calculations about what can best ultimately guarantee stability for the UK, and humanitarian impulse.
Untrained in the art of war as I remain, you’ll have to look elsewhere than here for alternatives to the military strikes underway since yesterday. I also note the absence of alternatives in Jeremy Corbyn’s and Caroline Lucas’ resolutely irrelevant Early Day Motion; it’s clear that military intervention will not bring “peace, justice and democracy”, that it is no more than a tardy scramble to prevent Colonel Ghadaffi, who has already diplomatically defeated the international community, from slaughtering his very populous political opponents. Given that Lebanon (remember Lebanon – the Middle East’s other democracy?) was a co-proposer of the motion which legitimised strikes on Libyan military targets and that the motion was supported by the Arab League, I also find that EDM’s reference to ‘Western’ intervention another example of the silly occidentalism which infests this country’s anti-war left and in the light of an increasingly multi-polar world, has a distinctly racist character.
- Hisham Matar celebrates the UN’s achievement in The Guardian.
- The Arabist observes UNSC Resolution 1973 rightly takes sides against Ghadaffi – but what do we know about the insurgents?
- Obama intends to limit US involvement.
- Egyptians have just voted for constitutional reform. However, the most of the Christian minority is reported to be among the 22% who voted against. They fear the constitutional changes will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to out-poll all the smaller parties and intensify the discrimination against them. Now the moderates need time, restrictions on funding for political parties, and a generally even playing field.
- Bob’s qualified support for the UN resolution
- Modernity points to the BBC live update.
Enough! I should be concentrating on developing a coherent position in relation to the two days of striking my union has planned for me next week (and while I won’t cross a picket line I find the discourse about them dismal to the extreme), and the enormous march against the cuts this Saturday. The cuts have been entirely knocked off the media agenda in recent days by Japan’s nuclear near melt-down and Ghadaffi. I know it’s good to be internationalist – but really, Flesh, do I have to tell you again that your own back yard – your NHS, your schools, your waste reduction, your democracy, your emissions – is your primary and ultimate responsibility.
Which brings us back to this war I now have a small share in.