Thursday, September 01, 2011

Nearly gone ...

Psychopathic dictators, distanced from reality, totally convinced of their own historical necessity and by the adoration that is bestowed on them, even if such obeisance is practised at the end of a gun, suddenly discovering the inconvenient fact that they are hated can only explain such loathing in terms of the failings and disloyalty of their ungrateful people. So, by unerring logic, they assume that in such a case the people must die. And, even if their regime has to go down to defeat, they want to take the people with them. So, despite the clear outcome of the revolution in Libya, the rhetoric about victory or death (at this stage it just means death) comes spewing out of the fleeing family, condemning more people to suffer unnecessarily.  One can only hope for a swift end.

As the dust begins to settle where the revolution is secure and life resumes, with all the uncertainties of the post-revolutionary period, the stories spill out.  Here is the reason one rebel took up arms:
Before February, he was indifferent to the Gaddafi clan, happy enough to bank a decent salary as an oil engineer. He had studied in London for a master's in business administration. He had never even seen a machine gun, still less handled one.
All that changed on 21 February, when Gaddafi loyalists began cutting down demonstrators in the streets of Tripoli with anti-aircraft weapons.
Yep, a bit of a game changer that one. It would be hard to remain indifferent at that point. Scared, yes. Indifferent, no. And that is the moment when a regime enters the beginning of its end, when people take action instead of succumbing to fear.

Without the UN's air support the struggle would have been crushed for a generation. The regime faced a choice when a wave of popular demonstrations threatened its collapse and rumours spread that Gaddafi was on his way to a Venezuelan retirement home. Instead of admitting that it had lost all support and legitimacy, it decided to kill the people. Libyans begged for help as they took up arms and, at the very last minute, it came. As a result, James Kirchick can write in a thoughtful piece in Foreign Policy:
The other remarkable thing about Libya is that it is the only Arab country where America is not just liked, but loved. (Speaking with Libyans, I never feel I have to lie and say I am Canadian, as I sometimes do in other Arab countries to avoid potentially dodgy situations.) That its people love America precisely because their country has been bombed by it is all the more noteworthy.
Yet still the commentators witter on. In the latest off the production line, Andy Beckett picks up pertinently on the tendency of the British press to behave like a small child on a long car journey; 'Are we there yet'?  'No dear and we are not stuck in a quagmire or a stalemate, it is just a long way.' However, he then follows an old trope about the absence of military experience of political leaders, making it too easy for them to go to war too quickly (if they had left it any later in Libya there would have been no revolution left to support!). Then the cynical side swipes appear, "Bellicose British journalists who opine about such conflicts from a safe distance"; "A defeated British bogeyman such as Gaddafi"; all accompanied by a lament for the decline of the influence of the peace movement.

What this complaint about war in general does is to ignore the specific causes and consequences both of action and inaction. And one is back to the old point that systematic, brutal violence by a state against its citizens left unmolested is not peace. Quick and risky action, which is expensive and can be complained about at leisure, is a gift of life and of a future to oppressed peoples seeking to throw off their oppressors. The majority of the Libyan people will be grateful that such inhibitions and reservations did not prevent United Nations support coming their way in the nick of time.

It isn't necessary to share the nationalist triumphalism of the Sun, or to see war as a glorified football match, to understand that military action can be overwhelmingly moral, despite its undoubted horrors. It is as important a sense as our moral revulsion against the barbarities of an unjust war, such as the one that  Gaddafi chose to unleash on his people. Unless you are an absolute pacifist, you cannot escape judgement about the relative merits of specific wars, rather than reject war as an option in all circumstances.  And in making a judgement, especially now conflicts have been stripped of their Cold War contexts, the support for popular liberation against the dictatorial instinct for mass murder might just be a good guide.

1 comment:

Bob-B said...

It is typical that Gaddafi is labelled a 'British bogeyman'. What matters is our view of him. Never mind how the Libyans see him. And of course bogeymen are not terribly serious. Almost anybody can be labelled a bogeyman - Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Simon Cowell, etc., etc.