Thursday, 24 March 2011

Libya and the myth of humanitarian aid
Once again military intervention, this time in Libya, is justified on the basis of ‘humanitarian concern’. Despite the recent devastating experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, lessons have not been learned.

I, like many Star readers no doubt, was shocked to see that all but 15 MPs, including a number of left-wingers, voted with the Con-Dem coalition in support of military intervention in Libya. Why do so many blindly accept that this is justified? They argue that ‘we’ cannot just stand by and see innocent civilians being murdered by a despot, but they don’t ask why it is apparently all right to do so in the many cases of other despotic rulers. Why has Gaddafi been singled out?

There are few, if any, examples in the whole history of mankind when states have intervened militarily in other countries’ affairs for humanitarian reasons. In the past, nation states always undertook military adventures for pure economic gain, even if these were masked by slogans of imperial glory and of ‘liberating’ the natives. In the more recent past, with nation states superseded by globalised financial capital, we have been witnessing supra-national interventions, still for economic gain, but now in the interests of global capitalism rather than individual nation states.

Even the war against Hitler, upheld as a fight of good against evil, of democracy versus fascism, was waged for economic reasons – Hitler threatened British world dominance. Yugoslavia is the most recent aggression to be cited as a successful ‘humanitarian intervention’ and used to justify the same in Libya, but again this obscures the real reasons. Professor Gibbs of the University of Arizona pointed this out recently in his article in the Guardian where he said that ‘The idea that Kosovo is a model of humanitarian intervention in Libya is based on a series of myths’. Before military intervention, Yugoslavia was still nominally a socialist country and refused to kow-tow to European Union dictates and open up its country to neo-liberal privatisation. Its break up was essential to bring all European countries under the one umbrella of global capitalism. Germany, in an unprecedented move, began the process by unilaterally recognising Croatia. Serbia, in a desperate attempt to hold the federation together, began a counter offensive. Atrocities were committed, but not on a large scale to begin with – these only escalated after armed NATO intervention. Once Muslim mercenaries were brought in to fight on the side of the Kosovans, and NATO began its bombing, things deteriorated rapidly. Subsequent atrocities and ethnic cleansing of the Serbs by Kosovans have elicited few words of condemnation and no calls for international intervention. So much for humanitarian concerns.

The left opposing such wars is accused by the warmongers of knee jerk reaction: of blindly condemning anything the USA or Britain does. There may be some who react in this way, but to dismiss all opposition to such ill-planned military adventurism in this way is no argument. What this dichotomy of views really reveals is that some understand the dynamics of social change, and politics as a class-based struggle for hegemony in the world and others see things through class-neutral glasses. If you fail to understand the underlying economic and class mechanisms of social movements, then you fail to understand the principles of history and will always be in danger of falling into the trap of supporting ruling class action, believing the fig-leaf justifications, rather than looking for the underlying motivations.

The supporters of Cameron and Sarkozy’s gung-ho Libyan intervention should ask themselves why the West has not called for intervention over the killing of civilian protesters in Bahrain or Yemen on in Israel over its bombing of unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip, but there is only an embarassing silence.

The reason Libya has been targeted is that Gaddafi, despite a recent rapprochement with the West, was always a maverick and not an easily controlled puppet like those ruling other Middle-East oil-rich countries. Of course he is a dictatorial leader, but little different from the dozens of others with whom the west has very close relations.

The real knee-jerk reaction here is that of NATO forces imposing a no fly zone and bombing Libya with no thought-out long-term strategy, with no political solutions on offer. It is simply another example of a member of the awkward squad being taught the lesson that you stand up to western imperialism at your peril.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Letter to Guardian

Garton Ash offers the Arab countries advice on overcoming their dictatorial pasts by holding up Germany as a model: ‘out of the experience of dealing with two dictatorships contemporary Germany offers the gold standard for dealing with a difficult past’ (Guardian 17 March - Germany can show reborn nations the art of overcoming a difficult past). His description is a good example of how not to conduct Vergangenheitsbew√§ltigung (coming to terms with history). His amnesia or ignorance of the way West Germany dealt with its Nazi past is astounding. Hitler’s chief of counter insurgency became the Federal Republic’s top intelligence agent, Nazi generals like Hans Speidel continued to serve in the top echelons of the army (General Bastian, who became a leading Green and peace campaigner was forced out of the Bundeswehr by unreconstructed Nazis still in positions of power); leading judges, doctors and academics who served the Nazis with ardent commitment continued in their former posts while those who had fought the fascists were often persecuted, had their pensions docked and were treated as lepers. The present meticulously orchestrated campaign against the GDR state security forces has more to do with extirpating any remaining ‘nostalgia’ for the GDR and of the idea of an alternative to capitalism than it does with a genuine desire to overcome the past.