March 28th, 2011 | Uncategorized

OPINION | Libya: Lies, Hypocrisy, and Double Standards

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: with broad political support, a president attacks an Arab country, citing a “humanitarian” goal. Detractors are heartless, implicitly supporting a dictator. In a surprisingly short amount of time, we declare the mission accomplished. Soon afterwards, however, our coalition rapidly falls apart, it becomes apparent that we have no exit strategy in place, and our objectives are redefined to fit the role we find ourselves in.

Yes, yes – Libya is not Iraq. Indeed, there are many differences between the two. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t compare them. Our political-cultural fixation on violent death (compare the news coverage to a shooting in Syria to that of the three thousand deaths of starvation that will happen today) and the unmatched feeling of efficacy that comes from seeing bombs dropped has raised hopes among even American liberals that we have finally found the Good War, that our reputation can finally be salvaged after the debacle of Iraq. Even the News’ own Rory Marsh has praised France’s “brashness and determination” in their execution of “humanitarian principles” over Libya.

Let’s be honest, though: this isn’t humanitarianism. This is opportunism. A weakened dictator has carried out an indisputably evil act. The difference, though, between Bahraini protesters being shotgunned and Yemenis being sniped by their own governments is that they have something to actively offer us, whereas Qaddafi merely stands in the way of what we want. Though individual Americans may support the intervention in Libya for genuinely humanitarian reasons, that’s not why our government is doing it. As columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “This is the same government that enthusiastically supports and props up regimes around the world that do exactly that, and that have done exactly that for decades.” That’s why we bomb Qaddafi, and why we issue a sternly-worded YouTube video to address the crisis in the Ivory Coast.

Everything I have mentioned in my the first paragraph has already happened in Libya. Over the token whines of Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, and pathetic political opportunists like Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama seized upon U.N. Resolution 1973 to end the civilian massacres taking places by Qaddafi’s mercenaries. Editors at several media outlets, including the New Republic, have painted the Libyan war as a dichotomy of compassion for the protesters or utter apathy for their plight. According to a British official, “the first phase of the operation has been successful;” however, we’ve never been told how many phases there will be. The Arab League, originally designated as one of the primary enforcers of the no-fly zone, but in fact only one of whose members has flown any missions, has already condemned Western airstrikes for endangering the civilians they purport to save. There is not presently nor was there ever a designated end to the conflict—are we going to bomb to a cease-fire line, or simply act as tactical air support for the rebels all the way to Tripoli? Finally, in a classic case of mission creep, a senior American diplomat has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal as reporting that we are considering arming the rebels of whose leadership and ideology we know absolutely nothing—a description also applicable to the Taliban in the 1980s.

What could possibly go wrong?

  • Quals

    Well written

  • RMarsh

    These are strong sentiments, Jack. I’m not sure the issue is quite as black and white as you like to portray it. I certainly agree that strategic motives and “opportunism” are the principle cause of actions in Libya, but I would not go so far as to say that the humanitarian cause is entirely a mirage. The specter of Bosnia, Rwanda, and other such instances of inaction still hangs over the head of the West and the flood of refugees is another key issue. These reasons alone would not have sparked intervention, but they certainly bolstered the case for it. I would argue that humanitarian motives for action likewise exist in Bahrain and Yemen, but in those instances, like you mention, currying favor with the establishment is valued too highly.

    On a completely different note, I believe you have completely misrepresented the sentiments I expressed in my earlier blog post. I did not praise the French for ruggedly fighting a “Good War.” On the contrary, I argued that France has showed so much determination because it is in their strategic interest to take the lead. It is only a fortunate side effect that their action supports humanitarian interests.

  • jnewsham

    Rory–I initially thought the same thing. But honestly, what about every other coup, civil war, and crisis sparked by one genocidal-statement-spouting warlord or another? Similarly, on the point of refugees, Libya’s entire population is around six million; though many have fled, they are being accommodated, and many refugee crises of greater severity (Darfur, Palestine, maybe even Cote d’Ivoire) than this one have triggered reactions of not nearly of this magnitude from the US.
    I admire your humanitarian sentiments and those of some other commentators, but I believe that at a point, for reasons I outlined above, we really need to be more skeptical.

    Secondly, I apologize for misconstruing your statement on Sarkozy’s “brashness and determination” to make a showing as a statement directed towards France’s conduct of the Libyan intervention. I merely meant to bring you up as an example of supporters of the Libyan intervention in the Yale community–which I think is fair enough to say. My b.

  • timemachinist


    Mr. Newsham, you will never make a career in the Democratic (or Republican) Party –you are much too honest, sincere, humane, rational, consistent, justice-oriented and perceptive. How refreshing to find a young intellectual who does not parrot the rationales of his corrupt elders for their adventures in world domination.

    I admit that watching Qadaffi bomb the revolutionaries made me sick and want to see the world intervene to avoid the massacre of the innocents and of the brave next generation wanting a better society. But this was a job for the Arab League –they’ve bought plenty of planes and training from the USA. Of course, after Libya the Arab governments would have to attack themselves, as their own people clamor for freedom and democracy and some measure of justice in their societies.

    Why does the USA have to be the one to always foot the bill and lead the war? Even this criticism is a superficial avoidance of the REAL problem that you describe above: this intervention is hypocritical considering how many dictators and police states the US government has supported. So why did the US intervene?

    Psychologically there is the pride of being the top enforcer in the world, and the need to always “prove” we are “#1” and “in control” or at least “leading the fix.” Conversely, to the extent that world events unfold without American influence and especially against the interests perceived by the American ruling class, American stature is diminished and American power and credibility shown weaker. Humanitarian impulses and rationales for military adventures are only superficial (and hypocritical) features of a deeper militarization of America. To stay on top of the world requires a hugely active global military, else we tumble down to the status of a “normal” country (something the USA desperately needs in order to transition to a sustainable relationship with the rest of the world).

    Such psychology grows out of the huge global military machine we built to secure resources and markets for the world’s largest economy. Building this huge military was a Cold War project, justified as containing the threat of communist tyranny but requiring a global network of US-sponsered capitalist dictators.

    Consider that we have a global empire of about 750 military bases abroad, and “deployments” of about 350,000 military personnel in about 150 countries, part of a military that costs more than the next 14 countries’ military budgets combined –over 40% of total world military spending! Such an expensive apparatus wants to be used, there are always new weapons and tactics to test –especially after the Cold War there has been a whole series of new threats and obligations offered to justify zero decrease in military spending.

  • timemachinist


    So our national egomania grew out of building the global American military empire, for the strategic resources (especially energy) and markets needed by huge and growing American society and economy. But the “American Century” turned out to be surprisingly brief. Through globalization and “free trade” policies of the last few decades our economy has bled away a huge part of our manufacturing base (and jobs), and corporations have essentially separated themselves from the fates or policies or protections of any particular government, now flowing freely (and temporarily) into wherever labor and environmental standards are lowest, economic and community stability be damned. We can no longer afford the global American military empire, yet the Congress and successive Administrations continue to borrow huge funds from China and Arabia etc to keep increasing the military budget, even while cutting health education and other needed services at home.

    Why? That analysis would take us deep into the problems of dependency on fossil fuels the strategic need to guarantee their cheap flow to USA from under the feet of Arabs and others around the world. It would also take us deep into the militarization of the US economy and the corporate welfare for so-called “defense” industries: poor kids join for education and employment, rich kids go to engineering or business school to run the weapons industry flooded with taxpayer money, compliant foreign rulers are sold high-tech planes and missiles, making USA a world leader in weapons exports.

    Combine this huge and expensive military empire with a rapidly eroding economic base and our country is heading into worse and worse crises: social, trade balance, fiscal, moral. Until we build a new national vision of a sustainable way of life and economy –economically and environmentally– the inertia of the Generals and CEOs will continue to bankrupt the country, export our industries and earn the USA the reputation of global bully. Funny how the humanitarian arguments to the military adventure in Libya throw dust in our eyes about the larger mess we are in.

  • harbinger

    A very short and concise piece, and probably one of the best written I’ve seen in the YDN in quite some time.

  • timemachinist

    Occupying the World: The New Colonialism



    Washington pursues world hegemony under the guises of selective “humanitarian intervention” and “bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples.” On an opportunistic basis, Washington targets countries for intervention that are not its “international partners.” Caught off guard, perhaps, by popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, there are some indications that Washington responded opportunistically and encouraged the uprising in Libya. Khalifa Hifter, a suspected Libyan CIA asset for the last 20 years, has gone back to Libya to head the rebel army.

    [scroll down]

    No other country feels a need for a world military presence. Why does Washington think that it is a good allocation of scarce resources to devote $1.1 trillion annually to military and security “needs”? Is this a sign of Washington’s paranoia? Is it a sign that only Washington has enemies?

    Or is it an indication that Washington assigns the highest value to empire and squanders taxpayers’ monies and the country’s credit-worthiness on military footprints, while millions of Americans lose their homes and their jobs?