Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Jaw-jaw about the Libya war-war

Oscar Reyes argues in relation to Libya, that there is still no way to bomb a country into democracy.

March 23, 2011
3 min read


Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


  share     tweet  

It’s official: the Libyan government is now the “Libyan regime.” The US and NATO are once again “the Allies.” Numerous war planes have been sent to sortie around a “no-fly zone.” And the bombs they are dropping are, invariably, “humanitarian.”

The script for the latest instance of Western military adventurism follows the tried-and -tested pattern. So it’s hardly surprising that the media commentariat is trotting out its familiar lines too: those in favour of bombing talk up the “responsibility to protect”, where questions of sovereignty should play second fiddle to our duty as globalised citizens. This sounds awfully like the Blair doctrine of humanitarian intervention, although the B- word is best not mentioned in polite conversation about Libya, when our beloved ex-leader went out of his way to rehabilitate Gaddafi.

The left’s response, more often than not, gives prominence to cries of hypocrisy. Why a no-fly zone for Libya and not Bahrain? Or Palestine? Why act now, when we were arming Gaddafi a matter of weeks ago in exchange for oil deals and anti-immigration favours? This strikes me as being simultaneously true and irrelevant. Governments are not consistent in their actions – nor, in every circumstance, should they be. If the UK government backed a dictator who served its interests, and had now realised the error of its ways, that should in theory be a good thing. And if the hypocrisy is one of unequal treatment, wouldn’t the right response then be to impose more no-fly zones elsewhere?

The left should do everything it can to resist the Libyan intervention, but calling out Western governments on their hypocrisy is one of the weakest reasons for doing so. Sure, they’re hypocrites, but a more fruitful approach to the same issue would be to unpick the rhetoric of war. We might ask: by what means is a simple imperative to act – the desire of all right-thinking liberals, when viewing atrocities – channelled into a bombing strategy? There’s linguistic trickery at work here, but also a series of military-industrial interests as long as a Lockheed census form.

More importantly, constructing a broader opposition to the bombing would require “flipping the script” on the war – instead of a focus on the motives, it would be worth talking about the likely outcomes. Restating the history of failed “humanitarian interventions” from Kosovo through Afghanistan to Iraq is part of this picture, but the facts need convincing explanations.

In closing, I’d offer the bare bones of such an explanation. Appeals to a generalised humanitarian imperative tend to recast political disputes in a moral register (good versus evil). The resulting simplification abstracts from the local context, which is invariably a far messier reality. That, in turn, has consequences on the ground, the most obvious of which is that it elevates the intervening force into the position of kingmaker. They’ll find new leaders who’s perspective coincide with their own strategic objectives. This is not an accident, but a performative act: for a Western government to recognise you as a leader, you must start to act in ways that conform to Western governments’ norms of leadership in client states. This fundamentally alters the power balance of the situation in Libya, eclipsing the right to self-determination, and claims to democracy that spurred the protests in the first place. Put more simply: there is still no way to bomb a country into democracy.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook


14