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Libyan Afterparty: Are We Having Fun Yet?

The Libya conflict — a war of protection, a humanitarian intervention, an intrusion to save civilians’ lives — has created new humanitarian crises of its own, within and beyond Libya’s borders. Over 22,000 people are reported to have fled armed Malian “rebels” who are intent on reinvigorating a fight with the government. Aid groups are now warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The shade of Gaddafi looms over this conflict. Weapons wielded in his defense have migrated to a longstanding rebellion in Mali. Malian officials told the NYT that rebels were newly armed with the leftovers of Libya’s civil war: “Heavy weapons. Antitank weapons. Antiaircraft weapons . . . Robust, powerful machine guns. Mortars.” The rebels are even commanded by a former colonel in Gaddafi’s army. Many of them fought for Gaddafi in Libya’s civil war.

The trouble in Mali is not the only disturbance to ripple out of the Libya war. Considered by many Arab North Africans to be lesser citizens, black Africans have often borne persecution in North Africa, but in Gaddafi’s Libya they became privileged immigrants. Predictably, they have been accused by Libya’s new rulers of collaborating with Gaddafi. Just today gunmen from Misrata killed seven black Africans at a refugee camp outside Tripoli. The victims and many others at this refugee camp are originally from Tawergha, a town used by Gaddafi’s forces as a base to shell Misrata during the civil war. Tawergha, once home to 30,000 people, is now a ghost town, its buildings looted and surrounding farms destroyed by former Misrata rebels seeking revenge.

Many other African migrants chose to flee the threat of persecution in Libya. Their exodus means they can no longer send money to their families elsewhere in Africa. The BBC has been following that story.

Did President Obama’s advisers warn him the Libyan intervention would reverberate across North Africa? Did the crowd shouting about the “duty to protect” consider that Gaddafi’s mercenaries might inflame other fights elsewhere, or that the civilians we saved might turn on other civilians once the war had ended? Did they take even tiny steps to guard against this possibility? Have they lifted a finger for the new victims?

Apparently, the duty to protect has now lapsed; we can all go back to sleep.

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  • Jim.

    Where’s old Don Rumsfeld when you need him, to explain the actions of a newly free people? Maybe Obama can explain to us some of the unknown unknowns you have to deal with in war and its aftermath.

    I don’t know how kind history will be to Bush; but certainly, with their wars and their deficits, honest historians will find more in common between these two than anyone who voted for Obama could possibly have imagined.

  • vanderleun

    As far as I could tell the “the crowd shouting about the “duty to protect” ” was what? Valerie Jarrett and Barack Obama and their rollicking sidekicks. Not exactly the deepest set of intellects. Nor do they give a [darn]. Their caravan just moves on…

  • LarryD

    Oh, don’t forget Samantha Power. Soro’s fingerprints are all over the Libyan Adventure, as well.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    So what is the lesson here? That multi-tribal societies can only be ruled by tyrants?

  • Jim.

    @Luke Lea:

    Well, there are some lessons here…

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2011/02/14/niall_ferguson_explains_how_obama_blew_it_with_egypt.html

    Always a fun clip to watch. :)

  • Fred

    Luke Lea, BINGO!

  • http://www.the-american-interest.com Damir Marusic

    @Luke Lea It’s not that they can only be ruled by tyrants, but it does mean that we shouldn’t really be anxious to help history along. Peoples will find their own way to deal with tyrants eventually, and their hard-won freedom will be all the dearer to them.

  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    @Jim & WRM
    I think the similarities between Bush’s intervention in Iraq and Obama’s in Libya are because both spring from Liberal interventionism. Nonetheless. they are different. In WRM’s terms Bush’s intervention arises from the Liberal dislike of Tyranny and has it roots in Liberalism 2.0, but mostly it comes out of the anti-colonialism of the 4.1 Liberalism of FDR and Truman. 9/11 looked like Pearl Harbor and Bush fought the war in Iraq basically along the lines of WW2 sending Paul Bremer to act as viceroy like McArthur in Japan and trying to build civil society and infrastructure much as the Marshal Plan had done in in Europe. Obama’s intervention seems to me post colonial and the logical outcome of his Cairo speech. I think Obama’s interventionism deserves a different label and tentatively suggest Liberalism 4.2 in WRM’s schema. Historically, I would say that in the Democratic party Liberalism 4.1 goes from FDR, to Truman to JFK, to LBJ, to Humphrey, to Clinton. And that Liberalism 4.2 goes from Henry Wallace, to McGovern to Carter to Obama. Post Colonialism uses a different approach than anti colonialism. It makes an apparently heroic attempt to not project on the ‘other’ and often projects more, and more unconsciously, than the 4.1 Liberals did. But both project Liberal Western values on peoples who are much more governed by ‘rule or be ruled’ than ‘win win’. There are sometimes short term advantages in pretending that your opponent wants to make a win win deal, like when RFK publicly accepted a compromise that Khrushchev never publicly made during the Cuban missile crisis. . But eternally pretending that the Palestinians or any of the Arabs are the slightest bit interested in co-existing with Israel is the most florid example I can think of the projection of Liberal values on ‘the other’ and refusing to acknowledge the ‘other’s’ actual views. Conversely the only success I can think of in the Middler East is that of Petraeus in the surge. Al Qaeda had behaved so badly in Anbar province that the Anbarese were willing to make a temporary alliance with Petraeus to drive out al Qaeda. Patraeus succeeded because he took advantage of a realistic understanding of the culture he was dealing with. None of what he did has changed the basic rule or be ruled dynamic of Iraq or any of these societies. We have succeeded at great cost in installing a reasonably stable government featuring majority rule that is arguably much better than Saddam’s regime, but we haven’t changed the complex layering of ancient tribal and sectarian groupings that bear almost no resemblance to our own highly detribalized culture. It doesn’t look like Obama has changed the culture in Libya either. Or Egypt. Nor will it change in Syria no matter who comes out on top.

    My broader point is this. For Liberalism to get to 5.0 it is going to have to stop projecting its own values on other cultures. All the talk of de Tocqueville and the American founders as Bush was invading Iraq warned me at the time that projection of Liberalism 2.0 was thick in the air. But I supported the invasion on Liberalism 4.1 grounds and have been increasingly struggling to find a Liberalism 5 point of view since about 2004. When Obama took the ‘duty to protect’ as his justification for regime change in yet another oil state, I was sure we were dealing with the post-colonialism of Liberalism 4.2 that many of us feel dominates our media and universities. My roots are in 4.1 and I can only subscribe to limited elements of 4.2 and have powerful reservations about the rest. But I think the road to Liberalism 5.0 runs through both.

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