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Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and the Rutland Herald

It now appears clear that Muammar Gaddaffi’s Libya will not survive. Like all repressive regimes that have exploited their people for decades, it will cease to exist. The $64 million question is what will replace it?

In a burst of bravado or compassion, or whatever you wish to call it, the United States decided to get involved in the ongoing civil unrest in Libya when it lurched onto the scene in the middle of February of this year. The issue here is not the insurrection, the wishes of our European allies or oil. The issue is very clearly how we view ourselves in today’s world. 

For reasons that probably lie at the heart of the American psyche, we genuinely view ourselves as today’s only benevolent world power. We are the people who are somehow destined to bring peace, prosperity and democracy to the rest of the world. If everyone in the world lived under the rules of our liberal democracy, there would be nothing but peace and prosperity. Having once become caught up in that scenario, it is difficult for us Americans to see the world the way it really is.

Whether or not we realize it, the world most of us grew up in ended with the death of the Soviet Union. That old Cold War world had resolved a very simple dilemma for the rest of the world. In the battle between democracy and communism, whose side were you on? With a variety of defense and aid packages, we and the Soviets signed or bribed the Third World into our respective camps and tolerated their brutalities in return for their support.

Today, no such Cold War competition exists. There are no further existential choices to be made between democracy and communism. This new reality has allowed all of the rest of the countries in the world to focus on and be guided by their national and regional interests. Yemen does not have to choose anymore because, frankly, the lack of Cold War competition means that there is no free lunch coming to them from either America or the USSR.

So in many respects, particularly given the results to date of our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, America has become a toothless tiger. We no longer hold sway over much of the rest of the world, as we had during the Cold War. 

Having found a startling level of foreign disinclination to help us with our Iraq adventure, we went ahead with a new, aggressive, unilateral policy. Under Bush, we would do whatever we wished whether the world agreed with us or not. As a basis for foreign policy, that approach is not likely to find many friends. In fact, over the years since that 2003 invasion, we have come to be known around the world as self-interested and hypocritical — touting democracy while running Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret jails, renditions, “enhanced interrogations” and a reduction in our own civil and individual rights. Not many countries outside NATO, and not all within, are interested in supporting our foreign adventures.

This would be acceptable if we had unlimited resources and imperial inclinations. As can be seen in American public opinion polls on Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, the fact is that Americans are not so inclined. A quick look at our divisive governance, our financial problems and our seriously overcommitted “all volunteer army” gives no indication that we have the necessary imperial capabilities.

And yet in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and all the other Middle East countries struggling for their freedom from homegrown oppressors, we continue to meddle in their internal affairs.

The problem here is that we, as a country and people, have not acknowledged this new world. We have not recognized the extent to which foreign countries and peoples have put aside their relationships with us in favor of concentrating on what they see to be their own true national interests.

All of these countries face major issues that will inhibit their transition into whatever they ultimately become. They share many of the following realities: A critical lack of direct experience with democratic governance, a lack of political movements that could evolve into actual governance, tribalism, ethnicity, corruption and increasing distrust of the West. None of these realities argues in favor of the successful installation of liberal democracy.

Democracy will not thrive in these kinds of environments. It really is time that we started to support true self-determination where the downtrodden people of these countries really do get to choose the kind of governments under which they live. Only then will any kind of stability come to the world. 

It will take a very long time.



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Many questions about Libya

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald & Barre Times-Argus]

It’s hard to know precisely where to begin examining our recent “intervention” in Libya. However, we might start by asking how we got into this. Were we bullied by the British and French? In stressing the moral imperatives of intervention, did they shame President Obama into participation?

Why, if he ultimately decided it was right and proper to get involved, did he dither so long in making up his mind? He came very close to giving Libya back to Gadhafi.

This, in turn, questions the efficacy of running foreign policy on an internationally democratic basis, committing to coordinate our activities with the entire world. Don’t we have enough of a problem getting consensus here in America with our own people?

Given that reality, how could we expect broad international agreement on anything as provocative as the third American military intervention in an Arab country in the last nine years?

In fact, after the rush of Arab League approval of action against Libya, we find its members backing off. “We didn’t really mean that!”

They now say we went too far in the Security Council, while lambasting us for “killing civilians.” One simply has to ask here how you pull off a “no-fly zone” without killing civilians, particularly when your adversary is making sure he populates every last military target you have with his own imported civilians. All of this should have been anticipated.

In addition, we are the object of the purest worldwide schadenfreude seen in decades. Our enemies are more than enthused at our discomfort. Putin has asked if we are the new crusaders, pushing an emotional button in Islam that cannot be overestimated. The Chinese have to be delighted at this unexpected, politically suicidal turn of events. Iranians, Koreans, Cubans, Venezuelans and the Arab street see that America has taken steady aim at its own foot and pulled the trigger. None of them could believe that we Americans could have been so stupid as to get involved in this way, in this place at this time.

All of this aside, there are some truly important questions that so far have gone begging. Why are we intervening in what is clearly a civil war? Will we be doing that again elsewhere around the world? How will we decide where and when? Human misery? Oil?

Just what are our goals in Libya? One suspects that our primary goal is to depose Gadhafi, yet that is never agreed to either in the Arab League or in the Security Council. Our “coalition” already has philosophical fissures.

Then we have to ask exactly who and what our allies are. Are they simply those Libyans who have a grievance against Gadhafi? How many of the 140 tribes and tribal groupings in Libya do they represent? Like it or not, as poorly as we appear to understand them, they are our chosen allies. The fact that they are made up of dozens of hostile tribes and that they are not today close to being a decent fighting force is a fact we have chosen to live with. Who will be the boots on the ground? The new crusaders?

What are their goals, other than the removal of Gadhafi? Do we think they are all closet democrats? If we do, we are likely to be sorely disappointed. Just what kind of post-Gadhafi government are they likely to form, and how stable is that likely to be? Tribal societies do have problems with consensus and stable national governance.

What does this intervention say about Obama’s leadership style? Is his deliberate style of seeking consensus likely to survive in today’s world, or does this style take too long and ultimately come up with questionable results? Is it better or worse than Bush II?

Then we have the Republicans who seem to be uniformly critical of this Obama decision. Have they forgotten where they were after 9/11? They do appear to be wildly hypocritical in their uniform condemnation of activities that they themselves approved a scant nine years ago. It would appear that the Democrats have become the war party and the Republicans the pacifists — a quaint role reversal from the Bush era.

Finally, this looks just like the Bush invasion of Iraq in that so many in and around the government, except Bush and his neoconservative friends, knew that it would ultimately go badly because of the inherent fissures in Iraqi society. The same holds true today in Libya.

Insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Are we mad?

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