Friday, March 18, 2011

Libya: Why I'm against the no-fly zone

I can't support the no-fly zone and bombing intervention.

For more in-depth analysis and discussion, I suggest readers go to Dr Tad at Left Flank, or Guy Rundle at Crikey for the other side. Jacinda Woodhead also responds to Rundle at Overland.

The easy (and largely correct) cynical response is to ask, why no western intervention to aid the rebels in Yemen, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia for that matter? Why not institute a no-fly zone against Israel over the occupied Palestinian territories?

But there are far more direct and specific problems with this intervention. What will the effects of the air strikes and no-fly zone be on the Libyan revolution?

First, as Richard Seymour points out, it will almost certainly result in civilian deaths - which I fear may raise some extra support for Gaddafi from those who see him as fighting against imperialist, foreign intervention.

Second, it gives the UN/NATO forces leverage to pick favourites among the rebels. They will undoubtedly try to anoint their favoured faction as the new government, directly or indirectly.

Third, the rebels have not unanimously called for the no-fly zone. We should not pick winners and decide who is right; that is for the Libyan revolution. This much-used image is taken from Lenin's Tomb (I'm unsure of the original source so can't comment on its authenticity unfortunately).

Readers of this blog may recall a similar controversy around intervention in East Timor against the militia massacres after the UN referendum. It was a somewhat different situation, but illuminating to make the comparison.

I joined the protests calling for Australian troops to intervene against Australia's erstwhile ally, the military dictatorship of Indonesia. While I don't expect people to change their views pro or anti that particular Australian military excursion, it may help us all to consider the differences between Timor Leste and Libya.

There was not a single East Timorese independence supporter opposed to Australian troops intervening at the time (or if there was, I have yet to hear of them). We can't say that for Libya.

Unlike the Libyan rebels, the East Timorese were unarmed. The Libyans have significant military resources.

And Libya has a developed oil industry which creates the potential for a strong independent, anti-imperialist if not socialist government, post-Gaddafi. East Timor's oil and gas resources were undeveloped and there was little chance that any possible independent East Timorese state would not be dependent on neo-colonial "aid" and investment.

Australian capital probably got much more direct access to East Timor's oil and gas by allowing the creation of the independent Timor Leste. But the intervention of the Australian troops also did mean that the new state was created with the radical independence fighters still alive. The Timorese left was not wiped out. I would argue this was entirely worthwhile, despite the later pressure applied by Australia to create a malleable Timorese government (including further deployment of Australian troops), which I don't support.

People understandably are horrified at the destruction being wrought by Gaddafi's troops. But let's not forget the Iraqi and Afghan blood dripping from the hands of our own Western governments. Support for "humanitarian bombing" is a chimera.

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