Hello Counter Punch and Mr. Atwood:
Regarding the article by Paul Atwood on “why they hate us” in Libya, published in Counter Punch on September 21,
how do you reconcile the following latest news reports (of September 21 and 22)?
(I’m sure you can find similar reports on the 22nd for other news services you may prefer.)
Isn’t it possible that the Libyan situation is as reported by the US State Department and the Libyan government (post Gaddafi), that a minority of Libyans in armed militias were responsible for the killing of the US Ambassador by taking advantage of public dissatisfaction with and demonstrations against the California-made insult-to-Islam movie, to incite riot and then attack the US consulate? A Libyan “black bloc” using the cover of the otherwise spirited but not violent initial public protest?
Naturally, I agree some fraction of the Libyan public will resent the NATO intervention (and certainly many Western anti-imperialists remain extremely angry about it), but do you really think most of the Libyan people feel that way? The very fact of the widespread demonstrations before the NATO intervention — the Libyan outbreak of the Arab Spring — would seem to cast doubt on the popularity of Gaddafi. For every person who puts their body on the line in a demonstration — and that was always extremely more dangerous in Libya than in the USA — there are at least two or three more (usually many more) who agree with the protest sentiment.
Dictatorship is superb at eliminating the appearance of protest, but it has never been successful at winning without coercion the love of the majority of its subjects. Isn’t it possible that the Gaddafi dictatorship was just another of the same old pattern, with a megalomaniac at the apex of a pyramid of corruption, living lushly off the work of the people and the resources of the nation? And, isn’t it equally possible that the revolution that overthrew Gaddafi succeeded precisely because it was a popular revolution with a naturally large pool of resentment all sourced from the hatred of the dictator, and that under the press of difficult and immediate circumstances this popular revolution sought and used the muscle of friendly-for-the-moment world powers always playing for their own gains (like the US colonists did with France in the 1770’s and 1780s), and after ousting the dictator (with 40,000 of their revolutionary fighters killed) they really did install a government with popular and democratic freedoms? And, just like the successful US revolutionists of the 1780’s, the new Libyan government is weak and not fully in control of all the men with guns who were probably of very good use a year or two earlier, when they all were united by the single goal of removing Gaddafi.
Now the new Libyan government, which enjoys the support of the majority of Libya’s people, has to develop its truly federal security forces and consolidate its power (the Libyans who demonstrated today/yesterday are demanding this from the streets), at least to the extent of controlling militias (to the same degree that the 1st US president, G. Washington, was able to federalize state militias in 1791 to respond to the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, and demonstrate a popularly accepted degree of authority by the federal government as regards controlling armed insurrections).
What always emerges in the stories from Libya, since the beginning of its Arab Spring, is the persistence, breadth and depth of the popular support for the elimination of Gaddafi, and in favor of the new government. The government of Libya today is the people’s government: weak, imperfect, sure but it’s really theirs and they are very happy to have it. Is it so hard to see this as the real thread holding all the stories of Libya together? The Libyans will be grateful to the NATO countries for their help, but to simply make the “dumb natives” assumption about Libyans, who will childishly fall under the sway of US nannies directing the reconstruction of their state, is a complete mistake. Simply consider how useless the Americans were to the French from the 1790’s on, and who soon became their “natural ally” (even after 1812).
All the players of the international game are well aware of the apocryphal saying: “Nations do not have friends, only interests,” of which a modern version is Henry Kissinger’s “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” The Obama Administration was not enthused about being roped in by Sarkozy to flex some muscle for the Libyan public, but it played along in a conservative way to build up some credits for the future. What other “interest” could any other power have? But, that impure superpower motivation did not obviate the good outcome of a national population (of happy and imperfect people for sure) released from dictatorship and now really their own masters politically. Political freedom is a human right. Let’s see what they do with it, and we can criticize them for misusing that opportunity if it comes to that. But no external population has the right to demand that another national public be denied the opportunity to seize its political freedom (in our case because we hate US imperialism so much some of us would have preferred Gaddafi continued as Libya’s dictator and pretender of opposition to that imperialism).
The argument I make here — which is really quite obvious — would apply in Syria, and it would apply in Palestine. It would also apply in North Korea and China and many other countries. So, as “interests” will always trump feelings of sympathy or moral ideals, the application of “foreign help” to the liberation of populations trapped under dictatorships (and oligarchies) will be rare. All governments are more frightened about showing their own public examples of assisted liberation than they care about who runs another country or how, so long as their “interests” remains stably satisfied. This is certainly why Russia and China and Iran so stoutly defend the sanctity of the Assad dictatorship to massacre its own people to remain dominant over them. And, no one else has expressed a “vital interest” in the human right of the Syrians to have a government representative of their (once again imperfect) interests and which also refrains from murdering them in response to public expressions for leadership changes.
Anti-imperialism is a wonderful and hopeful idea, deserving of much more acceptance in the now capitalist Washington-consensus bloc. However, no idea can be considered so sacrosanct that one accepts the massacre of defenseless populations in order to hew inflexibly to it. This is too extreme a reductio ad absurdum that one would hope any awake mind would realize and reject. One can understand the simple human nature behind an external nation’s acceptance of the facts of a bloody dictatorial repression, condemning it forthrightly, and then honestly stating its selfish preference to stay out of the fray, with a parting “good luck” to the outgunned. After all, nations have “interests,” or as they say in the Mafia: “nothing personal, it’s just business.” But to contort thinking in ways that blame the victims, to provide one with a moral justification for accepting and even supporting the dictators, in the defense of some supposedly higher principle, is beyond the pale of humanistic Enlightenment thought. It is basically Stalinist.
Fundamentally, my question to you about political matters in the world is this, which is more important to you: what you are for, or what you are against? If your highest political preferences are of a positive nature, does the political freedom of other national populations rank at the top or near the top of your list?
To be fair, I will state my preference: it is for political freedom because I think it is the best method of accommodating the entire spectrum of human personality, and because it creates the best environment in which to realize economic equity.
I would be happy to receive your response by e-mail or as your comments in my blog, where this letter will appear.