Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya

What are your political beliefs, and why do you hold them? Is it because by objective analysis you see them as most beneficial to the public good, and you are motivated by solidarity and patriotism to promote them? Is it because they help preserve a traditional way of life or culture, perhaps of a minority population, which you were born into or to which you have become devoted? Or, is it because your stated political views are part of a facade, which shields your actual motives and agenda from public view?


What we say we believe emanates from who we think we are. Dialog on political issues can often degenerate into ritual displays in defense of egos, and detached from the realities of the nominal issues. The more conscious we are about the roots of stated political beliefs, the easier we will find political debate arriving at a clear understanding of reality, and functional consensus for action on matters of mutual concern.
 
Raymond Aron and the Paris Intellectuals of the 1950s
 
The Opium of the Intellectuals, by Raymond Aron, was published in France in 1955. This book is a sociological study of the mid 20th century intelligentsia, and a polemic against ideological fanaticism. Aron opposed the pro-Soviet views of the French intelligentsia, as exhibited by prominent personalities like Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The crux of Aron’s argument was that Soviet-style communism was not in the interests of the French public because as a 19th century conception of the organization of an industrial society it was outmoded for 20th century France, and as a political system it was devoid of the personal liberties, especially of political free speech, prized by the fractious French.


Aron advocated “politics” in place of “revolution” as the means of changing French society, arguing that a modern industrialized state would progress toward a more just political economy, more swiftly and with far fewer personal tragedies, through reformism rather than violent revolution. Aron illustrated this by comparing the lag in socioeconomic development and the achievement of political stability in France in comparison to that of England during the century from 1789 (the French Revolution to the Third Republic).


Aron’s criticism of the legitimacy of the pro-communist belief of his contemporaries was not aimed at members of the Communist Parties in Europe (the true believers), but at the “communisants,” the French fellow-travelers who did not join the Communist Party in France, nor relocate to Communist countries, but condemned post-war American influence in Europe (“Atlanticism”), praised Marxist ideology, and never criticized the Soviet Union nor its actions in Eastern Europe.


“Seeking to explain the attitude of the intellectuals, merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they were committed in the name of the proper doctrines, I soon came across the sacred words Left, Revolution, Proletariat.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)


It is possible to interpret the communisant attitude, which Aron criticized, as a defense of wounded pride. The Fall of France (1940) was not just a national catastrophe along the material dimensions of military and economic power, political independence, and social cohesion, but a psychological catastrophe as well. The humiliation imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was avenged twenty-one years later when France was placed under the control of a German Occupation and a collaborationist Vichy Government for over four years, a period we can bracket from the occupation of Paris to its liberation: June 14, 1940, to August 25, 1944.


The liberation of France began with the invasion of Europe by Allied forces, landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and was completed by the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945. Resistance organizations had formed themselves in every occupied country, and many of these irregular anti-Nazi fighters and agents were Communists. Immediately after WWII, the Communist parties of Western Europe had a well-deserved prestige because of the many risks taken and sacrifices made by Communist members of the Resistance.


Anyone from a country that had been occupied by the Germans, seeking some source of national pride to counter the humiliation of the occupation years, could at least look back and point to his country’s partisans.


The physical and economic ruin of Europe after WWII left the United States as the leading world power, and it applied its wealth to the rebuilding of Western Europe out of a mixture of motives: sympathy and goodwill, commercial self-interest, and a competition with the Soviet Union for political power: anti-communism. A major effort combining all these motivations was the Marshall Plan, which cycled $13B though Europe during the four years beginning in April 1948 (the U.S. had already contributed $12B in aid to Europe between the end of WWII and 1948).


Anyone who has suffered a calamity and then receives charity (which often has strings attached) can feel grateful up to the point where relief becomes overshadowed by resentment because of a growing sense of humiliation over one’s dependency. So it was with some Europeans in the early 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union locked horns in their Cold War and used Europe, Germany in particular, as their field of contention.


The Greek Civil War between the US-backed government and the Greek Communist Party lasted from March 1946 to October 1949. This was the beginning of US military assistance applied against the anti-Nazi partisans of the Occupation years. The Berlin Blockade, which was relieved by a NATO airlift, occurred between June 24, 1948, and May 12, 1949. Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and thwarted proletarian expectations erupted as the Uprising in East Germany on June 17, 1953. The Western European Union was founded on October 23, 1954, with the first inclusion of an independent West German state (the Federal Republic of Germany) into an economic and defense association of Atlantic Alliance (NATO) European nations, and which allowed the FRG to industrialize without restriction, and rearm. The Hungarian Uprising occurred during October 23 to November 10, 1956. Both the East German and Hungarian uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by the Red Army and local paramilitary police troops.


In societies where there is wide public appreciation of their men and women of letters, the intellectuals belong to the elite class that interprets the nation to itself. The French intellectuals of the immediate postwar period were sensitive to the popular desire for a recovery of national pride, and also very sensitive to their own loss of importance in shaping the political narrative of their time. The centers of power affecting daily life throughout Europe were no longer Paris, London, and Berlin, but Moscow and Washington, D.C.


That the relatively unsophisticated Americans should have such wealth that they could act like a Salvation Army for derelict Western European nations; that they should have such military power that they could align their propped-up European charity cases like pawns in a geostrategic chess game with the Soviet Union; that America would gleefully spin the gears and pull the levers of politics in Western Europe and around the globe without the least thought to the wounded self-regard of France, or to the interpretations of history-in-the-making from one of the most brilliant sources of such narration in Western Civilization since the Enlightenment — the French intelligentsia — was galling to distraction, and shaped the pro-Soviet anti-Atlanticist orientation of a French intelligentsia seeking redemption and relevance.
 
Occupy Wall Street: The Face of American Deindustrialization
 
In the first decade or two after WWII, the Europeans could still easily recall many instances of the pre-war exploitation of working people, along with the more recent memories of the many hardships of the war years and the early postwar years (the latter with many high-casualty refugee movements). In his book about his flight from France in June 1940, Strictly Personal, W. Somerset Maugham describes the changed attitude of non-collaborationist French industrialists and military leaders regarding the French working class. Since the eventual liberation of France would be a painful labor largely carried out by working people, that future free France would necessarily be a nation whose industrially-generated wealth would be extensively socialized, as a simple matter of gratitude and justice. There would be no going back to the class relationships of the Third Republic. With this background in mind, the political builders of postwar Western Europe fashioned states that generally aimed at meeting Aron’s ideal: “An economy, liberal in its functioning, social in its goals, holds the most promise.” (Politics and History)


With the growing prosperity of Western Europe, working life was transformed from a proletarian to a bourgeois experience: “Wherever democratic socialism has been successful, the factory workers, having become petty bourgeois, no longer interest the intellectuals and are themselves no longer interested in ideologies. The improvement of their lot has both deprived them of the prestige of misfortune and withdrawn them from the temptation of violence.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)


So, the heated existentialist-political debate between Atlanticism and Marxism in early 1950s France faded with the rising prosperity of the nation, driven by technological development. “The major fact of our age is neither socialism, nor capitalism, nor the intervention of the state, nor free enterprise: it is the monstrous development of technology and industry, of which the massive concentrations of workers in Detroit, Billancourt, Moscow, and Coventry are the consequence and symbol. Industrial society is the genus of which Soviet and Western societies are the species.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)


Half a century later, we are witnessing a deindustrialization of the United States, slight deindustrialization in parts of Europe, and an accompanying industrialization of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico. Once again, technology (electronics, robotics, telecommunications) facilitates the geographic shift of production to lower cost and more easily exploited labor pools, and the resulting changes to national prosperity produce public reactions that are controlled or distorted by local political factors.


The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest that has been in progress since September 17 in New York City, along with the many allied Occupy protests throughout the United States, have arisen in large part because of deindustrialization. Increasing redundancies in the American petty bourgeois workforce, at all levels of occupational skill, have forced many people to abandon previous career assumptions, and to question their own self images, because they are confronted by economic conditions that will not support making their original expectations real. Casting off an outmoded self image and then fashioning a new one can be a difficult and depressing task, to lose a dream is to lose a child of your mind. After that grief is finished, it can be liberating to successfully re-imagine yourself.


We can be sure that today millions of Americans are in a volatile psychological state, somewhere between realizing their original self image has become outmoded, and completing a robust reintegration of their psyche. They are awakening to new or reinforced political beliefs that will focus their subsequent social interactions in response to the changed economic realities in which they find themselves. The diversity and number of human beings that have been so callously shunted aside by the expatriation of the financialization-bewitched US economy is so great that no single mode of thought nor technically specific political demand can be expected to characterize the conclusions arrived at by Occupy Wall Street protesters and pilgrims and their sympathizers.


The appearance of the OWS movement in 2011 is obviously a direct result of the economic collapse of 2007-2008, but both the collapse and OWS are the fruits of Reaganomics: the divergence of the US economy from Aron’s economic ideal, since the Reagan Administration (1981-1988). We can anticipate that the many minds drawn into OWS will gravitate toward a thematic center-of-interest that we can label “economic fairness,” and which probably subdivides into five categories:


(1) personal debt relief,

(2) banking reform and financial market taxes,

(3) wide availability of diverse skilled employment,

(4) universal health and social security, a 35-hour work week,

(5) clean government: end corporate “personhood,” close tax loopholes, schedule equitable income and corporate taxes.


Marxism is an ideology originally developed to raise the expectations of a proletarian workforce in 19th century industrializing states. The growth of productivity during the 20th century, driven by “the monstrous development of technology and industry,” has elevated proletarian expectations by transforming the proletarians into petty bourgeois: they now have wealth beyond just their potential for manual labor, and their children. Ardor for revolution and enthusiasm for ideology have largely been lost during this transformation of the conditions of wage-earning life.


After thirty years of Reaganomics and “outsourcing,” or deindustrialization, and four years after the collapse of the financial bubble, the American workforce is suddenly confronted by economic conditions that undermine their now naturally petty bourgeois expectations. The prospect of having to downsize their dreams back to proletarian minimalism is clearly understood to be the foisting on them of the costs of the mismanagement of the US economy. Certainly, a wealthy class of politically well-connected speculators profited from the financial spectacle of the last decade, but their gains will cost the wider society far more than it could ever recover as a benefit because these speculators are richer.


The OWS movement is the face of petty bourgeois protest at the prospect of being pushed back into proletarian austerity. I do not anticipate a resurgence of Marxism in the near future because I cannot imagine American petty bourgeois people, however economically restricted, allowing themselves to assume a proletarian self image. It will be interesting to see how the OWS awakening expresses itself politically.
 
The Libyan Revolution and Progressivist Self Image
 
I began my investigation into the relationship between political belief and self image because of the forceful and emotional rejection of my views in support of the Libyan Revolution by progressive-minded correspondents in the left-wing Internet forums I frequented.
 
A Sketch of the Libyan Revolution


The Libyan Revolution broke out on February 15, 2011, and deposed Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s dictator during the previous 42 years, who fled his compound in Tripoli and went into hiding on August 22, 2011, as National Transition Council (NTC, rebel) forces gained control of most of the capitol, and the country. Aside from scattered remnants of Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli, the remaining loyalists still fighting were penned into five cities: Tarhuna, Sirte, Sabha, Bani Walid, and Hun. By late September, only Sirte and Bani Walid remained occupied by loyalists. Bani Walid fell to the NTC on October 17; and the loyalists in Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, were concentrated into a narrow two-block area, with their arsenal reduced to machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.


NTC fighters overran the last loyalist stronghold in Sirte on October 20, capturing a wounded Muammar Gaddafi who was apparently hiding in a storm drain, hustling him through the streets of a ruined Sirte amid a throng of ecstatic NTC fighters, and later delivering his body to a local hospital. It had two bullet wounds, in the head and chest. As I write on the 20th, fighting has ceased and the NTC is expected to declare Libya liberated, which then sets the date for democratic elections eight months later, to constitute the permanent successor government.


From its outbreak in the eastern city of Benghazi, the Libyan Revolution spread quickly through the country so that by the 25th of February most of Libya was under rebel control. Gaddafi controlled the cities of Tripoli, on the Mediterranean coast near the western border, as well as Sirte and Sabha. The revolution was a popular uprising; its fighters were civilians who had taken up arms and were joined by government troops who deserted. Gaddafi commanded the majority of the nation’s military forces, and thousands of mercenaries, primarily from African nations.


Because Libyan troops were reluctant to kill their own people, Gaddafi continually recruited mercenaries. Hundreds of Europeans were hired for specialized technical roles, such as pilots and military tacticians. Most of these fled by August. Thousands of black Africans were hired, like Tuaregs from Mali. The inducement of high pay to often impoverished men, and their lack of identification with the Arab and Berber culture of Libya, made the African mercenaries from the nations of the Sahel (the bio-geographic and climatic zone between the Sahara to the north and the savannas to the south) the most reliable killers at Gaddafi’s command.


In a televised address on the 23rd of February, Gaddafi stated that “Those who do not love me do not deserve to live.” During the 20 days between February 23 and March 15, Gaddafi’s forces recaptured most of the rebellious territory in the west and south, a particular exception being the coastal city of Misrata, east of Tripoli and west of Sirte.


On March 15, Gaddafi’s forces captured Brega and advanced east, beginning their assault on Ajdabiya, the last city along the road before Benghazi. In another public address, Gaddafi vowed to “bury” the rebels. Ajdabiya had been subjected to bombardment by Gaddafi’s air force since March 12, and on the 15th land and naval artillery barrages were added as well.


On March 17, Gaddafi’s forces captured Ajdabiya, about 120 km from Benghazi, and the United Nations Security Council adopted UN Resolution 1973 (2011), which authorized member states “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.” NATO military forces were set to intervene.


On March 18, Gaddafi’s forces captured Zuwetina, about 100 km from Benghazi, and continued their drive until within 50 km of Benghazi.


On March 19, Gaddafi’s troops and tanks entered the suburbs of Benghazi, while Gaddafi’s artillery and mortars shelled the city from about 20 km away. The first shots of the NATO military intervention were fired by French aircraft, and destroyed a convoy of 14 of Gaddafi’s tanks accompanied by several ammunition trucks.


With the NATO intervention now underway, and with increasing diplomatic recognition of, financial assistance for, and military equipment supplied to the three-week-old political organization of the revolution, the NTC, the rebel forces advanced from Benghazi toward Ajdabiya on the 20th of March, and this new rebel offensive began the five month push west to Tripoli.
 
The Human Right to Political Freedom


My support for the Libyan Revolution was a reflex based on the belief that freedom from dictatorship is a human right. I explained how I came to this belief in an article called “Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom,” which grew out of the despairing notes I wrote during Gaddafi’s offensive toward Benghazi. I anticipated a bloody purge of revolutionary sentiment in Libya after Gaddafi’s forces captured Benghazi. I recalled how Franco cemented his dictatorship and suppressed Republicans in Spain after the Civil War, between 1939 and 1942. I distributed a first draft of this article as an e-mail broadcast on March 30, and its final form was eventually posted on the Internet by Dissident Voice on May 3, 2011, accompanied by an editorial criticizing it.


In 1978, Raymond Aron explained his guiding political compass this way: “Of the two values invoked by our times, equality and freedom, I give first place to the second — not for intellectual comfort but as a result of historical experience.” (Politics and History)


I feel the same alignment, and in my article put the question to the left-wing world this way:


“So let me ask you, is it possible to have a bias for freedom, an opposition to dictatorship anywhere, and also oppose the capitalistimperialist consensus that dominates US and European foreign policymaking? Is it possible to support popular revolutions against tyrants and dictators — no matter how doctrinally appealing certain of them might be for some of us — even to the point of arming popular revolts so they can credibly match the firepower of their oppressors? In short, can anti-imperialists elevate freedom to a guiding principle?”


“Rules of Rebellion” is my second article about the Libyan Revolution, and was provoked by the largely negative reception to my first one (i.e., e-mailed criticisms, and publication rejections). “Rules of Rebellion” was written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” and, because irony is unknown today, it was taken at face value and published on the Internet on April 6, 2011. “Rules of Rebellion” is presented as advice from the progressive “contented spectators” of the West, to would-be revolutionaries contemplating overthrowing their dictators:


“A revolution that fails to recognize the primacy of the anti-imperialist outcome, by either undermining an authoritarian anti-imperialist stalwart or failing to replace him with an untainted government of equal or greater anti-imperialist vigor, within a matter of days, does not deserve the support and respect of the enlightened and progressive world community.”


Revolutionaries around the world are urged, in the article, to realize that having their governments oppose US imperialism is an ideological mandate that outweighs the political freedom of their nation’s people, and even the lives of the revolutionaries. After the article appeared, I received letters asserting its overt argument as sincere belief.


On the day Gaddafi’s regime fell, I reflected on the doctrinairism that could be blind to the purges necessary to maintain its view of the world. Louis Proyect published my letter of August 22, 2011, “The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals,” at his Web site, The Unrepentant Marxist. I recollected my clash with doctrine this way:


As I mentioned in my articles on Libya, the first priority was gaining the political freedom of the Libyan people, and preventing them from being massacred by their vengeful dictator. The blunt and inelegant instrument of a NATO intervention was the only means at hand capable of preventing a detestable outcome; capable of saving the lives of people who did not deserve to die. Whether or not the European and American governments, and corporations, were gaining economic and political advantages (the “humanitarian intervention” complex of modern left orthodoxy…) were unimportant considerations in comparison. Now that Libya is entering its liberated postwar period of political reconstruction, these considerations can be addressed, and by those who would be most affected by them, the Libyans themselves. It is so sad that so many leftists are so wrapped up in their politicized heads that they could obsess about “saving Libya from its Western saviors” to the complete disregard of the life-and-death struggle for political freedom by the Libyan people, the defeat of dictatorship. These political theorists must be relieved that the Syrian government has been untrammeled by Western interference in its rejection of its people’s rejection.
 
Anti-Imperialist Doctrinairism: Libya as Bosnia


“By doctrinairism I mean the attribution of universal value to a particular doctrine.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)


A popular leftist doctrine today is opposition to “humanitarian interventions,” the use of Western military forces to control political outcomes in Third World (undeveloped and developing) and Second World (moderately developed) nations that are in distress, often with a civil conflict compounded by a humanitarian crisis. The doctrine congealed out of the many arguments over Western involvement (“interference,” interventions) in the wars that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia (1991-1995, 1998-1999), and in particular from the outcry against the NATO bombardment of Serbia (1999) during the UN military intervention in the Kosovo War (1998-1999).


From the leftist perspective, “humanitarian intervention” is a disingenuous label for imperialism carried out militarily for Washington-consensus capitalism by the United States leading its mainly Western European NATO allies.


This analysis justifies skepticism about the officially expressed motives for the use of US and NATO military power in any foreign conflict, as a third party. Proponents of an intervention can always find some iota of humanitarian need in the host nation to justify their case, and opponents can always find some suspicion of interventionist self-interest to justify non-intervention. The morally correct course of action for third parties should be indicated by which of these two poles lies closer to the public interest in the host nation, given its current specific conditions.


Interventionist self-interest actually has two classes: the leading economic and political class that directs foreign policy (or imperialism), and the general public whose labor, consumerism, taxes, and soldiering support the domestic basis of their nation’s foreign policy (or empire). Non-intervention is usually in the interest of the general public in the interventionist nation, from considerations of cost.


A third-party intervention is morally justified when conditions in the host nation indicate that it would be in their public interest, and when the public in the intervening nations willingly support the costs of the action. It is recognized that making such a determination is a matter of degree, there can never be a guarantee that a morally justified intervention will be completely free of any self-interest on the part of those intervening, nor be carried out without some errors and casualties. The need must be sufficiently dire, and the hazards sufficiently clear, that the responsible actors in both the host and third-party nations can see the potential benefits — to the host public — of the proposed intervention as far outweighing the unavoidable negative side effects.


From the above, it is evident that clear cases for morally justified interventions are rare. I believe Libya was one of those cases. Every case must be judged on its merits, on the specifics of the situation. We can be constant in our application of the principles outlined above to help us judge, but we should not close our minds to the plight of others because we have blinkered our thinking and walled off our empathy behind an absolutist doctrine that always equates third-party interventions to imperialism, and by a moralistic associative rule rejects all third-party interventions because of a self image as an anti-imperialist.


Libya is not Bosnia, Libya is not Kosovo; Libya is Libya.
 
Identify: Friend of Foe?


Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I must know if you are friend or foe.

Are you a Marxist or bourgeois?
I must find if you’re my kind.

Are you populist or an elitist?
I must feel if you are real.

Are you a worker or are you an owner?
I must determine if you are vermin.

Are you a capitalist or anti-imperialist?
I must decide what you should abide.

Are you a militarist or are you a pacifist?
I must tell if you are well.

Are you a patriot or are you a dissident?
I must judge if you should trudge.

Are you progressive or are you conservative?
I must infer if you can concur.

Are you a believer or are you a skeptic?
I must learn if you should burn.

Are you right or are you left?
I must know if you are friend or foe.

I am right and I am left,
I am friend and you are foe.


One of the sadder realizations I gained from the negative responses to my articles in support of the Libyan Revolution was that some people with progressive political attitudes, being against war, racism, and violence, and believing in the entire complex of humanistic “peace and justice” values, examples of which easily come to mind with the use of that phrase, could express angry disapproval of me approaching hate in some instances, for essentially blaspheming against their doctrinal code. It was this that made me understand how deeply rooted in self image our political beliefs are.


We are emotionally invested in what we think of ourselves. For example, an anti-imperialist political belief can be rooted in a self image as a “good” person who is morally opposed to war, exploitative capitalism and the many forms of intolerance (e.g., racism). Perhaps these beliefs are applied in a rigid or fanatical manner because this person is uneducated, or irredeemably indoctrinated, or intellectually lazy, and so interprets and labels reality on the basis of a doctrinal code.


The doctrinal set is sacrosanct because it is rooted deep in the ego or self image of the person. The doctrinal set is expressed as a list of commandments; rules to be applied in the external world and that are actually extensions of the inner core of a person’s being. These doctrines are expressed as simplified ideas and phrases, code words that are, if you will, linguistic objects of depersonalized aspect for safe use in the world exterior to our persons (the exosomatic realm), but which actually encase tender parts of our spirit, emotionally charged aspects of our self definition.


For such a person, the defense of a doctrinally-held political belief is in reality a defense of their ego. To dispute another’s doctrinally-held belief is to attack the religion of a true believer.


The defense of the ego knows no barriers of courtesy, or logic, or truth. So, when I asked doctrinaire anti-interventionists how they could stand by and let Gaddafi’s forces take Benghazi, and then “bury” those who didn’t love him and so “deserved to die,” taking Gaddafi at his word as seemed reasonable given his history, I was told:


The rebels were Islamicists and Al Qaida (ergo, they deserved to die);

The rebels were against Pan-Africanism, and massacred blacks whenever possible (deserved to die);

The rebels were Libyan agents of Western-directed destabilization groups exploiting the mood of Arab Spring (deserved to die),

There really weren’t many rebels (too few to worry about dying),

Most of the Libyan people supported Gaddafi (then why was there a rebellion?).
The ego defense against sympathy for the rebels was quite simple: they don’t deserve to live, and there aren’t many of them. Even the most skeptical viewing of televised reporting from Libya put the lie to these assertions.


Other ego defenses were aimed at interventionist motives: the intervention was an oil grab, it was to depose a defender of Africa from US and European imperialism. Clearly, NATO countries that participated in the intervention will hope the successor government in Libya will remember them favorably when considering future business partners.


But the Europeans and Americans were already doing great business with Gaddafi’s Libya, that being the quid pro quo for his cooperation on nuclear disarmament, suppressing al Qaeda and withdrawing support from terrorist and/or insurgent organizations, restricting black African migration to Europe, and producing oil for the world market. The NATO countries did not need to incur the expense of their Libyan intervention in order to create commercial opportunities for themselves in Libya.


The final defense of doctrinally-held belief was an attack on the character of the blasphemer. How could I possibly agree to the NATO intervention when it was responsible for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children? This made me equally guilty of the killing of babies in Tripoli. Did I want to personally plunge a knife into Aisha Gaddafi to stop her from rallying the people of Tripoli to her father’s cause?, because that was equivalent to my accepting a NATO intervention that rained bombs down on Tripoli.


It is pointless to respond to character attacks like this — they really have nothing to do with the person being attacked but instead show the desperation of an ego defending its doctrinally-held beliefs against the sense that they are unsupported by reality.


Muammar Gaddafi’s opposition to the Arab Spring-inspired popular protest movement in Libya degenerated into a war between a ruthless dictator with command of most of the nation’s military, and the lightly armed civilian population of the country. Given this balance of power and the history of Libya’s dictator, the world at large was faced with the choice of: acquiescing to a bloody suppression of the revolt, and probable purge of thousands of Libyans, by not intervening; or making a purge impossible by helping the revolt succeed, by intervening with decisive military force.


I think the second choice was by far the right one, as a matter of human decency for the greatest number of people, and because of that I accept that its implementation could never be “perfect” from every ethical and political perspective. It was the best course of action that circumstances allowed.


“In politics the choice is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.” — Raymond Aron
 
Bibliography

Raymond Aron: The Opium of the Intellectuals, Transaction Publishers, 2001, (reprint of 1957 English language edition),

Raymond Aron: Politics and History, Transaction Publishers, 1984, (reprint of 1978 edition),

Raymond Aron: Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith, (1956 essay revised, now an appendix in the reprinted The Opium of the Intellectuals).

W. Somerset Maugham: Strictly Personal, 1941.

Tony Judt: Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945, Penguin Books, 2005.

Articles:

“Rules of Rebellion”
6 April 2011
http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/04/rules-of-rebellion/

“Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom”
3 May 2011
http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/05/libya-2011-the-human-right-to-political-freedom/

“The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals”
22 August 2011
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/the-libyan-revolution-and-the-opium-of-the-intellectuals/

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Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html

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Samurai Rx for Libya

After WW2 (1945) the Allies occupied Germany till 1949, when both the Federal Republic (West Germany) and the Democratic Republic (East Germany) were set up as a result of the breakdown of cooperation between the NATO powers and the Soviet Union (Stalin). The Allied occupiers oversaw the running of Germany (in four major sectors: British, French, Russian, US), and the de-nazification programs, and war crimes trials. Allied troops remained in West Germany until 1955, their numbers being reduced over time, and after that mainly US troops remained in US (a.k.a. NATO) bases (till today).

The US (Allied) occupation of Japan after WW2 lasted from 1945 to 1952. The U.S. governance of occupied Japan transformed the entire form of government (to a parliamentary democracy), and in conjunction with other Allies (British, Indian, French, Australian, Nationalist Chinese, Philippine) war crimes tribunals (of Japanese militarists) were held in Manila. The U.S. kept bases in Japan (to this day), and as the Korean War had started in 1950, the U.S. pumped huge amounts of money into Japan as its platform from which to launch attacks on the Korean peninsula, which US spending kick-started the rapid growth of the Japanese economy.

Germany (West, until 1990 when it reunified with East) and Japan were thus tied economically and militarily to the US-led world capitalist system (the “First World”). There was never a post 1945 Nazi insurgency, nor a post 1945 Imperialist Japanese insurgency, nor a spawning of such international “terrorist” groups.

The NATO (“Allied”) occupation of Libya lasted only 11 days, occurring between Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011, and 31 October 2011. During the Libyan Civil War, the Gaddafi regime relied mainly on mercenary troops (largely Sahelian Africans, but also Western mercenaries and technicians), and Gaddafi was bent on mass murder of the pro-democracy Arab Spring inspired activists who opposed his regime, which opposition was favored by most of the Libyan population. [This paragraph has been revised, as prompted by Robert Pearsall in a comment, below.]

The new Libyan government had asked the NATO-UN forces to stay till the end of 2011 (two months), to help it stabilize the country. But, the NATO powers did not wish to invest the time, money and troops/people-power (with the possibilities of some casualties) for that purpose. The broken Libya of today, with mass trafficking of African refugees (by today’s “Barbary Pirates”) towards Mediterranean Europe; and Islamist militia-terrorist bases and training camps, is the result.

What the NATO powers did regarding Libya is equivalent to an unwise patient with an infection who stops taking his full course of prescribed antibiotics after three days, when he’s feeling “good,” instead of the full week or two, and the infection is not eradicated but comes back and is worse because it has mutated to become resistant to the original antibiotics it was suppressed with.

The idea of R2P, “responsibility to protect,” is correct; those with the power (military might) to prevent a dictator from enacting a mass atrocity crime should do so as an act of solidarity with all of humanity, otherwise they share in the guilt of the atrocity as a sin of omission. But, in committing to such action one should do it right, completely, not on the cheap. The goal is not simply the downfall of a dictator and mass murderer, but the transformation of and unity with a whole population. Selfishness is not a good long-term defense. As “Kambei Shimada” said in Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”: “This is the nature of war: by protecting others, you save yourself.”

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No Regrets On Libya

Non-interventionists who regret the outcome of the Libyan Civil War continue to seek some type of moral consolation for their support of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship by trying to shame the supporters of the UN-NATO intervention (on the side of the Libyan rebels) by posting editorials of complaint about the Libyan Civil War’s aftermath of political unruliness and frequent lawlessness.

My article is a response to those regrets and complaints. This article is not intended to convince anyone to change their opinion on the Libyan Civil War, since that is impossible. It merely states what I think. The article was written on October 14, and submitted for publication the same day.

No Regrets On Libya
4 November 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci74.html

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Non-intervention Versus R2P

In Jean Bricmont’s Counterpunch article of December 4th:

Beware the Anti-Anti-War Left
http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/04/beware-the-anti-anti-war-left/

he makes a clear and impassioned case for his conviction that armed interventions by Western powers and NATO, justified by the principle of “responsibility to protect” (R2P, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_to_protect), should be uniformly opposed by leftists (and preferably everybody).

Bricmont argues that all such military interventions ultimately advance the geo-political aims of the United States, because it is the leading power in both the United Nations and NATO. In this view, “humanitarian interventions” are always excuses for advancements of US-led Western imperialism, by military force.

To uniformly oppose such military interventions is to believe that preventing the advance of US (primarily) geo-political aims by military means is always preferable to preventing the course of events from playing out in states undergoing violent social and political turmoil. The only forms of intervention acceptable to this strict non-interference point of view would be diplomacy according to international law, and real humanitarian assistance by non-governmental agencies, as possible. Bricmont writes:

“We should demand of our governments the strict respect for international law, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and cooperation instead of confrontation. Non-interference means not only military non-intervention. It applies also to diplomatic and economic actions: no unilateral sanctions, no threats during negotiations, and equal treatment of all States.”

The other point of view on this question is the belief that in certain cases it is preferable to prevent the likely course of events from playing out, even if it means that the Western powers and NATO (led by the United States) may also gain some geo-political advantages as a result of the military intervention. This point of view would have to believe that the blood to be shed during the prosecution of a military intervention would likely be of lesser magnitude than would be the case without the intervention, and that those killed or injured by interventionists would predominantly be combatants or perpetrators of war crimes, rather than innocent civilians.

Everything depends on vague judgments in the interventionist view: “in certain cases,” which ones?; “geo-political advantages,” exactly what?; bloodshed of “likely lesser magnitude,” how to estimate?, and how to know what might have been if unhindered? There are no such uncertainties in the non-interventionist view.

A great deal of emotion is expended by the opponents in the intervention versus non-intervention debate, and historical examples are dissected, interpreted, re-interpreted and tossed back and forth, for example:

— German, Italian, Soviet and anti-fascist volunteer interventions in Spain 1936-1939,

— Western non-intervention in Hungary 1956,

— India’s intervention in the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971,

— Vietnam invades Cambodia in 1978 and removes the Khmer Rouge from power,

— Cuban interventions in Angola 1975-1991,

— non-intervention (“failed intervention”) in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994,

— British intervention in 2000 to save the UN intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War,

— France’s intervention in the Côte d’Ivoire since 2002,

— the UN and NATO interventions in the Yugoslav Wars 1991-1999, and

— Libya 2011.

I find it interesting that Bricmont sees most leftists in Europe as being interventionist, I find just the opposite here in the United States. Certainly, among people who otherwise identify as leftists there exists a divide on the question of non-intervention a.k.a. responsibility to protect. I am not going to argue the question one way or the other here.

Obviously, it is a matter of judgment between accepting either a militarily gained geo-political advance for the interventionists (maybe) or the likely commission of a mass atrocity crime. As people are different, they will weigh the specifics and potentialities of any situation differently, so they will arrive at differing judgments.

The fact of this difference of opinion within the leftist political orientation led me to question what the definition of a leftist was, and from that I wondered how any political orientation could be accurately classified, since all the labels commonly used (e.g., “conservative,” “liberal,” “socialist,” “progressive”) often seem vague or inaccurate. As a result, I invented a system for classifying political orientations, and this helped me to understand political differences such as the (very uneven) interventionist versus non-interventionist split among leftists, along with other cloudy political formations. My article on that is:

Left Conservatives Under Right Progressives
3 December 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci58.html

While I happen to agree with the application of the R2P principle in some cases (like Libya), my article aims to identify the general types of political orientations, not to advocate for any one in particular. In the language of my article, I see Bricmont as a democratic socialist conservative ideologue, while my own preference is democratic socialist progressive pragmatism.

Bricmont’s non-interventionist conviction is very deep, and it reflects his judgments and values. His very clear and extensive presentation of this conviction, in Counterpunch, helps those who share it to articulate their own agreement to it within their social circles, and it challenges those of different view to be clear about why they see the matter differently.

Like Bricmont, I am clear about my convictions, in my case in favor of R2P, and I did my best to present my view in articles on Libya that were rather difficult to get published in leftist Internet journals in 2011 (that story in http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html).

I find that arguments between people of opposing convictions are pointless, but that identifying the sources of those conflicting convictions can be quite enlightening.

Why They Hate Us, Or We Hate Them?

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,

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/09/21/so-really-why-do-they-hate-us/

how do you reconcile the following latest news reports (of September 21 and 22)?

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/09/21/libyans-storm-ansar-al-sharia-compound-in-backlash-attack-on-us-consulate/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/22/world/africa/pro-american-libyans-besiege-militant-group-in-benghazi.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=9192

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444620104578010750711899438.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-22/libyans-storm-militia-base-in-benghazi/4275308

(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.

Political Freedom, the Social Contract, and Occupy Wall Street

On November 4, 2011, I put some thoughts about democracy into a short comment, which I posted at the web-site of Louis Proyect, a writer I respect.

The Unrepentant Marxist
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/

The thread into which I placed my comment was a heated discussion between Marxists about the pros and cons of one Marxist academic and media hound called Zizek, and his recent article “Is Democracy the Enemy?”
(http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/is-democracy-the-enemy-a-reply-to-zizek/)

My first reaction was: democracy is only the enemy if the people are your enemy.

Later, I was reminded of some important history (noted below), and from this, and also reflecting on my own biases that show up in my writing, arrived at a conclusion about what “democracy” really means, or at least what it really should mean.

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November 6 is the 20th anniversary of the end of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, which itself was declared dissolved on December 26, 1991.

Here is a discussion about this at RT TV:

http://youtu.be/IuNe1DA4gnE

Two quotes from the show that I particularly liked:

“There are more communists in Berkeley than in Poland” — by a Communist Party official in Poland in the 1980s.

“The social contract was broken…” hence the people lost faith in the Communist Party (from the 1970s) and finally the state (the USSR).

I view Occupy Wall Street (OWS) as a popular reaction to “the social contract was broken” (from 1981 on) in the USA (as with the similar popular protests in the Euro-zone these days).

The Communist Party had ceased to be the exclusive holder of power in the USSR after 1989; Gorbachev had introduced/allowed multiparty parliamentary politics, though the CP retained much control. So, the USSR was a multiparty democracy between 1989-1991.

An interesting conclusion of the panel in this show was that the end/”collapse” of the CP/USSR was a contingent event, not an inevitable one. Had Gorbachev acted differently, there might still be a multiparty democratic USSR.

I think the social contract, and political freedom are the two essentials for any ideology to enjoy enduring popular support. Democracy is a political form that can facilitate the operation of the first and the experience of the second. But a hollow democracy, as we are increasingly experiencing here in the USA, is a form without substance if “the social contract is broken” (government fails as the steward of popular social goals and benefits), and if popular (as opposed to elite/insider or corporate) “political freedom” is disconnected from political power, so the “general will” (Rousseau) does not affect the course of government. Democracy alone, as an empty formalism, is not the real issue, but “democracy” spoken of as a label for an integrated procedural complex that expresses the social contract and mediates real political freedom.

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I am pleased to announce the Internet publication of two articles, which connect history to current events (OWS) and also probe the connection of our interpretations of current events with our own self images (OWS and Libya). I took my time to include a good amount of historical data in these articles, and to write them so they unreel smoothly. Also, I aimed for informative works instead of polemical ones.

Political Belief and Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html

From Social Contract to Occupy Wall Street
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci32.html

The article on political belief was inspired by my experiences arguing my case for support of the Libyan Revolution. I was led to do a great deal of reading, from early this year, and the incubated pondering on this topic was applied to describe how a personal self conception could express itself publicly as “political belief”, and how such subconscious extensions of personality can clash emotionally in what should be even-tempered discussions of political facts. I illustrate the general ideas with three examples: 1950s Cold War political argumentation among French intellectuals, the thinking of people in Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and the arguments pro and con over the Libyan Revolution.

What is Occupy Wall Street (OWS)? In order to know that, one has to understand where OWS comes from, that is to say what is it about conditions today that have led so many people to manifest as OWS? Part of my research to answer these questions was to review the history that led to the economic conditions of today. My views on OWS are presented in both articles, the second article being an effort to show the details of the shift from the 1945 international consensus for social contracts, to the post 1970s dissension of neo-liberalism and widening income inequality.

My own article on OWS is an attempt to provide a “complete package” in the sense of including discussion of: “where did OWS come from?” and “what are OWS individuals thinking?” with “how is OWS affecting mainstream/corporate political opinion?” plus “what public policies would answer OWS grievances?”, with a listing of some Internet resources presenting pertinent economic data.

Enjoy