Libya, then Syria, now Ukraine

“The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. It began in response to corruption and economic stagnation and was first started in Tunisia. From Tunisia, the protests then spread to five other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring)

The First Libyan Civil War erupted on 15 February 2011 as a revolutionary insurrection against the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. Protests against various injustices had occurred since August 2009, but in Benghazi on 15 February the security forces fired at the unarmed crowd, and this sparked what became known as the 17 February Revolution. Over the forty-two years of Muammar Gaddafi’s murderous reign many people had built up deep resentments against him, and these deep wounds propelled the determination of the revolutionary forces until the ending of the regime with capture and killing of Gaddafi on 20 October 2011. On 19 March 2011 UN-directed NATO forces intervened militarily, at the most perilous moment of the revolt, when Gaddafi’s motorized columns and artillery were about to overwhelm the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to implement the goal he had uttered on Libyan State Television: “those who do not love me do not deserve to live.”

There were many heated arguments that year “on the left” about the Libyan Civil War, and all their shades have reappeared eleven years later, in 2022, in the many heated arguments about the Russian War in Ukraine. The concerns behind the arguments are all as they were then:

— Isolationist: we should not spill our blood and spend our treasure to intervene in a foreign war, which would explode beyond our imaginations if we entered it, and lead to a catastrophic world war,

— Anti-imperialists, type #1: Gaddafi’s regime is an important bulwark against U.S. and NATO imperialism in Africa, and the protests against the government there were undoubtedly instigated by CIA covert operations, and are being used as a pretext for a US-NATO imperialistic invasion disguised as a “humanitarian intervention,”

— R2P interventionist: Gaddafi is a proven mass murderer, and stopping him from committing a “mass atrocity crime” in Benghazi, as defined in the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine developed in the U.N. after the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, is fully justified, and the means for doing so exist in the form of NATO military forces,

— Anti-imperialists, type #2: People who would revolt against such a bulwark against Western (U.S.) imperialism, and who has done so much to modernize his country and elevated the status of women, and liberally fund the Pan-African movement, do not deserve any sympathy, they are terrorists, criminals, Al Qaeda and foreign militants, so however Gaddafi suppresses them to defend his regime is acceptable.

As it was with the arguments for coming or not to the aid of the Libyan Revolution, those same arguments have continued to this day about coming or not to the aid of the civil society of the crushed Syrian Revolution, a civil society being relentlessly attacked, bombarded, and gassed by the Al-Assad regime with the assistance of Iran, and since 2015 with massive air-power military assistance by the Putin regime of Russia.

And now all those same arguments are applied to the war in Ukraine:

— Isolationists: if “we” go in it will explode into World War III (with nuclear weapons for sure);

— Anti-imperialists, type #1 (“campists”): The present Ukrainian government brought the Russian invasion of February 2022 onto themselves by seeking to allow NATO to expand eastward by making Ukraine a member and thus threatening the security of the Russian state, and by having been the people who in 2014 acceded to CIA and US State Department (Victoria Nuland’s) instigation to rise up against the pro-Russian Yanukovych regime and depose it in a “coup,” so the present war in Ukraine is entirely the fault of U.S. imperialism, NATO expansionism, and Russia’s invasion is a regrettable though understandable defensive reaction against encirclement by NATO;

— R2P Interventionists: “We” have a responsibility to aid the self-defense of civilian populations invaded by murderous dictators bent on conquest, as we failed to do so many times in the past (e.g., Ethiopia 1935, Spain 1936, Czechoslovakia 1938, Poland 1939, Finland 1940, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, and many others), and if we evade that responsibility and let Ukraine fall to Putin’s imperialism then our World Order will have collapsed to “the law of the jungle” where no lesser state can ever be assured it is safe from conquest by a stronger military power, because the concept of international mutual assistance will have been abandoned;

— Anti-imperialists, type #2 (“tankies”): Ukraine continues to harbor masses of neo-nazi militias that clashed with ethnic Russian militias in the Donbass and Crimea, and that prevent the reintegration of Ukraine into the Russian state that many ethnic Russians want and as was historically the case, Russia’s invasion is a regrettable though understandable defensive reaction against this Ukrainian nazi threat.

In 2011 I declared myself of the R2P persuasion regarding Libya, and I have remained of that persuasion since. Nothing is perfect or pure in world affairs and especially in the chaos of war, so any R2P intervention would necessarily have some faults and failures in its execution, but pursuing it intelligently would be the morally right thing to do.

In that year of 2011, Louis Proyect and I converged on this point, both being motivated by the same moral conviction. Louis then spent the last ten years of his life writing volumes in favor of the Libyan Revolution, the Syrian Revolution, the Syrian volunteer emergency workers and medics organized as the White Helmets, and against the Assad regime’s bombardments of civilian neighborhoods, hospitals, White Helmets, and journalists (e.g., Marie Colvin), and its chemical warfare against the Syrian people, which after 2014 was carried out with massive assistance by Russian air-power; and Louis wrote to expose the corruption, imperialism, homophobia and basically fascistic (or Stalinist without the socialism, if you prefer) character of the Putin oligarchy in Russia.

Louis Proyect (26 January 1945 – 25 August 2021, https://louisproyect.org) did not live long enough to see today’s war in Ukraine, but I can so easily imagine how he would be writing about it in deep detail, based on his last articles on Ukraine in 2018 (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/29/ukraine-behind-the-curtain/, https://louisproyect.org/2018/06/29/two-new-books-on-ukraine/) and 2019 (https://louisproyect.org/2019/01/11/gauging-the-power-of-ukraines-neo-nazis/).

All the above prompted me to look back at my two 2011 articles on the Libyan Revolution, which were aimed at countering the comfortable Western “anti-imperialist” leftists opposed to assisting the Libyan Revolution fighting against Gaddafi: the “campists” and the “tankies.” Louis sent me a one word e-mail about my second article: “Bravo!” Given that this was from Louis, it is the greatest compliment I ever received for any of my political writings. Those two article now follow, and I leave it to you to mentally transpose them from “Libya” (2011) to “Syria” (2011-2022) to “Ukraine” (2022), to arrive at my responses to the objections by today’s isolationists, Type 1 left anti-imperialists and Type 2 left anti-imperialists to my R2P sympathies regarding Ukraine.

‘Rules Of Rebellion’ is an exercise in irony that was swallowed at face value (astonishing me), while ‘Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom’ is a direct appeal to conscience. Both articles were first drafted in February-March 2011, before 19 March (the start of the NATO intervention), and were finally published in April and May 2011 in the only “leftist” journal that would even consider them, and only after great resistance and hesitancy by that journal’s editor at the time.

Rules Of Rebellion

To the oppressed people of the world: if you want freedom, you will have to achieve it yourself. If you need help, you don’t deserve it. When you fully understand this, you will realize it is the most enlightened political principle that should govern international relations. This is humanitarian nonintervention.

If you live under a repressive government, a dictatorship, a kingship, or any form of unrepresentative and arbitrary authority, and you would like to overthrow it and punish your oppressors, and establish a government that is widely representative, that safeguards your political freedom and provides easy access to meaningful participation, then be aware that you must do this entirely on your own. There is no possibility of help from foreigners.

The reason for this is that your freedom is inconvenient to the rest of the world. The world has made its accommodations with your present regime, and any disruption of those arrangements will inconvenience the plans of your international neighbors, by disrupting their expectations. It does not matter whether your oppressive government is seen as “good” or “bad” by other states, it is simply that they are accustomed to their present protocols of interactions, and any interruption of business-as-usual costs money and time, and creates anxiety about the future.

So, if you intend to overthrow your oppressive regime you must do so quickly to minimize the period of dislocation of your foreign relations. Clearly, a quick and complete turn-over of government can only occur if your rebellion has the overwhelming support of all sectors of your society with any amount of credible power or wealth. Accumulating and consolidating overwhelming revolutionary power, stealthily, is a problem you must solve entirely on your own if you wish to successfully overthrow your tyrants, and be accepted internationally as a legitimate successor government.

Some populations believe that their oppression is so onerous that they can no longer remain passive, and so they revolt without having made the necessary preparations for a quick and decisive take-over. If they are unfortunate, their tyrants quickly isolate and eliminate them, extinguishing the revolt. If they are somewhat fortunate, they are able to carry on as guerrilla movements that shelter underground and in the hinterlands. Such guerrilla movements can be assured that the regimes they oppose will use all the powers of the state to eradicate them, and in all likelihood other nations will support their suppression as terrorist movements because their activities will inevitably cause anxiety and even collateral damage to the business-as-usual of foreign nations. The club of nations does not look favorably on unruly aspirant movements, especially if they are armed and have demonstrated violent behavior. You are not evaluated on the basis of your cause, but on the basis of your effect.

Should an unprepared population break its discipline of submission with an open revolt that draws the heavy wrath of its regime down on them, and they seek rescue by foreign intervention, then they have lost any possibility of ever being seen as having political legitimacy. They will henceforth be taken as dupes and stooges, or agents and proxies of the foreign power that aids them; and if they actually succeed at forming a successor government it would always be seen as a client state of the intervening power. The idea of a population rising up solely on the basis of its own desire for political freedom, accepting material assistance from whoever delivers it during their time of crisis, and then after a successful revolution cordially thanking and dismissing its foreign helpers, and forming a fully independent and representative national government, is taken as impossible by general agreement. Regardless of what you may think of your own particular revolution, its factual circumstances cannot be accepted as a counterargument or disproof of the impossibility of assisted untainted revolution (the AURI principle).

The AURI principle immediately identifies legitimate revolutions from attempts to disguise, as “humanitarian interventions,” imperialist plots for undermining and secretly controlling foreign states. The application is simple: if foreigners are involved, they are invaders, and the degree of their imperialist intent is easily assessed by their position in the hierarchy of world power, relative to that of the host country. So, for example, one African nation sending its troops as “peacekeepers” into another would be doing so to seek greater regional power; while the United States sending any part of its military and espionage complex into an African country under any pretext would be blatant all-out imperialism.

Any revolutions that want to retain the respect of the world will guide themselves by the AURI principle; they will overcome their regimes entirely on their own (and thus gain the right to characterize the regimes they overthrow as tyrannical, dictatorial and oppressive, for future history). Any premature revolution that includes foreign interveners is instantly unmasked by the AURI principle, and the world need not concern itself with the individuals involved in it, because they are necessarily agents of imperialism and de facto traitors. If, for whatever reason, an immature population were to have a tantrum and unwisely revolt without long and careful planning and preparation, and then find itself hard pressed by its vengeful regime, it would be well advised to quickly recognize the world view on these matters and refrain from seeking any foreign help. So long as these failed revolutionaries retain their untainted status, they can be assured that their survivors will not be disqualified from consideration as legitimate politicians in any equally untainted successor government of their country. Also, any losing revolutions that remain untainted will have performed a valuable service to humanity: they will have successfully resisted imperialism in their corner of the globe during their lifetimes.

This last point is important because the single most important political goal in the world is to prevent the capitalist imperialism spearheaded by the United States and Western Europe, enabled by the United Nations, enforced by the NATO military complex, and acceded to by the industrialized nations. Preventing the reoccurrence of “humanitarian interventions” and “color revolutions,” which undermine the national independence of target states and brings them under the shadow control of the imperial center, is too important to allow any local popular disenchantment with the nature of its government to interfere with. Thus, any population that decides, out of its own irritation, that its rulers should be deposed must realize that more important things are at stake.

First, they have to determine if their revolution would weaken a stalwart opponent of imperialism, and distract him (the usual dictator gender) from current efforts in their country and region to thwart “Washington consensus” imperialism. If their regime is a champion of anti-imperialism, then it is their humanitarian duty to set aside their selfish motives to revolt. They should be consoled for the occasional heavy-handedness with which they may be ruled, by the pride they will have of sharing solidarity with anti-imperialists worldwide. What would be the point of overthrowing an anti-imperialist leader, in the name of gaining greater political freedom, perhaps even the right to a meaningful vote, if it weakens the barrier their former leader had maintained against imperialism’s subjugating influences in their nation?

So, in order to retain their legitimacy in the eyes of the world they must not try to deny the AURI principle, and in addition, to gain the respect and comradeship of the enlightened progressive communities of the world they must also demonstrate that all their revolutionary decisions are guided by an acute awareness of the need to maximize the anti-imperialist effect of their efforts. 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. Such a revolution would be a destructive self-centered tantrum that contradicts the world political prime directive.

Therefore, if you intend to have a revolution because you want relief from oppression, to gain political freedom and to introduce democracy into your country, you would be wise to learn what is required to make your freedom convenient to the world’s contented spectators.

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Originally appeared as:

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

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Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom

“You canʼt separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” — Malcolm X (1925-1965)

“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,…” — Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

“In politics the choice is never between good and evil but between the preferable and the detestable.” — Raymond Aron (1905-1983)

Freedom from dictatorship is a human right. A global recognition of this right in modern times is Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


Dictatorship is the captivity of a people’s political rights, and is thus an analog of slavery, which is the captivity of their personal freedom. Assisting popular rebellions against dictatorship is always a defense of human rights. Dictatorships, being inherently unjustifiable, can never claim self-defense in their efforts to cling to power; the only act they can justify is self dissolution.

Dictators hold unwilling supporters through intimidation, and willing supporters through promises of material gain and social elevation. Supporters of a dictatorship facing a popular uprising can never claim equal consideration in world opinion to the rebels opposing them, because such supporters are complicit in violating human rights by helping impose a dictatorship.

Doing what is right is not always convenient, and tolerating what is wrong is often temporally advantageous. So, despite the intrinsic illegitimacy of dictatorships, democratic nations may accept normal relations with certain of them because it is convenient politically and profitable commercially. Maintaining a foreign policy of such amoral practicality is never an honorable argument against assisting a foreign rebellion against dictatorship that has won public sympathy. Let us celebrate the few times international actions are taken because they are the humanly decent thing to do.

Later, our propagandists will easily recall the imperfections of motive and execution by our governments, and that data will then fuel the competition to define and exploit the historical record of the events. Though annoying, this is of minor importance compared to the immediate and most worthy goal: defending human lives and human rights.

The likelihood in late March of 2011 that a significant loss of life would be inflicted by Muammar Gaddafi’s jet bombers, artillery, armored troops and security forces in Benghazi was too real a prospect to ignore without then becoming complicit in the outcome, by omission. Gaddafi had vowed to “bury” the rebels, and we can be sure that after a Gaddafi victory a thorough purge of Libyan society would have occurred to ensure no embers of dissent remained to ignite another popular outburst of lèse majesté. Clearly, without outside assistance — minimally, a large infusion of heavier weapons — the lightly armed militias defending the western approaches to Benghazi would have been rolled back, and the anti-Gaddafi revolt crushed.

Opposition to intervention on behalf of the Libyan rebellion has been voiced from three perspectives:

Isolationism: it is an unnecessary national burden in possible blood and certainly treasure, with a risk of escalating into a political military quagmire;

Pan Africanism: it would undermine Pan Africanism if Muammar Gaddafi were to lose control of Libya’s wealth (which funds mercenaries from Sahelian countries, and foreign Black political groups) and political power (to compel adherence to Pan African ideals by the largely Berber and Arab native Libyan population);

Anti-imperialism: NATO action in Libya is just an excuse to mount a Washington-consensus imperialist assault on an oil-rich nation that for over forty years has opposed such imperialism.

Beyond doubt, there is some truth to each of these. Isolationism is convenient selfishness and very often wise policy. In this case it is also a vote in favor of Muammar Gaddafi. The other two objections arise from doctrinal thinking on world affairs. Despite their merits, no worthy international goals can justify the sacrifice of a nation’s freedom to a dictatorship. One has to wonder about the coldness of certain opponents of support for the Libyan revolt, who are “merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they are committed in the name of the proper doctrines,” as Raymond Aron wrote in 1955 about the French intelligentsia’s bewitchment by Stalinism.

Every individual has their particular formative experiences, which set their adult “natural reactions” to subsequent rhetorical arguments. Let me relate some of mine, to invite your imagination to “feel” my point of view.

I recall visiting my grandparents in the city of Havana during a summer vacation in 1959. The colors, warmth, sounds and odors of Cuba were all rich, pungent and sensuous. Equally impressive to a boy growing up in New York City was the flagrant poverty of many Cuban people: adults with naked rented children huddled at street intersections begging from the passing tourists.

Fulgencio Batista was Cuba’s dictator, whose regime Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. characterized this way: “The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution.” Bohemia magazine — the equivalent in Cuba of Life magazine in the U.S. at that time — would print pictures of revolutionaries shot dead during gunfights with Batista’s police, lying rumpled in pools of blood on the street. I only heard the adults talk Cuban politics back in New York, when I was taken to the upper west side of Manhattan, our old barrio, for haircuts at the Cuban barbershop below the elevated train along Broadway, and in the brownstone apartments of relatives and family friends during Sunday visits. Everybody was anxious, everybody wanted a free Cuba, everybody was thinking of Fidel.

Then, on the first of January 1959, Batista fled the island and Castro’s victorious army rolled into an ecstatically jubilant Havana on the 8th. We returned again in June 1960 for a long summer vacation. Even in the Cubana de Aviación four-engine turboprop one could sense the uplift, the exhilaration of the Cuban Revolution. But the full impact hit me when I exited the airplane and walked into the lush aromatic heat of a tropical country whose people were rapt with joy. The beggar “families” were gone and barbudos — the bearded ones — were everywhere. The barbudos were revolutionaries in pristine khakis, with gunbelts holstering highly polished and uniquely detailed pistols, some silver-colored, some gold-colored, some gun-metal blue, some with very long barrels, some with artistically engraved handles. Only the beards were shaggy, all other items from boot soles to cap crests were neat, shiny and crisp. At first I was a little nervous when a barbudo would climb onto a streetcar or bus and sit near me. But I soon got used to sitting next to gold-plated long-barrel Lugers, gleaming mirror-finish silvery Colt 45s, and robust Smith & Wesson 44 caliber six-shot revolvers. Sidearms were definitely the display items of identity.

During that summer of 1960, we travelled all over the island and saw many remnants of revolutionary struggle, one being a bullet-pocked hospital in the countryside, once the scene of a battle, now happily back in service. I even met Fidel at Isla de Pinos (now Isla de la Juventud). However materially poor some Cubans could be, especially campesinos, peasants in the hinterlands, they were all just so happy: believing themselves free, life despite its burdens was now a joy. Every person, every place, every moment exuded the same sense of uplift. I was immersed in a national sense of freedom, and it soaked into my psyche and bones. This experience permanently magnetized my political compass, so that regardless of verbal arguments and logical constructs in later years, my compass always points my sympathies toward freedom for any people.

Today, I see the people of Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen as similar to the Cubans I lived among when at my grandparents’ house in Batista’s Cuba. They want freedom from their dictators, and I am incapable of being unsympathetic to their desires. Perhaps if I studied their cultures and histories, I’d find good reasons to overcome my emotional impulses in their favor. I might learn that “countries don’t have friends, they have interests.” If so, I would want to make sure that I did not compromise anything I had an interest in by thoughtless support of foreign revolts.

However, I find it impossible to conceive of the individuals I see and hear on the streets of North Africa and the Middle East as being that remote from my experience, especially the “wireless” younger generation. [1] They look like my kids. Do I really prefer to make logical arguments in favor of Muammar Gaddafi because it accords with my interest to oppose Western imperialism disguised as “humanitarian intervention”? I do not. Can I really put aside any consideration of the specificity of this particular revolution at this particular time (so inconveniently timed for us), and see a greater good in opposing any help to the anti-Gaddafi rebels because their freedom is not as important in the overall scheme of things as the effort to maintain strict nonintervention by Western powers? I cannot. I am unable to forget the people.

So let me ask you, is it possible to have a bias for freedom, an opposition to dictatorship anywhere, and also oppose the capitalist-imperialist consensus that dominates U.S. 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?

For me, solidarity with basic positive human aspirations throughout the globe supersedes strict adherence to any political doctrine.

Those who agree believe it is possible to identify situations worthy of support, where a people are visibly demonstrating their desire to throw off tyranny and govern themselves democratically, and their dictatorial regime is demonstrating its utter lack of legitimacy. In popular fiction, the character of Rick Blane, played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 movie Casablanca, could identify and support such revolutions. The French prefect of police in the film accuses Rick Blane of being a “sentimentalist,” because “In 1935 you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain on the Loyalist side.” Blane replies sardonically “And got well paid for it on both occasions.” The prefect rests his case with “The winning side would have paid you much better.” [2]

So, can we be sentimentalists? Was the French fleet at Yorktown in 1781 under the command of the Comte de Grasse entirely a matter of interests and not friends, or was there some sentimentalism involved? I leave it to you to decide if this French intervention was a good thing or a failure for history. Can the Cuban-led defeat of the South African Defense Forces at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 during the Angolan Civil War, with the liberation of Namibia and the initiation of the subsequent fall of apartheid in South Africa, be seriously regretted? The 2289 Cubans who died during Cuba’s intervention in southwest Africa, and the 450,000 Cuban soldiers and development workers who spent time in this effort, were probably sentimentalists even if many were too young to remember Havana in 1959.

The French, British and Americans, under the guise of NATO, have chosen to intervene in Libya, initially to halt Gaddafi’s assault on Benghazi in early April. The motive for intervening was some admixture of “sentimentalism” and “humanitarian imperialism,” but the exact proportions of each is a matter of heated debate. The pace of the war against Gaddafi will be set by the level and consistency of military assistance to the anti-Gaddafi population.

If the Libyan revolt leads to a stable democratic government, then the cause of freedom will have been very well served, especially if the post-Gaddafi government is clearly independent. If the NATO nations are unable to accept the possibility of an independent post-Gaddafi Libyan government, they won’t supply the revolutionaries with sufficient arms for a quick and decisive victory. Instead, they will dribble in just enough resources to keep Gaddafi confined to his corner while they try micromanaging the gestation of the eventual post-Gaddafi government so that it emerges as a client regime. This would be like Stalin’s policy in Spain during 1936 to 1939. This attitude was captured succinctly in the film Lawrence Of Arabia, where General Allenby is asked if he intends to keep his earlier promise to T.E. Lawrence, to arm the Arab troops with artillery in addition to small arms, so their revolt against Turkish rule can advance significantly: “If you give them artillery you’ve made them independent.” But, Allenby knowing what London wants, replies: “Then I can’t give them artillery, can I?” [3]

Sentimentalists hope the Libyan revolutionaries get the “artillery” they need, and enjoy their version of 1959 Cuban euphoria, however inconvenient their freedom turns out to be, later, for the humanitarian imperialists. Sentimentalists prefer to have friends rather than just interests, and you can’t tolerate others being oppressed or enslaved if you want them as friends.

We should not let our opposition to the misdeeds, mistakes and misapplications of our governments throttle our willingness to take advantage of spontaneous events that can lead to the overthrow of tyrants, and the release of political freedom for more people.

  1. Emad Balnour (“We are clearing our country from Muammar and his gang.”), https://youtu.be/5kSs7uQ15wA, at 0:25-0:51.
  2. Casablanca 04 (“sentimentalist”), https://youtu.be/D_nzR-GPLEo, at 1:48-2:18.
  3. Lawrence of Arabia, “If you give them artillery you’ve made them independent,” https://youtu.be/sppPQogIhxs

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Originally appeared as:

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

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The Power Pentagon Redux

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The Power Pentagon Redux

P. Cockburn (lead foreign correspondent at Counter Punch) says Putin into Donbas is like Saddam into Kuwait (https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/02/23/putins-advance-into-ukraine-compares-with-saddam-husseins-invasion-of-kuwait-a-disaster-for-russia/). I think it more like Hitler into the Rhineland in 1936, both as re-occupation or “recovery” of “homeland” territory, and for coal, minerals and industry (I spell it out in ’The Power Pentagon’, below).

I expect the EU and NATO Allies will do as much for Ukraine (regarding Russia) as their predecessors did for Poland in 1939-1945. I’m sure Putin thinks the same. Stalin starved Ukrainians to death (~3M) between 1932-1933. Hitler, between 1941-1944, shot (mainly) and gassed (also) Ukrainian Jews (mainly), many civilians (in reprisals, or just to clear territory, often herded onto buildings set on fire with escapees machine gunned, see the movie ‘Come and See’), antifascist partisans (shot on capture), and starved Soviet war prisoners to death, for a total of at least 1.6M (battle field deaths of soldiers not included).

So neither the German Nazis nor the Communist Russians are remembered too fondly as “liberators” (the Nazis in 1941, from the Russians/NKVD; the Red Army in 1943-1945, from the Nazi SS and Order Police and Ukrainian fascist partisans). Only for Jews were the Soviets better than the Nazi’s in the Ukraine, but still far from “good” (especially if they were suspected by the NKVD of being Polish intelligentsia or having any “political” past; and some of those Ukrainian Jews of 1945+ had somehow survived both the Holodomor as well as the Holocaust-by-bullets, but there weren’t too many Jews left in Ukraine).

Since German Fascism and militarism seem to have been stamped out long ago, and Stalin/USSR ruled Ukraine from !945 to 1991, and few Ukrainian Jews remained after 1945, I suspect most Ukrainians (Orthodox Christians) “remember” their last century of history with a jaundiced eye to the USSR and now Putin’s Russia, and the most extreme of such attitudes is held by the “Ukrainian Nazis” (a legacy of the antisemitic Ukrainian collaborationists with Nazis 1941-1945), but I can’t imagine theirs is a majority bias in today’s Ukraine, who I’m guessing would have liked to be part of NATO as “insurance” against Russia, but would be happy to settle into a stance like that of Finland or Switzerland: independent and yet “safe”.

At the moment I am in the last pages of Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book, ‘Bloodlands, Europe Between Hitler and Stalin’. The history of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine between 1932 and 1945 form a very large part of this book. It was in these three countries that the overlap in mass killings by the Nazis and Stalin was most intense and massive and prolonged; between 1939 and 1941 it was cooperative (Molotov-Ribbentrop Poland), from 1941 to 1945 it was antagonistic in separate zones of control that shifted back and forth (1941-1943 Nazi advance from MB Line in Poland to Stalingrad, 1943-1945 Red Army and NKVD advance from Stalingrad-Moscow line to Berlin).

Prior to 1939, the Soviets had perpetrated the Holodomor starvation (forced collectivization of agriculture, 1932-1933) that was mostly focused in the Ukraine, and then the Great Terror purges of 1937-1938 in the USSR, which also had many Ukrainian victims.

The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) were also in the center of these “bloodlands” (like Poland, Belarus and Ukraine), and suffered relatively equally, but total numbers of victims for them were smaller because they had smaller populations.

People in those countries today are quite aware of this history, and it is not difficult to understand their politics and foreign relations as regards the West (Poland’s allies: England, France, and later the U.S., did NOT send troops into Poland and the “bloodlands” during 1939-1945), and NATO (whose nations have pledged NOT to send troops into the Ukraine), and as regards Russia. The Melian Debate (in Thucydides) remains our template of international relations and “solidarity.”

Putin, as a child of the USSR who was well placed to cash in when the game changed in 1991 (and making money and becoming a capitalist oligarch was the rage, which it still is for some), has nevertheless retained the 1930s Stalinist memory of fear of encirclement and invasion; in the 1930s by Germany, Poland and Japan, now updated by Putin to NATO and the U.S. In both cases a fear of the Soviet/Russian sphere of influence and state and economic system collapsing.

The modern “Russian” fear of encirclement and invasion has some validity in that the US-led NATO along with the EU have been moving “in” and absorbing former EAST BLOC states, which “Russia” had sought control of since the 1930s (and had from 1945 to 1989-1991) and those former satellites, borderlands, and buffer zone states have little reason to retain warm memories of the years “behind the Iron Curtain,” so might not be entirely benign neighbors so close to Moscow, as NATO states; the “buffer” would be entirely gone.

I wrote the ’The Power Pentagon’ on 22 February 2022, before the shooting stated in Ukraine itself (beyond Donbas), and I still think the analysis of Putin’s motives is accurate and useful. But, I was also aiming at other global concerns.

The Power Pentagon

Yesterday (21 February 2022), Vladimir Putin, the Russian Premier, recognized the separatist Donbas regions of Ukraine as independent states, and ordered Russian troops into them to forestall a Ukrainian invasion to reassert its sovereignty there.

Why? Putin’s action is a defensive threat display to resist the steady encroachment by the US-dominated NATO political alliance into, and diminution of, Russia’s western sphere of influence in the external borderlands and historically sought-after buffer zones against German invasions (and now “German” equates to Western European and Anglo-American); and it is a reaction driven by the fear of ultimate inaccessibility to the Baltic Sea for Russian naval forces, in the north, and the Azov Sea and Black Sea (and from there to the Mediterranean and the Levant) in the south.

The Donbas is comprised of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine and is the very easternmost tip of that country, lying just above the Azov Sea, which sea is to the northeast of the Crimean Peninsula that juts south into the Black Sea. The Donbas has a rich coal basin that has supported the development of heavy industry such as coal mining and metallurgy since the 19th century (the word Donbas is a portmanteau formed from Donets Basin, an abbreviation of Donets Coal Basin).

Crimea was taken from the Ottoman Empire in 1783 and annexed to the Russian Empire, later being attached to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic during the existence of the U.S.S.R (1917-1991), and continuing as a region of independent Ukraine from 1991 to 2014, until Russia occupied and then annexed Crimea during the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014.

Both the Donbas and Crimea have large ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking populations, and those people favor annexation with the Russian state. Donbas has 57% ethnic Ukrainian and 38% ethnic Russian people, but with ~72% of them identifying as Russian-speaking. The proportion of native Russian-speakers is higher than ethnic Russians in Donbas because some ethnic Ukrainians and other nationalities also indicate Russian as their mother tongue. Crimea had 77% Russian native speakers according to a 2001 Ukrainian census, and 84% Russian native speakers according to a 2014 Russian census.

The Donbas and Crimea were major targets of sought-for permanent conquest by Hitler’s invasion of Russia (launched on 22 June 1941) precisely for their fossil fuel mineral wealth and heavy industrial infrastructure, and their maritime avenues of accessibility southwest to the Mediterranean and the Levant, and land avenues of accessibility east and southeast to the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf.

What I see in Putin’s action of 21 February is another example of the geo-politics (or imperialism) that I call the Power Pentagon. A Power Pentagon is the following closed cycle of ego-driven ambition for personal power:

fossil fuel —> economic power —> military power —> political power —> war power —> fossil fuel.

The continuing existence of Power Pentagons as the foundation of our international relations is the reason that we are not making, nor will make, the socio-economic alterations to our civilization needed to effectively slow the advance of Global Warming Climate Change (GWCC), and to arrive at a stable balance between the workings of our industrialized civilization with the cycles of Nature.

Fossil fuels enable combustion-based energy-intensive industrialization that creates economic power (“prosperity,” convenience, things, “wealth”) that in turn can build up military technology and military forces, whose threat potential creates political power and thus foreign political influence, which in its sharpest form is formidable war-making capability that can be used to acquire more energy resources for its own cyclic enlargement as well as to deny access to fossil fuel and mineral resources to rival Power Pentagons, which are thus diminished and dominated.

This is the story of the rise and fall of empires old and new, and of the inflation and bursting collapse of the egos of potentates and ruling classes.

Because GWCC is a planetary complex of geo-physical phenomena it will require a globally cooperative, integrated and permanently sustained response from humanity, if it is actually to be slowed and eventually stabilized. The obvious image for this desired future state of human affairs would be World Eco-Socialism: a world socialism powered with “green” energy (infrastructure not emitting greenhouse gases, toxic wastes, and pollutants), and with both poverty and extreme wealth made history.

For any such green utopian reformulation of human civilization to occur, it will be necessary for us humans to remove the limitations we place on our own species’s societal development by remaining mired in the fractious international politics of the clashes of Power Pentagons — “the Great Game” — which has been the case since long before the days of Lawrence of Arabia.

I have no idea how the grand consensus needed for joining together globally to make that civilizational advancement can be achieved contemporaneously in the minds of “all” people worldwide. But without it I see no effective action being taken in response to GWCC, and hence a steady decay of planetary habitability and environmental purity, of international political stability, and of personal quality of life.

A first tiny step in the direction of that grand consensus would be not seeing yourself as a partisan for “our good” Power Pentagon at war with “their bad” ones, however you define “us” and “them.” All these cycles of ambition for personal power and for exclusionary economic domination are bad because they are exploitative political machinations that multiply and destructively divide human society while unavoidably merging into that one vast thermodynamic catastrophe we call Global Warming Climate Change.

It is easy to see the problem as I have stated it here to be so infinitely multi-faceted with human concerns and conflicts and obduracy, that it is insurmountable and our human species is “doomed.” But that is no excuse for stopping any of the myriad of individual efforts people are making for improving human society. Calling things by their proper names — our tiny first step — may lead to some justifiable pessimism, but more importantly it anchors the mind in realistic critical thinking, which is essential for any worthwhile human endeavor to proceed with the best chance of success.

Today it is the Donbas, perhaps next time it will be the South China Sea, or back again to the Middle East, or regions of Africa or South America, but in any case all our conflicts are rooted in our contentious joint tenancy of this single beautiful planet. We have to overcome always forgetting about the long-term essential that unites us, by continuously being distracted by the serial immediate that divides us. Willful unforced unity as our best selves, however impossible and ridiculously utopian that idea may seem, is the world paradigm we need to ensure our enduring and fulfilling survival.

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