by Rafael Noboa y Rivera
Earlier today, in the midst of writing other things, I engaged in a long-running conversation over email about the motivations for our war in Libya. Essentially, the question at heart was this: given that Khaddafy was threatening to massacre tens of thousands of rebels upon his recapture of Benghazi, the rebel capital, how could we not intervene? Could we really stand-by and watch people die, cut down in cold blood?
Let me posit the question in another way.
In the Second Congo War, which lasted from 1998 through, roughly, 2003 – though, really, it’s still going on – over 5.4 million people were killed, in the most horrific, barbarous ways possible.
Five million people. Dead.
And did we intervene? No. Not just no, but hell, no. I guarantee you that until I wrote this essay, there are people reading this who had no earthly clue that this had happened.
So you’ll have to colour me particularly sceptical of the humanitarian case for this war, especially when the rationales keep on slipping and sliding all over the place, depending on who’s making the case for the war. For example, Dr Anne-Marie Slaughter – whom I respect greatly – was on Twitter earlier today making the following argument:
As my friend Spencer Ackerman pointed out, that’s merely an official fiction: we’re providing close air support to the rebel “force,” such as they are, and we’ve sent in covert operatives in order to both assess the rebel forces and call in air strikes. Right now, one of the main topics of debate concerns whether we should arm the rebels (my position: we shouldn’t).
We can assert that the UN/NATO mission continues to be “to protect civilians,” and that we haven’t recognised the rebels as an official government. Our actions, and those of our allies, belie those statements somewhat egregiously.
Think of it this way: are we going to be just as interested in what happens in Libya, from a “responsibility to protect” perspective, once the rebels take over and start killing Khezzaffy loyalists? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I suspect that many people making the humanitarian case for intervention won’t be saying much once the war ends, either.
That also goes for the pro-democracy “argument,” which hasn’t been made as stoutly. I’ve seen people referring to the rebel forces as “pro-democracy” forces which…
STOP. Stop it right there. Unless you’re privy to knowledge and intelligence that no other intelligence agency or army in the world is privy to, there’s no way that anyone can refer to the rebels as being intrinsically “pro-democracy.”
What they are, instead, is anti-Khezzaffy. Which, great! But being anti-Khezzaffy is a far, far cry from being pro-democracy. Near as I can tell, there seems to be about a bajillion different rebel “councils” and groups, none of which seem to be exercising any overarching control over the Libyan rebels. It seems that they agree on getting rid of Khezzaffy; beyond that, it’s markedly unclear.
That’s important, because I’m hearing more and more people referring to the Libyan rebels as being “pro-democracy,” when in fact there’s no evidence whatsoever that that’s the case. They’re in favour of gaining power; that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in favour of Libyan democracy.
Pay attention, though: that’s going to be the next argument advanced for continued intervention in Libya, and it’s going to be advanced without any evidence of its existence. We should demand evidence of its existence, rather than its mere assertion.
But back to the humanitarian case for war. Had Khezzaffy managed to kill his thousands, it would’ve made him no different from Hafez Assad, who did the same thing in Hama in 1982. We made no note of it then, despite the fact that we were intervening in Lebanon at the time.
That’s what happens in a failed rebellion, as awful as it is. And here’s one more: the fact that we’re not similarly exercised about the repression taking place in Syria or Bahrain or Yemen should tell you volumes about how much we care, intrinsically.
Rafael Noboa y Rivera, 34, is a writer, student, poet, musician, and political activist. A decorated combat veteran of the Iraq War, Noboa y Rivera is currently completing studies in journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.