Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Obama and Ghaddafi

I couldn't help noticing on facebook and elsewhere that many if not all of my friends on the Left (including I just noticed, one of my heroes, Glenn Greenwald) are on the other side of the question of U.S. intervention against Ghaddafi.

Here we have a case where, largely because of the example of Tunisia and Egypt, etc., much of the Libyan population have understandably been emboldened to demonstrate and demand regime change. And I gather that to some extent, their boldness comes from the circumstance that Obama occupies the White House and not Bush-Cheney.


Don’t get me wrong. I think Obama is as great a threat (or even greater) to democracy in the Middle East, in the U.S. and everywhere else as was Bush and Cheney. However, Ghaddafi's naked brutality and the ruthless extent of his brutal viciousness has placed Obama in a difficult position. On the one hand, I gather that he’d prefer to maintain support for Ghaddafi perhaps because the Libyan dictator represents stability and the status quo; and also because Israel would be more comfortable with Ghaddafi than they would be with a successor government which might better represent the Libyan public when it comes to Israeli repression of the Palestinians and the political and military carte blanche the Israelis enjoy in the area. Obama’s real sentiments in support of these dictators—and his fealty to Israeli desires could explain his wavering and indecision in all these cases.

At the same time it should be clear that there’s no argument here that the U.S. is the great imperial monster, resorting to unprovoked aggression time and again—and virtually always against its own best interests--for more than a century, but especially since WWII. Nevertheless, as adults, we’re responsible for making case-by- case distinctions. Libya is a case where the U.S., with its military and political power, is in a position to do some good, as it could have done and should have done in Rwanda.

When you have a situation where Ghaddafi has already demonstrated that he’s prepared to wipe out thousands of people, perhaps many thousands of people—intellectuals, professionals, students, shopkeepers—all its perceived opponents--it behooves a great power to take action when it can do so with relative ease –even if we don’t have much of a clue about the nature of the government that might follow. We can just hope that it would not be as murderous nor as illegitimate as Ghaddafi's.

I took a similar position years ago with Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo only to find out later the extent to which it was the Clinton administration’s support of the most criminal Kosovar elements that incited the bloodshed. I don’t expect to find that Libya and Tunisia and Egypt are parallel cases.

My only problem with the U.S. intervention in Libya is that it took so long to get started nor is it clear to me that the U.S. anti-Ghaddafi effort, even now, is whole-hearted and sincerely aimed at stopping Ghaddafi’s criminal activity.

I wish it were.