For some, Western intervention in Libya is the nail in the coffin of the Libyan Revolution.
It has been contended that this no longer a domestic uprising, but a war that now includes foreign powers with a set of interests at the forefront.
Maximilian Forte, for example, claims that the Libyan rebels have erroneously surrendered their revolution to the West by requesting military intervention.
Forte, echoing a regular argument of anti-Imperialist Leftists, highlights Western hypocrisy in selectively choosing which conflicts to intervene in.
Whilst Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama beat the drums of humanitarianism, evoking the “responsibility to protect” slogan in justifying their intervention in Libya, there remains a plethora of conflicts and human rights abuses both past and ongoing that have received the West’s cold shoulder. Forte mentions Uzbekistan 2005, whose dictator brutally killed hundreds of his own people in a crackdown on opponents, but received little reprimand as he enjoys the special status of being a close and crucial US ally.
The list can go on, from Israel and Bahrain to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Western intervention depends entirely on which side of the fence you sit on in international relations and a cost-benefit analysis.
However, left-leaning supporters of the Western strikes in Libya do not discount Western hypocrisy. No one expects the US or the EU to strike Israel the next time the Jewish state decides to kill 1,000+ Palestinian or Lebanese civilians.
Rather, the focus is not necessarily on the actions of the West, but that of Gaddafi and the pro-democratic movement in the Arab world.
Gaddafi is a brutal dictator, as repressive as all authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. Indeed, I will not cry if the King of Saudi Arabia fell tomorrow in a wave of pro-democracy protests. However, neither will I mourn the loss of Assad of Syria or Gaddafi, despite what some would deem admirable and audacious foreign policies that have been confrontational to global powers.
Anti-Imperialist Leftists are quick, and right, to accuse the West of hypocrisy, but are we not also hypocrites if we pick and choose which dictators should stay and go?
Do Assad and Gaddafi win extra points for standing up to the West (although Gaddafi has recently changed his tune)?
No, they do not.
This strikes at another core argument of the anti-Imperialist Left, which is that much of the Arab world’s stagnation is due to Western – American in particular – interference in the region.
The West indeed has its fair share of responsibility when it comes to the failure of the Arab world to develop post-Cold War along the lines of East Asia or Latin America. However, one cannot ignore agency, and the role it plays in determining the shape of the region. This is particularly true of the few regimes in the region that have chosen to compete with American regional interests, and are thus not contingent on them.
The US may have leverage over Saudi Arabia and Morocco (and even that is questionable), but very little over Syria, Libya and Iran. The Assad regime does not require approval from Washington to embark on internal democratic and economic reform.
Instead of being a pioneer for change and progress in the region, the Syrian regime has benefited from a US-backed regional system of despots to solidify and justify his own power in Syria.
Thus, whether democratic reform is pushed in Egypt, or Syria, or Libya, it matters little to those who are vociferous in their support for change in the region.
Western powers may pick and choose which reformist movements they intend to support, but that luxury is not available to human rights activists. For to be a human rights activist, we recognise the aspirations of all suppressed peoples in the world to enjoy the same democratic freedoms, with the same opportunities as a citizen of the UK or Norway.
Western political support for the Libyan rebels does not negate our support for the same team. The role left-leaning activists have to play is to ensure the Libyan Revolution does not become hijacked by the West. Indeed, there are strong arguments within the military camp of the US that equally do not wish to be burdened by another Middle Eastern conflict.
This is a case of ideals and interests converging in support of action in Libya.
Forte claims the Libyan Revolution is dead and dusted as a consequence of military action. What he fails to acknowledge is that Gaddafi was a few hours away from not only destroying the Libyan Revolution, but empowering dictators in the region to do the same.
The pro-democracy momentum would have evaporated across the region had Gaddafi been allowed to enter Benghazi, but seeing Western powers react has inspired suppressed Syrians, for example, to challenge their own authorities.
The revolution can only be claimed dead if the West take charge of the revolt, which by all indications, they are reluctant to do. The Libyan rebels need to ensure they remain the face of the revolution.
The role of local dissidents is crucial to ensure Libya does not turn into an Iraq. Many have made a false analogy between Libya 2011 and Iraq 2003. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was an entirely external attempt to impose democracy on a foreign country alien to the concept. The entire project was initiated, drafted and implemented by the Bush administration.
A system imposed on another state and society, with little involvement from domestic agents, is often doomed for failure.
Ironically, Assad accurately argued at the time that democracy has to emerge from within the Arab world, not from abroad. And that is exactly what is occurring today, and it is an important distinction that needs to be recognised.
The Libyan people initiated the call for change, and by their own blood attempted to take Gaddafi down. This is entirely their project, it is the emergence of a democratic movement from within Libyan society.
The West’s role in the current situation is not to reset such a drive, and replace it with its own agenda, but to ensure the challenge does not lose momentum. Of course, the French may have a hidden agenda in acquiring a greater slice of Libyan oil, and no one assumes the West is not intervening for certain interests of its own. However, if the pursuit of such interests empowers the Libyan Revolution – not undermine it – then it is a win-win for all, perhaps an uncomfortable reality for some in the Left and Right.
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