Friday, March 7, 2014

The way it starts: Libya and the disaster of humanitarian intervention

As the third anniversary of the attack on Libya approaches, Chris Nineham draws the lessons from Horace Campbell's Global Nato and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya

From mid-March to October 2011, Libya was rarely out of the headlines as Western air forces averaged 150 air strikes per day on the hapless population. The brutal killing of Gaddafi – co-ordinated, Campbell says here, by US, British and French special forces and drones – was followed by a brief media celebration. Since then, with the exception of puzzled reports about the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi in September 2012, and scattered references to chaos and militia rule, there has been virtual radio silence. The traumatic impact of this pummelling was so obvious on the ground, the western media simply slunk away.

The attack on Libya was officially the most thoroughly humanitarian of wars. ‘Conflict prevention expert’ Gareth Evans was joining a chorus of western opinion when he insisted in March 2011 that the operation ‘was not about bombing for democracy or Muammar Gaddafi’s head. Legally, morally, politically, and militarily it has only one justification: protecting the country’s people’ (p.134).

Horace Campbell’s account of the war effectively demolishes the notion that the intervention had even traces of humanitarianism about it. Campbell has some blind spots; he plays down Gaddafi’s totalitarian record and plays up Obama’s instincts for peace. Sometimes his argument is a little hard to follow. Nevertheless, this a very important story, because, as the third anniversary of the attack on Libya approaches, calls for other, similar humanitarian interventions keep getting louder. While the wider population in Britain and elsewhere is becoming more and more hostile to foreign wars, the case for intervention seems to be gaining ground in liberal and left circles.

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