Democracy and human rights in Libya??

I just caught up with this piece by the Guardian’s Chris Stephen in Tripoli. (H/T B of MofA.)
Tell me again why anyone ever thought that NATO missiles were capable of somehow ‘delivering’ democracy and a system of respecting basic human rights in Libya?
Stephen writes of the country’s current rulers, the National Transitional Council:

    The NTC refuses to say who its members are, or even how many there are. Although it appointed a cabinet last month, policy decisions are taken inside what amounts to a black box. Meetings are held in secret, voting records are not published, and decisions are announced by irregular television broadcasts.
    Typical was last week’s announcement, which came out of the blue, that the oil and economy ministries would be moved to Benghazi, and the finance ministry to Misrata. Diplomats scoffed at the impracticality of such a scheme, which would leave Libya’s administration scattered over hundreds of miles. This opacity reminds some Libyans of how things were run in former times…

And there’s this:

    According to diplomats, the country can move forward only when the national army controls the militias. However, the national army is neither national nor an army.
    It was formed in the February revolution in the eastern city of Benghazi by several hundred army officers who defected to the rebels. But most of the army itself remained loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. All of which has left this “national army” with plenty of chiefs but precious few Indians.
    The militias, meanwhile, are getting organised. Those of Zintan and Misrata are in effect citizen armies, controlled by their leaders and military councils. Discipline remains a problem, with older members complaining of too many unemployed young men with guns, but order in both cities is more complete than in Tripoli, where gunfire crackles on most nights.

The news peg on which Stephen hangs his article is a grim reminder of how deep the political fragmentation in Libya currently is. basically, it’s the tale of how the militias were all lining up to control tripoli’s international airport, in the expectation that the UN was about to fly in several planeloads of Libyan dinar bills that had just been printed in Germany… with the hope that whoever could control the airport and the road from there to the central Bank could take a hefty rakeoff from the booty in the name of “providing security services.”
Here is the scene that Stephen described:

    Last weekend the army tried to storm the airport and was stopped in a battle at the main airport checkpoint, which left two militiamen wounded and flights suspended as tracer fire arced over the runways. The army tried again midweek, summoning reinforcements from eastern Libya, only for the column to be stopped 200 miles west by units from Misrata, which are allied with Zintan.
    More fighting is expected after unidentified gunmen shot and wounded a son of army commander General Khalifa Hifter in a battle outside Tripoli’s biggest bank, then kidnapped another on Friday.

Meantime, even people in the ranks of the rebels are conceding that somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 Libyans were killed during the seven months of fighting that followed NATO’s entry into the fighting March 19. Prior to that, the death toll was only one-tenth as high.
My old friend Hugh Roberts knows 100 times as much about North Africa as I do. In November, he was writing these very sane words in the LRB:

    The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected. The argument for a no-fly zone and then for a military intervention employing ‘all necessary measures’ was that only this could stop the regime’s repression and protect civilians. Yet many argued that the way to protect civilians was not to intensify the conflict by intervening on one side or the other, but to end it by securing a ceasefire followed by political negotiations…

This was, of course, the very same argument that I was making back in March. So was Hugh: He was then working for the International Crisis Group, which as he noted in the LRB piece put forward its own very sensible proposal for a negotiated de-escalation at the time. But no: The foul humors and animal spirits of the west’s warmongers won the day on that occasion– as they seem to, only too, too often.
But why, I wonder, had so many western liberals and rights activists learned nothing from what had happened in Iraq over the preceding eight years? Truly tragic.

4 thoughts on “Democracy and human rights in Libya??”

  1. Helena,
    I am not sure where to post this, alas it seems to fit here – a space created to dialogue about another violently divided society, riven with interventions and their legacies. I am just now (shame, shame!!!) reading Amnesty After Atrocity, and I wanted to sincerely thank you for this volume. It is a crucial, insightful assessment of the distinctions between justice and healing — so readily conflated in our western prescriptions for the world — and how vital untangling and re-assessing these two concepts are. I quite sincerely appreciate the nuance and complexity which distinguishes this work. A tremendous accomplishment, Helena!
    Wishing you and yours a blessed holiday,

  2. I love this question from Corporal Edwards, and its answer from the outgoing SecDef. (He’s missed.)
    May 12, 2011
    Remarks by Secretary Gates During Troop Visit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
    Q: Good morning, sir. Corporal Edwards from 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. My question is in regards to the conflict in Libya. I read article in the U.K. newspaper the Telegraph a little over a month ago, and it was an interview with one of the rebel leaders. He explicitly said that some of his fighters had fought with the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. I found this to be somewhat disheartening, since we as a country were supporting the rebels militarily and through public opinion. Who are these rebels in Libya? And how do we know that they won’t be like the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, where we’re supporting them today and then getting blown up by them tomorrow?
    SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the honest answer to your question is that with the exception of some of the people at the top of the opposition or the rebels in Libya, we don’t know who they are. And I think this is one of the reasons why there has been such reluctance, at least on our [i.e. my] part, to provide any kind of lethal assistance to the opposition.

  3. “The formula usually employed is ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.’ And if one replies, ‘Yes, but where is the omelet?’ the answer is likely to be: ‘Oh, well, you can’t expect everything to happen all in a moment.” — George Orwell, Catastrophic Gradualism
    Remembering my own unheralded homecoming from Vietnam 40 years ago next month:
    After the Banquet in Baghdad
    With their tails tucked proudly ‘tween their legs,
    Advancing towards the exit march the dregs
    Of empire, whose retreat this question begs:
    “No promised omelet? Just the broken eggs?”

    From “The Best and the Brightest” to “The Worst and the Dullest” in a single generation. A troop of uninstructed chimpanzees could do foreign policy better than America’s self-perpetuating claque of corrupt corporate carpetbaggers. Only short-sighted, self-interested, nest-feathering venality can explain it: in a word, “money.”

  4. According to a ‘wise old seal’ who I gave a car trip from Bavaria via Switzerland and France, to Barcelonia in Espana, my US military R & R hitchhiker was on a battle-high as well as the more usually understood high!
    And his story of the destruction of the Libyan State armed forces by the forward Liberation Forces ( battle groups of Libyan Army deserters and Advisors spearheaded under NATO armed force manned units ) the real war and explains the TV footage of so called TNC units of untrained civilians ( manly early released convicts and unemployed Libyans ) firing in all directions miles from the actual front line!
    One looks forward to the full story of this USA financed and CIA managed plot in regime change, originally planned by a Consultant named Paul Wolferwitz???

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