The just fight not fought

That’s the title of my Fin column from 1 September, which I meant to post earlier. It’s over the fold

The just fight not fought

In most respects, the outcome of the revolution in Libya have been as good as could reasonably be expected. Gaddafi is gone and, even if he finds temporary refuge with some friendly fellow-dictator, will almost certainly end his days in a prison cell somewhere. While the fighting has been bloody, it has probably cost less lives than if Gaddafi had been allowed to carry out his threats to hunt down his opponents, ‘alley by alley’.

While there is no guarantee that Gaddafi’s departure will be followed by the emergence of a democratic, or even stable government, success or failure will be primarily up to Libyans themselves. The NATO countries have avoided the near-certain disaster of becoming occupying powers.

Finally, by comparison with other recent wars, the Libya effort looks cheap. Reports suggest that the cost to the US, UK and other European members of NATO will be around $1 billion each. The destruction and disruption of economic activity within Libya must be many billions more. But even total costs of $10 billion are insignificant compared to the trillion dollar costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no real end in sight in either case.

By the standards of military spending, then, the $1 billion the US spent on the Libyan war is a derisory sum But it is the same amount that the US gave last year to global efforts to fight malaria and TB, largely preventable diseases that kill millions of people every year and disable tens of millions more. It is twice as much as the US has given to relief efforts for the East African famine which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Similar calculations could be made for the other NATO countries. Indeed, the same is true of Australia. We were happy to spend $1 billion for the liberation of Timor, and hundreds of millions more to redeploy troops in the wake of civil disorder in 2008. Yet our annual development assistance to Timor, one of the poorest countries in the world, is barely $100 million a year.

Of course, it would have been terrible to allow Gaddafi to murder thousands of his citizens as he threatened to do. More generally, it is hard to stand by and watch crimes like Gaddafi’s being committed. The urge to use force to prevent such crimes is almost irresistible.

And it is here that the big danger from the Libyan war arises. The success of the Libya campaign will encourage yet more military interventions, some of which are bound to be disasters like that in Iraq.

Already there is talk of an ‘Obama doctrine’, in which Libya will serve as a template for future NATO operations, conducted at long distance, and with minimal risk of casualties on the NATO side.

In this respect, the example of Libya is far less encouraging than it might seem. After the sudden collapse of Gaddafi’s resistance, those who predicted an endless stalemate are looking a bit foolish. Nevertheless, the NATO campaign took nearly six months to weaken Gaddafi to the point where the rebels could prevail. The crucial constraint was the need to avoid civilian casualties.

The US, in its drone campaigns against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, has been much more willing to undertake attacks where civilians are, or may be, killed.

As a result, the US campaign has killed dozens of leading figures in both Al Qaeda and the Taliban, along with hundreds, if not thousands, of rank-and-file jihadists. On the other hand, there is a seemingly endless supply of replacements. Undoubtedly, many of these recruits are motivated by the desire to avenge family members and friends killed in earlier raids.

So, the advocates of military intervention need to face the fact that, if the killing of innocent civilians is unacceptable, such interventions will be costly and the outcomes uncertain. On the other hand, if civilian casualties are treated as inevitable ‘collateral damage’, interventions may achieve their military goals quickly, but then fail politically as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Opponents of intervention must accept that their position means that the crimes of dictatorial regimes will often go unpunished. Even if there is no better alternative, this is a very bad outcome. But it is far worse that the world allows the daily deaths of thousands, many of them children, from entirely preventable causes.

72 thoughts on “The just fight not fought

  1. To restate, Gaddafi was well and truly back inside the tent by hte beginning of 2011, and the idea that the revolt was dreamed up by NATO is just silly. But let’s work through the logic just to see how sillly.

    The Libyan revolt was triggered by successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, and accompanied by ongoing revolts in Yemen, Bahrein and Syria among other places. According to MM all of these occurred after the plot to overthrow Gaddafi began in November, so there’s no question of opportunism

    So, we presumably have to suppose that NATO, starting last November, decided to throw overboard two of their strongest allies in the region, and provoke chaos in Bahrein (home of the 5th fleet), Yemen (where the US is fighting an undeclared war against AQ) and Syria (seen by Israel as a regime they can deal with, unlike a democratic successor), all to get rid of somebody they’d already kissed and made up with.

    Alternatively, we have the hypothesis that having dumped Mubarak and Ben Ali, who had always been loyal allies, the NATO countries had no reason not to do the same to Gaddafi. Of course, they expected the revolt to be successful much more quickly, given a modicum of air support.

  2. @Chris Grealy

    I wrote about this here. If there is ever a serious prospect of war crimes trials over Iraq, I will certainly support them, but that seems a long way off, so until then I’d rather focus on working for things that might actually happen.

  3. The “Moslem Brotherhood” appear to have been an outside influence, and may have encouraged Western powers along the provocation/intervention path. However the Brotherhood and women appear to have been excluded from the interim government.

    This is not unprecedented, American support for Israel was similarly husbanded by Zionist elements in America.

  4. John your comment makes no sense, I would say, in that I see it as a non sequitur. That France had begun planning to overthrow Gaddafi last November, when Nouri Mesmari, defected to France bringing details of Gaddafi’s power structure and who could be relied on to join a regime change project, has been established by real journalists, acting outside the Western MSM propaganda system, that has actively suppressed the facts, in typical service to power. A French ‘commercial delegation’ soon thereafter visited Benghazi, replete with intelligence operatives, and they contacted Abdallah Gehani, a Libyan Air Force colonel who Mesmari had nominated as a potential ally. Internal malcontents joined the jihadists, many released from Guantanamo for the purpose, others recruited with Saudi money in Afghanistan, and various emigres, monarchists, renegades from the Gaddafi regime etc, and became, by NATO diktat ‘the Libyan people’. These are the stooges who NATO bombed to power with 20.000 sorties, which is very far from ‘a modicum’ a most unfortunate expression in the circumstances.
    While this NATO, French-led regime change was underway, other revolts broke out in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, and as far as one can see they were legitimate expressions of mass discontent, and their appearance absolutely coincidental. They have, as one could have bet one’s life on, been successfully strangled by the West, its Saudi and Gulf allies and, no doubt, Israel, but discreetly. No ‘responsibility to protect’ in Bahrain or Yemen, just total support for brutal Western stooges. And, in Syria, we have seen a Western and Saudi attempt to destroy the regime, or provoke civil war, with Wahhabist clerics in Saudi declaring that one-third (the non-Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Christians etc)must die, so that two-thirds, the Sunnis, may live. Nice peoople, but loyal allies of the Empire. And, once again, as always, the Western MSM ‘reporting’ events with absolute, 100% bias and groupthink, and not a little invention and outright mendacity. My favourite was the huge pro-regime rally in Damascus that the ABC simply and falsely reported as anti-regime demonstrators, for which, as far as I know they never even acknowledged ‘error’.

  5. Quite a coincidence! So, even though they all claim to be part of the same movement, the Libyans and Syrians are Western stooges (including the thousands of Syrians who have died in the service of NATO) while the Egyptians, Tunisians and Bahreinis are the real deal.

    How about the failed uprising in Iran? Stooges or real deal? The Palestinians?

    Even better is the claim that the French puppeteers just happened to make their move three months before their longstanding pal in Tunisia was overthrown, then made lemonade out of lemons by using this as a pretext to get rid of Gaddafi

  6. The failed ‘uprising’ in Iran was a thwarted ‘color revolution’ of the type successful in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, but defeated in China in 1989. And the Palestinians include both stooges like Fayyad and Abbas (why do you think he has been left alive, when almost his entire generation of Palestinian leaders, up to and including Arafat, have been murdered by Israel?)and those who have not sold out, like Hamas. Who are the ‘they’ who claim to be part of what movement? In Syria it is simplicity itself to find numerous eye-witness accounts of people present in various regions (including Australian frequent visitors, Russians and various Europeans) who state that there were no disturbances in certain cities where they had been reported, and that the locals put it all down to foreign interference. One Belgian academic was in Hama when there was an alleged demonstration of 500,000 people. His estimate was 10,000 in a city with a population, in any case, of 360,000 only. Instead of these eye-witnesses we are supposed to believe the recidivist liars of the Western MSM, they of Saddam’s WMD and innumerable other affronts to truth, and various ‘NGOs’ and Syrians invariably equipped with US and UK accents. I, for one, am not as stupid as I look. I have no reason to believe the Syrian regime to be cynical liars, save the word of a Western MSM who I definitely know are serial, repetitive and conscienceless peddlers of untruth. It’s not rocket surgery-the West, led by the USA and its NATO co-conspirators, are seeking ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ of the entire planet because they believe that they are civilizationally superior to all the various untermenschen. The history of the last 500 years says so, with few, and minor. exceptions.

  7. “I have no reason to believe the Syrian regime to be cynical liars”

    Especially since the regime is a second-generation personal dictatorship, and the sons of dictators are always brought up to be scrupulously truthful 🙂

    Seriously, MM the view that revolts against dictatorship are good/bad depending on whether the dictator in question is pro/anti West isn’t any different, in essentials from what you get when you change signs. It amounts to supporting dictatorship, provided the dictator goes the way you want.

    It’s especially silly in this instance, since Western governments were cosying up to both Gaddafi and Assad in the last few years. The eagerness of the French government to fight Gaddafi largely reflected Sarkozy’s personal embarrassment at having backed Ben Ali almost to the last, and fear that they would be seen as having done the same in Libya. The idea of a perfidious plan dating back to last year is just silly.

  8. dear Mulga Mumblebrain
    nato is an alliance of nations with different national interests & i don’t see different reactions to the current “arab spring” as necessarily outcomes of alliance scheming. certainly, nefariousness on the part of france, is not nato nefariousness. the plotting against gadaffi was more likely just french diplomacy, looking after french national interests & the interests of french business, as seen by france.

    similarly, the perception of national interest informed the position of germany, leading, incidentally, to the present political discomfort of its defence minister. the position of italy, at the beginning, with its reluctance to permit use of its bases in sicily, no doubt concerned for its business interests & gas supply, whilst the course of the revolution was still uncertain. the position of turkey against bombing, the memory of which is being “massaged” as we write. nato members, all.

    20,000 sorties is a big number, but nato is cautious & thorough and for every combat mission there would have been awacs, fighter support, in-flight refuelling, electronic countermeasures, search & rescue. every sortie flown from england, for example, needed in-flight refuelling, which is why italian bases were important. a better number to look for is the number of combat missions & the amount of ordinance dropped. but, even including such support missions among the 20,000 mentioned, its still probably a big number of sorties & a lot of ordinance. that’s not counting what the us navy contributed in sea-launched missiles early on, while largely refraining from air strikes itself.

    nato intervention, or not, is contingent, i believe, on other factors. i’m a simple man, but the older i get the more it seems to revolve around two things: oil & palestine. and, while some of these nations are prepared to use nato resources to secure their oil supply & others are not, all of them scramble to stay out of israel’s way, particularly where there’s little or no oil involved. things are getting antsy now that oil production is peaking, in reality or just in people’s minds. peak oil’s not like a switch, its analogue like an audio valve & its just warming up. and then there’s palestine, a valve that’s been warming up for a long time already. the crystal set is overheating & when it blows all nato’s sorties won’t put it back together again.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  9. Actually alfred, NATO is now the ‘planetary policeman’ enforcing Western global dominance. Not only has it been extended right to Russia’s borders, in direct contravention of solemn promises made to Gorbachev (a credulous fool) but it is also engaged in a neo-colonial war with massive civilian casualties, in Afghanistan, and a naked aggression (the ‘supreme crime’ for which the Nazis swung at Nuremberg)in Libya.Moreover it is busy adding members, and encircling Russia and China with bases, particularly for the US ‘missile defence’ system which is, in reality, an integral part of the nuclear first-strike doctrine that the US has never abrogated. NATO represents the Western world’s last ditch attempt to thwart the West’s decline and to maintain its grip of death over the rest of humanity.

  10. John, I find the categories ‘dictator’ and ‘democracy’ to be amazingly fluid. In Syria you have a supposed ‘dictator’ Assad, who is, in fact, merely the figure-head for a possibly ‘dictatorial’ regime. If you are inferring that Assad is equivalent to Stalin, well I think that is bollocks. The regime he heads is a complex alliance of interests that has ensured peace in Syria, despite its fractious religious and ethnic mix, which is now being targeted by those foreign forces who wish either to cause regime change or foment civil war. Assad has broad support in that Syrians do not wish to share the fate of Lebanon, where foreign interference provoked a vicious civil war. The Syrian regime, in fact, leaves its people well alone, unless they are actively working to overthrow the regime, in which case they can be famously brutal, but are they any more brutal than the USA or Israel? I would say, emphatically, not.
    In any case in our so-called ‘democracies’ the ‘elected’ leaders (often blessed with minorities, in electorates where barely half, or less, of those eligible vote)almost invariably these days, govern as elected dictators, only having to balance the forces within their regimes, just like Assad. In fact I doubt that Assad is any more ‘dictatorial’ than, say, George Bush, ‘the Decider’ or Tony Blair who dragged his country to the infamy of the aggression in Iraq.

  11. Comments likw mulga’s always remind me of this excerpt from Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism:

    Pacifism. The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty. The mistake was made of pinning this emotion to Hitler, but it could easily be retransfered.

  12. Dear John; Thanks for the mention on Background Briefing, but, you see, I’m a conspiracy documenter, or relayer of information, not a ‘theorist’. The conspiracy to oust Gaddafi is backed with solid evidence, and to simply dismiss it as if it didn’t exist is intellectually mistaken, I believe.
    As to Tim Macknay, yes I’m a pacifist, up to the point that it gets millions killed. I’m particularly opposed to that Western state terror and aggression that continues to crucify the planet even today, and I support those resistance movements that are battling it across the Near and Middle East. I see them, even the religious fascists that I would otherwise detest, as very much the lesser evil, in comparison to the greatest force for evil in human history. The most recent victims of Western fascism are found in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and Bahrain. I imagine Orwell would have opposed those aggressions too, considering the millions killed, maimed, widowed, orphaned and exiled by it. The quote you transcribe at some length is Orwell criticising pacifists in relation to Hitler, and I’m with Orwell. A dreadful, devouring, murderous obscenity like Nazism must be resisted, and that is where you have, in my opinion, inverted reality. The monster stalking the world today, as fascism of another type did in the 30s and 40s is the West, is the US/Israel/NATO Axis of Evil, and it’s that behemoth that I denounce, as I’m sure Orwell would have as well.

  13. I see that the UK did a ‘modicum’ more bombing the other day. Their heaviest bombardment yet, in fact, as their jihadi and CIA controlled exile mates (you know-‘the Libyan people’) were having trouble with the Gaddafi remnants, despite the weeks of NATO and Qatari Special Forces training and the massive military build-up delivered in absolute contempt for the UNSC Resolutions. And I’m confidently expecting the ‘humanitarian bombing’ of Yemen, in response to the regime massacres there, to start almost immediately. I mean, the ‘responsibility to protect’ is a bedrock of really existing ‘Western morality’ is it not?

  14. (If the links I have attempted to include in my post turn out not to have been properly formed on your browser, I trust that you will be able to find, somewhere in them, the URLs which you can then use to use find the pages I have referred to.)

    Thanks, Mulga Mumblebrain (at #4 etc) for speaking the truth here as well as on the site for ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing’s story “Don’t Trust the Web” of 18 September.

    Professor Quiggin,

    All the arguments put here to excuse NATO’s crimes against the Libyan people have been thoroughly refuted in articles and elsewhere on the Internet (including on — comments there, welcome).

    I am more than happy to put those arguments here myself as paraphrase, direct quotes and links to save others the trouble of having to find them.

    Only when someone can show me where that evidence and logic has been addressed by supporters of NATO’s invasion of Libya, let alone rebutted, will I even consider giving my retrospective support to that war or to NATO’s planned invasion of Libya.

  15. Mulga @12, the thing I don’t understand is why your denunciation of aggression by Western powers appears to extend to the endorsement of regimes like that of Qaddafi or the Assad regime in Syria. It is one thing to oppose Western interference intended to depose these regimes at the cost of many lives, but it’s entirely another to endorse the system of secret police surveillance, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and extradjudicial killings (including large scale massacres) that characterises these regimes (as is well documented by Amnesty International, for example). I find the argument that these arrangements should be tolerated on the basis that they are “the lesser evil” than Western aggression to be quite unconvincing.

    It is right to be suspicious of Western media reports which have the effect of justifying military interventions by the Western powers, but I can’t understand why it’s necessary to then go to the opposite extreme and uncritically accept the characterisation of (say) Syrian critics and opponents of the Assad regime as being, essentially, criminals or Western stooges. Whenever this kind of view is presented to me it always appears hypocritical, because the person putting it seems quite willing to exercise their freedom to vehemently criticise their own government without repercussions (and rightly so), while being apparently unconcerned that people in a similar position in countries like Syria or Libya face arbitrary arrest and legnthy imprisonment, or possibly even death, for doing the same thing. It may not be your intention, but it really does appear to me to be a double standard. Western interference in Libya may be wrong, but that does not make Gaddafi right.

    Malthusista, I couldn’t open the link, but I had a look at your link to, and I’m sad to say I was disappointed. The writer of that article decided to become a personal fan of Gaddafi on the basis of a 4 minute Youtube video? Hardly an improvement over getting your information from two minute reports on CNN, and it does not speak well for the level of intellectual rigour on that site.

  16. Professor Quiggin,

    Have you not approved my post yet because you consider it too verbose?

    If so, could you at least publish the short post included immediately below, with a link to where I have instead posted what is still “awaiting moderation”?

    Please vist the web site for my most recent comment which includes a response to Tim Macknay’s most recent post (#16)


    Could you also allow to be published the follwing paragraph containing corrections to my most recent post?

    The last sentence on my previous post (#14) should have ended: “… will I even consider giving my retrospective support to that war or to NATO’s planned invasion of Syria.” (not Libya). Also, the last pronoun ‘in’ was missing in the following sentence:

    “All the arguments put here to excuse NATO’s crimes against the Libyan people have been thoroughly refuted in articles in” My apologies.

  17. Tim, I regard both Syria and Libya as lesser evils by far than they are painted by the Western MSM. The Western MSM is a propaganda system that works to demonise the victims, actual or potential, of Western aggression. You may have missed it but the West has been attacking, colonising, pillaging and destroying the non-Western world for 500 years, all the while nauseatingly braying about their ‘morality’. I’m certain that Assad and Gaddafi and their regimes have done some vile things, but far, far, fewer that the US and UK in recent years, let alone the last 200. And I know that the real reason Gaddafi is reviled by the West is that he has done good things, that the West opposed, such as supporting the ANC while the West supported apartheid, supporting the Palestinians while the West supports their brutal oppressors, and aiding Africa to throw off the neo-colonial yoke that the West seeks to impose on it. In short the true Gaddafi is a man to be admired which is precisely why the West sought to remove him for forty years, and why the Western MSM lied through its teeth to demonise him.

  18. Professor Quiggin,

    In France, French ex-foreign minister Roland Dumas says “he is ready to defend Muammar Gaddafi in the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for his arrest,” that is, if the NATO criminals and their Libyan hirelings don’t murder him first.

    Maybe it’s time you backed up your support for the war against Libya with evidence that would be admissable in a criminal trial of Muammar Gaddafi, instead of just repeating the kind of vague statements, which appear in our newsmewdia, which imply that Gaddafi is a monster, but which have no substantion that I can find:

    “… it would have been terrible to allow Gaddafi to murder thousands of his citizens as he threatened to do.”

    “Opponents of intervention must accept that their position means that the crimes of dictatorial regimes will often go unpunished.”

  19. @Malthusista: presumably, we that the appropriate way to resolve this issue would be for Gaddafi to surrender to the ICC, at which point the evidence admissible in a criminal trial will be presented. While I don’t expect that to happen, I think it likely that Gaddafi will (unwillingly) have his day in court and I will be happy to accept the verdict. Obviously, I have an expectation based on the evidence that’s publicly available. How about you?

  20. I don’t see how such trials can presume innocents let alone deliver an innocent verdict where the accused walks free. Perhaps I’m too cynical but in such cases the stakes are too high. I think there is a risk that such trials are merely for show.

  21. Professor Quiggin, you seem not to have understood my point.

    Abundant evidence that NATO has broken international law in Libya is to be found on Global Research (for example in the story Destroying a Country’s Standard of Living: What Libya Had Achieved, What has been Destroyed). That evidence is specifc and detailed.

    Where are the crimes which have are alleged to have been committed by Gaddafi been described in similar detail and substantiated? If they have not, how could Gaddafi be convicted in a fair trial?

    Are you going to go on just repeating the catch-phrases that have been churned out by the newsmedia to justify the war against the LKibyan Government or are you going to show us where those claims have been substantiated?

  22. John, if you think that Gaddafi would get a fair trial at the ICC, I have a Harbour Bridge you may be interested in purchasing. He’ll get the same kangaroo ‘justice’ al-Megrahi received, if lucky. If he begins to embarrass his persecutors, perhaps a convenient ‘heart-attack’ as in Milosevic’s case might be considered necessary. The ICC is, in my opinion, a despicable farce that persecutes Africans and Moslems only. It jumped to in days to follow orders regarding Gaddafi, yet after two years has done nothing yet concerning Israel’s brutal crimes against humanity in Gaza.

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