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. Chris Warren, almost all opinion needs some qualification. Thought requires classification and distinction where differences are significant. In post-modern circumstances, most people are aware that the world is a complex place and simple sloganeering doesn’t help discussion.

    Terje has made his position clear. External military action in support of alliances is not exactly ‘intervention’ – or were we intervening when we lost troops in Singapore? A policy of non-prosecution of private individuals for acts done outside our jurisdiction is not exactly intervention either – or was England intervening when it let George Orwell go to Catalonia? Neither of these constitutes support or advocacy of intervention “whenever suitable”. In fact, Terje indicated to Fran that he agreed that intervention in Libya was probably feasible, but that we still shouldn’t intervene in such a case.

    In your third paragraph, you get to your real problem with Terje. You seem to think that ‘whenever suitable’ means ‘based on cash’ for him, and ‘based on morality’ for you. You have couched it in terms of ‘most’ of two sides, which blurs the issue somewhat, but that seems to be your core objection. Otherwise, you seem to be saying that a difference between two systems of economic thought makes social democrats morally superior ipso facto. While Terje may be amoral, and indeed all libertarians may be, you haven’t demonstrated that. You have imputed nefarious motives to the viking boy just because you don’t like his political stripe. At least do better than ‘Did anyone else notice that I don’t like Terje?’

    Terje, how would you feel about Irish Americans funding the IRA, or Sudanese refugees in Oz funding the SPLM? (I have no evidence that the former happened, and don’t even suspect the latter – I’m just curious how far private liberty extends on this, in your view)

  2. TerjeP, I must say I find the absoluteness of your policy prescription a bit confusing. You might say, “In practice governments intervening militarily in foreign disputes for human rights reasons usually make things worse. Therefore governments generally should not do this.” I understand that as a reasonable position. You seem to go further and say “Governments intervening like this are actually acting immorally.” Surely we should just be utilitarian about this?

  3. @Alan Wood (not that one)

    Qualifications are fine – but not when they go as far as to undermine the subject or object of a qualification, or amount to restating to original.

    Example: Once-upon-a-time, the Australian Democrats put out a policy supposely banning nuclear powered ships from Australian ports. However in reality (ie in their draft Bill) this was qualified with “except for ships availing themselves of the right of innocent passage”.

    This was a stunt to cannibalise vote from the then NDP.

    As all ships to Australia enjoy “right of innocent passage” this qualification meant that all ships were exempted. Naturally the Democrat Billnever got anywhere, but everyone had a good laugh.

    We were certainly intervening when we lost troops in Singapore.

    George Orwell was certainly intervening when he went to Spain.

    Whenever suitable is a judgment based on other than just moral grounds, butfor capitalists mostly includes commerce and politics. Please do not reduce this to “cash”. There may be other grounds eg religion, ethnicity, border disputes.

    Cash motivates mercenaries (so sometimes applies).

    Social democracy is morally superior to Libertarian-capitalism.

    What a State may do when a citizen makes a private choice, is a complicated matter, and may or may not indicate State intervention. Although America has used supposed private citizens to intervene eg Bay of Pigs.

    External military action in support of alliances is always ‘intervention’ .

  4. Terje, how would you feel about Irish Americans funding the IRA

    I don’t feel good about it. The nature of the IRA was (is) complex but much of it’s activity was criminal. The choice for the American government under the framework I envisage would be to choose to either recognise the legitimacy of the British government or not. If it recognised the British government then American nationals funding or participating in the IRA would be subject to legal reputations (either deportation or prosecution for foreign terrorism). However if the American government chose to list the British government as an outlaw regime it’s nationals would be free to participate in any militia activities against it. However non interventionism would suggest that the American government not send troops at taxpayer expense to fight for the Irish against the British. Noninterventionism means not spending taxpayers money on foreign campaigns. It does not necessarily mean preventing voluntary action by individual citizens.

    Ultimately though if America did invade Britian Australia should stay out of it unless our alliance agreements with Britian require otherwise (which they probably would).

  5. Sam – we should be utilitarian but in terms of the action taken by the Australian government it is the utility of Australians that is of concern. Saving innocent life in Tunisia or elsewhere may be a worth activity for you or I but it is not the role of the Australian government. I believe in limited government and jurisdiction and borders are an important set of limits that healthy government is in general confined by. Just as they are confined by the words in the constitution and the rule of law.

  6. What utter, pernicious, tripe. It could have been written by Greg Sheridan. What happened in Libya was a crude regime change operation, by the global bully-boy in chief, NATO, to remove a ruler who they have been relentlessly subverting for forty years.
    And why did they hate Gaddafi? Because he supported the ANC while the West was supporting apartheid. Because he supported the Palestinians throughout the decades of their suffering. Because he exploited Libya’s oil reserves in a ‘nationalistic’ fashion, to the benefit of Libya’s people, not Western transnationals. Because he favoured the Chinese, Russians and Indians in exploiting these resources. Because he was leading Africa to establish an African Central Bank, Monetary Fund and ‘gold dinar’ for inter-African trade. Because he helped pay for satellites for Africa, that removed the Western grip over African communications. Because he invested money in Africa not in US Treasuries.
    The West was behind this phony revolt from the start, with Special Forces from the UK, France, the US and Egypt organising the rebels, a motley crew of jihadists and emigre security ‘assets’ from the very start. These thugs, who have committed numerous murders, particularly of black Libyans and black Africans, won not a single victory that was not prepared by saturation NATO bombing. To say that this bombing protected civilians is a Big Lie worthy of Goebbels. There have been 20,000 sorties with thousands of civilian deaths, with radio stations bombed (as in Serbia) and vast areas leveled. And the NATO forces, France in particular, simply ignored the UNSC Resolution forbidding arms deliveries and poured armaments in. They will get their reward by taking over most of Libya’s oil industry, which will be privatised by the stooges.
    What this regime change aggression, and the despicable mendacity and bias of the Western MSM, show, is that no country on the planet is safe from Western aggression. Libya tried co-operating with the West, only to discover that Western treachery and perfidy, as they have been for five hundred years, are bottomless. Libya will now revert to the model for the lands of the global untermenschen-a corrupt puppet-state, run by a compradore elite who will loot the country in the manner of those Western darlings Mubarak, Marcos, Mobutu and Suharto, transferring the gelt to the West. The Gaddafi social welfare system will be destroyed, but the hypocrites and liars of the Western MSM will be as disinterested as they currently are in the fate of the Yemenis, Bahrainis or Gazans. And the NATO global enforcers, emboldened by the easy victory, will hasten their plans and efforts for their big upcoming projects,the showdowns with Russia and China, both of which are being slowly encircled by military bases, cruising carrier-groups and the ‘missile defence’ systems, part of an openly aggressive first-strike doctrine.

  7. If this naked aggression was all about ‘the responsibility to protect’ when does the carpet bombing of Israel to protect the brutalised Gazans begin?

  8. Mulga – assuming for the moment that you are right and this uprising was all organised by NATO. Why did it take them 40 years?

  9. TerjeP :
    Mulga – assuming for the moment that you are right and this uprising was all organised by NATO. Why did it take them 40 years?

    Maybe the relationship between Gaddafi and the West was different 40 years ago.

    Maybe the West’s need for oil was different 40 years ago.

    Maybe the revelations of the Church Committee forestalled earlier plans.

    Maybe propping up more- favoured dictators took precedence.

    Who knows. If TerjeP thinks there was 40 years of either intent or effort, the truth is probably the opposite.

    So presumably the US did not want to tackle Gaddafi over this time span.

  10. Chris – you seem to have an issue with me that goes beyond intellectual disagreement. I’m sorry if I have somehow offended you but can you please try and keep a civil tone.

  11. Terje, the West has attempted to assassinate Gaddafi on numerous occasions, succeeding only in killing various children and other bystanders, financed and armed insurgencies inside Libya (using their old allies the salafist jihadis) and sanctioned, blockaded and blackmailed Libya for most of the last forty years. They falsely accused Libya of complicity in Lockerbie, after two years or so of it being acknowledged, universally, that the PFLP(GC) did it for Iran, as revenge for the Iranian air-bus shot down by the USS Vincennes. After the sham show trial in Holland, which returned the imbecile verdict that only one of the two alleged ‘conspirators’ was guilty (a slur on Scottish jurisprudence to this day) the framed patsy al Megrahi was visited in gaol by Nelson Mandela, amongst others. He was released, not on ‘humanitarian’ grounds, but because the Scottish appeals process was nearing a decision that his conviction was an miscarriage of justice which it plainly was. The decision to get Gaddafi this time was taken in France last November, when one of Gaddafi’s top aides defected. The French began inserting Special Forces troops disguised as agricultural experts soon thereafter. All this and much more was known thanks to the work of real journalists almost from the beginning, but was suppressed by a Western MSM propaganda apparatus that lies and dissembles with one voice.

  12. If the ‘responsibility to protect’ now governs human affairs, when are the bases from which the US killer drones, that have slaughtered hundreds of innocents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are controlled, to be blasted into dust?

  13. @Mulga Mumblebrain

    Okay but that is not the same as saying the uprising in Libya was concocted by NATO. If it was concocted by NATO then given it was such a useful tactic why didn’t they use this tactic previously. It seems self evident to me that even if NATO played a significant role there was none the less something that changed on the ground. In short I don’t think you can dismiss that there was a people’s revolution even if aided by outside forces.

  14. Libya was used as a rendition country. Why? God only knows. Perhaps the return of the Lockerbie bomber(s) was for services rendered, so to speak.

    Both Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi ruled with a mailed fist and showed no hint of mercy for those who fell out of favour. Both enjoyed uneasy relationships with the US, and for both of them time ran out. As I’ve wondered elsewhere, did the US give the Libyan uprising (against Gaddafi’s regime) a “gentle” shove, before the 24/7 News guys caught up with events? I’d say probably, but only time will tell.

  15. @JohnL

    I’m no fan of TerjeP’s politics but his English at 38 was near enough. He might have used a question mark at the end and avoided “try and” but in this place it falls within the register.

  16. “TerjeP at 38: While you are admonishing Chris Warren, could I ask you please to try to use grammatical English.”

    I’m a stickler for good grammar, and the only questionable part of Terje’s comment is if he should have used “try to keep” rather than “try and keep”. Even then, it’s not strictly incorrect, as it is being used in an informal sense, and as an exhortation, thus rendering it acceptable according to Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

    In short… go suck an egg.

  17. @JohnL

    Thankyou for your inquiry as to whether you may ask me to use grammatical English. I grant thee permission. However what happened to your question mark?

  18. Donald Oats, the facts, that this ‘revolt’ was entirely concocted by the West, led by France, and that ‘Special Forces’ from the US, UK, France and Egypt (later joined by Qataris and Eastern Europeans)were on the ground in Cyrenaica from the very beginning, have been freely available on the net since the beginning. Unfortunately the Western MSM, being a mendacious, hypocritical and recidivist propaganda apparatus, all these facts were suppressed and replaced with the usual total ideological bias that is such a mark of the “free Press’ in the West. 100% ‘on message’, as always. As to the query as to why this tactic has not been used before, well, of course, it has. The US overthrew Mossadegh in Iran with a concocted and financed ‘revolt’. Arbenz was removed in Guatemala in similar fashion, as was Aristide in Haiti in 2004. Scores other examples are there for those with eyes to see. The West, led by the USA interferes in every country in the world, sometimes with military aggression, as here or in Iraq, sometimes with phony humanitarian intervention, as in Kosovo in 1999, sometimes with ‘colour revolutions’ as succeeded in Ukraine and Georgia but failed in China in 1989. Sometimes the bullying thuggery is economic and handled by those hit-men of the ‘Washington Consensus’, the IMF, World Bank and WTO. At other times the USA has the interfering, bullying, gall to finance political parties in other countries through its ‘National Endowment or Democracy’, which ALWAYS finances only the most Rightwing parties, those most likely to be stooges of the US Empire. What gives the USA the right to interfere in every country on earth, while its own society is a bedlam of Dunning-Krugerite sadists who wildly applaud when Rick Perry boasts of his 200 plus executions? Why, “Gawd Almighty, Himself’, of course.

  19. @Jarrah

    Moreover Jarrah, there’s no clear evidence that TerjeP wasn’t trying to use grammatical English. “Trying” is a mental state. I’d be astonished if JohnL were in a position to evaluate TerjeP’s enthusiasm for grammatical usage.

    Had TerjePs text been littered with unorthodox syntax, one might have been entitled to such an inference, assuming one also had a control body of text demonstrating TerjeP’s capacity to use orthodox syntax when so minded. The text cited by JohnL fails that condition and shares an error with JohnL, estopping him from citing it as an exemplar of want of the desire to deploy grammatical English.

    In my opinion, I’m as fond of orthodox and elegant syntax as anyone, but one does need to be sensitive to matters of register. In this place, sentence fragments and elements of the vernacular, along with typos should be passed over only lightly, save that they raise a salient political or cultural point. Their citation merely against the poster is trolling.

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