The winds of change that have recently swept repressive regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt and are swirling in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are blowing across the sands of Libya, posing the greatest threat to the government of Colonel Muammar El Qaddafi since he seized power in 1969. Accused of using force to break up peaceful demonstrations by ” his own people,” the United States, France and Great Britain secured a UN Resolution authorizing intervention in Libya to impose a “no fly zone” and the use of all available means to “protect civilians.” Under the guise of a “humanitarian mission” the coalition forces, with the U.S. in the vanguard, launched ferocious missile and air assaults against Qaddafi’s military installations and ground forces. In effect, these assaults have supported the opposition forces which began as peaceful protesters but quickly picked up weapons to pursue their cause.
Given the winds of change sweeping North Africa and the Arab world, the coalition intervention in Libya has provoked considerable debate among people of African descent on the continent and the U.S. Some African leaders and analysts simply see Qaddafi as another corrupt, ruthless despot willing to use whatever means to suppress dissent/protest/opposition in order to cling to power. Therefore, intervention in Libya to protect civilians and to effect regime change is justified. On the other hand, many African-centered and Pan African analysts and activists view Qaddafi as an anti-imperialist revolutionary and fierce proponent of Pan Africanism including the idea of a United States of Africa. Therefore, the intervention must be vigorously opposed and Qaddafi’s regime supported at all costs.
It is an important debate. I am unequivocally opposed to the intervention by the U.S. led coalition in Libya. It is yet another blatant example of the hypocrisy and contradictions of U.S. foreign policy. However, I hardly view Qaddafi as a leader worthy to be upheld as a paragon of Pan Africanism. Therefore, unlike some of my African-centered comrades, my strenuous objection to the assault on Libya has more to do with hypocrisy and contradiction of U.S. policy than any notion of defending a “revolutionary hero.” Indeed, in my view, African-centered scholars and activists have an obligation to scrupulously analyze the internal contradictions and weaknesses of those who would profess to be leaders of the progressive Pan African cause. And, a crucial aspect of that critique is an examination of the moral and ethical principles of governance to ensure that the leaders we uphold are behaving in accordance with the principles of Maat, balance, justice and righteousness. At the end of the day, after grappling with how best to respond to the intervention in Libya, I believe the African Union took this into consideration and developed appropriate proposals to address the crisis.
But, first let us deal with the utter hypocrisy and contradictions of the intervention. It is impossible to ignore the convulsions in North Africa and the Arab world that are shaking repressive and despotic regimes to their foundation; regimes that in many instances have been allies of the U.S. Hence, the U.S., a nation that professes to relish democracy, has recently been caught in the awkward position of being allied with regimes that have suppressed democratic movements for decades. This was certainly the case in Egypt. Caught in this contradiction, President Obama was forced to use the billions of dollars the U.S. doles out to the Egyptian military each year as leverage to convince the armed forces to stand down and not forcibly attack the demonstrators. As a result, years of pent up aspirations by huge sectors of the Egyptian people flowered into a relatively peaceful revolt that led to the departure of Hosni Mubarak who had ruled with an iron fist for forty years.
In the case of Egypt, President Obama was able to breathe a sigh of relief with the U.S. eventually appearing to come down on the side of the people’s demand for freedom and democracy. But, other cases have been more difficult. In Bahrain, despite appeals from the U.S, King Al Khalifa, backed by 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia, has violently cracked down on the demonstrations, killing and wounding scores of peaceful protesters. In Yemen, where there appears to be serious divisions in the nation, troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh have reportedly killed hundreds of demonstrators. Of course the U.S. maintains a strategic military base in Bahrain and President Saleh is considered an important ally in the fight against the growing Al-Qaida presence in northern Yemen (it is interesting to note, that Qaddafi’s intelligence service was cooperating with the CIA in identifying and neutralizing Al-Qaida operatives in Libya – which should have qualified him as a useful asset). Despite the fact that these authoritarian regimes are brutalizing and “killing their own people,” the U.S. has done little more than “appeal” to its allies not to use violence.
Herein lies the contradiction/hypocrisy of the U.S. and its allies. If “killing your own people” is the criteria for intervention, then why not intervene in Bahrain or Yemen. Force has also been used to put down demonstrations in Algeria, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Are they on the hit list for military intervention as well? Of course the U.S., France and Britain argue that a massacre, bloodbath or slaughter was imminent in Libya as Qaddafi’s forces moved to crush what became an armed insurrection. However, there was absolutely no evidence that any more people were killed or about to be killed in Libya than in Yemen. Nor was there any evidence that anything on the scale of the genocide in Rwanda or the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia was about to occur. Moreover, the entire world witnessed the brutal suppression of massive peaceful protests in Iran after a dubious election, and no military action was taken. It is estimated that thousands of peaceful Chinese protesters were killed in the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre, but no military action was taken against the People’s Republic of China. In fact, China is one of America’s most important trading partners and a holder of a huge amount of U.S. debt.
I certainly do not want to minimize the loss of human life in any of these countries, but “killing your own people” is hardly the criteria that has been used to determine whether to use military force to deal with authoritarian regimes. It is more likely that a “selective standard” is being employed. The calculation seems to be based on which nations can be attacked to score propaganda points and pursue economic interests without fear of effective resistance or retaliation. In this instance, Libya appears to have met the criteria. No doubt there are underlying economic motives as well. France and Britain have a higher dependency on Libyan oil than the U.S.; therefore, they pushed most strenuously for intervention. Indeed, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Obama’s National Secretary Dennis McDonough argued that Libya was not “vital to U.S. interests.” In the end, however, with the blessing of the Arab League, President Obama was persuaded that the image of the U.S. as a defender of civilians and promoter of democracy could be safely burnished by spearheading the attack on the leader President Reagan called the “mad dog of the Middle East.”
(Part Two Tomorrow)
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com