Libya: We Came, We Saw, They Died (Part Two)

NATO Airstrikes in Libya, 2011

NATO Airstrikes in Libya, 2011

(Photograph of NATO Airstrikes Courtesy of the Daily Mail)

Note: This article is the Second section of a Two Part series analyzing the impact of humanitarian involvement in Libya. You can read Part One here.)

The NATO intervention in Libya, as in most other cases of intervention has produced a disaster. And is with most so-called “humanitarian” interventions, once the smoke from NATO missiles has cleared and the goal of regime change accomplished, displays a complete disdain for the people who were considered so important to protect. This “humanitarian” action has destabilized both Libya and Mali, created areas now under the control of terrorist jihadi forces, including forces of the Islamic State. Instead of pursuing avenues for a peaceful transition of power (avenues that were open), NATO insisted instead on escalating violence in Libya on mostly false pretexts and unsubstantiated claims. The destruction of Libya adds it to the growing list of territories left shattered in the wake of recent US intervention in the Middle East, but the world seems not to care. Libya’s civil war makes no headlines, the country’s descent into anarchy after the supposedly fantastically successful NATO campaign has been accompanied mostly be journalistic silence as alluded to by Frederic Wehrey who in his article refers to the Libyan conflict as a “forgotten war”. As Patrick Cockburn noted in March of 2014:

“A striking feature of events in Libya in the past week is how little interest is being shown by leaders and countries which enthusiastically went to war in 2011 in the supposed interests of the Libyan people. President Obama has since spoken proudly of his role in preventing a “massacre” in Benghazi at that time. But when the militiamen, whose victory Nato had assured, opened fire on a demonstration against their presence in Tripoli in November last year, killing at least 42 protesters and firing at children with anti-aircraft machine guns, there was scarcely a squeak of protest from Washington, London or Paris”

Numerous stories like this, coupled with the recent eulogies that have poured forth from Western leaders, including President Obama, for the deceased Saudi King (a dictator as bad, if not worse than Gaddafi ever was, but an important American ally and therefore a friend of democracy) make the American and NATO claims to the moral, humanitarian high ground look increasingly despicable. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, “The feel-good ‘humanitarianism’ of war advocates, as usual, extended only to the cheering from a safe distance as bombs dropped.” In the most recent case of this past week the bombs happened to belong to the Egyptian military dictatorship, which the “enlightened” West seems to have no qualms about, judging by the billions of dollars the United States has funneled into the country as it continues to hunt down, imprison, and kill dissidents. The very same dissidents whose efforts produced much eloquent praise and pontification from Downing Street and Washington about the virtues of democratic governance. Apparently their plight does not constitute a humanitarian crisis worthy of action. The people of Egypt are apparently not our responsibility to protect.

From the journalistic and governmental silence it seems that the “responsibility to protect” no longer applies to the people of Libya as the people there are no longer useful, having fulfilled their roles they now follow the general pattern of Western intervention of being discarded, forgotten, and left to be murdered, tortured, and raped by whichever armed gang happens to seize territory first. Neither did this serious responsibility, this “white man’s burden” seem to apply to the civilians in Iraq, where genocidal UN sanctions pressed for by the United States after Gulf War One resulted in the deaths of half a million children. Their connection to the decision to invade Kuwait is not apparent to the uninitiated observer. Apparently their support for Saddam by the mere fact of their existence was enough to condemn them to death.

Apparently the slaughter of 500,000 children does not constitute a humanitarian crisis for the United States. What would have constituted crimes against humanity if perpetrated by officially designated enemies of the state apparently did not besmirch US honor or our inherent righteousness. No airstrikes were rained down on Washington DC, no UN Security Council meeting was convened, no joint op-eds penned with passionate pleas for removing murderers from positions of power. The Presidential convoy was not swarmed by angry mobs after being trapped as a result of NATO missiles. Men did not pull the President from his bullet-proof, black tinted, moving fortress to murder him in the street. No matter, the United States would eventually make amends when it decided that instead of medicine, water, and food the children of Iraq instead needed depleted uranium, white phosphorous, and simulated drowning. Gaddafi forces approaching Benghazi to quell rebellion are met with NATO missiles, American soldiers who slaughter the population of Fallujah, burning men women and children alive with experimental white phosphorous weapons, and condemning thousands more to die from cancer at rates higher than Hiroshima in a country on the other side of the world as part of an illegal invasion after depriving the population of the very necessities of modern life for the actions of a leader they did not choose are greeted with Academy Award nominated biopics and are treated as “controversial” figures. Apparently, barrels of prehistoric black organic muck have greater value for the United States and its allies than human lives.

The New York Times called Libya a possible model intervention. The claim seems to be accurate, but perhaps not in the way the author intended. Rather Libya serves as merely the most recent model for all interventions past and present, from Vietnam to Iraq. A tried and true tactic that has been employed over and over again, always with the same sanctimonious language and always to great effect. As US activity increases in the region it seems that the the disaster of Libya has been swept into the dustbin of history and the process is now ready to begin again with a new dictator, a new existential threat, a new moral obligation, and the same objective. Rinse and repeat. One wonders what the next place to be “liberated” will be, and whether or not the thousands of dead left in the wake of that action will even be granted the courtesy of appearing in official histories. Perhaps they should be grateful to have had the tremendous privilege to be sacrificed upon the alter of “progress”.

Looking at the evidence and the history of American foreign policy, or rather our foreign policy (for we are all responsible), it can be comforting to believe that that the United States simply does not view the people of Gaza, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and now Libya as human beings. Perhaps it is simply incomprehensible for some of us to view these peculiar creatures as being of the same genetic makeup as ourselves, and this is the reason why it is so difficult to apply to these beings the concepts of human rights. This would conveniently explain our treatment of these people as a form of terrible ignorance, of misguided passions, of great designs led astray because of blunders. It is a comforting thought to have: that we only laugh at death because of our unfamiliarity with the concept, conceptualizing it only as children do in playground games.

It is very comforting to think this way, as most of the beltway press and respected liberal option do, because the alternative is almost too terrible to contemplate: that we know full well, but we just don’t care.




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