Sunday, April 3, 2011

A response to Gilbert Achcar by Alex Callinicos on Libya and the No Fly Zone.

As the US hands over to NATO in Libya and looks for a quick exit strategy, withdrawing its airforce, the No Fly Zone has not produced the quick fix solution some hoped for. The military ping pong up and down the coastal towns shows there is still a long and hard road to go down before we see an end to Gaddafi. Hopefully this will not be too long.

The debate on the No Fly Zone has resulted in a key debate on the Left on strategy and tactics. It is good to see such a public debate which crosses the "normal organisational boundaries" and is out in the open. Perhaps we can see this quality of debate on other issues from now on as it benefits all of us in the movement. Having previously published the article by Gilbert Achcar, here is a response from Alex Xallinicos:

SOCIALIST WORKER (UK) Issue: 2245 dated: 2 April 2011

Alex Callinicos / posted: 6.01pm Tue 29 Mar 2011

Should the left back intervention in Libya?

Western intervention in Libya has caused some divisions on the genuine
left. This isn’t surprising. If we look at the Arab world, a
combination of the widespread loathing of Muammar Gaddafi and support
for the revolutions has limited opposition to the use of Western
firepower against his forces.

The most intelligent case for supporting the intervention has been
made by my old friend Gilbert Achcar. A consistent opponent of Western
imperialism, Gilbert argues that this is an occasion when
anti-imperialists should be willing to make compromises. (1)

Gilbert is right, revolutionaries have sometimes been prepared to take
help from imperialist powers.

Soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917, invading German armies were
threatening the survival of the infant Soviet republic. Britain and
France offered help. Lenin wrote to the Bolshevik central committee:
“Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the
Anglo-French imperialist robbers.” (2)

Gilbert is also right to dismiss claims by some on the left that
Gaddafi is in some way a “progressive” and that the leadership of the
revolution in Benghazi support Al Qaida. He asks, “Can anyone claiming
to belong to the left just ignore a popular movement’s plea for
protection, even by means of imperialist bandit-cops, when the type of
protection requested is not one through which control over their
country could be exerted?”

This is where I begin to get queasy, particularly when Gilbert also
contends that the US, France and Britain intervened under pressure of
public opinion to prevent a massacre in Benghazi.

Compare the comments of the right wing French “philosopher” Bernard

He boasted in last Sunday’s Observer about his role in persuading
French president Sarkozy to push for Western intervention: “What is
important in this affair is that the devoir d’ingérance [the right to
violate the sovereignty of a country if human rights are being
excessively violated] has been recognised.” (3)


For “BHL”, as he’s known in France, what counts is the politics of the
intervention. He sees it as an opportunity after the Iraq disaster to
rebuild support for the idea, championed by Tony Blair, that Western
powers have the right to attack states they deem to have broken their
rules. [BTW, are other countries allowed to attack Western powers
deemed to have broken the rules, e.g., for the unprovoked and
unilateral war against Iraq in 2003?]

But this isn’t the most important reason for the intervention, at
least as far as the US is concerned.

Gilbert demolishes the argument that Gaddafi wouldn’t have continued
to allow Western companies access to Libya’s oil. I agree—oil isn’t
the main issue. The US is rushing to get in front of the Arab
revolutionary wave that threatens to sweep away its system of

A White House adviser told the Financial Times, “The place where we
have the least interest in the Middle East is Libya…” Nodding to the
island kingdom that is home to the US Fifth Fleet and risks becoming
caught up in a tug of war between oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Iran, he
adds, “The place where we have the greatest interest is Bahrain.” (4)

The clampdown in Bahrain, orchestrated by Saudi troops, represents an
effort by the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf autocracies to
turn back the revolutionary tide. Barack Obama and his administration
have strongly criticised the repression there and in Yemen.

They hope to use the revolutions to restructure Arab societies along
more stable neoliberal lines. Taking on Gaddafi is a way for the US to
associate itself with the revolutions—and to shape their politics.

BHL describes addressing a meeting of revolutionaries in Benghazi and
persuading them to appeal for Western support. No doubt he’s bragging,
but the anecdote illustrates the immense efforts under way to
incorporate the revolutions.

There is the final argument, used by both Gilbert and BHL, that
intervention prevented a massacre in Benghazi. The sad fact is that
massacres are a chronic feature of capitalism. The revolutionary left
is, alas, too weak to stop them.

Until we become stronger, we can at least offer political clarity
about what’s at stake.

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