Would those opposing intervention in Libya also do so for Ivory Coast?


11:30 am - April 4th 2011

by Sunder Katwala    


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I have been deeply sceptical about ‘whataboutery’ when it is used an argument for consistent inaction on human rights everywhere.

Nicolas Kristof captures a central point in his last New York Times column:

Just because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?


Kristof is also right that invoking the Responsibility to Protect will often lead over time to stronger pressure for effective international engagement in other crises.

The Ivory Coast is a case in point, as the political and humanitarian crisis in that country deteriotated sharply over the last week.

The Independent on Sunday had an unimpressive editorial on a fairly standard ‘whataboutery’ ticket.

However, the complaint about an “international shrug of indifference” towards Ivory Coast was badly undermined by an extremely loose grasp of the basic facts, such as placing as “last month” the elections which were held in October and November, leading to last December’s dispute over whether the result.

The international community has been rather more engaged in attempting to secure Gbagbo’s departure than the IoS acknowledges – and it is unfair to imply that France has been disengaged – though the failure to secure the transition to power the elected President is all the more striking after several months.

With the country’s civil war having been reopened, there is a very good case that the Security Council should have given the 9000-strong UN peacekeeping forces a stronger mandate, as Ecowas argued last month, having suspended Gbago last Demcember. France and Nigeria have also been pursuing this at the UN, but with Russia reported to be sceptical about more intervention.

The objectives for the international community – led by the west African and African Union multilateral bodies, with support from other nations and the UN – ought to be fairly straightforward.

* To ensure the democratic election result is upheld, and to expedite this, including tougher measures against the illegitimate government.
* To investigate human rights abuses, and to refer these to the ICC, from whichever source.
* To promote preventive measures to protect human rights, including external support for domestically-led reconciliation moves where appropriate.

If those making ‘whatabout’ arguments want to oppose all forms of foreign pressure and engagement, I struggle to see how the scale or nature of what they wish to ignore in Ivory Coast has much if any bearing on what they propose to ignore in Libya.

I imagine this would also probably be opposed by many or most of those who oppose the Libyan intervention.

So it would be interesting to hear more from opponents of the Libyan intervention, about what they believe should happen in the Ivory Coast.


cross-posted from Next Left, which has a longer version

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


So it would be interesting to hear more from opponents of the Libyan intervention, about what they believe should happen in the Ivory Coast.

Surely opponents of the Libyan intervention (which makes it sound like a Len Deighton novel) would be equally, and consistently, opposed to a Cote d’Ivoire intervention. Sovereign nations, none of our business, picking sides in tribal/civil wars, colonial legacies, neo-imperialism, imposing western values, so-called democracy and all the rest.

It’s those of us who support the Libyan intervention who really should be saying what they think should happen. We’re not proposing a no-fly zone (although, really who would we be targeting? Witches on hyenas?), but what are we going to do? Issue platitudes about regional forces and the good offices of the international community I suspect.

Look I’d be all for stepping in and seeing our troops killed maimed or what ever, if after they did it we would have a better country, but the so called goodies in Libya will I suspect come to power and use it as a means of holding onto power, and you have a Gaddafi mark two, Iraq lets wait to see what the yanks go if the Oil well come under pressure by the new regime or a Muslim regime.

3. FlyingRodent

Dear God, back to basics yet again.

Okay, hypothetical intervention in Ivory Coast: will it work, or will it make things worse? Bear in mind we’re not just talking about the next couple of months, since Ivory Coast, like Libya, will still be there in fifty years’ time and will probably be hugely affected by any major military intervention.

Now, Ivory Coast already has a few thousand French troops. Are they having a positive effect? Will sending more troops help or hinder?

Everything else is bullshit. Dire warnings of the consequences of non-intervention, invocations of our moral duties – all irrelevant. The only thing that matters is, Can we make the situation better? If the answer to that is Yes, then I’m cautiously well-disposed to international intervention. If the answer is No, then I’m going to oppose it vocally.

In horrible situations like this, opposition to the worse option is the sane, logical and humane position. If an increased international military presence will worsen and extend the violence, then that’s the insane, illogical and inhumane course of action.

If those making ‘whatabout’ arguments want to oppose all forms of foreign pressure and engagement, I struggle to see how the scale or nature of what they wish to ignore in Ivory Coast has much if any bearing on what they propose to ignore in Libya.

I struggle to formulate a response that doesn’t include cursewords. I spent far too long at this very website saying “Let’s not do anything stupid in Libya” to people who responded with the usual OMG tha Commies want Gaddafi to genocidally genocide everybody.

Since our Libya intervention went tits up – and I hope people are aware that we’re now relying on luck and crossed fingers for a positive outcome there, and that things could get much, much worse – these strident moralists have been notably silent. Tumbleweeds.

Now that there’s some new horrific crisis, suddenly we get this How dare you ignore human suffering, sir stuff. I despair. One of the major reasons why there will be major political resistance to the idea of intervention in Ivory Coast is because we still haven’t even nearly finished our last ill-judged, no-plan, unlimited Libya campaign.

And, what, it’s up to people who opposed that particular wheeze to suggest solutions for a new crisis? Seriously? Can’t we wait until our Successful Catastrophic Bloodbaths to Unsuccessful Catastrophic Bloodbaths ratio rises to about one in three before we start planning new disasters?

If those making ‘whatabout’ arguments want to oppose all forms of foreign pressure and engagement, I struggle to see how the scale or nature of what they wish to ignore in Ivory Coast has much if any bearing on what they propose to ignore in Libya.

Because if there’s two catastrophes – X and Y – and X is equally as bad or worse than Y someone who claims the latter is more vital to resolve puts their intentions under suspicion.

‘Okay, hypothetical intervention in Ivory Coast: will it work, or will it make things worse? ‘

Yes, but the question is on what scales that is judged. For example, you say Libya ‘went tits up’. That in a situation where in the judgement of most experts large numbers of lives were saved, and Gadaffi is having to negotiate some kind of deal for the future of the country. Instead of him continuing to rule based the principle that those massacred deserved it.

That would certainly be true using a scale where one statement from some South American politician about neocolonialism, and a few hundred million quids worth of pilot overtime and military hardware, was of greater weight than thousands of Libyan lives and the political future of a country a few hundred miles from Europe.

Other people might apply other scales.

Why stop at just adding the Ivory Coast to the candidates for intervention?

How about: DR Congo, Syria, Bahrain, the Yemen etc – and what about al-Qaeda entrenched in the tribal heartlands of north west Pakistan or Somalia because of the pirates there successfully threatening international shipping or Israel to prevent further construction of illegal settlements on occupied Palestine territory as that is blocking the peace process?

For almost 10 years, the “international community” has been saying that elections would bring peace to Ivory Coast. They haven’t. Some people are now saying that there should be a military intervention. Indeed if the “international community” sponsor elections then it is logical that they ensure that the winner takes power. But that will not be the end of the story. A lot of effort will be needed to bring together the two communities represented by the two parties, who have grown apart since the end of the cocoa boom and the start of structual adjustment. That will need a reconstruction of the cocoa industry, putting back some of the mechanisms that structural adjustment removed. Unfortunately I sense that the “international community” isn’t really interested in that.

As BenSix suggest , you really seem to misunderstand – wilfully I suspect – the point people are making when they question why some countries “deserve” armed interventions rather than others . The point is that the interventions seem to be decided on the strategic importance of the countries (including how close they are to oil reserves) , and not the scale of the crisis in these nations: Which suggests that “Liberal intervention” might be a mask for the exercise of strategic power . Rather than adressing this obvious and serious question, you are using glib and childish slogans – I think you might want to reconsider wether using silly phrases like “whataboutery” is wise, just as David Cameron should reconsider using foolish metaphors about teenagers cleaning bedrooms when he is discussing bombing missions

@8 About teenagers cleaning their own bedroom, as though the nation of Libya belongs to the nations intervening. Perhaps it will, once the intervention has ended, then we will in fact have “tidied our bedroom while the world is in such a mess”.

10. Planeshift

“worse than Y someone who claims the latter is more vital to resolve puts their intentions under suspicion.”

But even if you assume all military action is purely motivated by self interest, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t lead to a better outcome for the citizens in both countries. Example of Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia comes to mind.

Secondly, if there is pure self interest at heart, but a humanitarian motive is the PR placed upon something, then in a democratic country its possible for pressure (with the exception of Iraq) to be brought to bear that can influence the outcome. The current war in libya is an example of this: the coalition’s statements ruling out certain actions (ground troops) being largely based on the fear of public oppostion.

I think the bar for supporting military action needs to be set extremely high, the burden of proof resting on those who support it, but it can be crossed in a limited set of circumstances.

The Arab League seemed to want some kind of intervention in Libya, so the real question is, being as the Arab states have so much expensive military hardware, why don’t they do it?

The same question also applies to the Ivory Coast. Why aren’t the OAU or whatever they’re called these days getting involved? After all, African states have puchased enough firepower to enable them to sort this affair out, or do these countries spend their their peoples’ cash on armaments as some kind of weird status symbol, rather than for use?

My own opinion is that our troops and firepower should be saved for being sent into trouble torn European destinations on European mandated missions.

Neo-colonialism? No thanks!

FlyingRodent: “Okay, hypothetical intervention in Ivory Coast: will it work, or will it make things worse? … Everything else is bullshit.”
I agree, sort of, although arguments over the principle of humanitarian intervention itself are not bullshit – if you don’t agree with that general principle you should logically oppose all interventions in all foreign countries whether they ‘work’ or not.

But as someone who does think humanitarian military intervention can be legitimate, ‘will it work’ is the question I asked about Libya and I think it’s the question to ask about Ivory Coast too.

My belief is that in Ivory Coast it wouldn’t work. I can’t claim to know huge amounts about the situation, but I get the impression that the fundamental reason for the war in Ivory Coast is the ethnicity of Ouattara and Gbagbo, not their individual actions. It seems substantial numbers of people in the south won’t accept Ouattara’s victory because they view him as a foreigner, and fear he will treat them as foreigners (or worse) if he is President. There’s a similar fear of continued rule by Gbagbo on the other side, and it seems both fears are fairly justified going by the reported massacres.

I can’t see how you could go into such a situation with troops and support anyone – fairly elected or not – without giving the impression of supporting one ethnic group over another. Huge volumes of troops couldn’t stop an interethnic bloodbath in Baghdad (and indeed attacking the foreign occupation helped the militias doing the ethnic cleansing to gain popular support they might not otherwise have had). I see no reason to believe we would fare any better in Abidjan.

I disagree about Libya because I think intervention is likely to have a substantial net positive effect in Libya. I also can’t see how you can say at this early stage that the intervention has “gone tits up”, given the continuing defections from Gaddafi’s inner circle.

Kristof:

Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?

That sounds more like ‘International Triage‘ than ‘Responsibility to Protect’ – and it still leaves open the question of the grounds or criteria for acting/intervening/bombing campaigns/whatever. But then we went through all this when the protests started in Bahrain.

14. Planeshift

“The Arab League seemed to want some kind of intervention in Libya”

I doubt they did. They were probably persuaded by “you say publically you back us over Libya, and we won’t do a thing regarding how you treat your own protests”.

The initial reaction to air strikes in libya was to brutally supress protests whilst the western media had its extremely limited attention span elsewhere.

Its also one reason why I moved from about 80/20 in favour of the libyan war, to about 60/40. If the price we’ve paid for getting Arab league support for Libya is giving them a green light to suppress protests then it hasn’t been worth it.

I can’t phrase it any better than FlyingRodent.

One additional point is the irritating trope that usually features in these discussions: there was no intervention in Rwanda so things went really badly. This simply isn’t true. There was Western intervention but it’s conveniently forgotten for the purpose of these discussions because it was the wrong type of intervention. The Western powers that did intervene did it to, surprise, surprise, protect and advance their perceived national interests rather than act as a hypothetical, benevolent external force deploying military might to defeat the bad guys and save lives.

Perhaps this has passed you by but Western intervention in sub-Saharan Africa has a really astonishingly bad track record. It beggars belief that self-declared liberals still think stuff like this has any merit at all.

On the other hand, I suppose some people think that the African States are incapable of sorting out the affairs of Africa, and this would be better done by The Great White Master who always knows best.

“It seems substantial numbers of people in the south won’t accept Ouattara’s victory because they view him as a foreigner, and fear he will treat them as foreigners (or worse) if he is President. There’s a similar fear of continued rule by Gbagbo on the other side, and it seems both fears are fairly justified going by the reported massacres.”

This is the key issue, and it has been clear for almost 10 years that elections (on their own) would not be enough. The tension between the supporters of the two parties is linked to their areas of origin but is relatively recent (starting with crises in the cocoa industry and then manipulated by various politicians).

18. Sunder Katwala

The issue is about the nature of UN-authorised intervention by the best placed regional and multilateral actors to bring about an effective and legitimate outcome

The responses are about “western intervention”

The intervention being supported is what Ecowas have called for – a strengthening of the UN mandate for the current peacekeeping force, to support the political strategy to secure the removal of the democratically defeated President. This has been Ecowas and African Union led. (The IoS complained that there was insufficient backing in Washington, London and Paris for this. There may be something in that, though it was a very sketchy piece, and France has been significantly involved supporting regional players).

Against jungle@12, I think the UN and the African Union are right to see a very important international interest in upholding legitimate democratic outcomes in African elections. (Quite how tim@1 “Sovereign nations, none of our business, picking sides in tribal/civil wars, colonial legacies, neo-imperialism, imposing western values, so-called democracy and all the rest” are supposed to form an objection to democratic governments and citizens supporting the UN, African Union, Ecowas and the vote of Ivorians themselves? In any event, that is an equally good objection to any form of international solidarity against apartheid South Africa or the Burmese Junta).

@ 14.

That doesn’t change things really does It? If the Arab League were only pratting about in order to distract attention away from their nastly little internal repressions in other states, then we shouldn’t have got involved.

If on the other hand, they were genuine, then they could have done it themselves with all their expensive hardware – and we still shouldn’t have got involved.

If the latter had been the case however, they would have had to stop their armed forces from shooting protesters in their own countries and send them off to Libya where Ghaddafi’s loyalists would have returned fire – a tough choice for a fat sheikh guarding his ill gotten gains?

@ 18.

Funny, I don’t remember any internationally mandated NFZ, or other military action for that matter over South Africa during the apartheid era, nor do I see any similar action over Burma now.

There is a world of difference between boycotts and bullets – as you would know if you’d ever fired an M16 or an AK47.

Chickenhawks really sicken me!

21. FlyingRodent

@Soru Yes, but the question is on what scales that is judged. For example, you say Libya ‘went tits up’. That in a situation where in the judgement of most experts large numbers of lives were saved, and Gadaffi is having to negotiate some kind of deal for the future of the country.

That’s certainly one way of putting it. Another would be to say that Nato has just jumped into a civil war with no plan at all, and now faces the prospect of indefinitely patrolling a partitioned warzone with little prospect of a settled outcome in the foreseeable future at best. What will Libya look like next year, or in fifty years? Exactly how high is the bodycount going to go? We have no idea and we’ll thank you not to ask.

And now the CIA are going in and there’s talk of sending guns and ammo to a tacked-together militia that doesn’t appear to be able to fight either aggressively or defensively and struggles to control its own territory; that may or may not contain significant Jihadist elements; that Nato have just had to sternly rebuke about artillery attacks on and executions of civilians. All that before Nato warplanes bombed a lot of them to death.

What does all this mean for international law? How long do we intend to babysit a civil war? What’s the situation for people on the ground there, in rebel and loyal territory? We’ll thank you not to ask that either, if you don’t mind.

That is what I mean by “tits up”. It seems a fair summary to me but hey, we’re probably going to have a long time to reassess that situation. “Six months”, according to the RAF, but I suspect that the word “decades” might be more appropriate.

Flying Rodent – I don’t disagree with you, other than the bit about Libya.

How have you come to the conclusion that Libya is already over? It was never going to be clean, but it seems to be Gaddafi is now more willing to negotiate something than ever before. How is that a complete failure?

l, and now faces the prospect of indefinitely patrolling a partitioned warzone with little prospect of a settled outcome in the foreseeable future at best.

Errr, that was the whole point wasn’t it? Or you want them to put boots on the ground? (I don’t).

Do you think no pressure has been put on Gaddafi since the NFZ?
Do you not think that lives of Libyan rebels have been saved?

Is the guy going to last longer than a year? I highly doubt it. He’s old and he doesn’t have the firepower / capacity, nor the support from others.

24. FlyingRodent

How have you come to the conclusion that Libya is already over?

My whole point is that it isn’t over, not by a long chalk. The possibility still exists for some kind of return to an uneasy peace, but that’s going to be down to luck and I can see no way in which Nato can positively push things in that direction. The possibility of an extended period of extremely violent instability also exists, not to mention – God forbid – the chance of some really bloodcurdling insurgent warfare. That too is in the lap of the Gods.

How is that a complete failure?

It’s not a failure. It’s a terrifying clusterfuck with unforeseeable consequences and all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best. It could yet turn out well, stay at stalemate indefinitely or utterly melt down.

Myself and others were warning that this was likely back when you were talking up a No-Fly Zone and finger-wagging us for comparing the push for intervention in Libya to the build-up towards invading Iraq. Libya is not Iraq, you said, while warning us we sounded suspiciously far-lefty. Not yet, it isn’t.

25. FlyingRodent

Errr, that was the whole point wasn’t it? Or you want them to put boots on the ground?

If that’s the case, you do have to wonder why Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron have all called so loudly for Gaddafi to step down and flee into exile. I don’t recall anyone proposing military stalemate, perpetual airstrikes and continued artillery fire as a positive solution.

Do you not think that lives of Libyan rebels have been saved?

Yes. Now comes the hard part – history doesn’t stop when a bunch of Europeans and Americans decide it that it should.

Is the guy going to last longer than a year? I highly doubt it. He’s old and he doesn’t have the firepower / capacity, nor the support from others.

This is eerily reminiscent of the people who predicted that catching Saddam Hussein would cause the Iraqi insurgency to die down, isn’t it? Countries are always more complex than this – decapitation is unlikely to be decisive, I’d have thought. There are a whole range of people in Libya with Big Ideas for What Should Be Done, and I strongly suspect that quite a few of them might be thinking of rather more decisive measures than, say, proportional representation or improvements to transport infrastructure.

Well. Now get to find out.

@ 24

Myself and others were warning that this was likely back when you were talking up a No-Fly Zone and finger-wagging us for comparing the push for intervention in Libya to the build-up towards invading Iraq. Libya is not Iraq, you said, while warning us we sounded suspiciously far-lefty. Not yet, it isn’t.

Spot on.

And where is Rupert Read by the way? I loved the way that he called for an NFZ calling it a “nonviolent” option, not to mention the way he questioned why SAS troopers had entered Libya in a clandestine way, clearly without understanding that their main job is to target and mark ground installations for destruction by aircraft. That’s why they’re called the Special AIR Service.

How can a Labour activist possibly even consider action against your fellow socialists in the Ivorian Popular Front, so ably led by Laurent Gbagbo ?

Were they not your allies, as fellow-members of the Socialist International, until just two weeks ago, when they were summarily expelled, contrary to the constitution of the International, which requires a two-thirds vote in Congress ?

The Socialist International seems to be tearing up its own rule book, having also summarily expelled your fraternal comrades in the ruling parties of Egypt and Tunisia, at a time of attacks on their lawfully-constituted governments by the agents of international capital and Western imperialism.

Quite how tim@1 “Sovereign nations, none of our business, picking sides in tribal/civil wars, colonial legacies, neo-imperialism, imposing western values, so-called democracy and all the rest” are supposed to form an objection to democratic governments and citizens supporting the UN, African Union, Ecowas and the vote of Ivorians themselves? In any event, that is an equally good objection to any form of international solidarity against apartheid South Africa or the Burmese Junta

All the arguments I listed were and are still being deployed in one form or another against intervention in Libya. To the extent that they are valid arguments, they are equally valid in terms of the Cote d’Ivoire. I don’t agree with them, of course, but that’s not the point.

29. Planeshift

“f that’s the case, you do have to wonder why Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron have all called so loudly for Gaddafi to step down and flee into exile.”

Probably because they were caught off guard by the uprising, and thinking it was part of the wider north african revolts, thought it would succeed. So they expressed delight at it, called for Gadaffi for go, and then were left red faced by having backed the wrong Horse.

But I’m not sure whether the option of continuing to sell arms to him, or worse (if Berlesconi had got his way we’d now be backing Gaddaffi and regarding the rebellion as an Islamic insurgency) is any better than what we are now doing. I’m also not convinced the Chinese policy of regarding these matters as purely internal things which we never say or do anything about is a policy I would advocate.

Just my 2c. My big issue with this piece is the intellectually dishonest use of the euphemism “intervention.” Côte d’Ivoire (and perhaps those shilling for military action should learn the name of the country) has had lots of “engagement” from the outside world. Since the end of the first civil war (in 2004) There have been UN resolutions and a UN peace-keeping force, so the situation in the country is hardly a new issue, except perhaps to muscular Liberal’s with an argument to win.

If Sundar means by “intervention” air strikes, it would be instructive if he would say so. We could then discuss who exactly he is suggesting is bombed, the city of Abidjan were the government is based? or the militias advancing on the city who appear to be massacring civilians on the way?

I’d suggest that any serious thought about Côte d’Ivoire would lead to a conclusion that air strikes by NATO, or whomever the author imagines will be dropping the ordinance, don’t appear to be the simple solution he suggests. However of course we have got used to the total lack of seriousness sections of our “Liberal left” possess when it comes to the rhetorical deployment of the dogs of war.

‘Exactly how high is the bodycount going to go?’

Well, obviously that is never going to be known, for any conceivable intervention (or non-intervention). So another group that would judge things as already failed is those who have a preference for an almost certainly high number against a low but uncertain one.

You might think that is an eccentric preference, but it is pretty common for anyone following news coverage without thinking things through too much. For example, the nuclear disaster in Japan may or may not kill end up killing some people. The tsunami definitely killed a well-defined number, maybe not known in precise detail but well above the point things become ‘just a statistic’.

So no surprise what the coverage focuses on.

I’m always amazed at how much FlyingRodent can say without saying anything at all – and extremely surprised that cursewords are off the cards at the moment.

Instead of whataboutery, you’ve committed the other major sin: sliding doors-ery. That’s right folks, sliding doors-ery, tell your friends.

It’s when someone believes they know from a series of actions that the alternative (in this case no intervention in Libya at all) would have been better.

For matters such as these I look at the merits of intervention itself, as well as the actors involved.

Firstly, how humanitarian is this venture actually? As for Libya, all diplomatic history considered, this looked genuinely humanitarian.

Secondly, based on what the NFZ actually is, how effective would it be? Since Gaddafi was most powerful in the air, curbing this power would surely prove pretty effective in averting crisis.

Further questions (like “why Libya and not anywhere else?” – for which I tend to agree with the likes of Nicolas Kristof – or “would the NFZ bring the Gaddafi regime down?” – which, if not, I would question the success of the counter-revolutionary efforts of the current regime rather than dismiss NFZs out of hand) come later.

I think, FlyingRodent, in your comment (#3) you’ve focused less upon how effective the counter-revolution in Libya has been at subverting the NFZ (for most of us this intervention was about proportionality, and not about equipping an army for an unjust, disproportionate war against Gaddafi, for which there are far more effective means, such as jawbreaker tactics) and more about how anything other than instant success fits your criteria for failure.

Thank goodness you’re not in charge.

33. FlyingRodent

Thank goodness you’re not in charge.

Ho ho, yes. Given the lead balloon-esque way in which my recent advice that people stop and think about the practical limits of force before charging into very complex and fluid warzones have been received, I don’t think there’s much chance of that any time soon.

I would’ve thought that most of what I’ve been saying would be uncontroversial – that warplanes are very unlikely to fix Libya; that no matter how bad things are, there’s always a frighteningly high probability that us screwing around with things we don’t understand might make things much, much worse; that actual reality rarely reflects the rosy enthusiasms of cheerleaders and hacks.

sliding doors-ery: when someone believes they know from a series of actions that the alternative (in this case no intervention in Libya at all) would have been better.

Let me get this straight – many people advised long before Nato started bombing that we needed to think very carefully about the practical utility of airstrikes, and about probable complications and alarming, uncertain outcomes. Now that the RAF are warning that this complicated, alarming and uncertain situation may not be resolved for at least half a year and that the practical utility of airstrikes have been – yet again! – rendered embarrassingly apparent, I’m guilty of something or other.

Whatever, dawg. Somehow, I suspect that the next stage is the “How could invading Iraq have been a bad idea, look at all these evil terrorists in Iraq” stuff that was so popular just five short years ago.

– actual reality rarely reflects the rosy enthusiasms of cheerleaders and hacks –

I suppose that’s why those of us who supported the NFZ, supported the NFZ, and didn’t say “let the planes just get on with it, I support that really”.

There was nothing impossible about setting a NFZ, nor was there any rosiness from its enthusiasts.

– Now that the RAF are warning that this complicated, alarming and uncertain situation may not be resolved for at least half a year and that the practical utility of airstrikes have been – yet again! – rendered embarrassingly apparent, I’m guilty of something or other –

The effectiveness of a NFZ in smooth, uncomplicated conditions – i.e. to the book – would prove to be very effective indeed for the proportionality of the fighting and attempt to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. What you are guilty of is supposing that the NFZ is bad in itself since it hasn’t brought about immediate, obvious results, when in fact this is a complicated operation.

In short, a NFZ has not been a failure in Libya because it’s a complicated mission.

Somehow, I suspect that the next stage is the “How could invading Iraq have been a bad idea, look at all these evil terrorists in Iraq” stuff that was so popular just five short years ago.

No idea what this means, dawg.

but that’s going to be down to luck and I can see no way in which Nato can positively push things in that direction.

rm, yes… welcome to reality. Shit can go wrong and we don’t know how Gaddafi will react going forward, nor how lucky the Libyan rebels will go.

sorry, did anyone actually arguing for a NFZ lay out a concrete prediction of events? Could you point this out somewhere?

I’m with Carl on this Flying Rodent. You’re just ranting here and creating strawmen so you can knock them down in your typical rhetorical flourishes.

, and I strongly suspect that quite a few of them might be thinking of rather more decisive measures than, say, proportional representation or improvements to transport infrastructure.

Hmm, yes. Because when I wrote my article for the NFZ, I confidently predicted a PR system by next year.

and think about the practical limits of force before charging into very complex and fluid warzones have been received

FFS Flying rodent – who said this was going to be easy? Anyone? You’re the only genius around here who confidently predicted this was going to be complicated?

How about you offer some arguments we can debate rather than some froth?

“FFS Flying rodent – who said this was going to be easy?”

Care to point us to the post were you said this would be dangerous, complicated and inconclusive?

Thought not.

‘Thought not’ – well you certainly seemed to have made up your mind before allowing me to respond.

We published several articles on Libya here, many of them sceptical and saying that it would be tricky. To pretend that our editorial line was this would be a walkover is laughable.

I also linked several times to this piece by Juan Cole that summed up my thoughts.
http://www.juancole.com/2011/03/an-open-letter-to-the-left-on-libya.html

and I strongly suspect that quite a few of them might be thinking of rather more decisive measures than, say, proportional representation or improvements to transport infrastructure.

LOL – a possible no2AV campaign in the making:

This Libyan rebel fighter doesn’t need the burns caused by Russian chemical weapons treated, he needs a disproportional voting system that fields candidates relatively few actually voted for.

” burns caused by Russian chemical weapons”

And Carl continues the Iraq war nostalgia theme by inventing fake weapons of mass destruction.

Ah the memories, well for some of us for Carl and Sunny, oh the forgetteries.

“We published several articles on Libya here, many of them sceptical and saying that it would be tricky. ”

Got a link to any of those pieces? The article by Juan Cole fails to mention the words “skeptical” “tricky” or “not a walkover” so I don’t see how it can be “echoing your thoughts” on any of those points.

Thanks Don, that’s is clear now the “editorial line” of the site was that it was always against bombing Libya. Glad that has been cleared up.

Thanks Don, that’s is clear now the “editorial line” of the site was that it was always against bombing Libya

There’s never a one “editorial line” of this site. Flying Rodent is also a contributor here.

The article by Juan Cole fails to mention the words “skeptical” “tricky” or “not a walkover” so I don’t see how it can be “echoing your thoughts” on any of those points.

you know what, I’m going to leave it to others to judge how perceptive you are.

45. Mr S. Pill

Being massively on the fence with regards to Libya I think it’s a virtue of LC that it has published articles both for and against intervention. I see no reason why a site that has a plurality of voices should speak with only one when discussing such an important issue.
As for the Ivory Coast, I think Bob B made a good point upthread – why not mention every other war zone that we could intervene in? I won’t pretend to have any answers.

James: Would I lie to you?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8353787/Libya-mustard-gas-most-potent-chemical-weapon.html

http://www.fas.org/news/libya/900308-131465.htm

There are videos on YouTube with victims of possible chemical – but I’ll let you look for them.

Hello Sunny, you’ll note I put “editorial line”in quotes, as it is a quote from you on this very thread. “To pretend that our editorial line was this would be a walkover is laughable.”

So now I am confused, you have an editorial line that said that or as you just said there is “never a one “editorial line”

Which would it be?

An article from the Telegraph Carl?

I have one too.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/1360092/Saddam-moves-chemical-weapons-factories-into-no-go-zone.html

You might not “lie to me Carl” but the Telegraph most certainly would.

James:

No one is any doubt that Gaddafi has chemicals, but two things may stop him:

1) Libya officially acceeded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in June 2004.

2) His sons, optimistic that they’ll take over Libya when Gaddafi wins (their optimism, not mine), might urge their Dad not to use chemical weapons, no matter how desperate, because they are too obvious.

3) The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have said that Gaddafi has 9.5 tonnes of mustard gas, but it is “unlikely that the country retained the missiles to deliver it.”

As for the Telegraph, I do apologies, you can never trust these Tory hacks, under *any* circumstance. But Channel 4 ones?

http://www.channel4.com/news/libya-could-gaddafi-use-chemical-weapons

Do you have a channel 4 article that says Saddam had chemical weapons?

ha ha – of course I mean three things – capitalise on that error and I’ll send round the boys

You forgot to add 4. Carl, “Due to the stunning success of the NATO action in Libya”

At least we’re backing the goodies in Libya right? Right?

53. NeoCon Clegg

Is my memory going or have people already forgotten that Blair and his acolytes used the “are you going happy to let Iraqi’s die at the hands of Saddam” as one of his many excuses ? If you don’t want this compared to Iraq stop using the same kind of wafer thin arguments Blair was so fond of.

Nobody sane is happy to see civilians die in Libya or the Ivory Coast but the public have noticed that the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the likes of Syria and Bahrain get very different responses than the creeping regime change in Libya.

Gaddafi isn’t going anywhere and the approx. 3000 rebels aren’t about to march on Tripoli any time soon. Arming them would be signalling loudly and clearly the UK, US and France are taking sides in a civil war. Cameron said nothing about this in the commons debate and the U.N. resolution doesn’t cover it as hours after NATO took over the Libyan operations, the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen laid out the goals: to protect the Libyan people, not to arm them.

This is the stalemate everyone warned of and Gaddafi didn’t survive this long to throw in the towel at the first defection and ‘rumours’ of his regime collapsing.
If he does I’ll be more than pleasantly surprised, but it’s more likely he’s playing games. He’s playing for time and time is on his side since he controls the oil towns and this is about oil and always was.

Bagbo has been blaming the French and International community since the election and uses them to justify his abhorrent actions just as much as Gaddafi is now shouting across his TV about ‘western crusaders’.

Wanting to stop a possible slaughter is not the same as approving of yet another regime change and never ending quagmire in the middle east. Those who support the Libyan military action had better realise that Cameron is surrounded by NeoCons like Gove and Osborne and he’s using you every bit as much as he uses Clegg to pacify and silence those remaining Lib Dems with a conscience.

54. flyingrodent

@Carl What you are guilty of is supposing that the NFZ is bad in itself since it hasn’t brought about immediate, obvious results, when in fact this is a complicated operation… a NFZ has not been a failure in Libya because it’s a complicated mission.

I’m at a loss to explain this. I’ve said – repeatedly – that the problem here is that Nato charged in, bombs flying, without any serious thought or planning. A good number of us have raised lots of serious potential problems with this operation in various places, including here…

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/03/10/if-libyan-rebels-want-it-why-arent-we-calling-for-a-no-fly-zone-too/

…Largely along the lines that civil wars are an extremely complex business fraught with serious, unforeseeable political, military and diplomatic problems. At the time, we were variously told by different people that a) The rebels have asked for help, ergo “the arguments against helping them fall apart”; that b) Raising this huge, highly problematic complexity is fringe, wacky politics worthy of the dreaded SWP and counselling and that c) Only bastards who are indifferent to suffering would object.

These three points nearly the totality of the arguments raised with me by pro-NFZ types, who actively and stridently rejected the issue of unintended consequences. Now that the mission has turned out to be ferociously complex and fraught with unforeseeable danger… I’m being ticked off because, like, war is complicated and fraught with foreseeable danger!

No shit it is.

@Sunny: sorry, did anyone actually arguing for a NFZ lay out a concrete prediction of events?

No, nobody even tried, not even the damn government, and that was and is exactly the problem. We asked lots of questions about planning or even reasonable predictions, and all we got were windy declarations of solidarity and dark hints that opposing intervention was some kind of unacceptable extremist demagoguery.

Do you guys have any idea how annoying it is that you’re now accepting and repeating the very points that the pro-NFZ people were openly mocking weeks ago, and are basically using it to take the piss as if I was some kind of appallingly naive perfectionist? I just about facepalmed my jawbone off when I saw this.

@James #51 – Nope, no I didn’t.

@FlyingRodent #54 – ?

In the news on Monday night:

“(Reuters) – The latest violence in Yemen in which police and armed men shot at anti-government protesters in the cities of Taiz and Hudaida is ‘appalling,’ U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.”
http://news.google.co.uk/nwshp?hl=en&tab=wn

Obviously, we must immediately intervene in the Yemen as well as the Ivory Coast. Right??

@1

Surely opponents of the Libyan intervention (which makes it sound like a Len Deighton novel) would be equally, and consistently, opposed to a Cote d’Ivoire intervention.

Yes.

59. Sunder Katwala

There have now been what sound like very limited air strikes, which the UN says are aimed at reducing the Gbagbo regime’s ability to attack the UN peacekeeping forces and Ivorian civilians
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/cotedivoire/8427846/Ivory-Coast-United-Nations-launch-air-strikes-on-Laurent-Gbagbo.html

“Hamadou Toure, the UN’s chief spokesman in Ivory Coast, told The Daily Telegraph the UN had struck two military camps controlled by Mr Gbagbo along with the presidential palace and his residence.
He declined to say what weapons were being used, but stressed that care was being taken to ensure civilians were not being harmed. “We are engaged in neutralising the heavy weapons that Mr Gbagbo’s special forces have been using for the last few months against civilians and our forces,” he said.
“Despite all our warnings and alerts, they kept using these heavy weapons against us. What we are doing is in line with our mandate and in line with resolution 1975 adopted last week. Our mandate is protect innocent lives and that is what we are doing.”

***

This is what Ecowas asked the UN Security Council for in March – that the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast should have the powers “to protect life and property and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr Alassane Ouattara” – ideally in an attempt to broker a political departure. These proposals from the International Crisis Group backing the Ecowas resolution seemed to me to be a sensible and proportionate response to an election loser mounting a constitutional coup by force of arms, and exacerbating an enormous humanitarian refugee crisis

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2011/open-letter-unsc-cote-divoire.aspx

“With Côte d’Ivoire on its agenda for the last nine years and a strong peacekeeping mission (UNOCI) in the country, currently including 9000 uniformed personnel, the UN Security Council must immediately take appropriate measures to stop the war, including those requested by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in its resolution adopted on 24 March. Failure to do so risks seeing the Ivorian crisis spiral further out of control, destabilising Côte d’Ivoire’s fragile neighbours, Liberia and Guinea-Conakry.

It should, moreover, support the diplomatic efforts of the African Union and ECOWAS. Once named, the High Representative appointed by the president of the AU Commission should offer a last chance to defeated president Laurent Gbagbo and his entourage to leave power under appropriate financial and security guarantees. This is still the best way out of the crisis.

However, since Gbagbo may still reject any offer, the Security Council should immediately authorise military action to ensure the protection of the population by UNOCI or other authorised forces and to support President Alassane Ouattara and his government in exercising authority over the armed forces and ensuring the territorial integrity of the state”.

60. Sunder Katwala

The “unimpressive editorial” was falsely attributed to the Independent on Sunday.

It appeared in Saturday’s Independent. Apologies for the mistake.

John Rentoul comments [at Next Left] in defence of the IoS that:

“Excuse me: that leading article was in The Independent, not The Independent on Sunday. The Independent on Sunday took if anything a stronger line against the Iraq war than its daily sister, and last year was the only national newspaper to urge the withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan, but it would never base its arguments on “whataboutery”, or what Sadie Smith called the “why should I tidy my bedroom when the world is in such a mess” theory of foreign policy.

61. domestic extremist

“Would those opposing intervention in Libya also do so for Ivory Coast?”

Would those supporting intervention in Libya also do so for Bahrain?

Ah well, now that the idea of “humanitarian intervention” has been successfully rehabilitated from it’s Iraq outing I can now look forward to our intervention in Iran.

63. organic cheeseboard

Sorry Sunder but the piece ultimately fails. It’s not ‘whataboutery’ to ask the following:

Would those supporting intervention in Libya also do so for Bahrain?

My main problem, from day one, with intervention in Libya is that there are a shitload of countries in the world more deserving of such treatment. Including Bahrain and Yemen.

Why is it that there has been absolutely NO clamour for similar intervention in these other countries?

what Sadie Smith called the “why should I tidy my bedroom when the world is in such a mess” theory of foreign policy.

I don’t know what’s more embarassing – the fact that Sadie thought this was funny and clever, or the fact that loads of senior journos and politicians not only think it’s funny but also think it’s a workable analogy for dropping bombs on Libya.

Libya as the UK’s bedroom? wtf? even the fucking PM thought it was lol-tastic.

64. Sunder Katwala

@63 organic cheeseboard

Yes, the central point about whataboutery is that the cases are different.

It is certainly possible to oppose the Libyan intervention and support one in Ivory Coast (and perhaps even to support one in Libya and oppose one in Ivory Coast).

I think it is odd (whataboutery) to oppose a Libyan intervention on grounds of thinking the case stronger in Ivory Coast (or Bahrain) and then to be opposed to UN/Ecowas/African Union interventions (non-military and/or military) in the case cited.

But I accept that is different from having a cogent (non-whataboutery) reason as to why the Libyan intervention won’t work or will do more harm than good. Perhaps you are right that the tone of this piece lost that distinction. But it is worth acknowledging that most supporters of the intervention agree it is problematic and something of a gamble – support was very broad, but very far from certain – but take the on balance view that ‘stalemate is better than slaughter’, as David Miliband put it. (Clearly, the implicit premises here are that there would very likely have been a slaughter, that it was preventable, and the messy outcome that will result from this has more possibility for a local/regional politically brokered outcome than the messy outcome we would have had without this. These are contestable arguments, but they are reasonable ones).

There are tensions in conditions of regional support. Once everybody seems to agree that the Arab League have some kind of de facto political veto over what can happen in Libya, we face the problem that there is then a significant [political] difference between that case and the case of Bahrain. The Arab League may have a different view of Saudi/Bahrain suppression. This might then fail tests like ‘what can prudentially be done that has a chance of success’ so there may be a pragmatic reason for the inconsistency. That may be a regrettable reality. Ditto Chechnya, etc which are often very different cases on prudential/pragmatic grounds – limits to what any multilateral or external actor could achieve through any form of diplomatic or military pressure.

We should support democrats in Bahrain in whatever way we can, and I would certainly advocate not selling arms to the Saudis would be a small symbol of that, but I am not clear what we can do.

However, I feel that it is also the case that citing the Responsibility to Protect in the case of Libya at the UN, and the Arab League tentatively backing that, will at least make the Saudi and Bahrain authorities rather more cautious, certainly in considering options to go on a full scale rampage.

Certainly the Saudis appear to feel very wobbly about the US failure to firmly stand up for Mubarak, and back a crackdown there. The inconsistency charge ought to and will cause important democratic pressure on western governments, so the Saudis would be risking what they see as their key interests and relationships. ‘Business as usual’ would I hope be much more difficult, and it would help if western governments were making it clear there would be major problems to diplomatic and economic relationships.

65. organic cheeseboard

cheers for the cogent reply. and I’m glad that you’re clear about selling arms to these people.

But just to add:

I think it is odd (whataboutery) to oppose a Libyan intervention on grounds of thinking the case stronger in Ivory Coast (or Bahrain) and then to be opposed to UN/Ecowas/African Union interventions (non-military and/or military) in the case cited.

and:

This might then fail tests like ‘what can prudentially be done that has a chance of success’ so there may be a pragmatic reason for the inconsistency.

these are linked, for me. I still find it very odd that there was no similar clamour for action against Bahrain/Yemen at the UN, as there was for action against Libya.

and it really worries me – for your cause, not mine – if pragmatism is even being mentioned by those supporting intervention per se. Because then we’re down, once again, to the idea of more or less arbitrarily singling out countries with weak militaries for attack on humanitarian grounds. Surely that’s a massive problem in ‘responsibility to protect’ – that our responsibility seems to extend as far as people in countries whose militaries we can easily defeat?

you might argue that doing something is better than doing nothing, and that it might urge restraint. But I can’t help wondering about the otherside to that coin – that our enthusiastically signing up to what looks like an easily winnable war will again result in our having to expensively police a stalemate, leaving more dangerous and hostile countries to do whatever the hell they want. I mean, we were sold Iraq partly on the ‘it will act as a deterrent to other hostile nations’ idea, and that went spectacularly badly.

Does anyone else find it the least bit odd that the Arab League’s support leant the intervention an air of legitimacy, despite the fact that the Arab League’s membership are not all that extraordinarily different from a one Mr Gaddafi? Indeed some (namely our good friends the house of Saud) are currently doing what we stopped Gaddafi doing!
But then, as Mr Cameron said when comparing Libya to the UK’s bedroom, we should only intervene when we have a national interest in doing so.

Does anyone else find it the least bit odd that the Arab League’s support leant the intervention an air of legitimacy, despite the fact that the Arab League’s membership are not all that extraordinarily different from a one Mr Gaddafi?

No, I find that perfectly normal. We only notice that the horrible dictators we prop up in resource-rich or otherwise strategically important nations actually are horrible dictators when they’re in danger of falling and we need to make sure that we’re in a position to pick their successors. This is perfectly normal geo-politics, and has been, well… more or less forever. Rest assured, should the House of Saud suffer some terrible calamity which seriously threatens their rule, we’ll suddenly notice that they’re a bunch of bastards too, and loudly announce our enthusiasm for freedom and self-determination for the Saudi people. (As long as we get to pick which Saudi people, obviously.)

Its pretty obvious why Cameron’s intervening in Libya, his desire for a Falklands moment and that lovely oil. But does Britain still have the moral right to intervene wherever it feels like? Did it ever? When and where does it stop? Can we even afford it financially? If you want to find a country with an unelected government making the lives of its weakest citizens sheer hell and shovelling money into the pockets of the rich then you don’t have to look far but no sign of foreign intervention to help the oppressed here.

Very good piece here http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/

YES!

I’m sick to death of people in barely evolved countries ripping each other to pieces over every single thing that ever happens then having the gall to shout for outside intervention from the same ‘evil’, ‘colonial’ Western powers that they otherwise shout abuse, threats and disdain towards.
Often telling them to stay out of other countries affairs!

First they burn the American flag and shout hate and warning to keep out..then..when they’ve slaughtered enough of each other to actually care about they bleat for help from America and the other ‘colonial’ oppressors!

Leave them all to it!
Just like in Libya (a Libya that has seen a HUGE increase in Al Queda activity thanks to the hated Infidels giving them lots of lovely no fly zones and bombardment help!)


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Would those opposing intervention in Libya also do so for Ivory Coast? http://bit.ly/fu85pf

  2. FlyingRodent

    Whenever self-declared liberals demand more war via cursing out anti-war types, I headdesk a little more inside. http://tinyurl.com/4y2rmfr

  3. James Doleman

    @Flying_Rodent http://j.mp/ge8BO5 "The pro-genocide brigade thought Libya was a disaster Just wait till Côte d'Ivoire i"" @sunny_hundal

  4. Justin McKeating

    Apparently because I'm against us bombing Libyan civilians I have to fix Ivory Coast: http://bit.ly/gMvJ0v

  5. Stardust we are

    Would those opposing intervention in Libya also do so for Ivory Coast? | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/dQZC2x

  6. SOCIALIST UNITY » COTE D'IVOIRE: TOO MUCH WESTERN INTERVENTION, NOT TO LITTLE

    […] Sunder Katwala recently argued on the Next Left blog that those who support Western military intervention in Libya should also “support multilateral action [in Côte d’Ivoire] necessary to protect civilians from the immediate threat of massacre, and to support efforts to promote internal political reconstruction”. This led to some debate when an abridged version was reproduced on Liberal Conspiracy. […]

  7. Sebastian

    Would those opposing intervention in Libya also do so for Ivory Coast? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/P0bcrj4, #Libya, #Ivorycoast





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