|Egypt’s revolution — why has Libya been so different?|
If there is one thought experiment that liberal supporters of Western military intervention in Libya ruled out of court (even forbade) it was the possibility that there were other social actors and strategies that could seriously affect the outcome of the battle between forces loyal to Gaddafi and the revolutionaries. For days we were told that a “massacre” or even “genocide” was imminent and that it could only averted by giving a vacillating United States some backbone to
start a war help establish a no-fly zone. All considerations of the history of such actions had to be dismissed because of the urgency with which “something must be done” (the “something” meaning only one thing).
Contradictions of the Libyan revolution
No-fly zone achieving what, exactly?
Condemn the Saudi (GCC) invasion of Bahrain, cut ties with both regimes and with Yemen’s Ali Abdallah Saleh — removing also the military aid to his regime. Cancel all military contracts with them.
Allow Benghazi to become an open port for Arab — or other — revolutionary volunteers to join the fight.
So if you’re baffled by how Mr. “Change You Can Believe In” morphed into Mr. “More of the Same,” you shouldn’t really be surprised. George Bush left in disgrace and Barack Obama took his place, but he brought with him a group of foreign policy advisors whose basic world views were not that different from the people they were replacing. I’m not saying their attitudes were identical, but the similarities are probably more important than the areas of disagreement. Most of the U.S. foreign policy establishment has become addicted to empire, it seems, and it doesn’t really matter which party happens to be occupying Pennsylvania Avenue.
So where does this leave us? For starters, Barack Obama now owns not one but two wars. He inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and he chose to escalate instead of withdrawing. Instead of being George Bush’s mismanaged blunder, Afghanistan became “Obama’s War.” And now he’s taken on a second, potentially open-ended military commitment, after no public debate, scant consultation with Congress, without a clear articulation of national interest, and in the face of great public skepticism. Talk about going with a gut instinct.
And even if we are successful, what then? As in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, over forty years of Qaddafi’s erratic and despotic rule have left Libya in very poor shape despite its oil wealth. Apart from some potentially fractious tribes, the country is almost completely lacking in effective national institutions. If Qaddafi goes we will own the place, and we will probably have to do something substantial to rebuild it lest it turn into an exporter of refugees, a breeding ground for criminals, or the sort of terrorist “safe haven” we’re supposedly trying to prevent in Afghanistan.
But the real lesson is what it tells us about America’s inability to resist the temptation to meddle with military power. Because the United States seems so much stronger than a country like Libya, well-intentioned liberal hawks can easily convince themselves that they can use the mailed fist at low cost and without onerous unintended consequences. When you have a big hammer the whole world looks like a nail; when you have thousand of cruise missiles and smart bombs and lots of B-2s and F-18s, the whole world looks like a target set. The United States doesn’t get involved everywhere that despots crack down on rebels (as our limp reaction to the crackdowns in Yemen and Bahrain demonstrate), but lately we always seems to doing this sort of thing somewhere. Even a smart guy like Barack Obama couldn’t keep himself from going abroad in search of a monster to destroy.
|Fissures emerge: abstentions in the Security Council|
>Don’t agree with everything George says, but this is worth watching. Some of his examples are about Britain, but equally apply elsewhere.
The key comparison, at least amongst international lawyers, is with the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, some 800,000 people were killed in a hundred days. If ever there was a moral justification for humanitarian intervention, Rwanda was it. But the “international community” — the United Nations and similar entities* — did the opposite. The UN Security Council failed to authorise the use of force and, when the genocide commenced, did nothing to stop it.
The first conclusion to draw from this is that the international community is not compelled to intervene by morality.
Legal scholars tend to see these situations as a failure of the rule of law, rather than part of a system of international relations that is, by its nature, brutal and full of conflict. As China Mieville describes the argument in Between Equal Rights, “where there is a problem of disorder or violence, it is deemed a failure of law: the main problem about law is that there is not enough of it.” Of course, we all know that the legality of such steps is far from a primary consideration: consider Richard Perle’s brazen admission that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal, indeed that international law had “stood in the way of doing the right thing.” One can only assume, therefore, that “more international law” would actually mean more authority to for military adventures like that in Iraq.
This kind of talk has always meant that international legal thinking has a troubled relationship with the concept of the state. As a law student, I was encouraged to see states as discreet sovereign entities, motivated by a number of factors including, at times, human rights. But these assumptions are clearly out of step with reality. As Mieville concludes: “a world structured around international law cannot be but one of imperialist violence. The chaotic and bloody world around us is the rule of law.” The crisis in Rwanda was something created by the system, not an exception to it. This is why a materialist conception of law, as opposed to an idealist or positivist understanding, is so helpful in these contexts. It encourages us to see the situation as a whole, rather than as discreet problems that require particular solutions.
>SATURDAY JUNE 25 – CENTRAL SYDNEY
9.00 – 9.15
9.15 – 10.45
Plenary 1 – AUSTRALIAN LABORISM
Speaker: Rick Kuhn
Respondents: Geoffrey Robinson and Tad Tietze
10.45 – 11.00
Short morning tea
11 – 12.30
Workshop 1A – MARXISM AND THEOLOGY
Roland Boer: ‘The Religion of Everyday Life’: Capital as Fetish
Tamara Prosic: Orthodox Christian Theology and Social Change
Remy Low: Religion and Revolutionary Praxis: Theologies of liberation in retrospect and prospect
Workshop 1B – READING CAPITAL IN OUR OWN TIME
Tom Barnes: From ‘surplus populations’ to informal labour: Is Capital relevant to class formation in the Global South?
Paul Rubner: Deciphering the Dialectic in Marx’s Capital
Mike Beggs: Zombie Marx and modern economics
1.15 – 2.15
Workshop 2A – SOCIAL CHANGE
Jess Gerrard: Hegemony, Class and Culture
John Pardy: Patterns of schooling in Australia: Toward a historically materialist explanation.
Workshop 2B – TALKING REVOLUTION
Mark Steven: The Silliest Insurrection: On Marxism and the Marx Brothers
David Lockwood: Marxism and the Bourgeois Revolution
2.15 – 3.45
Workshop 3A – MARXISM AND LAW
Jess Whyte: Leaving the ‘Eden of the innate rights of man’: Marx’s Critique of Rights
Richard Bailey: Strategy, rupture, rights: law and resistance in Australian immigration detention
David McInerney: To read and speak the law: Althusser on Montesquieu
Workshop 3B – ACCUMULATION OF VALUE
Marcus Banks: How does workfare produce value?
Humphrey McQueen: Labour time
Ben Reid: Is there Australian Exceptionalism? Scenarios for capital accumulation and crises after the second great contraction
3.45 – 4.15
4.15 – 5.15
Plenary 2 – MARX’S CAPITAL
Speaker: Nicole Pepperell
Respondent: Dave Eden
5.15 – 5.20 Wrap up
As the state election skulks closer, it seems clear the NSW Greens will not be actively campaigning on their Drugs and Harm Minimisation policy in the community or the media. Their silence makes obvious that they have determined to stay mum on the question, despite the policy being one democratically endorsed by the membership after prolonged and lively debates.
This is pretty detrimental at a time when significant public interest questions are being raised about failed “zero tolerance” approaches to drug harm. While this silence is likely out of fear of Daily Telegraph front pages, which have in the past run shock horror claims that “The Greens want heroin sold to children in playgrounds by murderers”, this doesn’t mean it’s either a politically or ethically sensible approach. While gone are the days when pragmatic members would suggest candidates in more conservative electorates hide the party’s position in support of issues like same-s*x marriage and adoption, attempts to similarly conceal what are thought of as controversial parts of the party platform appear here to say.