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Libya’s Revolution & Foreign Intervention

by on March 20, 2011

At the very least, the intervention in Libya by the international community has made simple sloganeering  near impossible. The left, who had naturally embraced the Libyan Revolution,  now find themselves fighting to both support the revolution while opposing the foreign intervention that same revolution invited.

As a leftist who protested against wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza, I do not find myself mobilized against military operations in Libya.  This is not out of some new found love for military operations, but out of a desire to see the Libyan Revolution succeed and acknowledging the right of the revolutionaries to request military support they determine to be necessary. They simply can’t free Libya if Benghazi itself faces a similar fate as Grozny.

It would have been preferable if the Libyan Revolutionaries invited some military superpower free of geo-political interests in the region. I fear such a force doesn’t exist. That may explain why the revolutionaries were quick to say they would honor oil contracts made by Gaddafi with multinational oil companies. Such an assurance would ease Western concerns about the ultimate objectives of the revolution. This will hardly satisfy supporters who may want a more profound and meaningful revolution, but the options of the Libyan Revolutionaries are limited with a regime that used live ammunition on unarmed street protesters and funeral processions.

The immediate historical comparison that came to mind was the American Revolutionaries and their alliance with the French absolute monarchy. Those objecting to foreign intervention in Libya might have blasted such a deal between anti-monarchist American Revolutionaries and the French King. They would have correctly pointed to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre committed by the French Monarchy, asking how the Americans could have sided with a brutal, colonial power. But facing such a global superpower as the British Empire, such a tactical alliance was pursued by the American Revolutionaries, forcing the British into a wider war rather than focusing all its might on the rebellious Thirteen Colonies.

It is easy for fellow leftists to make grand denouncements of foreign intervention from the safety of London or New York. Such locations are far from the reach of Gaddafi and his promised revenge that would show “no mercy”. The revolutionaries in Benghazi and across Libya don’t have that luxury. In the early days of the revolution, they proudly insisted their rejection of any foreign intervention. I took pride in that myself, hoping to enjoy from a distance as another regime fell at the hands of its own people. Their desired outcome was to topple Gaddafi on their own, but the reality of Gaddafi’s counter-attack humbled them, and they requested foreign military assistance, something they wouldn’t have asked for if  it wasn’t tactically necessary.

If you support the Libyan Revolutionaries, you should defer to their judgement on requesting foreign military aid to help topple Gaddafi. That doesn’t mean embracing the interventionists who themselves back terrible regimes in Yemen and Bahrain carrying out brutal crackdowns on non-violent protest movements. I’ll remain active in advocating for those protests movements and denouncing the legacy of Western support for brutal regimes across the region. But the Libyan Revolutionaries have made it this far, if we support their movement, we should acknowledge that they’re in the best position to make strategic decisions.

The minute the revolutionaries call off foreign warplanes, my voice will join theirs, demanding the United States and coalition forces comply with that demand. Till then, I’ll hope this risky intervention benefits the Libyan Revolution, allowing it to advance once again as early reports already suggest. I’ll protest any coalition attacks that result in civilian casualties, and I’ll express my continued concern about alleged human rights abuses by rebels. Whether I’ve compromised my leftist values with this stance is for others to determine.

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