Good, insightful people can have conflicting views about Libya, the Mideast, and North Africa, and the UN and U.S. role there.
Rather than flinging verbal daggers at one another until irretrievable splits permanently part us, can we disagree but also hear others and realize we may not be right? Can we even find a way to pursue the logic of our views, differences and all, in a shared agenda?
To that end, can we agree on some basics to have in mind to test positions against the immense amount we know about U.S. policies, the limited amount we know about events in Libya, and our shared values and commitments?
About the U.S., we know that U.S. foreign policy stems from three highly related sources:
1. Geopolitical, economic, and social interests which in Libya are overwhelmingly dominated by oil and by U.S. ability to coerce regional outcomes toward U.S. agendas.
2. Desires to maintain an ideological facade to ward off dissent by claiming to respect people, law, and justice, even while actually pursuing antihuman, illegal, and unjust acts.
3. Being forced by dissent and activism to do what they would otherwise not do, but then of course seeking to implement the two above points, as well.
About Libya and the region, we know:
1. That the Mideast and North Africa are in turmoil including challenging and even toppling existing relations, in turn potentially affecting regional decisions about oil, Israel, the U.S., etc., and
2. That the internal balance of power varies from country to country, often involving serious repressive obstacles to change.
About our values, we all presumably want:
1. Maximal gain in the quality of life, freedom, and future prospects of people in as many countries as possible, both in the region and elsewhere too, and…
2. That popular movements in Libya and throughout the region have room to enlarge their awareness and demands and to press their cases without suffering extreme repression or even massacre.
Can we agree, therefore, that any U.S. undertaking in Libya – or for that matter anywhere – will have as its intentions virtually zero to do with saving innocents other than as something to claim for purposes of rationalization? And can we agree that U.S. intentions will have everything to do with attaining better results for empire, albeit in a difficult situation where U.S. interests are challenged and may be seriously diminished and where public pressure is limiting U.S. options? And can we agree that we want to aid prospects for oppositions to institute new relations throughout the region?
If we can agree as noted above, wherein lies the basis for dispute?
Some activists will feel that the potential massacre of the opposition in Libya must be avoided at nearly all costs. These activists, even with a full understanding of the dangers inherent in unleashing U.S. military might, see the UN injunction and ensuing intervention as the least harmful real protection and space gaining option for the Libyan opposition.
Other activists will feel, despite their fear for the very survival of the Libyan opposition, that U.S. intervention – and British and French – are so grotesquely motivated that while one could conceive of their spontaneously stopping at merely protecting the opposition, there is no reason to believe that anything like that will happen unless it is forced so that the cost of intervention will be horribly unacceptable including co-opting or subordinating the opposition to U.S. dictates.
The debate could become more nuanced and precise or more polarized and harsh.
Both sides might agree that whether we like it or not, clearly Qaddafi has some support so that this has become a protracted struggle. In that context, one side may say, okay, intervene with a no fly zone and perhaps even some very limited attacks on repressive forces about to strike the opposition to prevent massacre and to level the playing field for Libyans to determine their own future by debate and without violent repression. The other side might say, stay out so that Libyans can determine their own future because greater intervention will in fact generate both greater carnage and also nationalism so great as to trump the true issues of the day and generate only a typical interventionist horror and nationalist reaction, usurping the more creative and far reaching dissident potentials.
Some will qualify the above views one way, some another way. Some will feel strongly one way, others another way. Some will feel they don't know enough to have an opinion about the nuances at all – or perhaps even that no one does.
In the real circumstances that actually pertain, if we can agree to disagree respectfully about other matters, can't we then all also agree that at most limited protection of the opposition should occur and that as little as possible beyond that will be better than escalating intervention, and that in any event actions widening the assault into an interventionist war would be horrific for countless reasons?
And if we can now agree on that much, then whether one wished there had been no intervention at all or liked that it occurred up to a point but wants it to not usurp the opposition's agenda much less plunge the country into interminable occupation and conflict, is actually moot. The universal bottom line now, regardless of one's views about what has happened up until now, would be, even with just this level of agreement, to bring pressure to bear to prevent a widening violent approach by the U.S., Britain, France, et. al., so that Libyans will determine the future of Libya. Disagreements about the past could then take a very distant back seat to unity against wider war in the future.