Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Couple of Thoughts Re: Libya

Since the intervention began, I have been having some difficulty figuring out exactly what the imperialist powers think they are going to gain from it. What exactly are their specific goals? One thing is clear: they haven't even attempted to do much in the way of offering a specific set of "official" goals. To be sure, Washington has draped itself in a generalized language of "humanitarian intervention" and has argued that the basic goal is one of preventing slaughter. But that is an imprecise goal at best (how will it be prevented? what are the short and long-run means of doing it?), and, as we know, there is always a massive gap between the "official" and actual foreign policy objectives of Washington. One reason to suspect a gap here is that the imperialist powers have been silent re: the atrocities being visited upon protesters within the pro-imperialist regimes of Yemen and Bahrain. Why? Because they (the U.S. in particular) have a lot to lose if the repressive regimes in those countries are overthrown by democratic movements. Moreover, let us not forget that "Officially", the 2003 Iraq invasion was waged in order to preemptively destroy an "imminent threat" to U.S. national security owing to an alleged stockpile of WMD (which never materialized). The actual goal, however, was strategic and political/economic; the basic task was to pulverize an uncooperative regime and replace it with a structure more favorable to U.S. interests in the region. To say that the invasion had nothing whatsoever to do with the massive oil reserves in Iraq would be ridiculous.

But, as I say, even the "official" justification for intervention in the case of Libya is imprecise and underspecified. It is unclear exactly what the intervening nations, according to their own advertisements, are trying to accomplish, and this is just what has been baffling me of late. I've ventured a couple of guesses as to what might be going on- and I'm firmly convinced of the more general claim that U.S. foreign policy tends to track the strategic interests of the U.S. ruling class. But that more general claim doesn't enable us to simply deduce what's going on here- we need to work back and forth between the general claim and the particulars of this situation in order to reach a suitable conclusion.

So, the case for intervention is unclear, the goals underspecified, the arguments and debates rushed. But rather than be baffled by this (as I've been for the last few days), we should see this as itself significant. We already know that imperialism has nothing to gain by announcing its goals openly. But what we should also have noted by now is that imperialism also has nothing to gain by being specific about even it's "official" goals. The more specific and explicit the goals, the easier it is for criticism to get off the ground since this makes it easier to identify failures or divergences from the stated objectives. It suits the P.R. needs of imperialism far more effectively to offer underspecified, vague goals that can be re-interpreted, massaged, stretched, and spun in various different ways to meet various different legitimating demands. So we should expect that the "official" goals (themselves nothing more than window dressing for power plays) are vague and unclear.

As always, the U.S. is doing its best to spin this as a broad, cooperative effort among many different nations so as to stave off the suspicion, common around the world and true enough, that the U.S. is pursuing narrow strategic interests rather than genuinely humanitarian ones. This is to be expected. But one of the arguments deployed in defense of this P.R. move, which I've been reading everywhere, is that "even the vast majority of the "Arab powers" have signed on to the intervention" so it must be legitimate. But so far as I know, only the UAE and Qatar have signed on in full. They make up 1% of the Arab world population-wise. The Arab League endorsed the no-fly zone, but is already criticizing the intervention. Moreover, Egypt (which has a large army bought and paid-for by the US) is refusing to intervene (a fact that has everything to do with the massive political transformations occurring there in spite of the fact that the military is basically trying its best to preserve the old order).

No comments: