Monday, March 28, 2011

Libya: Wrong turn

US President Barack Obama, right, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi pictured during the G8/G5 summit in L'Aquila, Italy Thursday July 9, 2009. (AP Photo/ Michael Gottschalk/Pool)
Who could possibly believe that after Tunisia and then Egypt showed that Arab civil society was capable of disciplined nonviolent regime change in less than three weeks with fewer than 100 mortalities each, that it would be a good idea to use violence in Libya?

Oh, Obama, I guess. Since the Arab Street had so successfully outflanked the war system, apparently the Libyan Arab Street needed to be derailed and brought back to the place where we can properly stereotype it as rabidly violent and undisciplined. Nice going, Obomber.

The conflict industry seems to generally panic at the use of nonviolent civil society resistance, especially when it's massive and persistent. And even some of the so-called peace people jump to call for violence in these cases, despite overwhelming evidence that violence is simply not the solution.

Some colleagues in peace education actually supported a no-fly zone. This example of analytical deficit is disappointing at best; who do we think enforces a no-fly zone? How is it enforced? Who benefits and who dies? The answers lead straight back to the problem of violence. It always sounds cleaner and clearer on paper and from the talking heads than it looks like on the ledger sheets of human profit and loss after the fact.

Others actually believe the rebels need armed support. How do you make nonviolent resistance irrelevant and nonexistent? Ramp up violence. If the US wants to show that the terrorists are actually correct, we should make sure we pour arms into a conflict in Muslim lands and, just to make sure all Muslims get it, we should send in pilots in war birds to bomb.

Naturally, more and more Libyans will take advantage of the 'help' offered by Obama and they will mostly do so in one of two ways.

Al Qa'ida types will use US military involvement to rally Muslims of all nations in opposition. This may not seem logical to Americans, but watch. It's just what will happen. We are once again the hated Crusaders, thanks to Obama.

Gadafi will use this to solidify his own power. He will be the champion of his people, standing up to the Washington bully. He is once again the brave leader, thanks to Obama.

We are now conducting massive violence that is making the armed rebellion more protracted, giving it hope, calling its bluff, and thereby ensuring it will end with more dead and wounded than if the armed revolt had simply been crushed or deterred promptly.

Is our Bomber-in-Chief mad? Stupid? Evil? No, just beholden and uncreative. He owes his power and position to forces that represent not democracy but an oligarchy that profits from the war system. This is the lobbying power that selects its puppets from amongst the most charismatic yet malleable, and, sadly, the independent aura cast by Barack Obama in 2008 is revealed again and again to be the chimera of the new millennium. Yes, he's smart. And basically sane and probably genuinely if superficially nice. But getting elected to the presidency of the US probably also requires more moral flexibility than anyone with a strong conscience can muster.

Perhaps we will see the best outcome of the current spiked levels of polarized incivility in Washington DC and our government will shut down. When Obama was slow to respond to the nonviolent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, it gave nonviolence a chance to succeed in an environment much more untainted by external meddling. Egyptian revolutionaries were free to embrace and thereby coopt and defang their own military. I know it's a pipe dream, but I fantasize about a long government shutdown that leads us out of so many violent conflicts. We are, after all, by far the largest arms dealer in the world. Close it down and violence might take some time off. We can dream.

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