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      A Response to Juan Cole


      Thanks for your frank defense of the intervention, but I think you may be going too far, making your case harder to convey. A few quick responses here: 

      I think most progressives are divided or confused on the Libya situation, given the dangerous consequences of “humanitarian intervention” turning into quagmires or civil wars. Only a few are so flatly anti-imperialist that they oppose anything the U.S. [or “the West”] does in Libya.  

      Since we are ambiguous over whether the initial intervention was justified, and since it’s more than a week old, I think it’s best to focus on these urgent questions:  

      1. Will the intervention keep Qaddafi from massacring thousands in Benghazi?

      The answer is yes.

      2. Will the intervention protect the insurgents on the road west?

      The answer is yes, to an extent.

      3. Should the military intervention target Qaddafi and his troops in areas like Tripoli?

      Here I think the danger of civilian casualties is significant, and air power should be avoided.

      4. Does that mean Quaddafi will stay in power and Libya will be partitioned for a time, with international supervision?

      Yes, it could happen.

      5. Or is the wisest path to allow the contradictions within Tripoli and Quaddafi’s own power base to manifest in some sort of abdication or removal from below and within?

      In other words, the use of U.S. military force to protect civilians in eastern Libya doesn’t mean U.S. military force should be used in cities like Tripoli.

      You of all people have taught us to much about the intricacies of the Middle East and the follies of past interventions. But you seem to be letting your trusted objectivity go out the window when talking about your “unabashed” support of military power against Libya.

      It changes as it goes along, but I think that the peace movement should be in a position of questioning always. The big question for me is to prevent our troops and tax dollars becoming buried in another quagmire; Libya has cost hundreds of millions of dollars already. The second question is whether the popular movement can be supported more effectively by political and diplomatic means as an endgame nears. The third question is how the U.S. should respond to the brutal use of force in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. And perhaps the most important, should there be an immediate rethinking by our establishment and media of the Long War, now that nearly all our allies in the “war on terror” are going down the drain?

      Looking forward to more dialogue.


      With respect,



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      Reader Comments (3)

      Tom-- thoughtful, as always, and nuanced.

      April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Mandell

      Thanks, Tom. It's good to have dialogue on all of this--thanks for your points. I just wanted to note that there is a slight but important misrepresentation above. Nowhere (that I can see) does Juan Cole write that he is "unabashedly supporting military power against Libya." What he says is that he is "unabshedly cheering the liberation movement on" and is also "glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention" has saved that movement from being crushed. It might sound petty, but it is actually an important distinction, particularly if we seek to have real dialogue on this issue. I believe--at least I hope--we are all "unabashedly" supporting the liberation movement. Our support for the UNSC-authorized intervention that seeks to alter the context and tip the balance in which that movement is operating is the issue we are debating. And on that we range from glad to very concerned. I don't think any of us, Cole included, are unabashedly cheering the intervention. Even those of us that are glad about it are really quite conflicted. Creating polarized camps on the left isn't conducive to a dialogue that moves our thought process forward, so I think we need to be extremely careful about how we characterize one another's position with the hope of winning an understanding. After all, with the assault on worker's occuring in the US as I write, this is no time for the left to be fighting. And I believe that Juan Cole's comments were offered in a spirit of winning a unifying understanding. That said, it is too important an issue to not debate it fully.


      Dear Misha,

      Thanks for your note supporting Juan Cole. I don’t think there’s much of a distinction between “unabashedly cheering the liberation movement” [his phrase] and “unabashedly supporting military power against Libya” [mine]. I have questions about “unabashedly” and “cheering”, language that certainly supports military intervention.

      In the last week I have read several documents from Human Rights Watch and had the opportunity to interview some experts in the region with observers on the ground. My views were summarized a few days ago in The Nation.

      Making human rights the primary standard for going to war is a very questionable proposition. By that standard, we should invade China, but that’s not going to happen, which reveals that other factors than human rights are being considered. In Libya, the anti-war movement is divided over whether the US should have bombed to prevent Qaddafi’s troops from killing people in Benghazi, but I think most people share deep deep doubts about an escalation leading to another Western occupation of a Muslim country at an expense we simply cannot afford. There is a remote possibility that a cease-fire can be arranged, sparing Benghazi and Tripoli from massive bloodshed, with Col. Qaddafi leaving the country and an interim administration set up to administer a transition to free elections. Countries such as Turkey, Germany, Brazil, China, etc... might have incentives to step in.

      If you read my writings on The Long War, you will see my concerns that we are undermining our economy, exhausting our military and impairing our civil liberties by these wars.



      April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMisha

      Tom, I am with Juan Cole on this one. Rag tag as they are (kind of like we students in the Sixties, and with as much skill in weapons), the Libyans rebels did ask for our help, which, considering our long and criminal history in intervening/being on the wrong side, is miraculous to me. Intervening to enforce a no-fly zone under UN auspices is okay with me. I only wish we had spoken out more forcefully early in the Egyptian uprising, and I truly wish we would speak much more forcefully to Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, et al. Take care.


      Dear Ellen,

      Not sure what it means to be “with him.” The easy question is whether the U.S. should be bombing to protect Benghazi, but even here the anti-war movement is divided. That aside, do you favor taking whatever military steps as necessary to bring down the Quaddafi regime, no matter the cost and no matter the necessary occupation involved? That may happen, and let me know then how you feel. In the meantime, it’s possible, just possible, to arrange a cease-fire at the outskirts of Benghazi, the negotiated removal of Qaddafi, and an interim procedure leading to elections. The alternative may be bloodbaths in Benghazi and Tripoli, with no stable govt emerging.



      April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Franzen
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