Any War But Humanitarian War

Posted on April 18, 2011


I’ve not written much about Libya. But in the days leading up to the UNSC vote, and the growing certainty that the US and NATO would soon  be involved in another Middle Eastern coalition, I did express my shock and surprise in a few places. It’s simply a fantastical notion to me that, engaged in several wars and counter-insurgency actions at once, the US would add another one, with the help of Europe, already trying to put out the flames of its war efforts in it’s own polities. And that this would find any kind of purchase at all within even the liberal community, much less the part of it which is considered “progressive” or “left”.

Well, here we are anyway. It seems obvious to me that we simply can’t afford to be at war anymore, and that several salient arguments against the war thus flow: infrastructure crumbling; economy failing; political figures losing legitimacy; and etc. But oddly, these arguments seem to be getting the least play. Rather, many arguments have gotten mired in the muck of trying to prove that the US has exaggerated the threat to civilians in Libya, while others simply claim that the entire rebellion is a CIA scam.

Some of these arguments are simply doing more harm than good. A recent op ed by Alan Kuperman for example, argues that the Obama administration exaggerated the dangers to civilians in Kadafi’s attacks, and misrepresented Kadafi’s intentions. Kuperman bases his arguments on a  Human Rights Watch report and claims that the report proves that there have been no indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the region of Misrata. In the first place, Kuperman misrepresents the report. He claims:

But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.

But the report clearly states:

Attacks by Libyan government forces in the western city of Misrata have endangered civilians and targeted a medical clinic in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch said today. The assessment is based on interviews with two doctors still in Misrata and 17 wounded civilians recently evacuated from the city, which is largely cut off from the outside world by Libyan government forces.

Kuperman then goes on to two very problematic conclusions based on the “data” in the report. He presents an assumption, that a body count of 250 odd is relatively low in an insurgency situation. Then he goes on to claim that the low number of women among the wounded show that there is no indiscriminate attacks on civilians. These figures hew almost exactly to the numbers of Palestinians killed at the beginning of the second Intifada by Israel in the occupied territories. The ratio of women killed during the Palestinian Intifada is also similar to the ratio of woman injured in Kuperman’s HRW-based analysis, according to Miftah and the Palestinian Red Crescent.

As a Palestinian in Ramallah at the beginning of the Second Intifada, it certainly felt as if the IDF targeted civilians. But on a broader and more important note, those on the left who adopt Kuperman’s argument, will now be caught in a logic trap whenever they speak of indiscriminate killings by the IDF. What would separate the two dynamics? That in one, we hate the Israelis policy, and in the other we hate the American one? Not a very good showing of moral standards or logical capability for the left.

On another note, just two years ago, Kuperman argued for a US attack on Iran’s nuclear research and military facilities, and further suggested that retaliation for that attack [i.e., self-defense] should spur the US to expand it’s bombings, presumably to include, one assumes,  civilian targets.

But there are three compelling reasons that the United States itself should carry out the bombings. First, the Pentagon’s weapons are better than Israel’s at destroying buried facilities. Second, unlike Israel’s relatively small air force, the United States military can discourage Iranian retaliation by threatening to expand the bombing campaign. (Yes, Israel could implicitly threaten nuclear counter-retaliation, but Iran might not perceive that as credible.) Finally, because the American military has global reach, air strikes against Iran would be a strong warning to other would-be proliferators.

Simply, and incredibly, what seemingly bothers Kuperman about the US’s involvement in Libya is that it’s based on a humanitarian pretext. Apparently, all Obama would have to do is provide some doctored evidence of WMD in Libya, and Kuperman would be singing the praises of an extended US bombing campaign.

Surprisingly, Kuperman’s op ed was linked to by such normally brilliant critics of US foreign policy as Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald, though Greenwald mentioned several caveats about Kuperman’s argument.

Louis Proyect at Unrepetant Marxist echoed many of these same arguments, and his article is a much better read than mine. The reference to Kuperman’s Op Ed on Iran must be hat-tipped to him.

PS: There’s no right way to spell Kadafi.