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Humanitarian Impunity

It’s so brazen that one almost has to admire it. Eight years to the day after the first (Neo-Con) Shock and Awe campaign, against Iraq, Obama and his Neo-Liberal pack of warmongers have unleashed Shock and Awe 2.0, against Libya.

The planes struck again and again: a tank carrier, a dump truck, a tanker, small cars, sport utility vehicles and a bus. Closer to Benghazi, the tanks and missile carriers were blown to pieces as they faced the city. Farther south along the road, many of the tanks seemed to have been retreating, or at least facing the other way.

the allies were striking more targets in and around Tripoli, the capital. More explosions could be seen or heard near the city center, where an international press corps was kept under tight security constraints. Recurring bursts of antiaircraft guns and a prolonged shower of tracers arced over the capital on Sunday night

As if to make this ‘coincidence’ more poignant, sources of commentary that once seemed reliably opposed to (Republican) wars seem to have hopped on the Obama War-bandwagon (eg., Informed Comment, Real News, Mondoweiss, Znet). That’s not so surprising: ‘respectable’ progressives have had quite a bit of practice getting used to Obama’s wars (six and counting now?). Sugaring war up with humanitarian claims seems to get easier with practice.

What I find more distressing is the naivete(?) of some progressive commentators who (admirably) still refuse to join the pro-war crowd. Helena Cobban, for example, offers a pretty solid appraisal of the Libya ‘humanitarian’ intervention …

At a time when U.S. allies Bahrain and Yemen have been cracking down very lethally on internal protesters, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the “western” powers to send their military in to punish Col. Qadhdhafi for doing the same in Libya.
What makes the contrast even more poignant is that in Bahrain, at least– and to a large extent also in Yemen– the protesters restrained their actions to acts of nonviolent mass protest, whereas in Libya from very early on the anti-Qadhdhafi movement took on the full aspect of a military insurrection.

… but she ends her discussion on this note …

In the imagination of some, like Samantha Power and perhaps her boss Barrack Obama, war can be harnessed to worthy humanitarian ends.
Neither Samantha Power nor Barrack Obama has ever, as I have, lived in a war zone. War is quintessentially anti-humanitarian. It visits terrible suffering on children, women, and men– usually for many, many years.

That’s very movingly put, for sure, but why do progressive commentators who are brave enough to refuse to drink the ‘good war’ koolaide continue to cling to the myth of Obama’s (Democrats’) fundamental good intentions? Glenn Greenwald is another brave one. He comments directly on the creepy similarity between justifications for war against Iraq and justifications for war against Libya …

The same faction of war-loving-from-a-safe-distance “hawks” that took the lead in cheering for the attack on Iraq — neocons on the Right and their “liberal interventionist” counterparts in The New Republic/Brookings/Democratic Party officialdom world — are playing the same role here.  And many of the same manipulative rhetorical tactics are now wielded against war opponents:  the Libyan rebels are the new Kurds (they want us to act to protect them!), and just as those who opposed the attack on Iraq were routinely accused of indifference toward if not support for Saddam’s tyranny, those who oppose this intervention are now accused of indifference to Gadaffi’s butchery (as always:  are those refraining from advocating for military intervention in Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or the Sudan or dozens of other places indifferent to the violence and other forms of suffering there?).

… and no one knows more than Greenwald about the wrongdoings of the Obama crowd, but even he appears unwilling to take the next step, of recognizing that one cannot continue to impute good motivations to people who persist in committing grievous wrongs. Arthur Silber calls out such milquetoast righteous dissent …

I can barely tolerate reading most “dissenting” writers at times like this. The Pigfuckers launch their newest assault on decency and humanity, on the sacred value of a single human life, and on civilization itself, and the protesters are all so goddamned, fucking polite.

Silber’s words are harsh, but is war somehow NOT harsh? Don’t good manners have something to do with context?

Silber quotes an axiom from Robert Higgs …

As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent “failed” policies.

When we see policies ‘fail’ over and over, such as purported peacemaking policies, isn’t it time to question the motivations behind such failures? Isn’t it time to recognize that the road to war is paved with purported good intentions?

Of course it’s a good moral principle, an essential moral principle, to try to think the best of other people — even people you can’t understand, even those you depise, even those who horrify you. So, while the warmongers on all sides carving up Libya fill me with loathing, I still recognize my ethical duty to see them all as bearers of the divine spark (even if it’s in ways I can’t understand). But that does NOT mean blithely and sweetly assuming that they surely have the best of intentions, no matter what they do.

Really, how does a Greenwald or a Cobban, a Lobe or a Porter, etc., get off continuing to invoke Obama’s mythical good intentions? Would they, for one moment, consider defending Ghaddafi’s ‘good’ intentions? Of course not – though from an anti-imperialist point of view, at least, you might be able to make a better case for Ghaddafi.

If we cannot, will not, recognize the evil in our own political elites, how can we possibly change them? How can we even mount a coherent argument for change? We can poke a stick here and poke a stick there, but that never builds up to a coherent argument, that is consistent, and that puts things in the context of a larger picture.

Chris Floyd points out another ‘coincidental’ aspect of the timing of the war on Libya …

Ian Patterson notes that the air war unleashed on Libya by the Western powers last week coincides very neatly with the 100th anniversary of the first military air strike — which was launched by a Western power against … Libya. From The London Review of Books:
The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya. It was an attack on Turkish positions in Tripoli. On 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Cavotti of the Italian Air Fleet dropped four two-kilogramme bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane. In the days that followed, several more attacks took place on nearby Arab bases. Some of them, inaugurating a pattern all too familiar in the century since then, fell on a field hospital, at Ain Zara, provoking heated argument in the international press about the ethics of dropping bombs from the air, and what is now known as ‘collateral damage’. (In those days it was called ‘frightfulness’.) The Italians, however, were much cheered by the ‘wonderful moral effect’ of bombing, its capacity to demoralise and panic those on the receiving end.

There’s nothing new under the sun, they say, but those who believe deeply in brutality and in the rule of the few over the many seem to have become as powerful as gods. They can rain death and destruction on anyone anywhere and they barely need an excuse to do it, and if they need an excuse, there’s always a propaganda machinery ready to go into motion. But what’s most amazing to me is …

The fact that anyone takes anything these compulsive, demonstrable liars say at face value, even for a micro-second

Really! But …

how many oceans of newsprint, how many blizzards of pixels have already been spent in earnest disquisitions on the serious import of their statements!

We can’t fight lies if we refuse to see the darkness behind the lies. I know it’s hard to see the darkness in someone like Obama, who seems like such a charming and nice guy, who says such nice things at times, in such measured tones … but the hour is late and the clouds are getting darker, and we need to see.

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