Congress and the Libya war: Orwellian logic on both sides
The House of Representatives on June 24 voted 295-123 against a resolution authorizing US participation in the NATO campaign in Libya, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama's decision to wage war without congressional approval. In the face of opposition from conservative Republicans and anti-war Democrats alike, the White House has maintained the Orwellian position that the bombing campaign does not constitute "hostilities" and therefore does not fall under the purview of the War Powers Resolution.
Ignoring the dangerous precedent that Obama's actions set for precisely the kind of imperial presidency that Democrats legitimately feared in Nixon and Bush (and which led to passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973), his friends in Congress struck stay-the-course tones once associated with their Republican rivals. "The message will go to every nation of the world that America does not keep faith with its allies," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (WSJ, June 24)
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, with its own imperial ambitions in Africa, lashed out at Washington in similar terms, while refreshingly dropping the fiction that the NATO campaign is anything other than a war on Qaddafi's regime. "I wouldn't say that the bulk of the work in Libya is being done by our American friends," Sarkozy said in remarks to reporters at a European Union summit in Brussels. "We must continue until Mr. Qaddafi leaves." (WP, June 24)
While the Obama administration happily pretends that there is no war underway, international diplomats have been quietly meeting with Libyan rebel leaders to draw up "detailed plans to rebuild the North African nation's economy and society" after Qaddafi has been removed, the AP reports June 24. Unnamed British diplomats told the AP that a team of officials from the UK, US, Italy, Turkey, Denmark and other nations "has spent several weeks in eastern Libya discussing scenarios with opposition leaders."
Unfortunately, the Orwellian logic infects both sides in this debate. Patrick Cockburn in the The Independent of June 24 writes:
Human rights organisations have cast doubt on claims of mass rape and other abuses perpetrated by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which have been widely used to justify Nato's war in Libya.
Nato leaders, opposition groups and the media have produced a stream of stories since the start of the insurrection on 15 February, claiming the Gaddafi regime has ordered mass rapes, used foreign mercenaries and employed helicopters against civilian protesters.
An investigation by Amnesty International has failed to find evidence for these human rights violations and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.
Whoever wrote the photo caption accompanying the story goes one better, writing, "Amnesty has found no solid evidence of the abuse claims levelled at Gaddafi supporters." Oh really? None of the abuse claims? Why don't we take a look at the Amnesty International website? Oh look, the very first press release there is headlined "Libya: Renewed Rocket Attacks Target Civilians in Misratah." It reads, in part:
Forces loyal to Libyan Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi are once again targeting civilians in Misratah by firing rockets, some containing ball bearings, into the city’s residential areas, Amnesty International said today.
At least three civilians, a 14-year-old boy and two women were killed and several others, including children, were injured in recent days when "Grad" rockets struck their homes in the port city’s residential neighbourhoods.
These rockets are indiscriminate weapons which cannot be directed at a particular target and their use may amount to war crimes.
"Families in Misratah are once again living in fear of being killed as rockets rain down on their homes and it’s impossible for the terrified residents to find safe shelter," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.
So it seems that, contrary to the implication of Cockburn's reportage (and especially The Independent's caption writer), Amnesty has actually verified some of the claims of atrocities being made against Qaddafi. And as we pointed out when the rape claims first surfaced several weeks ago, some of them, alas, seem all too credible.
AlJazeera reports June 21 that in areas of Libya's Western Mountains where indigenous Berber rebels have seized control, they have established radio stations, schools and newspapers in their own language, Amazigh—"that just a few months ago it was illegal to speak." But BBC News reports June 24 that the Berber rebel enclaves in the Western Mountains are "pinned down" by Qaddafi's forces, short of heavy weapons, and are asking "NATO to do more."
Ignoring this reality does not serve the anti-intervention cause—it just makes it look dishonest.
Patrick Cockburn is actually a small offender in this regard, compared to Glen Greewald, who portrays "regime change" in Libya only as a conspiracy of Western oil companies rather than the aim of the Libyan people in arms. Far worse still is Cynthia McKinney, who has become a (presumably) unpaid propaganda agent of the Qaddafi regime. So anti-war voices have only become more muddled and problematic since the last time we examined the Western left's response to the intervention, when the bombing first started in March.
Is an anti-intervention position that doesn't betray the Libyan rebels possible? We'd like to think so. But frankly, we haven't heard it yet.