Shattered illusions

*The war in Libya is destroying the illusions of Europe’s liberal middle class. Think back to how it spokesmen and women talked about international politics in an Oslo or London television studio until only a few months ago, and notice how everything they assumed to be true has turned out to be false.

Nick Cohen, journalist, author, and political commentatorcohen3


They agreed that it was an outrageous breach of international law for America and her allies to overthrow Saddam Hussein – a far worse tyrant than Muammar Gaddafi, incidentally. Now they have a war that meets their demands of “legality,” we discover that they have produced a cruel and dishonest campaign that cannot meet its objectives.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 authorised “all necessary measures” to protect Libyans from the threat of attack.
It all sounded so reasonable. Gaddafi is the world’s longest serving dictator who has subjected his population to 42 years of corruption, oppression and indoctrination. (Imagine having to repeat and pretend to respect for all your adult life the deranged ideas of Gaddafi’s Green Book, which Libyan children had to learn by rote, and you will get some idea of the humiliation he imposed on his people.)
When he threatened his people with massacre, the UN had an anti-totalitarian duty to intervene.
But the UN’s legal authority is treacherous. Those who praise it would be the first to condemn a European judicial system that elevated a lawyer who took bribes from criminals or a communist who hated freedom of speech to the rank of judge, or the EU if it allowed a dictatorship to join the European club.

Unlike the EU, unfortunately, the United Nations is a club without membership rules. On the Security Council sits Russia, aptly described by the US State Department as a “mafia state,” and the representatives of the Chinese Communist Party. Such are the arbiters of international law. And to get them to agree to the action in Libya, Europe, the US and their Arab supporters had to promise not to overthrow the regime or put soldiers on the ground to support the use of air power. We are now in the absurd, but apparently legal, situation where we can offer the rebels air support but not the military units they need to win the war. We cannot target the dictator personally, because his life must be protected while the wretched people of Misurata suffer and die. We may have to live with the fact that Gaddafi will survive – and by clinging on to power give hope to the region’s embattled dictators and depress the morale of their opponents. What is the point of a humanitarian intervention that prolongs the conflict and leaves the abuser of human rights in charge? None that I can see. But apparently it is legal.

Notice something else. Barack Obama was Europe’s candidate in the 2008 election. His victory delighted every liberal I know. I am not mocking them. I would have voted for Obama if I had been an American. But I do not suffer from the illusion that his record on supporting liberation movements from Burma to Iran has been anything other than appalling – one has to go back to Richard Nixon to find an American president so indifferent to the victims of dictatorship. He persists in saying that Ameirca and Nato will intervene in Libyan affairs, but not intervene strongly enough to overthrow the regime.
Washington officials give the strong impression that they are only deploying forces in Libya to help the Europeans, who do indeed have the most to fear from waves of refugees arriving in the continent and building support for far-right parties.

We may have to get used to American indifference and come to terms with the shattering of a third and final illusion. Post-war European prosperity was built under the US security umbrella. We could complain, often with justice, about American policies but we did not have to pay for our defence or fight our own wars. If ever there was trouble with the communist Soviet Union or Milosevic in the Balkans, we could rely on the Yanks. Now America is preparing to bring her legions home. One of the four US brigades in Europe is leaving, and although the Pentagon protests that its commitment to Europe remains strong, the direction the US is heading remains clear. She cannot afford to maintain vast forces in Europe given her budget deficit, and in any case cannot see why she should given that Asia is now at the centre of American interests and Europe is a rich region that can afford to pay for its own armies.

One day Europe will have to fight her own wars and defend her own borders. Although the liberal spokesmen and women in the Oslo and London TV have scoffed at the cowboy Yanks and neo-con aggressors for years, they may miss them when they are gone.

VG, 28/4 – 2011

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