On Libya and liberal interventionism—Mike Marqusee

Missing

Mike Marqusee cuts through much of the liberal confusion over Libya, and explains why such 'liberal' interventions cannot be seen in separation from the economic and geopolitical interests of the countries carrying them out: 

No one proposed a No Fly Zone when Israeli aircraft were pummelling Gaza. Nor did they when the Sri Lankan government killed some 20,000 civilians in its final assault on the LTTE. In Burma condemnation has never been matched by the merest hint of military action, while millions have perished in a war in the Congo financed and armed by western corporations Had the Egyptian army jumped the other way and repressed the uprising, would western powers have treated them as they"re treating the Gaddafi regime? Not a chance. And then there's the flip-flop over Gaddafi himself, from pariah to partner and back again in record time.

"So what?" some will respond. If the western powers are hypocritical and selective, that doesn't mean that in this instance they're wrong. Our guilt elsewhere is not an excuse for failing to protect the innocent in Libya. We cannot cure our governments' double standards with double standards of our own.

But what are these "double-standards of our own"? We don't demand the invasion of Burma or the bombing of Tel Aviv and no one called for NFZs over the townships during the apartheid years. We want an end to western support for repressive regimes everywhere, we stand in solidarity with democratic struggles, but our solidarity is not expressed at the tip of a Cruise missile.

The critical point about the hypocrisy, double-standards and selectivity is that they unveil the real motive forces driving the intervention. And motives here are anything but incidental factors; they guide and shape the intervention and therefore tell us a great deal about its likely impact ...

Liberal interventionists treat great powers as neutral agents, disinterested entities that can be inserted into a situation for a limited purpose and time, like a surgeon's knife. In reality, however, these powers have clear and compelling interests - in Libya as elsewhere - and their deployment of military force will be guided by those interests. In action, western troops are accountable not to the people they're supposed to be protecting but to a chain of command that ends in Washington, London and Paris.

The unleashing of the great military powers undermines the universalism the liberal interventionists claim to honour: outcomes are determined by concentrations of wealth and power remote from the scene of suffering. If we're to build any kind of just, sustainable world order, then we must (at the least) restrain and restrict great powers, not license them to act where and when it's convenient for them.

Or, to put it even more succinctly: 

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland writes that liberal interventionism is "fine in theory" but goes wrong "in practise". I'd suggest that it goes wrong in practise because it's deeply flawed in theory.

Visit mikemarqusee.com to read the article in full. 

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