Response to Juan Cole on Libyan Intervention

by Rich Rubenstein on March 28, 2011 · 1 comment

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Check out Juan Cole’s essay in

An Open Letter to the Left on Libya | Informed Comment.


I respond as follows:

Despite my long-term admiration for Prof. Juan Cole, I find his defense of the US/NATO intervention in Libya vastly disappointing. At least he spares us the usual cant about “no fly zones.” Clearly, the US/NATO attackers are now providing close air support for rebel troops, assaulting retreating Libyan soldiers from the air, and preparing to bombard cities in which Col. Gaddafi commands substantial mass support. But Cole swallows the imperialist line on Gaddafi’s isolation whole. “If the Left opposed intervention,” he avers, “it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people.

”What?? Has Cole taken a poll of “Libya’s workers and poor” to determine this result? Does he believe that the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which has been backed by Britain and the U.S. since 2005, is the authentic representative of the Libyan working class? Or that the rebel groups armed by Saudi Arabia have the masses’ best interests at heart? The rhetorical game he is playing here is that invented by those great leftists, Sarkozy and Cameron: in order to characterize Gaddafi as an isolated figure opposed by the entire population, one implicitly denies that Libya is experiencing a civil war in which BOTH sides command significant mass support.

But the image of the isolated dictator is nothing more than US/NATO propaganda. The case-by-case pragmatism Juan Cole espouses still requires some minimal respect for facts. And calling Gaddafi a “mad dog” does not negate the fact that a great many Libyans consider him their legitimate leader. Nor does it justify equating a possible defeat of the rebel army with a “massacre of civilians.” In a civil war, there are armed forces and civilians on both sides. And there is no evidence in this civil war that either side has committed or wants to commit massacres of civilians.

Above all, what I find most disappointing about the Cole piece is the leftist author’s assumption, again mirroring that of his current Western heroes, that there is nothing to do in this civil conflict but take sides militarily. What about diplomacy? What about conflict resolution? What about Gaddafi’s repeated offers to negotiate with the rebels, which they scornfully rejected when they thought they had him on the run? Does Cole forget that Libya sent diplomats to every European capital and Washington before the UN Security Council vote, and that no Western regime would agree to talk with them?

One would not expect an anti-militarist commentator to adopt the militarists’ favorite excuse for violence — that, having refused to investigate any of the non-violent alternatives, there is no alternative to war. But Cole’s implicit adoption of the “duty to protect” framework apparently blinds him to the realities that there are people to protect on both sides, and, on both sides, people willing to talk peace.

Juan Cole is a persuasive man. Too bad that he persuaded himself to choose sides in somebody else’s civil war. The results are likely to be ghastly for all concerned.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

brian March 29, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Well im disgusted by Juan Cole, the new Cruise missile leftist.
His knowledge of Libya and Gadaffi is woeful…and he seem sunaware that U resolution 1973 does NOT endorse killing people, whether civilians:
russian doctors IN Libya tell it like it is
or libyan soldiers
Meanwhile, lets take a look at Gadaffi:

and the ‘rebels'(aka insurgents)



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