Armchair Anti-ImperialismArmchair Anti-Imperialism and LibyaForeign Policy in FocusBy Ian Williams, April 4, 2011In the first part of a new FPIF Strategic Dialogue on the Libyan War, Ian Williams argues that the choice is clear: to support the popular uprising and not theunpopular tyrant. See Robert Naiman's anti-intervention argument here.Ian WilliamsIt is a particularly pernicious form of cultural imperialism for comfortable Western leftists to disregard what the actual Tunisians, Libyans, Kosovars, or Bosnians themselves have asked for - intervention to stop “their” rulers killing them. This setting aside of the wishes of people threatened with massacre in favor of Western armchair anti-imperialism is all the more remarkable coming from the left, which once swore by internationalism.The calls to respect national sovereignty echo those of the despots of Africa and other regimes around the world who believe that it
’s nobody’s business what a ruler does in his “own” country. Or even worse, such calls emulate the know-nothing isolationists on the right who do not care what happens to foreigners.The ad-hoc arguments marshaled against the intervention in Libya have included:The unconstitutionality of the president ordering military actionThe expense of military action at a time of cutsThe invalidity of a UN resolution passed with abstentionsThe Security Council exceeding its authority by violating Libyan sovereigntyThe self-interested motives of those interveningThe “discovery” of ex-al-Qaeda supporters among the rebelsThe failure of the West to intervene in other places where civilians face potential massacres such as Bahrain, Gaza, Ivory Coast, and YemenMany of these arguments are deployed to flesh out an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative that evades the crucial question: should the world let Libyan civilians die at the hands of a tyrant?Gaddafi’s heavily armed forces were headed to Benghazi, in defiance of Security Council resolutions, to carry out acts against international humanitarian law. Infact, they had already started bombing and shelling the city indiscriminately and had a track record of massacres, mass arrests, and brutality in cities they had already occupied.Intervention: Always Wrong?Opposition to interventionism has sometimes been muted in other circumstances, for instance Vietnam
s invasion of Cambodia and Laos, Tanzanian intervention in Uganda, or indeed India
s military incursion that gave birth to Bangladesh. In none of these cases was the result utopian, but in each case it certainly improvedthe situation. Indeed Cuban intervention in Africa and Che’s disastrous guerrillaescapades in Latin America are the subject of reverent leftist legend rather than calumny.Perhaps the archetypal case, in leftist lore, is the Spanish Civil War. Few of those opposing intervention in Libya are likely fans of George Orwell who, afterreturning from Spain, commented that “there is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more of less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction.” Orwell and many others went to Spain to fight Franco and supported calls for intervention by the Western powers to help the Republic.