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Libya: It Seems Intervention Is Making Things Worse

April 14, 2011

I wonder if they will be enrolled on the list of “worthy” victims. That is, of the West’s “worthy” victims. Those we care about, as opposed to those who aren’t so convenient for us.

I’m thinking of the 70 asylum seekers found of the coast of Libya. They were Eritreans fleeing in a small boat after they had been trapped in the civil war and mistaken as mercenaries. Or maybe they were fleeing because they came from a poor country that could not afford to pull them out.

According to the UN, more than half a million people have fled Libya over the past two months. Most had been migrant workers, but more than a hundred thousand had been Libyans. That represents over eight percent of the pre-war population.

Before long, someone should be able to give us the crucial estimate: how many people have died, been rendered homeless or forced overseas because of Western intervention, and how many might have suffered these fates if Libya had been left alone. For this is the test that the humanitarian intervention will have to pass: did it simply make matters worse?

Generally, Western intervention in the Middle East has, and Iraq makes the case irrefutably with its tragic story of four million people rendered refugees, and the great sediment of suffering sustained – especially by children – as a result of bombs and bullets. It gave Iran – a religious dictatorship led by warrior holy men – vastly more influence in the region. It meant Saddam’s torture chambers and prisons continued – except that the Shi’ites were now the jailors and the Sunnis the victims.

I have a sneaking feeling Libya may also line up as a case study in the paradox of unintended consequences.

Deciding on military intervention in support of a revolt against Gaddafi’s dictatorship was, to be sure, a fine-line judgment. But trust the judgment of Nicolas Sarkozy, who to push votes away from the National Front is expelling gypsies and criminalising the burqa? And the judgment of William Hague and David Cameron, leading a wobbly coalition of neophytes ? Obama was right to be reluctant about this undertaking which now looks like it’s only extended the period of distress and widened the circle of suffering.

3 Comments
  1. Anthony permalink
    April 14, 2011 12:46 pm

    The big questions that are really kicking inside of me are: What will the regime look like that replaces Gaddafi? Will it be a Democracy, or are the West preparing the ground for another Iran? War has not overtaken the whole of what quite a large country, yet so many people are trying to get out. Do they know something that we don’t know?

  2. Kim permalink
    April 23, 2011 5:05 pm

    I wonder if they will be enrolled on the list of “worthy” victims. That is, of the West’s “worthy” victims. Those we care about, as opposed to those who aren’t so convenient for us.
    You mean like the palastinians, Bob ? eh.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      April 25, 2011 7:31 pm

      Answer this : a boycott of Israel but not of North Korea, Zimbabwe or Saudi Arabia ? Or Iran ?
      Then there is the pragmatic argument : a boycott will hurt the fragile but developing economic activity in what will soon be a Palestinian state.
      For the record, I support such a state, find the current crop of nationalistic Israeli politicians pretty loathsome and insisted on meeting Hanan Ashrari when she visited to receive a peace prize in 2004 ( and I got slammed by pro-Israeli people for doing so). The Marrickville business is facile gesture politics but doesn’t warrant sacking the council.

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