Libyan lessons learned

“What Happened to the Humanitarians Who Wanted to Save Libyans With Bombs and Drones?” asks The Intercept.

I’m writing mostly to answer this question because it isn’t explicitly said in the article: what happened to advocates of the western war on Libya was that they were rewarded with further inclusion in media circles as members of the serious establishment who believe that the US has humanitarian intentions, bombs can save lives, and war can bring peace. The co-author of the piece, in fact, is one of them.

Murtaza Hussain, who co-wrote the article with Glenn Greenwald, wrote in 2012 that we should “Blame anarchy for Benghazi.” Without getting into that headline’s grossly misleading clickbait, let’s see Hussain’s handling of the West’s motives in Libya (emphasis mine):

The nobility and good intentions involved in the military removal of Gadhafi’s regime will be undercut if a new state of Libya does not evolve the democratic and civil society institutions that limit violent extremists and allow the popularly elected government to exert its will.

Fast forward to 2014, where Hussain is rightly co-condemning liberal interventionist arguments (emphasis mine)

virtually all wars, even the most blatantly aggressive ones of conquest (such as the Iraq War) are wrapped in humanitarian packaging. Moreover, there should be enormous doubt about the ability of the west to use bombs and military force – in distant lands with radically different and complex cultures – to manipulate political and social outcomes to its liking (except where total disorder is what it craves, in which case it likely can achieve its goals).

It appears Hussain has learned something. But when asked by David Mizner, who is keeping a running tally of lefts and liberals who supported the Libyan intervention, about his second thoughts, Hussain said, “I didn’t think the aftermath would’ve been botched much a few years ago. They did profess good intentions, there was no followup.” Rather than picking up on the West’s rather familiar pattern of professing good intentions only to leave corpses and sectarian violence in its wake (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, the history of imperialism), Hussain still believes in stated good intentions.

The Intercept article concludes with some lessons:

In the victory parade he threw for himself, Kristof said the question of “humanitarian intervention” will “arise again” and “the next time it does, let’s remember a lesson of Libya.” About that, at least, he’s absolutely right.

But the lesson of Libya was forgotten before it was even over: Hussain was given a job at the Intercept and heralded as a respected foreign policy commentator with apparently no one questioning his comments on the West’s goals in Libya. On Twitter, Hussain has preempted these arguments by dismissing critics of imperialism as undeserving of a seat at the establishment table. Some of his offerings include:

Barely paying attention to what was about to happen in Libya, and then jumping in to scream “imperialism” is completely unserious.

People need to stop viewing all world events through the prism of opposing American imperialism.

This is not to say American imperialism isn’t a real phenomenon but it’s not the only thing going on and occasionally can be a lesser evil.

Not to defend British imperialism but at least they got some tangible benefit out of it. America just thrashes about aimlessly & goes home.

This soft pedaling of American empire is what makes Murtaza Hussain serious and the rest of us silly radicals. And yet he gets to have it both ways. He dismisses anti-imperialists with one hand, uses the other to cosign an article against interventionism, and somehow both come out clean.

Update, 11/15/14

A recent FAIR study reveals exactly how this cycle works: support for war leads to inclusion in media circles, which leads to more and more media discussion including only pro-war media voices, leaving those who oppose intervention — on principle or otherwise — on the unserious fringes.

FAIR writes,

While Congress may soon debate the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Syria, a new FAIR study shows that at the critical moments leading up to the escalation of US military action, mainstream media presented almost no debate at all.

As FAIR’s Peter Hart writes in a separate piece, the only “debate” was over how, not whether, to go to war.

Host of liberal, Democrat-supporting MSNBC Chris Matthews said,

When it comes down to how we fight this, everybody seems to be for air attacks, airstrikes. Everybody is for drone attacks.

Everybody worth listening to, that is.

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