Bitter Libyan Fruit

In Mary Beard’s excellent SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome she describes an “empire of obedience” that emerged in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. This refers to the often ad hoc arrangements of Roman rule and hegemony which preceded the explicit imperial period, when domination was bureaucratized and formalized.

Sometimes it seems that the United States is an empire of obedience, though we do operate through formal institutions such as NATO and the IMF. There’s an ad hoc schizophrenic aspect to it all.

In Across The Chasm Of Incommensurability many of the commenters seem to be focusing Chinese susceptibility to government propaganda. But my post was in large part pointing to the fact that Americans themselves are often blinkered and biased, though we often exhibit a conceit of all knowing objectivity.

On Twitter I said the following:

People immediately thought I was alluding to the Manchester bomber. Actually I wasn’t. I was thinking about the Copts killed in Egypt (including children) by ISIS-affiliated militants with basis in Libya.

This is not a one off. Since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime Libya has been an incubator for terrorism. Its current political landscape is anarchic, with rival militias jockeying for power. Libya happens to be right next to the most populous Arab nation. This is not a good recipe for stability in the region.

Some commentators, such as Daniel Larison, have been arguing against the intervention since the get-go. But in general the media seems to have taken a policy of benign neglect toward what’s going on within Libya.

The Western powers take it upon themselves protect the people from their own governments. This is fair enough. But what Iraq showed us is that not all peoples are ready to be Jeffersonian Democrats. This is a fact.

The Roman “empire of obedience” gave way to one of direct rule. That was the only way to keep the chaos in check. Imperialism and colonialism are not fashionable today, but if Western governments keep intervening that seems the only way to keep the chaos at bay.

20 thoughts on “Bitter Libyan Fruit

  1. Oh boy! An argument in favor of colonialism. Westerners invade countries and make a mess of it, and your solution is to advise ‘make sure when you invade you resort to old fashion colonialism.” Because the genocide and bloodshed which old-fashioned colonialism brought about was not as bad as the disastrous modern interventions.

  2. I’ll wait for you to list all the countries that were better off before colonialism. Also:

    >genocide and bloodshed

    I didn’t know only the West had genocide and bloodshed. What, were the Muslims singing kumbaya before Whitey came?

  3. “But in general the media seems to have taken a policy of benign neglect toward what’s going on within Libya.”

    That is because the policy was driven by their cult heroes: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Powers. Wouldn’t wan to embarrass them would we?

  4. Gaddafi was a force for instability throughout North Africa – I’m not sure the world outside of Libya is worse off now than when he was around.

    And short of intervening in Libya, massively and on behalf of Gaddafi to crush the opposition, we could be in the same circumstance today, or have it be another Syria which has had 10x the fatalities as Libya.

    Personally I think we waited too long to get involved, and then got too involved from defensive protection of citizens to offensive strikes to help take down the regime. I’m not sure if doing it better would’ve brought about a better outcome though.

  5. The claim that the United States is an “Imperialist Power” or that it has an “Empire” is silly and unhistorical.

    The idea that we have an Empire of Obedience is laughable. Would any self respecting empire tolerate the Castro Brothers in its territorial waters for 60 years? Chavez and Maduro? Would it tolerate the European Countries it supposedly protects with failing to pay for their protection, either in cash or in kind?

    At the end of WWII, the US was the only intact, not bankrupt, industrial power, and it had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. If it had wanted an empire, the British, French, Dutch, and Japanese Empires were ripe for plucking. China and Eastern Europe too. The United States could have become the first true universal empire.

    The charges of “Imperialism” and “Empire” are pure Soviet propaganda. As such they follow the usual leftist pattern of labeling your enemies with your own desires. It was Soviet Union, that, at the end of WWII, created an Empire spanning Eurasia from Germany to South East Asia.

    Of course there is no old Soviet propaganda that did not become an article of faith among American academics and media blatherskites. Just like the evil of nuclear power plants, and the virtue of the Palestinians, the charge of “Imperialism” and “Empire” lives on even though the Soviet Union is gone. The infection is gone, but the malady lingers on.

  6. The Swahili city sates were certainly better off before the Portuguese destroyed them. The Meso–American states were, well, alive before being being destroyed by the Spanish and Portuguese.

  7. Gadaffi -a source of instability? Is that why Libya is now a safe have for Al Qaeda and IS now that he is gone? And the immigration crisis has now gone berserk since he left?

    Syria still has a functioning government, which with the help of Russia, has gained back territory from IS and other terrorists. If the Russians had intervened more aggressively and earlier on behalf of teh Syrian state, there would not be so much blood shed. the idea of the West intervening in Syria on behalf of Islamists against a secular state is the kind of crazy and reckless idea which will ensure that terrorist attacks will become a part of everyday life in the WEst. You gus better start getting used to it.

    IN the case of Libya, the West only intervened because it was clear that Gadaffi would have made short work of the Islamist opposition, referred to as Denocrats by hpeople like you and the Western media.

  8. You are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s just an African weirdo with an opinion. There is nothing theoretical about Westerners intervening in Africa in the 21st century. We have examples of it: Somalia, Libya, the Congo during the Cold War. It all turned out to be disastrous. In the past, with the British empire, we had even worse atrocities such as the Mau Mau rebellion where you had the British creating concentration camps cutting off people’s testicles and killing several thousands. Have you ever stopped to think that if colonialism was such a good thing why is it then that formerly colonized countries are so screwed up? And when did the West stop colonizing 3rd world countries. The pathetic economies in most African states were controlled and created under the directives of the IMF and the World Bank.

  9. Our intervention in Libya was fairly mild. Air support of Libyan ground forces who did almost all the heavy lifting themselves, much of it before the air support even started. Syd Blumenthal famously told Hillary Clinton the militias couldn’t defeat the regime until a company he had money in was hired by the Americans to train them. She pursued this policy … but the militia won before the training could even get going. This prevented Republicans from making an compelling case against Clinton because, though she and Blumenthal had labored mightily to put together a corrupt deal, the war was over too quickly.

    So let’s not get carried away about American intervention. This was mostly a Libyan affair. The biggest instability Gaddafi created was in Libya itself, where he simply didn’t have sufficient support to keep things clamped down.

  10. Don’t always check the comment sections but seem to be of a much lower standard than usual.

    I’m guessing it is the claim about colonialism being a solution. Can’t say I disagree with Razib’s analysis or his ultimate conclusion that one should side on caution and prudence.
    I have often wondered if the neo-liberals(in the FP sense) will do a roundabout on imperialism. It seems so unlikely to us who went through colleges where there was nothing but Post-colonialist talk. At the same time I had classes that dealt with Right To Protect(R2P) with students who were subsumed by it. The idea seemed insane to me if taken logically and I tried to push some students and they were willing to say that this would indeed mean intervention in China if need be in order to protect. Obviously that will never happen but the idealism suggest that maybe we can see a neo-colonialism through the backdoor of humanitarian R2P. It would obviously call it self colonialism but would at least serve as a protectorate of some kind. Another motivation for this type of thinking could be an expansive China. In the post-colonial world it was a choice between Europeans and natives. But in the future it could be between liberal, goodhearted, humantarian Westerners and ruthless, cynical, exploitative Chinese. In that sort of scenario I could imagine liberals being split down the line. There was a split in the 19th century liberalism on this question as well. Indeed N.Ferguson sees himself as a continuation of a liberal imperialism. Perhaps in the 21th century it would be purely, at least on the surface, of a liberal kind.

    I get that the likes of Daniel Larison have little effect on the mainstream FP conversation but if a Trump(or his people) wanted to legitimate any part of an anti-intervention stance I would try bringing focus on Libya. It seems like good material for counter-propaganda.
    But other than that it will likely go into the memory hole as much as possible.

  11. >The Swahili city sates were certainly better off before the Portuguese destroyed them

    Oh, are you going to some GDP charts?

    > The Meso–American states were, well, alive before being being destroyed by the Spanish and Portuguese.

    I guess you’re ignoring all hardcore blood dumping that happened under the Aztecs.

  12. >In the past, with the British empire, we had even worse atrocities such as the Mau Mau rebellion where you had the British creating concentration camps cutting off people’s testicles and killing several thousands. Have you ever stopped to think that if colonialism was such a good thing why is it then that formerly colonized countries are so screwed up?

    Citation needed on that Mau Mau talk being anything more than exaggeration and such behavior being unknown to African populations. And Far Eastern territories colonized or otherwise interfered with by are significantly less dysfunctional than African countries. See here for some more:

    https://archive.org/details/Debunking

    >And when did the West stop colonizing 3rd world countries. The pathetic economies in most African states were controlled and created under the directives of the IMF and the World Bank.

    You might have just said blame Whitey. Is this also Whitey’s fault?

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/south-african-students-call-for-the-fall-of-colonizing-western-science-and-its-replacement-by-separate-ways-of-knowledge/

    And here’s a word or two on this issue:

    >I have asked myself before why black-majority societies tend to lag behind and fail in important respects. My conclusion is that, for historical reasons, blacks have viewed themselves in opposition to modern civilization. In their view, every achievement of civilization, such as science, technology, health care, rule of law, democracy, free speech etc., has been tainted by its association with people who have invaded, enslaved, subjugated and exploited them.

    >I do not know how blacks could be helped to get over this. To begin with, possibly whites should stop glorifying figures such as Malcolm X and should call the spade a spade when blacks develop anti-Western ideologies.

  13. This wouldn’t be the first time a Lefty sang the praises of 3rd World Strongmen. See the crocodile tears dropped over Castro. Of course, Obama must have been discouraged from singing his praises like Trudeau.

  14. The Libyan intervention was much more cynical than people assume it was. For example: https://np.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/45muz5/declassified_now_deleted_clinton_emails_show/. After reading this, you really can’t not come to the conclusion that the Libyan intervention was done for Machiavellian purposes. The Canadian military predicted Libyan chaos if they were to overthrow Gaddafi, and some joked about being al-qaeda’s airforce. This kind of understanding before the blowback just shows that Libya was really about the geopolitical “great game” rather than human rights as people are led to believe by the media. People also forget that Russia and China allowed the no fly zone to happen in Libya, but the subsequent overthrow of Gaddafi was in no ways allowed under the UN Mandate. I don’t think most people in North America knows much about what happens outside it, but act of overthrowing Gaddafi was not a trivial matter for other world powers.

    Some of the comments above are slightly bizarre. If there was no intervention, Gaddafi would have won, just as Assad would have won if the situation didn’t devolve into a an Iran-Saudi proxy war with the US actively funding the Syrian “moderate rebels”. Or the claim that US is not an empire would make much more sense if you didn’t have generals like William Odom saying the US is an empire (I think him being a realist and being frank about makes sense). When one analyzes geopolitics it just makes much more sense to treat the US as an empire and its actions in Libya as a geopolitical chess move that is Machiavellian. I think the evidence also proves this is the case.

  15. By Air Support you mean destroying Gadaffi’s army using NATO and allying with Islamist forces on the ground. How is that mild? Gadaffi was killed after his convoy was bombed by NATO.

  16. I mean that the Libyan revolution had already seized Benghazi and Misrata before air support even arrived. And I mean that people who pay attention to this sort of thing know that air support doesn’t grind down an army. You need an army to do the heavy lifting. The army that did was revolutionary, not western. A no-fly zone is in fact a pretty mild intervention.

  17. @ryan, The army which intervened was an Islamist army cally LIFG–The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group–The Libyan affiliate of AlQaeda. It was the Afghanistan model of intervention during the Cold War, where the US joined up with Islamists to bring down a Soviet-backed government. We all know how well that turned out. We expect the situation in Libya will turn out just as well.

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