Fine writing on intervention vs isolationism

April 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm (africa, anti-fascism, Guardian, internationalism, Jim D, Middle East, serbia, solidarity, spain)

As the Tory isolationist right and scab Labour “anti-imperialists” make common cause to betray the Libyan rebels, my old comrade Bob Fine reminds us of what “non intervention” has meant over the years. If you missed this piece in last Tuesday’s Graun, you really should read it:

Simon Jenkins writes on the shortcomings of liberal interventionism in Libya (By merely bolstering the weaker side, we are prolonging Libya’s civil war, 1 April). His own response is to oppose the intervention altogether: “I want nothing to do with this… the dispute of eastern Libya with Gaddafi is not my dispute.” More broadly, he casts liberal interventionism as a neo-imperialist project that lacks the courage of its convictions: “It claims to know what is best for the world and glories in bombing to get its way. But when push comes to shove it backs off.”

But he should not forget that “non-interventionism” can itself be a barbaric doctrine, expressive of the indifference of power to human suffering. Each time we look at Picasso’s rendition of Guernica we are reminded that, during the Spanish civil war, “non-intervention” was the pretext under which western democracies refused to help the republic while Franco, aided by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, terrorised Spain.

Guernica painting

Remember Guernica 

Jenkins says “the end of the cold war seemed to release an urge [by western powers] … to use military might to reorder the world in the west’s own image”. But let’s not forget what transpired during the cold war. Non-intervention was formally treated as sacrosanct but brutally violated by the US and USSR in the name of protecting their own “spheres of influence”. Liberal interventionism was born out of resistance to this kind of military intervention, which reminds us more of Goya’s Disasters of War than of anything to do with humanity.

Non-interventionism was no better after the cold war, when the western powers failed to put an end to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Srebrenica and Sarajevo and refused to take any action that might have prevented the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.

Read the rest here

32 Comments

  1. charliethechulo said,

    Prof Norm brilliantly dissects the Graun’s incoherence on Libya:

    http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2011/04/both-ways-on-libya.html

  2. jim denham said,

    Talking about where isolationism/”anti-imperialism” gets you over Libya, even Lenny “Seymour” Tombstone has recently shown signs of getting the message:

    http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/04/libya-debate.html

  3. flyingrodent said,

    Whatever the merits of either argument, I notice that Bob Fine’s piece doesn’t even bother to address most of Jenkins’ point.s Jenkins raises some serious questions that demand convincing rebuttal. Fine’s column is a half-arsed collection of unsupported assertions and empty rhetoric.

    Where Jenkins asks exactly how we intend to achieve our stated goals in Libya, Fine just tells us that Srebrenica was awful, and that’s it. Quite why anyone would find this convincing is beyond me, unless they far vastly prefer windy statements of principle to perceptive analysis.

  4. jim denham said,

    Rodent: Tory isolationist and bourgeois strategists like Jenkins (and yourself?) are primarily interested in “where do our national interests lie?” and “what is the military exit strategy”?

    Socialists like Fine (and me) start with “how can we prevent a massacre and support progressive forces?”

    A fundamental difference in approach.

    Tellingly, the Stalinists like Murray and the “Stop The War Coalition” agree with you and Jenkins.

  5. flyingrodent said,

    Tory isolationist and bourgeois strategistslike Jenkins and yourself are primarily interested in “where do our national interests lie?” and “what is the military exit strategy”?

    Rational human beings are interested in “How are we actually going to achieve our objectives without hundreds of thousands of people getting killed in a years-long bloodbath?”.

    Like I say, Fine answers that by saying “Srebrenica was bad”. As unconvincing and absurd as that answer is, it’s actually a lot better than Ooh you are so very bourgeois and Stalinists agree with you. The first is a feeble insult and the second is just pitiful, for anyone over the age of thirteen.

  6. flyingrodent said,

    Never mind. I love the idea that “having an exit strategy” represents some kind of frightful ideology.

  7. jim denham said,

    Rodent: you have neatly summed up the difference between socialists and yourself.

    Btw: do you think the Russian revolution was an ill-advised mistake?

  8. jim denham said,

    A further question, Rodent:

    Were the rebels in Benghazi wrong to ask for UN support; and was the UN wrong to have provided it?

  9. flyingrodent said,

    Rodent: you have neatly summed up the difference between socialists and yourself.

    So, not only is planning for the end of military operations now some kind of hooting, posho Toryism – not only is “Srebranica was bad” somehow a valid answer to the straightforward question “What’s the plan for victory?”…

    …Now, you seem to be saying that the very idea of trying to win wars without lots of people being needlessly killed is some kind of horrible treason. Presumably, intentionally getting embroiled in wars that kill hundreds of thousands for no achievable result is now some kind of left wing imperative, in your little world?

    do you think the Russian revolution was an ill-advised mistake?

    I’ve answered this question for you before, and your response on that occasion doesn’t encourage me to believe that this is a productive line of inquiry.

  10. jim denham said,

    Humour me, General Rodent: what was your answer again?

    I forgot that you’re a military expert.

  11. flyingrodent said,

    It’s your blog Jim, do a Google search or something. When you find it, you’ll discover that the answer doesn’t make your pronouncements here any less nakedly absurd than they already are. How could it?

    I mean, your politics are forcing you into positions that are clearly illogical and wacky. The correct action, in that situation, is to change your politics and not to tick off the world because it doesn’t fit your preconceptions of it.

  12. jim denham said,

    OK Rodent: I’ll let you off the question about the Russian revolution.

    Any chance of an answer to the Benghazi question?

  13. flyingrodent said,

    Oh, you’ve gone back and slipped another question in while I wasn’t looking.

    Okay, if Nato can actually stop the bloodshed and stabilise the situation, then the UN was right to vote in favour. If Nato can’t stop the bloodshed and intervention will in fact make the situation a thousand times worse, plunging the country into years of hyperviolent civil war, then the UN was wrong to vote in favour.

    Here’s the only test that matters when it comes to supporting military actions. If there are strong reasons to believe that military action will make things better and cause many less deaths, then you should support them. If there are strong reasons to believe that military action will make things much, much worse and will cause many, many thousands more deaths, then you should absolutely oppose them.

    I fall into the latter camp in both cases, because nobody – not generals, civil servants or ministers – have made even a slightly convincing case that they have even thought about this issue. I think that the government sent in troops without considering the likelihood of an acceptable outcome, and that they are making their strategy up as they go along. If this is the case, they’re incredibly irresponsible.

    As an additional back-up to this, I also opposed our involvement because almost everyone that I spoke to about this answered the question What is the plan for victory? with Srebrenica was bad or Why do you want the people of Benghazi to die, you bastard?

    A rule of thumb: If a war is a good idea, you’ll be able to make very strong case for it without also implying that doubters are in some way corrupt or pro-tyranny. You’ll notice that few have managed to do that this time. If people struggle to make the case without doing that, you’ll know there’s something badly wrong with the operation.

  14. jim denham said,

    Rodent says:

    “Okay, if Nato can actually stop the bloodshed and stabilise the situation, then the UN was right to vote in favour. If Nato can’t stop the bloodshed and intervention will in fact make the situation a thousand times worse, plunging the country into years of hyperviolent civil war, then the UN was wrong to vote in favour. ”

    I don’t understand that answer. And it isn’t really an answer at all.

    Rodent seems to be saying “If military success can be guaranteed in advance, then I’m in favour of military action; if military action fails, then I was against it.”

    Again, the Rodent (as so often before) fails to make the elementary distinction between political analysis and military calculations. He seems to think he’s an expert in the latter.

    As a matter of fact I agree with Rodent’s test:

    “Here’s the only test that matters when it comes to supporting military actions. If there are strong reasons to believe that military action will make things better and cause many less deaths, then you should support them. If there are strong reasons to believe that military action will make things much, much worse and will cause many, many thousands more deaths, then you should absolutely oppose them.”

    The only problem is that I’m not a military expert. Neither is Rodent. All we can do is judge the politics. And my “default” position is that of solidarity with rebels, whereas Rodent’s seems to be national security and regional stability.

    P.S: Rodent, I still await an answer to my Benghazi question.

  15. modernityblog said,

    Recently seen on Twitter:

    “LibyanThinker
    Has the World not learned anything from the Srebrenica massacre??? #Misrata is under siege, and it cant hold out for much longer :( #Libya “

    http://twitter.com/#!/LibyanThinker

  16. flyingrodent said,

    P.S: Rodent, I still await an answer to my Benghazi question.

    That was the answer, Jim.

    I see you’re struggling with this. Let me give you a stark, black-and-white example. I feel really bad that all those Hungarians were killed and oppressed by the Russians in 1956, but I don’t think thermonuclear war with the Soviets would’ve helped them any.

  17. jim denham said,

    General Rodent: the Realist: “That was the answer Jim.”

    What exactly, General?

    The Gen: ” I don’t think thermonuclear war with the Soviets would’ve helped them any”

    JD: who’s talking about nuclear war, here General?. What is the possible fuckin’ relevance of that comment?

    And I’m sure the citizens of Benghazi woud be really grateful that you’d feel “really bad” about their massacre.

    You asshole.

  18. flyingrodent said,

    And I’m sure the citizens of Benghazi woud be really grateful that you’d feel “really bad” about their massacre. You asshole.

    Or, “Why do you want the people of Benghazi to die, you bastard?” as previously mentioned.

    Is that enough rope Jim, or do you want more?

  19. jim denham said,

    General Rodent: “Or, “Why do you want the people of Benghazi to die, you bastard?” as previously mentioned.

    Is that enough rope Jim, or do you want more?”

    JD: What the fuck are you on (about), General?

    Try actually answering the question about Benghazi. But then you don’t like answering straight questions, do you, General?

    While you’re at it: tell us what your overall politics are. Just so we know what sort of friend of tyranny were’re dealing with.

  20. Lobby Ludd said,

    “While you’re at it: tell us what your overall politics are. Just so we know what sort of friend of tyranny were’re dealing with.”

    You have a very subtle sense of humour, James. For a brief moment I thought you were taking the ‘exchange of ideas’ seriously. You wag, you.

  21. lost said,

    now is not the time for pedantry or sophistry.i can onbly hope i will not fall into either,but it does still seem to me that we/i do have to maintain an indpenednet class voice,and in the absence of a clear enough ability to initiate and “win”political positions that would be carried out in the interests of our class,our way all we can do in argue for what is important,for the libyan working class.as workers have no contry it should be in the intetrets of the international working class also.i think that still means argueing clearly and specifically “our”cause and beinng absolutely ruthless in our criticism of the actions and politics of the ruling class wherever it is.

    why for example is the bombing is to defende the lives of libyan people,has the coalition not intervened in the 40,now 50 day siege of misrata.how does it specifically “excuse”the killing of libyans in fri3endly fire incidents whilst claiming SMART weapons and SMART intelligence.

    what we know is that the ruling class has a history of stacking the odds in its own interests and using any and every technique to complicate and muddy the issues.

    being pragmatic as a class should not be the same as handing initiative and support to the enemy in the class struggle.we should continue to expose their disgusting hypocrisy and barbarism.we should demand the libyan resources be hnafdde to the libyan revolutionaries,we can demand the cancellatiion of trade and contracts,the expulsion of the representatives of the regime,the removal of weapons for the regime .we should seek policies and attitues that cut through the entangelements of capital like a knife.we can raise the issues,solidarity,money in our unions,our organiiations,anywhere we can make our voice heard and better still make it stick

  22. charliethechulo said,

    What I want to know is this: were the Spanish republicans wrong to call on the governments of Britain, France and the other Western democracies (sic) to intervene in their defence?

  23. Steve said,

    Don’t think they did actually. In fact the major US corporations supported Franco. Only the Soviets came to their aid and ofcourse the intenational brigade. On that topic, instead of calling on Cameron and Sarkozy to be the heroes of the 21st century socialist movement, try forming an international brigade yourselves. Show the lead by joining up and getting the next boat to Misurata.

    Incidentally, I don’t know why I am still not banned here. I stand by the remark that because Clive argued for a no fly zone over Libya to avert a massacre of the residents of Benghazi but made no such argument in relation to Israel massacring the Palestinians, then I can only conclude that Clive would be happy to see every Palestinians wiped off the face of the Earth.
    At best Clive is like one of those old Roman emperors who raises him thumb to decide who dies and lowers it to decide who lives.

    So come on Shiraz, get your Stalinist censors to do their jobs properly!

  24. Socialist said,

    Given that the Western democracies (especially Britain) did intervene to support Franco, asking for their help was rather pointless.

  25. jim denham said,

    ‘Socialist'”: “pointless” it may or may not have have been, but the fact is that best of the left demanded it at the time.

  26. Trotsky against intervention said,

    You won’t find Trotsky demanding intervention Jim – quite the opposite.

    What do you think of this formulation?

    To my eyes it seems to criticise the intervention in Libya.

    ‘No trust in or support for the US and other imperialist powers! If they impose a no fly zone over Libya or bomb Qaddafi’s forces, they will do it in their own brutal way and for their own cynical, profit-ensuring reasons!’

    The slogan comes from the Alliance for Workers Liberty.

    You have moved so far to the right you are lined up with Hitchens and advocates of progressive capitalism rather than with Marxists.

  27. jim denham said,

    Learn To Think (1938):

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/05/think.htm

    PS I agree with the Workers Liberty formulation: entirely in line with Trotsky’s position (above).

  28. Trotsky against intervention said,

    The AWL are much more vehement than Corbyn in their discussion of the Libyan situation. But you have two sets of standards. Corbyn is a scab, the AWL are correct. How silly.

  29. jim denham said,

    Trotagainst: I simply don’t understand what you mean about the AWL being “much more vehement than Corbyn”: here’s the AWL’s main statement on Libya (with which I’m in 100 per cent agreement):

    http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/03/20/libya-no-illusions-west-%E2%80%9Canti-intervention%E2%80%9D-opposition-abandoning-rebels

  30. jim denham said,

    Today’s ‘Morning Star’ editorial:

    It’s intervention that we’re talking about, intervention in the affairs of another sovereign state. It’s sovereignty and it’s also better-known in the pages of this paper as peoples’ right to self-determination.

    Even his own MPs are now starting to realise that Mr Cameron’s agenda transcends the issue of whether there are any Brit “boots on the ground.”

    “We must keep the support of the Arab world,” prates Cameron. What support?

    To quote our own foreign editor, just the other day: “As well as the BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the United Nations, African Union, Arab League and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas have all expressed opposition to Nato’s air strikes on Libya and are pressing for a ceasefire.”

    Now that’s pretty comprehensive and shouldn’t leave to much room for manoeuvre. But trust Mr Cameron, the man could find wiggle room in an Iron Maiden.

    It ought to now be clear, even to Mr Cameron, that the intervention in Libya is a blind alley.

    And worse, for an initiative that he claimed was going to save lives, it is merely prolonging an unwinnable struggle and transforming it into a war of attrition, http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/103598

    Next time this shower have the audacity to mention the word “solidarity” give them the horse-laugh they so richly deserve.

  31. Duncan said,

    Jim, I’ve just noticed that John McDonnell voted against establishing a no-fly zone in Libya! He obviously wants the rebels to be butchered.

    I look forward to a denunciation of him as a pro-fascist, reactionary scab who hates democray. Perhaps it could be posted on the Workers’ Liberty site as a discussion piece?

  32. Please forward all correspondence to previous address said,

    keep up the good work Jim. the scabs and various tory isolationaist scum with which you are dealing with here are beneath contempt.

    Fuck them all.

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