Libya: Clive answers Milne’s distortions and half-truths

October 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm (apologists and collaborators, Guardian, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, stalinism)

Public school Stalinist Seumas ‘Posh-boy’ Milne (above) is at it again, denouncing the Libyan revolution, taking the worst possible view of the rebels and minimising (well, virtually ignoring) the crimes of Gaddafi’s murderous regime:

“As the most hopeful offshoot of the ‘Arab spring so far flowered this week in successful elections in Tunisia, its ugliest underside has been laid bare in Libya. That’s not only, or even mainly, about the YouTube lynching of Gaddafi, courtesy of a Nato attack on his convoy.

“The grisly killing of the Libyan despot after his captors had sodomised him with a knife, was certainly a war crime. But many inside and outside Libya doubtless also felt it was an understandable act of revenge after years of regime violence. Perhaps that was Hillary Clinton’s reaction, when she joked about it on camera, until global revulsion pushed the US to call for an investigation.

“As the reality of what western media have hailed as Libya’s ‘liberation’ becomes clearer, however, the butchering of Gaddafi has been revealed as only a reflection of a much bigger picture. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch reported the discovery of 53 bodies, military and civilian, in Gaddafi’s last stronghold of Sirte, apparently executed – with their hands tied – by former rebel militia.

“Its investigator in Libya, Peter Bouckaert, told me yesterday that more bodies are continuing to be discovered in Sirte, where evidence suggests about 500 people, civilians and fighters, have been killed in the last 10 days alone by shooting, shelling and Nato bombing.

“That has followed a two month-long siege and indiscriminate bombardment of a city of 100,000 which has been reduced to a Grozny-like state of destruction by newly triumphant rebel troops with Nato air and special-forces support.

“And these massacre sites are only the latest of many such discoveries. Amnesty International has now produced compendious evidence of mass abduction and detention, beating and routine torture, killings and atrocities by the rebel militias Britain, France and the US have backed for the last eight months – supposedly to stop exactly those kind of crimes being committed by the Gaddafi regime.

“Throughout that time African migrants and black Libyans have been subject to a relentless racist campaign of mass detention, lynchings and atrocities on the usually unfounded basis that they have been loyalist mercenaries. Such attacks continue, says Bouckaert, who witnessed militias from Misrata this week burning homes in Tawerga so that the town’s predominantly black population – accused of backing Gaddafi – will be unable to return.

“All the while, Nato leaders and cheerleading media have turned a blind eye to such horrors as they boast of a triumph of freedom and murmur about the need for restraint. But it is now absolutely clear that, if the purpose of western intervention in Libya’s civil war was to “protect civilians” and save lives, it has been a catastrophic failure.”  – You can read the rest of this Stalinist rubbish here.

Happily, Comrade Clive is on hand to take Posh-boy (and his co-thinker Jonathan Steele) to pieces:

“I feel moved to comment on Seamas Milne’s piece in the Guardian today about Libya.

“What he nowhere acknowledges is that the Libyan revolution has now succeeded and Gaddafi has been overthrown. It beggars belief that anyone could attempt any kind of balance sheet without including this fact.
.
“But underlying the whole argument – and this is something I’ve seen a lot of – is a confusion of separate points. If you want to support/defend/not oppose NATO intervention purely in humanitarian terms – saving lives – there is some force to the point that 50,000 lives seem to have been lost anyway. But neither we – nor the Seamas Milnes of the world – do see the world simply in those humanitarian terms. It’s also about sides in a revolution.
.
“The fundamental reason there have been so many deaths in Sirte – and elsewhere – is that a brutal dictator hung on to power. Assessing the humanitarian consequences of a revolutionary movement finally defeating him simply is not – except on terms too wooly for most wooly liberals – the same thing as assessing those consequences if the dictator enters a city with the expressed intention of massacring his opponents.
.
“This is not to say – obviously – that the ‘rebels’ are all sweetness and light or that there is not much to criticise – though the balance of criticism is important. Milne and others seem more than willing to accept the worse possible interpretation of what has been done by the revolutionary movement – and NATO – but in all seriousness question whether Gaddafi really would have massacred people (and suggest that elsewhere Gaddafi’s forces weren’t so bad. Huh? What do you think happened in Misrata? Why do you think it took so long for Tripoli to throw him off?
.
“Milne also, like many others, is all rosy optimism about An Nahda’s election victory in Tunisia. Well, we’ll see. (Personally I think it’s likely they will prove to be pretty moderate in Islamist terms, and will be anxious to show the West how dependable they are. One consequence of that, though, will be their economic policies.)
.
“But look at this revealing comment, by Milne’s buddy Jonathan Steele, the other day: ‘While several smaller secular parties tried to manipulate Islamophobia – a relatively easy card to play given the official state-controlled media’s demonisation of the Islamists over several decades – their efforts have failed. Voters had their first chance to listen to An-Nahda’s candidates and they were not put off by what they heard.’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/25/tunisia-election-middle-east?INTCMP=SRCH)
.
“I don’t really have a problem with using ‘Islamophobia’ as a shorthand way of describing racism towards people who are Muslims. But in Tunisia – where the vast majority are Muslims – what the hell is Islamophobia except actual hostility to the religion? How can a secular party be Islamophobic in the way that term is generally used in Britain in a mainly-Muslim country?”

29 Comments

  1. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    grade A-

    could have said more and more harshly

  2. Chaz Wyman said,

    I think you are naive if you think the rebel forces are cuddly, progressive and are treating their prisoners with the respect all combatants deserve under the Geneva convention.

    No one is going to shed a tear for Gadaffi, but to preserve the respect and future for a free Libya, even a tyrant deserves the due process of law, if only to allow his victims, and their families a voice into perpetuity where his crimes have laid out fully and documented for all to see. It also would have provided a forum that would serve other dictators and would-be dictators notice concerning their own possible futures.

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Not all readers of CiF are ‘anti imperialist’ idiots; this one effectively “fisks’ Posh-boy:

    dmoloney
    27 October 2011 2:57PM

    Seamas’s argument is basically the intervention caused more damage than a non-intervention would have.

    His arguments for this arent entirely persuasive however.

    He points out the various human rights abuses committed by the rebels which is fine, however groups like amnesty and hrw ( which he references) have been quite clear that Gaddafis human rights abuses were far worse.

    This indicates that if gaddafis forces were unhindered they would have caused an even greater level of deaths.

    “All the while, Nato leaders and cheerleading media have turned a blind eye to such horrors”

    Simply not true and very sloppy on the authors part, such actions have been reported.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20125536/signs-of-ex-rebel-atrocities-in-libya-grow/

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14891913

    http://articles.cnn.com/2011-07-13/world/libya.war_1_rebel-commander-rebel-forces-rebel-leaders?_s=PM:WORLD

    It seems that Seamas was once more living in his fantasy world by believing that his previous claim was true.

    “But there is in fact no evidence – including from other rebel-held towns Gaddafi re-captured – to suggest he had either the capability or even the intention to carry out such an atrocity against an armed city of 700,000.”

    Actually as pointed out by juan cole and others, this argument is weak, in other towns controlled by rebels gaddafi did indeed mass indiscriminate attacks and did commit major human rights abuses as hrw would have pointed out to him if he bothered to ask ( or maybe he did but declined to write what they had to say).

    “if the purpose of western intervention in Libya’s civil war was to “protect civilians” and save lives, it has been a catastrophic failure.”

    Unlikely, as pointed out by various groups gaddafis forces committed the most abuses, if his forces were left unhindered for the following months they would have had access to a greater portion of the country to commit these abuses in, this would have therefore increased the number of deaths over what it was with the NATO intervention.

    “Nato has not protected civilians in Libya – it has multiplied the number of their deaths”

    As pointed out above this is not correct and most certainly the citizens of mistrata would disagree with this view as likely would most libyans.

    “But for Libyans, it has meant a loss of ownership of their own future”

    Actually it overall likely to mean the opposite, the libyan people did not have ownership over their future under gaddafi, now they may, we will have to see. No doubt what happens you will see things as you wish to see them.

    “The Libyan precedent is a threat to hopes of genuine change and independence across the Arab world”

    Whereas if gaddafi remained in power the forces of change would have somehow have been strengthened???

    “that foreign intervention doesn’t only strangle national freedom and self-determination – it doesn’t protect lives either.”

    A daft ending to a daft piece, this sentence here is just as wrong as someone claiming that foreign intervention always helps self-determination and always protects lives, neither is always true, some interventions for various reason are better than the alternative while others are not.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    Another sensible voice at CiF:

    MaxBubba
    27 October 2011 4:53PM

    @grauzone. I think that you see what you want to see here.

    -” Internationally monitored general elections were agreed to by Gaddafi’s camp, they asked for international observers on the ground, they called for multilateral ceasefires, and on every occasion, NATO, desperate for regime change and totally indifferent to how many Libyans would have to die, kept bombing and bombing. They ignored their mandate (made a mockery of it in fact), bombed soldiers as they fled in boats and cars, and all the while their friends, the rebels, murdered more and more captured soldiers, black Libyans and Africans.”

    Yes, Gaddafi’s camp did call for ceasefires. In March. While an armour column attacked Benghazi. And in April. During which his forces attacked Misrata. Saif also conveniently announced plans for a new consitution and other concessions (around the same time, I think) that his father’s regime had 42 years to put in place but hadn’t. Yet. So that was nice. Although with the regime having removed the faces of many people with anti-aircraft rounds, most protestors felt that this was too little, too late. You can understand their point of view. T’internet, will advise if there were other manouvres. Your comments about ceasefires and their intentions risks appearing naïve. NATO presumably kept bombing and bombing because Gaddafi’s forces were using the ceasefire proposals as opportunities to pay lip service to international concerns while putting down the rebellion. Or does it just have to be NATO’s fault whatever happens?

    – “it’s likely that European, American and Middle Eastern (Qatar, Saudi Arabia?, UAE?) secret services and special forces were involved from the beginning and it was probably these outsiders that gave the initial go-ahead. ”

    You’re saying that all these countries had special forces involved at the beginning on the uprising? When the young man drove his car into the gates of the Katiba military compound that was a member of the UAE secret service was it? In later stages, yes, undoubtedly, but for the beginning….evidence, please.

    -” The irony of this affair is that the actions of the rebels and NATO, have made Gaddafi look good in comparison. ”

    You have a remarkably short, selective memory if you genuinely believe that.

    -“Gaddafi’s time to step aside had come, and he had in fact expressed his desire to retire from public life, but it didn’t have to end like this, if ended it truly has. ”

    No, he hadn’t. In the April Truce proposed by the Arab Union, he rejected calls for him to step down. In fact, he consistently refused to step down because, as he put, it he wasn’t in charge of Libya. The people ran it. In the same delusional way that some people maintain that the Soviet Union was run by the people.

    No one should be mourning his absence.

  5. flyingrodent said,

    If you want to support/defend/not oppose NATO intervention purely in humanitarian terms – saving lives – there is some force to the point that 50,000 lives seem to have been lost anyway.

    But Clive, there is no “if” about the humanitarian terms here. They’re not in doubt – they were the totality of our reason for bombing the place.

    Our mandate to intervene in Libya was and is stricly limited to enforcing a no-fly zone, protecting civilians and encouraging a negotiated settlement. Those were explicitly the terms in which we undertook this entire operation.

    What we actually did was explode fuck out whoever we liked, whenever we liked. Then, we supported a massive combined arms assault on a heavily-populated city, assisting our new NTC pals as they launched a massive artillery barrage and ripped up building after building while the inhabitants were still in them, committing what appear to be a series of horrific war crimes against civilians and captured combatants.

    Preventing the destruction of a city and the attendant crimes was exactly what we were there to stop.

    Now, you can make a case that the end justifies the means; that the massive destruction, massacre and looting that Nato actively aided and abetted was a price worth paying for a rebel victory and the overthrow of Gaddafi. That’s dandy.

    The price of that argument is to state openly that practically every word that emanated from France, the US and the UK about humanitarianism was an intentional lie;

    That we openly and flagrantly mislead the world about our violent intentions, because human rights and international law are merely buzzwords that we use to enforce our will by brute force, up to and including the total destruction of entire cities;

    That our concern about civilian deaths is utterly disingenuous; that we do not care at all about civilian deaths, if we perceive them as necessary in attaining our undeclared aims; That our concern for civilian deaths is, in fact, entirely contingent upon their political utility to ourselves, and

    That we are, for real, prepared to assist in the commission of the most heinous atrocities, if we feel like doing so.

    The fundamental reason there have been so many deaths in Sirte – and elsewhere – is that a brutal dictator hung on to power.

    The fundamental reason that there have been so many deaths in Sirte is because Nato brazenly disregarded its mandate; intervened in a brutal civil war and provided one side with all the assistance it needed to crush its opposition utterly, regardless of the cost in damage to civilians or infrastructure.

    This is not to say – obviously – that the ‘rebels’ are all sweetness and light

    Not all sweetness and light! The Libyan rebel forces – only part of which is actually under the control of the NTC, the rest of it being Islamist or rogue militia – have smashed an entire city to rubble around the ears of its inhabitants, massacred captive and restrained enemy fighters and murdered god knows how many civilians in cold blood, purely because of the colour of their skin!

    Not all sweetness and light!

    Jesus. Look, my point about all you humanitarian war enthusiasts is and has always been this – that you cheer for war without even the slightest notion of what war actually entails.

    You give licence to almost unlimited murder and mayhem then totally disown the results or gild the bodycount up in euphemism, preferring instead to complain about how your political enemies smell and are nasty… And then, a year or two later, you’re back angrily demanding more diabolical war, having learned absolutely nothing from the carnage of all the Holy Jihads for Democracy you’ve previously declared awesome for five minutes, then discarded.

    You know who else acts like that? Children. Small children, at that, taking an intense liking to toys for a short while, then smashing shit up and leaving the wreckage in their wake, before moving on to the next new, new thing.

    Not all sweetness and light, indeed. All of us are hypocrites, but this is hypocrisy raised to the level of an artform.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Rodent: “they were the totality of our reason for bombing the place…”…”What we actually did was explode fuck out whoever we liked…”

    Eh.. Rodent: what is “our”…who are “we”?

    I realise (from previous exchanges) you’re not a socialist of any kind, but those of us who are have our own reasons, which are nothing to do with those of NATO.

    Words and phrases like “solidarity” and “the right to defend yourself” obviously don’t mean anything to a (allegedly) non-political person like you. But they’re rather important to us socialists. Especially when revolutionaries plead for an intervention.

    You missed your career as a bourgeois diplomat/ “realist” Tory isolationist MP/ Graun-type apologist for tyrants: “hypocrisy raised to the level of an artform”: add “dishonesty”, rodent, then check out the mirror!

  7. Juan said,

    Why does the Grauniad keep Milne? Intervention is not an easy topic and NATO’s record is enough to make you think your position a million times (even though in this case I think it was the right thing to do). But having this cliche ridden sixth former enthralled with conservative religious parties writing for you is really embarrassing.

    • Rosie said,

      Why does the Grauniad keep Milne?

      Something I have always wondered. Not just as an occasional columnist, but as an associate editor. Is he the reason why Tunisian Islamists are allowed to use the Guardian as their hustings. It really is crappy. I can’t see Christian Democrats, who are far less noxious than Islamists, being allowed columns in the Guardian to electioneer.

      On Libya – I don’t suppose I believed so much in the humanitarian mission, but as a mission to get rid of Gadaffi.

      Of course if NATO hadn’t intervened, and Gadaffi had carried out his revenge attacks, we would have had Milne et al full of gleeful references to the Western ally Gadaffi, Tony Blair’s mate Gadaffi decorated with pics of the late Colonel and Blair cuddling, as Milne et al denounced his (Western backed, Western armed) actions.

      Whatever the stated reasons of Sarkozy, Cameron et al for getting rid of Gadaffi, can anyone direct me to their actual reasons for doing so? There were agreements with Gadaffi about oil contracts, so the “all about oil” rationale doesn’t make much sense. The humanitarian part of it made it sellable to their electorates, but I would guess what made a war against him more attractive was him being a malevolent clown, who had embarrassed and pissed off various governments over the years. So when the chance came to pull him down, at little cost of lives of their own armed forces, they took it. Is that too simple an interpretation of their motives?

      • flyingrodent said,

        I would guess what made a war against him more attractive was him being a malevolent clown, who had embarrassed and pissed off various governments over the years.

        This was about 90% of the reasoning, I’d guess — it was a hit.

        Certainly, if it was intended as a humanitarian enterprise, the total destruction of Sirte shows how robust Nato’s commitment to humanitarianism is, when it butts heads with military necessity and political expediency. The less said about Tawergha the better, I think, since it’s starting to look like it was the worst piece of murderous ethnic cleansing since the purge of Sunni Baghdad.

        The utterly cavalier response to this this isn’t surprising, given the amount of thought Jimbo et al put into their pronouncements. Nonetheless, don’t imagine that the world didn’t notice how seriously we take our commitment to humanitarian war. That’s going to have major repercussions, somewhere down the line.

  8. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    rodent. an idiot.

  9. dave said,

    Ever since the French revolution the right have used shallow moralism and the fear of violence to try to discredit revolutionary upheaval—as if violence wasn’t either latent or overt in the existing systems of rule, the threat holding them together. Given his social origins, it’s perhaps arguable also that Lord Milne retains some (perhaps unconscious) sympathy for these foreign ruling classes in Libya and Iraq, Syria, Iran, since he too was taught to rule, to tell foreigners how to behave: in this case, submit themselves to glorious slaughter rather than undergo the ignominy of winning their own freedom with abit of foreign help.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      excellent comment DAVE

  10. dave said,

    Although I enjoyed the unintended irony of FR throwing his usual tantrum at the same time as labelling those with a different political view from him as childish, I think the important point for the left will be to do as Clive has here and start to build up criticisms of the list of the handy instrumental slanders of the Libyan revolutionaries currently slurrying around in the waste pipes of the reactionary left—a list which FR provides a handy summary here.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      flying Rodent is a cuernt of such a magnitude that sherpa fuckking Tensen could not climb to the summit of it. truly a magnificent CuERNTjerb

  11. Clive said,

    May I just add, since FR hangs most of his fury around the phrase ‘sweetness and light’ that this comment was not, originally, intended for the wider public. I probably would have expressed myself differently. It is in any case kind of obviously ironic though – isn’t it?

    My broader point is that I accept there may be much which has been done in the name of the Libyan revolution which is terrible. The fundamental fact though, from which all else follows, is that Gaddafi was a fantastically brutal dictator who was determined to hang on to the bitter end, and made it as bitter as possible. Even in the Panglossian universe some on the left inhabit in which he would have been overthrown anyway (and NATO at best made no difference), the end would have been very, very bitter.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      “My broader point is that I accept there may be much which has been done in the name of the Libyan revolution which is terrible”…

      No there has not. Nothing done that is terrible whatsoever. anywhere. at all.

      • Pinkie said,

        That is why you are considered a prick, Will. You like killing and fantasise about it from your bedroom. Grow up.

  12. Bob-B said,

    I wonder if Milne thinks the “grisly killing” of the Czar and his family by the Bolsheviks was a war crime.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      i don’t. because that is a stupid thing to say

  13. Andrew Coates said,

    At the time, given the results of the Tunisian elections, I was more annoyed by Seumas Milne’s comment about ‘progressive An-Nahda’ than the rest – so thanks for reminding us of the other stupid things he said.

    I’ve got my revenge at the end of this post here:

    http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/christopher-hitchens-acknowledging-the-legislators/

  14. Steve said,

    Great comment Rodent. Brilliant. The whole argument of Shiraz is that NATO had to prevent a massacre and now they are trotting out that in revolutions shit happens. Massacres are now to be apologised for!

    Now I personally can see why they killed Gaddafi, as part of his bringing Libya off the rogue state list he had to start attaching a few electrodes to the testicles of ‘Islamists’ – something Shiraz displayed no distaste for at the time. Though he didn”t personally do it, no more than did Bush or Blair. If I had been one of those Islamists who had the torture treatment i think I would have sought out the captured Gaddafi. The fact Gaddafi took so long to remove despite the bombarment suggests he was more popular than we care to think.

    But again Shiraz slavishly supports whatever imperialism does, and the active positive gushing support Shiraz gives imperialism can only ever be slavish. Any kind of Marxist objective analysis is thrown out the window and replaced by servility to imperialsm. Which ultimately is just the strongest players on the planet carving up the world in their interests. That is the project Shiraz supports.

    Shiraz think wars by our rulers can be divorced from domestic issues, they can’t. Imperialism, war binds the workers to its rulers and creates racism, nationalism and right wing populism. Anti imperialism is page one point one on any left wing procedure. You may as well go home and feed the ducks if it isn’t.

    • Robin Carmody said,

      Tory Little Englander-ism by other means. Making excuses for people more bigoted and fearful of the wider world even than the worst Tory Little Englander. A misunderstanding of Marx as profound as John Major’s misunderstanding of Orwell. No subtlety or light & shade in your world. I’m glad I don’t live there.

      As far as domestic issues are concerned, it’s people like you who actively hold back the changes Britain desperately needs, just as it was people like you who gave Thatcher all the excuse she needed thirty years ago.

    • Clive said,

      If you really can’t tell the difference between a revolution winning and a revolution being crushed, there is no hope for you.

  15. Sam Kriss said,

    more apologia for imperialism. why am i unsurprised? if i were you i’d drop the charade and just join the labour party

  16. SteveH said,

    Strangely for a Marxist site very little coverage of the occupy wall street movement on this site and the crackdown by the police thugs of freedom loving imperialist state numero uno. One has to conclude that is not a coincidence to your pro imperialist views.

  17. SteveH said,

    So according to Robin being against Britains imperialist, colonial project is now little Englander-ism. Talk about Orwellian double speak. And now the Tories are the ones against this imperialism and are not the actual people who carried it out – Stalinist re-writing of history anyone!

    Robin’s final comment makes me think he is a pure Thatcherite himself, he even apologises for the old witch.

    • Robin Carmody said,

      Now you really have got me wrong. I simply believe that the Libyan people should be seen as actual humans (always the hardest thing for dogmatists of any side), not merely as pawns in a game whose desires and aspirations must be denied so as to suit the “anti-imperialist” aims of affluent Westerners. I doubt whether people like you really care about the people of the countries you claim are being “threatened” in all their living, breathing unpredictability – only how you can manipulate them and use them for your dreams of creating the kind of society you’d shit yourself if you actually had to live in. Plenty of Tories are isolationists, btw – the Cameron government’s interventionist stance did not represent universal opinion in Tory circles. Every “side” of British politics is complicated and multi-layered. Orwell would, I believe, have agreed with me.

      I strongly oppose most of what Thatcher did and feel that Britain is a significantly worse place for her legacy. I merely believe that the Left abused their powers and defended indefensible one-party states, and that this was part of the reason why so many floating voters thought her way was the only way. To state that a change you feel was (largely) for the worst was not entirely the fault of the people who actually enacted it is not, in itself, to endorse that change at all.

  18. Sam Kriss said,

    im clearly not an american m8 nice little englandism tho

  19. charliethechulo said,

    SteveH: “Shiraz think wars by our rulers can be divorced from domestic issues, they can’t. Imperialism, war binds the workers to its rulers and creates racism, nationalism and right wing populism. Anti imperialism is page one point one on any left wing procedure. You may as well go home and feed the ducks if it isn’t.”

    Incoherent, gibbering, bollox. This man has nothing of interest to say, mainly because he appears to be very, very, thick

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