Why Do Rational Interventionists Keep Getting It Wrong?
A few days after Gaddafi was brutally attacked, possibly sodomized with a metal rod, then killed by the Libyan “rebels”, Don Pogreba wrote up a little paean to western intervention titled Libyan Intervention: Another Example of Rational Humanitarian Foreign Policy. In hindsight the post appears almost delusional, especially this part:
I don’t celebrate the death of anyone, but it’s hard to feel terribly sad about the fact that the Colonel is no longer in a position which allows him to torture and kill indiscriminately. Eventually, people rise up to take down despots. It’s often ugly, even brutal, but it will happen—and I’d prefer a national security policy which works to prevent those people from being slaughtered.
In the end, the US and NATO did an admirable job. They used a relatively inexpensive mission which gave the rebels breathing room in which they could defend themselves against a despot. And then the people of Libya did the rest. We can’t know what kind of government or future Libya will have, but I think we can be sure that it will be better than the past two generations.
Following eight years of disastrous foreign policy, this was another sign that the Obama administration is simply far more competent when it comes to national security and military issues than the previous administration. In less than three years, he’s overseen the elimination of Osama bin Laden, led the effort towards killing of some of his chief deputies, drawn up firm plans to finally end Bush’s destructive war in Iraq, and done his best to navigate the complex issues of the Arab spring and its aftermath.
That certainty of generational improvement looks much different three years after NATO stopped dropping bombs, and while cheerleaders of intervention appear to have abandoned paying attention to the consequences of the actions they supported in Libya, people like Patrick Cockburn have not. Case in point, an article from Cockburn about The Implosion of Libya:
Libya is imploding. Its oil exports have fallen from 1.4 million barrels a day in 2011 to 235,000 barrels a day. Militias hold 8,000 people in prisons, many of whom say they have been tortured. Some 40,000 people from the town of Tawergha south of Misrata were driven from their homes which have been destroyed. “The longer Libyan authorities tolerate the militias acting with impunity, the more entrenched they become, and the less willing to step down” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Putting off repeated deadlines to disarm and disband militias only prolongs the havoc they are creating throughout the country.”
Unfortunately, the militias are getting stronger not weaker. Libya is a land of regional, tribal, ethnic warlords who are often simply well-armed racketeers exploiting their power and the absence of an adequate police force. Nobody is safe: the head of Libya’s military police was assassinated in Benghazi in October while Libya’s first post-Gaddafi prosecutor general was shot dead in Derna on 8 February. Sometimes the motive for the killing is obscure, such as the murder last week of an Indian doctor, also in Derna, which may lead to an exodus of 1,600 Indian doctors who have come to Libya since 2011 and on whom its health system depends.
Western and regional governments share responsibility for much that has happened in Libya, but so too should the media. The Libyan uprising was reported as a simple-minded clash between good and evil. Gaddafi and his regime were demonised and his opponents treated with a naïve lack of scepticism and enquiry. The foreign media have dealt with the subsequent collapse of the Libyan state since 2011 mostly by ignoring it, though politicians have stopped referring to Libya as an exemplar of successful foreign intervention.
Can anything positive be learnt from the Libyan experience which might be useful in establishing states that are an improvement on those ruled by Gaddafi, Assad and the like? An important point is that demands for civil, political and economic rights – which were at the centre of the Arab Spring uprisings – mean nothing without a nation state to guarantee them; otherwise national loyalties are submerged by sectarian, regional and ethnic hatreds.
Past positions from pro-interventionists is what leads me to be weary of current claims being made about Ukraine, especially when people like PW condescend by asking then Answering Leftist Questions About Ukraine:
But the new government will certainly lead to the expansion of neo-liberalism, which is bad, right? This is also a common criticism – that somehow integrating Ukraine in the EU will bring about powerful pressure for ‘neo-liberalism’, which is poorly defined but generally associated with privatization and the creation or tolerance of extreme wealth inequality. Interestingly, this line of argument is also used by Svoboda, one of those nasty right wing parties, to encourage Ukrainian nationalism. Fortunately, both Svoboda and the US left wing are wrong on this point. If by neo-liberalism we mean the weakening of the welfare state and expansion of inequality, then neo-liberalism cannot be reasonably associated with the EU, as four of the five most egalitarian nations in the world are members of the EU, and every EU state has a lower level of inequality than Russia.
An article by Jack Rasmus asking Who Benefits From Ukraine’s Economic Crisis? is helpful in understanding the concerns the “US left wing” have, and why we are not wrong:
While the final version of the latest IMF package for the Ukraine is still in development, past relations and deals between the IMF and Ukraine indicate some likely characteristics of ‘Deal #2’ due on March 21. (Deal #1 was the agreement reached on February 21 between the IMF and the pre-Coup government of President Yanukovich. While that former deal was agreed to on the 21st, it was upset within 12 hours by the violent street actions of proto-fascist forces and the still unidentified sniper killings of more than 100 protestors and police forces in Kiev).
Former agreements and proposals between the IMF and Ukraine since the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004 resulted in IMF loans to the Ukraine as follows:
2005 IMF deal terms: $16.6 billion in loans to Ukraine
2010 IMF deal terms: $15.1 billion in loans to Ukraine
December 2013: Ukraine requests another $20 billion from IMF
The Orange Revolution of 2004 resulted in severing much (but not all) of the Ukrainian economy from Russia. That caused significant economic contraction for the Ukrainian economy for several years after. Think of the similar effects of the severance as if the west coast economy of the US—California, Oregon, Washington—were stripped from the USA and joined Canada. While the rest of the world economy, including Russia, enjoyed a moderate real economic recovery from 2004-07, Ukraine did not benefit much due to the economic severance from Russia that followed 2004 and the Orange Revolution. Ukrainian GDP declined or stagnated. In other words, the IMF deal of 2005 did little for the Ukrainian economy.
Then came the global economic collapse of 2008-09, generated largely by US, UK and western banks’ over-speculation in financial securities. The Ukrainian economy and GDP, like many economies, collapsed by more than -15% during those two years. That led to the second IMF deal of 2010. Ukraine believed the second deal would open its exports to western Europe and that would generate recovery. However, the European economy (EU) itself slipped into a second, ‘double dip’ recession in 2011-13, and demand for Ukrainian exports did not follow as anticipated. Ukrainian GDP again stagnated after a short, modest recovery, and then slipped into a recession again in the second half of 2013. In short, the 2010 IMF deal did little for Ukraine as well.
In fact, the 2010 IMF probably slowed economic recovery, as it required a 50% increase in household gas prices and corresponding cuts in subsidies for the same. That significantly reduced aggregate consumption demand by Ukrainian households and slowed the economy. So did corresponding IMF demands for reductions in government spending, which were a precondition for the $15.1 billion 2010 IMF package.
One of the reasons no doubt that the Yanukovich government last December 2013 decided to forego another IMF deal was the reported requirement by the IMF that household subsidies for gas be reduced by 50% more once again. Other onerous IMF requirements included cuts to pensions, government employment, and the privatization (read: let western corporations purchase) of government assets and property. It is therefore likely that the most recent IMF deal currently in negotiation, and due out March 21, 2014, will include once again major reductions in gas subsidies, cuts in pensions, immediate government job cuts, as well as other reductions in social spending programs in the Ukraine.
I await the intelligent, rational interventionists to explain why doing the same thing and expecting different results is good policy.