Was the West's Intervention in Libya Justified?
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AMY GOODMAN: Professor Juan Cole, your response?
JUAN COLE: Well, I just think it’s a mistake to characterize a mass movement of millions of people with reference to one or two individuals. And it’s simply not the case that this was primarily—or, that is to say, only—an eastern uprising. The city of Zuwarah, which is about the farthest west you can get among major population centers, threw off Gaddafi. Zawiyah, which is in the west, threw off Gaddafi. Zintan, a major tribal center of the Zintan tribe, threw off Gaddafi, and Gaddafi’s tanks are still trying to take it back. And Misurata, which is a western city, a major western city of nearly 600,000, threw off Gaddafi. So the east-west divide is a nonstarter here. The west also didn’t want Gaddafi. I would suggest that much of Tripoli didn’t want him, and in especially the working-class districts, Souk Al-Jummah and others, as was mentioned. So, this was a very widely based, geographically and class-wise, widely based uprising.
That there are one or two individuals that you can name who came back to Benghazi and declared themselves leaders is irrelevant. We don’t know what the leadership will look like going forward. There are also, you know, allegations that some of the fighters had fought U.S. troops in Iraq and are, quote-unquote, "al-Qaeda." There’s this tendency to try to take one or two individuals and use them as a proxy to stereotype this uprising. You know, it’s just the youth of Libya, it’s the youth of Benghazi, and often city notables and workers’ unions and so forth. It’s just the people. And you’re going to have all kinds of people there, and some of them are criminals, and some of them might have a terrorist past, and some of them might be hooked up with the CIA. I don’t know. But it’s—you can’t use that as a stereotype for the whole movement and say, therefore, it’s all right if these people are massacred with tank and artillery shells as they stand peacefully in the center of a city square like that of Benghazi.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a clip of President Obama last night. In some of his most detailed comments on the Middle East and North Africa uprisings to date, Obama said the U.S. is broadly supportive of the protesters’ demands.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered Gaddafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.
At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared he would show no mercy to his own people. He compared them to rats and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city.
We knew that if we wanted—if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so, nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.