Was the West's Intervention in Libya Justified?
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AMY GOODMAN: Juan Cole, your response?
JUAN COLE: Well, I don’t think the situation is comparable to Bahrain. I would like to see the Bahrain monarchy, which is a Sunni monarchy ruling over a Shiite majority, show greater flexibility in meeting popular demands for constitutional revision, for better representation of the Shia in the parliament, for moving the monarchy towards a constitutional monarchy. But to compare tiny Bahrain, where there has been some violence against protesters, to Libya, where there was a national popular uprising and where, in Libya, thousands are dead, not 20, it’s just not on the same scale.
And the other thing is, you know, let us be practical, let us be pragmatic. We are people of the left. We care about the ordinary people. We care about workers. We care about the aspirations of the people, and the United States should certainly be putting pressure on the Bahrain monarchy to accommodate them. And in fact, the U.S. has put pressure on it, to the extent that the Saudi government is furious with the United States. I mean, we’re saying it’s not doing enough. The reactionary forces in the Gulf are angry that we’re doing too much. And however, you know, a military intervention in Bahrain is not a practical option, and I cannot see in what way it could even have any hope of success. The Bahraini protesters themselves would object to a direct U.S. or NATO military intervention in Bahrain.
In Libya, the people asked for this intervention: they asked for a no-fly zone. And I would be the first to admit that this is going beyond a no-fly zone. There’s also a no-drive zone. The British and the French and the American fighter pilots have taken out tank positions and artillery positions that had been used to subdue villages and towns that had gone into opposition. The Gaddafi regime has been rolled back by these attacks, and that’s part of what the Western understanding, or the NATO and the Arab League understanding, of the U.N. resolution is, is that Gaddafi was wrong to roll tanks and artillery against these civilian crowds and that those have to be withdrawn. And where they’re not withdrawn, they’ll be attacked.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me just put the final question—
JUAN COLE: So, I don’t—I don’t agree that the resolution, which is worded somewhat ambiguously, that the spirit of it has so far been violated. And President Obama made it quite clear that the United States doesn’t intend to press an invasion of a sort that would overthrow Gaddafi directly.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Vijay Prashad, on this issue of Benghazi, that—the promised massacre of the people of Benghazi, what should have happened? How would that have been prevented?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Firstly, I’m not convinced that there would have been a massacre. I think that there were troops inside Benghazi. They are the troops that were trained and armed by the Libyan regime. They had repulsed an attempt into Benghazi. The tanks were outside the city when they were bombed by French planes.
What I would have liked to have seen was some more action from the—you know, the Arab League to think about, for instance, a war refugee corridor out of Benghazi into the Egyptian border. There is a road that goes directly. It’s interesting that the Egyptian army did not act at all in this, to come and create some kind of corridor. There were war refugees fleeing Tripoli into Tunisia, but there was nothing comparable on the eastern side. This had already become a civil war, and no longer was it simply an unarmed population fighting against a state. It had become a civil war. The real humanitarian intervention there would have been to have conducted the creation of a corridor, a momentary ceasefire, let people leave as war refugees, and then see what happens, because this is not strictly the case in Benghazi of unarmed civilians fighting against a state. It is precisely why General Ham of the African Command said that from a cockpit it is very hard to know whether you’re defending civilians or whether you’re assisting rebels.