Comment | In bed with the Enemy’s Enemy: on the hypocrisy of the authoritarian Left

In an impassioned polemic, Donnacha DeLong denounces the "gross hypocrisy" of the unconditional support some on the Western Left have shown Arab dictators against their own people.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 2:13 - 11 Comments

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As Libyans celebrated their freedom, the gross hypocrisy of parts of the Left was exposed. The knee-jerk condemnation of NATO intervention was bad enough, but large numbers of people condemned the revolutionaries and praised Gaddafi. As the world starts to notice what’s happening in Syria where the people have been rising up for months, the same thing is starting to happen with Bashar al-Assad.

Gaddafi was one of those dictators that authoritarian left wingers liked. It’s not that surprising that they’d ignore his numerous crimes against his own people given their continued lionisation of Lenin and Trotsky. The crimes of the Bolsheviks against the Russian people are dismissed as necessary to save the revolution despite the fact that, as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman described so well, they destroyed the revolution and laid the path that led to Stalin.

Forget Lockerbie and the IRA, Gaddafi’s worst crimes were against his own people. Political opponents were imprisoned and “disappeared”, many murdered – such as the estimated 1,200 prisoners reported massacred in 1996 in a Abu Salim, a prison that led some in Guantanamo to consider their conditions an improvement.

Gaddafi colluded with the UK and US during the worst days of the “war on terror”, accepting rendition flights of people to torture. That’s right, the great anti-imperialist linked up with the CIA and MI6 – ask Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi.

People seem to have conveniently forgotten that the whole thing started with protests against the arrest of a human rights activist, Fethi Tarbel, back in February. Just like in Tunisia and Egypt, these protests were attacked by the security forces. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Gaddafi wouldn’t go and instead turned the country’s considerable military might against his own people as the rebellion spread out from Benghazi.

As for NATO’s intervention, what was the alternative? Gaddafi’s tanks had Benghazi encircled, having already all but destroyed Zawiya and violently retaken Ra’s Lanuf and Brega. The world was faced with letting Gaddafi massacre more of his people and potentially crushing the rebellion, or someone stepping in. Do the NATO countries have ulterior motives? Very likely. Was there anyone else who could have done it? Maybe, but no-one stepped forward.

My personal preference would have been the Egyptian army doing what the Vietnamese army did with Cambodia in 1978. This would have had the added advantage of getting the military out of Egypt where they are now trying to roll back post-Mubarak progress. But that wasn’t on the agenda. It was NATO or nothing and I’m glad it wasn’t the latter.

It seems horrible things may have happened during the revolution and are happening now in Syria – much like every other revolution in history. I challenge anyone to cite a revolution against a vicious dictator like Gaddafi or al-Assad where the revolutionaries have been as pure as the driven snow and haven’t engaged in executions. Do those criticising what happened to Gaddafi and, apparently, some of his forces feel the same about what the Italians did to Mussolini? Or the Bolsheviks did to the Romanovs in 1918?

The full story of the Libyan revolution has yet to be written, it’s now in the hands of the Libyan people. Those who are criticising them show a disgraceful lack of faith in their ability to create a new situation. It seems, in the mind of the authoritarian left-winger, praise is only due to people who had the good fortune to have ultimately weak rulers Praise for the Egyptians and Tunisians, condemnation for the Libyans for daring to ask for help.

As for Syria, I hope intervention isn’t necessary. Bashar isn’t his father, the archetypal Arab strongman dictator who ordered the massacre in Hama in 1982 in which tens of thousands were killed. Bashar has sent in the army and thousands have been killed, but he hasn’t shown the ruthlessness that defined his father.

He’s talking compromise – the kind of compromises both Ben Ali and Mubarak offered before they went and now the rest of the Arab world is turning against him (hypocrites that many of them are). He even appears to have shaved off his moustache in protest (not that it was every particularly noteworthy)!

Life isn’t black and white. It’s possible to criticise NATO, condemn the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still be thankful that Benghazi didn’t end up like Hama in 1982 and that Gaddafi’s gone. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. The people of Libya and Syria are not some pawns in a game of global politics and deserve a taste of freedom. Democracy is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than totalitarianism.

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Donnacha DeLong

Donnacha DeLong is an online journalist, Twitter reporter, online consultant and argumentative anarchist. He is a former President of the National Union of Journalists. All views expressed are his own unless otherwise stated.

11 Comments

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Noodles
Nov 22, 2011 3:52

“The knee-jerk condemnation of NATO intervention was bad enough” The serious (authoritarian or otherwise) left will always consistently condemn international acts of aggression just as you can always expect a “knee jerk condmenation” or rape/torture/murder from anyone seriously opposed to such acts.

“Gaddafi was one of those dictators that authoritarian left wingers liked” which “authoritarian left wingers” you allude to supporters of Lenin and Trotsky but virtually every single trot group from the SWP to the AWL condemned Gaddafi, even the most vehemently anti imperialist such group Workers’ Power went with “Down with Gaddafi, Down With the NTC.” The only exception was the minisicule (even by the standards of far-left politics) Workers’ Revolutionary Party but the fact they were financed by Gaddafi personally gives a much better indication of why they chose the stance they did rather than their authoritarian politics.

“Gaddafi colluded with the UK and US during the… ‘war on terror'” True. Gaddafi was a brutal dictator and despite taking a strong anti-imperialist stance internationally for much of the 70’s and 80’s after the country was crippled by sanctions he spent a long time cosying up to western powers. Crucially prior to the NATO invasion relations had soured between him and the west over his “resource nationalism” (the title given in foreign policy circles given to the crazy idea a nation should reap the benefits from its own resourses.) http://www.salon.com/2011/06/11/libya_9/singleton/ This doesn’t redeem Gaddafi but does inform us of the likely outcome of NATO intervention

“Forget Lockerbie” yeah I think I will given the fact Gaddafi had fuck all to do with it http://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/2009/09/pilger-megrahi-justice

” Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Gaddafi wouldn’t go” Because Ben Ali and Mubarak left the moment they suspected they didn’t have the complete confidence of their respective nations!?! They were forced out of office by their inner circle. Unfortunately the internal power dynamics of Libya meant this didn’t happen to Gaddafi but this doesnt make Ben Ali or Mubarak any less power hungry.

“As for NATO’s intervention, what was the alternative?” Not as many dead Libyans http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/26/libya-war-saving-lives-catastrophic-failure and as the article points out in relation to Benghazi “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”

“Libyan… it’s now in the hands of the Libyan people” Those NATO jets, troops and western multinationals must be a figment of my imagination then…

” I challenge anyone to cite a revolution against a vicious dictator like Gaddafi or al-Assad where the revolutionaries have been as pure as the driven snow and haven’t engaged in executions” hmmm you sound awfully like those nasty authoritarian left wingers who suggest “The crimes of the Bolsheviks against the Russian people are dismissed as necessary to save the revolution ”

” Democracy is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than totalitarianism.” who’s criticizing democracy’s imperfections and holding up totalitarianism as a positive alternative here? The same unnamed “authoritarian left-winger” you spend the rest of the article attacking?

Whilst this article is extremely misguided I understand this doesn’t represent the views of the editorial board of Ceasefire Magazine (a publication I am extremely fond of.) In fact I’d like to thank Ceasefire for publicizing the views, as dreadful and ill-thought out as they may be, of the the president of the NUJ Donnacha DeLong on the topic

Tom
Nov 22, 2011 9:45

You could have cut the air with a knife at the NUJ meeting in Holborn a few weeks back when John Pilger implored the union to do more to try and arrest the spread of the type of pro-military, warmonger-apologist propaganda which characterised the British media’s coverage of this latest Libyan campaign, and which positively drips from this horrendously naive piece.

“Democracy is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than totalitarianism.” How noble of Donnacha DeLong to have made that decision on behalf of the Libyan people, several hundred miles away and from the comfort of his armchair. “Democracy” is not what this is about: it doesn’t exist in any of the countries whose planes flew the 30,000 sorties over Libya which precipitated the Gaddafi government’s collapse, and it won’t exist in the New Libya, currently headed by a foreign-educated business professor whose pals in the IMF are licking their lips at the prospect of signing another African country up to perpetual debt, and the rape of the country’s resources that always accompanies it.

This wasn’t a revolution, it was a foreign-backed coup made possible because people like DeLong were of the opinion that “we can’t just do nothing.” Ironically, people like DeLong did do nothing – they sat and watched the flickering screen as jubilant Sky News reporters talked of “victory” and “vindication” for the NATO powers which bombed parts of Libya back into the stone age. It wasn’t “our” place. “We” had no right to intervene. The talk of moral imperatives and “being on the right side of history” is a cynical smokescreen to excuse and entrench the idea that “our” military can be deployed anywhere in the world where the banks and corporations which run our country can get their noses into the troff.

Libya, warts and all, was something of a beacon in Africa in many respects, dominated as it is by foreign capital, creditors and corrupt, compliant regimes only too happy to bend over backwards to accomodate the old colonial masters who nowadays fly the flags of “globalisation” and “progress” in place of the Union Jack and Tricolor of days before.

If “protecting jobs in our media” means preserving the employment of the people who brought us the glitzy, high-tech, morally justifiable wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, then maybe we’d be better off without the NUJ altogether. “Our” media has been complicit in the slaughter for too long. Pilger was right. It’s time for the NUJ to fix its act up, or as far as I’m concerned you can throw it on the pyre.

Everyone should look at the following piece if they want to understand why the war in Libya happened, and why the powers that be are talking about “dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat” whilst the genocidal proprietor of the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal eagerly bangs the drum to the same tune: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26686

Murray
Nov 22, 2011 11:42

I think there may be a critique of sections of the left to be made about how, at times, they so quickly dismiss the fates of those struggling for political freedoms in other countries. This certainly isn’t it though.

For a journalist, DeLong manages to miss an awful lot of context. Like how it is that we endlessly spend taxpayers money on next-generation privately-built weapon systems, which we then use to destroy the last generation of privately built weapons systems, that the same taxpayers subsidised when they were sold to the dictator who we now have a moral imperative to destroy. If the West wishes to claim the moral high ground in order to justify invading dictatorships in the name of freedom, we must start by ceasing to arm these dictatorships. How much ink has DeLong devoted to criticising the British arms industry, out of interest?

Another repeated omission from our media on these issues is the economic argument, which is curious as they’re normally so taken with such a view of the world. If improving the quality of life of those less fortunate than us is the aim, then is there any more wasteful means of going about it than doing it via high explosives? Even assuming that any stable, genuine democracy emerges from one of these lucky recipients of our ordinance (and that remains a considerable assumption at this time), how much more effectively could the money have been used in other ways, such as aiding development, or exercising soft power? Hollywood did more to ensure the American Century than did Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and the rest, and yet here in the UK the BBC World Service, our own cultural smart bomb, is under threat.

Why does the British media so unquestioning support the logic of military intervention abroad? DeLong’s blinkered argument – ignoring all context and simply focusing on the worst possible scenario in the here and now – is like a literary form of Klein’s ‘disaster capitalism’: aid the creation of a calamity, then use the ensuring panic to further entrench the same systems that created it in the first place.

catfish
Nov 23, 2011 0:26

Not really surprising, when you consider the supine reaction of the NUJ to this latest imperialist onslaught. Where was Delong’s journalistic outrage when NATO bombed the Libyan TV station and other news outlets – or does he consider journalists a legitimate casualty of war? Let alone the thousands of other civilians killed mainly, as far as I can make out, to guarantee unfettered British and French access to Libyan oil. Whenever imperialism goes to war, it does so under the cover of human rights – but what rights for women, for example, will be guaranteed with the imposition of sharia law? The majority of the media in this country colluded with British propaganda to demonise Gaddafi and lionise the rebels. We heard all about it when the rebels in Bengazi were under siege – day by day reports of their courage and determination and suffering – but when Sirte was being reduced to a bombed-out shell reminiscent of Dresden, journalists like Delong colluded in covering up the suffering in that city and joining in the countdown the glorious day when Sirte would fall. Journalistic standards? Morality? An attempt to give the full picture? Delong is simply a representative of Britain’s at best naive and at worst complicit media cover-up of imperialism’s crimes.

qunfuz
Nov 23, 2011 3:37

well said, Delong. an excellent piece.

Donnacha DeLong
Nov 24, 2011 2:46

I’m not really going to bother with most of the comments, but, for the record, I have never worked for the mainstream media in the UK, I do not represent the mainstream media nor do I have anything to do with their content. I am part of the campaign to retake control of the media from the corporate owners who are destroying it.

And, probably most importantly, I worked for six and a half years for Amnesty International writing about the human rights crimes of virtually every country on the planet. I was involved in promoting the Control Arms campaign, exposing the crimes of the US, UK and their allies (including Libya) in the War on Terror and, far too often, writing about the crimes of Israel against the Palestinian people.

Therefore, most of the criticism above are strawmen, inaccurate and have little to do with the point I was making with the piece. Down with all dictators, solidarity with all the people of the Middle East and North Africa who are fighting for their freedom, from Iran to Morocco – including those in Israel like the Anarchists against the Wall and Rabbis for Peace.

Murray
Nov 24, 2011 14:40

You’d have helped yourself and the following debate if you wrote as someone with six years at Amnesty, rather than someone who appeared to be representing a body as tarnished as British journalism.

That said, there is nothing strawman, innaccurate, or off the point about my comment on the hypocrisy of British foreign policy vis a vie the arms trade. Indeed the strawman is the your vision of a left who dismiss the suffering of those under dictators. In my experience, its a rejection of this perennial cycle of arming and then attacking that marks out much of the left’s rejection of invasions such as that of Libya.

If you want to challenge the left’s record on such matters, engage with it on its terms, not a fantasy one projected on to the left by neocons and the like. If you can tell me how we can continue, to this day, to arm Middle Eastern dictatorships (and Israel of course) and yet morally justify attacking those same countries, then you’ll have a critique worth making.

Donnacha DeLong
Nov 25, 2011 2:30

I wrote this as me, I didn’t put up the description. And, once again, I do not represent British journalism, I represent British journalists – not titles or the useless corporations that are destroying them with right-wing crap and constant job cuts. The NUJ is a trade union, with members from all across the media – from the BBC to Indymedia, The Telegraph to the Morning Star and trade union press officers.

I find it incredibly ironic that anyone could talk about arms trade in relation to Libya and keep a straight face. This is the same Libya that armed the IRA, remember? And, while working for Amnesty, as I pointed out, I helped promote the Control Arms campaign and, in particular, the campaign to ban cluster munitions. Come back to me when you’ve spent a couple of hours using Photoshop to try and read the serial number on a photograph of a shell.

Finally, I never criticised “the left” – I’m an anarchist, I am part of the left. I criticised the authoritarian left, those who I argued with on Facebook and Twitter whose blind hatred of NATO led them to defending first Gaddafi and now Al Assad.

There is no justification for the arms trade and for the UK providing weapons to brutal regimes, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when those regimes turn the same weaponry on their own people on the scale Gaddafi was preparing to, to not act to stop him would have been a worse crime. That is not a statement of support for NATO or a justification for what they did after stopping the bombardment of Benghazi. We need to learn from our brothers and sisters across North Africa and topple our brutal regimes as well.

Murray
Nov 28, 2011 16:27

“I find it incredibly ironic that anyone could talk about arms trade in relation to Libya and keep a straight face. This is the same Libya that armed the IRA, remember?”

So that simply puts us on the same level as Gaddaffi, which was pretty much my point.

As to your wider argument, I’m sympathetic in part – I certainly wouldn’t wish to defend a defender of Gaddaffi. The historical context remains critical though – if we allow ourselves to be bullied into just accepting a situation in which we must chose or not to save a population from the man and his supporters we previously armed, then the choice is a false one. You’ve now stated your own commitment to challenging this charade of arming then attacking, and yet the dilemma you’re pushing shuts off that real debate. The invasion of Libya supported the same military-industrial complex that helped enable it to happen in the first place, and so makes future repetitions more likely. In that sense its a rerun of the banking crisis – the people that got us into it are annoited the saviours. At some point we have to break the cycle, but there was no sign of that in your piece, beyond a brief mention of it being ‘possible to criticise NATO’ in your last paragraph.

If there really are idiots on the Left who simply defend Gaddaffi because he spouted anti-imperialist slogans and dressed up as a revolutionary then by all means put the boot in. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky in avoiding such people – for me this felt like it was taking aim at an irrelevance. The non-interventionism of much of the Left does lead to uncomfortable moral dilemmas at times, perhaps my mistake was approaching this article as if it was addressing that issue.

libyan
Dec 1, 2011 12:33

Donnacha DeLong, your views are more in line with the people of libya. These other people commenting think they know better then the libyans and are completely out of touch with the reality on the ground. many of the commenters view is very simplified, because if they lived in libya, they would not be arguing about this.

Donnacha DeLong
Dec 1, 2011 13:26

@Murray – reread paragraphs 6 and 7, I don’t leave criticism of NATO until the last paragraph.

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