the further shrinkage of anti imperialist purists

Both of the authors below opposed the US led war in Iraq. Both of them support imperialist intervention in Libya.

An Open Letter to the Left on Libya by Juan Cole

The United Nations Security Council authorization for UN member states to intervene to forestall this massacre thus pitched the question. If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.

Libya: a legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective by Gilbert Achcar

The left should certainly not proclaim such absolute “principles” as “We are against Western powers’ military intervention whatever the circumstances.” This is not a political position, but a religious taboo.

Many of the comments to these articles express dismay at Cole and Achcar for questioning the one true way of anti imperialist consistency. We are witnessing a repeat of the process whereby anti-imperialist purists condemn and cast out those who refuse to remain true believers. See this supportive comment on the Juan Cole thread:

AMEN, JUAN! AMEN! Thank you so much for this. I’ve been an active demonstrator and vocal, obnoxiously-sanctimonious railer against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with railing against Obama’s weak health-care “reform,” his subservience to Wall St., his perpetuation and expansion of W.’s oppressive national security state and military budget… I’ve made lots of “comrades” in that time, and I’m split from nearly all of them in supporting this intervention in Libya …

13 Responses to “the further shrinkage of anti imperialist purists”

  1. 1 Steve Owens

    Bill are you suggesting that Juan Cole is an anti imperialist purist?
    You state that Juan Cole opposed the US lead war in Iraq but did he?
    My understanding is that he attempted to dissociate himself from either a pro or anti war stance. I think that he did warn of the difficulties a war might lead to and he was very critical of the conduct of the war but its a small group that arn’t critical of the wars conduct.

  2. 2 Bill Kerr

    Juan Cole is obviously not an anti imperialist purist since he is supporting imperialist intervention in Libya – and upsetting much of his former support base in the process.

    I can’t see how you can dissociate yourself from a pro war stance and at the same time not be opposed to the Iraq war.

    In the Juan Cole article I linked to he is trying too hard to build a wall of cognitive difference b/w the Iraq and Libyan wars. This paragraph about the neocons is the weakest part of his essay:

    Some have charged that the Libya action has a Neoconservative political odor. But the Neoconservatives hate the United Nations and wanted to destroy it. They went to war on Iraq despite the lack of UNSC authorization, in a way that clearly contravened the UN Charter. Their spokesman and briefly the ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, actually at one point denied that the United Nations even existed. The Neoconservatives loved deploying American muscle unilaterally, and rubbing it in everyone’s face. Those who would not go along were subjected to petty harassment. France, then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz pledged, would be “punished” for declining to fall on Iraq at Washington’s whim. The Libya action, in contrast, observes all the norms of international law and multilateral consultation that the Neoconservatives despise. There is no pettiness. Germany is not ‘punished’ for not going along. Moreover, the Neoconservatives wanted to exercise primarily Anglo-American military might in the service of harming the public sector and enforced ‘shock therapy’ privatization so as to open the conquered country to Western corporate penetration. All this social engineering required boots on the ground, a land invasion and occupation. Mere limited aerial bombardment cannot effect the sort of extreme-capitalist revolution they seek. Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way. (his emphasis)

  3. 3 Steve Owens

    Bill I think Juan Coles position is quite easy to understand. He was against Saddam but he didn’t think that invasion was a good idea therefor he neither supported or opposed the invasion. Cole is a big supporter of the United Nations taking action. It seems that he is consistent when he doesnt support non UN sanctioned military action but then supports military action that is UN sanctioned.
    Earlier Bill you dismissed people critical of the war as having a knee jerk anti American response. Now your arguing that Cole represents anti imperialist purists.
    Its hard to see how your argument fits the facts.
    When you started this thread you titled it “the further shrinkage of anti imperialist purists.”and the first person you refer to is Juan Cole and now you say “Juan Cole is obviously not an anti imperialist purist because he supports action in Libya but Bill he never was an anti imperialist purist.

  4. 4 Bill Kerr

    You are quite likely correct in your final statement, Steve, that Juan Cole was never an anti imperialist purist.

    The old way of thinking is that US Imperialism – and its allies be they British, Australian, French etc. – is still the number one enemy of the world’s people. A better attempt is to see the world as divided b/w those who support the completion of worldwide democratic revolution and those who oppose it. Another way of saying that is “Death to fascism”. Like it or not the US has supported democracy in Iraq and now in Libya. Juan Cole and the UN has climbed on board too, even though they missed the Iraq bus. Those who still see US Imperialism as the number one enemy are quite miffed.

    Steve, when you pick holes in the logic of others then it is a good idea not to persist in illogical statements of your own, particularly after they are pointed out. Juan Cole “didn’t think the invasion was a good idea”. It follows then that he was opposed to the invasion.

  5. 5 Steve Owens

    Bill, Juan Cole did not take a pro or anti war position.
    There are 3 positions a person can take
    1 pro war
    2 anti war
    3 neutral
    My understanding is that Juan Cole took a neutral position. He had sympathies for both arguments and didn’t take an active position.
    If a person has reservation about and action it does not follow that they opposed that action it just means they didnt support or oppose it.

  6. 6 Bill Kerr

    Juan Cole:

    As it was, the war was illegal, and I turned against it the moment the Bush administration tossed aside the United Nations, in March 2003. As undertaken, it contravened the United Nations charter. Worse than being merely illegal, it was impractical. It lacked the kind of international support that George H.W. Bush assembled for the Gulf War in 1990-91, and which would have been critical to its success.

    You are correct to say Juan Cole saw benefits from the war (eg. overthrow of Saddam) but the above statement makes it clear that on balance he opposed the war

  7. 7 barry

    Had Russia and/or China opposed the Security Council resolution, then the military air support for the Libyan rebels would not have been endorsed by the UN and would be seen to be ‘illegal’. By Juan Cole’s logic, this would make it wrong and unjust had the current Coalition of the Willing proceeded to offer air support anyway. This strikes me as being on a different page to those of us who keenly support such military solidarity with oppressed peoples when they face slaughter regardless of what nasties like Russia and/or China might compel the UN Security Council to do.

  8. 8 Steve Owens

    Bill my point was simple. In your original offering you link Juan Cole with anti imperialist purists. I know that he was/is not, so I pointed it out. You then changed tack to say that Cole was anti invasion again I know this to be incorrect. Even the quote you offer has Cole turning against the invasion in the month that the invasion occurs which is pretty flimsy to claim that he was anti war. He was attempting to remain neutral but became highly critical because of what he saw as illegality and incompetance. He has maintained a position that the UN is the appropriate body to make these types of decisions. I don’t endorse his view I was merely pointng out what his view is and now we agree he is not and never has been an anti imperialist purist. Anti imperialism purism is an idea he finds to be ridiculous.

  9. 9 Bill Kerr

    I agree Barry that it’s not on the same page. It’s a different page of the same book titled: Completing the democratic revolution worldwide. The book is more important than any page in the book.

    The UN Security Council has tacitly supported regime change in Libya. This is creating divisions amongst those who were united in opposing the Iraq war. I think we should welcome aboard those who now support imperialist intervention in Libya in support of the democratic revolution.

  10. 10 Barry

    Didn’t express myself at all well with that last line: “regardless of what nasties like Russia and/or China might compel the UN Security Council to do”.

    Makes it sound like Russia/China compelled the UN Sec Council to act – obviously NOT what I was suggesting. Meant that they could have stopped the Sec Council from approving the ‘imperialist intervention in Libya in support of democratic revolution’.

    Bill, I think the legalistic basis for Cole’s position means that he will not want to remain in the kitchen when it gets too hot. His support for democratic revolution in Libya is conditional, not absolute.

  11. 11 Bill Kerr

    The Juan Cole/Gilbert Achcar controversy

    louisproyect attempts to assess this issue from his “marxist perspective and references other interventions as examples to discuss. He does see a role for outside intervention sometimes but not from imperialists. Some extracts might encourage others to read the whole thing:

    Perhaps the reason people on the left are so upset with Juan Cole and Gilbert Achcar’s “humanitarian intervention” arguments is that they are widely considered “one of us”. In Achcar’s case, the pain is even more acute for the Marxist wing of the left since his credentials are so well established. …

    It is doubtful that anybody can take the idea that the Egyptian and Tunisian governments are “liberated” seriously. Right now the army holds power in Egypt and in Tunisia, the prime minister was appointed by the dictator Ben Ali’s unelected successor. This is not to speak of the role of Saudi Arabia in tilting the Obama administration toward intervention. … (evidence presented for a deal wrt Bahrain)…

    I think that there must be a different way of evaluating situations such as that which confronts us now in Libya. The real problem is in determining the nature of the Libyan revolt that now has been condemned by the “anti-imperialists” as ex post facto counter-revolutionary because of Western intervention. In this schema, Qaddafi is “anti-imperialist” because Western jets are bombing his troops. I posed this question on Mike Ely’s Kasama Project but have not gotten any takers:

    Just a hypothetical example but not that far from what happened. Let’s say that the Australian army encountered serious resistance from Indonesian militias trying to hold on to East Timor and that the East Timorese had been armed by the US. Would we support the Indonesian militias?

    If Cole and Achcar err on the question of understanding the nature of the beast, their opponents in this debate err on the side of demonizing the men and women who took up arms against Qaddafi. By harping on CIA involvement with the rebels, they essentially reduce the opposition to something akin to the Nicaraguan contras or Savimbi’s killers in Angola. While I think both sides will outlive any errors (MRZine of course being excepted) made in this debate, neither has shown their best side.

    Finally, although I oppose “humanitarian interventions” by the imperialists, I do think that outside rescues can play a role. When Tanzanian troops entered Uganda to topple Idi Amin, this was a genuine humanitarian intervention all the more so since the murdering tyrant was receiving outside support from

    The Libyan intervention is forcing anti imperialist “marxists” to justify their obvious lack of support for the people and to rethink historical precedents.

  12. 12 The Sanity Inspector

    I call this The Hot Tub War, because the Europeans are slipping into it an inch at a time. It’s an intra-arabian tribal fight at bottom, with no high principle involved. Someone once said that peacekeeping is the tactic of drawing a war out to its longest, most agonizing possible duration. It’ll be sad if Libya is in for years of being plinked by NATO strike aircraft, because if Col. Klink is replaced with another not-too-bloody dictatorship who’ll keep the oil taps open, that’ll be just fine with the Europeans. Why? Because they’ve been just fine with it up til now.

  13. 13 steve owens

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