Beware of Humanitarians With Bombs

As an anarchist, I find myself more than a little conflicted about recent events in Libya. It seems entirely plausible to me that, had the United States not intervened, there would have been a large-scale massacre in Benghazi. States — and their armed forces — exist, and some of their actions are worse than others. And sometimes state actions have beneficial side-effects. In this case, the people of Libya might be said to have benefited from the conflict between states, which weakened the control of their own organized crime lord over the turf in which they lived without a corresponding increase in the rival state’s power over them.

I certainly can’t begrudge the people of Benghazi who are now alive and quite plausibly would not have been absent the U.S. intervention. But I hope that, no matter how understandable it may be that they accepted help from the Devil, they look over the fine print very closely. They may find that, having accepted the Devil’s help, they won’t be done paying till the Devil says so.

The Obama administration portrays the intervention in Libya as a purely humanitarian act. But as Noam Chomsky says, “‘good intentions’ are not properties of states … and the United States, like every other state past and present, pursues policies that reflect the interests of those who control the state by virtue of their domestic power …”

Since the rise of a mass press and popular opinion as a force to be reckoned with in the developed countries, a little over a century ago, governments rarely admit they’ve undertaken foreign wars for simple territorial aggrandizement. Naked self-interest comes clothed in the guise either of humanitarian intervention or of self-defense against some “foreign threat.”

Chomsky, in “American Power and the New Mandarins,” notes that the counterinsurgency techniques used by the Japanese in Manchuria followed essentially the same playbook used from the Boer Wars and the uprisings in Cuba and the Philippines, to the American effort in Vietnam. He quotes letters home from Japanese officers explaining to their families the glorious mission of the Emperor’s troops across the water — to defend civilization against the Red Menace.

Even Hitler passed his territorial adventures off as the defense of oppressed ethnic German minorities in the Sudetenland and Danzig. In the latter case, the actual provocation came from Nazi troops in Polish uniforms. (Before you judge the German people for their credulity, ask yourself what the American people would do in the case of a similar false flag operation if it was reported as straight news — as it certainly would be — on CNN).

And then there’s St. Kennedy: Pursuant to his vow to “bear any burden, pay any price,” his Best and Brightest industriously set up a global apparatus centered on such institutions as the Green Berets and School of the Americas, whose main function was to teach military dictatorships and paramilitaries the finer points of torture and of murdering and disappearing political enemies. If there’s a Black Book of Communism that includes the victims of Soviet and Chinese collectivization and Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, there should also be a Black Book of the U.S. National Security State that includes the hundreds of thousands massacred by Suharto and Mobutu, the millions massacred by Central American and Andean death squads, and the untold thousands tortured by the military dictatorships which swept South America with the aid and comfort of the U.S. government in the ’60s and ’70.

If the Libyan people want an illustration of what will result from allowing the U.S. government any voice in how their postwar society is reconstructed, they need look no further than the work of Bremer’s CPA in Iraq. A modern prophet Samuel could provide an eloquent description of what awaits any country that accepts a U.S.-designed neoliberal government so that it can be “like the other nations.” It will have its state property distributed on sweetheart terms to politically connected western investors, be overrun by mercenaries from Halliburton and Blackwater, and sign a “Free Trade Agreement” with “intellectual property” provisions that criminalize saving seed and drive up the price of HIV drugs by ten thousand percent.

Libya, having benefited from the no-fly zone, had better take these historical lessons to heart and keep the Devil at arm’s length.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory