–by Kevin Martin, Executive Director
The U.S./British/French-led intervention in the civil war in Libya has caused confusion on many sides – in domestic public opinion, congressional opinions about the legal, moral and strategic rationales for launching yet another war (President Obama may well be lucky he is visiting Central and South America and that Congress is out of session right now), and in the international community. Here are just a few of the many unanswered questions:
What are the objectives in Libya? Regime change? The UN didn’t authorize that but Obama and others have said Col. Muammar Qaddafi must go.
Who is leading or coordinating the “coalition” of military forces attacking Libya? Not NATO (Turkey won’t allow it, good for them). Obama said the U.S. will turn over leadership of the war to someone – he didn’t specify whom – in a matter of days. France is proposing a new “steering committee” of the various countries involved. What is this, a pick-up game of war?
Who exactly, other than the amorphous “anti-Qaddafi forces,” are we supporting in Libya?
How will this war impact other countries and peoples in a region that has seen such breathtaking change in just the last couple of months? What is going on in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Iran and Iraq (an invasion – Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces into Bahrain – and mass killings and/or crackdowns against protesters, presumably because those in power think they can get away with it while the world’s attention is focused on Libya)? Do the U.S. and U.N. have any consistent standards for invoking the “responsibility to protect” justification for “humanitarian” military interventions?
I’m sure the reader could think of many more. All of this is not surprising, and it’s not just from “the fog of war.” It’s evidence of the emergence of a multi-polar, somewhat messy world order in the winter of US Empire.
I know most people get defensive hearing the U.S. called an Empire. But look at our failed, endless wars, economic and fiscal crises at the national, state and local levels (manufactured, not “real,” by our bailout of Wall Street, refusal to justly tax the rich and corporations, and the wars and gargantuan military budget equivalent to the rest of the world’s countries combined), rapacious, reckless energy consumption and destruction of the environment. Call it something other than Empire, but call it what it is – unsustainable. We have to find a better path forward for our children, our country, and the world.
Johan Galtung, considered a founder of the field of Peace and Conflict Studies, predicts the end of the Empire by 2020, but even if he is off by a few years – and he was pretty dead-on about the demise of the Soviet Union – we need to start constructing a better society now.
So the real questions are how do we minimize the destruction likely to be caused as this decline accelerates, and most importantly, how do we build something better, both internationally and domestically, in its wake? How do we empower people to take control of their lives, communities, workplaces, schools, economies, countries, and the stewardship of finite, fragile planet we all share?
Anyone claiming to have all the answers would be a fool. The “triple evils” of our society – racism, militarism and economic exploitation – decried by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 are still powerful today. But the beginnings of that new, more just world are seen where people come together to stand against injustice and demand a better way.
The people of Egypt captivated the world with their mostly nonviolent and secular revolution against a dictator the U.S. supported for nearly thirty years. Obama, and his successor, and his successor’s successor, would gladly have kept lavishing money, weapons and political cover on Mubarak and his son (who Mubarak had anointed to replace him) ad infinitum, but the people of Egypt stood up and said, “No More!”
In Wisconsin, the illegal, audacious union-busting move by Governor Scott Walker, ironic as Wisconsin was the first state to recognize state workers’ right to collective bargaining, sparked an awe-inspiring response from working people there (and in other state capitals as well). People peacefully occupied the Capitol Building (aided by the police!) and farmers on tractors converged on Madison to join a crowd of over 100,000 two Saturdays ago. That is what solidarity looks like! And Peace Action Wisconsin activists were there, loud and proud!
Then there was U.S. Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) congressional hearing on the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community. This racist, repugnant, new McCarthyite sham was widely denounced, deservedly so, in the media and among civil liberties activists, in a show of support for our American Muslim sisters and brothers.
Progress is being made in other places as well. Illinois recently became the 16th state to repeal the death penalty, and Maryland may also do so soon; the votes are there in the legislature and the governor has said he will sign the bill into law. Maryland and other states are making progress toward legally recognizing gay marriage, and medical marijuana and decriminalization seems to have inexorable momentum in many states and municipalities.
One needn’t agree with all these moves to see what is happening – people are standing up, standing together, and demanding better solutions to our country’s challenges. It is also happening, if slowly, on health care reform, energy and food safety and sustainability (great issues for building community), ending our disastrous wars and cutting our outrageous military budget in order to reinvest in human needs.
Just as protesters in Madison drew inspiration and support from those in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, advancement domestically is linked to progress in building better structures to replace a Pax Americana (what Pax? We’re fighting three wars!).
The Libya “humanitarian intervention” should be the last of its kind. Instead of selective, pick-up wars (with who knows what unintended consequences) against selected despots, a permanent UN peacekeeping force under the direction of the Secretary-General, not the Security Council, needs to be established. Regional economic and security alliances, based on respect for human rights and democracy, need to be strengthened. And diplomacy, sustainable economic development and disarmament, rather than coercive threats, human and resource exploitation and arms races, must be the cornerstones for a more peaceful and stable international order.
The demise of the U.S. Empire will likely not be pretty, or easy, but we can help steer it to a softer landing. And we should keep our eyes on the prize that will follow, the blossoming of the U.S. Republic (as Galtung has termed it), and a more peaceful, just, stable world.