The Qaddafy family threatens to go ‘door to door’ to stamp out the revolutionary upsurge, presumably meaning to pull out those who dare to protest and slaughter them in the streets, and I’m old enough to remember a regime that did exactly that, but with the material and moral support of the good old U.S.A. I refer, of course, to the fascists in El Salvador, who crushed their revolution in the 1980s by, among other things, shooting down the Catholic archbishop of the capital while he said mass in the cathedral.
Some people were shocked, but not the assassin-enablers at the State Department whom I witnessed mobilize their propaganda resources to justify and spin the crimes of their allies. I especially remember one gruesome incident, in which two dozen civilians were literally dragged from their homes and shot in the streets, because I asked the State Department spokesman if that ‘would constitute a human rights violation’, which he could not concede because of the Reagan Administration’s decision to avoid that language. He then went off the record and blamed it all on the bad-guy Treasury police, rather than the good-guy regular cops and soldiers that the U.S. was training not to do those naughty things. The assembled scribes from the major papers dutifully took shorthand and regurgitated it that way.
The result was that my parents’ neighbors in Ohio largely accepted that the communist menace in Central America had to be crushed and that the Salvadoran union leaders, students and villagers all systematically dragged from their beds and murdered by the thousands was a small price to pay for our safety. Sort of like the official line on the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad of the mid-2000s.
It’s easy to be on the right side in Libya, but the loose talk of ‘no-fly zones’ and even military intervention to help the good people there throw off the yolk of oppression is disturbing. We don’t even have to look back 30 years—W’s debacle in Iraq and Obama’s in Afghanistan are adequate reminders that the western powers should be encouraged to keep their military resources to themselves as long as possible. While it is terrible to see the ongoing carnage in Libya, the steps taken so far to restrict access to money, encourage defections and threaten human rights prosecutions over further atrocities seem to me correct and prudent steps, at least for now.
By contrast, British Prime Minister Cameron’s team has looked amateurish in shooting from both hips. His foreign minister got egg on his face by repeating a vague rumor that Qaddafy was en route to Venezuela, and Cameron’s own eagerness to talk gunboats and warplanes was quickly scotched by a more cautious White House.
In any case, it’s not clear that either the British or the Americans have military resources to deploy for any length of time were they foolishly to get themselves engaged in actions of any complexity in the Mediterranean. The buzz has died down about the state of our troops, but a recent article in New York magazine about the high rates of clinical depression and PTSD in Iraq/Afghanistan veterans suggests a fighting force that will need a generation to recover.
For better or worse, it’s the Libyans who will have to find a way to neutralize their local madman willing to destroy his country in order to ‘save’ it. There seem to be ample military resources available to the democratic forces from those who switched sides, and more can be expected. It should be easy enough to find ways to assist them without turning the revolution into an excuse for more Pentagon adventurism in the desert.