The idea that the U.S./European intervention is motivated by humanitarian concerns appears plausible at first glance because Gaddafi was slaughtering protesters and openly threatening to slaughter more — so “intervention” could be sold as a humanitarian act.
But a bit of critical reflection on the wider context of this policy reveals how shallow such an explanation is.
First, there is the question of consistency. If the U.S. (et. al.) were motivated by humanitarian concern, then what of concern for the protesters being slaughtered in the streets of other autocratic states, like Syria, Yemen or Bahrain?
The White House managed to verbally condemn the crackdown in Syria, but the Yemeni and Bahraini regimes, important assets in the imperial project, get a pass or even support – Secretary of State Clinton asserted that Yemen had the “sovereign right” to invite Saudi Arabian forces into the country to violently crush dissent.
And what about Israel? Siddharth Varadarajan asks the multi-billion dollar question:
Why does only Libya get attacked or referred to the International Criminal Court and not other countries? If there is one country in the Middle East which has threatened international peace and security for decades and which, even as these words are being written, has launched its air force, yet again, against a defenceless civilian population, it is Israel. Yet never have the cheerleaders for the war on Libya argued in favour of a mandatory no-fly zone to protect the Palestinian and Lebanese people from Israeli airstrikes.
This selective application of humanitarian intervention exposes it as a whitewash.
Furthermore, if concern for humanity was a motivating factor for the U.S. (et. al.), then what of concern for its own citizens? Writing in the NYT, Bob Herbert reminds us that this “humanitarian intervention” is also “pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war… while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.”
“Humanitarian Concern”, like “Spreading Democracy”, is a PR label cynically used to sell imperial military projects to a (still-too-naive) domestic market, as well to serve as cover for complicit (and equally cynical) international institutions.
So, too, is the use of the euphemistic term “no-fly zone”, which had some Arab League support until it turned out to mean the shock and awe of missile strikes to inaugurate more or less unbounded military action, with its own inevitable civilian casualties.
But if not concern for humanity, then what motivates the U.S.(et. al.) attack on Libya?
Well, there is always the geopolitics of a dwindling oil supply. Or profits for the military-industrial-complex, which over decades gets to provide weapons to both Gaddafi and the coalition forces attacking him.