Saturday, September 22, 2012

David McReynolds on Libya, Egypt, Muslim rage

From: David McReynolds []
Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2012 8:58 PM
Subject:  On Libya, Egypt, Muslim rage 
EdgeLeft: an occasional column

In a few hours I'm taking off for California for three weeks but some quick comments. Usually I try to
write a thoughtful essay (which always includes two or three astounding errors of spelling and/or grammar)
and then, after it gets posted, Bruce Cronin comes by every couple of weeks to beat me at a game of
Stratego and put the piece on the website. (checkout:

The results of that formality is that things that need comment often never get written, so now, with only
hours before lift off, some comments on the current mess.

Libya: I am deeply sorry four Americans plus a number of Libyan guards were killed in the raid on the
US Consulate. However I am also equally sorry for the death of a number of Libyan civilians during the
prolonged NATO attack on Libya. I was in the minority of analysts who did not view the violence in Libya
as a revolution but rather as a civil conflict - and a bloody one. Those of us who were following stories
other than those in the mainstream media knew there were clearly Al Queda elements involved, that
there was never a unified command of the "revolutionary" group, that vast quantities of weapons were
flowing in which would make stability a serious problem.

My politics are democratic socialist - and pacifist. I don't see easy answers to every question.
Libya was a situation with no easy answer. I was disgusted with the brutality of the murder of Gadaffi,
doubly so since, only a short time before, all the West European leaders had been on such good
terms with him, eager for access to his oil. 

No one should be surprised that, in the case of Syria, the Chinese and the Russians have not
cooperated with the West. They felt badly burned by the NATO actions in Libya, where the original
intent of a "no fly" zone turned into an effort to hunt and kill Gadaffi by drones, and where the
original pledge of the US not to seek regime change turned into precisely that.

Might one ask what the hell NATO was doing in Libya in the first place, all other questions aside?
When do we put the dissolution of NATO on the agenda?

Let's just skip Romney's inept comments on the Libyan situation - his only claim to foreign policy
expertise seems to be his friendship with Netanyahu. But on the general question the GOP is
pushing - that Obama was apologizing for something - this is astounding. There is an awful lot
for which Obama should apologize but nothing he said or did during the events in Libya and
Egypt amounted to an apology. This is a President who has been sending drones all over Africa
and Afghanistan - hardly a man in the business of an apology.

But if it does come to that, few countries in modern times have as much to apologize for.

Where does one even start the list? It is a bi-partisan one, ranging from the invasion of Panama,
to the war on Vietnam and Cambodia, to the invasion of Iraqadd to it Obama's "surge" in
Afghanistan. Not only are American men and women losing their lives in a cause that was
already forfeit, but large numbers of the civilians living in these areas are also losing their lives.
The same week as the tragedy in Libya, eight civilians were killed in Afghanistan "by accident".

On the huge topic of the day - the 14 minute video clip on the Prophet - I can see a riot being
organized against the producers on the grounds that the production values of that clip were so
second rate, and of course I deplore, unconditionally, all the efforts to provoke Muslims by means
of such video clips, by burning the Koran, by urinating on it, by defacing it. I do wish that some
of those who have engaged in such actions here could try doing those actions in Libya, or Egypt,
or Iraq, or Afghanistan, rather than from the safety of the US where their provocations are protected
by law.

However, two points. One, the values of free speech are radical, they were defended at enormous
cost, and while we can try to educate the Muslim world on why we have those values, we should
not apologize for them, nor should we try to limit them. I find things such as the Fatwa against Salman
Rushdie outrageous (and I'm glad it has been lifted). In our complex world our differing societies, with
differing values, must learn some degree of mutual respect. And while I would chide someone such
as Pamela Geller who seeks to inflame anti-Muslim feelings in the US, I would also chide Muslims
who think that the cartoon of their prophet justifies rioting which takes human life.

The second point, however, is the deeper one. We have those here, Christians and Jews, who would
try to persuade us that Islam is the threat to our survival. We have witnessed a Prime Minister of
Israel try to bully the US President into meeting with him. What the West, include Israel, must
deal with is the fact that 2012 is not 1940. Back then the Islamic world was quiet. The rulers of
the Islamic countries were corrupt and for the most part were puppets of Western interests (often
the British or French, less often the US). The world moves with great speed and that comfortable
world has vanished, even before the Arab Spring.

We should try to realize that what the West has done to the Islamic world, in some cases by the US
alone, in other cases through multilateral actions such as NATO, has brought monumental suffering
to the people of Iraq, of Afghanistan, that we were happy for decades with a military dictatorship in
Egypt and can't realize yet that those days are gone.

We are living in a world where every Muslim who has TV has seen the horrors of Abu Graib, of
Guantanamo, of the torture chambers of the Western world. Every Muslim has seen the apologies
for civilians killed by US drones or NATO air strikes. We have, it is clear, not yet begun to
realize how deep the damage is.

Finally, on the matter of Iran, which has a regime I deeply oppose, the talk, either in Israel or here,
of a military strike against Iran tells me that we have yet to learn the errors of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Is Israel threatened by hostile neighbors? Yes, but if the only answer Israel has to these dangers
is to call for military strikes, then it may be time for Israel to close shop. The Israeli question is
a long and complex one, and I think a solution can be found. But it will not be found by new
military actions.

In haste - and will try to keep more on top with more frequent comments.

David McReynolds

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