Volatility

April 6, 2011

Libya and the Permanent War

Filed under: Global War On Terror, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 2:12 am

 

I don’t think I have much that’s new to say about the latest US war, the first which is 100% Obama’s.
 
It does represent a further evolution of the Permanent War, as this time there wasn’t the slightest pretense of seeking Congressional approval. Congruently, it’s another advancement of imperial presidency doctrine, with Hillary Ribbentrop actually declaring that for Congress to try to restrain the president would be a violation of the prerogative of the executive. It’s simply amazing how meaningless the Constitution has become even for those who swear to uphold it and claim to base their legitimacy upon it.
 
My readers will know that I consider no phenomena to be unrelated to the kleptocratic war on America, and so it is with the imperial presidency. I’ve written briefly about this before, how the emphasis on foreign policy favors the executive. US foreign policy since WWII has focused on colonial exploitation. At the same time this emphasis is meant to starve and show contempt for domestic policy. And then, when this exploitative, contemptuous government turns to domestic policy, it does so from point of view of a foreign conqueror like Attila. So it’s logical that executive would take the lead here as well, with Congress his rubber-stamp. I’ll probably have another post on this, developing the idea in the corporatist context.
 
I don’t care any longer in principle about matters of the “balance of powers”, since I recognize this as having been a scam in the first place. These powers, properly balanced or not, were always intended to uphold a new ruling class over the people, and so it has been throughout US history. All that’s happened since the 70s is that the development of this ruling class has required increasing imbalance and contempt for even the forms of its own Constitution.
 
As for the war itself, it looks like a farce and a crime. We know that Western wars are waged only for malevolent ends and have only destructive consequences for everyone but the power elites. This one will and can be no exception. (When I earlier considered the possibility of supporting a no fly zone, I stipulated that we were discussing only that by itself. Of course, one of the reasons for rejecting such a zone was that by itself it could never accomplish anything. Therefore we see how the moment the West decided to seize the opportunity for war, they took the original “no fly zone” idea and turned it into something far more vast.)
 
It’s hard to say who these rebels even are. From what I read, most military units on either side have melted away as the air strikes began, and we’ve been left with Gaddafi loyalists against rebel paramilitaries of uncertain provenance. Nor is it clear who’s represented by the “rebels”, including turncoat Gaddafi officials and Chalabi types who have been living in America, who requested this NATO war.
 
We know from history that this war will not help the Libyan* people. From our point of view, the most important thing about it is how it will further entrench the military state in our own countries.
 
[* I’m not an expert, but so far as I read there’s no such thing as “Libya”. Rather, it’s a conglomeration of tribes, with Gaddafi leading a tribal coalition largely from the western part of the country, which has always been at odds with the tribes from the eastern part. The rebellion, at least in the east, has arisen largely among these tribes. If anyone thinks I have that wrong, let me know.]  
 
The war is another act of aggression, and demonstrates yet again how the neoliberal West intends for its wars to continue permanently, flaring up ever anew at new boundaries, with zero democratic restraint and increasing contempt for even the pretense of such restraint. (Meanwhile, the US praised the violent crackdown upon the undisputed rebellious majority in Bahrain.) I’m reminded of Hitler’s planned end stage for the Nazi empire, once the Soviet Union had been pushed beyond the Urals, its main power permanently smashed, and the most intense part of the war won. At that point, he envisioned a permanent “bleeding boundary” at the periphery of the empire, as over generations chronic distant warfare was enshrined as the permanent feature of life. Something similar is intended today, although at this empire’s bleeding boundary the conflagrations are likely to be more severe. This will continue for as long as the neoliberal empire stands, although we can hope that every act of overextension, including political overextension abroad (and, dare we hope, at home? but previous wars haven’t had that effect), will bring closer the day of its fall.

March 15, 2011

Arcs of Revolution and Reaction (Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia)

 

At the moment it’s looking bad in Bahrain and Libya. Although the force of freedom is undeniably on the rise, as demonstrated by this great wave of rebellions, this may be a long, ponderous curve. In the meantime, the forces of reaction are retrenching.
 
In Libya, Gaddafi’s counteroffensive is gradually engulfing the country, crawling eastward toward the rebel stronghold at Benghazi. Yesterday loyalist jets bombed the transportation hub at Ajdabiya, which the rebels call the last line of defense. From there the roads to Benghazi and Tobruk are wide open. “We will defend it”, vowed a rebel commander.
 
Meanwhile there are dueling reports over the disposition of the oil town of Brega. The rebels had held it, regimists retook it, then the rebels claimed they captured it back. As of now (Tuesday morning EST) both sides are claiming to hold it.
 
It seems like in the initial confusion and exhilaration of the uprising, it was difficult for Gaddafi to know which forces were reliable, and it simply took time for generals loyal to him to muster the forces they could vouch for and then launch a coordinated counteroffensive. Unfortunately, it now looks like the initial rebel surge was illusory. It didn’t reflect the balance of real forces. Right now the best we might be able to hope for is if the rebels can hold in the East, providing the basis for a future resumption of the drive to overthrow the regime. If they’re driven out of Benghazi, a bloodbath is likely to follow, and it’s hard to see where the fugitives can go from there.
 
(The notion of a no-fly zone seems pointless by now. Gaddafi will win or lose on the ground. It’s long been clear that his use of aircraft is more for harassment and terror value than any real military effect it may have. He doesn’t seem to have enough jets to use them for more than this. Although I suppose it’s also possible that he’s been restrained by the threat of a no-fly.
 
So the whole debate over whether or not getting help from the neoliberal system was worth the risk to the political integrity of a successful rebellion looks moot in this case. A no fly zone by itself couldn’t make the difference in whether the rebellion succeeds or fails, and I think we all agree that ground troops would merely replicate the tyrannical experience of Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
But through all this I’ve basically held the same position, that if a rebellion:
 
1. Can possibly get limited help from the West, and
 
2. Such help looks like it would be necessary make the difference between success or failure,
 
then it may be worth the risk of asking for such limited assistance as a no fly zone.
 
As I said, it looks like in this case a no fly zone would fail to meet at least the second condition, so it’s not worth risking.)
 
Libya is the relatively less important front. The revolt in Bahrain (and signs of it in Saudi Arabia itself) hits closer to the heart of the world’s power structure. Bahrain, like the UAE and Kuwait, is a post-modern City of the Plain. It’s a Persian Gulf banking center, a hedonist paradise for the corporate jet set, and home to the US Fifth Fleet, front line enforcers of the Carter Doctine, linchpin of neocon strategy. It’s a primary Saudi proxy.
 
The unrest in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is largely along sectarian lines, with the economically and politically disadvantaged Shiites (large majority in Bahrain, significant minority in Arabia, concentrated in the oil-important eastern provinces) opposing Sunni-dominated regimes. Counter to this US –> Saudi –> Sodom-Bahrain hierarchy, Iran seeks regional hegemony and sees all restive Shiites as clients. They in turn must thread the same needle of using Iranian help without coming under its thumb.
 
I’m not sure to what extent these protestors are dedicated to economic and political demands independent of their sectarian interest. There’s been some labor unrest in Saudi Arabia where the workers made purely economic demands. But such demonstrations have been sporadic and minor. Meanwhile last Friday’s intended Day of Rage fizzled out on account of a proactive Saudi security deployment.
 
But the Bahrain uprising flared up to new heights on Sunday, as protestors defied riot police and Sunni mobs to lay siege to the capital’s financial center. This is a direct assault on at least a symbol of the neoliberal order in the Gulf. The Saudi regime again took action. At the “request” of Bahrain, redolent of Cold War Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Saudi forces crossed the causeway to deploy across the country. UAE troops were also said to be on the way. Regime hardliners are calling for martial law under this “foreign” force.
 
This stick has been raised even as the regime is pretending to negotiate with some of the protestors. There seems to be some division among the Shiites, between a democratic group which wants to overthrow the regime and a conciliationist group willing to “negotiate”, that is beg for some crumbs (and cushy positions for its own leadership, no doubt).
 
If the GCC is determined to impose martial law (de jure or just de facto) in Bahrain and anywhere else among the Gulf Gomorrahs where protest flares up, it’s hard to see what immediate response the people can have which could counteract it. I think the best thing to do would be to directly challenge the foreign thugs just as the Egyptians challenged the riot police. It’s one thing for Gaddafi to open fire in Libya. It’ll be harder for the direct proxies of the US to invade and open fire in the West’s own pleasure cities. Not that I think it’s unlikely they’ll try to do it. But we already saw Bahrain’s own police back down after their initial recourse to savagery was met with defiance. The consistent lesson everywhere seems to be: Stand up and keep fighting back, even in the face of open state violence.
 
I’ll close today where this all began a few months ago. The Tunisian Revolution continues to develop, continues to make gains. The people’s continued bottom up pressure and continual resort to street demonstrations has forced out several generations of would-be Ben Ali successors. In the latest turnover, the provisional government has been forced to move up the timeline and enhance the scope of promised elections. The government had planned to hold only a presidential election in July. It now promises to hold an election on July 24 to elect a constituent assembly which will write a new constitution. Interim president Fouad Mebazza says a “special electoral system” will run the election. Existing dissident or pseudo-dissident parties expect to do well in this new election. There’s no word on the status of the existing parliament, where Ben Ali’s cadres still numerically dominate. It sounds like that body is superannuated and should be bypassed completely. (Much like my view of how a new constitutional convention here in the US should try to bypass the articles of the main body of the document.)
 
So there’s the state of things around the revolutionary rim, as I see them. It’s a perilous moment, and there’s an excellent chance we’ll be seeing temporary, perhaps ugly setbacks. But these setbacks are ephemeral in the great movement of history. There’s no doubt that the rising, vibrant force is one which liberates. This is the force of democracy, rising from the heart of the people. No matter what temporary forms it takes, and whatever temporary detours it may have to make, there’s no doubt about the reality of the people’s sovereignty. The modern revolution in all its economic and political aspects finally awoke this human latency and nurtured it to maturity. All of history was an evolution toward this awakening.
 
Many mistook the economic forces and forms as the real genius of the age, and in my lowest moods I too still lapse into such fears. But in fact these forms were just epiphenomenal. The true genius of the age is democracy. I often mention how all of today’s trend lines point toward feudalism. But these are only the shortest, most proximate lines, a mere fleck of turbulence amid the far vaster current. The real arc of history leans toward democracy, as all the long-term historical evidence demonstrates. That means it also leans toward justice, as MLK said, quoting abolitionist Theodore Parker.
 
It’s one of history’s great ironies that this newest green shoot of the democratic imperative is sprouting in the heart of the great classical source of oil. Oil has been the driver of all the modern economic forms, the forms so hyped or feared as having been the End of History. From that point of view, Peak Oil has also often been depicted as the end of history.
 
But Peak Oil is really just the logical exhaustion of what was always a temporary, epiphenomenal form. It isn’t the end of anything affirmative, but the clearing away of an obstacle to democracy’s further development. Democracy shall now reach maturity, and we the people shall take adult responsibility for ourselves. It’s time to remove the training wheels, which are completely rusted anyway.

February 28, 2011

Revolutionary Tour

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: , , , — Russell Bangs @ 12:48 pm

 

It looks like the Qaddaffi regime is down to just his capital in Tripoli. Although I’ve been reading for days about an imminent counter-attack of his supporters, it doesn’t come, the people keep advancing, and I figure if they were really able to attack they would’ve done it. We’ve already seen Qaddaffi’s big attack, and even bombing and strafing his own cities with aircraft wasn’t able to save him.
 
This is a milestone in the liberation wave. It’s not complete proof that a resolute people can defeat even disciplined instruments of government violence, since many army units refused to obey orders and in many cases actively turned against the regime. But the fact remains that disciplined units did exist, did carry out orders, did launch their full fury against civilian protestors, and the people kept coming.
 
I’ve read that by now it’s the troops and thugs who are loyal to Qaddaffi who are reduced to wearing masks and scarves, while the rebels enjoy the sun and wind on their proud faces.
 
The latest battleground was the town of Zawiya, near Tripoli, where insurgents took the town after pro-Qaddaffi forces shot up a mosque where a sit-in was in progress. This is the town where for days we’ve had a stand-off and these rumors of “counterattack”. Qaddaffi must be reduced to Hitler’s delusional state in the bunker, crazily demanding information about Steiner’s non-existent counterattack.
 
Meanwhile the neoliberal West has more easily let Qaddaffi go then they did Mubarak. Although they refused to impose a no-fly zone, the EU issued a travel ban, a list of sanctions, while others promised ICC investigations against him, his sons, and many regime nabobs. Apparently, according to neoliberalism bombing your own cities is out, at least for someone on probation like Qaddaffi. (He’s also not a personal friend of the Bidens and Hillary Ribbentrop the way Mubarak is, and Obama probably doesn’t consider him one of the Cool Crowd.)
 
Back in Tunisia, the place that started it all, the situation continues to evolve. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s equivalent of Suleiman, who took over from him and has tried to preserve the regime intact, was forced to resign after a new wave of protests and violence. The Tunisians understand that this is far from over.
 
Progress in Egypt has been fitful. The army wishes to curb the ongoing wave of strikes, but so far has not tested the situation by actually banning them, although it keeps threatening to. The army leadership remains stuck with the same problem it’s had since day one – how far could it trust the rank and file conscripts to obey orders? To remain disciplined at all? What misstep might trigger a confrontation which forces a test the generals don’t want to risk? So brinksmanship continues, albeit at a lower level of intensity for now. The Egyptians understand that this is far from over.
 
Bahrain is perhaps the most advanced example. There too the demonstrators have braved open violence from police and military. But unlike Libya, only lately being integrated into neoliberalism, Bahrain is a postmodern City of the Plain, fully financialized, a state of the art coordination center much like the UAE itself. Revolution in Sodom Bahrain conjures the image of the slaves of Dubai itself rising up and burning that Gomorrah to the sand.
 
And does it offer a possible precedent for democratic revolt in the ultimate bastion, Saudi Arabia itself? The government is treading very carefully, dealing gently with the first signs of worker protests.
 
Back in America, we have the Wisconsin protest, where in spite of the hostile Democratic establishment (but with some decent discipline from state-level Dems) and feckless, conciliatory union leadership, the rank and file have maintained their vigil for an impressively long time. They keep this up and they’re going to have to think about organizing their own street democracy. But they’d better be ready to continue the protest indefinitely, and find ways to escalate it, if they want to win. If I understand the Wisconsin Mubaraks correctly, and I think I do, they’re not going to give in. Why would they?
 
So there’s a short tour of our state of self-liberation. Nowhere has there yet been a complete breakthrough, but everywhere (except the standoff in Wisconsin) we’ve seen steady progress. The situation today seems vastly brighter than I ever would have dreamt at the down time following the moral collapse in France, and the continuing abject submission in Ireland and elsewhere, and of course in America.
 
More than ever before, I think the system is rotten to the core, physically strong but morally and intellectually weak, and with its physical strength ready to collapse at any time as well. More even than before, I think things are in our hands, that we the people are masters of our fate, free to dictate our future by making our choices.
 
What an exhilarating ride this is becoming. The path before us is coming into focus. The ideas are being collected and arranged. The spirit is regrouping. Like Naomi Klein writes in Shock Doctrine, at some point the people become numb to the shocks, and find ways to withstand them, and then realize that they no longer fear them, and then develop contempt for them.
 
This world process is now coming to light, after years in the incubation of our souls. It’s a new sun rising, the dawn of humanity’s new day. It wasn’t capitalism and oil which embodied the genius of the age, but democracy. This rising spirit of a new, fully responsible humanity was only temporarily obscured by the noise and flash of fossil-fueled corporatism. But it was that shallow clamor and smoke which was ephemeral. It shall be our democratic heritage which is lasting, which shall be co-eternal with history itself. We need only choose it. 

February 22, 2011

Libya

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 3:24 am

 

Protest in Libya has reached an awesome new level of resolve. Carrying on the spirit of the Egyptian democracy, the Libyan demonstrators have refused to let even the most brutal extremities of state violence defeat them.
 
As democratic protests surged in Libya, Qaddafi, evidently trying to learn from the failure of Mubarak, unleashed savage, murderous repression from the beginning. No one knows how many have been killed, but the number is at least in the hundreds. We can see how each successive tyranny will become more rabidly, insanely destructive in order to prop up its wretched power and privilege as the democratic wave engulfs it. The conventional wisdom was always that if the instruments of state violence maintain discipline and are willing to fire on the people, the people have no chance of winning. That’s clearly what the thugs of Bahrain and Libya were thinking. They’ve maintained control over at least some of their instruments, and have been importing vermin mercenaries as well. That’s a lot of willing firepower, and according to received wisdom that must be the end of it.
 
But in an absolutely thrilling epiphany, first in Bahrain and now even more spectacularly in Libya, the democratic people are so fired with the will to fight and the faith that they must win, that their resolve continues to redouble even in the face of sustained state terrorism. While the ability or inability of the people to prevail over direct, open state violence will still be on a case by case basis, we know that in principle there’s nothing the people can’t overcome if they keep fighting.
 
So it was in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, where protestors have apparently seized control of the city over the fierce opposition of state security forces. The protests continue with great verve in Tripoli and elsewhere. Tribesmen have said they will cut oil and gas pipelines. The regime has responded with unprecendented levels of ferocity, including the use of aircraft to strafe and bomb demonstrators. (I can’t recall any previous examples of this.)
 
This is causing splits in the government and military. According to reports some military units in Benghazi went over to the side of the protestors. Two Libyan fighters landed in Malta, their pilots requesting asylum after having refused orders to bomb the protests. Libya’s UN ambassador has declared Qaddafi a criminal and pleaded with the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. There are reports of air and naval attacks on military targets, which if true could indicate civil war within the military. Western governments have been scrambling to evacuate their carpetbaggers, while the Obama administration keeps up its by now familiar line of confusion and hesitancy.
 
In Egypt it seemed like demonstrators and regime were often engaging in brinksmanship. There’s no brink in Libya; facing the rightful demonstration of democracy, Qaddafi immediately chose to unleash the dogs of war upon his own people.
 
But the people have already given a response for the ages. We’re learning, every day, how this global tyranny is doomed, and perhaps sooner and more directly than most if not all of us expected. Although I always thought revolutionary processes like what we saw in Egypt were possible as soon as someone had the guts to go through with it, I admit that I didn’t think what we’re seeing in Libya could be done. But this opens up a whole new range of possibilities. We now know that there’s nothing the tyrant can do which can forever defeat us, if we only muster the resolve to escalate the fight with his every escalation.
 
If there’s any decency left in the world, once Qaddafi’s gone and the rest of the thugs can see the ultimate vanity of even the worst violence when you’re trying to beat back the ocean itself, they’ll shrug and decide it’s not worth it. A naive hope, perhaps, but anything’s possible in this war of attrition. Sometimes there’s even an attrition of evil.