Vanity Fair profile of Obama’s decision to bomb Libya accepts anti-Gaddafi propaganda at face value

Cross-posted from here.

Gaddafi's home town of Sirte after being "liberated" by rebels

Vanity Fair‘s Michael Lewis has a rather glowing profile of Obama administration’s decision to intervene in Libya on behalf of the anti-Gaddafi rebels. It paints a picture of a US government divided against itself on the question of whether or not military intervention to save the lives of countless Libyans is worth it. Almost totally excluded from the article is any type of genuine concern that many of the Gaddafi regime’s alleged atrocities were greatly exaggerated, that the anti-Gaddafi forces were committing their own share of human rights violations or that collective punishment and massive aerial bombardment may not be considered a form of “humanitarianism” under any circumstances. Instead, opponents of the intervention in Libya are portrayed as knee-jerk isolationists, cold-hearted advocates of realpolitik and flip-flopping opportunists.

Here is how Lewis’ article portrays the Libya situation in early 2011:

In early February ... the Libyan people had revolted against their dictator, who was now bent on crushing them. Muammar Qaddafi and his army of 27,000 men were marching across the Libyan desert toward a city called Ben­gha­zi and were promising to exterminate some large number of the 1.2 million people inside. ... “Here is what we knew,” recalls Obama, by which he means here is what I knew. “We knew that Qaddafi was moving on Benghazi, and that his history was such that he could carry out a threat to kill tens of thousands of people.” ... “The intelligence was very abstract,” says one witness. “Obama started asking questions about it. ‘What happens to the people in these cities when the cities fall? When you say Qaddafi takes a town, what happens?’” It didn’t take long to get the picture: if they did nothing they’d be looking at a horrific scenario, with tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered. (Qaddafi himself had given a speech on February 22, saying he planned to “cleanse Libya, house by house.”) ... Asked if he was surprised that the Pentagon had not presented him with the option to prevent Qaddafi from destroying a city twice the size of New Orleans and killing everyone inside the place, Obama says simply, “No.”

Reading this article, one would not be made aware of the fact that the International Crisis Group, formerly a key player in the disintegration of Yugoslavia with many establishment foreign policy figures sitting on its board, itself admitted that:

Much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on. While there is no doubt that many and quite probably a large majority of the people mobilised in the early demonstrations were indeed intent on demonstrating peacefully, there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term “genocide.”

Furthermore, as Patrick Cockburn noted in an article about Amnesty International’s skepticism about the more sensational claims of atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime:

Nato intervention started on 19 March with air attacks to protect people in Benghazi from massacre by advancing pro-Gaddafi troops. There is no doubt that civilians did expect to be killed after threats of vengeance from Gaddafi. During the first days of the uprising in eastern Libya, security forces shot and killed demonstrators and people attending their funerals, but there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen. ... There is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. Spent cartridges picked up after protesters were shot at came from Kalashnikovs or similar calibre weapons.

The Vanity Fair article quotes a participant in at least one meeting of US advisers as saying that “the ghosts of 800,000 Tutsis were in that room,” and goes on to suggest that multiple advocates of the Libya intervention within the administration were deeply affected by the genocide in Rwanda and simply wanted to prevent something similar from taking place. The article refrains from noting that at no point in the Libyan conflict were the death tolls even comparable to those of Rwanda in 1994. Nor does it mention the borderline genocidal campaign of racist violence and incitement by anti-Gaddafi forces against black former residents of Tawergha and migrant workers.

It’s an emotionally manipulative piece that clearly seeks to obscure the multitude of motivations behind the decision to intervene. It also misleads its readers by portraying the debate as being primarily between those who cared about saving Libyan lives and those who did not.

Discussion of Vanity Fair profile of Obama’s decision to bomb Libya accepts anti-Gaddafi propaganda at face value on tHE r H i z z o n E:

im going to have to cancel my subscription
not that it matters nor isn't obvious but lewis' access to obama was contingent on the white house reviewing the article before publication
Favorite part of the article:

Back on October 9, 2009, Obama had been woken up in the middle of the night to be informed that he’d been given the Nobel Peace Prize. He half thought it might be a prank. “It’s one of the most shocking things that has happened in all of this,” he says. “And I immediately anticipated that it would cause me problems.” The Nobel Prize Committee had just made it a tiny bit harder for him to do the job he’d just been elected to do, as he could not at once be commander in chief of the most powerful force on earth and the face of pacifism. When he sat down some weeks later with Ben Rhodes and another speechwriter, Jon Favreau, to discuss what he wanted to say, he told them he intended to use the acceptance speech to make the case for war. “I need to make sure I was addressing a European audience that had recoiled so badly from the Iraq war, and that may have been viewing the conferring of the Nobel Prize as a vindication of inaction.”

That US adviser mustn't have known that it was 800,000 Rwandans, not Tutsis alone, that died in 1994. The majority of those killed were Hutus, and an unknown but sizable number were likely killed by RPF forces.
heh his speechwriter's mom wrote his wiki

Favreau first met Obama (then an Illinois State Senator running for the U.S. Senate), while still working for Kerry, backstage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention as Obama was rehearsing his keynote address. Favreau, then 23 years old, interrupted Obama's rehearsal, advising the soon-to-be-elected Senator that a rewrite was needed.

HenryKrinkle posted:

It also misleads its readers by portraying the debate as being primarily between those who cared about saving Libyan lives and those who did not.

This is key I think, framing the situation in terms of the duty of the State (and no state in particular) to protect the lives of Libyans. And we have to keep this in mind, because assuming a properly adversarial position (to Capital, the State, or whatever) can only be taken in intimate proximity within the discursive environment.

if different subjects are able to speak, to occupy different tactical positions, and if they are able to find themselves in mutually adversarial positions, there has to be a tight field, there has to be a very tightly woven network to regularize historical knowledge. As the field of knowledge becomes more regular, it becomes increasingly possible for the subjects who speak within it to be divided along strict lines of confrontation, and it becomes increasingly possible to make the contending discourses function as different tactical units within overall strategies (which are not simply a matter of discourse and truth, but also of power, status, and economic interests). The tactical reversability of the discourse is, in other words, directly proportional to the homogeneity of the field in which it is formed. It is the regularity of the epistemological field, the homogeneity of the discourse's mode of formation, that allows it to be used in struggles that are extradiscursive.

(Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, p. 208)

What exactly are the elements at work in the contemporary humanitarian-interventionist discourse? Agamben writes in Homo Sacer:

The separation between humanitarianism and politics that we are experiencing today is the extreme phase of the separation of the rights of man from the rights of the citizen. In the final analysis, however, humanitarian organizations--which today are more and more supported by international commissions--can only grasp human life in the figure of bare or sacred life, and therefore, despite themselves, maintain a secret solidarity with the very powers they ought to fight. It takes only a glance at the recent publicity campaigns to gather funds for refugees from Rwanda to realize that here human life is exclusively considered (and there are certainly good reasons for this) as sacred life--which is to say, as life that can be killed but not sacrificed--and that only as such is it made into the object of aid and protection. The "imploring eyes" of the Rwandan child, whose photograph is shown to obtain money but who "is now becoming more and more difficult to find alive," may well be the most telling contemporary cipher of the bare life that humanitarian organizations, in perfect symmetry with state power, need. A humanitarianism separated from politics cannot fail to reproduce the isolation of sacred life at the basis of sovereignty, and the camp--which is to say, the pure space of exception--is the biopolitical paradigm that it cannot master.

(Agamben, Homo Sacer)

The intervention into Libya was (is) based on the articulation of the Libyan people into "Sacred life ... that can be killed but not sacrificed... and only as such is it made into the object of aid and protection." And we should not (necessarily) read Agamben's statements regarding the "separation of humanitarianism and politics" simply as a plea to reconstitute the two in a single field, a (basically left) humanitarian-politics. The problem is more complex than just the issue of imperialist government mystifying unequal power relations by veiling over the political quality of a situation. Though this argument certainly holds water, as Krinkle's OP demonstrates, it is not sufficient. It is not enough to simply argue that, for example, "you imperialists claim to want to protect Libyan people, but that is a lie, the truth is that you conspire to exploit them!"

Instead, let's read carefully Agamben's point regarding the "perfect symmetry" by which power takes shape in our historical moment. Apolitical humanitarianism articulating the need for the political solution, i.e. the State's intervention. Agamben is not attempting to deny what he calls the "secret solidarity" between humanitarian organizations and the State. He is articulating instead the mechanism which enables this particular subject in this particular discourse. That humanitarianism and politics are seperated in this discourse, for this mode of power, enables the reproduction of the state of exception, the site which sustains and even requires the formation of sovereignty and the sovereign decision. In sovereignty we have the agent of a power's specific mode, we have our historical subject.

Capital, the State, Government, whatever the name we give this subject, relates to the object of bare life, in this case Libya, via its sovereign decision. In order to assume a properly adversarial position to this mode of sovereignty, we need a subject that relates in intimate familiarity with the object of bare life, without replicating in a competitive manner the mode of power that characterizes the imperialist bourgeoisie. To contribute simply a competing subject of the same type, of the same constitutive subjectivity is not to deactivate or resist the present configuration of power. This mode of power, according to Foucault, developed over the course of the 18th Century (note that this precedes the French Revolution, which gave birth to it fully fledged in the form of the bourgeois State) into biopower, and is the mode of domination.

The problem at hand therefore, in light of Foucault and Agamben, is to articulate a mode of biopower that is resistant to domination. To fully elaborate that claim would require another post at the very least, but just to get the conversation going, Agamben argues for a "impolitical" community (note that this is not "apolitical"), which articulates itself in terms unintelligible to the State, Capital, Government. Instead defines itself as "whatever" community, in the Augustine-classical sense, i.e. defined openly, as "whatever". The failure of resisting bourgeois domination on the basis of a People, the Nation, or Race, or the Working Class, is the problem of replicating that mode of power without authentic resistance, without proper adversity to the historical opponent. We can see this in the failure of German National Socialism to sustain the real "truth" of Heidegger's facticity:

From Heidegger's perspective, National Socialism's error and betrayal of its "inner truth" consists in its having transformed the experience of factical life into a biological "value" (hence the contempt with which Heidegger repeatedly refers to Rosenberg). While the greatest achievement of Heidegger's philosophical genius was to have elaborated the conceptual categories that kept facticity from presenting itself as a fact, Nazism ended with the incarceration of factical life in an objective racial determination and, therefore, with the abandonment of its original inspiration.

(Agamben, Homo Sacer)

But this is not simply a problem of the totalitarian states:

But this also means that the constitution of the human species in a political body passes through a fundamental division and that in the concept "people" we can easily recognize the categorial pairs that we have seen to define the original political structure: bare life (people) and political existence (People), exclusion and inclusion, we and bios. The "people" thus always already carries the fundamental biopolitical fracture within itself. It is what cannot be included in the whole of which it is a part and what cannot belong to the set in which it is always already included. Hence the contradictions and aporias to which it gives rise every time that it is evoked and put into play on the political scene. It is what always already is and yet must, nevertheless, be realized; it is the pure source of every identity but must, however, continually be redefined and purified through exclusion, language, blood, and land. Or, at the opposite pole, the "people" is what is by essence lacking to itself and that whose realization therefore coincides with its own abolition; it is what must, together with its opposite, negate itself in order to be (hence the specific aporias of the workers' movement, turned toward the people and, at the same time, toward its abolition). At times the bloody flag of reaction and the uncertain insignia of revolutions and popular fronts, the people always contains a division more originary than that of friend-enemy, an incessant civil war that divides it more radically than every conflict and, at the same time, keeps it united and constitutes it more securely than any identity. When one looks closely, even what Marx called "class conflict," which occupies such a central place in his thought-though it remains substantially undefined-is nothing other than the civil war that divides every people and that will come to an end only when, in the classless society or the messianic kingdom, People and people will coincide and there will no longer be, strictly speaking, any people.

(Agamben, Homo Sacer)

This 'unintelligibility to the State' can be seen in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, for example. And you may say that, well these are perfect examples, why your postmodern gibberish is so impotent and aloof of achieving real victories. I would respond that what I am arguing here is that this is simply a prerequisite to struggle, the formation of a properly adversarial subject that is able to articulate resistant struggle against domination, through biopower, and that is it not sufficient that this subject simply appear. But as we see in the Foucauldian 18th Century, the formation of the adversarial subject takes place in discourse long before it occurs in history proper. That the Arab Spring and Occupy movements have a voice at all is significant. "Libya" too requires such a subject, a "whatever Libya".


fiz posted:

heh his speechwriter's mom wrote his wiki

Favreau first met Obama (then an Illinois State Senator running for the U.S. Senate), while still working for Kerry, backstage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention as Obama was rehearsing his keynote address. Favreau, then 23 years old, interrupted Obama's rehearsal, advising the soon-to-be-elected Senator that a rewrite was needed.

I thought it was the director of Made, Elf, Zathura, and Iron Man 1 & 2

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Look at this, okay? I want you to remember this face, here. Okay? This is the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

discipline posted:

Many if not most of his decisions are thrust upon the president, out of the blue, by events beyond his control: oil spills, financial panics, pandemics, earthquakes, fires, coups, invasions, underwear bombers, movie-theater shooters, and on and on and on.

haha is he referring to the honduran coup in 2009

Well what did you expect him to do? Not give them guns? I'm sick of all these liberals trying to make perfect the enemy of the good.

some libyan guy today whipped out his war wounds in a gross attempt to prove his authenticity against this incredible egyptian pan arabist who'd just stepped out of the 1970s or something
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discipline posted:

literally shaking


discipline posted:

oh my god I'm shaking irl

*buys you a sack of apples*

owned, hungrytards
the people's apple
Former President Bill Clinton has an idea of what beleaguered Libya needs: a Wal-Mart.

Speaking at his eighth annual Clinton Global Initiative summit on Sunday, he challenged Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke to open a store in the troubled region to create jobs and foster international cooperation.

“If the new president of Libya asked you to open a store in Tripoli, would you consider it?” Clinton asked Duke (a panelist at the event).

Clinton’s yearly summit is intended to encourage business leaders, NGOs and politicians to brainstorm and make pledges in the name of global investment and humanitarianism — the sort of humanitarianism that sees more Wal-Mart stores and jobs as a solution.
fuck yeah wal-mart owns. mother fuckin' redneck circus hell yeah