Sometimes My Librul Knee Don't Jerk
'real countries' with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran); and those that might be called 'tribes with flags,' or more artificial states with boundaries drawn ... by ... colonial powers that have trapped inside their borders myriad tribes and sects who not only never volunteered to live together but have never fully melded into a unified family of citizens. They are Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The tribes and sects that make up these more artificial states have long been held together by the iron fist of colonial powers, kings or military dictators.
Friedman then cites an article, which I linked yesterday, by David Kirkpatrick, that examines whether or not the Libyan revolt is a bid for democracy or old-fashioned tribal warfare. Friedman sides with the tribal warfare hypothesis, so he omits the balance Kirkpatrick brought to his writing. The Times moderators axed my comment, so here it is. With an addition.
In your attempt to make your point, you conveniently left out half of those Kirkpatrick posed. Right at the top of his article, Kirkpatrick writes,
[The rebels'] governing council is composed of secular-minded professionals — lawyers, academics, businesspeople — who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law. But their commitment to those principles is just now being tested....
Kirkpatrick goes on to address the modernization of Libya that may mitigate tribalism:
But the legacy of such tribal rivalries in Libya may in fact be fading, thanks in part to the enormous changes that Colonel Qaddafi — a modernizer, in his idiosyncratic way — helped bring about. Coming to power just before the oil boom, he tapped Libya’s new wealth to provide schools, hospitals and other benefits for Libya’s desperately poor, semi-nomadic population.
Libya became overwhelmingly urban, with about 85 percent of its populations clustered around its two main urban centers — Tripoli and Benghazi. Though many of the people who flocked to the growing cities continued to identify closely by tribe, they now live mixed together.
Moreover, there is in Libya, "a rising cohort of affluent, English-speaking young Libyans educated abroad...."
Kirkpatrick includes a good deal of evidence that supports Friedman's argument, too: that the rebels are overwhelmingly from groups always hostile to Gaddafi, that their "peaceful" demonstrations were effectively the result of not having access to arms & that they are no better truth-tellers than is Gaddafi.
I don't pretend to know how all this will shake out. I'm a realist, so I think it's quite possible the worst-case scenarios Friedman -- and to a greater extent, anti-interventionist liberals -- envision. Where Friedman sees intransigent tribalism, many liberals see a protracted, U.S.-led war against Gaddafi. They might be right.
Friedman skews his argument by omitting the inconvenient, but others on the left do worse. Today Glenn Greenwald writes a shrill column equating the attack on Libya with Dubya's Iraq War. Gaddafi, Greenwald argues, is just like Saddam Hussein -- a brutal dictator who murders his own people. This is a facile argument that glosses over history as neatly as Friedman skips Kirkpatrick's mitigating observations. Yes, Saddam brutalized his people, but he wasn't particularly doing so at the moment Bush decided to remove him. Gaddafi, on the other hand, was strafing unarmed demonstrators. And he promised to go door-to-door, yanking rebels & their sympathizers from their homes & killing them. An assertion that the situation in Libya is "just like" the situation in Iraq 2003 is, well, a lie.
Another common leftist argument is that if we were consistent, we would be ousting our dictator buddies in other Middle Eastern countries, too. Really? As I see it, the U.S. and the other countries of the coalition are taking advantage of a unique situation -- everybody hates Gaddafi. While I agree with those who say we can't be "the policemen of the world," we most certainly can, in my opinion, participate in a police action against a murdering terrorist dictator when we have world opinion with us.
A final liberal point -- which I've seen both Michael Moore & David Sirota tweet -- is that each Tomahawk missile fired on Libya would build 20 schools in the U.S. While Moore and Sirota's arithmetic may be correct, their algebra is not. Do you think House Republicans would vote out Tomahawks & vote in an equivalent investment in education? Never. Going. To. Happen. Yes, not lobbing missiles at Libya would save some money, but the money saved would not build a single school.
The attack on Libya is a gamble. It may be a long-shot gamble. But it is not the unwarranted, irresponsible gamble of the left's characterization. I'd really like to see the shrieking left at least incorporate a little nuance into their arguments. Some are. Many are not.