23 August 2011

News of the hours

So. Gaddafi looks to be on his way out. As I've argued from the beginning, this has little bearing on the intervention, its justifications, and it merely serves to confuse the people. First: it wasn't the expressed goal of the UN authorization, so we have what shade of process and legal cover involved actually having nothing to do with what we have now accomplished. Second, toppling dictators in unstable countries with foreign force hasn't exactly had a good running track record. I can think of maybe one recent example where this seems to have panned out well: Serbia. And several where it has gone very ugly or badly: Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Kosovo. Plus support for several tottering, but less psychotic, dictators that backfired in some way: Pakistan, Egypt, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain.... And so on. The questions in Libya really had little to do with "could we topple Gaddafi". This was an obvious possibility with rebel forces moving on the ground, though it certainly took much longer than we were promised it should/would/could (unlike Iraq, where it didn't take very long at all.. but that was OUR professional army forces on the ground, not rebel insurgents who were poorly trained). The questions had much more to do with what would Libyan society and government post-Gaddafi look like. We still don't know that. Hell, Egypt took out its own government months ago and we still don't have a clear idea what that government will look like. Presuming and proclaiming "victory" loudly and proudly, and using the billboard of "mission accomplished" doesn't actually cut it. This is a long-term situation, effectively requiring the building of stable institutions of statecraft or social function that have either never existed or were destroyed over 40 years of dictatorial reign. As we should have observed from Iraq and Afghanistan, that sort of process is very, very hard, and isn't resolved by merely importing voting machines and giving people the idea to "have a democracy". Democracies exist on a bedrock of long-standing social and state institutions, of which voting is only one of them, and it is those that must be built now in places like Libya. Good luck with that. Because it's sort of what we just "won"; the right to "help" rebuild a state. The argument that "Germany and Japan did it" does little. Both Germany and Japan had pre-existing and long-standing socially cohesive institutions for even quasi-liberal (ie, democratic) government and social organisation as nations. Few of these Middle Eastern nation states do. Egypt and Lebanon might be the only plausible cases. Libya is and was hardly even a nation-state, same with Iraq or Afghanistan. It's basically a set of tribes with one flag and a now deposed strongman able to unite them only through fear and brutal repression (and corruption). As unsavory and unwanted as fear and brutal repression are as tactics for governance, and as unconcerned as I am that such people as who use them are made to run or die for their use, I'm not all that impressed that there's a track record of institution building in these cases that supplants and replaces the brutality with non-brutality. Or even non-corruption. Even the "success" of Serbia is a kind of special case because it has a long history as a stable state prior to the interwar creation of "Yugoslavia".

In other world affairs, it sounds as though the riots of London, also known as anarchy in the UK, were largely an affair of gang-affiliated looting and ex-cons taking to the streets en masse. About 2/3s of the people charged so far have criminal records of a sort you'd expect: theft, assault, etc. It's possible that this will change through the use of CCTV records and further investigation. But they sound rather pissed enough about hunting the responsible parties down that I rather doubt it. Aside from possible cuts to police staffing and investigative tools, I'm not sure what a rioting mob composed of such people has to do with austerity cuts, nor was it ever really clear how a riot would be directly influenced by government cutting its budgets. True, there's a history around the world of governments slashing budgets and subsequent riots or unstable populations and demonstrations. I can see where there might be a background association, but a direct cause, hardly. All that's required there is a pre-existing population of violent fun-seekers. Besides, all those cuts and slashes that the UK did make don't go into effect until next year. Somehow I doubt the prevailing opinions noticed one way or the other. The more plausible argument was that this was an anti-government wave of violence, by which we might mean "the police" for "government". Of course, if a good portion of the violence and looting were undertaken by gangs and criminals, we might expect a sense of hostility toward their ever-present interlocutors. But still, such force does spawn from somewhere. London and the UK generally do have some rather expansive police powers that can seem oppressive. Imagine the policing powers used, abused, and expanded for our "war on terror" or "war on drugs" and apply them to whole communities and cities rather than just at the airport or even just in "undesirable" poor black or Latino neighbourhoods and we'd all probably be rather pissed at the police too.
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