Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NATO's Humanitarian Hypocrisy

Reports coming out of Sirte, Libya point to an ongoing humanitarian disaster as a pitched battle for control of the coastal city drags on. Residents say that neighborhoods are bombed and shelled indiscriminately, doctors in the overwhelmed hospitals complain of shortages of everything from medicine to fuel for their generators, while tens of thousands of people remain hunkered down in their houses, fearful of retribution if they leave the city limits.

This sounds like exactly the type of situation NATO intervened in Libya to prevent as part of their “humanitarian” mission, except many of the bombs falling on Sirte are being dropped by NATO aircraft. Sirte is the hometown of Moammar Gadhafi, and is the largest remaining stronghold of support for the old regime. The Libyan rebels have launched several attacks trying to drive into the center of Sirte, but so far all have been turned back. So they appear to be falling back to the old Gadhafi-era tactic of just blasting the city to pieces. Rebel leadership claims that the civilian population of Sirte has fled and the only people left are militias loyal to Gadhafi; or alternatively that any civilians left in the city are being used by Gadhafi militias as “human shields”.

But reporters from Reuters offer a different view. They have talked with citizens in Sirte and report that while many still support Gadhafi, they are neither fighters nor human shields. Many, instead, are simply unwilling to abandon their homes or are more fearful of rebel retribution if they were to leave town than they are of falling bombs and mortars. There is some evidence supporting their fears; several weeks ago, the UK's Telegraph newspaper reported from Tawarga , a city of 10,000, now turned into a ghost town. Tawarga was a center of support for Gadhafi that fell to the rebels, who promptly emptied it. As one rebel commander said: “Tawarga no longer exists.”

A true humanitarian mission would prevent wanton revenge attacks like this, since in addition to being morally wrong, they also make the eventual process of reconciliation between the warring sides all the more difficult. But as NATO has managed to prove, the humanitarian mission talk was all a front anyway for a policy of ridding the West of a major irritant in Col. Gadhafi. NATO gave up any pretext of a humanitarian mission when they began to act as the de facto air force for the rebel movement, including staging precision bombing runs against Gadhafi's headquarters during the rebel's final assault on Tripoli. The generals back at NATO HQ in Brussels were probably disappointed when the rebels failed to find Gadhafi's body among the rubble.

Staging a humanitarian mission means protecting civilians, all the civilians, not just the ones who agree with your worldview. Through their actions, NATO and its member nations (the United States included) have shown that what's going on in Libya is not an exercise in humanitarian intervention, but rather a perversion of it.
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