Monday, August 22, 2011

22 August 2011:"it's not a real country"

Russia Today: Putin: Who gave NATO right to kill Gaddafi?

(above) Hamid Dabashi: "Neo-liberalism a greater threat to Libya than tribalism or extreme Islam."via Reality Zone

CNN, "Top ten myths about the Libya war"-Juan Cole

Although I recognize that Cole is a celebrated expert on the Middle East, I am leery of his myth-busting. Putting aside his discussion of Khaddafi's domestic politics, on which I don't feel qualified to offer an informed opinion, I recognize the counterfeit quality of his argument that the Europeans aren't after their oil because some companies that have a current stake in Libya's oil fields have lost some money since the war started. That's a little like saying that because some exploratory wells don't pan out that proves oil companies aren't trying to make a profit.

see also, from the NYT:The Scramble for Access to Libya’s Oil Wealth Begins

Colonel Qaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands. A new government with close ties to NATO may be an easier partner for Western nations to deal with. Some experts say that given a free hand, oil companies could find considerably more oil in Libya than they were able to locate under the restrictions placed by the Qaddafi government.

A problematic partner? I wonder what they are trying to say. I get the impression Elisabetta Povoledo of the NYT said "problematic partner" because she was trying to comply with the NYT manual on style. They must have such a manual, right? 'If you're trying to convey thing or idea x, say "problematic partner."' It's probably like their crossword, full of big words.

Now, another thought, and I know this is going to sound crazy, maybe even problematic: it occurs to me that one of the purposes of the Libya campaign was as P.R. to help justify the existence of NATO in the first place. Cole doesn't address this. Maybe he sees that as a given, the modishness of austerity notwithstanding.

I do agree with Cole, however, that the frequently bandied-about assertion that various states aren't "real countries" is bogus orientalism.

(I would add racism, as in the implied, "Why, we had a civil society and laws when they were living in mud huts..." Of course this assumption itself is also wrong sometimes.)

However I think his citing Alexander Cockburn's criticism is a bit off, and based on a misreading of Cockburn's argument, whether deliberate or accidental. I think Cockburn is saying the NATO countries might try to partition Libya for their benefit by force, not that the national identity Libyan people may feel is shakier and less authentic than that of Westerners, which seems to be what Cole thinks Cockburn is saying.

(That begs the question of whether having a strong national identity in fact makes you a civilized person, but that's a discussion for another occasion. My initial point in bringing it up is that I'm with Cole on the "it's not a real country" trope. Still, I never thought I'd see the day that CNN links to an article on Counterpunch!)

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At August 23, 2011 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cole is a putz; Al Cocky is so far off the back that he's like Eddy Mercx trying to race the Schleck Brothers.

Al Cocky, in a nutshell:

"Several decades ago, I was insightful and worth reading. That's all that matters now."

At August 23, 2011 11:14 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

I may not know Cockburn's writings as well as you do, but the April 2011 Juan Cole links to seems pretty sensible to me.

At August 25, 2011 5:03 PM, Blogger micah holmquist said...

Cockburn's profile in the media has certainly taken a downward turn since the 1980s when, after being fired from the Village Voice, he would write for publications like The Wall Street Journal. I get the feeling he may not be easy to get along with... Or perhaps he just works hard to convince everyone that this is true.

At August 25, 2011 8:11 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi Micah,

"I can't work under such conditions!"(exits stage right.)

You're making him sound like Jennifer Lopez or something. Maybe you should write about your impressions of him, whether just generally or referencing any recent articles that strike your fancy. I'd be really curious to read it.

At August 26, 2011 12:00 PM, Blogger Duncan Mitchel said...

Yes, Cockburn did write for the WSJ opinion page for a while. But his first gig after he was fired from the Voice was in the Nation. (And Noam Chomsky had a column in Reason for a while, if I recall correctly.)

Cockburn's "profile in the media" has never been what you'd call high. The Voice was never part of the "mainstream," and his critiques of media there didn't endear him to the mainstream. I have my disagreements with him, as I do with everybody, but he's still worth reading. This notion that he used to be good but went downhill needs some support. It's a popular ad hominem against left writers, I've noticed. Remember when liberal writers would complain that maybe Chomsky had something worthwhile to say in the 70s, but now that the Cold War is over, he's failed to move with the times, and he's become so harsh and bitter because he can't get into the mainstream media? Sounds like Cockburn is getting the same treatment.

I reread some of Chomsky's early political writings, just to see if his tone had changed since 1970, and it was true: he was harsher and meaner then.

At August 26, 2011 5:11 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

You mean, they're saying he's become harsher and meaner now when in fact it was the other way around?

At August 27, 2011 9:07 AM, Blogger Tao Dao Man said...

Thanks for the hat tip.


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