Sunday, August 21, 2011

August in Tripoli

Narratives establish verisimilitude by including a wealth of believable details, and the plucky freedom-fighting rebels may well be on the verge of capturing the Libyan capitol, and they may well represent the authentic aspirations of the Libyan people. And it may be jealousy[1] on my part to note that this just looks like a guy in a hotel wearing a kevlar jacket talking into a camera, and for all we know he may be in Terre Haute or Akron.

Let me be clear, I don't actually question that reporter Matthew Chance really is in Tripoli. Nevertheless, the abstract, stage prop quality of this report seems emblematic of much of the reportage we've gotten about the NATO campaign against Libya, plucky rebels or no plucky rebels.

We're told the war is about this, or that, or something else, so it must be so. Humanitarian interventions are humanitarian interventions because we're told they're humanitarian. And they're interventions, so they can't be wars, and we're picking sides, and picking the right one, because the government says so, or Samantha Power says so, or some guy on TV says so, etc.

Could we be making things worse by interfering? As "Davidly66" pointed out recently,

"Denying the myth of American exceptionalism will quickly get you accused of blaming America for all the world's problems."

It takes belief in our exceptionalism, or at least insufficient skepticism of the justness of those with authority and power, to believe that we will inevitably choose the right side when we interfere in somebody else's conflict, that there is a clearly right (and wrong) side, that we should interfere, and that any accusations of nefarious ulterior motives are just mean-spirited and wrong(like for example, that we're stealing somebody else's oil.)

See also

Jyoti Prasad Das, "Why Is Libya in the Crosshairs of the West?"

Rob Payne, "Fifteen to One"

Fred Kaplan, "It's Not What We Ought To Do, But What We Can Do"

(Apparently the original title of this article, per the bookmark data, was

"Humanitarian intervention: Why is NATO bombing Libya but not Syria?"

Maybe this made the war-mongering quality of Kaplan's argument too obvious. I think it's also useful to note that "R2P" was originally described, according to the note at the bottom, as "right to protect" and later changed to "responsibility to protect." Kipling should have been Fred Kaplan's copy editor.)

[1]I say jealousy because several years ago, in 2005-2007, I tried to raise funds to go to Iraq and report on events there but was largely unsuccessful. The persons who helped me were very kind and decent, but it wasn't enough and frankly I went about it the wrong way; I should have attached myself to a graduate program in either journalism or film, and I failed to do this.

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At August 22, 2011 4:47 AM, Blogger Jack Crow said...

If you are suggesting that the press is complicit in providing a picture of a Libya on the verge of falling to the "rebels" I'd say you were spot on.

Watching Russia Times, one gets a distinctly different view of Tripoli, or the "rebel" photo ops which have been all over the news, Huffpo, etc, for the last 24 hours.

At August 22, 2011 7:52 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Jack, I don't know what to think, but naturally I feel some skepticism is in order.

As I write this Khaddafi is still nowhere to be found just like D.B. Cooper, and no doubt he could bribe his way to a location far away if he decided it was time, and may have already.

Maybe he's in Terre Haute or Akron, although I'd think a European location was more likely.

I note this link from earlier, but since you've moved it to your top of the page recommendations, you know about it:


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