Vanity Fair‘s Michael Lewis has a rather glowing profile of Obama administration’s decision to intervene in Libya on behalf of the anti-Gaddafi rebels. It paints a picture of a US government divided against itself on the question of whether or not military intervention to save the lives of countless Libyans is worth it. Almost totally excluded from the article is any type of genuine concern that many of the Gaddafi regime’s alleged atrocities were greatly exaggerated, that the anti-Gaddafi forces were committing their own share of human rights violations or that collective punishment and massive aerial bombardment may not be considered a form of “humanitarianism” under any circumstances. Instead, opponents of the intervention in Libya are portrayed as knee-jerk isolationists, cold-hearted advocates of realpolitik and flip-flopping opportunists. Here is how Lewis’ article portrays the Libya situation in early 2011:
In early February […] the Libyan people had revolted against their dictator, who was now bent on crushing them. Muammar Qaddafi and his army of 27,000 men were marching across the Libyan desert toward a city called Benghazi and were promising to exterminate some large number of the 1.2 million people inside. […] “Here is what we knew,” recalls Obama, by which he means here is what I knew. “We knew that Qaddafi was moving on Benghazi, and that his history was such that he could carry out a threat to kill tens of thousands of people.” […] “The intelligence was very abstract,” says one witness. “Obama started asking questions about it. ‘What happens to the people in these cities when the cities fall? When you say Qaddafi takes a town, what happens?’” It didn’t take long to get the picture: if they did nothing they’d be looking at a horrific scenario, with tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered. (Qaddafi himself had given a speech on February 22, saying he planned to “cleanse Libya, house by house.”) […] Asked if he was surprised that the Pentagon had not presented him with the option to prevent Qaddafi from destroying a city twice the size of New Orleans and killing everyone inside the place, Obama says simply, “No.”
Reading this article, one would not be made aware of the fact that the International Crisis Group, formerly a key player in the disintegration of Yugoslavia with many establishment foreign policy figures sitting on its board, itself admitted that:
Much Western media coverage [of Libya in early 2011] has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on. While there is no doubt that many and quite probably a large majority of the people mobilised in the early demonstrations were indeed intent on demonstrating peacefully, there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term “genocide.”
Furthermore, as Patrick Cockburn noted in an article about Amnesty International’s skepticism about the more sensational claims of atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime:
Nato intervention started on 19 March with air attacks to protect people in Benghazi from massacre by advancing pro-Gaddafi troops. There is no doubt that civilians did expect to be killed after threats of vengeance from Gaddafi. During the first days of the uprising in eastern Libya, security forces shot and killed demonstrators and people attending their funerals, but there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen. […] There is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. Spent cartridges picked up after protesters were shot at came from Kalashnikovs or similar calibre weapons.
The Vanity Fair article quotes a participant in at least one meeting of US advisers as saying that “the ghosts of 800,000 Tutsis were in that room,” and goes on to suggest that multiple advocates of the Libya intervention within the administration were deeply affected by the genocide in Rwanda and simply wanted to prevent something similar from taking place. The article refrains from noting that at no point in the Libyan conflict were the death tolls even comparable to those of Rwanda in 1994. Nor does it mention the borderline genocidal campaign of racist violence and incitement by anti-Gaddafi forces against black former residents of Tawergha and migrant workers. It’s an emotionally manipulative piece that clearly seeks to obscure the multitude of motivations behind the decision to intervene. It also misleads its readers by portraying the debate as being primarily between those who cared about saving Libyan lives and those who did not.