Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Conversation between Dr. Norman Finkelstein & Dicey Lee on the West's decision for Intervention in Libya.

Not to long ago Dr. Norman Finkelstein posted on his blog an article originally  in The Guardian entitled; There’s nothing moral about Nato’s intervention in Libya. A copy of the article is posted below, and can can also be found on Dr. Finkelstein's webpage. I read Seumas Milne's article on intervention in Libya for the first time on April 16th, i wrote Professor Finkelstein that night/ mourning. The following post consists of our conversation via email discussing the topic, but first the article written by Seumas Milne for The Guardian on the West's & Nato's decision for Libyan intervention. 

 There’s nothing moral about Nato’s intervention in Libya
The attacks on Libya risk a bloody stalemate and are a threat to the region. The alternative has to be a negotiated settlement
03.23.2011 | The Guardian                                    Seumas Milne
The attacks on Libya risk a bloody stalemate and are a threat to the region. The alternative has to be a negotiated settlement. 
 It’s as if it’s a habit they can’t kick. Once again US, British and other Nato forces are bombarding an Arab country with cruise missiles and bunker-busting bombs. Both David Cameron and Barack Obama insist this is nothing like Iraq. There will be no occupation. The attack is solely to protect civilians. 
But eight years after they launched their shock-and-awe devastation of Baghdad and less than a decade since they invaded Afghanistan, the same western forces are in action against yet another Muslim state, incinerating soldiers and tanks on the ground and killing civilians in the process. 
Supported by a string of other Nato states, almost all of which have taken part in the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, the US, Britain and France are clinging to an Arab fig leaf, in the shape of a Qatari airforce that has yet to arrive, to give some regional credibility to their intervention in Libya
As in Iraq and Afghanistan, they insist humanitarian motives are crucial. And as in both previous interventions, the media are baying for the blood of a pantomime villain leader, while regime change is quickly starting to displace the stated mission. Only a western solipsism that regards it as normal to be routinely invading other people’s countries in the name of human rights protects Nato governments from serious challenge. 
But the campaign is already coming apart. At home, public opinion is turning against the onslaught: in the US, it’s opposed by a margin of two-to-one; in Britain, 43% say they are against the action, compared with 35% in support – an unprecedented level of discontent for the first days of a British military campaign, including Iraq.
On the ground, the western attacks have failed to halt the fighting and killing, or force Colonel Gaddafi’s forces into submission; Nato governments have been squabbling about who’s in charge; and British ministers and generals have fallen out about whether the Libyan leader is a legitimate target
Last week, Nato governments claimed the support of “the international community” on the back of the UN resolution and an appeal from the dictator-dominated Arab League. In fact, India, Russia, China, Brazil and Germany all refused to support the UN vote and have now criticised or denounced the bombing – as has the African Union and the Arab League itself. 
As its secretary general, Amr Moussa, argued, the bombardment clearly went well beyond a no-fly zone from the outset. By attacking regime troops fighting rebel forces on the ground, the Nato governments are unequivocally intervening in a civil war, tilting the balance of forces in favour of the Benghazi-based insurrection.
Cameron insisted on Monday in the Commons that the air and sea attacks on Libya had prevented a “bloody massacre in Benghazi”. The main evidence was Gaddafi’s threat to show “no mercy” to rebel fighters who refused to lay down their arms and to hunt them down “house to house”. In reality, for all the Libyan leader’s brutality and Saddam Hussein-style rhetoric, he was scarcely in any position to carry out his threat. 
Given that his ramshackle forces were unable to fully retake towns like Misurata or even Ajdabiya when the rebels were on the back foot, the idea that they would have been able to overrun an armed and hostile city of 700,000 people any time soon seems far-fetched. 
But on the other side of the Arab world, in western-armed Bahrain, security forces are right now staging night raids on opposition activists, house by house, and scores have gone missing as the dynastic despots carry out a bloody crackdown on the democratic movement. And last Friday more than 50 peaceful demonstrators were shot dead on the streets of Sana’a by government forces in western-backed Yemen.
Far from imposing a no-fly zone to bring the embattled Yemeni regime to heel, US special forces are operating across the country in support of the government. But then US, British and other Nato forces are themselves responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week more than 40 civilians were killed by a US drone attack in Pakistan, while over 60 died last month in one US air attack in Afghanistan. 
The point isn’t just that western intervention in Libya is grossly hypocritical. It’s that such double standards are an integral part of a mechanism of global power and domination that stifles hopes of any credible international system of human rights protection. 
A la carte humanitarian intervention, such as in Libya, is certainly not based on feasibility or the degree of suffering or repression, but on whether the regime carrying it out is a reliable ally or not. That’s why the claim that Arab despots will be less keen to follow Gaddafi’s repressive example as a result of the Nato intervention is entirely unfounded. States such as Saudi Arabia know very well they’re not at the slightest risk of being targeted unless they’re in danger of collapse.
There’s also every chance that, as in Kosovo in 1999, the attack on Libya could actually increase repression and killing, while failing to resolve the underlying conflict. It’s scarcely surprising that, outgunned by Gaddafi’s forces, the Libyan rebel leadership should be grateful for foreign military support. But any Arab opposition movement that comes to power courtesy of Tornadoes and Tomahawks will be fatally compromised, as would the independence of the country itself.
For the western powers, knocked off balance by the revolutionary Arab tide, intervention in the Libyan conflict offers both the chance to put themselves on the “right side of history” and to secure their oil interests in a deeply uncertain environment. 
Unless the Libyan autocrat is assassinated or his regime implodes, the prospect must now be of a bloody stalemate and a Kurdistan-style Nato protectorate in the east. There’s little sympathy for Gaddafi in the Arab world, but already influential figures such as the Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah have denounced the intervention as a return to the “days of occupation, colonisation and partition”.
The urgent alternative is now for countries such as Egypt and Turkey, with a far more legitimate interest in what goes on in Libya and links to all sides, to take the lead in seeking a genuine ceasefire, an end to outside interference and a negotiated political settlement. There is nothing moral about the Nato intervention in Libya – it is a threat to the entire region and its people.
Dicey Lee's initial email to Professor Finkelstein on April 17th (2011):

Aloha Prof. Finkelstein.
I'v been meaning to write you an email for a few months now, I slightly regret that my first communication to you will include some criticism of your position on Libya. But first for some positive.  
I have much respect for your long fought scholarly battles to preserve an accurate historic record against the likes of Joan Petters, Goldhagen, Dershowitz, etc.. Your writing style has changed the way i write, even if the topics differ. Which brings me to why I originally wanted to contact you: I belong to to several on campus groups at the University of [removed], and i also would like to gauge your desire to come to [removed] and give a speech or two....[details removed]

On to Libya, I just read "There’s nothing moral about Nato’s intervention in Libya" that you wrote on March 23 and I have some areas that I wish to clarify if I can. My main problem is with:
"But on the other side of the Arab world, in western-armed Bahrain, security forces are right now staging night raids on opposition activists, house by house, and scores have gone missing as the dynastic despots carry out a bloody crackdown on the democratic movement. And last Friday more than 50 peaceful demonstrators were shot dead on the streets of Sana’a by government forces in western-backed Yemen." 
I believe that criticism over Libya when compared to Yemen & Bahrain was perhaps miss-founded, let me explain:
To start I think I should provide a little bit of my experience. I am a Computer Science undergrad as well as long time cyber activist. I, along with numerous others, have ran logistical support & provided ways around censorship, amongst other activities since the beginning of the year for what has become know as "the arab awakening". It started with Sidi Bouzid Tunisia, then to #Jan25 Egypt, we have borne witness to this movement through it's darkest nights and brightest days. On February 11th, the day Mubarak stepped down, after long cyber battles that included many compromised systems, we shifted to Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen, with a plan for protests in Iran & Libya (Feb 17) a week later. 
Well that plan didn't happen, Algeria protests were fairly small & cracked down instantly. Iran had its day, but was preempted by their cyber security. The basij ran sophisticated hit & run attacks on protesters, including masked men on motor bikes and cutting street lights to attack protesters in darkness...  Bahrain & Yemen had the most potential, even though Yemen's protest was on going, it was reinvigorating by Mubarak's departure. On February 14, the day of the called protest in Bahrain, violence was reliantly small compared to what we saw just 5 days prior in Egypt & what we were seeing in Yemen... 
But on that night we had a bigger cause of concern, in Libya the youth went out and protested preempting the planned protest (#Feb17), they were met with MORE force that we saw in Egypt... On February 15 the protests intensified & but not near as much as much as Gaddafi's response, unconfirmed reports of live ammunition started to circulate. It was at this point we started to hear chatter from sources inside Libya that Gaddafi was degrading Mubarak for leaving Egypt, & that he was planning on smashing the protest. This video is from the night of February 15th in Benghazi, remember that this is still 2 days before planned protests ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtQZ6BvPxB4 ).  During this time we got a false sense that Bahrain was going to receive a more peaceful response by the government as they had just spent the night in Pearl Square with only isolated violence.   
Things changed on February 16-17, at this point two things happened. 1) Gaddafi's use of live ammunition became widespread, many people are reported to have disappeared, evidence emerges of summery executions, the deployment of old AA-gun's, & something new to us, foreign mercenaries (Who were clearly identifiable). 2) The 4:00 am February 16th siege of Pearl roundabout in Bahrain that included the targeting of medical personnel with savage beatings, the storming of the square that 100's of people were sleeping with the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, & bird shots, and the capture of hospitals by Bahraini security forces that were treating the injured protesters.
In roughly 2 days we saw between a half dozen to a dozen people killed in Bahrain. In Benghazi alone, over that same time period, i can remember between a half dozen to a dozen separate incidents that resulted in at least that many casualties.. That is the difference between scoped rifles aiming for the head, and bird shots, even at close range.  
(February 18-21st) Bahrain, after the crackdown, went into a fake apology mode that included intricate ways of silencing decent, arresting dissidents at night, such as so forth... 
Libya, Gaddafi started to use snipers positioned around Benghazi, using his heavily equipped army on cities residents'. He also deployed mercenaries into the streets in mass levels, these mammalian monsters would carjack, beat, then kidnap people from the streets. They would kick the doors down of houses, systematically rape residents (women & men in some cases), looting, & drive-byes. Meanwhile Gaddafi's army started to object to the actions they were being ordered to partake, those dissenters were bounded, tortured, then executed.  
The orders that Gaddafi's army did follow included firing AA guns into protesters, mutilating anyone that was unlucky enough to be in its path. The use of fighter aircraft on protesters, the execution of protesters in the streets as well as firing from roof tops into protesters plus other crimes that i cant remember specifically right now (This is my first time i'v compiled what i got). The use of live ammunition by this point was the only form of ammunition used, here is a compilation of footage from this time. (http://youtu.be/ithQN3F5Epo ) I got footage that confirms this to the UN & ICC on Feb 23  (available .zip files for download: http://diceylee.blogspot.com/2011/02/un-footage-submission-on-libya-war.html ) ... I pretty much shoved it down their cyber throats...
(Skipping ahead to March 17-19th)
By this time Benghazi, Misratah, Ajdabiya, Brega, Tobruk, Al Aziziyah & the region of Zintan had fallen out of Gaddafi' hands... Only to have Gaddafi forces start to retake cities on the road to Benghazi. Leaving Misratah Al Azizyah, & Zintan mountains in the West, while the East only had Tobruk & Benghazi. March 18th Ajdabiya fell, and Gaddafi forces were on the move. There is only one road between Ajdabiya & Benghazi, as well as one road to Tobruk. What Gaddafi's forces did was take the road to Tobruk, then cut across the desert to bypassing Suluq & flanked Benghazi. They then had, under the cover of darkness, flanked the already weak defenses of the "rebel fighters". Benghazi, at around 6 am came under indiscriminate fire from grad rockets, then a sneak attack of tanks, armored personnel carries, and private trucks. These two clips were taken off Gaddafi forces from the attack on Benghazi. ( http://youtu.be/lqKM-IVXPPU ) and (http://youtu.be/Qm-9JABbGLc ) 
Bahrain meanwhile went through a lull, protesters were starting to retake the streets, and even retook Pearl Roundabout, again we were tricked to think the Khalifa's might change (this was mostly thought the escalations of protests elsewhere). It was in this lull that Robert Gates went to Bahrain and the Saudi and UAE troops entered the country. A day later another crackdown started, coincidence or complicity - I don't know. The difference here is in the waves of violence verses Gaddafi's unrelenting amplification of force. 
When the first French fighters started to strike Gaddafi's forces it caused massive battlefield chaos for his previously steadfast troops. Gaddafi's men very quickly retreated from the city, soon after US Tomahawks hit, you know the rest.  
In your analysis of the Goldstone Report you like to focus on the numbers (1417 vs 13), so I will attempt to roughly do the same to demonstrate my point.. Libya's approximate death count according to Al Jazeera was near 2000 on March  20th, that number has undoubtedly risen but for comparisons sake - it will work. Bahrain's death count as of April 14th is 34 according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.. That is 2000 vs. 34... Noting that there is a difference in population's, i still think this difference dramatic. Yemen has a number of casualties (+270 Al Jazeera) that would be a counter-argument for the previous comparison, however the ammo dump explosion on March 28th killed 150 of them (WSJ). 
As for your conclusions on the Nato stalemate, Agreed and proved correct. As for Nato taking over, I'm with you in thinking it a wrong move , but as I hope I'v made clear, for different reasons. As for  "the attack on Libya could actually increase repression and killing," well that I think is more probable than not. Gaddafi is simple, hold him back and the madder he gets, kinda like my pit-bulls.. Piss them off, let them go and it means killing & maiming.  
I hope you take this positively as I greatly respect your work, and as this is a propaganda war that is taking place in Libya, I hope my perspective adds something to your outlook. I would like to hear your thoughts Sir. 
Aloha - Dicey

Professor Finkelstein's first response to Dicey lee, April 17th (2011) 
Dear Dicey Lee,Many thanks for taking the time to write me.  I read your email with care but I was unable to make out the overarching point.  If you want to say that the number of deaths in Libya was much higher than elsewhere, who would want to dispute this?  (I do not trust Al-Jazeera's figures however.  They betrayed the Arab revolt when they aligned with Saudi Arabia and stopped covering Bahrain.  From that moment on, they became completely untrustworthy.)  
The questions for me were fairly straightforward:  (1) Would the Western intervention prolong or contract the fighting and killing, (2) Would the Western intervention advance or detract from the Arab revolts?  In my opinion the answers to these two questions are now pretty clear.  In the first days of the Libyan revolt Qaddafi was quite isolated and despite the display of murderous force, it did seem that his days were numbered.  But now he has managed to rally quite a few Libyans under the false and fake banner of an anti-colonialist struggle.  In addition, no progressive element remains alive in the Libyan revolt.  It has been hijacked by degenerate elements from Qaddafi's regime and the CIA acting at the behest of the interventionist powers.  These two facts would argue strongly against the wisdom of supporting the foreign invasion, but of course this is all based on probabilities.  
Those who believed that Qaddafi was on the verge of committing a mass bloodletting in Benghazi would reach different conclusions.  I happen not to believe Qaddafi would have committed such a massacre but of course I cannot prove it.If you would like me to post your email on my web site, I would happily do so. 
Best, Norm Finkelstein

Dicey Lee's second email to Professor Finkelstein, Apr 19 (2011)
Aloha again Prof. Finkelstein, First i would like to thank you for taking the time to write me back & the speed of your response. 
I just want to address something real quick to try and clarify: "I was unable to make out the overarching point" - What I was attempting to do was provide a different point of view for consideration regarding the build up to intervention. I likewise cannot prove that an imminent massacre was avoided in Benghazi. However, by laying out the events that took place and their relative relation to the decision for intervention on March 19th, I could layout a case for intervention based on my limited insight (Sorry for the Al Jazeera reference, I recognize their hypocrisy with Bahrain). As you said though; we're talking about 'probabilities', speculating on a "massacre" that simply never happened... In my opinion it was a very hard to call at the time, differences in judgement have obviously emerged, especially after Nato's takeover and repeated failures that has prolonged the conflict further than i thought initially possible.

Addressing your answers to questions that were just laid out: 1) 'Western intervention prolong or contract the fighting?' - There are degrees of correctness in your prediction that intervention would prolong fighting. To me however that question's answer must factor in the odds of a prolonged siege on Benghazi similar to what we are seeing in Misratah currently (Apr 18). It's impossible to say how long the conflict would last if intervention never happened. Back to the facts: After the March 19th intervention there was considerable gains by the freedom fighters. In the order of a few days rebels went from being on their heels in Benghazi, to reaching one of Gaddafi's two legs; Sirte. After this point, especially after Nato assumed command, little to nothing was done towards tapering the conflict. Your assessment in this regard is being demonstrated to be more & more correct as each day passes. 
2) "Would Western intervention advance or detract from the Arab revolts?" A: 'Gaddafi has been able to gather support' - I agree, Gaddafi has gathered support that has retracted from the Arab revolt in Libya. What the West's intervention has effectively done is provide a shameful distraction from events taking place in their allies countries. Does the West's deflexion deflate the Arab revolts? In the countries that the West has interests in - Most definitely. Does the intervention deflate the Arab revolts as a whole, preventing them from spreading? - I dont yet see examples of this. 
I have one question if i may: In your opinion, what would be the effect on the Arab revolts if Gaddafi were allowed to lay siege to Benghazi? (omitting the potential for a "mass bloodletting")

 The threat on Benghazi is a important premise when judging intervention. If one finds that Gaddafi was bluffing, or incapable of following through on his threats, i recognize the validity of that position's conclusions.  I do think there is adequate proof that an attack on Benghazi was imminent, only the degree of threat is a matter of debate. From the stand point of attempting to prevent a possible massacre, Resolution 1973 at the time it was passed was an acceptable move. A no fly-zone which involved a rather heavy handed US wave of attacks on positions in Libya was the next logical step (except for Amr Moussa). The West's continued military involvement once intervention began until the time Gaddafi's removed from power was also a logical conclusion, even at the time Resolution 1973 was passed. 

What has happened since Nato's takeover clearly cannot be said to have 'taken all necessary measures to protect civilians.' Rather, Nato has taken minimal measures as to prevent a mutiny from with in the legitimate elements of their de facto allies. Also incredibly disconcerting are "The degenerate elements from Qaddafi's regime and the CIA" who have crept into the hierarchy of the Transitional National Counsel. This leaves the Libyan revolution as well as the Libyan people in an increasingly dire situation...

Mahalo again for your time Professor. If you have no problems posting our conversation I would be happily allow you to do so. I do have to ask if you wouldn't mind me posting it as well on my blog? By the way, It might amuse you to know that Al Jazeera is going to be featuring the second half of American Radical tonight (Tuesday).  ;)
Sincerest Aloha, Dice.


The last word regarding Libya by Professor Finkelstein, April 19th (2011)
"I have one question if i may: In your opinion, what would be the effect on the Arab revolts if Gaddafi were allowed to lay siege to Benghazi? (omitting the potential for a "mass bloodletting")--such a bloodletting--which, I repeat, I do not believe would have happened, because Gaddafi has been doing everything he could to ingratiate himself with the West the past few years--would have completely discredited armed repression of civilian demonstrations and probably increased the likelihood of civilian nonviolence to succeed elsewhere in the Arab world.

It makes more sense for you to post the exchange on your blog.  Many, many thanks for taking the time to write me.


  1. in my humble opinion, there was going to be a massacre in Benghazi. I was aware that Gaddafi's tanks were at the doors but is the first time I see the video (see above) that shows the attack with the Grad rockets. Such an attack has a complete disregard for human life. Those rockets were not pointed to so called "rebels". That is a collective punishment. With the evidence going on in Misurata and other small cities that apparently have been wipe out, I can only imagine that something horrible was about to happened in Benghazi.

    No doubt in my mind.

    Montreal, Canada

  2. May be you first need to check again whether it is Norman Finkelstein who actually wrote the article "There's nothing moral about Nato's intervention in Libya" in the Guardian (Mar 23, 2011)! He may have posted it on his website, but that does not mean he wrote it. The exchange between you and him is interesting, but it might be equally if not more interesting to have Seumas Milne address the questions you raise since he is the one who wrote the article that prompted your thoughts.


  3. Sorry for that, my mistake on the intro. Rewording. And suggestion noted, i will see if i get Milne to make a response.

  4. Dicey Lee,

    Thanks for the correction. I appreciate it. Credit should be given where it is due. It is surprising though and perhaps a bit ironic that Norman Finkelstein who is known for his careful reading of documents did not catch your mistake in your first email to him and/or failed to correct you:) On the other hand, he is trying to defend his position on Libyan intervention which is similar to Milne's...and he is a very busy man who still admirably takes time to answer people's emails. Anyway, I was also amused at your comment to NF about Al Jazeera, the now compromised news network, running the documentary on him, and giving him the exposure he perhaps deserve for his work and his struggles, and which is now somewhat responsible for swelling the ranks of his admirers. Funny!

  5. No, thank you for the catch! For the readers information, The reason Dr. Finkelstein did not catch the error on the first round of emails was because i made the error this mourning after I was done compiling the data & wrote an into to the blog post, dumb mistake & I admit it...

    To address the comment about Al Jazeera & American Radical. Sure enough Al Jazeera never got the message that they lost legitimacy in the eyes of Dr. Finkelstien amongst many others(including myself to a lesser degree)... Hope you get half as good as chuckle out of the observation as I do...