Tinpot Bombardiers

by Alexander Cockburn, June 16, 2011

The alleged purpose of UN Security Council resolution 1973, passed on March 17, was to seek to protect Libyan civilians from violent attacks by both sides. In NATO’s eager hands, cosseted by uncritical Western press coverage, it has rapidly mutated into an overt bid to destroy Qaddafi’s regime, specifically to murder Qaddafi, by missile or bom­bardment with land-based teams of Special Forces assas­sins doubtless deployed in the desert, assigned the same task.

NATO says more than 10,000 sorties have been flown over Libya since operations began. This includes 3,794 “strike” bombing raids across country. In the heaviest strikes yet, concentrating on attacks in Tripoli, NATO launched 157 strike missions on Tuesday, more than three times the previous daily average.

In fact, in NATO's first 30 days they flew about 5,000 sorties. Since then, nearly another two months, they have flown another 5,000. So despite the trumpeting about inten­sifying the campaign, the tempo of operations has actually been falling over time — which as one seasoned observer remarks — is “not a surprise, considering what we know about readiness, spare parts inventories, and the capacity to ramp up spares production.”

Pierre Sprey, a member of the design team that pro­duced the F-16 and A-10, remarks acidly that “the flea bites inflicted on Qadaffi's army by the all-out efforts of the entire NATO air armada are a lovely demonstration of the fruits of our overarching strategic principle of pursuing Unilateral Disarmament at Maximum Expense.”

Sprey continues, “Libya also provides empirical verifica­tion of the most expensive component of the Princi­ple of Unilateral Disarmament at Maximum Expense: bombing the enemy's homeland lengthens every war in which it is attempted. There have been no documented exceptions in the hundred years since Sottotenente Giulio Gavotti's heroic first bombing of a Libyan oasis in 1911*. Clearly, 2011's equally heroic bombing of Tripoli is no exception.”

It is clear that despite Homeric paeans by Western jour­nalists to their zeal and prowess, the rebels headquartered in Benghazi are an ineffective rabble whose prime activity is to complain that NATO is not fighting the war hard enough on their behalf. Qaddafi faces NATO’s tinpot bom­bardiers acting with no legal mandate and with barely a whisper of criticism in the Western press about the absurd pretense that they are operating within the terms of UN Security Council Resolutions. The rebels have been unable to make any effective military showing.

On June 6 the independent International Crisis Group, stocked with well-informed regional experts and former diplomats, issued a report, “Making Sense of Libya.” It stated forthrightly that NATO was in the business of “regime change” and was strongly critical of NATO’s refusal to respond to calls for ceasefire and negotiation, a stance which the ICG says is guaranteed to prolong the conflict, and the tribulations of all Libyans.

The ICG then addresses the topic of Qaddafi’s alleged “crimes against humanity,” even genocide. Remember that the relevant UN resolutions that led to NATO’s current onslaughts were rushed through the Security Council pow­ered by fierce rhetoric about Qaddafi’s “massacre of his own people,” and his “crimes against humanity,” even genocide. The diffuse and mostly vague allegations were usually studded with adverbs like “reportedly.”

On the issue of Qaddafi’s alleged war crimes, the Inter­national Crisis Group notes reports of mass rapes by gov­ernment militias, but declares that at the same time, "Much Western media coverage 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… 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’.”

In this context, since the International Criminal Court’s record of ductility to NATO’s requirements is one of near 100% compliance one can view with reasonable cynicism its timing in issuing accusations of mass Viagra-assisted rape against Qaddafi’s militias immediately in the wake of NATO bombing onslaughts on Tripoli on Tuesday. On the issue of systematic mass rapes, Amnesty International said on Thursday that its researchers in eastern Libya, Misurata and in refugee camps along the Tunisian border, “have not to date turned up significant hard evidence to support this allegation.”

A hundred years down the road the UN/NATO Libyan intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair. There may even be a paragraph or two about the collapse of the US left, in mounting any powerful show of protest.

*A footnote here from Sprey: “Amateur historians and think tank pundits love to quote Hiroshima as the first and most obvious exception. Far from being an exception, the nuclear bombing of Japan actually confirms that bombing lengthens wars. The historical record shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Truman and Byrnes deliberately delayed the acceptance of the urgently-proffered Japanese surrender offer (and of the Potsdam Peace Conference) by at least a month in order to make sure the war would not end before we had impressed the world (mainly the Rus­sians) with the power of a nuclear bomb unleashed on Japanese civilians. Thousands of American soldiers, sailors and airman died unnecessarily because of that profoundly stupid — and profoundly immoral — strategic blunder.”

Larry Portis

In late 2006 I was in France in the summer and went to Montpellier to give a talk on the war in Iraq, invited by CounterPuncher Lawrence McGuire, of “Americans for Peace and Justice.” Amid the visit, Jack Goodfellow and Larry Portis took me to lunch at a good restaurant in a little town in a river gorge in the Cevennes. Jack gave a marvel­ous account of traveling in the Sixties through the South, somewhere around 1964, with Chris Strachwitz, whom he’d fallen in with in New Orleans. Strachwitz, by origin the son of a Silesian land baron, and known formally as Christian Alexander Maria, Graf Strachwitz, von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz, was recording blues singers in the Delta for Arhoolie Records, which he’d founded in 1959.

Jack said Chris was fearless and wouldn’t put up with any kind of racist talk. A sheriff, taxed with telling them where to find Mississippi Fred McDowell’s place, over­stepped Chris’s rigorous bounds, and ended up ordering them to be out of town by sundown. They did find McDowell’s home. Jack described Fred coming in from the fields, warming his hands in front of the stove to dry the red dirt, which he then peeled off, picked up his guitar and began to play. Later as Chris and Jack headed into Houston, there were shenanigans with Lightnin’ Hopkins and his two brothers, Joel and John Henry and Mama Hopkins, and a shotgun along for the ride. It was Strachwitz who got roy­alties for Fred McDowell from the Rolling Stones' per­formance of his song “You Gotta Move” on their Sticky Fingers album.

Later I stayed the night at Larry Portis’s house up in the mountains — an abode on which he and his partner Christi­ane Passevant had lavished much creative attention, with beautiful mosaic, dry stone walls and kindred enterprises. I liked Larry and enjoyed talking with him. He’d grown up in a working-class family in Seattle and then Billings, Montana. His father was a sheetmetal worker. The late Sixties saw him graduating in 1968 from Montana State University-Billings where he was active in university and local politics, and radical journalism. He helped organize the municipal water workers in Billings, then got a PhD in history from Northern Illinois University.

He left for Europe in 1977 and in 1981 began teaching at the American University of Paris, where he created a section of the CGT labor union, and then in several other universities in France. He was a member (1984-89) of the editorial collective of the Editions Spartacus, and a member of the editorial committee of the sociology journal L’Homme et la Société from 1987 to 2007. He wrote for many radical publications both sides of the Atlantic.

In 2002, Larry co-founded “Americans for Peace and Justice” in Montpellier, Vermont. After my visit, he began to write for CounterPunch on movies, then on French politics. His little book on fascism, in French, recently popped into my letterbox in Petrolia, then a novel. His last piece for our newsletter was on Marine LePen. I was about to email him looking for an update and got a note from Jack, headed “terrible news”:

“Our friend Larry Portis just died of a massive heart attack this weekend at his house in the Cévennes. He was in fine form, plenty of projects, just published a novel. He'd even had exams last week in Paris and they found nothing.”

This morning answering a note I’d sent him Jack wrote, as he prepared to leave for the funeral in Alès:

“Larry had so much left to say and do. Retirement from the university was a release to get on with dozens of other things. It's somehow not surprising that he should die as he was about to leave to give a speech many hours away. He would have been in the process of doing something, always another project, another book, another dry stone wall, terracing to make things grow better. I'll miss the conversations up there in Soudorgues, on top of the world in the Cévennes. A couple of old white guys crazy about the blues, strumming a duo in the late hours. The sentence was cut off in the middle. I'll have to figure out how it would have gone on. And how I would have answered it.”

Our sympathies to Christiane.

The Cemetery of Exhausted Possibilities

Here’s Trotsky on Céline -

.”..Louis-Ferdinand Céline walked into great literature as other men walk into their own homes. A mature man, with a colossal stock of observations as physician and art­ist, with a sovereign indifference toward academicism, with an extraordinary instinct for intonations of life and lan­guage, Céline has written a book which will survive, inde­pendently of whether he writes other books, and whether they attain the level of his first. Journey to the End of the Night  is a novel of pessimism, a book dedicated by terror in the face of life, and weariness of it, rather than by indigna­tion. Active indignation is linked up with hope. In Céline's book there is no hope... Decay hits not only parties in power, but schools of art as well. The creative methods become hollow and cease to react upon human sensibilities — an infallible sign that the school has become ripe enough for the cemetery of exhausted possibilities — that is to say, for the Academy... Céline will not write a second book with such an aversion for the lie and such a disbelief in the truth. The dissonance must resolve itself. Either the artist will make his peace with the darkness or he will perceive the dawn.”

I like the cemetery of exhausted possibilities. We were just talking about the US left, were we not? Put it next to Robert Browning’s lines in “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”

“What's the vague good o' the world, for which you dare /

With comfort to yourself blow millions up?

/ We neither of us see it! / we do see /

The blown-up millions — spatter of their brains /

And writhing of their bowels and so forth,

/ In that bewildering entanglement

Of horrible even­tualities

/ Past calculation to the end of time!”

Round out the funeral bouquet with this, from Adorno:

“The injunction to practice intellectual honesty usually amounts to sabotage of thought. The writer is urged to show explicitly all the steps that have led him to his con­clusion, so enabling the reader to follow the process through and, where possible, — in the academic industry — to duplicate it. This demand not only invokes the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought and so inhibits their objectively appropriate expres­sion, but is also wrong in itself as a principle of representa­tion. For the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar.”

From Minima Moralia  — and as succinct a critique of the culture of the internet as one can find.

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com.

One Response to Tinpot Bombardiers

  1. chuck becker Reply

    June 18, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    “… bombing the enemy’s homeland lengthens every war in which it is attempted. There have been no documented exceptions in the hundred years since Sottotenente Giulio Gavotti’s heroic first bombing …”

    Alexander, I’ll invoke the case made by supporters of Keynesian stimulus deficit spending: if it’s not working it only means that you’re not doing it right.

    Hiroshima, Nagasaki, game over.

    Regarding the whole situation in Libya, if regime change be the order of business, then PanAm 103 raises the question whether the Anglo-French-Canadian alliance would have taken this on if that Scottish court hadn’t freed the turd who masterminded it. I understand and accept the US playing our usual lapdog role to the Anglo-French alliance (WWI, WWII, Iran (Moggadesh/BP) French Indochina (Ho Chi Minh/Michelin), etc, etc. No matter what we here in the US do, we will never feel anything more than worthy of the endless scorn heaped upon us by those exhausted, dissipated Imperial powers of Old Europe.

    Secretary Gates’ remarks to NATO were focused, deliberate, and most long overdue. In our misguided, yet utterly altruistic, hayseed effort to meet our obligations to the world, we have expended blood and treasure to insure the creation of a thriving and supercilious merchant class in all the developed and developing nations of the world. All of Europe, all of East Asia, Russia, and much of the Americas reap rewards of prosperity while they enjoy an American-provided Century of Peace.

    Yes, yes, I know that with TV bringing the vivid images into our living rooms, it seems like the world is a war-filled and bloody place. In historic terms, the past 65 years have been remarkably peaceful and safe, within the bubble of American presence. When was the last time that Europe, or East Asia, went 65 years without a major conflict between sovereign powers?

    NATO, and Europe in a larger sense, need to step back and do an honest self evaluation. Of course they won’t, Europeans don’t do that. But whether they are willing or not doesn’t change the truth a bit: Europe is even more exhausted than the US, and is only likely to begin an even larger burden on the New World. Good luck to Canadian LtGen Bouchard as he stands astride two cultures and leads his feeble forces toward a lengthy stalemate.

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