Thursday, 24 March 2011

What's Eating Gilbert Achcar?

Gilbert Achcar, veteran Trotskyist and currently a professor at SOAS, really should know better. He's written a rather convoluted explanation of why he refuses to oppose Western military intervention in Libya. He doesn't quite go as far as openly supporting it, but he devotes a remarkable number of words to equivocating and justifying his ambivalence.

I won't attempt a detailed response, but will merely note four significant points.

Firstly, Achcar has little grasp of why certain Western powers are intervening. He leans towards the notion that they may in fact have genuine humanitarian motives, despite their record suggesting otherwise, but this is tempered by a narrow and unconvincing account concerning the role of oil markets.

There's no recognition that a major motvation could be a desire to fatally undermine the Libyan revolution and, even more importantly, the wider Arab uprisings. This is important for their geopolitical interests in the whole Arab region.

Secondly, he devotes considerable space to outlining why Gadaffi is - or should be - a baddie from the left's perspective. Yes, we know. With the partial exception of some from Stalinist backgrounds, this is generally accepted on the anti-war left. It is therefore a straw argument.

Thirdly, Achcar mis-reads public opinion. He claims 'it is nonsensical, and an instance of very crude "materialism", to dismiss as irrelevant the weight of public opinion on Western governments.' Actually, it's nonsensical to imagine Western governments were pushed into military action by popular pressure. Where were the demonstrations calling for air strikes? I must have missed them.

UK opinion polls so far indicate many people opposing the intervention. I don't believe our own government would succumb to the pressure of an Avaaz online petition, when an earlier government felt able to ignore the will of 2 million people taking to the streets.

Finally, look at what's missing. Do events in Bahrain and Yemen not matter in this discussion? I'd have thought any credible discussion of military action in Libya would have to integrate analysis of why Western governments are adopting a very different stance towards those countries.


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