New York Times article shields US interventionism in Libya

Published in the Daily Illini August 29th, 2011

The New York Times is the world’s most influential newspaper and sets a qualitative journalistic standard in most of the subjects it covers.

But beyond their accessibility to some of the best reporters, the paper’s editors often fail to challenge and uproot basic assumptions of power within the United States political system — an integral component of a functioning democracy. The Times’ reporting on President Obama’s war in Libya is an example of how they tend to provide cover for Western neoliberal interests as opposed to the sovereignty of the Libyan people.

On Aug. 23, an article was published (“For Obama, a Moment to Savor, If Briefly”) that reacts to Obama’s NATO victory while labeling him a “reluctant warrior.” The Libya strategy, initially a rhetorical call for humanitarian assistance to prevent a bloodbath in Benghazi, took the form of pummeling the country with airstrikes until Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime had been overthrown, which appears to have happened last week. The rebel and civilian death tolls are still unknown, as are many basic facts on the ground.

The article is very clear: “They (the U.S. and its allies) must help Libya’s new rulers … set up a functioning, credible government in a country divided by tribal conflicts and a dearth of state institutions.” It is this very assumption — that the United States is needed, or even wanted — that is depleting our resources as well as our credibility.

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s first problem is that the prosecution of this war was wholly unconstitutional (Article 1 Section 8 unambiguously states that only Congress has the power “to declare war”). The president was rightly challenged by both parties in Congress, who then voted against his naïve-in-the-extreme argument that Libya does not constitute “hostilities” and therefore did not need Congressional approval (which was even opposed in a memo by Attorney General Eric Holder). The incontrovertible fact that this five-month-long campaign, initially declared to last “days, not weeks,” was waged illegally is a fundamental aspect to assessing Obama’s handling of it.
The Times article quotes Obama’s own assessment of the war thus far: “True justice will not come from reprisals and violence. It will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its own citizens to determine their own destiny.”

He then adds: “In that effort, the United States will be a friend and partner.”

That last sentence should make anybody familiar with United States foreign policy to cringe. The U.S. was a very reliable partner of Col. Gadhafi for the past 42 years, as well as other dictators in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, among several others (some overthrown, others still in power). The Arab Spring protests are a reaction against this trend and have ignited demands for modern democratic institutions in the Middle East, while also forcing the U.S. to condemn dictators they have supported for decades.

Gadhafi is an evil man, and his exit from power is an undeniably positive step for the people of Libya. But premature assessments by The New York Times that NATO won, tragedy was averted, we saved lives, etc., deviate from basic realities of a national power vacuum, namely that, as Glenn Greenwald puts it, “all sorts of chaos, violence, instability and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.”

Consider New York Times reporter David Carr’s reaction to the “victory” in Iraq back in the spring 2003: “Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation (and) The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right.”

This quote is a perfect example of how the American news media perceives the U.S. military and NATO as GloboCop, with the right to invade other countries, dethrone their leaders and call missions a full-blown success long before the fog of war is lifted. Nation-building is a high-stakes game that the U.S. has aggressively played without regard for the infinitely complex consequences that are involved. We cannot afford for the situation in Libya to continue this calamitous trend.