The austerity delusion


While awaiting the results of the British election, here’s an essay one may read by Paul Krugman, published in The Guardian last week, “The austerity delusion: The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?” Hopefully the election will show that enough voters have stopped believing the lie, or at least no longer wish to go along with it.

Charlie Hebdo Editor-in Chief Gérard Biard & film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret

Charlie Hebdo Editor-in Chief Gérard Biard & film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

I hadn’t intended on posting anything on the brouhaha over the PEN American Center’s honoring Charlie Hebdo with its annual Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award—the gala ceremony happening last night—and the open letter protesting this that was signed by six—then 204—PEN members: nitwits, dupes, and/or ignoramuses all of them (on this particular question, at least). On the stupidity of the 204, Charlie Hebdo’s Philippe Lançon—who was seriously wounded in the January 7th attack—got it exactly right in a commentary, in the latest issue (just out today), on the PEN controversy and the protesting writers

Ce n’est donc pas leur abstention qui me choque; c’est la nature de leurs arguments. Que des romanciers d’une tell qualité—Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Taiye Selasi—en viennent à dire autant de stupidités mal informées en aussi peu de mots, avec toute la vanité des belles âmes, voilà qui attriste le lecteur que je suis. Même si ce lecteur sait, par expérience, qu’un bon écrivain n’est jamais rien de plus, ni de moins, qu’un bon écrivain: un type qui sait bâtir quelque chose de beau, de surprenant et d’intelligent, mais qui, en dehors de son art, peut hélas penser et écrire à peu près n’importe quoi.


I’m so bored arguing about Charlie Hebdo. I’ve said everything I have to say on the matter—in numerous posts on this blog and debates on social media—and don’t feel like repeating myself. So in lieu of doing that, I will link here to a few commentaries on the brouhaha that I found particularly good (and which do not include anything by Glenn Greenwald):

Todd Gitlin, “PC Thought-Bots Embarrass Themselves With PEN Boycott,” in Tablet (May 4th).

Nick Cohen, “Charlie Hebdo: The literary indulgence of murder,” in The Spectator (April 29th).

Adam Gopnik, “PEN Has Every Right to Honor Charlie Hebdo,” in The New Yorker (April 30th).

James Kirchick, “Weaker than the Sword: Charlie Hebdo, PEN, and writerly cowardice in the face of armed aggression against free speech,” in The Walrus (May 4th).

Michael Moynihan, “America’s Literary Elite Takes a Bold Stand Against Dead Journalists,” in The Daily Beast (May 5th).

Robert McLiam Wilson, “If you don’t speak French, how can you judge if Charlie Hebdo is racist?,” in the New Statesman (April 29th).

Arthur Goldhammer—seeking middle ground, overly so IMO—, “PEN America, Charlie Hebdo and the virtue of self-restraint,” in Al Jazeera America (May 4th).

N.B. The PEN debate has been a purely Anglo-American one. It has been noted in France but nothing more. The latest (brewing) Charlie Hebdo debate here, which caught everyone unawares over the past week, is around the incendiary pamphlet—due out tomorrow—by the academic polymath/dilettante, intellectual bomb thrower, and illuminé extraordinaire Emmanuel Todd, Qui est Charlie? Todd’s pamphlet is less about Charlie Hebdo than the January 11th marches and the four-odd million people across France who participated in them. After reading the interview with Todd in last week’s Nouvel Obs, in which he laid out his argument, I was so beside myself with ire that I declared right there and then that I would never read another word by the S.O.B. and, moreover, be sorely tempted to commit an act of aggression against his bodily person if our paths were to cross in public (and, pour mémoire, I have had not bad things to say about Todd’s writings in the past). Listening to Todd on France Inter on Monday morning was the clincher. Perhaps I’ll come back to this subject.

UPDATE: Paris-based Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon has an excellent, bull’s-eye commentary in Tablet (May 5th) “In Paris, PEN Boycott Makes Americans Look Like Crude Provincials.” The lede: “Why the political and cultural battles being fought here [in the US] have nothing to do with what happened over there.”

In his commentary Davidzon links to two pieces on Charlie Hebdo by the Paris-based philosopher Justin E. H. Smith: “Charlie Hebdo and literature,” published on Smith’s blog (May 1st); and an essay from the April issue of Harper’s, in which he discussed the CH killings and the response of the Anglo-American left, “The Joke.”

2nd UPDATE: Charlie Rose interviewed Charlie Hebdo’s Gérard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, in New York for the PEN gala, on his show (on May 4th), which may be watched here. Their English is good!

3rd UPDATE: TNR senior editor Jeet Heer has an interesting critique of Charlie Hebdo (May 8th), “The Aesthetic Failure of ‘Charlie Hebdo’.” The lede: “The French satirical magazine refuses to evolve, using a stale artistic strategy from the 1960s.”

Nº 1179, 25-02-2015

Nº 1179, 25-02-2015

Baltimore & The Wire

Poot, Bodie, D'Angelo, and Wallace

Poot, Bodie, D’Angelo, and Wallace

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

Paul Krugman’s column today, “Race, class, and neglect,” is on Baltimore, in which, entre autres, he cites “the great sociologist” William Julius Wilson and expresses dismay at the reaction of “commentators,” i.e. conservative commentators. Krugman here rather obviously has a fellow NYT columnist colleague in mind (whose initials are DB). As usual, Krugman gets it precisely right.

In following Baltimore over the past week, I naturally thought right away of ‘The Wire’, the greatest show in the history of television and Baltimore’s TV claim to fame. I am, of course, only the 750,000th—or maybe the 7,500,000th, or whatever—person to make this assertion. In addition to being brilliant television ‘The Wire’ is brilliant social science, and is consequently taught in numerous college courses, including William Julius Wilson’s at Harvard. Everyone knows by now that, during its 2002-08 run on HBO, it was Barack Obama’s favorite TV show—and that Omar was his favorite character—isn’t he everyone’s?—as Mr. Obama reminded ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon in a conversation between the two this past March, which may be viewed here. Say what one will about Obama, he is without question the most thoughtful president the US has had in a very long time.

As for David Simon, he weighed in last week on “Baltimore’s anguish” in an interview with The Marshall Project’s editor Bill Keller. Also last week, The Guardian reposted an excerpt of a talk Simon gave in 2013 in Sydney, Australia, “‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’.”

Fans of the ‘The Wire’ are, in their great majority, liberals and leftists, though a few conservatives also appreciate it. One of these, Francis Fukuyama—who’s one of America’s smartest and most interesting public intellectuals—wrote a particularly good essay on the series, “Down to The Wire,” in the September-October 2012 issue of The American Interest. Money quotes:

The most impressive achievement of The Wire, however, is the way it humanizes an entire segment of American society that most white Americans would just as soon ignore (and generally do). By humanize, I do not mean sentimentalize or whitewash. Many of the drug dealers, as well as some of the cops, are vicious people, and the viewer gets to watch them inflict unspeakable cruelties on their victims in ugly detail. But we soon come to realize that most of the characters living in the bad parts of Baltimore are trapped there by the simple bad luck of where and when they were born

And this

One of the fundaments of American political culture is the notion that North America started out as a terra nullis, an empty land to which settlers could come and make new lives for themselves. Americans accept instinctively the Lockean notion that the “industrious and rational” will combine their labor with the mere things of nature and create private property and wealth for themselves, while the “quarrelsome and contentious” will not. Democratic political and legal institutions were constructed to protect what James Madison called the “diversity of the faculties of men” and their consequent unequal ability to acquire property. Americans thus distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor in a way that Europeans, schooled in the historical reality of class differences, generally do not. The idea of social mobility is fundamental to both America’s self-image and to its ongoing success: I may be poor today, but through ability and hard work I can ensure that my children or grandchildren will have better lives. Americans therefore care much less than Europeans about actual socioeconomic inequality; what they care about is a level playing field that allows for intergenerational social mobility. As the experience of countless immigrant groups to the United States has demonstrated, this myth has also been the reality for very many Americans.

The one big exception to this happy immigrant story has always been African Americans, who did not come to North America voluntarily and who, up until the Civil Rights era in the 1960s, were subject to overt legal discrimination in many parts of the country. Blacks were the only social group that faced caste-like barriers to mobility. Their social and economic liberation and subsequent advancement required political power to achieve, first in a Civil War that ended slavery and left more than 600,000 Americans dead, and then in a long struggle against legal segregation whose end required strenuous enforcement by Federal authorities.

The Tea Party ideology that glorifies individual self-help and points to the dangers of an overweening national government conveniently forgets this history—or perhaps some of them do remember it, which is why they are so opposed to the Affordable Care Act, many of whose beneficiaries would be black. Even for those not on the libertarian Right, there tends to be a view that the end of legal segregation leveled the playing field, that government efforts like the Great Society’s War on Poverty were a counterproductive failure, and that there is little more that can usefully be done with regard to inner-city social policy.

What The Wire does so effectively is to remind us that while individual ability and talent do matter, and that our character and moral choices matter as well, we are nevertheless very much products of a social environment over which we as individuals have very little influence. (…)

My wife and I watched all five seasons of ‘The Wire’ in fall 2008-winter 2009 (a big thank you to Stathis Kalyvas for informing me of its existence and pressing me to check it out). Since then I’ve lent my DVD set to several people—including a work colleague at the present moment—all of whom have gone through the entire series and given it the thumbs way up. I think we’re due to watch it a second time.

UPDATE: The Nation’s Dave Zirin has a post on his Nation blog (May 4th), in which he describes how he was a fanatical fan of ‘The Wire’ but now says that he is “Reconsidering [the show] amidst the Baltimore uprising.” In a nutshell, he is not sure if the series had a politically progressive message after all. Zirin’s post is followed by a lively—and high-quality—debate in the comments thread, most of whose contributors take strong issue with him. The comment by “Steve” is particularly good, and which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting into the comments thread here.

2nd UPDATE: Adam Shatz—a ‘Wire’ fan—offers his thoughts on Baltimore in a post (May 7th) on the LRB blog.

3rd UPDATE: Orlando Patterson, the brilliant Harvard University sociologist, has an excellent, must-read op-ed (May 9th) in the NYT on “The real problem with America’s inner cities.”

Bunk & McNulty

Bunk & McNulty

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Stringer Bell & Prop Joe

Stringer Bell & Prop Joe

Clay Davis

Clay Davis

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore, May 1st  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore, May 1st (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Watch here Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announcing the indictments of the six police officers for the homicide of Freddie Gray. Very impressive. Her political future will be brilliant if she wins convictions. POTUS in 2032 maybe?

Max Rodenbeck of The Economist has passed on to me a most interesting article by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, posted April 29th on the EPI’s Working Economics Blog, on how the black ghetto in Baltimore (and everywhere else in America) got to be that way, “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation.” Money quote

Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population. A legacy of these policies is the rioting we have seen in Baltimore. Whether after the 1967 wave of riots that led to the Kerner Commission report, after the 1992 Los Angeles riot that followed the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King, or after the recent wave of confrontations and vandalism following police killings of black men, community leaders typically say, properly, that violence isn’t the answer and that after peace is restored, we can deal with the underlying problems. We never do so.

On the 1968 Kerner Commission report, see the piece in Politico Magazine (April 30th) by Bruce Western, of Harvard’s JFK School of Government, “The Man Who Foresaw Baltimore.” The lede: “Nearly 40 years ago, the Kerner Commission warned us of all this. We didn’t listen.”

In his post Richard Rothstein links to an article by Rutgers University-Newark history professor Beryl Satter, “Race and Real Estate,” published in the July-August 2009 issue of Poverty & Race, that is definitely worth the read.

Louis Hyman, who teaches history at Cornell, has an article in Slate (May 1st), which gives food for thought, on “Why the CVS burned.” The lede: “The rioting in Baltimore wasn’t hooliganism. It was a protest against the depredations of the ghetto economy.”

Emily Badger, an urban policy reporter at WaPo’s Wonkblog, has an informative Wonkblog post (April 29th) on “The long, painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore.”

Gracy Olmstead, an associate editor of Patrick Buchanan’s The American Conservative, has a post (April 30th) on Baltimore—in which she sounds like some bleeding heart liberal—rhetorically asking “Have conservatives lost their compassion?” The question presupposes, of course, that they had this to begin with.

And Julia Blount, a Princeton alumna who teaches middle school, has an open letter on her Facebook page and republished in Salon (April 30th), “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now.” Salon’s lede: “To those rushing to judgment about what’s happening in Baltimore: Please stop and listen before you say any more.” (h/t Michelle S.)

À suivre.

The Baltimore protests

Baltimore, April 22nd (photo: Samuel Corum, Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Baltimore, April 22nd (photo: Samuel Corum, Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

I was initially going to title this post “The Baltimore riots” but then thought that wouldn’t be right, as there has been a protest movement underway in Baltimore since the death of Freddie Gray two weeks ago—who, we now know, was murdered by the police—but there was only one several hour stretch of actual rioting (last Monday) and which wasn’t that big of a deal (the disturbances last Saturday, so far as I’ve read, fell short of a full-blown riot). Sure, it was a big deal for the individuals whose property was looted or vandalized but, with a total of 144 vehicle fires and 15 structural fires, and a few stores looted—and not a single death—the Monday trashing and burning was, compared to the many previous riots in contemporary US history, just not (a big deal). I mean, we’re not talking about Detroit or Newark 1967, Washington or Baltimore 1968, or L.A. 1992 here. And white American punks frequently riot but whose actions are not labeled by the media or larger society as such.

What happened in Baltimore earlier this week—which did not start in the way the broadcast media reported—looked a lot like a typical riot or disturbance in France, which usually begins as a protest by youthful members of visible minorities enraged at the behavior of the police, with the two clashing—hurling projectiles, tear gas, etc—and the looting and arson committed by apolitical opportunists and profiteers joining the melee to steal or just raise hell (I’ve written about French riots here, here, and here; and the 2011 London rioting here). Protesters and looters/arsonists are not the same. And the ultimate responsible party—the culprit—in setting off the events is almost always the police.

On L.A. 1992, Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times had a column the other day on the “Baltimore riots and the long shadow of 1992 Los Angeles,” in which, entre autres, he discussed the “Third World conditions” in the United States. On the rioting, he had this to say

There’s no excusing the looting and torching we’ve seen in Los Angeles and Baltimore, and people understandably want to know how it makes any sense to destroy your own neighborhood.

It doesn’t. Some of it is just plain thuggery.

But some of it is an angry response to a system that appears to be rigged. When you become convinced that justice and opportunity are available to some and not to others, and that nothing changes from one generation to the next, it doesn’t take long before mob mentality takes over.

On protesters vs. rioters, Babson College political scientist Stephen Deets, in a piece in the WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “Baltimore is not Ferguson,” wrote

Very quickly the divide between the “protesters” and the “rioters” became apparent. Freddie Gray’s death may have provided the structural opportunity for the riots, but it seems the individuals involved were largely different than the protesters. As a result, Monday afternoon and evening the protester leaders, mayor, and police were cooperating to calm the streets.

For those who didn’t look at the NYT yesterday, check out Johns Hopkins history prof N.D.B. Connolly’s op-ed, “Black culture is not the problem.”

Examining the view from the right, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has a spot on essay on how “Few conservatives take police abuses seriously.” The lede: “There is overwhelming evidence of widespread civil-rights violations and unlawful brutality. Yet the movement’s reflex is still to ignore or deny the problem.”

Indeed. The right has precious little to say about the behavior of the police. On the question of police violence—or thuggery, if you will—journalist Nathalie Baptiste has a piece in TAP in which she says that “In Baltimore, [this] is the real violence problem.” The lede: “An unarmed black person is six times more likely to be killed by police than is a white person who carries a weapon.”

If one missed it, see my post from last month, “Killed by police.” If any conservatives out there wish to comment on this, feel free.

There has, of course, been some boneheadedness and stupidity on the far left, which the well-known lefty political scientist Stephen Zunes called out yesterday in a social media status update:

One thing that bugs me almost as much as the white conservatives who condemn poor black inner city youth for rioting are the white leftists who cheer it on. The empirical evidence has demonstrated that strategic nonviolent action (strikes, blockades, occupations, etc.) is far more effective in advancing social justice than smashing storefront windows and throwing projectiles at cops. Those of us in privileged positions should neither impose moral judgement on nor encourage counter-productive tactics by the oppressed.

Very good, Stephen. I entirely agree.

À suivre.

The Armenian genocide


[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

To mark the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide, I’m linking to two articles—and two only—that I’ve read on the subject of late. One is the remarkable essay in the January 5th issue of The New Yorker by staff writer
Raffi Khatchadourian, “A Century of Silence,” in which he writes about the historical memory of the genocide in southeastern Turkey—and how it is being recovered—through the prism of his family’s own history. At 14,000 words the essay requires a certain time commitment but is well worth it.

The other piece, in the April 20th issue of TWS, is by Boston College political science prof Dominic Green, “A great calamity: One century since the Turkish genocide of the Armenians,” in which he reviews “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide, by Ronald Grigor Suny, the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Green writes

This year is the centenary of the Armenian Genocide; the commemoration falls on April 24. On that day in 1915, the Ottoman government arrested hundreds of prominent Armenians in Istanbul. This April 24, when memorial ceremonies are held in Armenia and in the cities of the Armenian diaspora, the Turkish government will be congratulating itself with diversionary celebrations of the Gallipoli campaign. The centenary has raised the diplomatic temperature and precipitated many books. Ronald Suny’s is the best of them: Balanced, scholarly, and harrowing, it should be read by all serious students of modern history.

I’ll certainly read it à l’occasion.

I should also mention Turkish-German director Fatih Akin’s new feature-length film, ‘The Cut’, which has the Armenian genocide as its focus. Akin is a fine filmmaker, having directed the excellent Head-On and the very good The Edge of Heaven, though his Soul Kitchen wasn’t too memorable IMO. This one is his biggest budget and most ambitious film. It begins in 1915 in Mardin, in southeastern Anatolia—near the present-day Syrian border—where a blacksmith named Nazaret Manoogian, played by the French actor Tahir Rahim, lives a happy life with his wife and daughters, ages 10-12 or thereabouts, when Ottoman soldiers storm Armenian homes in the middle of the night and send their inhabitants packing. Nazaret is separated from his wife and daughters, the latter sent on the death march to the south while he’s impressed into a work gang, all of whose members have their throats summarily slashed when the soldiers are done with them. But Nazaret’s press-ganged Kurdish executioner couldn’t bring himself to commit the deed, going through the motions and sparing Nazaret’s life, but cutting his vocal cords nonetheless, definitively depriving him of speech. This part of the film, which depicts the genocide as it must have unfolded—with the round-ups, robbing and rape of those on the death march, massacres and mass starvation—is well-done and quite powerful, though one is provided with little information as to why it’s all happening. Turks and Kurds will wince at the way they’re portrayed, even if a small handful are shown to have acted honorably and/or with humanity. Nazaret ended up in Aleppo and, with the war over, learned that his wife had died but the daughters hadn’t, that they’d been married to rich Armenian businessmen living in Cuba. So he set off on his journey to find them—and this is the rest of the film—taking a boat to Havana, where, communicating via writing and hand gestures, he learned that they had moved on to Minneapolis, Minnesota. So smuggling himself to Florida, he made his way to the Twin Cities, where he was informed that the daughters were now somewhere in North Dakota. F—cking North Dakota. So that’s where he went and where his journey ended, some seven years after he was separated from his family. As for whether or not the ending is happy, sorry but no spoilers.

This part of the film doesn’t work. What started out as an epic saga on the Armenian genocide—a subject on which there are precious few cinematic treatments—ended up as a story about a father looking for his lost family—and, with the film’s 2¼-hour running time, a long story indeed. And having the protag lose his voice was an unnecessary contrivance. Technically the film is impressive—it was shot in five countries (Jordan, Malta, Germany, Cuba, and Canada) on three continents—but otherwise it’s a disappointment. A blown opportunity. In the version shown in France the Armenian characters speak Armenian (Rahim and others being dubbed) but I read afterward that they speak English in the main version for the international market. If the one I saw had been this, I’d have given the pic the thumbs down from the get go. Hollywood press critics who saw the film at the Venice festival had the same reaction to it as did I (e.g. here, here, and here). French critics were also on the same wavelength (though Allociné spectateurs were far more positive; for once I go against the vox populi). Armenian trailer w/French s/t is here, English one is here.

UPDATE: Ronald Grigor Suny has an op-ed in the NYT (April 23rd) on “The cost of Turkey’s genocide denial.”

2nd UPDATE: Ronald Grigor Suny has another piece, this an excerpt in TDB (April 24th) from his new book (see above), “Yes, the slaughter of Armenians was genocide.” The lede: “The Turkish government may not want to admit it, but the murder and removal of millions of Armenians was genocide.”

3rd UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu has a most interesting essay in OpenDemocracy (April 24th), “Skeletons in the Turkish closet: remembering the Armenian Genocide.” The lede: “Just like the skeletons that were discovered in Diyarbakır in 2012 nearly 100 years after they were buried, Turkey’s past is haunting its future and demanding that we remember the tragic events of the Armenian Genocide.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde dated April 23rd has an eight-page supplement on the “Génocide des Arméniens,” in which there’s a full-page interview with Boğaziçi University historian Edhem Eldem, who was one of the organizers of the groundbreaking 2005 Istanbul conference on the Armenian genocide, the first ever held in Turkey on the subject. In view of the century-long brainwashing of Turks as to what to happened to the Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and the hyper-nationalism in Turkey—which is constitutive of the Turkish national identity—he is not optimistic that the Turkish state will recognize the fact of the genocide in the foreseeable future.

5th UPDATE: The website Public Books has a review essay (May 1st) on Ronald Grigor Suny’s book by Christine Philliou, Associate Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish History at Columbia University, “The Armenian genocide and the politics of knowledge.”


My friend Claire Berlinski has a post on the Ricochet blog, “Mass grave in the Mediterranean,” in which she favorably refers to Adam Garfinkle’s writings, on The American Interest website, on the Obama administration’s Libya intervention. Garfinkle was a strong opponent of the intervention and is feeling vindicated on account of his apparent clairvoyance as to how things would turn out there. I have a few issues with his POV, though, which I wrote to Claire in an email. But instead of sending the mail, I’m posting it here on AWAV instead, where others (e.g. Bob B.) can eventually weigh in:

On the Libya intervention, Adam Garfinkle has the satisfaction of saying he was right from the beginning—it’s always gratifying to be able to do that—but Libya was, in fact, a roll of the dice. Or a coin flip (a better metaphor). It was a 50-50 proposition (in terms of arguments for intervention vs. against). I wrote this four years ago almost to the day (here) and would write it again today.

There are a few things Garfinkle doesn’t consider, or maybe downplays (as I’m maxed out on my quota of free American Interest articles, I can’t go back and verify what precisely he said at the time or since). First, the Obama administration was divided on the wisdom of intervening in Libya but its hand was forced by Sarkozy and Cameron (in the same way as Clinton’s was by Chirac and Blair in Kosovo). But as it was clear that it would merely be a bombing campaign—no ground troops—the decision was relatively easy (and particularly as there was no objection from Russia or the Arab states, Algeria excepted; Qadhafi’s utter isolation in the Arab world, including in Arab public opinion, was striking; so the US had nothing to worry about in that department).

Second, there already was an insurgency/civil war underway and that would have worsened had the US not intervened. It is entirely possible—even likely—that the situation we’re witnessing in Libya today would have happened anyway (and with many more Libyans having been killed in the process). In other words, the US intervention may have merely hastened a possibly inevitable outcome.

Third, there is no reason to believe that Libya would be an island of stability today had Qadhafi prevailed in the civil war—with the inevitable massacres and exactions—for the simple reason that Qadhafi had always been a source of instability. A comparison with Iraq is useful here. Qadhafi’s regime was, in fact, far worse than Saddam Hussein’s; the internal repression and brutality of the two regimes were on a par—they were equally bad in both—but Qadhafi meddled in the affairs of other countries—in the Maghreb and West Africa—and generally wreaked havoc in a way that Saddam did not (with two big exceptions, of course, in 1980 and 1990, when he grossly miscalculated). And Qadhafi was a sponsor of international terrorism—targeting Americans and Europeans—in a way Saddam’s regime never was. No act of terrorism in Europe from the mid 1970s onward can be traced back to Baghdad (unlike to Tripoli, Tehran, or Damascus). So there is no a priori reason to assume that we would not be witnessing the current migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean if Qadhafi were still in power.

N.B. The disaster in Libya is due to the collapse of the Libyan state. But the collapse of the Libyan state was not brought about by the US intervention or events set in motion by this. It was brought about by Qadhafi. Qadhafi wrecked what existed of a state in Libya. Qadhafi patrimonialized the Libyan state—concentrating total power in the hands of his immediate family—to an extent unseen in an Arab country outside the Gulf. Ba’athist Iraq had a state. Qadhafi’s Libya did not. There was a small window in 2012 during which it could have been reconstituted. Unfortunately it didn’t work out.

One last thing. Garfinkle, in his post from this February, alludes to the mess in Mali and Nigeria as an unintended, but implicitly inevitable, consequence of the US invention. But did Garfinkle warn about this back in 2011? Did anyone? If so, I’d like the reference.


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