The fight is not over. Whether or not Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi defeats the rebels in eastern Libya, any legitimacy he once had has been extinguished. He has weapons, tanks and planes, but he has lost the allegiance of even those elements of Libyan society that had once been willing to wait and hope for political reform. His base of support is now only diehard allies and foreign mercenaries. They might win on the battlefield, but they will lose in the end.
The uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt were precipitating events, but the resistance has drawn its core motivation from Libya’s brutal experience of colonialism. What is most striking about the rhetoric of the rebellion is how the anticolonialist theme that Colonel Qaddafi once deployed has now been turned against him and is being used on Twitter and Facebook. Even as they are assaulted by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, the rebels have resisted calling for forceful Western intervention, though they support the imposition of a no-flight zone.
Libya’s history explains why. From 1911 to 1943, half a million Libyans died under Italian rule, including 60,000 in concentration camps run by the fascists. Colonel Qaddafi’s nationalist populism is rooted in the traumas of the colonial era, which were papered over during the modernizing but out-of-touch monarchy that ruled from 1951 to 1969.
The regime that came into existence in a bloodless coup in 1969 was led by officers who came from lower-middle-class backgrounds, represented all three regions of Libya and had the backing of a population that was largely rural. Although it was anticolonialist and anticommunist and advocated Arab nationalism and Islamic cultural identity, the new government did not have a clearly delineated political agenda; instead it looked for guidance from the 1952 Egyptian revolution. To this ideological mix the Qaddafi faction, which consolidated power in 1976, added its vision of an indigenous, pastoral, socialist society supported by oil revenues and the labor of workers from abroad.
Western analysts focused on the leader’s cult of personality and eccentric style have often misinterpreted his regime as a historical aberration. In fact, it was rooted in the hinterland of south-central Libya, with its pan-Islamic culture, kinship networks, fear of the central state and mistrust of the West. Colonel Qaddafi transformed anticolonialism and Libyan nationalism into a revolutionary ideology, using language understood by ordinary Libyans. He employed his charisma to mobilize Libyans and attack his opponents. He spoke, ate and dressed like a rural tribesman.
But “tribalism,” so frequently mentioned in coverage of the revolt, is not a timeless feature of Libyan society. It was merely one facet of Colonel Qaddafi’s divide-and-conquer style of rule. To weaken opposition from students, intellectuals and the middle class, the regime pursued a policy of “Bedouinization,” attacking urban culture; promoting rural dress, music, festivals and rituals; and reviving institutions like tribal leadership councils. Tripoli, the capital, lost much of its cosmopolitan character even as it grew.
In its first two decades, the revolution brought many benefits to ordinary Libyans: widespread literacy, free medical care and education, and improvements in living conditions. Women in particular benefited, becoming ministers, ambassadors, pilots, judges and doctors. The government got wide support from the lower and middle classes.
But starting in the 1980s, excessive centralization, greater repression by security forces and a decline in the rule of law undermined the experiment in indigenous populism. Institutions like courts, universities, unions and hospitals weakened. Civic associations that had made Libyan society seem more democratic than many Persian Gulf states in the 1970s withered or were eliminated. A hostile international climate, and fluctuations in oil revenues, added to the pressures on the regime.
It responded by transforming its rituals of hero-worship into a rhetoric of pan-African ideology. It also turned to violence. After repeated coup attempts, it beat, imprisoned and exiled dissidents. It staffed security forces with reliable relatives and allies from central and southern Libya. During the 1990s, as economic sanctions took their toll, health care and education deteriorated, unemployment soared, the economy became ever more dependent on oil and the regime grew increasingly corrupt.
But what has escaped notice since the rebellion began in mid-February is the demographic transformation that made it possible. About 80 percent of Libyans now live in urban areas, towns and cities. Libya today has a modern economy and a high literacy rate. The leaders of the uprising include lawyers, judges, journalists, writers, scholars, women’s rights activists, former army officers and diplomats — a sizable urban elite that is battered and restive.
Had Colonel Qaddafi responded with openness to the calls for reform and not overreacted to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the urban elite might have been placated, and the violent rebellion avoided. He blew it. Once his army and police shot at protesters, the pent-up disaffection of Libyan society was unleashed, and it is too late for the regime to bottle it up. In recent weeks the revolt has even gained support from the historically pro-Qaddafi rural populace. No matter how much blood is shed today, the uprising will not be stopped.
By: Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times: Professor of Political Science at the University of New England, and author of “The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization and Resistance, 1830-1932.”
Sen. Olympia Snowe has apparently decided that it is better to bow to political pressure from the tea party movement than to stand up for the interests of Maine.
How else to explain her vote last week for a federal spending measure that would harm Maine’s economy while punishing thousands of Mainers, including seniors, veterans, preschool children, college students and families struggling to keep their oil furnace running?
It turns out that the tea party does not have to defeat U.S. senators to claim their seat. It just has to threaten them. If what Snowe voted for last week becomes law, 700,000 jobs are likely to be lost in Maine and across the country.
This is not according to a Democratic think-tank, but an economic adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, Mark Zandi.
NO TO HEAT ASSISTANCE
Snowe voted to throw tens of thousands of Maine families off of a lifeline that enables them to get through a Maine winter. She voted to cut the emergency energy assistance program — LIHEAP — by 66 percent, literally tossing Maine families out of the program and into the cold.
She voted to undermine services to Maine seniors who benefit from the Medicare program. Payments benefitting seniors who participate in the Medicare Advantage program, for instance, would be suspended, according to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. And Snowe’s vote would create “significant disruption” to providers, suppliers and seniors who use Medicare.
Snowe voted to cut 3,500 positions from the Social Security administration, guaranteeing extended delays in the distribution of basic retirement claims and disability payments. She voted to eliminate 10,000 supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans.
Sen. Snowe voted to knock 218,000 kids out of the Head Start program and force 16,000 classrooms to close while cutting 1.7 million college students from the Pell Grant program — their lifeline to a college education.
From the seat once held by the environmental champion Sen. Edmund Muskie, Snowe voted to cut land and water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and one-third of the entire Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.
Make no mistake — this was not a vote about doing the difficult but right thing to confront the federal budget deficit.
A sober debate about reining in long-term federal deficits begins by recognizing that the first step to fiscal health is an economy that produces decent-paying jobs.
Jobs fill pockets with money to spend on goods and services that in turn create more jobs. These jobs produce revenue that reduces the federal deficit. You are not serious about fueling a fragile economic recovery when you slash hundreds of thousands of jobs with one vote.
You are not serious about balancing the federal deficit when you support maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans at a price of $2.5 trillion over 10 years — exactly the amount that congressional Republicans want to slash and burn from the federal budget over this same time period.
You are not serious about addressing the federal budget deficit when you repeatedly vote to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Afghanistan.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone account for 23 percent of the federal budget deficit since 2003.
STATE CUTS HURT TOO
The Portland Press Herald’s Bill Nemitz quoted a Portland middle school librarian who drove to the State House in Augusta last week to testify against similar tea party-driven cuts to Maine’s state budget.
Kelley McDaniel described the cuts this way: “It’s not economically sound. It’s not morally sound. And I think you know that. I would be embarrassed to support something so ludicrous — taking from the poor to give to the rich. Maybe you are testing us, checking to see if we, your constituents, are really paying attention, really listening. I hope that’s what’s going on, because the alternative involves me losing faith in representative government, in democracy, and in you, the elected officials.”
Our fragile economic recovery, our kids, college students, seniors, veterans, environment and our health all took a hit on the floor of the U.S. Senate from a senator who was once described as independent.
Sen. Snowe might think that she made a prudent political calculation by bowing to the radical right of her party and placing her political interests ahead of the interests of her constituents. But she needs to know that Mainers are paying attention. And that the seat she is holding is Maine’s U.S. Senate seat. Not the tea party’s.
By: Tom Andrews, Former Maine U.S. Congressman, The Portland Press Herald, March 15, 2011
The earthquake and potential nuclear catastrophe in Japan have brought home a set of questions that have haunted philosophers for hundreds of years—and have played an important role in American politics for over a century. They have to do with the relationship between humanity and nature—not nature as “the outdoors,” but as the obdurate bio-geo-physiochemical reality in which human beings and other animals dwell. To what extent does nature set limits on human possibilities? And to what extent can human beings overcome these limits?
The past million years or so provide much evidence that humanity can overcome natural limits, including the seasons, the alternation of night and day, infertile soil and swamps, gravity (think of airplanes), and infectious disease. But every once in a while, an earthquake, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, the exhaustion of precious metals, a huge forest fire, or the spread of a mysterious disease can bring home the limits that nature sets on humanity. Politicians don’t debate issues in these terms, but that doesn’t mean that these questions aren’t stirring beneath their platitudes.
In the United States, concern about the limits of nature used to be primarily a Republican priority. Theodore Roosevelt, of course, made conservation a governmental concern. But Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon also made their marks as conservationists—in Nixon’s case, as the president who presided over the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Democrats, and liberal Democrats, were more associated with a kind of can-do/anything-is-possible Americanism that aimed for everything from going to the moon to eradicating poverty.
But the political parties and ideologies have reversed dramatically on these issues. Republicans and conservatives have become not just less concerned than Democrats and liberals about the limits that nature puts on humanity; they insist, for the most part, that these limits don’t exist. They are in denial—whether about the availability of petroleum or the danger of global warming; and their denial imperils not just America’s future, but that of the world.
The big switch between the parties happened in the early 1970s, in response to increasingly serious air and water pollution, and to the first of several energy crises that saw the demand for oil exceed the supply. One of the first prominent politicians to respond to these twin crises was California Governor Jerry Brown, who proclaimed an “era of limits.” Brown’s crusade for clean air and alternative energy was taken up by Jimmy Carter during his presidency, and by the environmental movements, which had been associated as much with Republicans as Democrats, but which became increasingly supportive of the Democratic Party, eventually endorsing and helping fund liberal Democratic candidates.
During the ‘70s, the key figure in transforming the Republican outlook on nature was Ronald Reagan. In his 1980 campaign, Reagan criticized Carter’s measures to limit energy consumption and to finance alternative fuel sources. He blamed rising oil prices entirely on the restrictions that Carter had placed on the market. He denied that a problem of pollution existed—“air pollution has been substantially controlled,” he declared during a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio.
Once in office, Reagan put a foe of conservation, James Watt, in charge of the Interior Department; a critic of environmental protection, Anne Gorsuch, at the Environmental Protection Agency; and he cut the research and development budget for alternative energy by 86 percent. Under Carter, the United States had become the world leader in alternative energy. By the time Reagan left office, the country was beginning to lag behind Western Europe and Japan. Reagan didn’t try to overcome the limits that nature was placing on economic growth; he wished them away.
Reagan’s successors have followed his lead. Their “solution” to the prospect of a global shortage in oil is “drill, baby drill.” Their solution to global warming is to deny that it exists and to kill off measures such as high-speed rail that might reduce pollution and oil use. As my colleague Jonathan Chait has noted, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously rejected an amendment that said that “Congress accepts the scientific finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’”
The Republicans, it should be noted, didn’t just deny that human activities are contributing to global warming, but that global warming itself exists—a position that is completely outside the realm of scientific belief. It doesn’t qualify as argument, but as delusion.
Yet during the last year, we’ve seen two disasters that show the price humanity can pay for harboring illusions about the workings of nature. First was the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in early 2010. Yes, it occurred due to lax regulation from the Department of Interior and a rush to profit by BP and Halliburton. But the reason behind the failure of the Interior Department to regulate, and the failure of BP to heed the dangers of a spill, was a belief that nature would not exact revenge. It was a refusal to take the limits set by nature seriously.
The Japanese, of course, cannot be blamed for the calamity that has befallen them. Lacking domestic access to oil, they relied on nuclear power, and they built their reactors to withstand the largest earthquakes and tsunamis—though they didn’t count on both happening simultaneously. Yet what happened in Japan shows vividly that millions of years after humans began inhabiting the earth, nature is still a force to be reckoned with, and it still imposes limits on the decisions we make as a society. Will Republicans come to understand that? Or will they continue to believe that the only limits worth acknowledging are those that government puts on the bank accounts of their corporate sponsors?
By: John B. Judis, Senior Editor, The New Republic, March 16, 2011
President Obama’s not acting as a leader. That’s what the right will tell you. On Saturday, the president talked about women’s history month and the need for women to receive the same on the dollar as a man. (Note to self: we obviously haven’t come a long way baby, Gloria Steinem better keep that bra handy to be burned again). And then, the president had the audacity to go golfing! And select his picks for the NCAA tournament! The shame of it!
Those on the right will argue that the president is not leading this nation, nor his Congress because he didn’t speak on the budget, hasn’t presented himself before Congress on the budget and didn’t address Japan or Libya in his Saturday radio address. And of course, how dare he take a day off during all of this that is going on in the world!
What they won’t tell you is how that radio address is usually prerecorded, often days before. What they won’t tell you is how the president met with Democratic leaders in the Senate regarding the budget last week. What they won’t tell you is that just 24 hours before this radio address, the president spoke of Japan and of Libya. What they won’t tell you is how the United States has sent money, resources, and our Navy, arguably the best in the world, to assist Japan at this time. What they won’t tell you is how the president has a leader in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is discussing along with our allies internationally, the U.N. and NATO our next steps in Libya; which even a Republican Senator, Richard Lugar, stated we must approach very cautiously or we end up in a longterm military problem in Libya, which we clearly can’t afford being involved in two wars already.
What does the right want from this man? If the president had spoken about Japan on Saturday as well as Friday would that have stopped their nuclear power plants from having four explosions, two fires, and leaking radiation at 400 times the level a human should be exposed to it? Would he have stopped the 140,000 people in a 20 mile radius who were told to stay home, work, please don’t go outside? Maybe if he had spoken about Japan a few weeks ago he could have single handedly stopped the earthquake and tsunami, right!?!! And of course, speaking about Libya, he could stop the madman at the helm, their leader, their dictator!?!
Nah, he can’t do that. He’s just the president folks; although with the enormous responsibilities the right lay upon his shoulders you’d think he was God; who I am told, took the seventh day off. The question is, did he go golfing?
By: Leslie Marshall, U.S. News and World Report, March 16, 2011