An Exchange on Libya

A letter from Gilbert Achcar on Greg Shupak's recent Libya piece.

Dear Editors,

It was brought to my attention that an article signed Greg Shupak published recently on the Jacobin blog mentioned me as having “backed Western intervention” in Libya. A proof, if needed, that being an academic like the author doesn’t make one immune to misreading.

Allow me please to remind the author and your readers that I have refuted this caricature of my position countless times: see in particular this interview and this follow-up. Note in particular this comment that I made in the latter interview:

To be sure, the position I expressed was itself an unusually complex one, reflecting the intricacy of the situation. But this can’t be a sufficient explanation, let alone an excuse, for the fact that my critics were on the whole unable to represent my position accurately, whether it was deliberate misrepresentation — for those who mistake caricature for argument — or as a result of misreading under the influence of the former. Thus, I had a first-hand experience of what Francis Bacon meant with his famous saying: “Slander boldly, something always sticks.” Even though I never ever “supported” NATO’s intervention, several detractors immediately distorted my position into one of “support to NATO’s no-fly zone,” which translated naturally into “support to NATO intervention,” nay, “support to imperialism” for the most overexcited, without ever producing a single relevant quote.

With best regards,

Gilbert Achcar

Dear Editors:

Over the course of an impressive career that has seen him make many important contributions to the anti-imperialist left, Gilbert Achcar has produced work that is clear and perceptive.

Unfortunately, in his letter to Jacobin in response to my “Libya and Its Contexts,” Achcar demonstrates that he also has a knack for obfuscation. He insists that a quotation be produced to demonstrate the support for NATO’s intervention in Libya that I attribute to him. Very well: Here are a few from an article he published Le Monde diplomatique in March 2011:  “The program [Gaddafi’s opponents] are united on is one of democratic change — political freedoms, human rights, and free elections — exactly like all other uprisings in the region. And if there is no clarity about what a post-Gaddafi Libya might look like . . . it can’t be worse than Gaddafi’s regime.” Or: “Can anyone claiming to belong to the left just ignore a popular movement’s plea for protection, even by means of imperialist bandit-cops, when the type of protection requested is not one through which control over their country could be exerted? Certainly not.” Or: “What then was the alternative to the no-fly zone in the Libyan case? None is convincing.” Or: “We should . . . demand that arms be delivered openly and massively to the insurgents.”

In his letter to Jacobin, Achcar seems to insist upon a distinction between supporting a NATO-imposed no-fly zone and supporting NATO-intervention. This position cannot hold. Imposing and enforcing a no-fly zone is not a neutral act, but an intervention in its own right. I will leave it to reader to peruse Achcar’s statements and to conclude whether these add up to support for NATO’s intervention in Libya.


Greg Shupak