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“First as tragedy ...”—Mahmood Mamdani on Libya

Tamar Shlaim 1 April 2011

Writing for the Al Jazeera English website, Mahmood Mamdani examines the way in which UN resolution 1973 came about, and what this means for the conflict

The second thing notable about the UN process is that though the Security Council is central to the process of justification, it is peripheral to the process of execution ...

Having authorised the intervention, the Security Council left its implementation to any and all, it "authorised Member States, acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements."

As with every right, this free for all was only in theory; in practise, the right could only be exercised by those who possessed the means to do so. As the baton passed from the UN Security Council to the US and NATO, its politics became clearer.

Mamdani goes on to look at the freezing of Libyan assets held in the US & Europe, noting that: 

Libyan assets are mainly in the US and Europe, and they amount to hundreds of billions of dollars: the US Treasury froze $30bn of liquid assets, and US banks $18bn. What is to happen to interest on these assets?

The absence of any specific arrangement assets are turned into a booty, an interest-free loan, in this instance, to US Treasury and US banks.

Mamdani goes on to predict that the likely outcome of the intervention will be an "Afghanistan-type civil war". He concludes:

The logic of a political resolution was made clear by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, in a different context: "We have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing Bahrain. Violence is not the answer, a political process is."

That Clinton has been deaf to this logic when it comes to Libya is testimony that so far, the pursuit of interest has defied learning political lessons of past wars, most importantly Afghanistan.

Marx once wrote that important events in history occur, as it were, twice - the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. He should have added, that for its victims, farce is a tragedy compounded.

Visit Al Jazeera English to read the article in full.

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