Johan Galtung, sometimes called the father of peace studies, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and the refusal of Egyptian soldiers to attack civilians. His prediction of the collapse of the US empire in 2020 appears to be on schedule. So, it was noteworthy when he predicted on Tuesday at the University of Virginia that the war in Libya would last 20 years. If, however, NATO and the opposition were to kill Gadaffi, he said, the fighting could go on for more than 20 years.
This prediction came the day after Obama gave one of those speeches, like his speeches on Gitmo or Iraq, where he persuades you that something is already over without actually making that claim. How can the war (excuse me, humanitarian intervention) in Libya be over and have 20 years left to go?
Galtung argues that predictions of quick success in Libya depend on an ignorance of history and a reduction of broad social forces to the caricature of a single person. There are five forces at work in the Arab Revolution, Galtung argues: opposition to dictatorship (demand for civil rights), opposition to inequality and poverty (demand for economic rights), opposition to the U.S. and Israeli empires, the revolt of the youth, and the revolt of women. When a government is on the wrong side of all five forces, Galtung claims, it is doomed.
Egypt scores a negative 5; its government imposed/imposes dictatorship and inequality, supports the rule of the two empires, and suppresses youth and women. Tunisia, because of advances in women’s rights, scores a negative 4. To explain why Libya only scores a negative 3, Galtung goes back to 1915 when Arabs revolted against the Ottoman Empire with the aid of France, the UK, and Russia. France took over Lebanon and Syria. The UK took over Iraq and Palestine. The next revolt came in the 1950s and 1960s against the French and the British. This revolt was led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and then by Gadaffi. The United States became Israel’s patron and developed the current empire. Gadaffi gained the reputation of an opponent of the U.S. and Israeli, as well as French and British and Italian empires. In Galtung’s analysis, such a reputation lasts forever.
So, Gadaffi’s government gains points for holding an aura of anti-imperialism and for relatively little inequality. Similarly, Galtung gives the governments of Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia negative fives but suggests that Syria and Iran score better on the basis of past resistance to empire.
The opposition in Libya, according to Galtung, stands for the West. France, Italy, the UK, and the US are likely to invest huge sums in that opposition. On Monday Obama promised to transfer $33 billion in seized Libyan assets to “the people” of Libya; that means the opposition. What’s underway, Galtung says, is a civil war, not a no-fly zone protecting civilians. And killing Gadaffi would make him a martyr.
This analysis fits with some facts that aren’t paid enough attention to, I believe. Nonviolent campaigns against tyranny succeed more often than violent ones. Nonviolent campaigns succeed more often when violence is used against them. Too much violence can destroy them, but it takes more than is commonly imagined. Gadaffi’s military is not primarily foreign mercenaries. Prior to U.S. involvement, military forces were defecting to the rebel side; now one doesn’t hear of that happening. The leader of the rebels is a CIA creation. Going back to the U.S. liberation of Cuba and the Philippines, the U.S. military has stepped in to “help” dozens of countries and overstayed its welcome every single time without exception.
Galtung doesn’t predict that the United States will be at war in Libya for 20 years. He expects Western Europe to take over the poisonous role of empire from the current global power. China, he believes, even if it were powerful enough to step into that role, is not stupid enough to do so.