No-Fly Zone over Libya?

By Daniel Serge

One of the principles of socialism-from-below is that revolutions are made by the people. Military intervention just gives credence to the rulers’ claims that they’re under attack by foreign forces. This point is clearly made by Socialist Worker, who oppose western military intervention in Libya, for the good reason that it could stop the revolutionary process dead, imposing a new ruling class. The Iraq debacle is the clearest example.

However, some Libyans have called for a ‘no fly zone’: for western planes to prevent – and, if necessary, shoot down – Libyan planes. This is because Qaddafi is bombing civilians and the opposition, and using helicopters to ferry in mercenaries.

Should those committed to socialism from below support or oppose a no fly zone?

Socialist Worker says no:

Many people can see what a disaster British or US troops on the streets of Tripoli would be—but still call for the imposition of a no fly zone or sanctions.

This will reawaken memories for people across the globe. These were both used against Iraq before the 2003 invasion. More than a million Iraqis died from the consequences of the war.

This argument is unconvincing. Sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqi children; the no fly zone didn’t. A million Iraqis died from the ground and aerial assault and subsequent occupation, not because the Iraqi regime’s planes were shot down.

An anonymous blogger in The Guardian writes to oppose foreign military intervention, while supporting a no-fly zone:

how many martyrs will fall before Gaddafi does? How many souls will he take before the curse is broken?

This happy ending, however, is marred by a fear shared by all Libyans; that of a possible western military intervention to end the crisis.

Don’t get me wrong. I, like most Libyans, believe that imposing a no-fly zone would be a good way to deal the regime a hard blow on many levels; it would cut the route of the mercenary convoys summoned from Africa, it would prevent Gaddafi from smuggling money and other assets, and most importantly it would stop the regime from bombing weapons arsenals that many eyewitnesses have maintained contain chemical weapons; something that would unleash an unimaginable catastrophe, not to mention that his planes might actually carry such weapons.

If we support socialism from below, don’t we have a duty to support the actual revolutionaries on the ground, who have no access to planes? I understand the argument that revolutionaries win wars by convincing conscript soldiers to desert: but airforce pilots aren’t conscripts. In the meantime, the revolution stalls because people are too afraid to leave their houses for fear of being bombed.

The argument that a no-fly zone would become an Occupation is a serious one. But again, this appears to be up to the Libyan people themselves. I’m not convinced that the west would automatically bomb the Libyan opposition as well: right now, it’s in the west’s interests to support the revolution. In this case, is there not a tactical case to be made for supporting a no-fly zone, while opposing troops on the ground? Can a deal with the devil save lives?