Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Realism Deficit 2: Walt and Friends

The previous post attempted to make an argument on a weakness in the Realist view of foreign affairs. As an illustration of that, here are some recent articles on Libya.

As part of a longer article, Is America Addicted to War?, self-described Realist Stephen M Walt writes:
. . as Alan Kuperman of the University of Texas and Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune have now shown, the claim that the United States had to act to prevent Libyan tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi from slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Benghazi does not stand up to even casual scrutiny. Although everyone recognizes that Qaddafi is a brutal ruler, his forces did not conduct deliberate, large-scale massacres in any of the cities he has recaptured, and his violent threats to wreak vengeance on Benghazi were directed at those who continued to resist his rule, not at innocent bystanders.

The Alan J Kuperman piece linked to here, Five things the US should consider in Libya, is a perfect example of Realism’s reality deficit. Kuperman writes:
In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.”
This is a highly selective and misleading citation. Here’s more from the transcript the article links to:
With Racak, and with lots of others, the Serbs were playing into KLA hands. It will remain I would say an eternal dilemma whether the KLA initiated these battles in the civilian inhabited areas because it knew that the Serbs will retaliate on them. Personally I don't think so, but of course, it was a war.
Kuperman also cites a New York Times article as follows:
The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was “provoked by rebels.”
But the article he links to details not just one incident in Zawiyah “arguably provoked by rebels” but also another in Zawiyah “described as a ‘massacre’ by rebel witnesses,” where Gaddafi forces “took aim at a group of unarmed protesters who attempted to march through the militia lines toward the capital.” The same article describes two events in Tripoli where unarmed protesters were shot.

There is of course lots more reporting from established news organisations available online to counter Kuperman's selective cherrypicking, and now we also have ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo saying he has evidence that Gaddafi had a plan authorising killing of protesters prepared even before unrest spread from Tunisia and Egypt.

In the other piece linked to by Walt, Steve Chapman is transparently dishonest in his argument. He takes a quote from Obama, “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte (N.C.) — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world” to mean that the administration was saying the entire population of the city would be killed, and then proceeds to argue against the likelihood of this, but massacre does not mean the same as obliteration. Chapman also leans on the earlier piece by Kuperman.

Alan J Kuperman has since published a further article criticising intervention in Libya, False pretense for war in Libya?, and Walt recommends this one also.

In his latest piece, Kuperman writes:
. . Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.
But if you read the Human Rights Watch report on Misrata you find the following:
Attacks by Libyan government forces in the western city of Misrata have endangered civilians and targeted a medical clinic in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch said today.
And further:
Abdullah Abushofer, 26, said that on March 16, Libyan government tanks fired shells into his neighborhood in the Zwabi district of Misrata, although he did not know of any rebel forces nearby. He said he saw shells and high-caliber bullets strike behind his house. When he stepped outside his house to see what was going on, shrapnel struck him in the eye.

Muhammad Bashir, 42, told Human Rights Watch that he was standing outside his home in Misrata's Al Jazeera district on March 25 when a mortar shell struck nearby, he believed fired by government forces, wounding him badly in the leg. He said that there had been no fighting in the area. Bashir, a police officer who said he was not taking part in the fighting, had the lower part of his left leg amputated before being evacuated by ship.

Khalid Ali, 32, said that on March 29 he was walking down the street in the Gzeer neighborhood, where no fighting was taking place at the time, when two gunshots hit him in the leg.

"The people who took me to the clinic said that the sniper was positioned in the Thanuwayat El-Yarmuk school near where I was walking," he said.
And it goes on to describe the killing of 4-year-old Aisha Misbah Suaib, Hamza Muhammad Suaib, 22, and Muhammad Suaib, 63, all from one family. And there’s more. And more.

Lastly, Kuperman declares that “only 257 people” have died in Misrata. The HRW report does say that “medical facilities have recorded 257 people killed,” but doesn’t use the word “only”, instead it goes on to say:
A second doctor, interviewed separately, said that hospitals in the city had documented about 250 dead over the past month, most of them civilians. He believed the actual number was higher because many people could not reach medical facilities.

There you have Kuperman’s method, and Walt’s reality deficit.

For earlier examples of Walt’s difficulties with reality, The shores of Tripoli, and Why the Tunisian revolution won't spread.

For arguments against Walt and Kuperman on the likelihood of a massacre in Benghazi had the UN not authorised action, see Jon Western here, here, and here.

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