Opening Plenary, “Media and War: Challenging the Consensus” Conference, Goldsmiths, London, UK, 17 November 2012
Seumas Milne: We’ve seen the rise of a new, revived form of liberal interventionism, or humanitarian interventionism, in the last couple of years, and the key to it is the idea that there mustn’t be too many boots on the ground because that was the problem with Iraq and Afghanistan. You’ve got to be seen to be targeting the bad guys. You’ve got to be seen to be saving civilians and in the fight for freedom again. It’s a bit of a sort of a rewind to the Kosovo war and the story that was told at the time. . . . The new, rebranded war on terror has to be seen to be arm’s length, proxy wars. And, of course, the Arab uprisings have provided the mechanism and opening for new forms of war on terror to be pushed forward. First of all we saw it happen in Libya. Now, the intervention, the NATO intervention in Libya, which is the first step in the new war on terror, was — we were told — a war, an intervention, to protect civilians. As a result of that intervention, the death toll in Libya increased by a factor of between ten and twenty times. The result of the intervention in Libya, the NATO bombing and bombardment in support of rebel forces in the civil war in Libya, has been 8,000 political prisoners, torture across the country, mass ethnic cleansing, the creation of a warlord and militia regime which is unable to run the country and manage the election process, which, if you look behind the curtain, was not a genuine election process at all. Now, we have a growing, creeping intervention in the horrific civil war in Syria and the threat of an increased intervention through the channeling of weapons by the United States, Britain, and France, in alliance with the Saudis and the Gulf dictatorships . . . , to particular factions in the opposition, increasing the bloodshed all the time.
Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor. His latest book is The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century. The text above is an edited partial transcript of his speech. Video by Stuart Platt.