Left Forum 2011: The 'war on terror' the 'overseas contingency plan' and losing sight of our purpose

What could have been a great panel focused on the Iraq war and the ongoing “war on terror” was sadly overshadowed by a gross misunderstanding of the situation in Libya, and an attempt by panelists to liken it to the US invasion of Iraq. This is incredibly disappointing as members of the panel, such as Pardiss Kebriaei from the Center for Constitutional Rights, had valuable insights to share about what is going on not only at Guantanamo, but on a policy level within the current administration relating to indefinite detention. This panel illustrated perfectly how important discussions, such as that on the policy on indefinite detention, continue to get lost in the shuffle.

The outcome of this panel brought up two major concerns for me:

First, over-simplifying the situation in Libya and speaking as though there is no differentiation to be made between humanitarian intervention and imperialist invasion is simply irresponsible. Particularly in a forum such as this where the goal is to gain a deeper understanding of political and social issues. This misguided comparison between Iraq and Libya illustrates a serious lack of understanding of the intricacies of intrastate conflicts, as well as the role the international community plays in civilian protection.

Secondly, and this is a concern which deserves greater explication than I have time for in this post, is the idea that everyone on the left must take a unified stance on such matters. There is much to be said about the current state of the left and the mistaken idea that solidarity equals consensus on all issues. This concern stems from the push by many in attendance at Left Forum that all of us here to join together and oppose the intervention in Libya. While I appreciate their passion, and believe they have every right to vehemently oppose this intervention, I also think they would do well to go back and read the description in the Left Forum program. The program states that one of the goals of this event is to, “provide a context for critical engagement by people of different persuasions on the left who nevertheless seek common ground.”

There is more to be said on both these fronts, but for now I will leave you with this thought. There are times when it is helpful to simplify the issues, and there are times when the only way to truly understand a situation is to view it in its messy, complicated entirety. Sometimes, complicated is better.

For more on my stance on the situation in Libya, check out my February 25 post.

Iraq, Left Forum 2011, Libya, R2P