The apparent insignificance of such a consequential event as the Libya intervention in the American consciousness is not in itself racist. Yet race and the racialization of Africa and Africans took center stage in so-called Western deliberations leading up to the intervention in Libya. Race played a dual role in the Libyan intervention. First, it shaped perceptions of what was permissible and who could mediate in Libya in a manner that is commonplace in international relations today. Second, race was one of the factors that authorized the marginalization of African leaders, African intellectuals, and non-Western governments when it came to making decisions about seeking peace or waging war.
What happened in Libya is not new. In 2003, following U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s direct appeal to African countries on the U.N. Security Council, there was a similar scorn heaped on African leaders and elites for their near-uniform opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In these and other instances, African leaders are routinely faulted for moral weakness, corruption, or lack of appreciation of the stakes in global politics.
It never seems to matter that in many regards, from the 1960s Congo crisis to Namibian independence to opposition to apartheid, Africans have either taken the lead or their arguments have been vindicated in later years. Similarly, the chaos engulfing Libya today seems to vindicate the African view that inclusive peace talks and a constitutional transition were preferable to waging the kind of total war whose end was unpredictable.