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Cameron’s Libyan Folly

May 20, 2011

I have written before on the sheer, towering stupidity of the so-called “humanitarian intervention” in Libya. Who are we helping? Is it extending the suffering of the civil war? Are the Anglo-French forces (how redolent of Suez!) getting drawn deeper?

From a devastating article by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian:

The British government has a better idea of how to deal with Gaddafi. It wants to kill him. The pretence that the RAF is merely “protecting the civilian population” by its bombing of Libya is defied each night as it roams Tripoli with a list of Gaddafi family residences and hideaways to attack. Having presumably run out of defence installations, it has begun bombing police stations and government offices, including in residential areas. How that is “protecting civilians” is not so much unclear as rubbish.

How did all this come about? Simon Jenkins thinks it started with British Prime Minister David Cameron walking through Tahrir Square in Cairo catching the intoxicating whiff of street politics:

Could this, he wondered, be his 9/11 moment, his path to glory on the world stage? Surely it would be easy, as he said, for his government “to give Libyans a chance to shape their own destiny … by all necessary means”?

The only answer to that question is which minder was on duty that day who failed to bang Cameron’s head against the wall? The prime minister had never been there before. He did not know that, at such moments, soldiers lie and diplomats (who were against Libya) tell the truth…

…The addition of “crime against humanity” charges to the bombing campaign clearly ends hope of negotiation and possible exile for the Gaddafis. Britain has done what it said it was going to do – it stopped Gaddafi visiting his wrath on Benghazi. It should then have left, returning only if he did.

If any good has come out of this wrong-headed, amateur-hour intervention, it has escaped me.

  1. May 20, 2011 1:50 pm

    Granted bob – nothing in it for you……However there might be a few Libyans who perhaps can glimpse a chink of light at the end of the “decades of ruthless oppression” tunnel …..Suggest you have a look at Obamas speech last night. Pretty clear that Gadaffi is toast.
    As for Simon Jenkins “… stopped Gaddafi visiting his wrath on Benghazi. It should then have left, returning only if he did” you need to replace word “if” with “when” to make sense of his tortured logic.
    Me thinks the left are talking out of both sides of their mouths on this one. Iraq (esp surge) was wrong because of the boots on the ground/invasion aspects and now aerial support in Libya is wrong because of haphazard targeting. Granted neither approach is ideal but it needs to be measured up against years of meaningless gibbering and impotent sanctions that have done nought for the Libyan in the street.

  2. May 20, 2011 3:16 pm

    Well said!

    • May 20, 2011 7:00 pm

      Just to be clear, my comment “well said” referred to Bob Carr’s article, not the subsequent comment below which my comment happened to appear.

      IMO NATO’s attack on Libya is rank imperialism with a most unconvincing figleaf of humanitarian rationale that is tattered in the extreme. A real con job, as bad as Bush, Blair & Iraq.

  3. Harquebus permalink
    May 21, 2011 6:49 pm

    Who gets the oil wins.

  4. Nick Andrew permalink
    May 21, 2011 10:35 pm

    This article only leads me to ask how you would have done it better.

    Given the core situation, that the Libyan people were frustrated after decades of Gaddafi’s regime, and popular uprisings in the middle east had succeeded in obtaining political change in Egypt in a largely blood-free manner, and the Libyan people, some of them, stood up to challenge and refute their master Gaddafi, who then responded with extreme violence, what would you, Bob Carr, have done at that point?

    To do nothing is, as Christopher Hitchens said, to give implicit support to Gaddafi. National Sovereignty means a dictator is free to abuse a population; use them how he wants; even enslave them. It’s clearly untenable. So a line must be drawn, beyond which a dictator can be removed by force. Where to draw the line? Did Gaddafi cross it when he started a bloody put-down of the growing rebellion of 2011? Did he perhaps cross it many years earlier, or have the cumulative atrocities become too much?

    The USA could have invaded and taken Gaddafi out in a land battle. But the Libyan people didn’t want that; they wanted a no-fly zone, and when that proved inadequate to curb the strikes on civilians, they needed air strikes.

    If you accept as I do that Gaddafi’s actions had gone beyond the pale, then to fail to act is inexcusable. It’s difficult to see what the UN could have done better, other than acting earlier. So please outline your alternate excellent solution which justifies calling the current intervention “towering stupidity”.

  5. michael j permalink
    May 23, 2011 8:56 am

    The strong action against the Gaddafi regime is probably payback for his supplying of the IRA with massive amounts of weaponry in the 70’s and 80’s .Remember the Brighton Grande bombing ,the massacre of the bandsmen and their horses on The Mall and numerous other incidents. The Tories don’t forget , and nor should they.

  6. nick permalink
    May 25, 2011 10:41 am

    It is an example of towering stupidity to prolong a civil war between rebels and a tyrant? I am not sure whether we, the west, are prolonging a civil war or in fact facilitating one; if there was no bombing and no intervention it would not be a civil war so much as a massacre of a civilian population (which initially rose up peacefully) by a tyrant’s forces.

    The city of Misratah has over 1000 men, women and children missing, after loyalist government forces were pushed out it was discovered that rape was epidemic see :

    So Mr Carr if it is folly to intervene in the conflict could you please explain how it is morally superior to keep our hands clean and watch many more go missing and many more raped (by orders of magnitude). Also I would be interested in any justification you could give (or direct me to) as to the stance taken by the west and the UN in regards to Rwanda, as your criticism of intervention in Libya leads me to conclude you believe the non-intervention in the Rwanda genocide was intelligent and morally correct.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 25, 2011 2:34 pm

      The test is whether the intervention is making suffering worse by prolonging a conflict the rebels cannot win.
      Second thought : do you know what the alternative government in Libya is ?
      Are you confident about it ?
      What is your evidence of genocide ? Have the English and French produced it ? Is there any analogy with Rawanda ? And – this is crucial – is the air war stopping it ?

      • Nick Andrew permalink
        May 25, 2011 3:41 pm

        If it’s prolonging an unwinnable conflict then the correct strategy henceforth is to escalate until the conflict _is_ winnable. Gaddafi will fold sooner or later, and we may well rue the cost in lives from too little _or_ too much support of the rebels.

        Questions about the nature of the alternative government are premature. Gaddafi’s been in power over 40 years and planned his rule to become a dynasty. He sponsored terror for years. It’s hard for any replacement to be worse. But nevertheless, it’s a popular uprising – the people will get the kind of government they want; if the people are calling for democracy and they manage (with the help of the UN) to overthrow Gaddafi, any would-be replacement dictator is going to have a short career.

        I’m still waiting to read your alternative solution. You have the benefit of hindsight. Merely think back to some time in February, I think, when street protests were largely non-violent until Gaddafi instituted violent reprisals. The people made a choice at that time; it was “we won’t stop until Gaddafi is gone.” Now tell us what you would have done differently.

  7. Nick Andrew permalink
    May 25, 2011 3:43 pm

    P.S. I am not the “nick” above.

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