Libya: What Are We Doing?

Posted by on Mar 23, 2011

First of all, I want to pay tribute to our armed forces, who are doing a great job, even if our politicians are not. But if our armed forces are in danger – which they are by the very nature of what is going on in Libya – they deserve to know why and we should be asking why.

The reason why the Coalition can’t state a clear goal for Libya is because none of its members have clear national interests at stake in Libya.

Some have claimed, most notably Democratic Congressman Ed Markey, that we are in Libya because of oil. I don’t believe this to be the case. If it really was about oil, we would have gone for stability and propped the Gaddafi regime up. The safe pair of hands that was the front of Saif Gaddafi traipsing around St Bart’s and employing pop stars to sing for him, while his madman father ruled with an iron fist at home. Libya has less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves, long term we’ll be moving to the abundant energy source that is gas – oil in Libya was not worth our military involvement for.

What about the humanitarian aspect? In this region especially, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Libya is a country of 6.5 million people – we’ve walked on by from bigger atrocities. What sort of precedent does this set? Aren’t there other countries which would be more deserving of our “help”? Statecraft is not the same as moral empathy.

So are we there for the removal of Gaddafi? There seems to be a complete lack of clarity around this point.

UN Resolution 1973 appears to be intrinsically illogical. So the UN is saying that it is legal to take out a man in a Libyan tank attacking rebels, but illegal to take out the man who sent him, i.e. Gaddafi. This makes no sense.

Our politicians are in a muddle. At the weekend, the UK Defence Secretary said that targeting Gaddafi was a possibility. Then the Chief of the UK’s Defence Staff said it wasn’t. After this bundle of contradictions we had David Cameron skirting around the issue for six hours in parliament on Monday. They are no clearer in the US.

Sending forces somewhere without a proper aim is downright irresponsible. History has proved a plan is only as good as the exit strategy (Iraq, anyone?). The UK Armed Forces minister admitted yesterday that we have no exit strategy. Our troops deserve to know what the endgame is. The human cost. And what about the physical cost? We’ve been told we’re having to live in “Austerity Britain”, to deal with deficit. Fine. But running around getting involved in aimless wars is not a sensible way to spend money.

Best case scenario seems to be that a rebel puts a bullet in the brain of Gaddafi in the next fortnight. Unfortunately, this is Gaddafi. Stalemate for months is a distinct possibility – he has spent 42 years hanging on in while other politicians on the world stage come and go.

If intervention was so necessary, as we were told by the “game changer” that was the Arab League saying something should be done, why didn’t they go in and do it? Libya is their neighbour. They understand the tribal aspects of the region in a way the West have catastrophically misunderstood over the centuries. The Arab League as I understand it spends a combined $80 billion a year on their military. Libya has less than 200 old jet fighters while Saudi and Egypt have formidable air power.

And the actual contribution from the Arab League? Increasingly mixed messages, some arms to the rebels from Egypt,  a few Qatari jets flying over Libya and perhaps some money somewhere.

The shame of all of this is, we were doing so well. America was doing so well. For the first time in years our PR was looking up in the region – by staying out of it. Intervening in Libya as we have done could alter the dynamic of the Arab spring. Obama is acutely aware of this, hence his reluctance to act. As David Cameron rightly put it: you can’t drop democracy out of a plane at 40,000 feet. No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other. What was wonderful about Egypt, was that it was organic.

The Egyptian people owned their own revolution. Self empowerment enabled the region to regain pride in itself, to embrace human rights not as western ideals but as global ideals that belong to them too. Ideals that are far away from radical Islam. There was a shift in advantage to the West – being passive was active. I don’t recall seeing an American flag burn during the Egyptian protests, while such anti-Americanism was rife in the region before. By acting on Libya as we are now, we are handing out the anti-imperialist and anti-American PR card to radical Islam again.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. To govern is to choose the least worst option. Yes it was important to keep the flow of humanitarian supplies to Libya. To ensure Gaddafi & co know they will be held fully accountable for war crimes. To freeze their assets.

But this military venture into Libya. Really, what are we doing?