Monday 14 March 2011

Keep out of Libya!

I’m beset with a sense of déjà vu. Speaking recently at the Women in the World conference, ex-president Bill Clinton, king of the liberal interventionists, called for the West to join in the Libyan civil war on behalf of the rebels. “I think we should support them”, he said, “We have the planes to make an appropriate contribution to this.”

Meanwhile, David Cameron, the British prime minister, a sort of political Mister Bean, has been seen trotting along the European corridors of power, trying – so far without a great deal of success – to get agreement on a no-fly zone and targeted airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces. Europe, he believes, must do more to stop the Mad Colonel’s rampage against his own people.

Yes, as I have said, a sense of déjà vu. It’s Kosovo all over again; it’s Clinton in the same role; it’s Cameron pathetically trying to don the mantle of Tony Blair, Britain’s home-grown war monger. Was that a success? Well, I suppose it defends on one’s definition of success. A ruthless bombing campaign directed against civilian targets in Serbia, coupled with support for the Kosovo Liberation Army, a kind of murderous mafia headed by Hashim Thaçi, Blair’s chum, which is alleged to have smuggled heroin and cocaine into Western Europe, as well as butchering Serbs to sell their organs. The outcome was an independent and semi-criminal fiefdom in the Balkans, with Thaçi as Mr. Big. Yes, as I say, it really depends on how one defines success.

How much of this kind of self-righteous interventionism can the world take, I have to ask? How many more pyrrhic ‘successes’ must we celebrate; how many more Kosovos, Afghanistans and Iraqs? But there is more here, a more pertinent question: what business is it of ours, what business is it of Europe and America, to go dashing from here to there around the Third World setting wrongs to right? What incredible arrogance, what hubris, this displays, a nineteenth century gunboat mentality with a twenty-first century gloss of canting hypocrisy.

I have no doubt at all that Gaddafi is a ‘bad man’, a dictator, one under whom I personally would not care to live. But he is still a recognised head of state, one with whom we were quite happy to do business until quite recently. Do we know anything of the rebels? Do we know anything of their politics, other than their desire to get rid of the Colonel? Have Clinton or Cameron even paused to think what a post-Gaddafi Libya may look like? Do I need to hazard answers here?

The point is, like him or not, like it or not, Gaddafi has every right to deal with insurrection in any fashion he sees fit. Throughout history governments have taken action to contain rebellion, not excluding those of England and the United States. Yet there seems to be a special condescension when it comes to places like Libya that allows pontification over what is and what is not acceptable, schoolmasters addressing homilies to naughty children.

It’s as well to remember that we once intervened in Afghanistan on behalf of the Taliban. We intervene in places like Libya at our own peril. The last thing we should expect after the event is gratitude. That much should be obvious from the fiasco that is Iraq.


  1. Ah, Bill Clinton: our very own roaming earthquake of joy. I'm sure Hillary is thrilled how he just volunteers his opinion all over the place; it makes her job as Secretary of State so . . . pointless.

    But the Kosovo intervention wasn't entirely wasted: we managed to score a Chinese embassy - by 'mistake.' The Russians became strangely reticent after that.

    And think how the job opportunities in the Dipsomaniac Corps have grown . . . not to mention the explosion of alphabet spook agencies. Isn't that some kind of success? That is, if you ignore the huge increase in terror incidents, the worldwide growth in trouble spots, and the obliteration of personal liberty back home.

  2. Come to think of it, I imagine Hillary wishes she had thought to impose a 'no-fly zone' on Bill's trousers a couple of decades ago. It might have prevented all those embarrassing civil disturbances he found so hard to resist.

  3. The Middle East turmoil has been orchestrated, the independents are being taken out to facilitate the installation of puppet goverments.

  4. Ana, you say that Gaddafi has every right to deal with insurrection in any fashion he sees fit.

    Would your opinion change if Gaddafi unleashed a Serbian-style campaign of male ethnic cleansing? Or a Nazi-style pogrom that included women and children?

  5. Having played an active part in America's invasion of multiple countries, I can say that most of these campaigns are based on fear, ignorance, and ultimately enlightened self interest. Unfortunately, many of the "Super-power" political/military leaders view the world as the litmus-test-board in a global game of chess. That being said, most of these hucksters play the "game" like palsied megalomaniacs. It seems their strategy is to win by simply tipping the board over!?!

    When it comes to using the military, it always seems that we (America) are in the wrong place at the wrong time! We favor Iraq and Afghanistan over Darfu and Rwanda and we wonder why the world raises a skeptic eye every-time we roll out our fancy war machine. There is talk of America getting involved in enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya...I think this is a mistake. Any action that goes above and beyond a humanitarian Aid, is just another recipe for disaster and human causalities.

    Great post! I loved the Mr. Bean reference;-> I think we had/have a few of those ass-clowns too. However, Mr. Bean's antics are at least cheeky and funny.


  6. Calvin, Bill did not have a fly zone with 'that' woman. :-))

  7. Anthony, governments in that area, with one exception, are generally pretty disastrous, always dancing to some tune or other.

  8. CI, as far as I can see it's no more than a civil insurrection, being fought back in the way most governments would fight these things back. But your moral point is unanswerable - how dreadful it is for people to stand back and watch appalling crimes unfold. But that's exactly what has happened, time and time again. Nothing was done about Rwanda or Darfur, apart from the UN humming and hawing over if what was happening in the latter was genocide or not. Why is there such selectivity? Why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Libya? Why are we taking such a self-righteous stand when Italy, the old colonial power and a close neighbour, apparently could not give a damn? Have we learned nothing? I personally would love to cast a net of protection over all the martyred children of the earth, but that is a task too great even for God.

  9. Mark, thanks you so much. Humanitarian aid is one thing; close military involvement quite another. A no-fly zone, or even a bombing campaign, would inevitably entail mission creep, because these things, as I feel sure you understand, are never sufficient in themselves.

    Mr Bean, yes! You should see what I say about people I don't like. :-)

  10. I have to strongly disagree with your description of Bill Clinton, which credits him with rather more initiative than he deserves (apart from in the field of a rather sleazy variant of seduction, obviously).

    (In full on finger-wagging editor mode I suppose I should ask your tolerance if I also pull you up on the factual inaccuracy of your statement that "we once intervened in Afghanistan on behalf of the Taliban" too.... What became al-Qaeda, essentially, yes. But what became the Taliban, well, in short, no. That really was Pakistan's doing. But that is but an aside..)

    Slick Willie was decidely luke-warm, for better or for worse, on "liberal interventionism" (evidence: Somalia/Black Hawk Down incident, Rwanda, a very belated entrée in Bosnia - and one that had decidedly illiberal consequences: all that you say about Kosovo applies at least as much, mutandis mutandim, to the Republika Srpska entity that Clinton's - and Mitterand's/Chirac's military and diplomatic actions resulted as the effective victors there. Or the extremely half-hearted and symbolic bombings of (the wrong targets in) Sudan and Afghanistan that followed the East African embassy bombings...

    Even in the case of Kosovo, I'd say it wasn't really a Clinton initiative (did any such thing exist, again outside the field of low-rent seduction?) - it really was *Blair*, fresh from his success in Sierra Leone, who dragged NATO screaming and kicking into Kosovo, who wholeheartedly endorsed, promoted and supported the principle (which I don't think is always wrong, incidently). Indeed I am vaguely reminded of Mrs T, in 1990, urging G Bush Sr not to "go wobbly" over a sense this hawkishness belongs more to the UK than the US, even in those very different circumstances and leadership.

    As for Libya, I don't know. The ideal would obviously be for Gaddafi to be assassinated the time you publish this comment. If not earlier.

    I'm not sure about the opposition either - I note that the Bulgarian government has taken exception to the rebel leadership, apparently on the grounds that some of them are said to have been involved in the holding and torture of the Bulgarian (and Palestinan) nurses who were held captive in Libya for several years until recently.

    On the general principal of whether it is right to intervene to prevent atrocities abroad, I'm not sure. Clearly, any such actions certainly require consideration of the consequences, as moderated and informed by political wisdom (and an appreciation of realpolitik) as well as moral concerns.

    One doesn't have to be a liberal hawk to regard that the continuation of the Gaddafi regime (whether led by the Captain who appointed himself Colonel, King of Kings of Kings of Africa, Imam of All Muslims, Brother Leader of the Revolution who none the less disdains all titles, or Saif-al-Islam, friend of the LSE and Joerg Heider's former flatmate, or another one of his sons) is clearly undesirable - and may reasonably be expected to have destabilizing effects that stretch well beyond its borders. All the past evidence suggests that. So I think there is an element of realpolitik and consideration of Western interests among those urging support for the rebellion - to my mind the debate is what form, and to what level, that support should take.

  11. I agree with every word you wrote, it is almost word for word the same as I would have written if I giving my opinion in my blog.

  12. Ana, "Mr Bean"!?

    Can we now expect a leadership challenge?

    If so, may we please have a referendum on an issue that really matters: The EU.

  13. Nothing new, tribal warfare for the natural resources of the planet. Libya has a lot of oil and the Anglo/American Freemasons want to controll it.

  14. I think the same like you, each country must see their own problems in general but if you can help, invade a country is not the solution, can be some kind of economic pressure or something similar, send diplomatic and try to solve the problem in civilized way, help to calm the water talking with the dictator, making feel fear about consequences, Gaddafi is a coward, he will calm down with the pressure of Europe and Usa. A kiss. Mario.

  15. @ CI: Throughout history the reason women and children were included is that women make more and children grow up. But many times they were taken and incorporated, especially the young ones who were not yet fully indoctrinated with the advesaries ideology. Or just given the choice of conversion or death.

  16. We did, of course, have quite a recent lesson as to what will happen in Tunisia, Egypt and may not happen in Libya. The Israelis withdrew from Gaza and fairly free elections were held. The Gazans elected a bunch of terrorists. All Arab countries are ruled by clans or tribes (sometimes called royal families). As you say, we should stand clear and let them do their thing.

  17. Dominic, thank you for such a detailed and closely considered response. Yes, you are quite right about the Taliban. Here I am in full polemical flood, so please excuse me for cutting corners, I assure you all for the greater effect! The simple fact is that we supported forces in the days of the Soviet war that morphed into al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

    Clinton may have been a late convert to interventionism, but as with all converts he came with added enthusiasm, which clearly persist so far as the present day.

    I personally would lose not a moment’s sleep if the King of Kings vanished from the face of the earth. It would be better for all, the Libyans most, if the King of Kings had never been born. But he is here and here as a problem for Libya, not for us, at least not in the way that he once was.

    I can be hawkish over certain things; I would certainly have been hawkish over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Mrs T was quite right on this issue. When it comes to the internal affairs of other countries that’s when one really has to exercise the maximum caution. Wolves, once taken by the ears, are almost impossible to let go.

  18. Nobby, that would be the first thing I would do, after killing all the lawyers. :-)

  19. Mario, yes, absolutely: sending in the cavalry often causes more problems than it solves. Winning a war is easy; winning a peace is often all but impossible.

  20. Michael, I just wish our politicians thought a little more deeply about these issues. Like all historians I am the child of Cassandra.

  21. Ana, I absolutely agree with you about wolves and ears, and the very great difficulty of winning peace.

    I think part of the problem is that of late we have become too overtly moralistic in foreign policy, and are shy of using low cunning in a (sometimes semi-covert) way that the French still, sometimes, excel at (e.g. in Chad or Cote d'Ivoire, in recent years).

    Though the recent capture of special forces in Eastern Libya maybe suggests that when we attempt to head in that direction, we have become utterly incompetent and little more than a laughing stock.

    Low cunning, that's what we need! Seriously. If we had that Blair would have got what he wanted out of the mad Colonel without having any sense of the need to appear chums with him (or to feed him Peter Mandelson's line about being a fighter, not a quitter).

  22. Low cunning, Dominic, that's the key! Poor David; he could learn so much from such practitioners as Louis XI and Henry VII. :-)

  23. Hello,
    You have forgotten: France has a new Head of state: M.Sarkozy-Bonaparte who want to have a remake of the the Campaign of Egypt(1798-1801).
    In France, today, the media give us the strange idea to liberate Lybia...To give them: "The Liberty,the Equality,and the Fraternity...".
    In 1798, Bonaparte wanted to fight against UK...but today, we are going to fight for...whom?

  24. You quote my sentiments exactly to the last word/ See

  25. Ortho, oh no I've not forgotten Napoleon IV, as you will find out shortly. :-)

  26. Ike, thanks. I'll check that out. Meanwhile I'm about to fire with both barrels. Keep watching!