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Are We Trying to Remove this Man?
British, French and American forces have been in action against Libya, including strikes on targets in Tripoli, the capital.
David Cameron has been basking in his status as “the man who called for the no-fly zone”. And yet it is completely unclear whether the current military actions are in fact designed to enforce a no-fly zone, or whether they are designed to oust Colonel Gaddafi.
The British Government has explicitly said that Gaddafi has to go, which does not help with the clarity on this.
All of this has an unpleasant similarity to the approach to Saddam Hussein before the Iraq invasion. The Government has been very clear that there will not be an invasion of Libya. However, they have been very far from clear as to what “success” means for this mission.
Clearly Gaddafi is a pretty unsavoury leader. It is also the case that he has in the past not been a friend of the UK, to say the least. But deliberately seeking regime change would clearly be outside the remit of the United Nations resolution that “authorises” this military action, so the Government is unable to state openly that the aim is to topple Mr Gaddafi.
As usual, the need to chase the will-o-the-wisp of “International Law” and the “supremacy of the United Nations” means that our Government is unable to be honest or clear about its objectives and policy. And that in turn means that we, as the British people whom David Cameron supposedly serves, cannot hold him accountable or determine for ourselves whether his objectives are sound.
The implication of the public position of the British Government is that the aim is to leave Libya indefinitely partitioned and therefore weakened, to limit Gaddafi’s power to threaten his people. That would be a pretty Machiavellian approach. And it begs the question: if it is right to protect Benghazi from Mr Gaddafi, then why is it not right to try and protect Tripoli from him?
Alternatively, perhaps the aim of trying to achieve a divided and weakened Libya is to limit Gaddafi’s power to threaten the West, rather than to try to limit his power to threaten his own people. That might be a legitimate use of British armed forces, but the extent of his threat to us over many years now has seemed remote.
The potential hidden motives of the Government could be more emphatic. They have hinted that they want “regime change”, i.e. to oust Mr Gaddafi. To say so openly would be to infringe on Libya’s sovereignty. You aren’t allowed to say that unless the Supreme Soviet, sorry, UN Security Council, agrees to that aim.
But if that really is the aim, we should consider what happens after he is toppled. That was not done properly in the case of Iraq. We would need to assess the Opposition and what their leadership of the country would be like.
The media, especially the BBC, have portrayed the revolt as a popular one by civilians, and said that some units of Gaddafi’s armed forces have defected to the rebels. Is that credible? I would argue not. The rebels have so far been able to defend whole cities against the forces of Gaddafi, and descriptions have abounded of “fierce fighting” going on.
You don’t get fierce fighting when civilians go up against an army. You get a massacre.
Therefore, this uprising would be better described as a military revolt that has some support from civilians. The leaders of the revolt may well be less unsavoury than Gaddafi. They may be more friendly towards Western countries, including the UK. Or they may not.
From a British point of view, one justification for supporting the revolt against Gaddafi is that the leaders of the revolt are likely to be more friendly to the West than Gaddafi, or more likely to generate stability in that critical region of the world. Perhaps the British Government has made a clear-headed assessment that that is the case.
An even more Machiavellian interpretation might be that David Cameron’s aim in leading the action was to demonstrate to the rest of the EU the potential power of an Anglo-French military alliance. In that sense, this could be seen as a follow-up to the Anglo-french security agreement that was signed last year.
It is blindingly clear that Mr Cameron sees Britain’s future very firmly at the heart of Europe, and that he wants to maximise Britain’s place in the EU. His Euro-sceptic posturing has been clearly just a sop to the Right of his Party, who have been taken for fools by him for years now.
I have outlined at least four different possible objectives of the British Government. We simply do not know which of them is the real one.
The public have lost trust in politicians in Britain. And here we are, yet again, speculating about what the real aims are when our country is taking military action.
In the Second World War, the aims were clear and public: to defeat Nazi Germany, and to remove Hitler. In the Falklands Conflict, the aims were clear and public: to eject Argentine forces from the Islands and restore British rule. In the First Gulf War (as distinct from the Second) the aims were clear and public: to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait and restore the Kuwaiti government.
The same has not been true either of the Second Gulf War (the invasion of Iraq) or this current conflict in Libya. I am afraid that the reason for that lack of clarity is the style of our leaders. In the first of those cases, Tony Blair was our leader, and in the second, the Heir to Blair, David Cameron, is the leader. Both of them marketing men to their fingertips.
We should not have to speculate on the real aims of military action taken by our Government. Our own democracy depends on our being able to assess for ourselves whether the Government is generally doing the right, or indeed the sensible, thing.
I am not saying the action against Libya is wrong. I am simply saying that as an ordinary citizen, I have not been given the means to judge. And that means I cannot tell whether to support the actions of my own Government, over which I supposedly have democratic control.
This is the problem with the modern approach to politics as marketing, and this lays bare the fundamental failings of David Cameron as a Prime Minister, just as the Iraq War laid bare the failings of Tony Blair before him.
Spin is not enough. We need honesty and straight talking in our politics.