Sunday, March 20, 2011

Libya - am I wrong?

Over the last couple of days, Libya has grabbed our attention. Allied coalition forces are enforcing a no-fly zone, actions which have been approved by the UN. British forces are in action, our Prime Minister solemnly told us,  Gaddafi must be stopped from killing his own people, all the political parties are behind this action, the media are generally in favour, and a rare air of consensus has reached our political scene.

So why am I uneasy? I feel I cannot join in this general air of using military force against an evil dictator. There is no argument that Gaddafi heads an appalling regime and is guilty of crimes of sponsoring and supporting terrorism throughout the world, and attacking his own people. But surely a golden rule of military strategy is that you don't start a war without knowing how you are going to end it?

The Kuwait war 1990-91 had a defined objective. It was to liberate Kuwait and push Iraqi forces back to the borders. This was successful. However British forces have been in Afghanistan for nearly nine years now - with no idea of how to get them out. Wouldn't it be nice for a Prime Minister's question time not to begin with a sad note on the latest casualty?

So what is the objective of this action? Is it to overthrow Gaddafi? How will you do this? With the exception of a well-aimed bomb, the only way is either to invade the country or rely on the Libyans to overthrow him - and someone who has exerted a tight grip for over 40 years won't go quietly.

Let's say coalition forces bomb the country for six weeks. Then what? Keep bombing? What if the coalition forces say the lesson is learnt, all go home, and then Gaddafi waits for a few weeks before attacking the rebels again?

Question one is what's the objective? Question two is what is the post-war strategy? If Gaddafi is overthrown, is there an alternative to take his place? Will this a stable regime or will it have to be propped up by Allied forces as we saw in Iraq?

Either way, I can't get over the certain scenario that, sooner or later, there will be British forces on the ground in Libya - they will be attacked, and some will be injured and killed - and will be there for longer than we intended.

Very well, I hear you say, what would you do? Would you leave Libyan people to their fate? This is a very good question and I can't pretend I have an easy answer. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe Gaddafi will be overthrown soon, a stable democratic regime take his place, and then all will work out well. But Gaddafi is not the only evil tyrant out there.

Britain cannot afford nor should it desire to be amongst the policemen of the world. In Afghanistan and Iraq it was Britain and the USA which led the way, and suffered the most consequences. And now here we are leading again. By all means we should support the action - but not by involving British forces.

My main question is - am I wrong? I have not found anyone who agrees with me. As I said, all the political parties and most of the media are raring to go. Lib Dems were right to oppose the Iraq war, but I think we might be incorrect to do so here.

In the 1960s, the then PM Harold Wilson got great criticism for not involving British troops in the Vietnam campaign. With hindsight, we might say that he was right to keep out. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it provides lessons - my worry is that these lessons are being ignored.


  1. I think I agree with you. What bothers me is that the bombing campaign seems disproportionate. It will understandably be seen as USA using the UN mandate to do what it's long wanted to do - to clobber Gaddafi and smash Libya's military forces - rather than to help the Libyan people. And UK will be seen as the willing sidekick once again. I saw an entry on another blog giving a fairly detailed list of pragmatic reasons why the bombing campaign's a bad idea:

  2. No Keith you are not wrong.

    I think that the reported attack on Gadaffi's compound, last night, proves this is more than being just about creating a protective air exclusion zone; it is about regime change at any cost.

    We have been here before and, once again, the resulting consequences have not been thought through.

    While we are all suffering the budget cuts and higher prices created by our coalition's deficit repair measures, it is always good to know they have enough money still in the pot to present a great firework display!!

    We never learn!