LIBYAN CIVIL WAR: UK Foreign policy continues to falter – Should the International community take action?



David Cameron’s frustrations are clear as he exited the EU summit on Friday – see Nick Robinson’s account here The international community is split on it’s attitude to the crisis and to make matters worse, the situation has become more complicated over the weekend.

There was a game changing event as the ARAB LEAGUE have supported a no fly zone over the troubled North African state.  This will allay fears that the US and UK have over intervention looking like another patronising action to grab wealth in the region.

France appears to be leading the charge towards the no fly zone option with more rhetoric this morning urging an urgent UN resolution.  Germany’s Angela Merkel on the other hand is as far away as ever from wanting intervention.

It seems Russia and China are still holding back due to various internal reasons. Certainly China will not want to be seen to interfere in the internal affairs of others on human rights grounds.

However, the situation has become much more complicated over the weekend as the simplistic nature of the news coverage begins to unravel.  It appears that Gaddafi has much more support than previously thought in the west of the country and around Tripoli.  Whether its self preservation or genuine political support, it appears the “revolution”, is not spreading in the way it was expected.  Basically, if Tripoli does not rise up against Gaddafi, there will be no democratic revolution in Libya.

Bit by bit Gadddafi’s forces are taking back land and towns from the ill equipped “rebels”.  Retribution will no doubt not be far behind and the fate of the opposition looks bleak.

This is looking less and less like a popular uprising and more like a complicated and drawn out civil war.

So what should the international community do?

If this is a civil war, should we really intervene to provide a no fly zone which could lengthen a civil war situation rather than shorten it?  Will the retribution be less if a no fly zone is implemented? Or will this just play into the hands of Gaddafi who will portray it as outsiders and westerners trying to dictate to Libya?

These are difficult times and no one would wish these decisions on any foreign secretary, but confidence is generally low in William Hague.  It’s reported he has lost his mojo, or his judgement.  His performance has been pretty woeful under pressure and this will be ramped up over the coming days.

Andrew Rawnsley has made as good a case as any for the Liberal Interventionist approach that David Cameron, despite his rhetoric prior to the election (a familiar story), that you “cannot drop democracy from 10,000 feet”, fervently believes in.

Meanwhile Niall Ferguson continues the patronising of the  Arab states by interpreting everything through a narrow minded “western civilization” approach.

Others urge that the Arab states sort it out themselves meanwhile the spectre of Iraq hangs heavily over all of us and is pointed to by those who fear another cycle of liberal interventionism.

It is ironic that the Arab League, who are mostly represented by despotic regimes who commit atrocities against their own people, now wish to have a no fly zone, no doubt enacted by the west, to help topple a despotic regime that only a few weeks ago we were all cosying up to.  But I guess the world moves on.

My own view stems not from a pacifist approach or against intervention at any time, but the belief that democracy comes from within rather than without.

The Arab league may have changed the lie of the land with their call for a no fly zone.  If they can placate the Russians and Chinese in the UN they may abstain in any UN vote.  If military support is forthcoming we need to be specific about our intent, extent of military intervention and the length of time we are committed and this needs to be stated from the start.

The British public will probably go along with intervention if it is a truly international coalition and UN sanctioned action.

My problems with intervention though has been exacerbated in recent days. More intellectual Libyan minds have been expressing themselves in the media explaining the complex nature of the support on the ground.  It is looking more and more like a dirty civil war that could run and run.  Civil wars are notorious in their brutality and complicated nature.

This could well end up being a no fly zone that continues into ever increasing sanctions which will lead to the Gaddafi regime getting stronger, while the citizens of Libya suffer in poverty, lacking health care and having to suffer the continued brutality of Gaddafi’s henchmen.

Our biggest mistake was selling the military equipment in the first place and legitimising the regime with our political posturing.  The French and US were about to deliver Mirage F1 planes and C130 Hercules transport planes to Libya just before the uprising occurred.

The biggest lesson is to not deal with the devil in the first place, somehow this lesson is always drowned out by the white noise of economic arguments.

I am overwhelmingly reticent to go down the interventionist policy route one more time in the middle east.  The hypocrisy is too stark when we look at the millions who faced starvation in Zimbabwe yet the international community stayed silent.  There are many more examples.  But I do not believe that a no fly zone will stop Gaddafi’s forces, indeed it could prolong a bloody conflict even further.


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