The debate in the house of commons was a sobering affair, as it should have been. It was interesting to hear the concerns on all sides of the house. No jingoism but a sense of trying to do something in a difficult situation.
Many members of Parliament brought up the sense of hypocrisy in the action. What is the difference between Libya and Bahrain or Yemen were the calls, but this was never actually answered in any definitive way.
Certainly, David Cameron gave a very Prime Ministerial speech and stayed in the chamber for half of the debate which is a reversal of the contempt other recent Prime Ministers have had for the House of Commons. Some are arguing even at this early stager in his premiership that the Libya issue could be what defines his premiership.
Many also gave praise to Ed Miliband and welcomed his mature speech in the House. It was certainly striking in its definitive stance, for democracy and against Gaddafi. Most striking was his complete repudiation of the idea that what was happening in Libya was a civil war as intimated by John redwood MP in an intervention.
Ed Miliband was emphatic in his praise for the rebels and his support for anyone in the world who will fight for their rights and democracy. He was equally emphatic about this being an uprising by the masses and not a civil war.
He gave a thorough explanation and almost evangelical speech on the reasons why a liberal interventionist philosophy is the right one, and giving his own family’s example to justify his point of view. It was compelling to watch.
He gave a clear explanation of his support for the military action based on 3 principles – a) It is a just cause, b) Is a feasible mission and c) It has international support.
His biggest compelling argument against those cynical of the hypocrisy of the UK foreign policy was that an “inability to do everything” was not an excuse to “do nothing”. This certainly struck accord with many.
Is he right?
The origins of Liberal Interventionism are clouded. It could be argued that the UK was the first to espouse such idealism in the 19th century. A theory that Liberal states should intervene in other sovereign states in order to pursue liberal objectives, with interventions that could include both military invasion and humanitarian aid.
It was soon identified by the likes of Woodrow Wilson of the United Sates in the 20th Century. In effect however it has come to the fore more since world war II.
Ian Buruma has a more modern take on the populist roots of Liberal Interventionism in Revolution from Above :
The principles of “liberal intervention,” or the “right to intervene” to stop mass murder and persecution, were developed in Paris in the 1980s, by Mario Bettati, a professor of international public law, and popularized by a French politician, Bernard Kouchner, who was one of the founders of Médecins sans Frontières. This is how Kouchner described his enthusiasm for liberal intervention with military force: “The day will come, we are convinced of it, when we are going to be able to say to a dictator: ‘Mr. Dictator we are going to stop you preventively from oppressing, torturing and exterminating your ethnic minorities.’”
Noble words that few would instantly disagree with. In reality, as we have seen in recent decades, interventions in other sovereign states has rarely been truly multinational, through legitimate international bodies or without other geo political motives.
The cold war and the west’s interventions around the world have perverted these ideals until the present day, where “your enemy’s enemy is your friend” being paramount rather than a noble idea of liberal intervention.
The funding and arming of despotic and fascist regimes is still going on today which is partly the reason for the hypocrisy and double standards we find with the international community toward the middle east.
A looming energy crises and the economic prospect of no longer arming fascist states colours all the decision making of the west. This along with a colonial heritage which is constantly in the shadows of political diplomacy.
IS THE WAR IN LIBYA AN UPRISING OR A CIVIL WAR
The west’s ability to understand the middle east both culturally and politically is poor. The talk of intelligence should perhaps be more accurately termed “Ignorance” when it comes to the middle east.
The west neither understands tribal loyalties or the support there is for what faction in middle eastern countries as is patently obvious both in Afghanistan, Iraq and now with the uprisings in the middle east.
The constant patronising of middle eastern countries who are seen as “uncivilised” and “not ready for democracy”. No intelligence agency saw the uprisings coming in Tunisia and Egypt and few thought that the support for democratic change was anything like as strong. This was amply shown by the hesitancy that western leaders had in even discussing the situation.
Right now we have awful loss of life in Yemen and the potential for a “failed” state. The situation in Bahrain could be said to be even worse than the “need to protect minorities”, but the need to protect a majority from a self declared ruling elite in a minority, much like the fascist state of South Africa.
Saudi Arabia has done much to ignore and even to foster the terrorist groups that are funded from within it’s borders.
Yet business and oil are the overriding concerns for the latter 2 countries for the west.
This lack of intelligence gathering means we have little knowledge of the internal dynamics in Libya. Hopefully, with pressure on Gaddafi, a populist uprising in the west of the country and Tripoli in particular with the turning of the army against him will lead to a democratic state. But we simply do not know how much support he has.
Some commentators have suggested he does have significant support in these areas. If this is so, this will end up being a protracted conflict, with more humanitarian disasters to come and a long drawn out civil war.
Our lack of knowledge should cause us major concern. We do not know how the different opposition groups in Libya will co-operate after any conflict is over.
The longer the conflict continues the more it looks like a civil war.
THE ALLIANCE AGAINST GADDAFI
The western media and politicians constantly talk of Gaddafi as a “Madman”. Nice rhetoric, but completely missing the point. He is obviously not MAD in any intelligent sense of the word. He is a ruthless ruler who is power hungry and knows how to gain and retain power in Libya. This does not make him mad, it makes him a terrible human being, and worse, he happens to be intelligent enough to use his power and to keep it which makes him far more dangerous.
The alliance put together is constantly under strain and the rhetoric from the politicians makes this situation on even more of a knife edge with the should we shouldn’t we have “boots on the ground” or should we shouldn’t we “target Gaddafi”. Semantics that could break the alliance.
The simpleton’s way of boiling down the debate through the ideology of LIBERAL INTERVENTIONISM or the rhetoric of defying the MADMAN is clearly ridiculous. Blind ideology and ridiculous political sloganism are never a good way to decide policy. As for the defiant notion that this is NOT a civil war, I hope Ed Miliband is right, I just don’t think he knows, and this lack of knowledge could be the allied downfall.
I would have far more respect for our illustrious leaders if they could sort out a foreign policy that could include humanitarian intervention without the support of fascist states for political, economic or energy policy gains.
Public opinion in the UK is shall we say luke warm at best even though there is a multinational alliance and it is through the UN.
A YouGov poll for the Sun shows 45 per cent of people supporting action by Britain, the US and France, and 36 per cent stating that it is wrong. A ComRes/ITN poll shows almost exactly the opposite, with 35 per cent in favour of action and 43 per cent opposed to it.
This is obviously affected by the experience of the last decade of war and will be worrying to politicians on all sides of the House of Commons.
In short only time will tell if the intervention will be successful. The biggest problem however is that no one has decided what success should look like.