The risks that attend our noble cause in Libya


Map of Libya

Have we thought this through ? 
Shall we continue to have the blessing of the Arabs ?


Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, puts these questions in his article in
The Daily Telegraph
yester-day (March 21, 2011).

The best we can say of this venture, he says, is that, for the time being, it seems the lesser of two evils, agreeing with American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we cannot sit idly by whilst “this lunatic” massacres his own people.  He even expresses pride in the way H.M. Government has handled the matter so far.

He points out that the Prime Minister has achieved much in securing a resolution of the United Nations Security Council authorizing the current action, something not forthcoming in respect of action in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999.

Yet he confesses to having emitted a “long, deep groan of apprehension” in response to the launching of the first Tomahawk cruise missile on Saturday evening.  Although bound by common humanity to help the people of Benghazi, we must – if we are to be successful in this mission – ensure we have learnt from the past and understand the risks.

Colonel Gaddafi
So what are the risks ?  The most obvious risk is failure [here Boris clearly sees the Allies’ objective as régime change] — at least not straight away — although he hopes Col. Gaddafi’s days are numbered and that he will wind up in Venezuela, “like other fallen socialists, as a consultant to the regime of Hugo Chávez”.

It is entirely possible that, having spent four decades oppressing the people of Libya, the colonel will retain his grip on Tripoli and most of the rest of the country.  We should plan for this outcome and ensure our not being dragged in to a brutal civil war.  Boris draws our attention to the limitations of flight-exclusion zones : 

“They don’t, as a rule, lead to régime change on the ground – and yet it would surely be insane, given the state of the public finances, and given our existing military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, for us to open a new front in [North Africa] by sending in ground troops.”

Not only would it be insane, he continues :  it would be illegal under the terms of U.N.S.C. resolution 1973 ;  and President Obama has ruled out the use of ground forces.  Our hope of toppling Col. Gaddafi, therefore, rests upon the effectiveness of the flight-exclusion zone alone.

Even were the rebels to succeed in the conflict, what kind of governance might we expect after decades in which political parties have been banned  To take the example of Egypt —

“The Facebook revolutionaries have got rid of Hosni Mubarak, widely seen as the front man for the generals ;  and they have installed – er – the generals !”

The two best organized forces in that part of the World are the military and the Islamists ;  moreover, elections there have not generally produced outcomes favourable to Western interests.

Boris goes on to plead that we not repeat the mistakes made in Iraq ;  that we not gloat over the crushing of Col. Gaddafi’s forces ;  that we not offer him or any-one else the opportunity to portray our intervention as a ‘crusade’.  Not only was the war in Iraq a disaster for the tens of thousands it has left dead ;  it empowered the poisonous rhetoric of Islamists around the globe.

In an ideal World the coalition would consist largely of Arab forces — commanded by a Muslim, not by “some American, his bulging bosom bedecked with medals earned in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Emblem of the Arab LeagueThis U.N. mission has the support of the Arab League ;  it will retain that support only as long as conducted with due regard to sentiment in the Arab world.  If we lose that support, if the Libyan dictator comes to be seen as a martyr to Western aggression, we ought immediately to have the courage to acknowledge that we are making the mistake we made before and it is no longer our business — then to withdraw, inviting the peoples of the Arab world to sort it out for themselves.


Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.


22 thoughts on “The risks that attend our noble cause in Libya”

  1. The Arab League are playing their old game of getting the West to act as their “garbage disposal” operatives whilst reserving the right to condemn the infidels to their own populations. They and the “something must be done” brigade back home seem to take the concept of “surgical strikes” too literally, assuming you can wage war without so much as one civillian being hurt!

  2. One minute we’re sucking up to Gaddafi by releasing the lockerbie bomber, the next minute we’re bombing his palace. Where does this leave the BP deal that our country sacrificed so much to win?

    I’m also curious as to the definition of a no-fly zone, since it sounds like we are also bombing soldiers and tanks. Does Gaddafi have flying tanks?

  3. Great – those with unfettered freedom of speech, civil rights, rule of law, relative prosperity and relative peace would stand by and watch another vicious despot exterminating those who would aspire to the same. Cowards.

    And of course it will end up as a mess, and of course civilians are being killed – it is a civil war – but as a result of Cameron and Sarkozy showing some backbone, it might be less worse than the fate that Gadaffi promised the people of Benghazi.

    On the other hand, maybe Libya is just another far away country of which we know little.

  4. I’m not convinced it is a noble cause. Armed gangs of people, that we know little about, have taken over some towns, and now we’re helping them take over the country. It all seems a bit odd to me. Perhaps Cameron is ass-kissing the Americans’ in a misguided attempt to make amends for the Al Megrahi affair? That would also explain why he’s not bombing all the other countries who are killing their rebellious elements.

    But what if the same thing happened in this country, and some armed civilians took control of their town or city. How would the government react? All we know is that when students protest about tuition fees some of them get their teeth kicked in.

  5. Ed, you’d be better using your energy to fight for democracy in this country (what about P.C.for a target) than bad mouthing people who are only practising their democratic right to speak their mind!

  6. If the Libyans wish to kill each other, let them. Whether we like Gadaffi or not, he has been in power for four decades therefore somebody there must approve of him. Let them sort out their own government. It is not our business. It is an unnecessary cost.

  7. Hospitable Scots Bachelor, after some reflection, I still think that advocating doing nothing to protect the people of Benghazi from Gaddaffi is a cowardly position, given that events have demonstrated that the action was successful in protecting Benghazi.

    There have been, and will be, many situations when awful things happen in other lands in which Britain cannot intervene for good, for very many reasons. In this case it was possible to do something for good. And if Britain cannot use her military and her influence for such a clear-cut humanitarian purpose, then we should pack it in! And send William Hague to Burkino Faso, to ask for advice on being a Nation of No Significant Role.

    Whatever happens now, I still think that to have allowed Benghazi to go the way of the Warsaw Uprising would have been cowardly.

  8. I wonder if Ed Gibb was as vocal about protecting the people of Zimbabwe from Robert Mugabe, the Tutsis from the Hutus, Milosevic, the Burmese junta…the list can go on and on. The U.K. cannot police the whole world so why pick and choose, oh, unless they have oil. Which is fine. But let us not pretend to be bleeding hearts for any humanitarian reason. I very much doubt any Arab country would extend to us the same sentiment. I see no reason why the life of one British soldier should be risked for the sake of a Libyan one.

  9. Yep, I suppose sophisticated and morally vacuous pragmatism will always make better sense than bleeding-heart humanitarianism. Vladimir Putin and Sir Humphrey singing from the same hymn sheet, I guess.

    And whilst I’m not so idiotically naive as to assume that anyone can police the world, I’m still glad that Cameron and Sarkozy had the courage to do something, rather than look away and allow Gadaffi to massacre the people of Benghazi.

  10. Letting the people of Libya sort out their Government is one thing, letting Gadaffi kill 1/2 of the population that does not support him is another.

  11. Oh come on Ed, you mean to tell me that you believe that we are sending military forces to Libya to save lives, to uphold some sort of moral standing by saving those in need?

    What has Libya got that we want? Hmmm…. could it be oil i wonder?

    Sorry Ed but i believe there is not an ounce of humanity, morals or ethics in what is happening here!
    We are about to send people to die to gain resources, to improve wealth not morality. Whats more is just like Iraq/Iran we are probably going to be footed for a bill for damages after.

    And probably be presented with a large innocent civilian death count

  12. Janina, our action in intervention in Libya has been ‘…to save lives, [and] to uphold some sort of moral standing by saving those in need.”

    Which saves me repeating myself.

    And I think a cease-fire in Libya, and some sort of partition, is as good a result as we can reasonably hope for.

  13. Well in that case why are we not moving in to partition Rowanda?
    A million people have died in Rowanda however, are we doing anything to help them?

    It seems as though, actually who am i kidding “it seems as though” ? It is blatantly obvious that we only intervene when it is of benefit to us.

    The whole country is in a right state at the moment. The economy is crubling and has been since labour got into power. However, we still think its perfectly fine to spend money and lives ‘helping out’ in another country.

    With our record for the upkeep of british soldiers, for keeping them supplied with the correct weaponry, armour etc etc etc…. We would basically be sending our own people to die and why?

    Because the politicians say we should! That’s right those honorable politicians who are leading the charge into warfare themselves, those politicians who will be fighting alongside our soldiers and dying for a cause they believe is just……

    To quote our mayor….


  14. Ed,

    When deciding whether Cameron, and those that support his action such as yourself, are courageous, I think you have to consider his motivation for attacking Libya.

    If it is purely humanitarian, as you believe, then he should be applauded and we should all feel very proud.

    But if the motivation is related to oil, then that reflects greed rather than courage.

    Worse still, if the motivation is to suck up to the Americans by attacking someone they don’t like, as we did in Iraq, then I’m not sure that is courageous either. You might call it bootlicking. You might call it brownnosing. But I doubt you would call it courage.

    So, given the inconsistency over which countries are chosen as targets, combined with the deceptively labelled no-fly zone (which is nothing of the sort), and that innocent civilians are inevitably being killed anyway by Nato attacks, and that the resulting vacuum may well lead to an even worse situation in Libya and our involvement to an increased risk of terrorism, I think people are justified in being a bit sceptical without being labelled as cowards.


  15. So we risk terrorist retaliation, because the government intervened against a despot who declared his intention to murder the people of Benghazi from ‘house to house’. And we would be right to stand by and watch while he did this, even though we were able to intervene? Isn’t that cowardice?

    That looks to me awfully like the men of Munich, righteously washing their bloodstained hands, more than seventy years on. ‘A far away country, of which we know little’.


  16. The trouble with these people running the governments of the N.A.T.O. countries, never having done anything useful in their miserable lives, is their attachment to abstract and largely meaningless ideas.

    The whole of U.N.S.C.-1973 is just such :  it calls for the protection of civilians but precludes an invasion ;  moreover it denies the obvious solution — régime change — as an objective.

    What these people need to do — not to put too fine a point on it — is to shit or get off the pot.  A single raid on Col. Gaddafi’s compound would do it.


  17. With today’s headlines of “Gaddafi must go” it is increasingly apparent that the objective is similar to that of Iraq, namely regime change in an oil-rich country. In the case of Iraq, WMDs were used as a cover, and in Libya it is the humanitarian claim.

    I suppose the Americans have good reason to dislike Libya, because of Lockerbie, and their displeasure must be more acute now that the perpetrator is at large again, thanks to the Scots. But it is both sad and predictable that our sycophantic leaders will go along with whatever the Americans want.

  18. ‘…What these people need to do’, as someone once advised a US President, is to get some backbone in them. But Pericles, she had that rarest of qualities in a politician, integrity….

  19. Indeed, Ed, except when it came to anthropogenic global warming, which she adopted enthusiastically — despite the science — because it suited her strategem relating to the miners.


  20. First he sends in the SAS and now some military ‘advisors’. William Hague seems intent on stirring up trouble in Libya. He has arrogantly disregarded the African Union roadmap and is now bending/breaking the UN resolution.

    What the heck has got into the Tories? They’ve mucked up university education, they’ve tried to destroy the NHS and now they jeopardise our country’s integrity with overt, oil-driven foreign policy. This isn’t what I thought I was voting for!

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