What On Earth Is This War For?
A few months ago ‘bringing Gaddafi in from the cold’ was the crowning achievement of British foreign policy in the present millennium. Now we’re bombing him. What’s changed? The answer to that appears to be that something called the “Arab Spring” happened, which involved lots of people in the Middle East marching around with signs and sexually molesting the odd reporter. Then some people in Libya decided it was more effective to march around with guns instead and set about overthrowing their government and the aforementioned Gaddafi set about trying to stop them. And, uhh, that’s it.
Normally speaking, the right to repress armed rebellions through military force is considered one of the prerogatives of sovereign governments. Actually, it’s part of the definition. Everyone agrees that if you, say, drop loads of poison gas on villages full of civilians then you’ve abused that prerogative, but, rhetoric aside, there’s no evidence that Gaddafi is doing anything like that. Simply put, some people are trying to fight him and he is fighting back.
Why then has Prime Minister Cameron spent the past few weeks banging the drum for war, until he succeeded in getting United Nations backing for his Anglo-French bombing campaign? Perhaps it’s because loss of life in the Middle East is so genuinely intolerable to us that we cannot but intervene? That looks a tad unlikely since the powers that be in Bahrain are merrily disposing of genuinely unarmed protestors and we’re not doing a solitary thing, except inviting the King to the forthcoming royal wedding.
Noticing this discrepancy, some have justified the war instead based upon Gaddafi’s long history of brutality and patronage of terrorists from the PLO (currently funded by the British government) to the IRA (ditto). They argue that he’s an aggressive lunatic who tyrannizes his subjects and is an embarrassment to the world. All this is true enough, of course, but it was true enough in January too. Again, what has changed beyond some people rebelling and Gaddafi attempting to stop them? It seems pretty clear that Gaddafi does not have majority support from his population, but that’s nothing new either. It’s not at all clear, on the other hand, that any particular faction among the rebels can claim majority support either. Indeed, nothing about them is very clear, because, before intervening on their behalf, we neglected to find out who they are, what they want or what they plan on doing if they manage to seize power.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the reason why we are intervening against Gaddafi now is because he is a recognizable celebrity who recently gave a speech, looking and sounding rather mad, that was widely screened on British TV. Rather like a semi-lovable rogue from a soap-opera, or perhaps the WWE, there was a general feeling on the airwaves that Gaddafi had really gone too far this time and had to be stopped. Politicians then fell over themselves to assert their machismo through bellicose statements and, well, here we are.
Though the Libya adventure hasn’t inspired the fierce hostility of the Iraq war, it isn’t anything like as popular among a war-weary nation as you might think. In parliament, however, a lonely 13 MPs roused themselves to vote against the intervention, reflecting a disconnect between the public and parliament also demonstrated in the latter’s attitude to capital punishment or our relationship with the EU. The biggest converts to Middle Eastern war are the formerly dovish Liberal Democrats, the junior party in the coalition government, and there are probably two reasons for this. Number one is that this is the first war which will be fought by the newly integrated French and British military, an important part of the Liberal Democrats goal of abolishing Britain’s status as a self-governing nation and dissolving it into a federal European state. “Conservative” Prime Minister Cameron has been most obliging in this regard, pioneering Anglo-French military union as a modern alternative to having our own armed forces, which are about the only things he has actually decided to cut.
Reason number two is that this war counts as one of the good kind that liberals can support because it not only doesn’t serve the national interest in any way whatsoever, but manages to be actively detrimental to it. As I mentioned at the beginning, a key part of British foreign policy over the past five years has been forging closer ties with the Libyan government. The main reason for this, of course, was money: we could get it by selling weapons and save it by buying cheap oil. Some of us were queasy about this alliance at the time, since it involved both cozying up to a left-wing ruffian who had funded the murder of British, Israeli and American civilians and prostituting our legal system to release one of his more successful terrorist protégés. But, be that as it may, the shameful deals were made and they can’t be undone and it would be nice, given that our economy is in the toilet, to reap some of the rewards. Except, instead of doing that, we have to spend money we don’t have to benefit rebels we know nothing about.
What’s the message Britain is trying to send here? Forge an alliance with us and, when things get a bit sticky for you, we’ll not only, like America with Mubarak (or just about anyone you might care to mention), abandon you, but we’ll actively attack you and get the rest of the world to join in. Conversely, if, like Syria, you remain rigidly and implacably hostile and meet any internal dissent with overwhelming and murderous force, you’ll be safe.
And, so, it seems, Britain has moved on from having a merely ethical foreign policy to an actively masochistic one. Being a conservative, I am not at liberty to go about undermining my country while it is at war. I can, though, try and point out to my neoconservative friends that they appear to have totally lost the plot and ask them whether, as inflation starts to kick in, this is really the best time and place to be exporting our flourishing western liberal democracy.