Libya: Peace through war?

It will not take long for the coalition’s Libyan operation to be seen across the Middle East as hypocritical and self-serving, and resisted as such, says George Irvin.

The question mark in the title is not there for Orwellian irony, but simply to express one’s own genuine confusion about this contradictory war, writes George Irvin, after all, had Gaddafi’s army had a free hand in Benghazi, who doubts that it would have slaughtered thousands?

Does anybody think this ‘leader’ is anything other than a rogue; in Robert Fisk’s words:

“Completely bonkers, flaky, a crackpot on the level of Ahmadinejad of Iran and Lieberman of Israel…”

Nevertheless, however crackpot and dangerous Gaddafi may be, there are some compelling reasons for opposing this war – or at least for treating the ‘coalition’s’ stated aims with the utmost scepticism.

First, there is the sheer hypocrisy of the US, Britain and France (plus a few hangers-on) speaking of ‘protecting civilians’ – in the past two decades, hundreds of thousands and possibly a million civilians have died as a result of the imposition of no-fly zones and/or outright invasion to secure western interests, Iraq and Afghanistan being the most obvious examples.

At the moment, civilians are dying daily in Yemen and Bahrain, in the latter using military equipment from the Saudi monarchy supplied by the coalition. That anybody in the Commons could publicly back the war without pointing out this contradiction is itself an assault on the humanitarian values we purport to uphold.

Next are the practical arguments, already amply covered in the press. What exactly is the aim of this operation? Clearly it cannot be merely to ‘protect civilians’ since, as long as Gaddafi remains in power, opposition civilians will remain at risk. So either the country must be permanently divided – which nobody either in Libya or the West wants – or else Gaddafi must be taken out.

Despite repeated denials, that was obviously the US intent in hitting his bunker; but it is doubtful that the Libyan leader, having gathered a human shield to protect it, was anywhere near when the Americans struck. Given the size of the country, even the most sophisticated aerial intelligence cannot be sure of his whereabouts. Large numbers of ‘boots of the ground’ are necessary for this work.

As much as the coalition would like to see it happen, it seems unlikely that the Libyan opposition can quickly capture Tripoli to achieve this end given that, even in the wake of the French air strike, they have been unable to push loyalist forces fully out of nearby Adjabiya. With the exception of some defecting units of Gaddafi’s army, the opposition has little military training.

In sum, one can expect the dirty work to be done by a battalion or two of coalition ‘special forces’ operating under a suitable PR guise.

Let us assume for convenience that Gaddafi is killed quickly – which would be advantageous for all concerned. As Patrick Cockburn argues, what then? In the absence of a politically coherent opposition with a wide popular base, which in a largely tribal country is difficult to form even under the most favourable conditions, the coalition will end up occupying Libya to ‘maintain stability’, just as has been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Don’t expect the coalition to allow the country to spiral downwards into Somali-style anarchy, not where oil and a strategic geographical position are at stake.

To paraphrase Cockburn, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Robert Fisk and other journalists who know the region, it will not take long for the coalition’s Libyan operation to be seen across the Middle East as hypocritical and self-serving, and resisted as such.

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11 Responses to “Libya: Peace through war?”

  1. Sarah G

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: Peace through war?

  2. Jonathan Gunson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: Peace through war?

  3. Jonas Wikström

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: Peace through war?

  4. Mr. Sensible

    I don’t buy this I’m afraid; it’s worth remembering that such an operation has the support of the international community, including the Arab League.

  5. James Rupa

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: Peace through war?

  6. George Irvin


    Difficult to argue that it has the support of the international community when so many countries abstained in the Secirity Council. Moreover, the ‘coalition’ already appears to be coming unstruck over who’s in charge! As for the Arab League (which is generally considered an organisation which punches well below its weight), only one of 23 countries (Qatar) appears to be contrbuting militarily.

  7. SlashedUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: Peace through war?

  8. Molly

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: Peace through war?

  9. scandalousbill

    What is particularly disconcerting is the stated intention, from Cameron to Obama, that Gaddafi should go, combined with actions that in themselves, inhibit, and actually preclude his exit from Libya. The calls for his trial as a war criminal leave no opening for Gaddafi and his cronies to exit, leave very little flexibility for a political solution and fail to seriously consider that he does enjoy a significant measure of popular support, particularly in Tripoli. Of course his repression has been brutal, but the moral high ground of the west is greatly undermined by the blind eye turned to other repressive actions such as in Bahrain and other customers of UK provided arms.

    I cannot see Gaddafi’s removal by any means other than military force and I fear that the vacuum created by an enforced regime change in Libya, coupled with a revolutionary council that to date has only demonstrated regional support will leave a situation worse than the so called nation building that has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I fear that the long game prospects for the UK foreign policy in this instance will be that even if we win, we will lose.

  10. Thomas

    Even before “Mr Sensible” made his comment, the Arab League criticised the assaults. They don’t like Qadhaafi (partly because the latter calls out the Saudi leaders for their own treason), but what use is it to them to have another member state occupied by the US/UK, with Sarko getting in on the act this time (as he stands third in polls for re-election behind Le Pen’s daughter)?

    How many more times do idiot left-liberals need to go through the motions of supporting “humanitarian” wars just to find out conclusively some months later that even the pretext was a lie? Or do you still think the Serbs were massacring 100,000 Albanians in Kosovo?

  11. Maxy

    Now that the Labour Party has effectively silenced parliamentary opposition on the Libya intervention, who will now speak up for ( and they are growing in numbers) those voices who are opposed to the war?

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