Libya: What is the endgame?

Amidst mixed messages from government ministers, there is an urgent need for clarity on the endgame in Libya, writes Matthew Pitt.

Contrary to popular belief, the ongoing bloodshed in Libya was not caused by the arrest of Fathi Terbil, the human rights lawyer, on February 16th. Instead, it was merely the spark to a revolution that was caused by decades of neglect and abuse by Gaddafi’s repressive regime that had left the east of the country in a severe state of under-development.


However, despite the gross and systematic violation of human rights, “including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions”, it should not be up to the West, the UN or even the Arab world to force a regime change in the country – it should be up to the Libyan people.

If we look back to what history teaches us, democracy should never be imposed by external forces.

In this hour of need, we have seen and heard how large swathes of the population are standing up to Gaddafi and they should most certainly not stand alone. Yet, many people’s support for a no-fly zone and any “necessary means” is closely followed by scepticism over the resultant length of the campaign and the lack of clear objectives.

First we heard Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, acknowledge Colonel Gaddafi as being a legitimate military target – which was retorted by Chief of the Defence staff General Sir David Richards, who stated that this was “not allowed under the UN resolution”.

The UN resolution also gives no clear idea on what it intends to achieve. Apart from “a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians” it asks the international community to “find a solution to the crisis” – but what is the solution?

Depending on the UK government’s aims, the measures employed to achieve them will determine not only the extent of the campaign but also the threat to civilians on the ground and the degree of consent and participation by the Arab world, a vital factor for achieving any kind of tangible success.

Foreign secretary William Hague therefore needs to outline exactly what our forces seek to achieve and what our ultimate goal is in Libya.

Whether or not he answers the question in explicit terms, whatever actions we pursue must take account of the accusations currently held by a minority that this is a Western-led imposition of democracy – a perception that mustn’t be allowed to be adopted by a majority.

In order for this to be achieved, a number of Arab countries will have to take part militarily in the very near future, otherwise military operations may have to be severely limited in order to get them on board. It would be a small price to pay for the intervening forces, but possibly a much greater one for the Libyan people who continue to be dependent on outside help – signified by celebrations in Benghazi on the night of the Security Council passing the resolution.

The public therefore need the clear assurance that no action will run contrary to clause 4 in the UN resolution and not deploy forces “on any part of Libyan territory”, which would almost certainly transform support into opposition for Western intervention; furthermore, any disagreements over the endgame emerging within the coalition need to be resolved and clear objectives outlined.

Yes Gaddafi must go, but this cannot be done in a way that is opposed by the Arab world – and we therefore need complete clarity on what we are actually trying to achieve in Libya.

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10 Responses to “Libya: What is the endgame?”

  1. Robert Kazandjian

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: What is the endgame? http://bit.ly/h7JbdG #Gaddafi #Libya #FreeLibya

  2. Bill Kristol-Balss

    We don’t have an endgame for Afghanistan after nine and a half years so it might be a tad on the wishful thinking side to expect one for Libya anytime soon.

  3. Maxy

    Correct me if I am wrong but as far as I can work out the UN resolution 1973 is a largely western backed coalition with America pretending to take a back seat. The only Arab countries that seems to be in favour of this resolution are those who are facing rising protests in their own countries. As in the prelude to the Iraq war we are being fed a torrent of propaganda from disgruntled Libyans. You may recall Curveball the Iraqi dissident who falsely claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. No sane person would disagree with the view that Gadaffi should go, but the idea that peace, democracy and stability will prevail by bombing the country into submission is a nonsense. I wager that ten years form now Libya will be wracked by civil war. One could expect Cameron et al to push for the 1973 resolution, but what has shocked me is the speed with which Labour has accepted this resolution as the right thing to do to protect civilians. Why the rush to impose a non fly zone when Arab or UN troops would have been less provocative. Where in the media has there been any discussion about the falsity of the claim that this western backed intervention is about protecting civilians. What about the civilians on Gadaffis side, do they also not deserve protection? It seems that the Labour Party has learnt nothing from the Iraq war and would do again as the Tories are doing now. Public opinion in Europe and the USA consistently shows no appetite for war and yet our political masters see fit to impose a war without proper consultation in Parliament. What happened to the law which Labour claimed it would pass that the UK would not go to war unless Parliament had given its say so? Has the Labour Party learnt nothing? I was shocked to hear Chukka Umuna the so called rising star of the Labour Party justifying and supporting the Conservative action on LBC. His smooth talking which has allegedly brought him many admirers came over on the radio as smarmy and sycophantic. I was shocked too at his ignorance of Middle Eastern affairs. It is clear if his views are representative of the Labour Party, that the Labour Party has learnt nothing. The public is crying out for some truth in this matter and all we get from he BBC and Sky is a barrage of propaganda. I have yet to see on UK TV or anywhere in the press incisive sharp cutting analysis on what is really going in Libya. For example I have heard nothing on any of the UK news channels about the fact that American operatives have been on the ground well before the protests in Benghazi fermenting and arming the rebels. That Cameron could take such a political stance is to be expected and how convenient that all this news will overshadow the UK budget where far reaching and brutal cuts to public expenditure will be announced. When thinking of the Libyan revolt in Benghazi I am reminded of the brutal way that our own UK students were treated by the police during demonstrations about tuition fees, and have in effect been silenced. Who is going to speak for students now?. Cameron has had his war moment and all the accolades about statesmanship will come back to haunt him as they did Tony Blair. You cannot impose democracy under the barrel of a gun. If we really care about human rights, then how come it is acceptable to launch hundreds of cruise and tomahawk missiles? Surely that is an abrogation of human rights and this weapon should be banned. Make no mistake the West has made a serious miscalculation and it will comer back to haunt David Cameron. What is shameful too is that the Labour Party has been silenced so that the general public does not have a voice. Shame on the Tories and even greater shame on Labour.

  4. Matthew Pitt

    I think you raise a very important point about UN Resolution 1973, something the Coalition have failed to answer even in the debate that is currently ongoing in the House of Commons. What does it mean when we say we are using force to protect civilians? Yes, it is the right thing to protect unarmed civilians in the streets of Benghazi and throughout the entirety of Libya but what about the armed rebels? Is it the moral responsibility of the international community to protect them too?
    Another thing you raised which I though was eye-catching was the speed with which the international community reacted. I personally believe it could not have come any later, if indeed forces loyal to Gaddafi were marching in on Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, willing to kill without mercy (orders given by Gaddafi publicly). In addition, relying on the US to have brought this about was also wrong. I don’t think there are many ppl left who can honestly say that Obama knows what he’s doing when it comes to foreign policy.

    Even if Gaddafi goes (or gets killed), there is a real danger that this conflict will continue for a long time. The country is not divided between Gaddafi lunatics and sensible, human rights abiding rebels. There are tribal differences that have existed even before Gaddafi came to power, which will be difficult to resolve. This could really become an extensive and bloody battle, lasting longer than the short-span attention of the media.

  5. Matthew Pitt

    Bill – tragically history does repeat itself all too often. But, since the UK government did not set up contingency plans for Afghanistan before attacking it there is all the more reason for the current government to learn from past mistakes and set out a clear endgame for Libya. Of course there is always the marked difference between Afghanistan and Libya in terms of opponents, terrain, objectives and deployment of force.

  6. Jonathan Taylor

    Agree RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: What is the endgame? http://bit.ly/h7JbdG #Gaddafi #Libya #FreeLibya

  7. Ell Aitch

    RT @leftfootfwd: Libya: What is the endgame? http://bit.ly/h7JbdG #Gaddafi #Libya #FreeLibya

  8. Mr. Sensible

    It would help if the MOD and Chief of the Defense Staff were singing from the same hymn sheet…

  9. Patrick

    Maxy, I’d caution against seeing events in Libya through the prism of Iraq, or British politics. A UN force would have taken months to prepare.

  10. Thomas

    As erratic as Qadhaafi may seem, has it escaped anyone’s notice that if you raid ammo depots and military bases in the UK, US, France, or any other country, the government is going to order the army to attack you?

    There was zero evidence produced that Qadhaafi was targeting civilian protesters rather than armed rebellious units. I really don’t see how he could be found to be in the top even bloodiest 1/4 of regimes currently on the planet Earth.

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