The Prime Minster has justified his leading role in orchestrating a UN resolution to protect the citizens of Libya, particularly those in the east of the country, from the tyrannical oppression of their dictator, Col Gaddafi. There seems to be an underlying moral urge on the part of our Prime Minster and his Deputy to stop the blatant outrage that is taking place just south of the Mediterranean. I sympathise.
Historically, we must also remember that Gaddafi part funded the war of aggression by the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland and in the mainland of Great Britain itself, and in some of our overseas territories, killing 3,000 civilians in the period known as the “Troubles”. Responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing also sits squarely at his feet. He is clearly a vile and demented individual who is capable of inflicting pain and destruction on not only his people, but those of many other nations. I will open a bottle of champagne upon the announcement of his death, and that of any of his henchmen associated with so much pain and destruction.
There are many murderous tyrants around the world, and plenty of morally indefensible states, but we are not on a crusade to bomb them all and liberate their people. The communist government in China unleashed untold brutality against their own people, notably in the Tiananmen Square uprisings in 1989. Despite moves toward capitalism, the Chinese people continue to be oppressed. Are we seeking to bomb them? Surely not. They have a population over a billion, and a standing army of over 2 million. Best leave them alone! More recently, in Sri Lanka, 20,000 Tamils were killed in May 2009. And what about the on-going treatment of the people of Zimbabwe? Here we have another tyrant-led country that has prosecuted a war of famine and pestilence against his own people. I am sure you get the picture.
I submit that our leadership shows a selective application of morals. Cameron is very much in the neo-Conservative tradition here. I feel it would be better for him to be honest and practical, and simply say “with the support of the international community, we have an opportunity to depose a tyrant with a history of aggression towards the UK, with hopefully low costs to ourselves, amidst the chaos of a domestic rebellion”.
You either apply your moral standard universally, or it lacks validity. Why are we not bombing Bahrain? I wouldn’t advocate it, but Cameron should, if he is to be consistent.
Meanwhile, our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, says he has voiced his support for possible military intervention in Libya, saying that any action would be carried out in order to “uphold international law.”
So Clegg appeals to a higher moral sanction called International Law. This is where the nations of the world, some with very dubious track records, decide what we all should do. I wonder if the UN had passed resolutions saying Northern Ireland should be ceded with immediate effect to the Republic of Ireland against the wishes of the vast majority of the population of both parts of the island, he would unquestionably seek to obey this command from on high. That is hypothetical, but there have in fact been many resolutions against Israel. Should we be as vigorous in enforcing these as we are being with the latest resolution against Libya? I do not think Clegg would go that far.
Clegg is not a true Liberal. The great 19th century Liberals such as Cobden and Bright would have recommended arbitration and free trade for breaking down barriers and opening up countries. That should be the long term policy of all nations interested in freedom. The interdependence that results from global trade provides strong motivation for peace. There is no need for international law or global government.
For the short term, the moral yardstick a liberal must apply is to treat international relations as they treat interpersonal relations: to live and let live, and only use force in response to aggression. Now, Libya certainly has aggressed against us over the years, and a liberal could have supported the bombings of Libya undertaken by the USA with the support of the UK under the Thatcher government in April of 1986. What aggression have they dealt out to us today?
The deputy prime minister, whose Liberal Democrat Party opposed the war in Iraq, said: “this is not Iraq. We are not going to war”. Such cowardice, to hide behind semantics! If bombing the hell out of Libyan air defences, and shooting at tanks and other armoured units is not warfare, I do not know what is. In truth, I do not think Clegg has the stomach for this, and he’s trying to post-rationalise it with appeals to a higher moral authority, and to black out from his mind the uncomfortable reality that he is party to an act of aggression against another state. Bless his Liberal heart and soul; it is all too much for him. More than ever, he must be wondering whether he really wants to be in this Coalition?
Faced with overwhelming western air power, Gaddafi may well resort to guerilla warfare, and send his men into cities for protracted battles, street by street, house by house. The misery that this would inflict upon those cities has not been experienced in Western Europe since WWII.
I see no justification for this war.
However as it has started, I hope this act of aggression by the UK and its allies is swift and decisive. Having committed to intervention, I hope our fighting men have freedom of action to finish this conflict quickly as possible. Failing this, I hope we are brave enough to extract ourselves very quickly, if it turns out that the rebellion does not have the strength to overthrow the regime.
My thoughts are now with all the people involved in this conflict, and I pray for peace.