The Toils and Spoils of War
The inconvenience of having got oneself into a war that shows no sign of ending is most telling when similar circumstances require some measure of consistency.
This is particularly true on the day that Syria’s Assad appears to prepare for open war on his own people, whilst the British Prime Minister declares that Britain has to be prepared to remain in Libya “for the long haul”. This is also the week that the Bahraini Crown Prince, responsible for a merciless suppression of his people during recent weeks, had to decline his royal wedding invitation on the grounds that matters at home were somewhat troublesome. Headlines on these matters piqued public interest for a few seconds before conversations reverted to the guessing games surrounding Kate Middleton’s dress. Oh, what a convenient week to bat away inconvenient arguments on consistency.
Pimms and cucumber sandwich, anyone?
A trilogy of reactions and a decade of war
Three Arab states. Three brutal dictators unleashing the power of their security forces on their own people, who dare to demand the right to elect their own representatives. Three very different reactions from the West, and indeed from the cowardly Arab League. Military Intervention. Middle Ground. Silence.
True it is that every situation must be judged on its own merits. But the silence over Bahrain and the hobbling that preceded today’s prompting on Syrian sanctions should lead even the most trusting individual to question why the government simply cannot tell us the truth about their intentions in Libya. As impossible as the ‘to-intervene-in-Libya-to-prevent-bloodbath-in-Benghazi-or-not-to-intervene’ question was for many to conclude, our government has a long and ignoble history of invasion and occupation on false pretexts. It is hard to believe we are already one decade from the invasion of Afghanistan, and eight years in Iraq. Several inquiries later and truth is none the wiser. Over the same period, our government silently has supported a continued policy of US drone attacks on Pakistan soil, killing many innocent civilians and contributing to a poisoned atmosphere in a country already poised dangerously on the brink. But all of this has been done, according to our governments, to help the local populations. As Afghanistan squanders its way backwards into worsening rights for women, and a Taliban now rising not only over its own mountains, but into Pakistan as well, that argument sounds derisively funny, or it would if it was not so bleak. So too would the pervasive presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq if so many thousands of ordinary Iraqis had not been killed since the invasion in 2003. Regrettably, it seems our governments usually are able only to condemn human rights abuses and violence where there is a hidden, ulterior motive that they are not at liberty to reveal to their populations. As always, the battered human rights of Palestinians in the face of arrogant Israeli evasion of UN Resolutions themselves underlines that point.
To say or to do?
Indeed, even when is merely a distinct possibility rather than an actuality, our government has an odious way of concealing its intentions. Tony Blair marched straight over to India in late 2001, as the country teetered on the brink of a fourth war with its neighbour Pakistan, holding himself out to be a peacebroker whilst in fact on a British arms’ sale cold call. Credit to Cameron where it is due; at least he was open about putting British profit in arms’ sales above tha value of human life in the Middle East on his ill-advised jaunt of arms fairs just four months ago.
In the spirit of that same honesty, both the British and the Libyan people deserve to be told exactly what is the aim of this current stalemate in Libya. Civilians are being massacred in ever-greater numbers and, to that end, the terms of the UN Resolution clearly have not been met. Whilst almost the entire world is likely to agree that Libya’s people cannot be free until Qaddafi either leaves or is assassinated, there is no UN mandate to kill him and a policy that drags a country into civil war, even unintentionally, cannot be in anyone’s interests. Civil war has clearly begun across the Mediterranean, so much so that Sarkozy and Berlusconi are begging to suspend their passport-free Schengen zone tonight. God forbid that refugees from war should try to enter Fortress Europe. Priorities are priorities after all, they grumble. European jobs and money first. What was that they were saying about humanitarian intervention?
Meanwhile, our esteemed Ambassador to Middle East Peace, Mr Blair of Edgware Road, appears to have fallen into an implausible silence. Peace-brokering is much harder, it seems for him, than warmongering. Cameron should not seek to emulate his predecessor any further.
And then to Syria..
The world dare not intervene in Syria, for too much is at stake. The Syrian army is much stronger than Libya’s, and the West is unable to broker any sense of victory in North Africa. Moreover, Syria’s links to both Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Iran mean that any military intervention in that country would be liable to throw the region into potentially devastating turmoil. But if the number of dead, shot down in cold blood by the Syrian security forces, is too small to win even enough votes for a UN Resolution condemning the violence, and any measure of sanctions unlikely to bring immediate relief to Syria’s city-dwellers under fire, the lack of consistency in the West’s approach to these remarkably similar situations stinks of something black in the lentils, as they say in India.
Today, even as British and European weapons are unleashed on Bahrainis, the British government insists that ‘dialogue’ is the way forward with Bahrain. How fortunate for those dictators who happen to be chums with that other repressive, lunatic regime, the House of Saud. They know that sticks and stones may break their people’s bones, but words will never hurt them.
It’s time to recognise the failure of the Libyan intervention and pull out
A month ago, the world watched and waited with baited breath to see whether a swift victory in Libya might dispel those instinctive fears that invasion was a terrible idea. There was an outpouring of collective hope over reason that lessons had been learned by a generation of western politicians who had never known war. Today, as Syrians are massacred by a maniac President who buys into his own cult of personality and Bahrain is forced into silence by a Crown Prince who ‘deeply regretted’ that he could not attend a jolly wedding because of an inconvenient situation at home, Britain and the West’s venture in Libya looks ready to crumble. Faltering under the pressure of an intervention that surely risks causing more casualty now than it sought to prevent, the intervention no longer seems to be saving lives. Residents of Misrata, lying in hospital beds tonight, may be proof that one city’s slaughter merely was transferred to another.
The only acceptable option for Cameron, Sarkozy , Berlusconi and their merry gang is to pull out of Libya directly. Unbearable though it may be to accept that Qaddafi outmanoeuvred them, they need squarely to accept that in preventing one massacre, remaining in Libya may be causing many more. There is no proper opposition in Libya to carry this plan, or hope, forward. A bunch of ragged fighters is whom the West relies upon to succeed in its airborne mission. None of this is to blame the West for Qaddafi’s murderous missions, but reflects the reality on the ground a month after this intervention began. There is neither appetite, nor moral or legal authority for a military mission which becomes a drawn-out war intended to assassinate Qaddafi, whilst pulling his people into civil war. The Libyan catastrophe will not doubt be condemned as a crushing defeat for the allies – and no doubt underlines the very concerns highlighted at the outset of this campaign about what it was intended to achieve – but it is the only reasonable life-saving measure that can be taken before considerable further harm is done to Libya’s people. Moreover, it is the only way that the world may believe that there were good intentions behind the collective attempts to prevent genocide.
To remain in Libya now is both to contribute or cause further bloodshed and to invite the nauseating disbelief that hovers over all the government interventions, invasions and wars over the last decade. Neither the tax-paying publics of the warring governments, nor the bystanding victims of their occupations, have ever been told the truth about those. If we remain, it will be another war which was entered into by our politicians without ever telling us why. Sure, we can guess that the motive was glossy with black gold, but how did that ever help the people of Iraq?
The heroics of populations who come out in protests, knowing that they are likely to be gunned down is beyond the imagination of most of us having an indifferent row about the merits of a trussed-down proportional representation vote, or muttering gaily about royal wedding dresses. But we are a nation at war, again. And though Cameron has warned us today that we are in it for the long haul, most of us could barely grasp the fear and terror that the fact of war, or its duration, must bring to the people on the other side of that war. Cucumber sandwich, anyone?
April 26th 2011