Libya is in danger of turning into a Carry On film

by Dan McCurry

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have adopted their very own belligerent Arab city, along with several belligerent Arab towns. In total, the entire population of eastern Libya. Whether they like it or not, if they walk away from the situation now, they will be responsible for every act of the regime’s retribution, every arrest made and every life taken.

For Britain and France, to walk away now would be the equivalent of a parent who refuses their baby food, or a doctor refusing their patient treatment. When a politician starts a war, they are responsible for those on the ground who will suffer the consequences of the military action.

If this were a movie, the tragic-comic premise would be the central characters stuck in a situation of their own making. Unable to negotiate a truce between Tripoli and Benghazi, and unwilling to lose face, their only option is to carry on bombing. Perhaps Sid James would play Sarkozy and Hattie Jakes would play Cameron as Matron.

They are publicly angered with the Nato partners who have not been pulling their weight. It is not the provision of jets that is at the forefront of their concerns, but the laying off of responsibilities, the sharing of the burden and the consequent reduction of their own embarrassment.

Cameron and Sarkozy are telling everyone that, “we’re all in this together”, while desperately trying to play down who led the way in this inadvisable adventure. They want Italy to share the blame of a war gone wrong.

Meanwhile, in the Carry On film, William Hague is played by Kenneth Williams as a sorcerer staring into the future with his crystal ball. He loves to tell us that the military action has avoided genocide. If Tony Blair had the brilliant talents of Mr Hague, then surely the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo would never have happened, as we would have intervened before.

The fact is that civil uprisings in Libya are a fairly regular occurrence. On the first day of this uprising two police stations were burned down by demonstrators. Last year, in Benghazi, a mass demonstration against the Danish cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed quickly transformed into a riot against the police. It didn’t result in genocide.

It has now become apparent that the British diplomats sent into Benghazi only reported on the quality of the rebel council as a potential government. They were never instructed to make an assessment of the military potential of their army. If they had, they would have found a rabble. The army is mostly made up of young men provided by various tribes. Each tribe wants to make a claim on any military victory that may result.

There is a long list of examples of British government incompetency in this area. The failure to evacuate British subjects for fear of offending the regime, the realisation that evacuation procedures cannot be out-sourced to Easy Jet and the bungled attempt at creating a glamorous media story of an SAS incursion. The latest incompetence, to add to this impressive list, is the failure to make an assessment of the military capability of the ally we are going to war over.

The only positive aspect of this business is the realisation that, in the wake of the Iraq tragedy, a consensus to intervene can be achieved. This led to the quick response by France and the UN to the crisis in the Cote D’Ivoire. But there is a big difference, in terms of moral authority, between Libya and the Ivory Coast.

Gaddafi is reported to be completely baffled by the manner in which the world has turned against him. Only a couple of years ago, he had Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi as guests. He came in from the cold, turned his back on terrorism, opened up his country to weapons inspectors and did what was required in order to establish diplomatic relations with the west. Then they attacked him.

Laurent Gbagbo, on the other hand, lost an election in Cote D’Ivoire and decided to remain in power by using violence. Unlike Gaddafi, he knew that he was in the wrong.

The other day, Jonathan Freedland tweeted this photo of Gbagbo under arrest. He commented that the expressions on the faces of the various characters, especially the wife, make it a great picture. He’s right: it is a fascinating moment.

But if it had been a photo of Gaddafi and his family, the expressions would have been defiant and bitter. Gaddafi and his family believe themselves to be victims of the west. They are not motivated to surrender or to flee, and this is a problem. If this war had been waged against Gaddafi 20 years ago, either he would have fled, or we would be planning a ground invasion.

The war was justified on an Arabic consensus, formed during a time of stress and uprisings in the Arab region. The fact that he is a dictator, an incompetent dictator, is not justification. Certainly not for the Arab league. The fact that he is no longer a threat to the west makes our justification confused and morally ambiguous.

William Hague should put away his crystal ball. And the UN should negotiate a return to the status quo, on condition of no reprisals and with undertakings of internal reform.

If this can be achieved then the Benghazi council need to accept that in politics we work with people we don’t like and that we get on with it. They are not in a position to dispute the existence and political power of Colonel Gaddafi.

This principle does not just apply to politics in Arabia, but also in the UN general assembly, Washington and Westminster. It is the same wherever you go. We suffer the people we object to, and we get on with it. Because we have to.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist and photographer who blogs here.

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3 Responses to “Libya is in danger of turning into a Carry On film”

  1. iain ker says:

    Gaddafi is reported to be completely baffled … did what was required in order to establish diplomatic relations with the west. Then they attacked him.


    Dan, mate, you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to rewrite history that’s barely two months old.

    Can you not think of anything that happened *between* the time Mad Dog did ‘what was required’ and ‘they’ attacked him?


  2. Dan McCurry says:

    I don’t remember a genocide happening.

    What are you trying to say, Ian?

  3. Robert says:

    Nothing at all what did Gaddifin do between Blair kissing his butt and the EU demanding war, oh yes an uprising, but heck it was not enough to send in ground troops, could be something to do with him flogging his oil to the west already while Saddam poor sod was banned.

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