Thursday, 25 February 2016

Saving Libya

In August 2011, Colonel Gadaffi's Sorbonne-educated lawyer daughter, Ayesha, now widowed and in exile, made three predictions to a journalist in an interview about the outcome if her father were overthrown in Libya - first Europe swamped by illegal migrants, secondly a terrorist camp on the shores of the Mediterranean and thirdly war among the tribes of Libya. All three proved correct. 

Gadaffi's regime fell because of British and French intervention. A lot of the blame rests on David Cameron, William Hague and Nicolas Sarkozy. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama strongly encouraged Britain and France. Reportedly Samantha Cameron persuaded her husband of the necessity of intervention, which makes me sympathetic to Edwina Currie's
complaint this week that if politicians' wives want political influence they should stand for Parliament. This is the first time I liked something Mrs Currie said and it applies, I suppose, to Mrs. Clinton too.

The glamorous French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, who went to Benghazi and made a television programme about it, persuaded Sarkozy to intervene. BHL, as he is known, is one of the minority of famous French intellectuals who is not a socialist and he admires Voltaire. Asked in an interview in The New Yorker why he had adopted this cause, Lévy answered:
"Why? I don’t know! Of course, it was human rights, for a massacre to be prevented, and blah blah blah—but I also wanted them to see a Jew defending the liberators against a dictatorship, to show fraternity. I wanted the Muslims to see that a Frenchman—a Westerner and a Jew—could be on their side."
In another interview Levy was asked:
“You knew that there were people in the Transitional Counsel that were former Gaddafi henchmen like Mustapha Abdeljalil who was his butcher in chief as minister of justice. It didn’t make you pause? Wasn’t the writing on the wall?” 
Levy answered: 
“That’s not how power works. You don’t go around telling people the truth. People don’t vote for just the truth. If only it were that simple…You would tell them the truth and everything would get figured out. That’s not how people vote. They usually vote for the lies. ... I was against the war in Iraq because no Iraqi asked Bush for help, to come in and topple Saddam. In Libya a vast part of the population was begging for our help. The chaos is a necessary step unfortunately in the birth of democracy. In the great scheme of things, 40 years is nothing for people to build a democratic constitution. We are not slaves to power, we can vote, we can take it.”
I feel, reading these remarks, that much of the recent huge problems in the Middle East are the fault of people who admire Voltaire and the Enlightenment and think Enlightenment ideals can solve the problems, rather than pragmatism, humility, common sense and respect for history. Between Voltaire and ISIS we (or rather they) must find a middle way.

Dear hypocrite reader, I have a confession to make. The evening before Britain imposed a no-fly zone in Libya an ambassador asked me at dinner whether Britain should intervene and I found I was unable to answer, which for me is a rare experience. But when the next day, to my surprise, I read that Britain had imposed a no-fly zone I was very delighted. I feared another Srebrenica, even though I suspected the press was manipulating me. 

History teaches us how to learn from the mistakes of the past how to make new mistakes in the future. The lesson I have learnt is that we must tolerate the Syrian government, which is responsible for most of the civilian deaths in Syria, for bombing schools and hospitals and widespread torture and rape. Bernard-Henri Lévy disagrees. He has said 
“The absolute mistake of the international community was the non-intervention in Syria."
I hope that Russia will find some way of producing a peace in Syria - I hope sending the Assad family into exile in the process. After all, the Russians need to exit quickly if they can. 


  1. Peace is good. Peace with the Devil is bad.

    The earliest official policy statements containing expectations of the exodus to Europe, came around 2012, I think. It seems reasonable to assume that many of the signing parties had entertained the possibility for years...

    The prediction about Libya's collapse reads as an admission of impotence - testimony in favor of define political arrangements as intrinsically temporary... rather than philosophically neat [a reference to Gadaffi's treatise on direct democracy].

    Not sure where the terrorist camp is... on one shore anarchy is done, on both it is sung. I think I am hearing that tune changing.

    Thinking out loud ...

  2. Here is an article on this subject. No good solutions for Middle East problems -- leaving Gaddafi in place was not helpful in the long run either.

    1. We have no reason to suppose that chaos would have afflicted Libya or Iraq when the dictators died but, in any case, sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. Monarchies are of course infinitely preferable to dictatorships - as Mark Steyn said, kings are their own ideology. They also have an automatic legitimate successor. What a pity that the Ottoman Empire backed the wrong side in 1914 but that is split milk, as are the Iraqi and Libyan monarchies, though I'd like these kings and Egypt's to be restored.

    2. Did either of those two have a succession plan?

      I went to school with the sons of the Libyan monarch el-Senussi. They were pretty dim bulbs, going to nightclubs all the time and never studying. Wonder if their father was like that too.

  3. Not a serious comment, but your mention of Edwina Currie (nickname: Vindaloo!) reminded me that she was probably the sexiest female politician the British have ever produced ... On a more serious note, it is sad to see that everywhere in the Arab world where the so-called "Arab Spring" manifested itself, the early hopes and aspirations of those heady days have entirely disappeared, crushed by a mixture of religious differences, tribal rivalries and pitiless power struggles, leaving a situation in all the countries concerned that is today arguably much worse than it was before the Spring (although there is still a little hope in Tunisia, perhaps). And I am far from convinced that kings are preferable to dictators: they are just a different form of dictator.

    1. Well, Putin did exit quickly, but leaving the Assad family in place and without peace in Syria.

  4. The Kings of Iraq and Libya were constitutional monarchs. I am not arguing for absolute monarchies but even absolute monarchs, though, have something dictators do not have - legitimacy - and a succession plan.

  5. Cannot agree about Edwina Currie, but de gustibus. Virginia Bottomley? MPs greatly desired Mrs. Thatcher. Mitterand is supposed to have said she had the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe but according to Charles Moore, her official biographer, what he really said was ‘the voice of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Stalin.' I've known girls like that.

  6. More on this from a conservative commentator.

    1. Very interesting article putting the neo-con case well.

      "American failure to intervene would not necessarily have meant that Qaddafi would have crushed the revolt and stayed in power. The U.S. didn’t intervene in Syria, and Bashar Assad hasn’t had any success in stopping the revolt against him. It’s resulted in a bloodbath that has given rise to radical groups such as ISIS."

      ISIS began in Iraq, not Syria. Some blame ISIS on former Saddam loyalists, though others say this is propaganda. I imagine Saddam would have made short work of ISIS but who knows? The Assads have not.

      In the short term the USA could easily have achieved regime change and conquered Syria and Libya. We cannot know what would have followed.

      They did not intervene and now Russia has done so in Syria, at great risk, to prevent regime change.

      Gadaffi was absolutely appalling and Saddam more so. Both were dangerous for their people and for their neighbours. Both were state terrorists. But things are worse since they fell.

      Would things have been better had the US sent in far more men into Iraq from Day One? Certainly. Would things have been better had the US left Iraq alone? Who can doubt it?