Libya: And Deeper Yet

We have become still further embroiled in Libya’s internal affairs since Professor Bush’s post of 30th March.  Moreover, together with France and the US, we have also become an obstacle to the ending of the Libyan civil war and consequent further casualties amongst civilians. First, we have deployed ‘senior British officers’ to Libya in support of the rebels. Second, Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama have declared that ‘there can be no ceasefire until Gaddafi has gone for good.’

According to BBC News online, the military officers will offer ‘logistics and intelligence training’ to the rebel Council. That would be fine, under UN Resolution 1973 provided that the intelligence training could be limited to anticipating aggressive troop movements by Gaddafi’s forces around Benghazi or Misrata, and to providing a better flow of defensive weapons and humanitarian supplies to those places. If, however, it is the rebels’ aim to march all the way to Tripoli, as they have stated, how can training provided for a purely defensive purpose be separated from an offensive on such a scale? Such an offensive would not necessarily be a liberation exercise. One of the first objectives would be Sirte, which lies between rebel Cyrenaica and Misrata and happens to be Gaddafi’s birthplace. We have no direct evidence as to the strength of his support there, but if Iraq is any guide, it will be substantial. (Saddam’s birthplace, Tikrit, and the surrounding areas sheltered him and his sons long after he had lost the war; and the town of Fallujah, not too far away, was taken only after US forces had almost completely destroyed it, with appalling loss of life.) Any British ‘training’ involvement in a Fallujah-type operation at Sirte, however remote or indirect, seems totally contrary to the UN Resolution; but in practice it could scarcely be avoided. Very probably, given the Government’s aim of removing Gaddafi, that is precisely the intention, regardless of William Hague’s claims to the contrary.

As for the tripartite declaration, to which no other NATO members have subscribed, that, compounded with the activities of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, provides every incentive for Gaddafi to fight to the death, irrespective of the resulting casualties (as with Hitler in 1945 in his Berlin bunker).  The three countries, Britain at the fore, have brushed aside attempts to mediate by the Organisation for African Unity, headed by the South African President himself, and by King Hassan of Morocco. The claims of these people to understand the mentality of Libyans a little better than the failed militarists of Iraq and Afghanistan are dismissed by us on the grounds that ‘they would give Gaddafi what he wants’ or ‘it is unclear whether they can be regarded as unbiased.’ By summarily rejecting such initiatives, we assume responsibility for prolonging the war and the ensuing bloodshed.

The cost to Britain of our misguided military adventure in Libya is also highly relevant. Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward (of Falklands’ fame) has estimated the cost to the UK at £1bn if the stalemate persists for six months. This figure might well be achieved much earlier. We are being billed for the use of airbases in Italy and Cyprus at £30m per week, whilst RAF pilots are lodged in Italian hotels at a total of £40,000 per night. The cost of Brimstone missiles alone fired over Libya already exceeds £100m. With no visible exit strategy, we are incurring an open-ended commitment to such expenditure at a time of unparalleled financial stringency, when schools, hospitals, pensioners, parents, students and many others are required to accept heavy financial sacrifices. Ministers say that the costs can be met from the Contingency Reserve; but that reserve is not an inexhaustible well and will have to be replenished, from funds which would otherwise have been available for reducing the root cause of our difficulties, the Government deficit. Because of Libya, our miseries of austerity will thus last longer. As the Daily Mail summed it up, this Government was elected to rectify our economic crisis, not to engage in new military adventures.

There is a solution available which would still enable us to withdraw, with some honour, based on the arrangements for southern Sudan. This would involve autonomy for Cyrenaica, including Misrata as an enclave, outside the control of Gaddafi, but falling short of independence. The question of reunion with Tripolitania or full independence would be decided by referenda in areas concerned after Gaddafi’s departure. A strong UN peacekeeping force, preferably provided by Muslim countries, would be essential. But neither this nor any other compromise solution is attainable whilst Britain and others maintain their belligerent stance.

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