That Foreign Affairs Committee report on Libya provided the opportunity for another orgy of hand-wringing about western intervention, coming so soon after Chilcot and Iraq. This time it was Cameron, rather than Blair, who was the object of general condemnation. It happily reinforced the widely-accepted view that, if something goes wrong in the world, and there's even a hint of western-instigated action somewhere in the build-up, then that action must be the sole explanation for what happened.
There have been a few voices raised against the general consensus though.... Sackcloth & Ashes' piece at Harry's Place....Rema Abdulaziz in the Independent - Libyans like me are grateful to Cameron for his air strikes – and westerners crying imperialism need to accept that; this article in the UAE's The National:
[A] crucial flaw, one that bears interrogating further, is the underestimation the report makes of former leader Muammar Qaddafi himself, the threat he posed to Libyan civilians and the likelihood that he would have reformed given the right political pressure.
It is astounding to see in the report, for example, that Qaddafi’s "threat to civilians was overstated". Those on the ground in Libya in 2011, whether pro- or anti-Qaddafi, would have found such a claim rather peculiar. He was a brutal dictator, and the way in which his forces responded to the revolutionary uprising in 2011 bears that out.
Qaddafi had seen both of his neighbours – Tunisia to the west and Egypt to the east – remove their rulers from power following mass protests.
Libyans en masse were under no illusion about what Qaddafi intended to do in Benghazi in February 2011 – some of them supported the brutal crackdown, and some of them opposed it. But the threat he posed should not be underestimated.
Regionally, as well, there was hardly much doubt expressed about the seriousness of the threat Qaddafi posed to civilians who opposed him.
It was for that reason the Arab League backed the military intervention in Libya. But here the committee perhaps failed to emphasise a particular point – that if military intervention of any kind was necessary, it really ought to have been a responsible and competent Arab force leading it. Alas, this is a continual problem for the region – there is no capable and accountable Arab counterpart to Nato for the region....
In 2011, Libyans rose up against a brutal regime. Their leader should have listened to them and engaged with their demands, instead of rewarding them with bullets. Even in the grave, he bears a huge responsibility for that.
The region should have come to their aid, but Arab solidarity did not result to very much in substantial terms – an issue that will continue to harm the region in the years to come.
Did Nato intervene in the best possible fashion? No, it didn’t. There were mistakes made and wrongs committed. There might have been other ways to proceed that differed from the path in 2011, and the UK’s executive powers should be questioned about that without reluctance or reticence.
Was post-Qaddafi reconstruction handled appropriately? No, it wasn’t – and there are many responsible for that, including Libyans themselves, and Whitehall should also ask hard questions about its own conduct and preparedness in that regard.
But to overestimate Qaddafi’s propensity to reform and simultaneously underestimate the threat he posed to his own people is profoundly unsound. That is simply immensely disrespectful of the sacrifices the Libyan people made in 2011, and continue to make now.
Now here's Bernard-Henri Lévy - We failed in Libya – but going in was the right thing to do:
Sarkozy and Cameron are criticised in the committee’s report for overstating the threat Gaddafi posed to civilians and acting without first taking the time to “verify the real threat that the Gaddafi regime posed to civilians”. Like the other arguments, this is just not serious. How do you verify “a real threat”? Should we have waited (as happened in Syria) until 100,000 people had died – 200,000, 300,000? And those tank columns I saw and filmed in early April 2011 as they levelled the outskirts of Benghazi – would it have been better to let them gut the entire city? Not to mention Misrata. Imagine how the survivors of that shelled and massacred city, with its roads reduced to ash and rubble, its remaining inhabitants fleeing bombs and sniper fire, would respond to the report’s strange questions. And that battle happened in April, lasting through May – weeks and months after Gaddafi had made the threats that today, from within the panelled halls of Westminster, we are urged to consider as having been mere “rhetoric”, not to be taken “literally”.
Misrata, alas, is proof of the contrary. If only the honourable members of the House of Commons who say they doubt the determination behind Gaddafi’s announcement that he intended to “purge” the country of its “rats” by going “house to house”, carrying out an operation “resembling Tiananmen”, had asked to see the last photographs taken by Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros hours before the two courageous American photographers were gunned down, on 20 April, in the centre of Misrata.
That the coalition allies failed, after the fact, is sadly true: they failed in their duty to help liberated Libya build a state and a society. The Iraq war no doubt haunted Europe’s democracies, paralysing them and preventing them sticking with the emerging nation on its long path to construction.
But the intervention in Libya itself; the response to the call of a people who had decided no longer to allow a mad dictator to act as he had for the past 42 years; the alliance forged with the African Union and the Arab League (which, we forget too quickly, was the first to call for the use of force); the subsequent implementation of a UN resolution adopted for the first time in history under the principle of the responsibility to protect and legitimised by the security council; the definition, ultimately, of a narrowly targeted operation bound by strict rules of engagement and rigorous security zones – all of that exemplified a model that was the complete opposite of Iraq. And, whether we like it or not, that was to the great credit of Britain and France.
As, ever, of course, it is the great example of Syria which shows quite how wonderful non-intervention can be.