The Libya Policy

ROLAND SCHLAGER/AFP/Getty Images

I’m not objecting to the arming the rebels or taking out Gaddafi’s air defences, but with so much British interests in this country, and no clear idea of who will emerge as the government, I am saying it would have been better to have had the French do the public verbal attacks while the British worked quietly behind the scenes.

As it is, with the slowness to attain international legitimacy for supporting the rebels, it does seem likely that the uprising will be crushed.

Saif Gaddafi has publicly attacked France, the EU and the USA, but hasn’t publicly attacked the British. So it seems that the door is still open. The offence caused by our public campaign to have the regime bombed from 30,000 ft, seems to be less than the need of the regime to have some friends if and when they emerge victorious.

This is only because virtually everyone else in the world, including the Arab neighbours, seems to be their enemy. I imagine the elder Gaddafi had no idea of just how unpopular he is. So it appears to be that, in spite of British posturing, the damage may be limited.

The relationship between Libya and the UK, that began with Tony Blair bringing Gaddafi in from the cold, and continued with the opportunity for Libyans to attend British universities, can continue, assuming the reformist Saif Gaddafi is the new leader.

Some say that the remarks of Saif Gaddafi in the early days of the uprising make it impossible for us to have a relationship. I’m not going to excuse anything he said, but I am going to remind people of why the relationship with Libya is important.

At the time of Tony Blair’s diplomacy, the British were facing a medium term energy supply crisis. You might remember the period, as it was when Putin turned off the gas to the Ukraine, and Britain ran out of gas during a cold snap.

With North Sea oil depleting and a long time-lag to replace that source with nuclear power stations, that Russian demonstration of political power brought home to us the importance of finding another source of fuel. Libya promised to supply gas to the UK and this kept us out of the clutches of Moscow.

So this is not just about individual companies having mineral extraction contracts in that country. It’s about how we avoid British industry grinding to a halt, and elderly people dying for lack of fuel.

Today, no one in Libya thinks that Saif Gaddafi was wrong to have pushed for reforms. If he is to be the new leader, he will need help to achieve what he was blocked from achieving previously. He will look to the British, for advice and assistance, and we will provide it.

The Tories, in their handling of this crisis have been more interested in headlines, than concentrating on the job at hand.

The botched SAS mission to deliver diplomats to the rebels, not only made public our wish to engage the rebels, but also caused bemusement to the Libyans, especially since we already had diplomats in the country helping to evacuate British nationals. They arrived via the airport.

The American rejection of the No Fly Zone demonstrates our deteriorating lack of influence over the Superpower.

The inability of the EU to find a united voice could have been predicted before calls for intervention were so publicly uttered.

Only The Arab League has managed to speak with relative unity, with Syria and Algeria the only countries to vote against a No Fly Zone. This is ironic, since it is the region which is supposed to be divided and unstable.

When seeking to understand the incompetency of the government, it is the relationship with the Americans that lies at the heart of it.

Although the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds, it is hard to escape the suspicion that this was related to the new found diplomacy with Gaddafi.

At the time, this was uncomfortable for the relationship, but Washington appreciated the British on so many other things that it was brushed under the carpet.

However, when Cameron’s government came to power on a policy to reverse the Keynesian policy response to the credit crunch, thereby undermining America’s economic strategy, Washington lost patience. David Cameron found himself having to explain how BP gained an extraction contract in Libya, while their rig in the Mexican Gulf was creating a natural disaster.

Cameron has since been condemning Blair’s relationship with Libya, as a result. So when the rebellion broke, the first response of the government was to follow their existing foreign policy of “business first”, and avoid offending the regime by being too quick to evacuate British nationals, but quickly changed to condemning Gaddafi and calling for a No Fly Zone.

During this inconsistency, it never occurred to the government to look over their shoulder and check whether the Americans were on board. They were more concerned with the next headline than the job at hand.

So we’ve not only demonstrated ourselves to be incompetent, in the eyes of the world, but also to no longer have that close bond with Washington that used to allow us to punch above our weight on the world stage.
It is therefore appropriate to recognise that these events are not simply the struggle of a new government to find its feet, but are fundamental to the downgraded position of the UK on the international stage.

If the Libyan regime survives and if Saif Gaddafi becomes the leader on a reformist agenda, then London can at least repair some damage to our reputation by being of help to the people of Libya. That should be the sure-footed policy of the government that, so far, has not had a sure policy at all.

One Response to The Libya Policy

  1. Thus Spake Zarathustra says:

    I’ve been very circumspect of the posturing on all sides. It seems like the Libyan crisis is firing a pistol in a farmyard just to watch the same old chickens start clucking and running around in circles with their wings flapping. The loudest voices are trying to fake leadership when in reality they have a policy vacuum.

    Most of the action I’ve seen proposed is illegal, unthinking, and repeating the mistakes of the past. Gadaffi is an easy mark but what legitimacy do the rebels have beyond self-described fairytale branding? What’s their programme? Who will be the winners and losers? What will guarantee their winning will change anything?

    It’s unfashionable but I’d rather see a decisive victory by Gaddafi, order restored, and domestic Libyan attempts to develop a post crisis consensus. More importantly for the West this crisis reveals the inherent flaws, corruption, and greed in our own system. More honesty, kindness, and generosity would go amiss on all sides. If that becomes the focus then we may all end up with something worth having.

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