Bombing Libya: The “Reality and unreality” of national interests.

Posted: April 1, 2011 in International politics

Reporting from Tripoli against the backdrop of NATO bombardment, Richard Spencer of the Daily Telegraph, describes the “reality and unreality” of the Libyan regime and its very idiosyncratic approach to international diplomacy (BBC Radio 5 Live, 21 March). But if Operation Odyssey Dawn” is anything to go by, flakiness is not a Libyan preserve. What exactly are the aims and objectives of this NATO operation? After just two days of bombing, the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen described things as “all a bit confused and confusing” (BBC1, 10 O’Clock News, 21 March) as NATO members put their own national interests first and the aims of UN Resolution 1973 second. And did we just see 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles flying overhead or was President Obama taking a back seat for fear of offending the Muslim world?

It’s a very unpromising backdrop to this latest western intervention into Arab affairs but one would think that Britain would have learned the lessons of Blair’s “ethical foreign policy” – how messy things get when one mixes moral ethics with the realist impulses of western foreign policy. It started as moral support for a rebellion against the Gaddafi regime with grand rhetoric about the primacy of freedom and democracy. Then, as the regime moved to crush the rebellion, it shifted to a proposal for a no-fly zone, personally sponsored by Prime Minister, David Cameron.  The principal objective of this no-fly zone was to protect civilians but already it has been extended to include the bombing of military targets on the ground, the supply of arms to various “rebel” groups and, according to some, the possible assassination of Gaddafi.

The world, said President Obama, would not stand idly by while the Libyan regime murdered its own people (20 March). But, as many good people have pointed out already, that’s exactly what the “world” is doing with regard to protests and rebellions in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen  – all doughty allies of the west in the “war on terror”. And then there’s the thousands of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories who, under an Israeli-imposed regime of terror, have been killed, wounded, evicted from their homes and treated like non-people in contravention of over two hundred UN Resolutions since the foundation of the Israeli state. (To put this in some perspective, the west went to war against Iraq in 2003 for defying just a handful). The official answer to these objections? “Just because we can’t intervene in every situation around the world, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t intervene where our national interests are at stake”.

And that’s the key because this operation makes no sense as a humanitarian intervention and only time will tell what the real national interests are for the western alliance. But as Labour MP, Dennis Skinner, pointed out in parliament recently (30 March), the British government should be mindful of the lessons of Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s: that when you want to change a regime by arming “rebel forces”, be careful what you wish for.

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