The Sunday Mirror Libya 24 March 2011
Here are three questions that need answering on Libya.
Why are we there? How will it finish? And when will it end?
We are there because Libya matters to us. Not just because upholding international law is vital for peace at a time of great turbulence in the world. I mean it REALLY matters to us – here in Britain. The Arabs nations of the Maghreb are our southern neighbours in Europe. They are a major source, not just of the energy we depend on, but also of one of the greatest threats to our safety – international terrorism. I had always imagined that the result of our foolish policy of supporting – and even arming – Arab dictators (including latterly that of Col Gaddafi), the Arab revolution when it came would bring in the Jihadists. Instead those brave protesters are demanding democracy and human rights. There is an irony in the fact that democracy has been brought to the Arab world, not by Western armies, but by Facebook, Twitter, and the courage of young Arabs on the streets. If the Arab Spring can now replace street demonstrations with effective democratic Governments, then we will have reliable neighbours to our south who share our values, and Al Qaeda will be more damaged than they ever could be by us.
If Col Gaddafi is allowed with impunity, to slaughter his people before our eyes (remember he promised to “show no mercy”), then this “Arab Spring” will be terribly damaged. And we will be showing that though we talk democracy, we aren’t prepared to defend it; that we say we value international law, but won’t uphold it. And a signal will go out to the other dictators in the region that the best way to stop demonstrations is to shoot them demonstrators in the streets.
However difficult and costly it is to do what we are doing now – doing nothing would in the end have cost us more.
So now we come to the more difficult bit? How will it finish?
The uncomfortable answer is, probably untidily. These things often do. When we liberated Kuwait in 1991, we had to leave Saddam Hussein in power next door, a no fly zone to stop him doing more mischief and a semi-independent Kurdish area in the north which we had to continue to protect. When you have to use force you may stop a greater evil, it does not mean you will always create a tidy outcome.
My guess is that this may end with a divided country. A free Libya to the east and Gaddafi-land to the west. My guess is that those Libyans who are left under the Colonel’s cranky dictatorship will not want to do so for long. But that is their choice, not ours.
Because that is what the UN Security Council Resolution says. This action is about protecting Arab lives and preserving their freedom to choose. No more and no less.
So how long will it last? I am afraid the straight answer is uncomfortable, too. As long as it takes. You cannot create a safe peace from such a situation overnight. But one thing is certain. Whatever the cost of protecting the lives of those who believe in freedom, the costs of allowing a dictator to triumph in blood in this region and at this time, would be far, far more.