Call me a warmonger when it comes to Libya


WORLDVIEW:It is nonsense to say that since ‘our’ approach to tyrants is inconsistent, we should do nothing

FROM THE high moral ground the view is always much clearer: black and white, good guys and bad guys, pure and impure motives, hypocrisy and truth.

The beleaguered Libyan people may think, poor dupes, they want our help, but we know better what’s in their interest. Nothing good ever came from imperialist interventions. Better to die at Gadafy’s hands than rely on tainted western help. Things will work out for the best. Probably.

There you have it in a nutshell, the spoken and unspoken assumptions of our “anti-war” moralists for whom the UN- mandated operation in Libya is simply another manifestation of western hegemony, almost certainly driven by oil interests.

And I am clearly a warmonger for supporting the imposition of the “no-fly zone” – in truth more than that, a zone of protection – and for putting the idea of a “responsibility to protect” above qualms – and I have many – about this humanitarian mission, its purpose and execution.

My “liberal interventionism”, my belief in the UN as a necessary, however desperately imperfect, vehicle for global collective security, my willingness to prioritise human rights above national sovereignty and willingness to acknowledge that the aircraft of the western powers are the only tools we have to hand to uphold such values, all clearly brand me firmly in the camp of imperialism.

If only life was so simple.

“In the case of Libya,” writes Guardiancolumnist Jonathan Freedland, “the principle stands as clear as it ever did. A dictator had announced that he planned to slaughter his own people. Col Gadafy threatened to attack the rebel city of Benghazi with ‘no mercy, no pity’, adding in chilling words, ‘We will come. House by house, room by room.’

“If those nations with the power to stop these pre-announced killings had stood aside, they would have been morally culpable. Benghazi was set to become another Srebrenica – and those that did nothing would share the same shame.” In a nutshell, that’s my position.

In truth, of course, one has to have doubts, misgivings, uncertainty about the mission being undertaken, not least in the possibility of failure. There are no guarantees. The danger is, however, that such doubts become all, a counsel of perfection and inaction, of quietism.

There is a perfectly consistent and rational argument from those who lean towards international isolationism and say this is none of our business, not our problem, that our common humanity does not necessitate a belief in universal values or, particularly, universal obligations such as those inherent in Ireland’s long- standing foreign policy support for the UN.

But the argument against intervention made by those who profess solidarity and concern for the rebels in Libya is much shakier.

Why Libya, we are asked, and why not Gaza? Why not Bahrain? If the West is genuinely concerned for human rights, why is it at the same time arming the Saudi and Bahraini governments to attack their own people? True.

However it makes absolutely no sense to say that because “our” approach to dictators is inconsistent, we should do nothing about any of them.

And, let’s be clear, those who advance the “hypocrisy” case would be first to cry foul if the US, for example, were to send troops to the aid of the people of Kashmir. By this logic Obama and the US simply can do no right.

It is also suggested that because the motives of the West may not be of the purest and its record in the region lamentable, the mission is inherently wrong.

Yet all those fighting in Libya are doing so for different reasons: the rebels for their lives, human rights, democracy and, some maybe, an Islamic state; Nicolas Sarkozy perhaps for reasons of domestic self-aggrandisement; the US to defend oil interests or to usurp the leadership of a post-Gadafy regime.

What matters, however, are not motives but the rights and wrongs of the case for intervention, what is happening on the ground and the limitations rightly imposed by the UN mandate. Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, “mission creep” is far less of a problem as the mandate prohibits boots on the ground. Although the coalition intervention, hopefully, will tip the military balance, regime change will ultimately remain a matter for the Libyan people.

There are non-military forms of intervention as an alternative, we are told – arms embargoes, asset freezes, cuts in the supply of African mercenaries, logistical help for the opposition and the emergence of a democratic Egypt acting as a model to the region.

True, and most are being applied – but they do not save lives and would not have saved Benghazi.

And yes, aerial bombardment will inevitably and has caused civilian casualties. But such casualties, which must be minimised by the coalition, have also to be balanced against the vaster, more indiscriminate carnage that Gadafy has wrought.

In the end, reservations notwithstanding, the military campaign being waged in our name as a member state of the UN deserves our support as a right and proportionate response to the plight of the people of Libya. If that makes me a warmonger, so be it.