Accounting for Libya

So now we are in a sort of endgame in the Libyan war.  It is not over, but Gaddafi’s government has been decisively beaten.  This outcome arises despite a constant stream of scepticism amongst experts and commentators, right from the start, and from a broad political spectrum.  I was not one of these sceptics, and I must admit to being annoyed by the patronising tone of much of it, assuming that politicians and supporters were muddled naifs who had failed to learn from history.  While these sceptics rapidly move on to point out the considerable difficulties that will arise in rebuilding the country, I feel that some accounting is called for.

As I said at the time, Libya’s situation was unique.  It’s geography is such as to make air power particularly effective.  Gaddafi’s rampant egotism had made him diplomatically isolated, tolerated by his allies and not liked.  In spite of claims by many that there was no clear strategy for the intervention, the strategy was clear all along.  Use air power to protect the existing rebel strongholds and then strangle the Gaddafi regime.  After this it would basically collapse from within.  This was mainly about momentum and morale.  Apart from a core of die-hard loyalists, who had much to lose from regime change, the regime’s power depended on two sources of support: loyal tribes and mercenary soldiers.  These would only be effective as long they thought the regime was going to win.

And so it has transpired.  The fall of Tripoli was remarkable.  Yes the core loyalists fought hard, and they are still there – but there were not enough of them, and they seemed to lack organisation.  The mercenaries had melted away into thin air.  The sympathetic tribes just looked on.  The turning point seems to have been the cutting off of the capital from succour coming in via the Tunisian and Algerian borders.

None of this is hindsight – seem my post last March.  What annoys me about the many critics is their inability to look beyond the generalities to the specific facts of the case.  To them, it was this way in Iraq, so it will be this way in Libya.  I am afraid that this kind of unthinking generalisation is a general disease right across modern society, and especially amongst people counted as experts.  From medicine to economic policy.  People don’t bother to analyse the particulars of the case, simply spouting forth the general rules with confidence.

It is too much to hope this will change.  But we fight on.

3 thoughts on “Accounting for Libya”

  1. I wish the Libyan people all the best for their revolution but …
    A hint of what is to follow came from Lindsey Hilshum on Channel 4 News tonight. She pointed out that out with Colonel Gadaffi has gone the Libyan state. Does this seem familiar? It should do. It is what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. A totalitarian state is replaced by a failed state. No longer is it government tyranny. Instead it is criminals, religious extremists and terrorists who run the show.
    Will this happen in Libya? Well the first priority must be to restore law and order. At the time of writing this is not happening. I hope they will, or we may still regret what we have done.

  2. Do you think that there are political motives driving our involvement as well Matthew? The coalition’s need to play an international role perhaps? To assert its authority on the international stage? There’s no doubt that mistakes were made and that the rules of international diplomacy were contravened by our government (I have a friend in the foreign office who was aghast). My fear is that our eagerness to resort to violence and discard our own rules of diplomacy only encourages extremists, lending justification and thus wider support to their cause.

    1. No political intervention is pure, this one certainly wasn’t. There’s no doubt in my mind that NATO went beyond the terms of the UN resolution. And violent intervention always has costs.

      But there are times when military intervention is the best way forward, even if this is rare. The former Yugoslavia presented some cases; Libya another. Afghanistan and still less Iraq are much less clear – what actually happened in both these countries has been a disaster.

      In Libya I don’t think we are succouring extremists. If anything the west has wrong-footed them, since we have shown our principles to be strong enough to take the same side as Al-Qaeda if the situation warrants.

      But the circumstances in Libya were unique. I can’t see this being repeated for a long time, thank goodness.

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