IssueApril 2011
Comment by Emily Johns , Milan Rai

How quickly wars happen. One month, we see grassroots nonviolence toppling dictators. The next month, we see a civil war. The month after that, we see cruise missiles and war planes in the air. Former Respect MP George Galloway pointed out on 4 March that no one proposed a no-fly zone over Gaza during Israel’s assault in 2009, when 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

If British, French and US governments genuinely based their foreign policy on humanitarian need, these countries might have lifted a finger to oppose the week-long Israeli aerial assault on Gaza that preceded the ground invasion on 3 January 2009.

As PN goes to press, it is very difficult to predict the course of events in the war on Libya. What is clear, however, is that the West’s overriding goal is not to protect Libyan civilians, but to bolster its own “credibility”, which in this case means seeking the death or defeat of Muammar Gaddafi, the ruler of the Libyan “Jamahiriya” (“state of the masses”).

Gandhi famously said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

The current western intervention in Libya seems a classic example of this phenomenon. For a moment, it seemed as though the passing of a UN security council resolution declaring a no-fly zone over the country, and the western threat of massive force, had deterred the Libyan government from assaulting rebel-held Benghazi and had protected eastern Libya from further bloodshed. Then Gaddafi launched his attack, triggering a massive Western onslaught which has gone far beyond the protection of Libyan civilians.

A helpful initiative in relation to the Libyan civil war, as Noam Chomsky pointed out during his visit to the UK in early March, was the offer of mediation by India, Brazil and South Africa, countries which are respected in the region, which might have led to colonel Gaddafi leaving Libya voluntarily, and some national reconciliation. When Venezuela proposed an international peace commission to Libya in early March, France, Italy and the US rejected the idea. British foreign secretary William Hague was more vague on the matter, dismissing president Hugo Chavez as someone who “is not known for achieving consensus”.

Saudi Arabia

British military chiefs, it appears, are not keen on this sideshow war. A “senior Whitehall figure” told the Financial Times on 7 March: “After Afghanistan, the UK probably has one other reasonable operation left in the locker.” The military would much rather keep their powder dry to be able to intervene forcefully if matters blow up in Bahrain, Oman or Saudi Arabia, where Britain has much more significant strategic interests. Now that British jet aircraft, air refuelling tankers and surveillance capabilities are tied up with Libya, it is very difficult to redirect them to maintain western control over more central countries.

It may still be worth pointing out that while the Libyan government has not invaded anywhere recently, Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain on 14 March, sending in over 1,000 troops to stamp out the democracy movement at the request of the al-Khalifa royal family.

Topics: Libya
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