David Cameron’s Libya Doctrine

The British media has, in the last few weeks, been working through allegations that the nation’s secret services helped Gaddafi’s spies track down Libyan dissidents. On 21 April the Mail on Sunday published documents discovered in Libyan archives and detailing the hunt. First, it is alleged that MI5 were involved in the kidnapping of two dissidents who were abducted with their families in 2004 and taken to Libyan prisons. Secondly, in 2006 Libyan spies were allegedly welcomed by MI5 and treated to the luxuries of secure mobile phones and a safe house in Knightsbridge, a grotesque contrast with the conditions of asylum seekers in this country.

MI5 apparently passed on sensitive information to their Libyan colleagues to support the torture of dissidents:

One Libyan dissident, an accountant living in London, told the Mail he was shocked to discover that a photograph he had had taken when applying for a British passport in 2002 had been passed to the EOS and was among the recovered documents. He says he suspects that a telephone was being monitored, with the result that an associate in Libya was detained, tortured and then held for five years in one of Gaddafi’s jails. (Guardian)

This cooperation was part of the New Labour’s detente with Gaddafi, exchanging favors for oil and Gaddafi’s promise that he would get rid of his “weapons of mass destruction”. That government had been voted out by the 2011 intervention in Libya, which was supported by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. If this easy ambivalence about globalisation has become Professor Blair’s legacy, it is one continued by his elected successor, David Cameron, who attempted to distinguish himself from his predecessor’s collaborations with Gaddafi by spending more money in the intervention than any other foreign state (Guardian).

Last year, Hugh Roberts’s article in the LRB gave little credence to the idea that military intervention was the only option. The article, Who said Gaddafi had to go?, provided an African context to the conflict which exposes the consensus claimed by the allied European governments as pure self-interest:

The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected. […] The International Crisis Group, for instance, where I worked at the time, published a statement on 10 March arguing for a two-point initiative: (i) the formation of a contact group or committee drawn from Libya’s North African neighbours and other African states with a mandate to broker an immediate ceasefire; (ii) negotiations between the protagonists to be initiated by the contact group and aimed at replacing the current regime with a more accountable, representative and law-abiding government. This proposal was echoed by the African Union and was consistent with the views of many major non-African states – Russia, China, Brazil and India, not to mention Germany and Turkey. It was restated by the ICG in more detail (adding provision for the deployment under a UN mandate of an international peacekeeping force to secure the ceasefire) in an open letter to the UN Security Council on 16 March, the eve of the debate which concluded with the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1973. […] In authorising this and ‘all necessary measures’, the Security Council was choosing war when no other policy had even been tried.

As so often, the ‘international community’ invoked in questions of moral difficulty (always, somehow, alluding to Britain’s greatest Brit) deliberately ignores the non-violent stance of those — the African Union and so many others — suspicious of the North Atlantic states’ oscillating appeasement and military conflict with dictatorships. The history of recent British relations with Libya serves as an example of how these governments continue to collapse self-interested policies with the moral conscience of “the world”.

Peter Goldsmith, New Labour’s embattled attorney general (who has turned from public life to more lucrative pursuits), commented on the most recent allegations:

We thought, I think the world thought, he had turned for the good, and he hadn’t. That was as it turned out to be a wrong judgment. Whether it was the wrong thing to do at the time, that’s another issue …

This moral equivalence, a repulsive blend of apology and self-justification, is typical of that government. This formulation — “We thought, I think the world thought” — equates regional commercial interests (we, the UK) with universal moral obligation (we, the world), and this is the same logic deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, a parody of self-defense masking a war against transparency. At the centre of this lies the lawyer’s anxious ‘I’, the weakened fulcrum of the whole war machine.

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