From Stalin to Mr Bean to the Keystone Kops

From Stalin to Mr Bean; and now the Keystone Kops.  William Hague may or may not have lost his mojo as some think, but he’s certainly lost the plot when it comes to Libya.

He has choices.   He could be utterly cynical and set out to do a deal with a dictator who, in return for support he doesn’t have from his own people, might be pressured to do a give-away deal on oil.  Alternatively, he could start from the premise that the democratic impulse of the people should be supported and that good trade is likely to follow between countries that share democratic values.   While he mercifully hasn’t gone for the former strategy, he hasn’t managed to do the latter either.  All he’s achieved is to make a complete horlicks of the situation. 

With a little help from David Cameron, he must have got right up Gaddafi’s nose in attempting to freeze his family assets (almost certainly a near-total failure – one of the City’s specialities is protecting dirty assets in the various British island tax havens scattered around the world).  Ditto with talk of a no-fly zone.  And as for sanctions, what a joke!   Has it not occurred to him that the boot is on the other foot once the fighting ends?   There are plenty of countries around the world that will happily supply Gaddafi what needs to import, but there are no others with large reserves of sweet light crude (the best sort) right on Europe’s doorstep. 

Once Gaddafi realised that the only risk from Hague et al was posturing, name-calling and a busy schedule of inconclusive meetings, he unleashed his forces in the murderous assault that’s continued ever since.   But if he wins, don’t imagine that he will not remember the name-calling.  You didn’t get to hold power by force for over 40 years without a long memory and suspicious nature.

What the ‘rebels’ need is not some faded imperialist power to come and fight their battles for them – the politics of that would be just dreadful at every level.   If democracy is to have stickability it must be fought for, literally and metaphorically, by the people themselves.  Heroes and myths must be created to sustain it in the long-term.  And indeed, the pro-democracy forces have proved themselves absolutely heroic on the battlefield in the face of the far better armed and organised pro-Gaddafi forces.  So, all they need is a little strategic help to redress the balance.  

However, all Hague and his counterparts have managed is to tie themselves in legalistic knots trying to apply a mish mash of conflicting laws and avoid sensitivities engendered by past debacles.  They talk grandly of a no-fly zone, a concept comfortingly familiar from Iraq, but not a good plan in this context either militarily or politically.   One “expert” objected that, “Libya is huge – it would take immense resources“.   Err, no it wouldn’t.  Most of Libya is desert of negligible strategic significance; all that matters is the tiny stretch of coast road where the front happens to be at any moment in time.  So you don’t need a no-fly zone.  All the pro-democracy forces have to do to create big trouble for Gaddafi is to deny his forces air superiority over the actual battlefield.  It’s evident that most of his troops have no enthusiasm for the fight and once their commanders see that the tide is against them, most will abandon ship faster than you can say “dictator”.

A sensible plan would therefore be to (a) recognise the pro-democracy forces as the legitimate government as the French have already done, and (b) supply a very small quantity of hand-held anti-aircraft missiles (with volunteers to operate them and bring back any unused ones) so denying Gaddafi his aerial advantage.  My guess is that shooting down about two aircraft will keep the others notably scarce and give the pro-democracy forces a big advantage.    Add a few light helicopters and the rout would likely be complete.

An orgy of murder by a vengeful Gaddafi would be averted and history would record, quite rightly, that the Libyans had liberated themselves.

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