Originally I reluctantly thought the invasion of Afghanistan was justified, I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I thought the alternative was worse. With hindsight I think it was a mistake but I can see how it was made.
I thought the war in Iraq was wrong, and still think it was wrong.
The tone of my twitter stream has flipped from people decrying the violence in Egypt and Libya to people complaining about the war on Libya. Given recent wars it’s not obvious that military action in Libya is justified. Like Afghanistan I think a No-Fly Zone isn’t something to cheer, and I’m wary of indulging the Churchillian fantasies of Prime Ministers (of either side), but I think it could be the least worst option.
The reason I support it is simple. I think the killing of civilians on Srebrenica in Bosnia was wrong and it was shameful for the UN to allow that to happen. Mass slaughter of civilians in Benghazi would be equally wrong, and Gaddafi has been clear about what he has planned for Benghazi. The Libyan ambassador to the UN has been appealing for action. That didn’t happen with Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia or Sudan. There is a real humanitarian crisis and I think the response has been too slow.
There’s various objections. A lot are on the theme that we support Arab dictatorships elsewhere, and that why should be clear up a mess that should be tackled by the Arab League? The strangest version I saw was on Michael Moore’s twitter feed.
“Our job is 2 prop up Arab dictators (Saudi, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, etc), not overthrow them & everyone in Arab world knows it” I agree that it’s not coherent to overthrow a Libyan dictator and support a Bahraini one. If you genuinely think western support for dictators is an argument against intervention in Libya, then you genuinely are supporting dictatorship. The alternative is to say that actually we should be withdrawing from Bahrain as well. I don’t seriously believe Michael Moore is in favour of supporting dictators, so it’s disappointing to see he arguing against democracy.
I utterly agree that the Arab League should be doing this, but we know they won’t. How many civilians is it acceptable to allow to die to make a point? Bizarrely the people (at least the ones I know) who I’ve seen arguing for the situation to be left to other people to deal with would never act like that if they were put directly in that situation. Seriously. I know no-one who would leave someone dying in the street just make the point that social services or the police or someone else should do something.
So why reservations?
The anti-war caricature is that this is a war against Libya. It’s not. A lot of pro-war people genuinely believe it’s against Gadaffi. It would be nice if it was, but I don’t think it’s going to be that either. It’ll be tribal and that will be messy. I’m also not convinced that the rebels are good guys. I’m happy that Gaddafi is a bad guy. The Taliban are bad guys, but the people in power in Afghanistan are not good guys by default. There’s still huge problems with women’s rights. You cannot have a democracy where half the population don’t have the same rights as the other half.
For this reason I support action to stop the fighting ((Yes I’m aware of the irony of fighting for peace, but at least we’re killing mercenaries and soldiers who are taking part in fight and not civilians trying to avoid it.)) but I don’t know if I support régime change. Imposing democracy isn’t an option so you’re left with the people who come out top when the fighting and negotiations stop. If these are a different bunch of nutters opposed to equal rights then I suppose the least genocidal nutter is the best option, but it’s not something I’ll enthusiastically support. If the opposition are pro-democracy / free-speech equal rights then that’s great. To be fair the news story (and their priority) has been avoiding slaughter and not formulating a coherent political programme, but it’s something that will need to be tackled.
I’m also wary of why now? An earlier resolution would have been better, but that might be because diplomacy takes time. It doesn’t help when you look at some of the pro-war crowd. As fair as faith leaders go I can stomach archbishop Desmond Tutu backing war as a last resort, but you have to look hard at the proposal when the spiritual guru Yogi Blair is saying its a good thing. For that reason I think its right that people are seriously critical about whether or not the action is justified, but that critique has to be more than reeling off the names Iraq and Afghanistan. Muslim countries are not interchangeable blocs, and it does some intelligent people no credit to act as if they are.
The one criticism I don’t have time for is “We can afford another war, but we can’t afford libraries / hospitals / choose the cause of your choice.” That is nonsense. It’s not and has never been a choice between a library or air strikes in Libya. It’s a choice between a library and shovelling large amounts of money into rich bankers pockets. Acting as if the military costs are responsible for cuts ignores the fact that a bunch of crooks have stolen all the money.
Now if you were cynical you might think the reason the UK government has gone to war, despite the profitable business we do in Libya, is exactly to distract people from the huge amounts of free money we’re giving away. If you are that cynical then the government is loathsome, using lives to hide greed, but should civilians trying to get through the day without being shot in Libya who should be held responsible for that casual disregard for life?
There are good reasons why you can disagree with me and say this is wrong and we should not be using air-strikes against Libya. It is possible we could be replacing one massacre with another. But we know there were going to be mass killings without action. How many protestors is it acceptable to kill? Pragmatically 1 or 10 are too small to mobilise an air force. Is 1000 acceptable? 10,000? Do people have to be killed in large numbers, and we help them after they’re dead or do we prevent deaths? Preventing deaths sounds better, but you just know that someone controlling large oil reserves sooner or later will be declared a serious threat to the civilian population of his country.
I think some of these are impossible questions to answer, but while there are people willing to kill we have to answer them. But we don’t have to settle for the answers once we have them.