The day David Cameron became a statesman
We don’t do declarations of war any more: they are distinctly passé; part of the mediaeval-to-modern era; bound up with the restrictive rules of war laid down by Augustine and Aquinas. Instead, we just despatch a ‘task force’ or participate in a UN-sanctioned military coalition to conceal the fact that we are, in fact, at war.
Better late than never, the UN have decided to confront Libya’s Strong Man. Today, David Cameron is vindicated. It was he who first called for a no-fly zone to be enforced, supported (eventually) by President Sarkozy, while Obama dithered and Germany rebuffed. The delay is unfortunate: it has cost lives, and the military objectives will be more difficult to attain than they would have been a week ago. One must hope that the Arab League will now join in to save their own from the torture, terror and murderous thuggery of Gaddafi.
This is not a day for triumphal rejoicing or ego-strutting. The UN resolution is in a sense a diplomatic triumph for the Prime Minister, not least because neither China nor Russia exercised their right to veto. But military force always represents a failure of diplomacy and the repudiation of democratic politics: it is still, as Augustine and Aquinas decreed, the option of last resort. The decision to commit the nation to war must weigh profoundly on the mind and rest heavily on the heart of any prime minister. David Cameron inherited Tony Blair’s military action in Iraq and Afghanistan: the names of the fallen he recites each week at the Dispatch Box are not attributable to him. But today, he instigates his own conflict, declaring in a postmodern fashion that this nation is now at war with Libya, which may well lead to the loss of more British lives. When he reads the names of the deceased from the Dispatch Box, they will be attributable directly to him.
And let us today consider another man whose mettle will be tested over the coming weeks and months. Liam Fox becomes another war-time Defence Secretary, at the very time he presides over a draconian defence review which involves the scrapping Ark Royal; the commissioning and mothballing of replacement aircraft carriers without aircraft; and the wholesale dismissal of fighter pilots. We are no longer a world power, and yet we continue to project the image of the age of Empire. If Mr Fox draws those around him who understand the complexities and can grapple with the issues – people like former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind – he should be able to facilitate the military in ways his Labour predecessor manifestly failed. Let no-one accuse this Defence Secretary of sending our troops to war without the necessary equipment.
To those who criticise this intervention and insist that Gaddafi and Libya are nothing to do with us, His Grace can only point you to PC Yvonne Fletcher, to decades of arming the IRA and to Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. Frankly, we would have been justified in encouraging ‘regime change’ decades ago. Only a fool could be blind to the sorts of terrors and atrocities Gaddafi would unleash again on the UK when he has finished butchering his own in Benghazi. This intervention is wholly justified, on humanitarian grounds and in the national interest. As Lord Palmerston said:
"Our duty – our vocation – is not to enslave, but to set free… we stand at the head of moral, social, and political civilisation… when we see people battling against difficulties and struggling against obstacles in the pursuit of their rights, we may be permitted… if occasion require, to lend them a helping hand."In short, it is our Christian duty to help the oppressed: we have a moral obligation to defend the weak and to love our neighbour, who is every man.
You may well ask ‘where next?’ Bahrain? Saudi Arabia?
As the Lord said: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”