The fall of Gaddafi vindicates Cameron and Hague
Today, David Cameron and William Hague are vindicated. It was they who first called for a no-fly zone to be enforced, while President Obama dithered and Germany rebuffed. The delay was unfortunate: it undoubtedly cost lives and made military objectives more difficult to attain. This is not a day for triumphal rejoicing, of course, not least because the dictator has not yet quite gone. But we can now be certain that he is definitely going.
There is a sense in which 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 are still recited each week at the Dispatch Box, though they are not attributable to him. But Libya was his own conflict, and he was going to be responsible for any British losses. Mercifully, to this date, there have been none.
But this is just the beginning. Hopefully, with lessons learned in Iraq, there will have been preparations for the post-Gaddafi era, and the peace-keeping will be a relatively bloodless affair. But blood there will be, for you cannot eradicate a century-old civil war with few blue helmets. Keeping the peace will be far more complicated than the media make out: Libya, rather like Iraq and Yugoslavia, is an artificially-constructed state, forged out of distinct and separate tribal identities: east Libya has historically been in conflict with what is now the west. Benghazi in the east was part of a Greek region known a Cyrenaica, and Tripoli in the west was a Punic settlement, both separated by Mediterranean trade agreements, language, culture, ethnic temperament and 600 miles of desert. This is how it remained as empires came and went – Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British. It was not until an invasion by Italy in 1911 that the two entities were forcibly united, with a central governance in Tripoli. Ever since, the Cyrenaicians have considered themselves a people oppressed and a land under occupation: they were Gaddafi’s Basque region; his IRA and his PLO all rolled into one. In Benghazi, they were freedom fighters.
The fall of the strongman in Tripoli is the fulfilment of a century (to the year) of longing for independence. If there is no deal for a post-Gaddafi democratic government, there will be demands for secession, and Libya will revert to its constituent regions. And the civil war will be bloody: we will probably arm the ‘rebels’ in their quest for freedom, and then just let them all get on with slaughtering each other.
But to those who criticise this UK intervention and insist that Gaddafi and Libya are nothing to do with us, His Grace does not agree. 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, liberate the captives, and usher in an era of justice, righteousness and peace.
But Rome wasn't built in a day. And neither was our own democracy. These things take centuries, and so we must be patient. As the Lord said: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
Especially when defence cuts make it harder each day to eradicate that evil.