Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, puts these questions in his article in The Daily Telegraph yester-day (March 21, 2011).
The best we can say of this venture, he says, is that, for the time being, it seems the lesser of two evils, agreeing with American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we cannot sit idly by whilst “this lunatic” massacres his own people. He even expresses pride in the way H.M. Government has handled the matter so far.
He points out that the Prime Minister has achieved much in securing a resolution of the United Nations Security Council authorizing the current action, something not forthcoming in respect of action in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999.
Yet he confesses to having emitted a “long, deep groan of apprehension” in response to the launching of the first Tomahawk cruise missile on Saturday evening. Although bound by common humanity to help the people of Benghazi, we must – if we are to be successful in this mission – ensure we have learnt from the past and understand the risks.
So what are the risks ? The most obvious risk is failure [here Boris clearly sees the Allies’ objective as régime change] — at least not straight away — although he hopes Col. Gaddafi’s days are numbered and that he will wind up in Venezuela, “like other fallen socialists, as a consultant to the regime of Hugo Chávez”.
It is entirely possible that, having spent four decades oppressing the people of Libya, the colonel will retain his grip on Tripoli and most of the rest of the country. We should plan for this outcome and ensure our not being dragged in to a brutal civil war. Boris draws our attention to the limitations of flight-exclusion zones :
“They don't, as a rule, lead to régime change on the ground – and yet it would surely be insane, given the state of the public finances, and given our existing military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, for us to open a new front in [North Africa] by sending in ground troops.”
Not only would it be insane, he continues : it would be illegal under the terms of U.N.S.C. resolution 1973 ; and President Obama has ruled out the use of ground forces. Our hope of toppling Col. Gaddafi, therefore, rests upon the effectiveness of the flight-exclusion zone alone.
Even were the rebels to succeed in the conflict, what kind of governance might we expect after decades in which political parties have been banned To take the example of Egypt —
“The Facebook revolutionaries have got rid of Hosni Mubarak, widely seen as the front man for the generals ; and they have installed – er – the generals !”
The two best organized forces in that part of the World are the military and the Islamists ; moreover, elections there have not generally produced outcomes favourable to Western interests.
Boris goes on to plead that we not repeat the mistakes made in Iraq ; that we not gloat over the crushing of Col. Gaddafi’s forces ; that we not offer him or any-one else the opportunity to portray our intervention as a ‘crusade’. Not only was the war in Iraq a disaster for the tens of thousands it has left dead ; it empowered the poisonous rhetoric of Islamists around the globe.
In an ideal World the coalition would consist largely of Arab forces — commanded by a Muslim, not by “some American, his bulging bosom bedecked with medals earned in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
This U.N. mission has the support of the Arab League ; it will retain that support only as long as conducted with due regard to sentiment in the Arab world. If we lose that support, if the Libyan dictator comes to be seen as a martyr to Western aggression, we ought immediately to have the courage to acknowledge that we are making the mistake we made before and it is no longer our business — then to withdraw, inviting the peoples of the Arab world to sort it out for themselves.
Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.