by Thomas Walkom
We didn’t need the reminder but we got it anyway. A British parliamentary committee has told the world just how ill-advised was the 2011 war against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
And by implication, it has reminded us – or at least it should remind us – how dangerous it is to meddle militarily in other people’s business.
The Libyan war is now recognized as a classic case of blowback. By removing Gadhafi, the 19-member NATO-led coalition left Libya in chaos. The country is now a failed state riven by tribal and regional rivalries. It has no functioning central government.
The Islamic terror group known as Daesh, or ISIS, now operates in Libya.
The country is also an unregulated launch point for refugees and migrants trying to make their way across the Mediterranean to Europe. Since 2011, it has been in a state of constant civil war.
Yet five years ago, the Libyan adventure was viewed as a good war – one that not only prevented a brutal dictator from massacring his own people but gave those same people democracy.
Stephen Harper, who was prime minister at the time, said participation in the war was a “moral
The report, released Wednesday by the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, details how fraudulent this moral argument was.
It points out that, in spite of his often blood-curdling rhetoric, Gadhafi had no history of massacring his own people – that, when faced with rebellions, such as the one that challenged his regime in 2011, his style was to put them down in a manner that didn’t create too many new enemies.
It notes that an Amnesty International report at the time found no evidence of massive human rights violations by the regime.
Amnesty did, however, find evidence of rebels making false human rights complaints.
Why then did countries like France, Canada, the U.S and Britain go to war against Libya? Citing recently released U.S. State Department emails, the Commons report singles out then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
France, it seems, wanted a bigger share of Libyan oil production. It wanted to reassert its authority in North Africa and give its military an opportunity to shine. And with a presidential election in the offing, Sarkozy wanted a popular little war that would improve his political chances.
British prime minister David Cameron was happy to join in, the report says, even though his government had little information about the rebels it had decided to help.
In particular, it underestimated how many Islamic radicals were in the anti-Gadhafi camp.
And it had no objection when the aim of the mission shifted from simply setting up a no-fly zone that would protect civilians to out-and-out regime change.
This particular report focuses on the feckless Cameron. But Canadian politicians didn’t do much better.
The same lazy stereotypes were at play: Because Gadhafi was a villain, his opponents were assumed to be virtuous.
As the Ottawa Citizen later reported, Harper’s government did have an intelligence assessment in hand warning of protracted civil war if Gadhafi were removed.
But the prime minister was keen to remove him anyway. After committing warplanes to the mission
(Canada was one of the first to do so), Harper told reporters that regime change was the goal.
“It’s probably more understood than spoken aloud,” he noted, “but I just said it aloud.”
That admission didn’t seem to bother the opposition parties. Two days later, the Commons voted
unanimously to support Canada’s participation in the air war.
A few days after that, the country was plunged into an election campaign – one in which all parties had made sure their patriotic bona fides couldn’t be questioned.
The Liberals continued their support throughout the seven-month bombing campaign.
The New Democrats withdrew theirs a month before the end, arguing that, with Gadhafi on the run, the war was no longer necessary.
Five years later, Western soldiers are doing what the politicians promised they would never do – fighting on the ground in Libya.
The parliamentary report notes that British special forces are on the front lines there, fighting Daesh.
The report also notes that French special forces are aiding Libyan militias hostile to the would-be central government favoured by the United Nations.
From time to time, America sends in bombers.
U.S. President Barack Obama once famously called the Libyan war “a shit show.”
The show, it seems, goes on.
Thomas Walkom’s column appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services