Peter Hitchens contra the West’s insane Libya policy

I have expressed burning indignation and despair over the fact that no mainstream opinion makers have clearly opposed the Libya intervention, as distinct from merely grumbling about it. But Peter Hitchens (if he can be called mainstream) has clearly opposed it. Here is his August 30 column in The Mail:

We’re cheering on a football crowd with AK-47s, who could be worse than Gaddafi

The moment has come to admit that I loathe the Arab Spring and almost everything about it. [LA replies: his phrase, “the moment has come to admit,” makes it sound as though Hitchens has been supporting the Arab spring and Libya action up to this point, and now sees the light. But that’s not so. He saw the light from the start, as seen in his March 20 column, below. It is odd that he makes his position seem weaker and less certain than it really is.]

It looks to me pretty much like a football crowd armed with AK-47s and bazookas, with the added ingredient of Islamic militancy. Why am I expected to like it?

For we are all supposed to approve of it. Every media outlet, every politician, every church pulpit, treats it as an unmixed Good Thing.

Not me. I look at these wild characters in baseball caps and tracksuit bottoms blasting ammunition into the sky (often killing or injuring innocents far away, but they don’t care) and I am mainly thankful that they are a long way off.

I suppose it is possible that this lot will miraculously create a law-governed democracy with freedom of speech and conscience. But I somehow shan’t be surprised if they don’t.

Just because existing regimes are bad, it does not follow that their replacements will be any better. The world has known this since the French Revolution of 1789, when bliss and joy turned to mass murder and dictatorship in a matter of months.

The test of any revolution comes not as the tyrant falls, but two or three years later, when the new rulers have shown us what they are really like. Power can be given (not often) or taken, and shared out in different ways. But it never ceases to exist.

Egypt’s upheaval has already begun to go bad. Libya’s has been plastered with danger signs from the start. The anti-Gaddafi rebels are an incompetent and fractious mess. They have already murdered one of their own leaders.

And—I think it very wrong that this aspect is played down so much—their victory would never have happened without Nato providing them with an air force, as it did for the equally suspect Kosovo Liberation Army in the early days of Blair.

We have given them the military gifts of cool self-discipline, long training and competence which we ought to reserve for ourselves and for protecting our own freedom and independence. If they don’t possess them, I don’t think they deserve to rule a country.

The official pretext, that we are “intervening to protect civilians,” is lying hogwash and should be laughed at every time it is used. In the past few days—according to reliable reports—Libya’s rebels have been guilty of indiscriminate shooting into civilian areas and the brutal and arbitrary arrests of suspected opponents.

It is false to claim, as some instantly will, that by saying this I am defending Colonel Gaddafi. I am not. He is indefensible.

The questions are these: Will what follows be better? Will the burned, bandaged bodies, the crammed morgues and the hospital wards full of stench, screams and groans have been worthwhile? Were we right to take sides?

Here are some problems for the cheerleaders of this event, most of them modern left-liberals. [LA replies: Hitchens seems unaware of the neocons; yes, there are hardly any neocons in Britain, but doesn’t he know about the neocons in the U.S., who have been the strongest advocates of the intervention?] The savage regimes that are now falling are the direct result of the destruction of the empires of Europe. America, which encouraged this, quietly hung on to its own large land empire. So did the USSR.

These campaigners for “colonial freedom” argued—I recall them doing it—that it didn’t matter what sort of regimes arose when independence came. What mattered was that they would be free from us. That “freedom” led directly to Colonel Gaddafi.

True, Europe’s empires were often violent and cruel, though ours was generally better than the others. And they were frequently corrupt, though again ours was cleaner than the others. But their misdeeds were petty set beside those of most of the newly “free” countries of Africa and the Middle East.

Now it is the very same left-liberals who are most set on using bombs and sanctions to overthrow the states they were so keen on. How strange that, more than half a century after the Suez bungle finished us as a Mediterranean power, British military force is now in action again in North Africa, bolstering a farcical yet sinister army in pick-up trucks whose aims we don’t even know.

That was Hitchens’s August 30 column.

Here is his March 20 column, in which, in no uncertain terms, he opposed the Libya intervention:

Why can’t we just let the Libyans fight it out ( … and then make friends with the winners)

Politics seems to have become a sort of mental illness. We have no bloody business in Libya, and no idea what we hope to achieve there.

We are daily told that we have no money to spare. We have just scrapped a large part of our Navy.

Our Army is stuck in an Afghan war whose point nobody can explain. And now we have set out on a course that could drag us into a long, gory brawl in North Africa.

And yet, when the Prime Minister announces this folly he is praised. Why? Partly it is because we all watch too much TV. Its reports simplify, then exaggerate.

Reporters, much like politicians, like to feel they are helping to make history, and get excited by subjects they knew nothing about until last Wednesday.

Before we know where we are, we are taking sides in quarrels we don’t understand. Who are the Libyan rebels? What do they want? Why do we love them so?

I’ve no idea, and nor has Mr Cameron, as we discovered when he (yes, it was him, not poor William Hague) sent the SAS to see them and they were welcomed with pitchforks and mockery.

The only sensible policy in Libya is to wait and see who wins, and then make friends with them. If you think this heartless, you are of course right. Foreign policy is heartless. Nice countries end up being conquered or going bankrupt. But it may be no more heartless than our kindly interference.

I pray that this episode ends quickly and cleanly. Perhaps it will. But we cannot know.

What if our humanitarian bombs and missiles accidentally kill women and children (which is almost certain)? What if air attacks and distant shelling fail to stop Gaddafi’s forces? Will we then send in troops? Who knows? I don’t. The Prime Minister doesn’t.

Some of the longest wars in history started with small-scale intervention, for a purpose that looked good and achievable, and ended up ruining millions of lives. The Soviet takeover of Afghanistan in 1979 ended with countless innocents driven into refugee camps, and the collapse of the Soviet state itself. It also left Afghanistan as a worse snake pit than before.

Why are we suddenly so worried about Muammar Gaddafi?

It’s fashionable just now to get very hoity-toity about him. But until recently many of the war enthusiasts were rather keen on him, for supposedly heeding the fate of Saddam and changing his behaviour. Liberal idealists might also consider that Gaddafi is one of the heroes of their hero Nelson Mandela (there is film on YouTube of a touching embrace between these two).

There’s no principle at stake here, or we would be bombing Bahrain too, and demanding the withdrawal of the Saudi troops who arrived there in such sinister fashion last Monday. But Bahrain’s the base of the U.S. 5th Fleet, so we won’t be doing that. And as I’ve said here before, this supposed objection to rulers killing their own people is not consistent. Sometimes—as in China, Bahrain and Syria—we’re happy to let them do it.

So why are we rattling the drums of war and fuelling up for a fight in a place where our national interests would be best served by staying out?

If the Arab League members want to intervene, they’ve got plenty of weapons not currently being used to attack Israel. I can only conclude that our Government is historically ignorant, politically dim, immune to good advice and swollen with personal vanity.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 01, 2011 10:41 AM | Send

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