Thursday, March 31, 2011 

Damocles revisited.

This apparently isn't an early April Fools:

Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials.


“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”

These would be the same rebels that we're getting ready to supply better weapons to. Then again, maybe there's a brutal logic here somewhere: we give them guns, we bomb them, then we give them some more to replace the ones we've destroyed. Those arms firms Cameron was fluffing for the other week should be happy.

Oh, and now even the rebels are conceding it's going to take "months" to overthrow Gaddafi. It's getting grimmer up north Benghazi.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011 

On arguing for war.

It's sad to note that unless I've missed it (one honourable exception is this piece by Sean Matgamna on Shiraz, rather different to the usual posts there on the Guardian's soft Stalinism and how anyone sceptical about the intervention in Libya is a scab) there hasn't really been a substantial debate even within the left in this country over our in action in Libya, not helped by the leadership of all three main political parties supporting it without equivocation.

While I wouldn't go so far as saying the opposite has been the case in the States, there certainly has been far more disquiet, with Juan Cole attempting to answer some of it in this open letter posted at the weekend. It doesn't answer convincingly those of us who have argued that the main lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan haven't been learned, i.e. that we need to know who we're intervening on the behalf of, we need a plan to either already be in place or to quickly emerge for what comes afterwards, and also that we have to be certain that we're not setting the bar too low for future possible interventions. One further thing is that it's already looking as if we're treating UNSC resolution 1973 as justifying whatever we say it does, with Clinton and Hague deciding that an almost explicit prohibition on arming either side in Libya means we can in fact give weapons to the rebels, which bodes ill for the similar ban on sending in ground forces, even if arming the rebels would be a positive thing.

The responses to Cole's piece, this one especially, have been excellent. Glenn Greenwald has gone one further though, and dragged out a past statement from Cole with which to challenge him:

If you are arguing for war, you don't have to ask all these fancy questions. There are really only two questions you have to answer. The first is, would you yourself be willing to die fighting for this cause you have espoused? The second is, would you be willing to see your 18-year-old son or daughter killed for this cause? (I do not ask if you would be glad or satisfied; I ask if you would be willing).

As it is, I don't really agree with the premise: you don't need to be personally prepared to fight in a war in order to advocate one; you should however be absolutely certain that there is no other option before you do so, which in the case of Libya in my view was not satisfied. Cole nonetheless has answered Greenwald's question in the affirmative. Perhaps it isn't too late to form a 21st century International Brigades after all.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011 

The pressure increases.

If there's something ever so slightly imperialistic about holding a summit to decide the immediate future of a country which for now at least has a regime stubbornly refusing to budge, then the assembled great and not so good gathered in London today didn't let it faze them. After all, they didn't actually invite the interim national council to take part, although representatives were certainly hanging around on the periphery, and giving interviews afterwards. Not even our leaders, with the exception of the French, could be that obvious. And indeed, not even our policies are so made up on the basis of the apparent immediate facts on that ground. It's only now, and we've Hillary Clinton's word for it, that we're getting to know the rebels, something thoroughly reassuring considering we've now been spending what is fast approaching 2 weeks clearing the way for them to grab as much Libyan territory as they can.

In fairness to the rebels, they've also started to get their act together. They've issued a not in the slightest bit suspicious vision for what Libya under them will look like, a document clearly not drafted by anyone other than themselves. Suffice to say that should history turn in their favour and they stick to their 8-point plan, plenty of us here in Britain would look in envy at a country with a written constitution, effective economic institutions dedicated to eradicating poverty and unemployment, and a firm rule of law. If you're now reaching for such epithets and terms as jackanory or "and the three bears", then clearly you're just as cynical as I am and should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. The only real pointer to the internal politics of the region and the potential strains on democracy is point 6, with the state drawing strength from "strong religious beliefs" and d of 7, which emphasises the sanctity of religious doctrine.

Where they sadly still look as about as convincing as Ed Miliband on an anti-cuts demonstration is militarily, with Gaddafi's forces tonight having driven them back from the towns they seized at the weekend. It's all well and good issuing rousing and inspiring documents on how Libya will be transformed once the revolution is completed when you're once again on the march; when you're left scattering backwards in panic as the fighters you've continuously predicted will eventually turn against their leader continue to confound those expectations it starts to look thoroughly embarrassing for all concerned.

This of course isn't necessarily a bad thing for the coalition, as it means that once again Gaddafi's artillery and tanks can be picked off from the air without anyone suggesting that resolution 1973's remit is being exceeded now that the rebels are reaching towns and cities that have steadfastly refused to join the rising. It also helps to encourage the decidedly minority opinion that the resolution can be used to arm the rebels, as Clinton suggested would now be actively looked into. For those of us who suggested this was a possible alternative to an intervention, obvious problems as it carries with it considered, it's hardly clear that better arming the rebels would in fact break a potential stalemate: what they desperately need are disciplined, trained and well organised men, with improved weaponry coming firmly second. Having given the impression that they could handle things on their own as long as they were given the necessary air support, bravado and revolutionary enthusiasm taken into account, we now ought to be incredibly careful in just handing over equipment which has every potential to ultimately fall into the wrong hands or even be used in settling scores in the nightmare scenario of the country falling into an Iraq-style state of instability once the dictator's reign crumbles.

Recognise as we must that the intervention stopped a potential bloodbath in Benghazi, the plan as much as there is one, even after today's summit, is that Gaddafi can be persuaded to leave. This seems a forlorn hope when it's apparent that things will have to get much worse for him before exile begins to look appealing, and with the rebels so easily driven back from his hometown of Sirte, where an uprising could persuade him that the revolution cannot be stopped, there is little danger of a mission helmed by Italy or Qatar convincing him to go. Just as there is currently widespread Arab support for the intervention, and as much as our leaders keep insisting that the use of ground forces is not so much as being considered, it remains to be seen whether those who argued for a war on the grounds of protecting civilians are prepared to let someone who has so openly defied their demands to go remain in power. It's still impossible to predict if the entire enterprise will ultimately collapse under the myriad of contradictions that have been inherent in it from the beginning, but the longer Gaddafi stays the more the pressure will increase.

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Monday, March 28, 2011 

Better the black bloc than the pretensions of UK Uncut.

I wasn't on the march on Saturday. Not because I necessarily had anything better to do, more for the reason that I couldn't really see what it would achieve or end up representing. For me at least, there's a key difference between demonstrating against something which is definitively going to happen or is already happening, as opposed to protesting against a war which could either be stopped or brought to a close sooner through mass public dissent. There's also the difficulty in that when protesting against the cuts, it's by no means clear what you want to happen instead: marching under the banner of an alternative when it's incredibly hard to articulate what that is through a traditional demonstration does present an potential open goal for the naysayers, fellow travellers and those supposedly on the left that seem to genuinely hate the working class, i.e. many of those on the Blairite wing of what was once New Labour.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not belittling those who went on the march in any way. I just found it especially strange that what went relatively unmentioned, and forgive me if this was mentioned at the rally, which I'll come to, was that some of those marching were the exact same people who are in fact implementing the cuts, the councillors finding themselves in the difficult position of having to do Whitehall's bidding. Paulinlincs for one has argued convincingly that Labour cuts are better than Tory cuts, but all the same there's been little overall resistance politically from those in a position to refuse. Also bewildering is that there's been very little notice paid to how the some of the cuts could have realistically been tempered: through raising council tax, which the government has naturally ensured has either been frozen or has in some areas fell.

This said, it's hard to disagree with Lenin when he states that the main march was one of those increasingly rare occasions when organised labour came together in an significant show of strength. If you really want to give any credence whatsoever to government sloganising, then here was the big society, the alarm clock Britain Clegg desperately wants to be on the side on, and far more pertinently, here were the people whom keep this country functioning, very often for low pay and next to no recognition. Forget about Ed Miliband's still laughably broad squeezed middle, this was working class Britain saying that those who caused the crash should be the ones shouldering the vast majority of the burden of clearing up the mess. Instead the very poorest will end up losing more as a proportion of income than the very richest. That is nothing less than an outrage, and something that anyone opposing the government's cuts should never let them forget.

The worst part of any march, regardless of the cause, is the end or beginning rally. Difficult as it is to dispense with it entirely, there is little that is more interminable than hearing talking head after talking head either say exactly the same thing slightly differently, or conversely for the resident loon to pop up and dispiritingly get the largest cheer of the afternoon, a role reserved for Galloway on any anti-war march. On Saturday you had the two extremes: Ed Miliband reaching for high rhetoric and aiming to inspire, and who instead ended up looking like a complete tool, especially disappointing as he's been much improved in recent weeks, and Mark Serwotka, an indefatigable union leader but someone playing straight into the hands of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with his no cuts whatsoever platform.

You can hardly blame people then for deciding to do things other than opt to listen to such flannel; you can however place some of the blame for mixed messages which ended up on the front pages on Sunday on UK Uncut, and not just on the black bloc. There's always the danger when protesting of coming across as sanctimonious, patronising and just plain wrong, and UK Uncut fit the bill in so many ways that it's difficult to count. Direct action and civil disobedience will have always have a role to play in protest; getting a criminal record however for aggravated trespass for occupying Fortnum and Mason, as many seem likely to, will rank up there as probably the most stupid misstep of the entire anti-cuts movement. Every single occasion on which a representative, or at least someone who's taken part in the protests has appeared on television, such as on Newsnight tonight, they've come across as the kind of pretentious, self-satisfied, smug and thoroughly gittish middle-class wankers you would normally cross the street to avoid, repeatedly refusing to answer a straight question and taking no responsibility whatsoever for what some might do under their banner. Only with the advent of Twatter could so many utter cunts make common cause. Almost needless to say, F&M's connection with tax avoidance is minute, and they're left to make a weak argument on the basis of who they're catering for as justification.

The black bloc at least has no such pretensions. As facile and self-defeating as smashing up a branch of a bank that we either wholly or partially own is, it sends the message that someone ultimately will pay. Attacking the Ritz, owned by the Barclay brothers, who live in tax exile and subsidise a newspaper that delights in the cuts while caring only about the "coping classes", makes far more sense than the ultimately pointless action of occupying an upmarket deli store. Understandable as the anger from some of those marching was at how others had "hijacked" their march, it was almost certain to be the case: almost no recent protest in London, either anti-war or anti-cuts has been completely non-violent; there have always been hot-heads as Sunny says, yet this was something different on Saturday. The media outlets (nearly all of them) looking to present a different image to these worthy, ordinary people marching against a government committed to the harshest cuts in living memory would have found it somewhere. No one should be surprised that this is motivating some to attack those they consider to be the representation of just how we aren't all in this together. We can't pretend that those who posed as anarchists on Saturday were indicative of the discontented youth of 2011, or those who raged against tuition fees previously, yet some of them certainly were, and they carry with them the inchoate fury of a generation that fears it is being abandoned just as others were before them.

The anti-cuts movement will easily survive such associations, although where it goes from here is far more difficult to predict. Whether those who marched are prepared to strike or support those who do is debatable, the only means through which the cuts can now realistically be challenged. Marching for an alternative is one thing; coalescing around one, as yet undecided and then fighting for its implementation is another entirely. By the time that's happened it might already be too late, if it isn't already.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011 

Deep inside.

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Friday, March 25, 2011 

Should the Foreign Office send for Paddy?

Jesus fucking Christ no.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011 

From cock of the walk to two-push Charlie.

For those of us who still remain unconvinced about the intervention in Libya, it's difficult to know exactly how strongly to put our arguments against. As Juan Cole sets out point by point, it's impossible to deny that the no-fly zone hasn't by some obvious measures been a success: while too much emphasis has been put on Gaddafi's chilling warning that there would be no pity for the inhabitants of Benghazi and his forces would go from door to door in tracking down those that had risen against him, the potential for bloodshed in the city was nonetheless huge. That the home of the revolution has been protected from such a fate is undoubtedly welcome.

The key problems and reasons for caution however remain. The bombing of the last few days, targeted against the tanks and artillery subjecting the cities of Misrata and Ajdabiya to shelling has relieved the horrific conditions under which the remaining civilians have been living, although it remains to be seen whether or not the rebel forces, whom have claimed to be waiting in the wings to retake the cities once the armour of the regime has been destroyed can actually do so. It's also only now becoming apparent just how much exaggeration there was both from and on the behalf of the rebels when it came to their military strength and their ultimate fighting capab
ility: while there are hundreds of volunteers and enthusiasts willing to fight Gaddafi, with sadly predictable results, the newly appointed finance minister of the transitional council has admitted that there are only around 1,000 trained men under their command.

Such numbers certainly all but rule out even in the event of Misrata and Ajdabiya falling to the rebels any sort of quick advance towards the west and Tripoli, something that three weeks ago looked just a matter of time. The inadequacies of the rebel forces have also became apparent to those looking at what a possible endgame might be: Fareed Zakaria in Time advocates the circumvention of the arms embargo put in place by the UN resolution, although it's dubious whether even with better equipment and weaponry the rebels could quickly defeat a regime which for now looks reasonably secure when what they're lacking the most is properly trained fighters. The sanctions put in place also seem to have been hastily drafted, imposing what amounts to a complete embargo on the sale of oil, hitting the rebels as much as the Gaddafi regime. As they have far less in the way of reserves to fall back on, and Gaddafi continues to withhold electricity from Misrata, the situation without relief will quickly become desperate.

It speaks volumes that it's taken almost a week for the coalition to even agree that NATO will be essentially in control of the entire mission, something so elementary being fought over with walkouts and spats. Sarkozy's vanity seems to know absolutely no bounds, France seemingly determined to take all of the dubious credit for the UN authorised measure. Such distractions have meant there has been next to no discussion of exactly where the intervention is heading, which continues to look like extended stalemate. With the obvious targets already destroyed and the no-fly zone effectively imposed, even if we were made to look stupid by claiming that the Libyan air force had been put out of action, only for the French to then attack a plane after it had landed, it's clear that the next step should be negotiations, coupled with pressure on Gaddafi to go quietly. These are almost certainly impossible while both sides harbour ambitions of pushing forward, hence international mediation is urgently required.

Having called on Gaddafi to go, there's all the more reason for him to be determined to stay. And why shouldn't he? Despite Juan Cole's optimism, Gaddafi has the model of Saddam Hussein to follow: even under oil sanctions he spent 12 long years in power while his people suffered an unprecedented drop in living standards, only for the Western "liberation" to then condemn the country to a civil war of such barbarity that it made sections of Saddam's reign look benign by comparison. Protecting civilians from imminent attack is one thing; providing never-ending oversight in something else entirely. Are we prepared to accept the potential partition of the country as an acceptable outcome, having demanded Gaddafi leave immediately? It certainly doesn't look like it at the minute. In that case, just what are we potentially going to do to force the issue, when the UN resolution explicitly forbids any kind of occupation? These are just two questions which we aren't even beginning to get answers to. Only for so long can we hope that the situation on the ground changes, having completely disregarded the lessons of the two previous wars of the last decade, before we start to look like the Two-Push Charlie of Flying Rodent's savage depiction.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011 

The con is on.

There are some budgets where you wish the chancellor hadn't bothered. There have been some when the chancellor needn't of bothered. Then there's today's, where George Osborne really shouldn't have bothered.

This isn't to imply that today's budget hasn't done some remarkable things. Indeed, if anything, there hasn't been quite enough recognition of the shock medicine Osborne has just administered to the British economy, or of just where he's got his ideas from. Straight out of the Thatcher era was the anticipated announcement of Enterprise Zones, which may one day provide the model for the entire country, as Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute would like. New businesses set up in the zones, 10 of which have been located and 11 more are still to be decided upon, will pay no rates whatsoever over a five year period up to the value of £275,000, while the planning laws will be watered down to the point at which it seems as if any construction which isn't completely outlandish or ridiculous will be waived through.

Taking into account that elsewhere in the budget, in one of those classic contradictions that only the most oleaginous politicians can get away with, Osborne made clear that even while giving "local communities a greater say in planning" he expected the default answer to development to be yes, the prospect for even more ill-considered and life-sucking out-of-town box industrial estates and business parks is massive. For all Osborne's repeated mocking of Gordon Brown's failure to end boom and bust, nothing is more likely to come to symbolise the unsustainable splurge for growth of any sort such zones will deliver. Even if they provide a short-term boost to areas of the country hit especially hard by the recession, there's no guarantee whatsoever that the jobs and businesses will stay once the incentives to be there come to an end, as they must. It's instructive that of the Enterprise Zones from the 80s, the only one considered a true success was the one set-up in London on the Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf now towering over the surrounding area.

Just as clear is whom Osborne is really relying on to drive growth, and it isn't the entrepreneurs and small and medium sized businesses he hopes will take most advantage of the Enterprise Zones. The faster than expected cuts to corporation tax, coupled with the less well noticed plans for an effective rate of 5.75% "on profits derived from overseas group financing arrangements" and the abolition of the 50p top rate of tax on earnings over £150,000 as soon as Osborne can get away it will deliver what Chris Sanger, the global head of tax policy at Ernst and Young said was "getting close to the ideal", i.e. one in which big business hands over the minimum in revenue it can get away with to the exchequer while taking the largest possible rewards for themselves. This is trickle down economics in its most virulent and ugly form, the government hoping against hope that no one will see them pursuing exactly the same policy as New Labour did and which put us in this mess in the first place.

For there was almost no mention whatsoever in Osborne's hour long dirge of the banking crisis, referring to it only once in the entire speech. Like Bob Diamond suggested, the time for apologies and retribution is clearly over. Then again, there were so many other things which were better left unmentioned: like the austerity which is just about to hit in earnest and which formed the backdrop but which wasn't up for discussion as no more was asked for today. Unemployment too somehow only crossed the chancellor's lips twice: once to claim that it would peak this year, something undermined afterwards when the red book showed that the government expects the claimant count to be higher than previously thought, and then much later when announcing the expansion of apprenticeships. As welcome as those extra places will be, they are no replacement for the abolished Future Jobs Fund, one of the coalition's first acts of vandalism.

The real chutzpah in fact came right at the very beginning, as he promised to help families with the cost of living. The raising of the personal tax allowance to £8,015 helps those on low incomes the least, and the average saving of £45 is frankly pitiful, while the maximum amount it will hand back will be £120. Even then this will be grasped back by indexing allowances with the consumer prices rather than the retail prices index. The same sleight of hand is in evidence on the 1p reduction in fuel duty, the "unexpected" announcement trick which Gordon Brown so often resorted to in his budgets which were heavy on the micro while being light on the macro. The Sun will doubtless be delighted with Osborne going further that it demanded in this morning's editorial, yet when the rise in VAT had already put 3p on a litre of petrol at the beginning of the year it's hardly the most generous of giveaways. If anything, it's the opposite: to pay for it and the "fair fuel stabiliser" (an appropriate acronym) Osborne decided to raid the North Sea oil companies, with there being no guarantee whatsoever that the cost of the windfall tax won't be passed on to the consumer, regardless of Danny Alexander describing the prospect as "nonsense" later.

The massive gamble then is still on, with Osborne continuing to raise the stakes. Faced with higher inflation, lower growth and higher unemployment than he had previously pencilled in, all the chips are being placed on the private sector taking advantage of his schemes for growth. It would be incredible if they didn't, considering what he's throwing their way: whether it will be enough is something else entirely. As for the long term consequences, one can only guess at what the tearing up of regulations and planning restrictions will wreak. No really George, you shouldn't have.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011 

The tiger who came to tea.

One question that remains completely unanswered and which shamefully hasn't even really been posed in just what exactly it was that first motivated David Cameron to begin pushing for a no-fly zone over Libya. As elegant while at the same time unconvincing as his claim is that not intervening would have once again left a failed pariah state off the coast of Europe with all the problems that would have entailed, that doesn't begin to explain just why he was one of the first to look at a no-fly zone.

Certainly, he has never presented himself as anything other than a pragmatic realist on foreign policy, while before becoming prime minister his most notable statement on the liberal interventionist ideal was that "we cannot drop democracy from 10,000 feet", and to include a part of the quote which is often cut off, "and we shouldn't try". At the same time though he's surrounded himself with cabinet allies whom are either stridently neo-conservative in their outlook - Michael Gove and Liam Fox - or are at least sympathetically inclined - George Osborne and William Hague. No one is suggesting however that it was any of these figures that lent upon on Cameron to support the no-fly zone.

The best attempt at an explanation put forward so far is easily that of Paulinlincs, who invokes Jim Bullpitt and the concept of high politics, and then adds a class based analysis on top of it. He posits that this is precisely the sort of crisis that past practitioners of Tory high politics found themselves most at ease with, and which helpfully distracts from precisely the increasing economic problems and reversals likely to be forthcoming on the reform front.

There are certainly problems with this analysis, not least that it also seems to be consuming the majority of the Labour front bench, who can't all be tarred with the same upper-class political leader brush. It does however help to understand just why while we're bombing the army of one democracy denying tyrant, we're strangely inviting round the foreign minister of one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet and treating him to a cosy chat with tea and biscuits.

Just like many, including myself, found it rather perplexing that Cameron and friends thought it was a spiffing idea to go on a tour of autocratic Gulf states last month with a bunch of arms dealers in tow just as those we're now were protecting in Libya were rising up against their leaders, so it seems strange that as we're defending the Libyan intifada from the air round comes Prince Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, representative of the nation that just helped put down the incipient Bahrain uprising. Faisal, lest we forget, also said just a couple of weeks ago referring to potential disturbances in his own country that they "would cut off any finger" raised against the regime, presumably to make a change from taking the whole hand. It's difficult not to envisage a literal recreation of the famous Low cartoon following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, with Cameron saying "the butcher of Bahrain, I believe?" with Faisal responding "the angel of Benghazi, I presume?"

The reality is that Cameron sees no contradiction between selling weapons to regimes which are only ever going to use them against their own people and using deadly force to stop a potential massacre while our main ally in the region actively helps to squash a related revolution. It isn't because of our interests in not riling the Saudis just as the oil price continues to rise, although that's a factor. It's instead due to how he actively genuflects towards just such dynastic, hereditary rulers, just as he does towards the monarchy in this country. This isn't realpolitik; it's something far more base. How else could both he and Hague with a straight face say that they wanted to work with Saudi Arabia to "promote sensible dialogue" in the region if they didn't genuinely believe it?

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Monday, March 21, 2011 

A fait accompli.

Being asked to vote on whether you approve of a war which has already begun and which is clearly going to continue regardless of your view shouldn't normally lead to such a carefully considered, calm and quietly nervous debate as that which was heard in the Commons today. Considering the precedent set by Tony Blair over Iraq, parliament ought to have met as soon as it was clear that we were going to be taking part in the military action in Libya for a proper debate and vote on the issue. Regardless of the difficulties involve, an emergency sitting could have been called for Saturday, as Edward Leigh for one argued.

The only reason why the failure to do so didn't result in more anger and criticism towards the government was, it has be said, down to David Cameron's consensual approach to the debate. Tony Blair may have given commanding performances when making the case for the war in Iraq, at least according to those predisposed to the conflict at the time, but he never gave way or took on board the views of veteran left-wingers like Dennis Skinner or Jeremy Corbyn as Cameron did today. Not of all his interventions or responses to those urging caution were convincing; the right tone was however mostly struck.

Certainly not reflected in the overwhelming 557-13 vote in the government's favour was the disquiet and unease voiced repeatedly in the chamber, only the committed liberal interventionists and sycophants being emphatic in their support. As patient and dignified as Cameron was in making the case for the intervention, the same cannot be said about the quickly growing disconnect between the military and the government over whether Gaddafi can be personally targeted or not. Reflecting the situation prior to the Iraq war, when the army demanded to know that war was legal, Cameron and others appear to be taking the UN resolution's allowance for "all necessary means" to be taken to protect civilians to mean he is a permissible target, something the chief of the defence staff completely dismissed. This was further underlined by the Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt tonight, who quoted the resolution back at Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight when asked directly on whether a new "decapitation strategy" was in the offing.

Assassinating world leaders, regardless of their pariah status, is not something other countries including some of those ostensibly supporting the intervention in Libya are going to quickly countenance. Nor is it even close to being authorised in the UN resolution unless you take the vague all necessary means to imply that you can do almost anything you feel like to stop civilians being threatened. It does however epitomise the cavalier attitude that's already been taken by the increasingly tenuous coalition in introducing and then enforcing the no-fly zone. Also clear from the very beginning was that the UN resolution does not authorise the planes monitoring Libyan airspace to act as the rebels' ersatz softening-up service, although again, this seems to be the way things will go.

The incredibly hasty way in which the operation was thrown together and the main role of the government in arguing for it only increases the risk that we'll soon be the ones carrying the overwhelming burden of permanent overwatch. Already Obama has made it apparent that the deal involved the cruise missile strikes launched on Saturday and little US involvement afterwards, with NATO taking over. While the likes of Norway, Denmark and Spain have all said they'll provide planes, the potential for this to be a long, unending mission could well quickly result in it just being ourselves and the French continuing to fly sorties.

And there are almost immediately, whisper it, murmurings about whether ground forces, also explicitly forbidden by the current UN resolution might at some point be needed. This is after all the contradiction which Obama claimed isn't there: that the policy of the West is that Gadaffi must go while the resolution only calls for a ceasefire. Possible as it is that his regime might crumble should the bombing continue to take a toll on his defences, it's also becoming apparent that the rebel forces' gaining of ground during the first stages of the revolution was more down to surprise and shock than military victory. As brave as their fighting has been, without strikes directly against Gaddafi's ground forces it remains doubtful that they could win in even this far from straight fight.

What it all comes back to is what many MPs quietly asked about: never mind the absence of any sort of plan, what about the "endgame"? We want Gaddafi gone, but how are we going to achieve it within the confines of the resolution? The answer that we're only going to uphold it clearly isn't good enough when it's so staggeringly obvious that we've already gone beyond its parameters. We barely know who the rebels are, yet we're apparently dedicated to putting them in at least temporary power. We might have stopped a massacre and be protecting civilians, but at what eventual cost? We've committed ourselves to an open-ended war without being certain of what success will look like, impossible as it was always going to be to bring Gaddafi down through the simple enforcement of the no-fly zone. The criticism and concern might for now remain hushed, but if the current situation continues the volume needs to be raised, and quickly.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011 

Ego / Mirror.

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Friday, March 18, 2011 

A giant leap into the dark part 2.

It turns out then that Gaddafi isn't a lunatic, as very very few leaders who've managed to hang on to power for 40 years are. Deluded and with a shaky grip on reality certainly, but not mad. Declaring an immediate ceasefire is in fact an incredibly shrewd move, and straight out of the Saddam Hussein authored playing for time book of frustrating and dividing an otherwise fairly united international community. At the moment it isn't clear whether or not the ceasefire is being observed, as there are reports of Gaddafi's forces still moving towards Benghazi, perhaps looking to gain as much ground as possible before the no fly zone is implemented. It seems doubtful however that having announced a ceasefire the regime would immediately tempt an overwhelming military response.

Quite what Obama is doing putting doing a series of "non-negotiable terms" which goes well beyond what was agreed in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is anyone's guess. All it demands is that an immediate ceasefire is put in place; it certainly doesn't call for Gaddafi's forces to withdraw from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiya. If it's an attempt to carve out some more territory for a potential state which could at some point secede, then the National Transitional Council certainly hasn't been informed: they understandably want to go on fighting. That in itself poses a problem for us, in that the UN resolution doesn't distinguish between the two sides in demanding the ceasefire. Indeed, potentially the resolution could be used against the rebels, if they then themselves go on the offensive and begin wide-scale attacks that threaten civilians.

As Craig Murray sets out and Obama recognised, the resolution also doesn't even begin to authorise us intervening to help the rebels overthrow Gaddafi. This is despite our glorious leaders repeatedly calling for him to go, and could well end up leaving us in a similar position to that in Iraq in 1991. Neither side at the moment seems likely to be willing to negotiate, and it's also apparent that Gaddafi has the cards firmly stacked in his favour. He controls the oil ports and the majority of the country, with the rebels hanging on to the east for dear life. Whether a state made up just of the territory the rebels hold would be viable is dubious; instead, we could well find ourselves protecting an autonomous but not independent statelet, bearing more than a resemblance to the Kurdish north of Iraq prior to 2003, indefinitely providing an overwatch capability.

All this just goes to show that however good the intentions behind an intervention are, from the moment we involve ourselves military we effectively take ownership of the situation. It's incredibly weak for David Cameron to state that it was "not in our national interest for this man to lead a pariah state on the southern banks of Europe with all the problems that that could entail" when that was exactly what the situation was until we ourselves helped to bring Gaddafi in from the cold, and it's also asking for trouble when he says unequivocally that we will at no point bring in ground forces or stage an occupation. It's fast approaching 10 years since we went into Afghanistan, with no plan whatsoever for what would come after we helped overthrow the Taliban. Having broken a state, we've had to attempt to rebuild it. History doesn't repeat, despite Marx's pithy formulation: we just never seem to learn the necessary lessons.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011 

A giant leap into the dark.

(This is long, even by my standards. Just a warning.)

It's difficult not to be a little staggered, not just by the speed with which policy on Libya has been turned on its head in the course of a month, but also by just how completely credulous everyone has been about the forces and especially the leaders behind the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi. What began, like in Tunisia and Egypt as leaderless, classless uprising against a loathed regime has since then been changed by necessity into something quite different: an uprising spearheaded by two former senior officials in the government, neither of whom should normally be trusted as far as they can be thrown. As incredible it seems, it was less than two weeks ago that we were so cautious about the likes of Mustafa Abdul Jalil and Abdul Fatah Younis that we were sending in spooks masquerading as diplomats protected by the SAS in a bid to make first contact proper with them. Now we've agreed to intervene militarily on their side. If this worries our political leaders, then they haven't shown any sign of it.

If anything, the opposite seems to be the case. Ever since David Cameron started agitating for a no-fly zone two weeks ago, not a moment of self doubt seems to have crept into any of the statements made by ministers. Leaving most of the arguments to the usual arm-chair interventionists, the same ones incidentally that assured us that Iraq would be a cakewalk and that we'd be welcomed in Baghdad with flowers, there's been next to no real discussion of what exactly our involvement in what is now war against Gaddafi means. Along with France we've in actual fact been the key Western belligerents, and as such it seems we'll be expected to take up most of the slack of enforcing the no-fly zone and presumably also the necessary bombing against first Gaddafi's anti-air resources and then potentially any targets the National Transitional Council wants either taken out or softening up ahead of advances by their ground forces.

As much as this will be compared against the Iraq war, some of the key differences are just as stark. No one can argue that the Iraq war was unexpected, or that there wasn't sufficient debate about our involvement before parliament voted for it. This time round, as alluded to above, the debate has been next to non-existent outside of blogs and the former broadsheets, and the only real discussion in parliament was on Tuesday during Foreign Office questions. The one legacy of the Iraq war in parliamentary terms was that it was meant to have set the precedent for there being a vote in the Commons before military action was sanctioned, the prime minister having previously been able to declare war under royal prerogative. Gordon Brown signalled his intention to give this up in his first Commons address as prime minister, a reform which like much of Brown's agenda when he ascended to PM fell by the wayside. Unless an emergency debate is called for tomorrow, many MPs having already returned to their constituencies for the weekend, then it seems highly doubtful there'll be a vote before some sort of military action begins.

Not that this will bother those who from the start have couched their arguments for intervention almost entirely in moral terms, not worrying much if at all about the logistics or financial pressures involved, the precedents set or about what comes next if the no-fly zone and air strikes against Gaddafi's forces don't set off a second round of defections and quick reversal in fortune for those leading the uprising. The resolution passed tonight by the UN Security Council contains the traditional euphemism used by organisation for war, "all necessary means", the only exception being that for now it doesn't authorise the use of ground forces. This leaves wide open the potential for a strike to be made against Gaddafi himself, as some within the NTC themselves have been advocating. As distasteful (and potentially illegal) as assassinating a foreign head of state is, this could be the best possible outcome. With Gaddafi gone, it seems unlikely that the remnants of the regime would put up much of a fight, and a settlement could well be reached.

The government should however and hopefully has been preparing for the worst possible outcome. Excepting overwhelming air strikes against Benghazi before the no-fly zone can be put in place, we could well be looking at a stalemate in which neither side is prepared to back down or negotiate, leading to a prolonged conflict where the NTC increasingly expects and demands our active assistance in attacking Gaddafi's forces. Unless we manage to effectively close off Libya to the outside world, Gaddafi is in a highly similar position to that which Saddam Hussein's Iraq was in 1991, with access to the never-ending revenue which oil provides, and reasonably secure as the regime seems to be in Tripoli, he could well be going nowhere. The pressure would then be to widen air strikes considerably, and even further threaten the civilians we are meant to be going in to protect.

And even if Gaddafi falls, what then? This is going to be a completely different situation to that in Egypt and Tunisia, where respectively there was a united army ready to step in and take charge, or opposition politicians who have been able to form a caretaker government. Impossible as it is measure how much genuine support Gaddafi has, the very fact that there have been some prepared to fight and kill for him more than suggests there will be resentment and potential repercussions regardless of which side is eventually victorious. All the more reason why it would have been helpful to know properly just whom we're intervening on the side on: we don't have anything even approaching a guarantee that the same people who were previously more than happy with the totalitarian workings of Gaddafi's government won't either seek vengeance or further purges, let alone whether they'll suddenly convert after so many years to the democratic values the revolutions across the Arab world have espoused.

None of this even begins to alter one salient fact: that this is an intervention where there is not anything resembling a genuine humanitarian catastrophe, let alone genocide. There's the potential for one should Gaddafi's forces bombard Benghazi, a city of one million which he could lay siege to, but at the moment this has been a incipient civil war with relatively few casualties, and also as far as is known, without outrageous massacres. I know some will groan, but it's impossible not to bring Israel into this. The assault on Lebanon in 2006 saw extensive damage to the country's infrastructure, rendered parts of the south of the country all but inhabitable as a result of the use of cluster munitions, killed over 1,000 civilians, and led to precisely none of the sanctions heaped upon Libya over the past four weeks. Lebanon was involved in the drafting of the resolution passed today; they may well hope it could set a precedent for some sort intervention should there be another clash between Israel and Hizbullah, as is widely feared and expected.

There's also no getting away from how just over 8 years after Operation Iraqi Freedom we find ourselves once again at war with an Arab state, the ultimate purpose being regime change. The circumstances may be very different in that this is a conflict authorised by the UN and which has the support of other Arab states who may well even offer their own resources this time round, yet if anything the omens are even worse. In Iraq there was at least a plan (which was torn up by Rumsfeld and co) and we knew the country well, having been bombing it on and off for 12 years; disaster still struck. In Libya we don't have anything approaching a plan, and know very little, while al-Qaida and its sister organisations lurk in Somalia and Yemen, just waiting for an opportunity should it come to attack Western soldiers.

Conversely, it's also apparent that the potential rewards are huge. To be seen to be acting on our word to support the uprisings across the Arab world, prepared to put our blood and treasure behind the Libyan people, could well transform popular opinion across the Middle East towards the West. It will encourage those, outside of Bahrain at least, to raise their voices ever louder for democratic change, and strike fear into the hearts of dictators and regimes that would have responded in the same way that Gaddafi has. It could conceivably encourage a coup against the leader from those still within the regime, unwilling to be dragged down with him. The threat of force might be enough to spark further mass defections. In short, those of us who are currently fearing the worst and suggesting that we have learned absolutely nothing from the last decade may well up eating our words. I honestly hope I do. I also hope it's not the beginning of Cameron's wars: Blair at least waited until he had been prime minister for well over a year before authorising British participation in Operation Desert Fox. He then went to war five times in six years.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011 

Panic on the streets of Wapping.

The current Foreign Office advice for Britons in Japan is that those outside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant are not in any imminent danger, and that "there is currently no real human health issue that people should be concerned about". However, partially down to caution in case the situation suddenly does get worse and also most likely due to the recent criticism the government's faced for not getting Brits out of Libya quick enough, the FCO is also now saying that British nationals should consider, consider being the key word, leaving both Tokyo and the area to the north of Tokyo as an extra precaution.

How then is the nation's biggest selling newspaper currently interpreting this advice on its website? Silly question really:

From the sort of newspaper that still likes to believe in the old stereotypes and myths of the British stiff upper lip, spirit of the Blitz and the tendency to keep calm and carry on, as only a daily scandal sheet owned by an Australian-American can, it does strike one as ever so slightly alarmist.

P.S. Sorry for the piss-poor blogging so far this week. Will try to make up for it over the next couple of days.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011 

The return to the third way.

A strange thing happens to politicians once power is finally in their grasp. They start to either deny their past or actively contradict much of what helped their election in the first place. Some, it's true, in an attempt to assume a new identity for themselves and their wider party begin the process before they reach power, but it's only once they're in government and start introducing policies which go against their party's assumed core values that they truly start to claim the centre ground.

Nick Clegg's speech at the weekend to the Liberal Democrat spring conference will only be remembered for one thing, even if he boobed slightly by making clear that the spending cuts are a political choice rather than a necessity. No, it'll be noted if at all for how quickly Clegg has succumbed to the third way:

Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right.

But we are not on the left and we are not on the right.

We have our own label: Liberal.

We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics.

Our politics is the politics of the radical centre.

We are governing from the middle, for the middle.

Apart from how Clegg seems to have conveniently forgotten that his party is the result of the marriage between the Liberals and the Social Democrats, and that many within the party would probably be happier described as the latter uncapitalised than the former, it also rather brings the curtain down on the party's positioning over the last ten years, which anyone with a properly functioning political antennae would categorise as centre-left rather than in the dead centre. It also signifies the wholesale abandoning of many of those that voted for the party last May, as if the way it's governed as part of the coalition hadn't already done so: with Labour and the Conservatives fighting over the supposed centre ground of politics, the short-lived Cleggmania was down to the party and him personally offering something different. In power, Clegg has gone from wanting to represent and fight for a "new politics" to the familiar status quo of tired triangulation like all those before him. Or as the esteemed BenSix puts its:

To say you’re not “left” or “right” but the “radical centre” is like shrugging off outdated labels of “black” and “white” to embrace the formulation “ebony and ivory”: a concept that’s more inane but sounds a little sexier.

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Monday, March 14, 2011 

Some revolutions are more equal than others.

You really do have to hand it to the Saudis, in a way: they could have chosen any point over almost
the last month to humbly request the permission of the Bahrani royal family to come in and safeguard the island kingdom's key facilities from the grubby hands of the Shia majority, who've spent that same time period continually protesting for reform. Instead they've bided their time, and have duly found the most opportune moment in which to invade occupy provide assistance to their friends in their hour of need. With the world's attention quite rightly on the human catastrophe in Japan, and with the West bickering over just how we should further sabotage the Libyan uprising, no one's going to pay much heed to allies helping out allies, are they?

Well, the United States and our good selves sure aren't. Just as we've demanded that the tyrant Gadaffi leave immediately, we've said precisely nothing whatsoever about the crackdown by the House of Saud on anyone daring to express even the mildest dissent against their enlightened reign. Last week saw all protests banned ahead of a optimistically planned "Day of Rage", which sadly but predictably seems to have failed to take place. That suits us just fine, it has to be said: if there's one thing we desperately need when the rest of the Arab world is finding its voice, it's for the Saudis and their oil to keep flowing with no interruptions whatsoever. As our leaders demand that the dictators and autocrats we've propped up for the last few decades heed the anger of their people, and they consider whether stability without freedom isn't really stability at all, the last thing we need is any rocking of the boat on the black gold front. Both ourselves and the Americans have substantial interests in Bahrain after all: the US Fifth Fleet, integral to operations in Iraq, is based off the capital, Manama.

Indeed, according to the US, today's deployment of 1,000 Saudi troops in armoured 4x4s with 500 police from the United Arab Emirates is most certainly not an invasion. Even so, the usual calls for "restraint" are being made. Restraint is always an interesting word to use when it comes to protests, as its carries an obvious, ominous double meaning with it: before the US finally decided after days of procrastination to dispense with Mubarak, it had urged the protesters and the police across Egypt to restrain themselves, as though the two were equals and both culpable. Laughable as that was, at least the Egyptian people were confident they had the army on their side: in Bahrain, the protesters are now having to face up to the realisation that the crack troops of another nation entirely are now lined up against them, beholden only to their own completely unaccountable rulers. Nothing could be more provocative, and yet all we can do is murmur restraint at this chilling development.

It certainly has the potential to be incredibly embarrassing to David Cameron. Before he decided that intervening in one specific uprising was imperative, he went on a tour of some of the nations in the Gulf Co-Operation Council, all while chiding those of us suggesting that this was the wrong time to be flogging weapons to vile dictatorships. It was absurd that we would deny such countries the right to defend themselves, and who better to supply these threatened nations with such devices of self-defence than Britain? Among the goodies we sold Saudi Arabia last year were 4-wheel drive vehicles and armoured personnel carriers; by a strange, spooky coincidence, it just so happens that among the convoy crossing the causeway into Bahrain from SA were 4-wheel drive vehicles and what look suspiciously like armoured personnel carriers.

Doubtless we can be reassured that their destructive capability will only be used if the Bahrani protesters fail to restrain themselves. It definitely wouldn't look good if rather than arming the rebels in Libya, we had instead inadvertently supplied the counter-revolutionaries in Bahrain with their tools of repression. Some revolutions however can clearly be sacrificed; all are equal, but some are more equal than others.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011 

Back to our roots.

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Friday, March 11, 2011 

The antidote.

I think we can all agree it hasn't exactly been a great week. Let a man, a sax and a George Michael song make it just slightly better:

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Thursday, March 10, 2011 

No exit plan.

If you want a wonderful example of how there continues to be a fundamental disconnect between those arguing for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya and those who if not completely opposed, are urging the utmost caution, then these two pieces by Rupert Read and Dan Smith respectively couldn't really showcase it any better, although Jim D at Shiraz Socialist treads a very similar path to the former.

The best that can be said for Read's post on Liberal Conspiracy is that it at least recognises a no-fly zone entails the mass bombing of Gadaffi's air-defences as well as the targeting of the mercenaries he's brought in to back up and replace the military assets he's lost. It also probably means the destruction of his air force and potentially also the airports under his control, although that's by the by. This is in contrast, it should be noted, to Ben Wikler, one of the campaign directors at Avaaz who in response to a critical piece by John Hilary on CiF suggested that by simply flying fighter jets over rebel controlled areas we could intimidate Gadaffi into not using his own air resources, without needing to physically attack anything. To call this a fantasy would be too kind. It ignores completely that no intervention force is going to take the chance of their pilots being shot down and held captive, or the embarrassment which would result from our 21st century equipment being downed by Libya's over 20-year-old Russian surface to air missile facilities.

Also fundamentally unsound, as shown sadly by the destruction of Zawiyah, is that it's Gadaffi's air resources which are ensuring he's still in the game. If anything, it's in fact his tanks and artillery, along with the better trained soldiers and commanders he's retained that are making the difference. As promising as it looked that the uprising could defeat the reeling Gaddafi through a swift march on the capital Tripoli, the lack of an overall leadership structure directing movement on the ground seems to have been it's ultimate undoing. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt suggested that people power alone could dislodge dictators, yet in Egypt especially it was the siding of the army with the protesters that ensured Mubarak couldn't hold on. Even with all the defections from his regime, Gadaffi appears to have either held on to or made offers they couldn't refuse to enough of his senior, competent military officers to direct the battles against the rebels that are now proving telling.

It's therefore even more dubious that imposing an no-fly zone now would make any substantial difference. Moreover, it would then up the pressure for further intervention on the side of the rebels: more air strikes against Gadaffi's forces, maybe even an attempt to decapitate the leadership in its entirety, under the principle that the removal of the Colonel himself would fragment the regime and its supporters; Saif Gaddafi, the most obvious successor, probably wouldn't command the same loyalty as his father does. The potential irony here is that in the worst case scenario, where Gadaffi's army drives onto and successfully puts down the uprising in the remaining rebel-held town and cities, there could well arise a genuine situation where an armed intervention could be justified: Gadaffi's vengeance against those who rose against him could easily be just as devastating as that inflicted on the Shia by Saddam in 1991.

This is in fact if we aren't already in the worst of all worlds. As Simon Tisdall notes, we've manoeuvred ourselves into a position where we've quite rightly demanded that Gadaffi go, only for it to look as though the most likely outcome now is his taking back something approaching full control of the country, even if it takes weeks rather than days. If we don't intervene more forcefully in some way on the side of the rebels, then we have to face the prospect not just of Gadaffi staying in power and meting out a terrible retribution on his own people, but also of all our words on supporting the aspirations of an entire region being hollow. While it wouldn't be an overwhelming blow against the incipient Arab spring, as the protests in Bahrain and Yemen are continuing, it will almost certainly destroy even the smallest chance of tomorrow's Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia leading to a wider uprising. Intervene and we find ourselves having participated in the overthrow of another Arab dictator sitting on what Flying Rodent has called "democracy kryptonite", and with al-Qaida waiting in the wings to fight the infidels in another country where they previously didn't have anything approaching a base. Left without an exit plan once again, isolationism has never looked so attractive.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011 

The case against a Libyan no fly zone.

You might have noticed that at the top of this blog there's a quote from Hegel, placed there just to emphasise that you're entering the territory of someone pretentious enough to quote 19th century German philosophers while moaning about how awful the tabloids are. It's also hardly the most original thought - numerous members of the great and not so good down the years have pointed out that we have this awful habit of learning precisely naff all from the past. This illness also infects some of those who tell us that history is the key to everything: just look at Michael Gove, who wants to transform the teaching of the subject in this country into exactly what kids loathe - an endless procession of English Kings and Queens - then witness his touching belief that the invasion of Iraq was a "proper British foreign policy success".

When it comes to Libya, we have a competition between those in favour of the imposition of a no-fly zone and those against over just how our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan should influence our current policy. Michael Lind and Anne Applebaum for two caution against in varying styles considering our past performance, while Ming Campbell and Phillipe Sands along with Geoffrey Robertson plea for us to not forget our duty to the Libyan people. The Avaaz global petition site meanwhile has launched into action, urging a million to sign up to a statement lobbying the UN Security Council to introduce a resolution authorising action without delay.

What I find so remarkable isn't so much that we yet again have many of the usual suspects agitating for an armed intervention at the first possible opportunity; that's to be expected. It's instead the intellectual dishonesty of not spelling out what a no-fly zone means in practice which is staggering, only rivalled by the insouciant attitude with which it's being put forward, implying that setting up and enforcing such a zone would be easy. Read the piece by Campbell and Sands and there's nary a mention of how the very first thing we'd have to do would be to "disable" (i.e. drop explosive ordnance on) Gaddafi's anti-air defences, not all of which are obviously still in his hands to begin with, or how his jets would almost certainly have to be destroyed along with them.

Others arguing for intervention, such as John McCain, who it seems has never seen a Middle Eastern/Arab state he didn't want to bomb, have treated such actions as if they weren't even necessary, as though somehow Gaddafi would tolerate Western military aircraft patrolling his airspace at will without attempting to shoot them down. Campbell and Sands are in fact if anything even more disingenuous, saying that none of what they propose can be led by the US or Britain, with our role being merely to "provide ideas and active support to the Arab League, African Union and Gulf Cooperation Council". So they'll be the ones carrying out the initial raids will they? The idea that anyone outside of NATO will be involved is patently absurd.

It also ignores how even if those ostensibly leading the Libyan uprising are now begging for Gaddafi's air resources to be taken out of action that none of the members of those organisations Campbell and Sands name are in support as yet of a no-fly zone; some are actively opposed, as could be expected from states that would fear the same demands could be made against them in the future. As compelling and impassioned as the pleas being made for an intervention are, the difference between helping the revolution non-militarily and actively interceding on the side of the opposition in what increasingly looks like a civil war is so minute as to be all but indistinguishable. It would effectively be a declaration of war, and one which quickly leads to demands for an expansion of the original aims. What after all is the point of setting up a no-fly zone if it doesn't stop Gaddafi from doing what he currently is, which is launching attacks on rebel-held towns with artillery and tanks, relying on only the occasional air strike or gunship attack? The rebels have said they can buy their own weapons, yet by the time they obtain them they might well have been worn down through lack of supplies and the exhaustion inflicted through battling against well-trained troops with only a volunteer militia.

The sad fact is that nothing Gaddafi has yet done justifies international intervention in Libya, even under the highly subjective and dubious principle of "responsibility to protect". As Simon Jenkins argues, this is an invitation to global mayhem. It has to be remembered that many of those now arguing for us to intervene on the side of the good guys are the exact same people who think that Israel's right to defend herself from mainly home-made rockets that have killed a grand total of 23 people over 10 years is so total that the deaths of over 1,000 Palestinians in just one response was worth it. The destruction dealt to Gaza, along with the continuing economic blockade of the territory could just as easily be felt to constitute a "systematic violation of fundamental human rights". As the attention of the world is on Tripoli, all out civil war looks close to breaking out in Ivory Coast, the two leaders of the opposition Green movement are under house arrest in Iran, and Saudi Arabia has banned all demonstrations, something which has strangely resulted in no adverse comment from the same countries demanding Gaddafi go immediately. We've moved from a position of active military co-operation to potential war in the space of three weeks, which even by our standards of reduced attention spans and easily induced boredom is exceptional.

None of this is to suggest we can't do more to help the Libyan revolution, such as through supplying arms, although even this is fraught with the danger of not knowing exactly what sort of government will eventually take shape should Gaddafi be overthrown. As bleak as the situation currently looks, there's the possibility that the emphasis on taking back territory could leave Tripoli itself either lightly defended or policed, enabling those there to lead an uprising which would strike a blow from which the regime would find it impossible to recover. History may not end up judging inaction kindly, but the very least it demands is a honest debate about what a no-fly zone really entails.

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