Monday, 24 October 2011

Just Another Business Deal or How I Met Ghaddafi

So the boys with the briefcases are being urged to get back into Libya as fast as they can. Is this their finest hour? Or is it NATO’s?
I have been in doubt, since the first French Mirages entered Libyan airspace on their mission of mercy, about the validity of NATO’s participation in Libya’s tribal struggle. To create a ‘no fly zone’ to protect the civilian population wasn’t it? That has seemed a transparent excuse for getting into this fight. Clearly NATO forces were fighting against Ghaddafi’s superior weaponry, and civilians were being as much injured and killed by the rebels and by NATO as by the dictator’s army.
Now that Ghaddafi is dead, I am in even greater doubt about NATO’s intervention. Clearly without it the rebels would have failed to gain any advantage. They lacked the firepower and organisation of Ghaddafi’s forces. I have not watched the apparently horrific visuals of war in this conflict. But I have become more and more disturbed by the involvement of NATO in this civil war. I have thought that the Western powers had no idea what they were getting into and I am now even more sure that they did not know it: or even that they know it now.
When Obama backed off, no doubt on the advice of the CIA, and his opinion pollsters he left the field open to Cameron and Sarkozy. The latter appeared to be pursuing a private revenge against Ghaddafi. The former seemed to believe he was doing something noble. But now Cameron urges the briefcase brigade to do their stuff among the ruins.
Of course, Ghaddafi was a legitimate target thanks to his involvement in terrorism—the IRA and Lockerbie. He was an individual target, an enemy and a nuisance. Much better to let other Libyans kill him, and to help them do it, than to use assassins.
I have long taken and interest in Ghadaffi, since the day in August 1969 when I met a Libyan diplomat on a train and was invited to meet him again later for a drink with some of his friends in a Grosvenor Square hotel bar. I was a very young journalist. The group I met were all young Libyan officers and our host was the managing director of an important British arms manufacturer. I was also in politics as a Liberal Parliamentary candidate and I may have mentioned this. I think the arms salesman spotted me for the trouble I might cause. Anyway, I did not see my train buddy again, but two weeks later, on September 1st, I heard that King Idris of Libya had been deposed in a bloodless coup and that a group of young officers led by Muhammar Gaddafi had taken over the country.
The penny dropped. The MD of the British armaments company had been making the necessary hardware available to the young officers for their coup. Was Gaddaffi among the group? Yes, as a lissom 27 year old Major. But the British arms salesman, a well-fed forty something with a jolly laugh, was just another man with a briefcase.
Somehow, the wheel has come full circle.

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