Hugo Rifkind

Libya is what happens when we try to bomb things better

As Blair was to Iraq, Cameron is to Libya

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

Call me petulant, but I’m not sure Britain is getting enough credit for our fine, fine work in Libya. The Islamic State, so recently present only in the semi-mythical lands of Syria and Iraq — places you see on the news, but don’t really have to believe in — has now set up residence a short hop away from Italy, in the Libyan town of Sirte. Which is, just to be clear, a hell of a lot closer to Italy than we are. Maybe one-and-a-half times the stretch of a Hull– Zeebrugge ferry. We did that. Well done everybody. Top marks all around.

Also, Derna. That’s another town they’ve got. I’d never heard of Derna before, but apparently, Isis has held it since last October. Last week they took a group of six-year-olds to watch a beheading, ‘for educational purposes’. Derna to Crete is less than Liverpool to Dublin. You could almost swim it. I daresay some have tried.

A ‘key reason’ for the Isis success in Libya, reported the Washington Post last week, ‘is the chaos that has enveloped this oil-rich nation since the 2011 Arab Spring revolt’. Only — and I know it’s a little thing — but isn’t a ‘key reason’ for that chaos the way we bombed everything? You can’t have forgotten. Everybody was very excited at the time. David Cameron’s lips got terribly thin, remember, and his eyes burned with the holy conviction that everything in Libya would get much better — and not much, much worse — if we could find something to bomb, and bomb it. Or, better still, persuade America to bomb it. And then, when it didn’t get better at all, we just seem to have… wandered off. Whistling. As if the sheer, utter, hopeless collapse of a state, and the bombs — come on, it can’t just be me; surely you remember the bombs? — weren’t really connected at all.

Syria, of course, is supposed to be the counterfactual. ‘We left Syria alone,’ say the hawks. ‘We wanted to bomb, and the likes of you wouldn’t let us! And look what happened! Isis all over the place!’ Which is a strange argument because, well, it wasn’t Isis they were going to bomb, was it? It was the people Isis are fighting; the army of the very, very horrible — although evidently less horrible — Bashar Assad. Which Isis might not have been altogether distraught about. True, we are still told, again and again, that removing Assad in a timely manner would have led to ‘the moderate Syrian opposition’ taking control instead. This, though, like the whole basis for our endeavours in Libya, seems to have been a bit of a hopeful punt. That baseless, terribly familiar belief, that if you blow up something nasty, something nicer will arise in its place.

Last year I interviewed Tony Blair for the men’s magazine GQ. He’s tricky. He knows the answers he wants to give, and you’re getting them, no matter the questions. Drag him, struggling, on to unprepared ground, and defensive platitudinous shutters descend; your allotted minutes begin to tick by rather pointlessly, and the jobbing hack starts to panic, witnessing a masterclass in how not to give good copy. Yet now and again, despite himself, he couldn’t help but be interesting. ‘Where I’ve changed,’ he said at one point, ‘is with my view that if you can have evolutionary change, it is better than revolutionary change.’

With Iraq, of course, Blair clings to the view that evolution would have been impossible. I suppose he has to, beause the alternative would be too many nights spent screaming into a pillow. Even so, this comes from a man who put regime change at the heart of our foreign policy; an instinctive, almost holy belief that, if you can make a nasty oppressive government go away, a nicer, western-style democracy will surely follow.

Only a lunatic could still believe that after the Arab Spring, and despite what his detractors say, I don’t think Blair is one. His naivety in Iraq is his legacy; he’s the guy who tried to bomb things better, and actually bombed them far worse. The thing is, so is Cameron. Look to the failed state of Libya, and there’s no other conclusion to which you can come. The strategy didn’t work. Things are not better, not for Libya, nor for us, either. And yet, nobody seems to care. Nobody blames him. Nobody ridicules his arrogance, for believing he could blow stuff up, and then sit back, waiting for the rubble to fall into line. Nobody asks whether Gaddafi could have been dealt with another way. It’s as though somebody else blew the place up, long, long ago. But it wasn’t somebody else. It was him. And it was just the other day.

Fashionably rude

Segue, as ever, to the banal. As I write, news is breaking that the model Kate Moss has been escorted from an EasyJet flight, for calling the captain a ‘basic bitch’.

She reminds me of Karl Lagerfeld, who once derided critics of skinny models as ‘fat, jealous mummies’. The first two words were rude, here, but the killer was the third; an insult in fashion, and only in fashion, and for reasons largely inexplicable to everybody else. Likewise with Moss. ‘Bitch’ is rude, here, but not half so rude as ‘basic’.

In fashion, a ‘basic bitch’ is somebody who deserves to be sneered at for being unremarkable, and predictable, and exactly like everybody else. Whether male or female, I suppose we’ll know all about the pilot by the time you read this. Either way, I wonder if Moss realised they were wearing a uniform.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • cartimandua

    No Hugo, the “key reason” for the Arab Spring is the 100 millions in the youth bulge of the MENA region. There were no jobs or enterprise cultures, or non corrupt institutions which would make a young population an economic boom.
    Calling it a “spring” was trying to put lipstick on a factual pig.
    Mind you getting rid of Saddam wasn’t just about his being a genocidal monster.
    The moment sanctions were lifted he would have bought loose Soviet WMDs .
    It has taken years and billions from the G20 to help Russia gather them up.
    It was you know media and pundits who wanted something “done” about the genocides.
    Perhaps the lesson is never be pushed by media. We probably have to let genocides happen and not take in refugees.
    The 45 minute thing was a media invention. The Iraqi Army said they could load battle field chemical shells in 20 minutes.
    No one had chem suits which could cope in hot weather.

    • Gilbert White

      There were lots of jobs in the holiday resorts in Tunisia. The youth prefer non jobs like lounging about all day at heathrow and ripping of whitey in taxis.

      • cartimandua

        The poor bloke who immolated himself Bouazizi was trying to make a living.
        Tunisia still has high youth and female unemployment.

        • Gilbert White

          So I can set up a veggie store on Kennsington high can I and what bit about the unfilled jobs in Sfax hotels et al do you not understand?

  • peter

    The elimination of Hussein and Gaddafi created a vacuum, which IS and their ilk will be more than happy to fill, and are doing, they are after all following the ways and example of their role model “prophet “and Quranic instructions, which tell them to “proclaim Islam over all religion “Quran 9.33 and impose its gods rules, by “fighting in the cause of Allah(jihad)” Sahih Al Bukhari book 52 vol 4.and e.g. Quran 9.29 and Quran 9.111
    You would think by now those in “power” who think they “know best “would have learnt the first rule of any military strategy, which is to know your enemy, and in the case of Islamic militants, more about the faith which drives their actions.
    Seemingly they haven’t, by what we are witnessing on a daily basis throughout the Levant.

    • Gilbert White

      With hindsight the much derided policy americanus ,at least he is our son of a bitch policy was normal and effective. People do not intuitively grasp these days that the Iraq Iran manipulations were good strategies the least amount of deaths for the keeping open of the world trade routes.

    • Clive

      It’s only a short time since various authorities were complaining that Iraq was being taken over by Shi’a (notably Nouri Maliki and Moqtada Sadr) obeying the will of Iran. Now you are saying there was a vacuum ?

      The power of Islamic State has derived from funding by some Sunni nations – like Saudi Arabia which has since taken fright – and discontent among non-Kurdish Sunnis in Shi’a dominated areas of Iraq.

      Notwithstanding the above, the main vehicle for IS power has been the Syrian civil war. Their HQ is Raqqa in Syria. The Assad government has and is cooperating with IS to combat the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups.

      The bombing campaign – in which we were not involved – around Kobane was a significant defeat for IS. Long may that effort continue.

      Libya is a conflict based in large part on tribal loyalties between the east – Benghazi – and the west, Tripoli. This is the kind of thing that is suppressed by authoritarian regimes only to emerge when the regime is destroyed.

  • Lukas Mikelionis

    Hugo is great, but this time he’s wrong. Regime change as a policy is great, however, the problem arises when the electorate can’t keep focus for more than 1 month and thus lose interest in war quickly. As a result, there are no electoral gains to continue building democracy somewhere in the Middle East. ‘Pull the troops back, the electorate is now focused on two kitchens!’

    • Dogsnob

      Not a whole month surely?

    • Simon Fay

      I take it you are an arms dealer.

  • Guest 1

    The reality is that with the decline of Europe, and the end of the idea of Empire, ‘regime change’ from outside always fails. Imagine if the slaving empire of Abyssinia had just been bombed by the Italians in 1935, and Haile Selassie had been given the Gadhafi treatment (you know, the Hilary Clinton, ‘we came, we saw, he died’ treatment). The result would have been chaos, or a vacuum that Britain would have filled. But the Italians occupied and colonised, and began the process of Empire. But that’s all gone, only our f&cking stupid politicians and many media types can’t see it, and so the West keeps creating hells for other people, while lecturing all and sundry on how much more caring and liberal they are than anyone else. I’d prefer Mussolini.

  • Snibbo

    Military intervention or the lack of it doesn’t make any difference. Western leaders seem to think that Libya and Iraq are Germany and Japan, and they are Churchills and Roosevelts who will go down in history for bringing about lasting regime change. The only trouble with this analogy is that Churchill didn’t start all his speeches by informing us that fascism is a peaceful belief which has nothing to do with Nazism or the Imperial Japanese Army.

    • Mark

      Brilliant Snibbo, just brilliant.

      • MahatmaFarage

        Okay, so saying that let’s us off the hook now does it? I really want to be this deluded, only for one Sunday.

    • Dogsnob


      • MildredCLewis



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    • John Carins

      Military intervention in Iraq and Libya was effective. The military in both cases did its job and did it well. It is what followed that failed: the complete failure to build on the success of the military intervention. It begs the question why do we spend so much on International Development – a complete waste.

      • Clive


        • Abie Vee

          “If you break it, you own it.” Said Colin Powell to Bush.

          How right. Neither the Americans nor the British had any form of Plan B for the aftermath… all was made up as they went along! That sounds incredible, but it is true. They had naively assumed that the downtrodden masses would rise up and welcome them as conquering heroes, and that western-style democracy and prosperity would automatically ensue. One can forgive the ignorant delusions of Bush and the Americans for holding to such fanciful nonsense, but Britain should have (and in fact did) known better.

          American’s panicky reaction to the chaos that inevitably followed the wholly unnecessary and illegal invasion was to disband the civil service and the Iraqi armed forces, destroying the infrastructures of governance, and when the country descended into anarchy, and American troops began dying in ever-increasing numbers, they then bribed homicidal Sunni Warlords to stop fighting the “coalition of the willing” and kill Shia muslims instead… in exchange for cash! Can you believe the profound immorality of that, let alone the depth of depravity?

          The benign results of which the world lives with to this day!

          • Clive

            The aftermath of the Iraq War was unquestionably badly handled. It is not true, however, to say that the Americans bribed Sunni tribesmen to kill Shi’a. Al Qaeda – a Sunni organisation – were already killing Shi’a (see my post above).

            The Americans bribed Sunni tribesmen to kill Al Qaeda people whom the Sunnis already resented for their overbearing manner and idiosyncratic interpretation of Sharia Law.

        • John Carins

          Absolutely Clive. Remember Claire Short as Minister responsible for “Development” resigning – because she didn’t agree with the war. Totally useless.

          • Simon Fay

            Sounds like John and Clive ought to get a room together in the Neo-Con Hotel (well away from wherever the noisy democracy-harbinging renewal is occurring, of course).

          • Clive

            Perhaps next time some content ?

          • Abie Vee

            The majority of the British public didn’t agree with the war either. Blair got the support he needed in Parliament, despite the largest back-bench rebellion in Labour’s history, only with the gung-ho support of the Tories under the demonstrably incapable IDS.

            Had HM Opposition performed their paid duty, i.e. to oppose, the UK would not have gone to war.

          • Truemanbrown

            I think you find at the time of the War that there was a slight majority in favour of the War. Then again the majority of British public did not want to go to war with Hitler and look how wrong they were there!

          • Abie Vee

            Hindsight is such a luxury is it not? The British public were “right” (apropos Hitler) only in retrospect. Counter-factually, had we not gone to war with Hitler, or had we accepted Germany’s peace-feelers in 1940, who knows where the world would be today? All is hypothesis and idle speculation: take your pick.

            The fact that public opinion briefly swung behind the war with Iraq after their own flesh and blood ( “our boys” ) was put at risk is hardly surprising.

          • Tellytubby

            We should have never gone to war over Poland in 1939. We’d have been much, much better off not bankrupting ourselves for the American’s under their “lend-lease”. Hitler never wanted to fight us.

      • Simon Fay

        Er, I didn’t think the operational competence of the military was at question in this piece, who seemed to do a good job of further f*cking things up as ordered – all the more remarkable an achievement given that an armed-forces hot-desking/liaison arrangement between Britain and France was being beta-tested during the proceedings, a lot to keep track of.

      • Abie Vee

        Or why we spend so much more on the military.

        • John Carins

          We don’t spend enough. Far better we continued to spend on something that actually works. Unfortunately, the politicians have now f*cked that up as well. The British military deserves better.

          • Abie Vee

            Better, but less. And no more rented nukes which we can’t fire without mummy’s permission.

          • Newton Unthank

            I hadn’t heard that myth in years. Do you actually believe it or are you just using the idea to wind up John Carins?

          • Abie Vee

            “Myth”? Gosh… you are in dire need of a reality check. Please allow me: “The high accuracy of the Trident D5 missile depends on the submarine’s position being precisely determined. This is achieved using two systems: GPS, which relies on satellites, and the Electrostatically Supported Giro Navigation System (ESGN), which uses gyroscopes. In both cases UK Trident submarines uses the same US system as the US Navy submarines. The USA has the ability to deny access to GPS at any time, rendering that form of navigation and targeting useless if the UK were to launch without US approval.”

            Source: Select Committee on Defence. Written evidence. Annex B. UK’S TRIDENT SYSTEM IS NOT TRULY INDEPENDENT. [their capitals, not mine] Sub -heading Navigation, refers.

            Yes we can fire it independently, and a fat lot of good it would be: it will just go straight up and come straight back down.

          • Newton Unthank

            Someone is in need of a reality check, that’s for sure. Trident does not require GPS, for one thing – GPS was used on some test launches of Trident, but it is assumed that in the event of a full-scale conflict the GPS satellite network would be destroyed in short order (for obvious reasons), hence the missiles in fact use inertial guidance, aided by a single-camera star-sighting system – the Mark 6 astro-inertial guidance system.

            As for the source you reference:

            The fact that the UK is completely technically dependent on the USA for the maintenance of the Trident system means that one way the USA could show its displeasure would be to cut off the technical support needed for the UK to continue to send Trident to sea.

          • Bo’sun Higgs

            Correct. Most conflict scenarios involving potential Trident use take it as given that the GPS network would have been knocked out in the opening stages of any conflict: it would be foolish in the extreme to rely on such a vulnerable system for navigational data.

            The Mark 6 guidance system fitted to Trident gives sufficient accuracy for the missile’s purpose – W76 warheads don’t require GPS precision accuracy.

          • Abie Vee

            “sufficient accuracy” do you mean Russia… spread across 12 time-zones? And what makes you imagine that the opening stages will not in fact be the closing stages too?

            Stellar targeting is for fine tuning GPS data… not a substitute.

          • Abie Vee

            There are many other references in the Parliamentary report under the heading: “UK’S TRIDENT SYSTEM IS NOT FULLY INDEPENDENT.” Indeed, with a little imagination, the title itself , in bloc capitals, should give the game away. I can tell you’ve not even bothered to check, ho-hum. (and I notice you are less free with your sources).

            Targeting by the stars? good grief.. that’s some advancement is it not? Are they still using that 30-year old Mk 6 technology do you think? Presumably it’s useless underwater?

            Two pieces of information are vital; the target, of course, and where you are… where you are exactly: precise navigation and targeting. GPS is applied to both.

            The Mark 6 blah blah uses stars as a fixed point for the purposes of fine-tuning after launch… what it does not do is tell you where you are as you move along underwater. Read the report. I cannot see the point of arguing with you. It’s as clear as day, “[…] In both cases UK Trident submarines uses the same US system as the US Navy submarines. The USA has the ability to deny access to GPS at any time, rendering that form of navigation and targeting useless if the UK were to launch without US approval.”

            Destroyed in short order? Dead right on something. The Russian’s war plans allow for a maximum 20 minutes to neutralise the UK’s so-called nuclear deterrent. To my mind, an extra 20 minutes life isn’t worth £100 billion.

            The UK’s nuclear deterrent is there for one purpose only: to lend a patina of legitimacy by supporting an American strike.

            One question; if the roles were reversed, do you think that the UK would be insane enough to supply nuclear weapons to a foreign country without keeping full control over them at all times? You do? Then the British are crazier than I was brought up to believe.

      • Perseus Slade

        They didn`t have a realistic post-war plan,
        imagined that democracy would flower spontaneously.

    • Clive

      Although I agree with the broad tenor of your comment, I believe that it does have nothing to do with Islam.

      Islam is the religion of most of the Third and developing world – so it tends to be disproportionately associated with problems of governance.

      The reasons why Islam is the religion of the most underdeveloped parts of the world is another question – probably worthy of academic study. In these days of political nicety, that study is unlikely to be funded

      You could start with the suppression of women. Many will not like the idea but the role of women probably has much to do with the advancement of western society.

      • Snibbo

        I wish I could agree, but it’s already too late for that argument. The causes of German fascism were undoubtedly weak governance in Weimar and reparation payments – but once the Nazis had rolled in to fill the vacuum, there was no longer any point in arguing about the cause. The Islamic world has reached a tipping point where radical Islam has the balance of power and turned into a movement that has nothing to do with grievances about governance – how else do you explain young Muslims, born in Britain yet going to fight in Syria? Is their grievance about who governs the Bank of England?

      • greggf

        “The reasons why Islam is the religion of the most underdeveloped parts of the world….”

        It’s simple Clive; go there, spend some time and you will see that he reasons you search for are down ro the majoprity of the people who live there.
        That’s why it’s the Third World!

    • Hear Hear Hear

    • Perseus Slade

      To be successful,
      military action needs to be full-on, and ruthless.
      Weak response to attack only encourages the enemy.
      If you are not serious, don’t bother.

    • greggf

      Well Chamberlain tried to believe Mr Hitler was “peaceful”. So perhaps Cameron, and Obama, will go down as the appeasers in this pending conflict.
      My money is on another alliance with Russia, and Assad, against ISIS once Turkey comes into its purview……

    • mrs 1234
      Bombing Libya was as an act of gross stupidity but this article shows just for how long successive, enabling British governments have sat back while British Islamists have been busy nurturing jihadists right under their very noses on home soil. The rank stupidity, blindness, naivety of those who govern us, perfectly illustrated by their inane mantra of “nothing to do with Islam”, alarms me very much.

  • Roger Hudson

    If ‘this article first appeared ….. 13th June..” then how come i’m reading it now?

    • Mc

      Possibly because it appears in the print edition on 13th June.

  • Mc

    One has to wonder whether Rifkind was dropped on his head as an infant, with his limited cognitive abilities. He doesn’t even touch on the most obvious and basic point made by Snibbo, namely that “Military intervention or the lack of it doesn’t make any difference” in the Third World, unless of course the natives aren’t restless and if by some fluke of nature they have a deeply entrenched Western culture and political norms.

  • Mark

    Regime change and bombing worked in Europe, the Germany of now is surely an improvement on that of 1940 but at what cost?

    Stopping IS means either boots on the ground and re colonisation with determination, self belief and the imposition of a superior societal model on the liberated territories or it means containment and harassment of the enemy without and within.

    I can’t see either supplanting “this is nothing to do with Islam” and defence cuts for a few years yet.

    • Bertie

      Spot on, and unfortunately correct on both accounts.

      Cultural suicide being committed by the West, forced upon its peoples by a treacherous political class.

    • IainRMuir

      Germany in 1945 was severely damaged but it wasn’t a total basket case. It had always retained the essential characteristics of a civilised country, Nazism notwithstanding, so the political vacuum in 1945 could be filled with a reasonable chance of success. Iraq and Libya were a different story but it wasn’t acceptable to say so. The consequences were inevitable.

  • Gilbert White

    Bugger Bognor and Isis you crazy gringo! Wot about when they do something really nasty to us in the bombing department?

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      And they call me a racist.

      • blandings

        Dream on – they don’t even notice you

  • Ambientereal

    Arab muslims may still stay in the middle age, but they are clever. They are not good at developing technology, but they understand people. It is now evident that the predecessors of ISIS, or the founders may I say, installed the so called arab spring and fooled all western leaders, included Cameron. Now it is too late to mend it and we can only hope the arabs are so chaotic as they are clever and end killing each other and destroy any hope of a caliphate.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Is it too late to give Saddam his old job back?
    Face it, this entire ME mass is down to US ineptitude and lack of forward planning.

    • Clive

      Saddam Hussein saw himself as the Sunni strongman in the face of Iranian Shi’a influence

      Given Al Qaeda / Al Nusra / IS’ view that Shi’a are the real enemy and the West are just a bit of a nuisance, whose side do you think Saddam would have been on ?

      He would have armed IS and given them an air force – and they would not have been attacking Syria, they would have been attacking Israel and/or Iran.

      • aspeckofboggart

        Either this is the greatest forethought or the biggest hindsight.

        • Clive

          Saddam Hussein was already making Iraq less secular in 1998 – see my post above with the HRW report.

          Al Qaeda in Iraq massacred large numbers of Shi’a:

          Some assert that Washington inflated Zarqawi’s importance but the US was not alone in feeling threatened. On August 9 2003, Jordan named him as chief suspect in a suicide attack on its Baghdad embassy. His name was then associated with a deluge of atrocities. On August 19 Baghdad’s UN headquarters was bombed, killing 22 people including the UN special envoy Sergio Viera de Mello. Soon afterwards a massive blast killed the Shia leader, Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim (obituary, August 29 2003), and 83 worshippers outside the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. Explosions on February 1 2004, during the Ashura festival, simultaneously slaughtered about 185 Shia celebrants in Karbala and Baghdad. Eleven days later, 102 Iraqi police recruits died in two car-bombings

          A 17-page letter intercepted in January 2004, purportedly from Zarqawi to Osama bin Laden, demanded civil war between Iraq’s Sunni minority and Shia majority. Initially, Iraqis dismissed Zarqawi as an foreign interloper without local support. However, he began attracting Sunnis, downhearted after Saddam’s defeat, and bigots cheered when he called Shias “a sect of treachery and betrayal … the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion”.

          • aspeckofboggart

            Thanks, Clive. I wasn’t keen (putting it mildly) that my country was involved in the coalition. We told foreigners not to interfere in our domestic political affairs. So we should have stayed out of Iraq (Period) We didn’t. Moreover, we tried to convince the former French President (Chirac) that Bush was right. Your response serves only to confirm it was wrong to condemn Saddam but we openly thought he had to be killed and he was.
            Things might turn out all right in the longer run but as the famous Keynesian saying goes: we are all dead by then. It’s a done deal. We live with it. With or without your spin.

    • aspeckofboggart


  • Lady Magdalene

    Why doesn’t anyone blame David Cameron?

    Because it wasn’t just Cameron, was it. It was Sarkozy as well. The UK and France are the only two members of the EU with the Armed Forces that made it possible (along with the Americans).

    So it could more fairly be blamed on the EU. But that’s not allowed …. the EU claims that it is a force for peace and good in the world and nothing can be allowed to counter that. Not the mess in Ukraine (stoked by the EU) and not Libya.

    And the other reason is that most of the print media in the UK is Conservative-supporting so they are hardly going to point the finger of blame at the dear leader and keep pointing it.

    • Hamburger

      Indeed, I always blame Frau Merkel and our ghastly, incompetent foreign minister Herr Westerwelle who goes under the name of Guido, but that is another story. Everyone forgets that Gaddafi was about to slaughter the rebels in Bengazi on Europe’s doorstep. Not wishing to repeat the European inaction in Bosnia. M. Sarkozy and Cameron intervened successfully. At this point Frau Merkel and co. got onto their high horses and forced through an European policy of moral inaction. The disastrous result can be seen today.

      • Clive

        Guido was from the Free Democrats – now you have Frank-Walter Steinmeier from the SPD are things better ? I am not at all sure

        But Ursula von der Leyen seems more of a man than either and whatever Frank does, Ursula will probably undermine

        • Hamburger

          Not really, the good Frank-Walter does try. My old friend Guido was completely out of his depth.
          In your second paragraph , have you got it the wrong way round? You are right about her qualities though.

          • Clive

            Good point about the second paragraph – you are right, I’m sure

  • Sean Lamb

    Sean Lamb – ie that’s me – can unequivocally say I predicted disaster on the eve of the UN Security Council vote. In fairness to David Cameron, had he not take this decision the media and probably Hugh Rifkind too would have slammed as weak and vacillating and selling out to genocide in the interests of BP.
    It is the people who form these opinions and then so easily manage to walk away from any responsibility for the disastrous outcomes that need to be held to account here.
    I note that after jumping up and down over extremely dubious claims of chemical weapons use by the Syria government, the intelligence agencies are soto voce admitting that Isis are manufacturing and using chemical weapons in Iraq.

  • Bertie

    Unfortunately it seems to be the case wherever there is Islam there is chaos – just what we are importing every year to our shores in some misguided Multiculturalist suicide pact.

    Until Islam learns,and is willing to live side by side every other religion such descents into civil war in the Middle East, North Africa and Parts of Asia will become all too common.

    • Jim Station

      That assumes Islam is open to reason. It isn’t. Chaos carnage & destruction will continue in the middle east & the proponents of it will continue to export it’s troubles to our shores. “Watching Rome burn” sprin gs to mind , sadly.

      • Bertie

        I was being polite – it’s clear that Islam is not open to reason,at all. It needs to be eradicated from these shores. We should not be allowing Sharia,in any part of the country, the Burkha/Hijab should be banned in public – these people should be expected to integrate, if they dont, they can leave.

        And no, that isnt saying they cant follow their own customs in the privacy of their own home.

        Absolutely agree vis Rome burning.

        • AverageGuyInTheStreet

          “These people should be expected to integrate, if they dont, they can leave.”
          Moreover, their purpose in this country should be determined, as the Home Office has been unfit for purpose for many years. Are they here to benefit this country? Are they here because they love our culture and land and want to become really British? Those who should never have been allowed in should be retrospectively made to leave.

          • Bertie

            Spot on with all the above…

  • justsomeone

    Sometimes bombing is the best solution and sometimes it’s not. It would have been far better to leave Libya alone and to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
    Libya was bombed by the Islam-loving West. It was one of those ‘war for Islam’ events (the same could be said about bombing Serbia). So we bombed Libya and Islam won. The Islamists won. I recall seeing Libyan “democracy advocates” shouting “allahu akbar” as they fired rockets and that’s when I realised they aren’t really fighting for democracy.
    Syria was supposed to be a war for Islam, a war to help Islamists. Generally speaking, those who wanted to bomb Libya and who wanted to bomb Syria were utterly opposed to bombing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear facilities, because the latter was viewed as anti-Islam and the former as pro-Islam. The pro-Islamists were keen to talk up those fighting Syria’s Assad as people who merely want democracy. I fell for it at first. But then on tv, I watched a middle-aged Syrian woman say: “it won’t help him [Assad], because there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger”, and I realised these people aren’t fighting for democracy at all. That’s when I felt uneasy about the idea of bombing Assad and helping these people.
    The pc-brigade (and the BBC et al are all pc-activists) were predictably siding with the Islamists and ultimately, they were the ones subtly calling for us to bomb Syria.

    When the Islamists fighting Assad tried to get journalists (channel 4, I think) killed by Assad’s forces, that was the first time that Western journalists dared to say anything against the Islamists. And even then, other journalists came down hard on them, because at the time, no one was allowed to tell the truth about these Islamists. At the time, all journalists focused on what they called “the slaughter in Syria”, in a deliberate attempt to get us to help the Islamists (which they kept pretending only want democracy), who are of course, no better than Assad and are in fact, even worse (and that’s saying something).

    The pc-brigade are not ‘hawks’. They love describing themselves as anti-war, except for when they want war on behalf of Muslims (Kossovo) or of Islamists (Libya, Syria).

    It isn’t that war is never the answer. Sometimes a military strike (and even war) is the only answer. We ought to recognise that we should always take a stand (not necessarily a military one) against Islamists, that we are utterly opposed to anyone who wages Jihad. They are always our enemy.

  • Ho Hum

    Instead of saying ISIS is what happens when “we try to bomb things better” I would say ISIS is what happens when the west gets involved in regime change. Qaddafi would be alive today and in power but for the fact that NATO countries (including Canada) provided air support to the Jihadist rebels. It was a monstrous mistake by all countries involved. Why was it necessary to remove Qaddafi? He posed no threat to the west (in fact he voluntarily disposed of his WMD’s) and he kept a lid on Islamic extremism. Same with Syria. Why is it still the goal of NATO countries to get rid of Assad? He is a secular leader who has protected the Millions of Christians in his country. If Assad falls ISIS will take over and we will see Millions of Christians exterminated. We have seen what ISIS has done to Christians in the city’s it has seized in Syria and Iraq. Little Christian kids have been beheaded!

    • tbraton

      Spot on, Ho Hum. The funny thing is that George W. Bush had made “peace” with Qaddafi, who agreed to give up his nascent A-bomb program and reimburse the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. It was Obama’s stupid decision to accede to the demands of the three “harpies,” one of whom was SOS Hillary Clinton, that was the true blunder, after his SOD Robert Gates proclaimed that the U.S. had no vital interests in Libya. Without U.S. participation, I doubt that Cameron or France (which was also agitating for action against Qaddafi) would have dropped one bomb on Libya. I would also note that Assad in Syria was providing protection to many Christians who were forced to flee Iraq after our misguided intervention against Saddam Hussein (by George W. Bush, I would note).

      • Clive

        You could equally argue as this piece does

        …that Assad merely exploited the Christians for political ends simply to get people like you on his side and neutralise part of the potential Syrian opposition

        The message they received from their head of state was short and simple: Either support me, or your churches will burn.

        It seemed Assad, himself a member of the Alawis, a branch of Shia Islam, didn’t want to assume that Syria’s Christians would continue to remain aloof from politics. Sensing that not only his authority but perhaps his very survival was at stake, he resorted to the same means his father, Hafez Assad, once used to maintain power: pressure and violence.

        • tbraton

          I believe the Christians of Iraq fled to Syria after the American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, knowing they could find a safe harbor there, long before the “Arab Spring” brought the troubles to Syria. I don’t recall reading of any Christians being beheaded by Assad. He may be a dictator, a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, but he is also a secular dictator, like Saddam, who showed much more tolerance to religious minorities than ISIS. Sometimes it is necessary to distinguish and choose between bad and worse.

          • Clive

            First of all, everyone shows more tolerance to religious minorities than IS. I have seen no evidence that Christians fled Iraq for Syria before IS appeared which was long after the Iraq War. If you have any, please post it.

            Second, it is erroneous to say that Saddam Hussein was a ‘secular dictator’. He had been – but his regime changed towards its end as this HRW report on the status of women in Iraq from 2003 makes clear:

            … as the economy constricted, in an effort to ensure employment for men the government pushed women out of the labor force and into more traditional roles in the home. In 1998, the government reportedly dismissed all females working as secretaries in governmental agencies. In June 2000, it also reportedly enacted a law requiring all state ministries to put restrictions on women working outside the home. Women’s freedom to travel abroad was also legally restricted and formerly co-educational high schools were required by law to provide single-sex education only, further reflecting the reversion to religious and tribal traditions. As a result of these combined forces, by the last years of Saddam Hussein’s government the majority of women and girls had been relegated to traditional roles within the home.

      • mrs 1234

        Unfortunately, neither the Labour Government nor the Coalition really gave a damn about the suffering of Christians in the ME (and Pakistan). I know because I had been writing to them for years about it. I once got a reply from that horrible woman Warsi that managed to avoid the word “Christian” completely. The word “religious minorities” was used.

    • Clive

      Assad is not a secular leader. He is an Alawite allied to the Shi’a – which means Iran and Hezbollah.

      Syria has been involved in the assassination of key government figures in Lebanon which has kept that country unstable. He is a destabilising influence on the whole region. He is using his influence for the Iranian government (but not people, see my comment above) to bad ends

    • mrs 1234

      What you say is correct but I’m afraid I believe that ISIS would have emerged whether we bombed Libya or not. Our governments rank policy of turning a blind eye to the evil coalescing in this country over a period of decades virtually guaranteed it. After all it is from outside the borders of countries that were governed by dictators that ISIS was able to organise themselves and recruit their psychopathic jihadists.
      Also persecution of Christians (although not to the present extreme) has been rife across the Muslim world (again ignored by our illustrious governments) for many years.

  • Feminister

    Look, you’d think we’d have realised by now, we’ve been trying for long enough and it hasn’t worked. Men aren’t meant to run things. They are really really bad at it.

    • tbraton

      As I just noted in response to Ho Hum, it was the three “harpies” (all female I presume), Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who persuaded Barack Obama to intervene in Libya. Without U.S. participation, I sincerely doubt that Great Britain or France would have taken any action against Qaddafi. Proof that women aren’t meant to run things either. Let’s hope that Hillary Clinton does not become the next President of the U.S.

      • EasyStreet

        I think I would rather have Hillary as POTUS than a Republican evangelical! But apart from that I agree with you. “Humanitarian intervention” is a desperately misguided idea that flows from the “West knows best” position taken by feminists, among others.

    • EasyStreet

      I happen to agree that we should not have got involved in Libya. But what response do you think Cameron would have got from the human rights lobby for allowing the Benghazi protesters to be rounded up and (probably) killed? He would have been labelled as indulging in cynical realpolitik, for a start. I don’t have a problem with that in the Middle East, because it’s the way the entire region operates, but it is potentially a toxic position to take if you’re going to chase Lib Dem swing voters at the next election. Likewise using the Navy to deposit migrants back on Libyan shores, which is why we aren’t doing it despite May’s rhetoric last month. “Ethical foreign policy” is a total minefield!

  • ADW

    The difference between Iraq and Libya is that there was a ferocious conflict under way in Libya before we got involved, and Ghaddafi was quite clear about the massacre he was about to do. So we gave the rebels a free Air Force and they then triumphed. Cameron and Sarkozy thought freedom would reign thereafter. It didn’t. So should we have left Ghaddafi to do it? Sadly, the answer is probably yes. That region is a fiasco, amd we are best off out of it and sealing its borders. We just need to crack on with alternatives to its oil.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Well said. The Arab/M.Eastern Muslim world has no recognisably democratic regimes and will not have, anytime soon. They are all “very very horrible” to varying degrees. UK energy security is an urgent priority, in part to remove dependence on ME oil. UK border security ditto, to keep out the ME hordes since the EU clearly lacks the balls to do so. Step back, fold arms, let the ragheads do as they like, if they threaten us bomb the cr*p out of them.

      • Bob-B

        Tunisia is a democracy.

        • Malcolm Stevas

          Really? Just like anywhere in the Anglosphere, then?

    • EHGombrich

      Which massacre? The rebels would have fled to Egypt.

      • tbraton

        “Which massacre?” Exactly. Benghazi was a city of more than 750,000. Even SOS Hillary Clinton spoke of “thousands” there being killed by Qaddafi, not 750,000. Qaddafi at no time threatened to kill everybody in Benghazi, just the rebels who were fighting him. The notion that Qaddafi would kill 750,000 was preposterous, made up for propaganda purposes (like Saddam Hussein’s WMDs), and I said so at the time. By our blundering actions (and I blame Obama (and Clinton) as much as Cameron, since he had the power to stop that “NATO” operation), we created a chaos much worse than the situation under Qaddafi, to the detriment of both the Libyans, their North African neighbors, and Europe.

        • Clive

          Saddam Hussein’s WMDs were not made up. They existed.


          According to an exposé published today by the New York Times, American soldiers reported finding around 5,000 chemical warheads or bombs after the invasion of Iraq and deposition of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

          Between 2004 and 2011 at least 17 US soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to nerve agents or mustard gas chemicals, but were encouraged by the Pentagon to downplay or under-report any injuries, the Times reported.

          German companies appear to be at the heart of the original supply of these chemical weapons

          • tbraton

            Oh, please. Neither chemical nor biological weapons were the reason we went to war with Saddam in 2003. After all, he used chemical weapons against Iran in the war that lasted from 1980 to 1988, without much protest from us. It was not chemical weapons Condoleeza Rice was referring to when she spoke ominously of “mushroom clouds” in the buildup to the 2003 war. She was referring to nuclear weapons of mass destruction. That was what we were desperately searching for after the 2003 invasion and were unable to find, since Saddam had abandoned that program and had no nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

          • Clive

            So The Independent and The New York Times are lying ?

            Since the Iraq War, various sources have tried to label WMD as only nuclear weapons. At the time, nobody suggested that Saddam had nuclear weapons. The whole quote from Condoleezza Rice is “The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”.. That means she is saying that Saddam does not have nuclear weapons but was trying to acquire them. He had got a long way with that through AQ Khan. If the weapons inspections had ceased, he would have gone on with it.

            The reason ‘WMD’ and not ‘nuclear weapons’ is the expression used for Saddam’s weapons is that they were always believed to be biological and chemical weapons in Iraq but not nuclear weapons.

            David Kelly believed to the end of his life that there were biological weapons in Iraq and the story in The Independent / New York Times I cite above confirms that chemical weapons were found there.

            The USA went to war for regime change in Iraq – a policy instigated by Bill Clinton. The UK government did not do that because the Labour Party would not have voted for it, so the UK’s official reason was the existence of WMD in the face of UN resolutions – particularly 678 which authorised the use of force and was referred to by 1441, the most recent

          • MickC

            Hahaha! Hilarious stuff!

          • Clive

            You think The Independent and the New York Times funny ?

        • tbraton

          It’s very interesting to see the headline on today’s NY Times re a U.S. attack on a leading terrorist in “eastern Libya” (as I recall, Benghazi is located in “eastern Libya”). According the Times, “multiple bombs were dropped on the target.” It’s good to see that we are continuing the good work of Moammar Qaddafi in battling those troublesome terrorists in eastern Libya. It would have been a lot better for Libya and the rest of the world had we allowed Qaddafi to live and continue the battle against the terrorists in Libya. He probably could have done a much better job controlling those terrorists than the U.S. and its “NATO allies.”

  • davidofkent

    I did comment at the time that it would end in tears and I was not alone in such a comment. Of course, nobody listens to us ‘little people’. I put it down to poor quality politicians needing their ‘little war’ so that they can pretend to be men of action. Our Western governments seem to delight in interfering in other people’s problems – and making them worse. With the current Defence Review in mind, I would like to see the British Army reduced a little further so that we cannot intervene where we are not wanted. At the same time we need our proper Home Defence forces in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy considerably strengthened. What is the betting that the opposite will actually happen?

    • JoeCro

      Cameron is an ‘Army’ man through and through. He has no understanding of the true value of a well equipped and funded Navy and Air force.

  • Clive

    Hugo Rifkind is just another idiot who wants the USSR back.

    When you destroy an authoritarian regime, the nation; area – whatever that regime ruled – goes to pieces. That is because it has no experience of government having itself been repressed for a long time.

    So it was in the USSR; in Iraq and latterly in Libya. It is a transition.

    The USSR, though, is the mother and father of them. 300,000 people died in Chechnya – more than all of these other conflicts many times over. That leaves out the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; the Georgian conflict and trouble in Moldova; authoritarian regimes in Belarus and elsewhere and, arguably, in Moscow. There is a future problem in Ukraine and a potential world war over the Baltic states.

    Yet strangely, this man expresses no opinion on whether the USSR should be brought back. If it had continued in existence, none of this would have happened. The same is true of Yugoslavia but let’s not go there.

    The transition – successfully achieved in the Baltics – is to democratic politics. It is usually arrived at from first principles, often after much pain.

    We have the beginnings of it in Iraq and although much is made of Iranian influence on Iraq, someone should look at Iraqi influence on Iran. Iraq has a generally (though not entirely) more secular approach which is working its way back into Iran’s psyche. This is reported in Spiegel People in the West tend to have a monolithic view of Iran. But there’s a lot more to the country than the mullah-led theocracy, and it often gets ignored. And national pride is alive and well.

    • Simon Fay

      “It is a transition”

      “From being killed you have learned what it is to be alive, Grasshopper”.

      Excellently cold-eyed and ruthless elite-progressivism. Well done.

      • Clive

        You made no observation on whether or not you wanted the USSR back – do you ?

        Simon De Montfort was dismembered. Reportedly his testicles were cut off and placed on either side of his nose. Other parts of his body were sent to various parts of the country.

        Simon De Montfort was associated with a bigger advance in democracy in England than Magna Carta. That was his reward.

        Starting from nowhere – or still worse, a violent, repressive regime – how should anyone know not to just kill their opponents ?

        • Simon Fay

          WTF are you on about, O Gnomic One? Are you suggesting that setting the world ablaze is the necessary transitional pain incurred by saving the self-same world? Oy vey!

          • Clive

            You still made no response on whether you want the USSR back – do you ? It would still potentially save many lives in Ukraine through authoritarian repression

            Violently repressive authoritarian states frequently appear to go through a period of violent anarchy before becoming anything else. For those states, that transition appears to be unavoidable.

            Where there are ‘fault lines’ in those states – like the Shi’a / Sunni divide in Middle Eastern countries or the Muslim / Christian divide in Russia and Yugoslavia or even the rich / poor divide in 18th century France or 20th century Russia – the result is likely to be even more bitter and violent.

            Those violent authoritarian states keep their internal divisions closed through violent means. Keeping them in power – as you want – maintains those conditions. For instance, those like you who condemn the Iraq War accept Saddam’s Kurdish massacres like Halabja and the massacres in the Shi’a south of the country.

          • Simon Fay

            Yes, I have to accept the fact of Saddam’s oppression, not being prepared to sign up to your peers’ idealistic world-redeeming crusade. And do eff off with your supposedly razor-sharp “USSR” prodding.

  • Ken

    Cameron is not responsible for what has happened in Libya, but he is responsible for getting us involved in it. It is not the responsibility of the West to bring civilisation to the Middle East, it is their responsibility to develop it.

    If we could recognise that, we could eliminate the deficit and stop making us hated across the region.

  • Peter Stroud

    Cameron’s Libyan adventure ŵas a tactical error that quickly developed into a strategic blunder. It should have put his leadership in some doubt. His stupid proposal to bomb Syria, thankfully led to a Commons defeat. But it had the awful side effect of making Miliband look statesmanlike.

  • Caractacus

    ISIS came out of Syria, not Iraq or Libya. Iraq and Libya are vulnerable states emerging from dictatorship and ISIS has taken advantage of that vulnerability. Our mistake was not necessarily in liberating those countries (although Blair did so illegally) but in not providing them with adequate security to build a strong state post liberation. Cameron isn’t even providing our own forces with the cash they need, let alone funding that of another country. So that’s wrong. Blair on the other hand is just an evil w*nker.

    • Clive

      The Iraq War was exactly as illegal as the Kosovo War – which NATO were engaged in.

      Good luck prosecuting them.

  • cartimandua

    Saddam was going to buy ex Soviet WMDs the moment sanctions were lifted.
    Daffi was going back on his promise not to get WMDs and he supplied the IRA.
    We were not and are not responsible for the 100 million in the regions youth bulge.
    Except we gave a lot of people clean water and vaccines.
    Our bad.

  • Interesting article.
    However, respectfully, let’s consider.
    1. Intervene militarily, occupy – Disaster = Iraq.
    2. Intervene militarily, don’t occupy – Disaster = Libya
    3. Don’t intervene militarily, don’t occupy – Disaster = Syria

    There’s a theme and a moral hear – leave them to it!

    • justejudexultionis

      You mean arm both sides and let them get on with it?

  • Roger Hudson

    I definitely blame Cameron for Libya, i thought most people did.
    Britain hated Gaddafi, because he deposed Idris who was a British tool, we tried a counter-coup and that made Gaddafi support any anti-Brit cause like the PIRA.
    As for Lockerbie, a black flag job and another reason for enmity.
    Britain should never have interfered, very often doing nothing really is the best policy in the long run.

  • John welsh

    If I was a politician who did more than most to prevent intervention against Slobadan Milosovic, I’d keep quiet. But like most of the Major government, hubris is second nature.
    Read Nick Cohens ‘what’s left’ for Rifkind disgracefully berating Bob Dole (wounded in the Second World War) for suggesting intervention in Bosnia.
    What a hypocrite

    Gadaffi had his tanks and artillery lined up outside Benghazi. He would have torched the place without western opposition. We had to do it.

  • Sten vs Bren

    I thought I recognised that bald bloke in the picture. He used to be Foreign Secretary, you know.

    Then he woke up one morning and decided that he didn’t want to be Foreign Secretary, First Secretary of State, in the Government, an MP, a politician or famous any more.

    Funny old world*.

    *condition of actual world may not be amusing.

  • Chingford Man

    The time to have held Cameron to account over Libya was during the election campaign. Funnily enough the Speccie never did, despite a former Ambassador to Syria lambasting Cameron in the most undiplomatic of terms.

  • thomasaikenhead

    An excellent article that asks some very pertinent questions indeed about both Cameron and Blair!

    Well done, Hugo!

  • Daniel Noel-Davies

    Put simply sir, You are a moron. The creation and cultivation of IS goes back a lot further than this and it’s a lot deeper than you’ll ever understand. Stop trying to air your opinion when it lacks context, valid content, and evidence.

  • Perseus Slade

    ISIS is coming and we are in a stew
    Please drop a JDAM on their HQ
    If you haven’t got a JDAM a barrel bomb will do
    If you haven’t got a barrel bomb God bless you

  • Michael Smith

    The counterfactual stands. Bombing Assad would not necessarily hindered the Islamic State, but not bombing Assad plainly didn’t work either – and this is precisely what, according to the argument above, should have produced a better outcome. Had we allowed Gaddafi to destroy Benghazi, would that have put a brake on the jihadis? Possibly, but for all we know it might have hastened the dissolution of the Libyan state.

    • Clive

      A week or so ago the USA is accusing Assad of cooperating with IS The U.S. has accused the Syrian government of supporting the advance of ISIS militants near Aleppo through a series of strategic airstrikes, according to tweets published on the page of the U.S. embassy in Syria.

      …and it has been going on for some time

      Logic would suggest that Mr Assad and Isil are out to destroy one another. But logic works in curious ways in the Middle East. As he wages a ruthless struggle to hold power, the evidence suggests that Mr Assad has quietly cooperated with his supposed enemies and actively helped their rise.

      The thinking behind this apparently perverse strategy is simple. Mr Assad wants to force his own people and the West to make an unpalatable choice: either he stays in place, or Syria falls into the hands of Isil’s fanatics. When push comes to shove, Mr Assad thinks that most Syrians and the Western powers will back him over the fundamentalists.

      But this plan will only work if Isil is the most powerful rebel force. The signs are that Mr Assad has done his best to make this come true.

      As recently as 2012, Isil was a marginalised movement confined to a small area of Iraq. Then Mr Assad emptied Sednaya jail near Damascus of some of its most dangerous jihadist prisoners. If he hoped that these men would join Isil and strengthen its leadership, then that aspiration was certainly fulfilled. A number of figures in the movement’s hierarchy are believed to be former inmates of Syrian prisons, carefully released by the regime.

    • cartimandua

      It would have sent 1.5 million towards Europe.

  • Thenowearce

    < ✜✱✪✪✲✜ +spectator +*********….. < Now Go R­e­­a­d M­o­r­e


  • Liberanos

    ISIS is what happens when muslims follow the koran to the letter.

    • justejudexultionis

      ISIS demonstrates the superiority of Christianity.

  • AverageGuyInTheStreet

    So by following this logic we should not have bombed the Germans in WW2. Yes, if Germany had been an Islamic state full of believers, than no doubt it would have descended into the usual savagery once its dictator had been eliminated. But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. Let’s cut the crap and start calling a spade a spade.

  • jim

    Isis is islam left to it’s own devices and working towards the logical conclusion of it’s own perverted thinking.

  • WirralBill

    Our so-called leaders are addicted to the easy decision – whether it’s Libya or refugees, they’d far rather convince us that their action will make everything better, even as it makes things worse, rather than taking hard-headed decisions in our best interests and “sell” the reasons why they are making those decisions.

    So, we bomb foreign lands, making them worse, because it’s easier than not; and we do nothing, either, about the resulting refugee crisis, making our own immigration crisis worse.