Libya: “hand in hand to hell”

Britain (and France, and the USA) seem to be making the same mistake Britain made here in Hong Kong in 1941.

Britain refused to arm the Chinese fearing they would rise against the British. Although it is doubtful whether this would have succeeded, Britain lost Hong Kong in three weeks trying to fight the Japanese with a few battalions of seasoned men and untrained but terribly brave Canadians.

Instead of providing arms to the Libyan opposition, Britain, France and the USA are participating rather half-heartedly in the war. It seems to be insufficient owing to the domestic opposition that would erupt if a more serious intervention occured.

Policymakers need to examine a success story. This was the support the USA gave Croatia in its 1995 war with Serbia. Instead of direct air support or “boots on the ground”, the USA, acting unilaterally, armed and trained Croatia, “laundering” the operation through a private company in Virginia.

This was possible because in the oversimplified calculus of policymakers, Croatia was “European” (and unlike Spain in 1936, not “left-wing”) and thus passed the perception test.

A different language was used to discuss Croatia. Since it was European and Christian, its legitimacy was assumed and its war crimes in Bosnia and the Krajina district of Croatia were ignored.

Whereas (save when it was very briefly convenient a year or so ago) Qaddafi is regarded as what used to be known as a “paynim”, a pagan, an Other, a Carthage “which must be destroyed”. He is assumed to be irrational by policymakers including Berlusconi and Sarkoze whose hold on reality is in fact itself questionable.

Likewise, the Lbyan opposition is feared as possibly Fundamentalist although there is no positive indication that it is fighting an Islamic war and will unite with other Arab countries against the West’s proxy, Israel.

Therefore, like the Chinese population of Hong Kong in 1941, the opposition is not armed and is on the verge of losing.

Recolonialism seems to be the story here despite the fact that the West hasn’t got the resources to make a go of it this time around. And that is bad news indeed…for us Westerners. It means the global war of color prophesied by my great-Grandfather in 1941, one that will unite the Arab world and create a Caliphate. It means a future of George Orwell’s “herring and potatoes” for Britain itself.

Some serious skulduggery, like that of the US in Croatia, is required. The West needs some Flash Harries and Richard Holbrookes to make this come out right (Holbrooke was the US diplomat who resolved the first phase of the war in southeast Europe in 1995). Men without illusions. The problem that illusions (also known as sound bytes and media images) now control and politics is the management of shadows, Richard III’s problem on the eve of defeat at Bosworth:

By the Apostle Paul, shadowes to night
Haue stroke more terror to the soule of Richard,
Then can the substance of ten thousand Souldiers
Armed in proofe, and led by shallow Richmond.

– Shakespeare

We’re being led into the abyss, “hand in hand to hell” by politicians whose grounding is in the false authenticity of cheap cynicism. Babbling about politics as the art of the possible, they lack imagination, they lack culture, and they lack bones. And British redcoats and French Legionnaires will pay the price while our “leaders” have (to quote Elvis Costello) have feasts on the backsides of beasts, starting with the Royal Wedding.


Richard Holbrooke, TO END A WAR. Modern Library 1999


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