The first rule is that the bastards always get away with it. A report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Tory MP Crispin Blunt, has roundly condemned David Cameron for his 2011 war in Libya, another disastrous Western intervention in which the great humanitarians of the international community engaged with the complex tangle of Libyan politics from 30,000 feet, dropping bombs on it until it all went away – but who is David Cameron? He resigned his seat in Parliament the day before – probably coincidentally, but who knows? Cameron is a private citizen now, just another lump of perishing flesh wandering between rooms in his seven-bedroom Holland Park townhouse, leaning against a country gate to watch the sky darkening over Oxfordshire, a somatic appendage to his now-dead premiership, accountable to nobody, responsible for nothing. For the rest of his life David Cameron will linger in the long dimming Afterwards; the same place we all seem to be stuck all the time, trapped in the wreckage of something that's already happened, where things get worse by the day and there's never any justice.
Not that it really matters, but the Select Committee's report is fairly accurate – it's been described as "scathing", a "mauling", a "slamming", but if anything it doesn't go far enough. It's all still couched in the measured pseudo-objective tones of a parliamentary report, when the only proper reaction to Britain's war in Libya would be a long fuck-you scream of outrage, with those in charge put in the dock. There was, it concludes, "no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya"; it notes that "political options were available" but not pursued, that "a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into a policy of regime change by military means"; it identifies the war in Libya as a leading factor in the spread of Isis throughout the region. All of this is true, and more. While the Libyan government had for decades taken brutal and oppressive measures against its citizens, even Cameron admitted that he had no legal authority to force its overthrow by military means – before sending the RAF to do exactly that. Libya wasn't just a case of poor planning, faulty intelligence and mission creep – it was all a monstrous charade from the very beginning.
We were lied to: in the days and weeks leading up to Nato's war on Libya the public was told that Western intervention was necessary to prevent a massacre of civilians in Benghazi. It was not. We were told that Gaddafi's soldiers were being issued Viagra to commit mass rape in captured towns, that they'd fired anti-aircraft weapons on peaceful protesters, that they were bringing in mercenaries from Chad and Niger to subdue the population. Amnesty International found no evidence for this and the mass lynching of Libya's black population remains one of the war's most horrifying and under-reported consequences. We were told that Western military power would make the world a better and safer place for everyone. It would not.
Everything the report said is true, and it's all too late. Too late for David Cameron, who can now blithely holiday around the world he helped create, flouncing off to Europe's sunnier spots to avoid the country he's ruining, hopping between Mediterranean islands always ahead of the refugees whose homes he destroyed. But also too late for anything. Those of us who object to wars of aggression shouldn't take this report as a victory; it's just a sign of our own powerlessness, that even members of Parliament can only look down on another great tragedy of our age after the fact and declare, after a lengthy investigation, that it was actually a bad thing.
It's good that we're talking about Libya again, after all those long years ignoring a country's descent into total destruction, but the only thing that can be expressed is regret. Libya's pre-war economy, while despotic, was relatively prosperous. The country scored highly in the UN's Human Development Index. Now we see armed gangs in the streets, banks out of money, millions hiding in homes without electricity, slowly cooking in their terror and the 40-degree heat.
Our judgement is always retroactive; in a few years some inquiry will be saying the same kind of thing about the next war, and the next, and the one after that. The people who have the basic common sense needed to know that these things are bad before they happen – like, for instance, the present leader of the opposition – are always sidelined. Jeremy Corbyn was right about Libya, all those dictator-hugging loonies at Stop The War were right about Libya, but that wasn't important then, and it won't be next time either.
If you want to see David Cameron's legacy, it's mangled in the Sahara. The man always tried to present himself as decisive, making the tough decisions that had to be made; he somehow turned "it's the right thing to do" into the catchphrase of his premiership, but Libya was the only real decision he ever made. On everything else he just floated, vague and scummy, along the prevailing tide: the idiot economic orthodoxy called for austerity, so he implemented it; a coalition of liverspotted aristocrats, eccentric press barons, and retired colonels peering through blinds in the Home Counties wanted an EU referendum, so he gave them one. On Libya he really did have a choice: Obama was wavering, and if it weren't for relentless lobbying from the British and French governments the destruction of an entire country might never have happened.
Cameron declined a request to defend himself before the Select Committee, telling them that "the pressures on my diary in this period will not permit me to appear"; in one of his few statements on the war after its full failure was revealed, he said that the Libyan people "had an opportunity to build what they said they wanted" and that they had missed it – it was their own fault, the ingrates, for squandering the beautiful war he had given them. It's all past and all conditional; what's done is done, it doesn't matter any more. And now, in much the same way that Libya faded from our headlines as soon as the tragedy was no longer someone else's fault but ours, and therefore nobody's, David Cameron will slink away from public life, and the mess he made will rejoin the general mess of the world. He'll get away with it; they always do.
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