On the day that the notorious battle of Gallipoli is remembered, HMS Bulwark has been tasked to deploy in a humanitarian mission to the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. Gallipoli was fought in unbearable conditions of heat, where many young men were slain as much by sickness as by enemy fire. One pint of water per day was the ration which failed to hydrate their superhuman struggles in searing conditions. Gallipoli is today a byword in doomed attempts to win the impossible.
Records show that in the midst of futile bloodshed many of the newcomers to the coast of Turkey marvelled at the breathtaking beauty of the country’s backdrop to the grotesque scenes of warfare.
It is a heartfelt hope that Libya will not also go down in history as another plan which failed. Today there are high dreams from her friends that Libya will yet arise from the ashes as a glorious example of victory over tragic defeats. In the Telegraph article attached, even David Cameron’s main political opponent, particularly while locked in grimy election battle for the leadership, could not concoct evidence against the UK prime minister. Accusations that Cameron actually intended to destabilise the nation of Libya when Benghazi cried out for urgent rescue will not stand up to honest scrutiny. Even Ed Miliband could not manage to brand Britain with any ulterior agenda when UK took the risky 2011 decision to intervene, pressuring France and USA to co-ordinate for a successful outcome. These are the only words Labour’s Miliband could muster to aim the most damaging fire possible against his political adversary:
“In Libya, Labour supported military action to avoid the slaughter Gaddafi threatened in Benghazi. But since the action, the failure of post conflict planning has become obvious. David Cameron was wrong to assume that Libya’s political culture and institutions could be left to evolve and transform on their own.
“What we have seen in Libya is that when tensions over power and resource began to emerge, they simply reinforced deep seated ideological and ethnic fault lines in the country, meaning the hopes of the revolutionary uprisings quickly began to unravel. The tragedy is that this could have been anticipated.
“It should have been avoided. And Britain could have played its part in ensuring the international community stood by the people of Libya in practice rather than standing behind the unfounded hopes of potential progress only in principle.”
N.B. Ed Miliband has no record of personally formulating any post-conflict planning statements or suggestions, other than stating support for the new Libyan government and insisting that UK must “take the lead from Libyans”. Labour’s record was equally devoid of any helpful ideas for Syria.
Whenever a nation is impelled to rise up in battle to prevent evil from arriving or spreading, the consequences can never be predicted. It is a yet-unborn genius who can make a correct call on every occasion, militarily and politically. Even Churchill made historic blunders and is only a hero today because his overall war story resulted in an ultimate victory over a fanatical fascist bid.
If all violence is a sickness, then military action to mitigate tyranny is at the very least an exercise in healing and hope. That is the spirit in which UK responded to Libya’s agony. With hindsight, Cameron is not thanked, but blamed, for Libya’s soul-destroying chaos today. He will re-assess what can be done in the days and years ahead, to help her people to restore health to Libya, whose particularly complex conditions an outsider appears to have misunderstood. If, indeed, “the tragedy is that this could have been anticipated” is a correct verdict by Ed Miliband, then why did the other, Libyan, participants in the enterprise not fully inform the world in advance? Why were Cameron’s hopes more irresponsibly unfounded than anyone else’s? His ill-advised neglect, once his initial mission was accomplished, is not the same as malevolent betrayal.
Miliband’s accusation that Cameron “assumed that Libya’s political culture and institutions could be left to evolve and transform on their own” actually evidences a resounding compliment to Libyans. Like many outsiders, Cameron’s government had been inspired by the talent, intelligence and ability of many Libyans who were most active in the process of liberation. Cameron’s advisors miscalculated the extent of the job laid at UK’s door, judging that Libyans were already sufficiently provided with the human resourcefulness to take ownership of their revolution. It was a forgivable mistake, since the world continues to witness Libyans of extraordinary talent striving to re-habilitate their country with a courage and energy which resembles, sometimes, a virtual form of native philosophy…
The lesson of Gallipoli is never to admit defeat. Currently, however, the lesson might be to give up before even trying. The world then divides into the strong who will avert their gaze from scenes of tragedy; and the weak who must languish in a hell with no prospect of succour before their dreams are extinguished forever. There are many examples of civilisations which eventually collapse from within. Hindsight is a fine thing, but no more available to decision makers than a crystal ball. Sticking-plasters, meanwhile, continue to be an essential component of the free world’s soft new humanitarian action kit. The alternative is further, more invasive, surgery which might prompt anguished protest from the patient!