A little earlier this week I posted on the death of Bin Laden. Sadly, it was not a very exciting post full of conspiracy theories (he has signed a secret pact with Obama to fake his death in return for silence, he never existed in the first place, Prince William was flying one of the helicopters et cetera).
Instead, I simply tried to make the moral case for what essentially was a state sponsored assassination. I still think that case is right and the act just, but on reflection there was something ironic about this. Because just before that event I had been composing a short piece on why I was most unhappy with what appeared to be the deliberate targeting of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.
A few weeks ago I posted on David Cameron’s powerful speech supporting direct military action, and mentioned how, with a heavy and reluctant heart, I was persuaded by what he had to say. But then I made clear that I had real reservations about yet another military adventure.
The position in Libya now seems to be something of a stalemate at best, and in any case volatile and unpredictable in the extreme. Support is ebbing away in the Arab world (if it was ever there) at amongst other matter the perceived hypocrisy of robust intervention in Libya, but inaction over the brutal repression of protest in Syria
Last week it seems possible that a NATO airstrike has killed members of Gaddafi’s family. To be precise his youngest son and also three of his grandchildren. Whilst it if fair to say that one cannot put complete reliance on reports from the Libyan regime, it is clear that a large amount of lethal ordinance was lobbed into somebody’s bungalow, with predictably devastating effect.
The initial response has been the destruction of the British Embassy, but I have to say that I found it quite surprising the Embassy hadn’t been trashed weeks ago. We are, after all, busily bombing the country as and when we deem it to be necessary.
Whatever NATO may say, there is no doubt in my mind that there have been attempts to kill Gaddafi, and that the recent incident is an illustration of that. Please don’t get me wrong, I would lose no sleep if Mr Gaddafi were to accidentally choke on his falafel sandwich and shuffle off this moral coil. The man is a nasty, murdering, psychopath. But I find it very hard to see anything in UN Resolution 1973 which permits the targeting of Gaddafi, wide though it may be.
At very best an attempt to kill Gaddafi this strains international law to breaking point. International law is a strange beast; it is a very different concept and demands very different considerations from what is ordinarily understood as law, but that need not detain us now. But on the whole the specific targeting of Heads of State is traditionally is a “no-no”. One might speculate that this is and selfish reasons, because those in power who are often so cavalier when it comes to issuing orders which mean that others kill and be killed don’t like the idea that they may themselves have a few ounces of lethal lead or shrapnel heading their way, but perhaps I am being cynical.
The argument that Gaddafi is legitimately in the firing line because he is directly involved in operations strikes me as a bogus one, unless he takes to the battle field armed with a machine gun. He issues orders, just as Dave from Oxford does when he authorises and directs British military actions. And the President of the United States in the Commander in Chief, for goodness sake. How much more “directly involved” can you get than that?
However, my point, and my rhetorical question is this: given that I have adopted a fairly robust line in the case of Bin Laden, why do I find myself so uncomfortable with what appear to be deliberate attempts to “take out” (don’t people just love saying that instead of “kill”) Gaddafi? Is it because Gaddafi had not mounted a direct attack on what I will loosely call “us”? Or am I merely intellectually sloppy and a hypocrite? If someone could explain I would be grateful and take the correction of my moral compass in good part.
Whatever the answer, we do seem to be spending an awful lot of time careering around other people’s countries killing people.
And consider this. Gaddafi is a man with a proven track record of terrorist action or support for terrorism. Indeed according to one British Court his regime was the prime cause of the biggest act of mass murder in these Isles when blowing up the airliner over Lockerbie. Leaving aside controversy over that issue, it is clear that he actively supported the IRA and perhaps others.
Now, assuming that Gaddafi is a vile ruthless murdering nutcase who is willing to use terrorism as a means of action, what, I wonder, might he be expected to do if cornered, attacked and he has his family killed in the process? Is it beyond the wit of man to imagine that he might perhaps use means which we might regard as a tad nasty and underhand to strike back, perhaps by some terrorist outrage?
The funny thing is that if Gaddafi did do something like that I could, whilst being appalled, almost see his point. I mean, he can say he’s got NATO planes buzzing round Libyan skies, he’s had members of his family blown to pieces: is he expected to just sit back and take it without fighting back with whatever under hand means he can use? So if Gaddafi remains in some form of power, can we be sure that some form of reprisal will not be in hand, perhaps, God forbid, on a grand Lockerbie style scale? The answer is: no.
I suspect that this thought has now crossed the minds of the great and the good, and had not been considered before. The tiger has been well and truly caught by the tail. And this illustrates the problem of the persuasive, principled stance that so many of our politicians have adopted over the past decade. Politicians who, I note, have been very eager to commit to wars without ever personally having tasted its horrid consequences up close and personal. The problem is that it is a nasty business, and always has horrible, dangerous and unpredictable consequences. Truly as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Here we are unable to commit to openly commit to regime change, but in all but name that is now the objective. Are we continuing to slide down a slippery slope, legally, morally and militarily once again? Perhaps it is time to recognise that we cannot always intervene, however persuasively the case is put?
Gildas the Monk