Saturday, September 10, 2011


So now we know what 'bringing Gaddafi in from the cold' really meant.  Not just nice profitable deals, the renouncing of weapons of mass destruction and the dubious enrichment of academic institutions, it also meant rendition, torture and chummy communications and collaboration with some of the worst criminals of the regime.

It is called 'realism' in the jargon, the pursuit of interests at the expense of principles. It used to be called appeasement and generally ended in things like the Second World War, but we don't use words like that any more for anything other than propaganda purposes. Nowadays it is seen in things like the attempt to talk with the Taliban as part of a strategy of withdrawal - I think 'reconciliation' is the preferred word here.

The opposition to this is principled internationalism, supporting people against oppression, even if there are short-term costs and considerable risks. In Libya, the popular revolution forced a choice between the two and, to the credit of the governments who enabled the UN resolution, the old policy of accommodation fell. The regime's defeat became inevitable, even if the future of Libya remains uncertain.

One of the things that this whole affair shows is just what is possible if you give a tyrant the gift of secure and supported tyranny. This raises questions about those who accuse Western interventions of bad intention, such as being 'all about oil'.  Compare the benefits of cosying up to amenable dictators with the risks you run trying to overthrow them. Even if naked self-interest is part of the mix of motivations when making the choice to intervene, so too is a sense of principle, without which governments would have let Gaddafi crush the revolution with public hand-wringing and the continuation of private deal-making. And when that principle is absent, all we are left with is the acceptance of cash and the awarding of degrees, played out to the distant echo of the screams of the tortured.

1 comment:

michalek said...

All very confusing. I thought the rapprochement with Gaddafi was brought about by the great liberal interventionist, Blair? And this rapprochement was supposed to have been what made the bloodbath in Iraq worthwhile?