Iraq and Libya: Two Missions, With Much Accomplished
“We have been waiting for this historic moment. I would like take this opportunity to call on Libyans to put aside their grudges and proclaim one word: Libya. Libya. Libya” – Mahmoud Jibril
“The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success” – Barack Obama
The day after the Libyan civil war was in essence brought to its rightful if not preferable conclusion, via the slaughter of Muammar Gaddafi – the man with the golden gun – in the city of Sirte, President Obama announced the effective conclusion of the liberation of Iraq. American troops will withdraw in toto from Iraqi soil by the end of December, and Iraq will be a self-governing democratic state, at unity in itself. And, come October 31, allied forces will cease their operations in Libya.
A combination of mission creep and war fatigue – the West having been on the front foot for some ten years or more now – has resulted in disillusionment at best, and contempt at worst, for our missions in Libya and Iraq. The so-called anti-war movement has gained strength since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and isolationism is back in vogue, particularly where the new Republican field is concerned. The consensus seems to be, in this age of austerity and depression, that the only nations we need to be building now are our own.
But as Tony Blair noted in his speech to the Chicago Economic Club in April 1999, this is a choice which no longer exists, for globalisation has not only altered the economic landscape, but the political and security spheres as well. “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not,” Blair argued. “We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure”.
It is on this basis that our interventions in Iraq and Libya are in part vindicated. We removed from power two tyrants who moulded states in which their subjects experienced all the most awful possibilities of the human experience. These men were not only dangers to their own people – having used in the case of Saddam chemical and biological weapons as a tool of retribution and extermination – but they were legitimate threats to the international order and global peace and stability.
Gaddafi’s links with international terror were notorious – he aided, abetted, and funded such operations the Lockerbie bombing, the 1986 Berlin discotheque slaughter, and the Munich massacre, and organisations including the IRA, ETA, and PFLP. Saddam Hussein offered inducements to Palestinian terrorists on the West Bank during the al-Aqsa intifada, and gave shelter to the Abu Nidal network (including after September 11 and the liberation of Afghanistan). He repeatedly defied United Nations resolutions with regard to his WMD and ballistic missile programmes, and the Duelfer Report concluded that Saddam had both the capacity and desire to reconstitute his deadly arsenal.
Coexistence with such shady individuals – who were both armed and unhinged — not was an option. The removal of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were therefore long overdue – it is surely better that we conducted these missions on our terms, than allow the commencement of some awful conflagration, out of which little could be salvaged.
The gross cost of the liberation of Iraq – some $1 trillion – is the result of our collective failure to remove Saddam earlier when we had the golden opportunity after his forces were driven out of Kuwait. Tony Blair was correct to state in his Chicago speech, “If we let an evil dictator range unchallenged, we will have to spill infinitely more blood and treasure to stop him later”.
Our second source of validation is that we have given forces committed to democracy, liberty and human rights in Libya and Iraq the opportunity to construct a free and civil society. Witness what has happened in Iraq through the mist of internal strife, particularly in the Kurdish north, and you will see what is possible once the shackles of totalitarian rule are removed: the opportunity in elections to select from amongst a multitude of candidates; the opening up of the press; the beginnings of free debate and inquiry. The difference betwixt pre- and post-Saddam Iraq is one of night and day, and so it will be in Libya too.
That said, if Iraq and Libya in their own distinct ways have given unto us one unifying lesson, it is that whilst great powers can remove oppressive structures and replace them with new models, what we cannot do is mould societies to utilise them effectively. Whilst we might be able to accelerate the process with appropriate inducement, this is an entirely organic process, one which is the responsibility of the people themselves. In this respect, this notion of “nation-building” is a misleading one.
Thomas Jefferson once remarked that, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”. Nearly 5,000 coalition troops have laid down their lives in Iraq since 2003, not to mention the 110,000 civilians who have died at the hands of thugs and terrorists amidst the chaos. Now, the people of Iraq and Libya possess the chance to begin life anew, free from single-family rule, from pain and torture, and from the presence of an omniscient one-person state. Whatever the cost, of this, I believe we can be legitimately proud.