Where is the negotiation on Libya, asks Bristol-based Iraq expert

Military action against a country’s army does not serve to destabilize a leader – it just creates fervent nationalism, says former Bristol NUJ executive member and Iraq expert JULIA GUEST

As David Cameron tries to steer the juggernaut of military action he excitedly advocated to save the people of Libya from themselves, he has created the same paradox that existed in Iraq.  

Military action against a country’s army does not serve to destabilize a leader, it creates fervent nationalism, which is now very apparent. 

 The Libyan army attacking Benghazi may have been about to commit hideous war crimes. However, they are still people, who have families, lives, hopes and dreams inside Libya. 

Many of them will not have signed up to take this action with Gaddaffi, but they will have been left with little choice. Now, their families will forever blame us for their losses.

Each person in this conflict has become a victim and at the same time the aggressor. 

 Why are we not using the diplomatic services and skills our countries have at their disposal, all the track-two conflict resolution negotiators who work so hard in the background, who have the insight of the country situation, know the people to talk to and can negotiate a solution all parties can accept?

Simply throwing military might at this problem is creating a polarized situation and may, as in Iraq, cost many more lives in the future.  

 Or is Mr Cameron simply perpetuating the cycle of arms trading, battle-testing our weapons and keeping our subsidised arms industry afloat to support our oil corporations’ interests?

Sanctions don’t work to remove dictators: they just destroy the infrastructure of a country, undermining people’s ability to think about anything other than daily survival. 

 Libya, as with Iraq, without Gaddaffi will be left with a power vacuum,  a society with no experience of democracy.  The model of dictatorship will have left its mark on people who are most likely to repeat the patterns of authoritarian behaviour, rather than understanding the responsibility it will now take from the community to truly self-govern.   

Let’s hope that we in Bristol will be able to help some of the people who will soon no longer be able to live in Libya at all. 

Bristol-based Iraq expert and film-maker Julia Guest was a member of Bristol NUJ and was on the Bristol Branch executive in 2007. She is Director/Producer of the award-winning documentary on the effects of war in Iraq, ‘A Letter to the Prime Minister’, and is an Expert Witness on Iraq. 

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  1. Iqbal Tamimi says:

    David Cameron is not trying to save the people of Libya from themselves; he is trying to save them from a ruthless dictator. We have to remember that the Libyans are not armed, but Gaddafi and his sons are. The Libyans will have no chance whatsoever to get out of Gaddafi’s hell without the help of the international community, including UK that is forced to interfere and do something, otherwise it will have to deal with the consequences, and here I mean thousands of displaced people and refugees.
    I regret to say that our colleague seems to know very little about Gaddafi, Libya’s case is totally different from that of Iraq, and her claim that ‘Each person in this conflict has become a victim and at the same time the aggressor’ is not true. Victims are victims. I hope she can tell us how she sees raping a female lawyer by 15 of Gaddafi’s men? Does she still consider Iman Alobaidi and many more like her as aggressors?
    I can assure you that diplomatic services and skills you are talking about will never change the mind of Gaddafi. He is a control freak who is not in touch with reality.
    Your statement that ‘ Mr Cameron simply perpetuating the cycle of arms trading, battle-testing our weapons and keeping our subsidised arms industry afloat to support our oil corporations’ interests?’ is not accurate. We know well that there were huge cuts in the army and it’s not feasible to test of British weapons in Libya or anywhere else, there are other countries involved in helping Libyans. Are you suggesting that all those countries had an agreement to test their toys in Libya?
    Regarding your worries that the British forces might ‘destroy the infrastructure of Libya, undermining people’s ability to think about anything other than daily survival’.
    I totally disagree; the targeted areas were only military bases. What infra structure you are talking about? All Libyan revenues were wasted on Gaddafi’s adventures in arming different militias in Africa including that of Zimbabwi and the Zaghawa tribes in Sudan. Gaddafi has not invested his country’s wealth in building anything worth mentioning, unlike Qatar for example where the wealth of the country has been used to offer an excellent living standards for the nation.
    We should not be emotional about such issues even though we are all worried about the consequences of wars. I do understand your worries because of the grave mistakes that happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what is going in Libya is a totally different case. Gaddafi proved to behave in an irrational manner, he never cared about other people’s losses or about respecting human dignity and the lives of innocent people.
    For the record, I have heard from a Libyan that Gadafi has used the same corpses of Libyan people his troops attacked earlier to show them on TV as victims of the Western allies who are trying to secure the safety of civilians in Libya. I might be able to trust Satan but I will never trust this delusional man.

  2. admin says:

    I think Julia is right about Iraq but wrong about Libya. Military intervention in Iraq was wrongly conceived, badly planned and shamefully lacking in preparation for the aftermath.

    Libya is different – a country in the throes of revolution where civilians may well have been massacred in large numbers if the West had not stepped in.

    Rather than looking to Iraq for a parallel, we should think of Serbia – a country where the EU’s timidity about military action led to atrocities before NATO stepped in.

    Those who argue that the West should have stood by while Libyans decided their own future might think about what we might be facing right now if the warplanes hadn’t been launched. Benghazi might be the scene of mass atrocities and the rest of the world might be calling for the heads of Western leaders who could have acted but didn’t.

    It is hard to see how the situation could have been resolved by negotiation. I am sure attempts were made – indeed we hear they’re still going on. But Gaddafi has shown his word is not to be trusted – two ceasefires so far have been declared and then ignored.

    The future is unknowable, but at crucial points decisions have to be made on the basis of the facts known at the time, and occasionally military action is the least worse of a series of undesirable options.

    (This is of course my personal opinion, not that of Bristol NUJ or any other part of the union.)

    Paul Breeden
    Chair, Bristol NUJ

  3. Julia Guest says:

    Thankfully it’s now being reported that all sides are looking for a diplomatic solution.


    And please sign the petition for Imam Obeidi

  4. Julia Guest says:

    I would add that how Gaddaffi is dealt with in the future, needs to be handled with great care. If his supporters perceive – and it’s perception that always counts more than the justice itself – that he is dealt with unfairly, it will polarize the community further.

    The lesson from all this must be to prevent the oil corporations making deals with brutal regimes. Think of Burma as just one other example. There are many other extractive industries, especially in Africa, which are creating the environment that exists right now in Libya.

    The law and the will to implement it is the only hope the world and individuals have for creating just societies. We cannot allow companies and countries to exploit the resources of another.

  5. Julia Guest says:

    This FT article sums up the background to the deal making in Libya on behalf of oil companies.


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