Libya – freedom, chaos or different tribes in charge?


                  The battle for Tripoli will produce more deaths. In a civil war with many protagonists not in uniform brother finds it difficult  even to rely on brother and to distinguish enemy from friend. The tribal society of Libya was held together by the authority and brutality of the Gaddafi regime. The Transitional Council will have no easy task gaining full control. It will need fine judgement and great control over its supporters to call a timely halt to revenge and continued infighting. It is difficult  to move from where Libya is today to a successful open society capable of peaceful change of government.

                  The west said it was only involved to prevent massacres of civilians. Now the west has to urge its new found friends in the rebel groups to show clemency, restraint and judgement where they have succeeded in gaining control over civilian populations. I am glad the UK government has said it does not plan to put our troops on the ground.


  1. lifelogic
    August 23, 2011

    Indeed UK troops on the ground would be no guarantee of an improved outcome – we should get them off the ground elsewhere too as soon as possible – where the same applies.

    Let us hope for as good an outcome as possible from this mess.

  2. English Pensioner
    August 23, 2011

    Libya, like Iraq and Afghanistan are essentially tribal areas, and only exist as countries when you have a strong man in charge, who of course favours his own tribe and suppresses the others in a dictatorship.
    What I can’t understand is why the various powers insist that Libya must remain a single country; before WW2 it was two separate countries, Tripolitania and Cyraniaca, which covered the areas of the two dominant tribes. I would have thought that there were strong arguments in favour of returning to that arrangement as every report I hear seems to stress the problems of a transitional government due to the differences between the people in the east and west. This would also have the advantage from a military point of view that smaller countries are generally less powerful – remember the old saying “Divide and Rule”

    1. uanime5
      August 23, 2011

      At the time it was believed that small countries wouldn’t be able to defend themselves, so large countries were preferred. This is why Europe created Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia after WW1.

    2. Ian B
      August 23, 2011

      There is a good argument that we should as a world be moving towards smaller polities, instead of large multi-tribal or multi-ethnic conglomerations which often cannot satisfy all their members’ ideals of self determination. We no longer live in an age of Empires, where brute size was the primary guarantee of survival- “if we don’t conquer them, they will conquer us”. All the basics of liberalism- trade rather than war, self-determination rather than force, and so on- lead us to that conclusion.

      If the Scots wish to be independent, for instance, let them. Likewise to an outside observer, the USA seems to consist of at least two fiercely hostile camps who are increasingly reluctant- to invoke Roger Scruton’s philosophy- to accept the rule of the other, which is the essential necessary characteristic of the political state. One side barely tolerate the rule of president Obama. The other side will similarly barely tolerate a president Perry or Bachmann. It isn’t just a difference of political opinion there. It goes far deeper than that. They should consider dividing the country, so that each side can be governed as they prefer.

      So, yes, perhaps a divided Libya might be the answer. The Czechs and the Slovaks separated amicably, after all. And for us, perhaps it is time for a separate England, Scotland and Wales.

    3. Mike Stallard
      August 23, 2011

      Yugoslavia seems to be pretty well OK, doesn’t it, now it is divided into lots of different countries.

  3. norman
    August 23, 2011

    Let’s hope Libya gets back to ‘business as usual’ asap and we can start buying oil and gas from them and selling engineering and construction services.

    Let’s hope the government takes the view that we can help countries more by trade and less by military adventurism and charity.

  4. Robert K
    August 23, 2011

    Different tribes, I would guess.
    We should steer well clear.
    A propos of the role of the UK’s armed forces, which post-WW II campaigns (excluding Northern Ireland) were worth fighting, with hindsight? I can think of one, possibly.

    1. Mike Stallard
      August 23, 2011

      Sierra Leone which once was a peaceful colony was turned into a living hell by Mr Ghadaffi. As was Liberia. One of the very few things Mr Blair got right was saving people from losing their hands and ears to Primary school children armed with cutlasses and high on drugs.

  5. Electro-Kevin
    August 23, 2011

    Who are ‘the people’ in Libya ?

    Do we know yet ?

    No dictator is so bad that a worse one can’t replace him.

  6. Horatio McSherry
    August 23, 2011


    Serious question.

    Can you tell me why most MPs in the reconvened Commons were in strong favour of shutting down Twitter and BBM in this country when they see fit, yet have condemned the same practice in Egypt and Libya. Right now the commons reeks more than ever of self-interested hypocrisy.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      August 23, 2011

      A very good question. Don’t expect (m)any of ’em to reply.

      1. zorro
        August 23, 2011

        *irony klaxon*

  7. Gary
    August 23, 2011

    The Treaties of Westphalia is just a soiled piece of paper to these carpetbaggers. You have to ask yourself in this moral crusade, why did they not bomb Congo(at least 6 million dead in civil war), Syria , Rwanda, or Zimbabwe, into democracy ?

    1. Stuart Fairney
      August 23, 2011

      And would they be in Libya if the primary export was agricultural produce?

      1. zorro
        August 23, 2011

        I’m sure that some of our politicians would be better as turnip farmers – we should send them to help the Libyans on the ground to improve their agricultural production. After all, this couldn’t have all happened because of the oil….


  8. Elliot Kane
    August 23, 2011

    Possibly the craziest thing about the situation in Libya is the number of commentators who appear to think that when Gaddafi is gone all will suddenly and miraculously be sweetness and light in Libya.

    I honestly hope the British govt is not this stupid… and wish I could believe they are not this stupid…

    1. APL
      August 23, 2011

      Elliot Kane: “I honestly hope the British govt is not this stupid…”

      Elliot, a great leap of faith there.

      If they were clever they would not have got involved.

      1. Gary
        August 23, 2011

        I don’t think the word is “clever”. “Cunning”, is more appropriate.

        1. zorro
          August 23, 2011

          I was thinking of ‘astute’ but that is usually used in the context of financial matters, and our politicians are generally not very ‘astute’ financially so we can excuse them for blundering into conflicts….


  9. Richard Sykes
    August 23, 2011

    Whilst it is fine to state that you have “graduated from Magdalen College” it is inappropriate to say that you have “a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford”. All Souls does not award the DPhil, or any other Oxford degree. You have a DPhil from Oxford, and you can say that you “studied for a DPhil at All Souls, Oxford”. It is a small point and, perhaps, of semantic interest only. But as one who is interested in precision in written communication, I’m sure you would want to correct this.
    Best wishes
    Richard Sykes

  10. MickC
    August 23, 2011

    Guess what? We already do have troops on the ground.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      August 23, 2011

      Yep, surely special forces picking up targets for the incoming NATO missiles with laser target acquisition systems. It explains the precision hits on tanks that offer no line-of-site from the air.

      (And I am sure even the dopiest Libyan intelligence officer will have worked this out if I managed to from a SKY news report).

    2. matthu
      August 23, 2011

      Troops on the ground: Yes (probably SAS) – but I guess it was probably too much to expect this to have been “planned”.

      Just like we never “plan” to raise taxes. Oops – there we go!
      Just like we never “plan” excess expendture. Oops – there we go!
      Just like we never “plan” to give additional rights to Europe. Oops – there we go!

      All these things are better done without apparent planning.

  11. Neil Craig
    August 23, 2011

    The “legal” justification for our war was that we were thereby stopping the capture of Libya’s 2nd city which would have inevitably entailed substantial civilian casualties. Regime change was no part of the official remit because attacking countries to change their regimes is, rather obviously, aggression and hence a crime under international law.

    We are now assisting in the capture of Libya’s 1st city with inevitable substantial civilian casualties and openly committed to regime change, which (some think -ed) a crime under international law.

    The NATO funded “International Criminal Court” intends to “try” Gaddafi on insubstantial charges amounting to putting down rebellion, which is acknowledged as a prime duty of any government. The US constitution refers to defedning against enemies “domestic and foreign” which sums up this war.

    While it is clear that the NATO leaders have thus (left themselves open to allegations about their actions -ed) the ICC will only be swearing out warrents against them if it has some slightest wish to appear as a real court enforcing law impartially. That seems unlikely. Instead we have proven that the NATO powers are an aggressive threat to peace and that there are no circumstances under which their word can ever be trusted.

    This was also the lesson in Kosovo whose curent nominal “President” has been accused by the Council of Europe of crimes hundreds of times more obscene than anything Gaddafi is accused of – while (working with NATO-ed)

    * the justification was only not actually legal because the UN Charter specifically says they do not have any right to interfere in such intternal matters.

    1. Neil Craig
      August 24, 2011

      John that “planning aggressive war” is a war crime, indeed the crime “from which all others flow” was determined at Nuremburg. I do not see that this is a dubious or unsubstantiated accusation which you can reasonably feel it necessary to delete. It is perfectly legitimate to argue that such breaches should only be punished when carried out by foreigners but I do not think it right to exorcise the subject.

      Reply: NATO very clearly states it is not in an aggressive war in Libya. It argues that its actions are all necessary and covered by UN resolution allowing it to attack forces and installations that intend to kill civilians.

      I do not have evidence either to substantiate your claim re the Balkans.

  12. APL
    August 23, 2011

    JR: “The Transitional Council will have no easy task gaining full control.”

    I think that will be the problem right there!

    Obviously tribal societies do not necessarily coexist peacefully together, for example look at Rwanda.

    Western governments always seek to impose its concept of Nation on the various countries it comes into contact with. Perhaps it would be better to encourage a sort of tribal federacy – (if such a term exists).

    Western ideas of country and ‘volk’ have largely failed in Africa probably because we assume both geographical and tribal boundaries are identical. But in real life they are almost never the same.

  13. cosmic
    August 23, 2011

    The Libyan adventure struck me as naive meddling in something described in comic book terms but in reality, not even dimly understood by those pushing for it. This with experience of the Iraq and Afghanistan involvements.

    I would gauge the consequences to be largely unpredictable, and the possibility of being sucked into having a substantial military presence, significant.

  14. Bernard Otway
    August 23, 2011

    I have it on good authority that the potential successor to Zuma in South Africa and his coterie are already planning strategy to counter [US] the west’s newfound meddling in Africa.
    Remember I lived there from 1980 till 2008,my sources are wide and varied,in fact I have also
    had information there is in place a plan for (irregular political action-ed) down there as well,the defence force and police being mere shadows of themselves from pre 1994,also there are lots of (tribal-ed) stirrings.
    Meddling like this in Libya and before it Iraq and Afganistan have ALWAYS unintended
    consequences,our advisors only understand what their local contacts and confidants tell them and show them,which are always SELF SERVING,after all it is EASY to milk us for a few million as a result of our actions taken with their DISSEMINATION of INFORMATION. Watch this situation and others VERY VERY CLOSELY

  15. Omar Yosuf
    August 23, 2011

    I`m surprised by The English Pensioner`s suggestion that Libya should be
    divided into two separate countries to simplify managing it. I`m wondering whether he is hinting colonisation of Libya. for he also mentioned the addage “Divide and Rule.” It is worrying to imagine a return to the old West`s colonial Empire if that is what the English Pensioner is deriving at.


    1. MickC
      August 23, 2011

      I rather doubt that is what he meant.

      The UK, certainly the people, have had their fill of imperialism (only the rich benefit, as was argued at the time), and the US will shortly get that way.

      Once the “Yanks go home”, the world is going to have to look after itself all on its lonesome.

      1. Stuart Fairney
        August 24, 2011

        I wonder if a newly powerful China will fancy military jaunts?

        If so, it might be interesting to compare their record to that of the former superpowers

  16. Bernard Otway
    August 23, 2011

    By the way apropos Gary above every border in Africa is a colonial construct,which up until the creation of South Sudan were Sacrosanct to the new rulers of the continent,BUT NOW
    the Scrabble counters are being MIXED any one alive in 2060 will confirm this by looking at the THEN map of Africa,in fact we colonial powers should have split the colonies back into
    more viable parts,ONE example, is there a CAPRIVI STRIP anywhere else in the world ? also
    are any of you aware that Sam Nujoma of Namibia around ten years ago planned to extract water from the river crossing the strip which feeds the Okavango Delta, to feed a pipeline to the capital Windhoek 1000 kms away, UNTIL Ian Khama son of Seretse Khama founding president of Botswana and then Head of their armed forces said it would be an ACT OF AGRESSION and Mr Mandela himself spoke sense into Sam Nujoma,after all how can a country claim title to a river that starts in the southern highlands of Angola flows for a few hundred Kms to feed the largest inland water delta on our planet in Botswana and it’s major Tourist attraction,which only crosses a part of it’s territory for about 30 Kms.

  17. MajorFrustration
    August 23, 2011

    This is an Arab issue so lets leave Arabs to resolve it – leave them to find their own democracy. Lets not tinker any more, we have enough problems of our own which our politicians are unable to deal with.

  18. David Hearnshaw
    August 23, 2011

    I suspect that the outcome will be entirely predictable and an extremist Islamic state is probable. To hear that Cameron is talking about British peacekeepers on the ground is unbelievable – he chooses to cut defence and continues to pour (borrowed) money down the black hole of `Foreign Aid’!

    1. zorro
      August 23, 2011

      Unbelievable…I’m afraid it was all too predictable. Troops/peacekeepers will go there and be drawn into sitting duck mode as we have been in Iraq and Afghanistan – perpetual war, they always need a new enemy to keep the corporate beast fed.


  19. Susan
    August 23, 2011

    Difficult choice this, between a half mad dictator and possible anarchy. I hope it ends well, however, the record on this happening in this region is not good. I suspect, that Libya will not be embracing democracy as we know it anytime soon.

    Why Libya, I can think of much more deserving causes, such as the Congo, if protecting ordinary people is the reason given for the action taken. I do not understand the UKs foreign policy of continual interference in other Countries affairs, but it always ends up costing the tax payer money which is my biggest concern. Still I suppose it gives the media something to report 24 hours a day.

    I thought we already had some boots on the ground.

    Can Britain ask for Megrahi back, so that we may at least gain something from this expensive exercise.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      August 23, 2011

      …and in the interests of openess and to prove he is an honest and decent man, the full transcripts of all meetings between Blair and the Colonel to be published directly.

    2. lifelogic
      August 23, 2011

      “democracy as we know it”

      Do we know democracy – I do not see much by way of real democracy in the UK at all. Rather like the BBC who constantly tell us the BBC is ours and is accountable. When this is clearly nonsense. The government also constantly claim to be in favour of democracy all over the world but devote much of their time to extinguishing any vestiges of democracy or freedom of information in the UK.

  20. Scottspeig
    August 23, 2011

    And yet the No.10 spokesperson refuses to rule out ground troops. If that occurs, I hope Cameron resigns, but I doubt he will. Another promise reneged. Just out of curiosity, has he actually done any of the promises he’s made? He seems a rather naff leader if you ask me.

  21. Acorn
    August 23, 2011

    I have just listened to some NATO guy in fatigues, saying that they have never engaged in “close air support” for the Libyan rebels. Which just proves that you do not have to be a politician, to jump in front of a TV camera and tell blatant lies.

    Back in April, I suggested that UNR 1973 was “adaptable”. Protecting the civilians was the mission. We now know that there was a whole lot of mission creep. Is a civilian with an AK 47 or an RPG, a civilian or a combatant?

    Deploying US AC130 gunships and US A10 tank busters; flying machines designed to clear ground in front of advancing troops, can only get you to one conclusion.

    Now I see Sen. McCain saying he wants the Gaddafi mob in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – the European version of Guantanamo Bay. He seems to have forgotten that the US does not recognise the ICC. Hypocrisy; you bet.

    (Oops; sorry, this post was meant for the Guardian site) 😉 .

  22. Epigenes
    August 24, 2011

    One of the pictures on the front page of today’s DT online has a guy with a beard, a bandana, and a suntan and a (formerly) standard issue British Army SLR.

    1. cosmic
      August 24, 2011

      Not that it matters much, I’m not sure it is a standard British Army issue FN SLR, L1A1. The flash hider looks wrong. The FN was sold or made under licence in a lot of countries. The rifles could easily be captures from Ghadaffi forces, which I think used both the FN and the AK47.

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