The terrible consequences of British folly in Libya

A few months ago, I wrote about the way that government action so often achieves exactly the opposite of what was intended.

This past week has provided another vivid illustration of that, in the publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on Britain’s military intervention in Libya five years ago – a report that has widely been described as scathing.

The result of the French, British and US intervention that took place in 2011, the report finds, “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

According to the chairman of the committee, Crispin Blunt, “we had no proper appreciation of what was going to happen in the event of regime change, no proper understanding of Libya, and no proper plan for the consequences.”

In other words, the government hadn’t a clue what it was doing.

Perhaps the most memorable bit of the report is where Sir Alan Duncan, a serving Foreign Office minister, is quoted as describing the plans for postwar planning as ‘fanciful rot’.

What happened in Libya?

In 2011, as part of the “Arab Spring”, there was an uprising in Libya against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, which turned into a civil war. NATO intervened on the side of the rebels, and the civil war came to an end with the fall of Gaddafi. Shortly afterwards, David Cameron visited Tripoli and Benghazi with the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, receiving a hero’s welcome. It looked like it was a great success.

A year after Cameron’s visit, however, the American ambassador and three others were killed in an attack by Islamists in Benghazi. And it was pretty much all downhill for Libya after that. The political situation continued to decline, and a second civil war started in 2014 which is still ongoing.

One of the most chilling and poignant events was the murder by ISIS of 30 Christians in February 2015. They were kidnapped, paraded, and beheaded simply for being Christian. One by one, they were urged repeatedly to recant their faith in Christ. Not one did. In the first YouTube recording, one is heard saying in Arabic, “Jesus, my life is in your hands,” as he felt the knife on his neck. The man beside said, “Amen.”

The mother of one of the young men was interviewed on TV a few days later. She was asked what she wanted done to the murderers. Sobbing, she said: “We forgive them and pray for the Lord’s mercy for them and for their families .” The interviewer, a secularist Muslim, afterwards commented: “Now I understand how Christians take to heart the glorious words of Jesus about loving one’s enemies and forgiving those who persecute them.”

But the problems caused by NATO’s intervention are not just being felt in Libya itself. Hence the recent article in the Independent entitled “How David Cameron’s intervention in Libya is fuelling war and terror around the world.”  

It is, however, greatly to Britain’s credit that the House of Commons has published this report. Daniel Larison (contrasting the UK with the US) comments:

At least there is some attempt at reviewing the errors of the Libyan war in the U.K., and Cameron is being belatedly called to account for them. There has been and will be no such effort made in Congress, and the only thing that Clinton’s opponents seem interested in investigating is a lone attack that likely wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the wrongheaded intervention that she supported the previous year.

Do not put your trust in princes.

In other words, it looks suspiciously like this is yet another case of government doing something, and achieving exactly the opposite of what it hoped to achieve.

When I wrote in April about how government policy often achieves the opposite of what was intended, I was looking at health policy: the way that government advice on healthy eating in America and Britain may actually have caused British and American people to have less healthy diets.

But it seems to me that if it is bad when the foolishness of governments cause unfortunate consequences for their own people, it is surely worse when the foolishness of governments cause problems for people of other lands. After all, one could say that the British and American people elected their governments, so while it is not exactly fair that they suffer the consequences of the folly of their governments , there is an element of justice in it. However, it seems particularly unjust when the people of one nation suffer because of the folly of another nation’s government.

Furthermore, while it is foolish for governments to give out advice on health which is based on ignorance and bad information, it is much more serious when governments start bombing people as part of a policy based on ignorance and bad information.

I have said it before, but I’ll say it again: the schemes of governments often fail, and the actual consequence of policies is sometimes the opposite of the intended consequence. And yet people keep on seeing politicians as saviours. We really need to heed the warning of the psalmist (Psalm 146:3): “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.”


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