The forthright left-wing commentator Alexander Cockburn says that western intervention has never had a positive result. He may well be right. So poor is western awareness of the complexities of middle-east politics in particular that it is no wonder the interventionist tendencies of both left and right in government are more likely to come a cropper than not. Iraq was not exactly a model invasion plan, and while there may have been some self-defence justification for Afghanistan, you'd be hard put to suggest that it was an unalloyed success. So now we have Libya. It was understandable that western politicians, under pressure from their respective medias and the loud voices of interventionism, would start to see Libya as a classic case for more benevolent western military force. Gadaffi is a caricature lunatic with markedly vicious tendencies, while the besieged citizens of Benghazi are the classic heroic 'little people'. What doesn't work in this scenario?
Well, the little fact that eastern Libya is a prolific recruiting ground for al-Qaeda for one. Cockburn, in his First Post column, reports some of the alarming statistics about the closeness of Benghazi and Dernah to al-Qaeda, and concludes that Osama Bin Laden must be thinking he's living in a parallel universe as Cameron, Sarkozy, Obama et al leap to his defence.
This is the problem with rash decision making on middle-eastern politics. We may find one side unpalatable, but we know nothing about the other sides either. Libya's conflict is a civil war, and for all the tragedy of it, should have been left as such. Quite apart from the financial implications of western involvement at a time of government belt-tightening, the intervention of disliked western countries merely muddies the already murky waters of middle-eastern power struggles. And, of course, there is no exit strategy here. How could there be? We don't really know what we are fighting for. No wonder President Obama was so cautious about intervention. No wonder the US military establishment, fronted by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, was so opposed. We will see soon enough just how awkward this most recent example of western egoism is going to turn out, but the chances of this sending some lessons towards the politicians of either left or right seem slim indeed.