Tonight's vote in the House of Commons in favour of military action to maintain a no-fly zone over Libya was overwhelming. 557 MPs voted in favour with only 13 abstainers. It's certainly far more crushing a majority than the Iraq War vote managed back in 2003, but even that one achieved 412 to 149 in favour of action. We didn't hear a lot from the mighty 412 subsequently, and it does perhaps serve as a useful reminder that when it comes to war, MPs seem to regularly give it the benefit of the doubt. Somehow, the heartache and problems that arise from western military action can always be deferred to another day. Gaddafi's war against his rebels is a savage and unpleasant one, but the remarkable inconsistency of western foreign policy 'actions' continue to open such votes as today's to be branded as hypocritical, to say nothing of the way in which western action tends to act like quicksand on its own forces, and dimension changers on the conflicts they are designed to stop.
It is very difficult to watch Gaddafi move against the rebels without wanting to see the tables turned against him. It is also difficult to stomach Robert Mugabe pulverising, bullying and starving his own people while he remains cosseted in a lap of ill-gotten luxury. It isn't easy to hear about the violent, authoritarian action of Royal Wedding guest the King of Bahrain either, or to continue reading the gut-wrenching tales from Russia's savage, dirty war against the Chechens. When it comes to three of the afore-mentioned international calamities, the western nations appear to have tacitly - and correctly - determined that they cannot intervene. But Libya, somehow, is different. Just as Iraq was different it seems. Perhaps the presence of oil makes them different. Maybe it's simply the high media profile and the belief among so many legislators that nothing is worse than not acting upon the media's preferred crisis. There is, possibly, a strategic dimension. But whatever it is that determines the difficult to defend inconsistency of western action, nothing can disguise the continuing problem that liberal interventionism presents to a western world struggling to escape the charges of ideological imperialism that tarnishes it so badly, and the human and financial costs it so willingly incurs each time it flies in to an alien conflict.