By Arab News
By Neil Berry
Published in July of this year, the Chilcot Inquiry’s report on Britain’s role in the Iraq war recounted how the UK helped to plunge Iraq into chaos. Now, just two months later, comes a report by Britain’s parliamentary foreign affairs select committee that details how the UK also helped to plunge Libya into chaos.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair emerged from the Chilcot Inquiry as having trumped up the case for attacking Iraq in 2003, claiming that the country’s dictator Saddam Hussein threatened western security when really he and US President George W. Bush were bent on regime change. He emerged, too, as having paid scant attention to international law and no attention to the issue of post-war reconstruction. The select committee’s report tells a not dissimilar story about the disingenuous manner in which the UK intervention in Libya in 2011 was conducted by David Cameron, who recently joined Blair as an ex-British prime minister.
On the pretext of preventing the massacre of rebels against the regime of Col. Qaddafi, Cameron launched a bombing campaign that, in the words of the report, ‘drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change’ and led to the toppling of the Libyan leader. If anything, Cameron proved even more cavalier than Blair about the question of post-war reconstruction. The report stresses how, thanks to the intervention, which Cameron initiated in concert with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Libya collapsed into lawlessness. Five years on, rival militia vie for control of the country’s oil terminals while the putative Libyan government in Tripoli struggles to assert its legitimacy.
Meanwhile, like Blair before him, David Cameron is set to strike a lucrative deal for his memoirs. They are unlikely to dwell on Libya. Publishers are bidding for a book that will be expected to be much concerned with the circumstances that issued in his fall from power in June after granting a referendum on UK membership of the European Union which resulted in ‘Brexit,’ British exit from the Union, an outcome Cameron himself campaigned against. Yet the referendum vote that wrecked Cameron’s political career was influenced in no small degree by years of UK foreign adventurism that culminated in the Libyan debacle but began with earlier misbegotten interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This is an age of migration but reckless British interventions have by themselves generated vast numbers of displaced people. And it is displaced people, in conjunction with economic crisis, that have pushed European politics increasingly to the right, spawning xenophobia on a scale not seen since the 1930s.
The truth is that the foreign policies of Blair and Cameron have done much to undermine the credibility of their centrist, neo-liberal brand of politics, with its commitment to open borders. By de-stabilizing Libya Cameron exacerbated the migrant crisis that contributed to his downfall.
Given all this, it seems astonishing that Blair and Cameron received standing ovations after they gave their farewell speeches to the British parliament. It is often said that ‘Westminster,’ the heart of the British political establishment, has become a ‘bubble,’ cut off from the rest of British society, never mind the wider world. It is a bubble in which, all too evidently, holders of the great offices of state have been prone to neo-imperial delusions of grandeur.
In an illuminating new book, The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East, Roger Hardy, demonstrates the extraordinary reach of British power across the Arab world in the years before and after the WWI: Scarcely any part of it was untouched by British influence. It used to be glibly assumed that Britain had made a graceful retreat from empire. What in recent times has grown grimly apparent is that while British imperial power ebbed away, the bombastic psychology that accompanied it did not. Soaked in the self-serving mythology of empire, Blair and Cameron could not resist the temptation to strut the world stage, vaunting themselves as saviors of the oppressed. They have paid a high price for their vain glorious posturing, but so too have millions of innocent people.