Oh! What A Lovely Non-War!
It is a fundamental principle of magic that misdirection must be used sparingly and without underestimating the audience’s intelligence. But the deck is stacked against us. An ever increasing number of shiny things are being dangled by the Coalition’s left hand while the right is pulling out all manner of bouquets, doves, handkerchiefs and rabbits.
Distraction 1: The staged, inanely overblown dispute on AV between Clegg and Cameron – the former desperate to prove that he can find something “to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debates”, the latter increasingly smarmy and bullish at having broken yet another Coalition promise “to keep a low profile”.
Distraction 2: Great weather and an agglomeration of Bank Holidays which would make the uninformed tourist think we are permanently on a four-day week.
Distraction 3: A hysterical coverage of the wedding between some sweet lad of no merit and some pretty gal of no consequence.
All of them, shiny coins flourished from behind our ears. While our public services are being decimated, thousands are laid off every month and – vitally – while we are involved in a war. Or two, or three. Did I say war? I take that back.
An interesting piece of trivia: The last time the United Kingdom declared war was against Japan, on the 8th December 1941. Similarly the US’s last declarations were also WWII-related. Fascinating that one of the main reasons for this is that, under international law, a formal declaration of war allows the breach (the legal term is frustration) of international contracts and trade agreements between the countries involved. One could not ask for a more elegant expression of the basic truth that military action in the last seven decades has had business concerns at its heart.
That’s right. Korea and Vietnam were not wars under international law. Conflict in the Falklands, Bosnia and Kosovo were not wars. Operation Desert Storm (the Gulf War to you and me), Operation Enduring Freedom (the War in Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom (the War in Iraq, currently Operation New Dawn) – all of them, not wars. How privileged I feel to have existed entirely within this period of absolute peacetime!
In line with recent vogue, the current military action in Libya – named Operation Odyssey Dawn by the US, Operation Mobile by Canada, Operation Harmattan by France and Operation Ellamy by the UK – is most certainly not a war. Members of the Coalition government (with the complicit involvement of news channels) seem to be shoving this idea down our throat, like aspirin – every hour on the hour.
Moreover, the government appears to be in complete denial about the motive for this incursion. Everyone knows why the UK chooses to intervene in Libya as opposed to, say, Côte d’Ivoire. I don’t even need to say it. The first effect of our denial that this conflict is entirely about crude oil, is to further erode our credibility with the Islamic world. The second is that dressing it in humanitarian, saintly vestments excludes a proper debate. How can the Opposition argue against the protection of civilians? How can one convince the school bully to stop taking the fat kid’s lunch money, when the bully earnestly insists he’s only doing it out of concern for the fat kid’s health?
Still, we must try. Resolution 1973 is looking stretched very thin, as is the consensus behind it. The first part of the Resolution, calling for intense diplomatic efforts to find a “peaceful and sustainable solution”, was forgotten as soon as the signatories’ ink had dried. The second part, authorising “necessary measures” for the “protection of civilians”, has been battered beyond recognition by self-interested interpretation.
Likewise, the government’s comedic attempt to hold on to its early promises of “no involvement other than enforcing the No-Fly-Zone” is looking increasingly desperate. A few weeks ago, I watched illusionist William Hague on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show stuff that promise into his clenched fist like a silk handkerchief and pull out “there is going to be no large-scale ground force placed in Libya by the United Kingdom” instead. When asked whether we were taking sides rather than just protecting civilians, he responded with “we’re not doing that” and explained: “I told the House of Commons last week that if we were to change the position on that, we would come back to the House of Commons, and obviously that would have to be discussed in the House of Commons.”
Two weeks later, a team of military experts were sent to advise the rebels and, unless I missed something, the change of position was not discussed in the House of Commons. Challenged on this development versus earlier “no boots on the ground” statements, this spoof government’s response is to point out that the team will not be in uniform. The conclusion to this line of thinking is going to be an enquiry to Manolo Blahnik about whether their fetching camo-stilettos come in sizes 9 to 13.
And so – yes! – enjoy the weather, comment on the wedding dress, debate AV, but please do not be so distracted as to forget Libya. The last two non-wars that the UK entered, both sold to us as quick and dirty shock-and-awe campaigns that would be over in a few months, are still ongoing and have so far cost us in excess of £20 billion - money being drained from Treasury reserves, by ministers who claim on a daily basis that the country is broke. The last two non-wars have cost the lives of hundreds of British forces personnel and many thousands of innocent local civilians – many because of the automated drones which are now being deployed in Libya. The last two non-wars resulted in tubes and buses blowing up in our capital.
Maybe, like me, you will find yourselves increasingly in the mood for street marches, rather than street parties.