Robert Halfon MP: What are the lessons to be learned from Libya?
Robert Halfon MP discusses some of the lessons to be taken from Libya; from the ills of appeasing dictators through to the universal desire for freedom.
First: the free world must stop appeasing dictators. It may work in the short term but never in the long.
The last government, some of our universities and businesses, lost their moral compass when it came to dealing with the Libyan regime. Whilst senior new Labour Government figures hob-nobbed with Gadaffi and his family, our academic institutions accepted millions in blood money, whilst companies rushed to Libya to sign commercial deals. The release of Lockerbie murderer Al Megrahi marked the high point (or low point) of this appeasement by the establishment.
Let's undo this wrong by ensuring Al Megrahi returns to the UK to prison or spend the rest of his life rotting in a Libyan jail. Similarly there should be no 'exile' for Gadaffi and his family: only the international criminal court.
Sadly the appeasement of Gadaffi isn't isolated: the West did the same with Saddam - for a while - and with the Assad family in Syria. The results are always the same: bloodshed.
Second: the yearning for freedom is deep in every human breast and should be nurtured and supported. The realist school of Foreign Policy has argued for years that the 'Middle East' is not ready for democracy; that you can't drop democracy from a B52 bomber'. Actually you can, (the NATO planes showed that - as they provided cover as the rebels advanced on Tripoli) - though that is not the only way to do it.
Liberty is a human right. Sometimes it requires military intervention, other times it requires hearts and minds. Rather than appeasement, our foreign policy should be directed at supporting resistance groups to dictators, funding radio, TV stations, and the internet, in the same way the CIA did in the Cold War to undermine Communism. Where is the Middle East equivalent to Radio Free Europe?
Third: just because you have got rid of a tyrant, does not mean you have got rid of tyranny. The experience of Iraq shows that the first steps after dictatorship are the most important. NATO and Western Governments, need to continue to nurture genuinely democratic forces in post-Gadaffi Libya and help to rebuild the country. Any prospect of extreme Islamists/Al Qaeda et al must be ruthlessly crushed. To those who say it may take a few years, they may be right. But so did democracy in Japan and Germany after the Second World War.
Fourth: this relates to the first lesson about appeasement. For months now the Syrian regime has been murdering its way through the country. Just as with the Libyan tragedy, there has barely been a peep from the A List celebs, politicians who so readily criticise Israel for the slightest infringement. No demonstrations. No Trafalgar Square rallies against Assad and Gadaffi bloodshed. No call for UN resolutions. Zilch. Nothing. But, there was of course a rally for Hezbollah over the weekend.
In the past few days there have been terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, and a barrage of missiles fired on to Israeli towns. Israel reacts and there is already outrage from usual suspects. The message here is get a sense of proportion, regain our moral compass and actually support those countries in the Middle East that are genuinely democratic and are fighting the battle against terrorism and dictatorship on a daily basis.
Finally, let those who love freedom enjoy this special moment of the demise of a dictator and the celebration of the now free people of Libya. It is a tribute to David Cameron, that he had the courage to see this through, even when the armchair generals were urging retreat - when the going got tough. Britain shouldered a huge burden in dealing with Gadaffi - righting the wrongs of the past.
My father and Grandfather came from Libya. I hope now I will be able to go to Tripoli and retrace their footsteps.
Robert Halfon MP is the Member of the UK Parliament for Harlow. He tweets at: @halfon4harlowMP.
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