David Cameron at the 'International Conference in Support of the New Libya', 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons David Cameron at the 'International Conference in Support of the New Libya', 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The anti-war movement argued unequivocally against intervention in Libya, and the Foreign Affairs Committee proved it was right, argues Chris Nineham

Once again, years after the event, an official enquiry has confirmed that the positions taken by the anti-war movement in the run-up to a war were correct in every detail. As plans were being laid for an attack on Libya, with Cameron and Sarkozy taking the lead, anti-war critics argued first, that the humanitarian case for defending Benghazi would morph into a justification for a wider war and that a no-fly zone would become a bombing corridor, second, that such an assault would inflame the existing turmoil in the country, and third, that the attacks were likely to plunge Libya into a crisis which would destabilise the whole region.

Today’s parliamentary report retrospectively confirms all three points. It judges that if the aim was the humanitarian one of securing Benghazi, then that goal had been achieved within 24 hours of the start of a five month long intervention. It goes on to argue that the threat to Benghazi was not credible anyway, ‘despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.’

 The overall result result of the attack was ‘political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa’.

In particular the report concludes that the possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the uprising that the West was supporting ‘should not have been the preserve of hindsight’.

There are major weaknesses. One is that while it documents the ‘morphing’ of the operation into a war for regime change, despite David Cameron’s promises to parliament,  it strangely fails to mention that this shift made the war illegal under international law.

But the much more serious problem is that, despite the accumulation of evidence of disaster, it’s conclusions and prescriptions are bizarre. It claims that the Western backed government currently struggling for control in Libya with strong British support – laughingly known as the Government of National Accord (GNA) – is the ‘only game in town’. This is an extraordinary statement – particularly when the report complains of elementary intelligence failures in the past. There are currently three centres of power in the country – four if you include Isis-held Misrata - which have been involved in varying levels of armed conflict over the last few years. It is a particularly strange claim to make days after an opponent of the GNA in the East, General Khalifa Haftar has seized around 80 percent of Libya’s oil production.

Behind this blindness is the continuing fantasy that the future for Libya, as with other countries in the wider region, lies in more effective Western intervention. All the facts about the Libyan experience detailed in this report tell us this is wrong. Once again, the real lessons of the report are precisely the central contentions of the anti-war movement: that military intervention cannot solve the kind of complex problems being experienced by countries across the region, that in fact intervention will make matters catastrophically worse, and that Western governments cynically use humanitarian arguments as a cover for wider geopolitical ambitions. Don’t be fooled again.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.