"The first such foreign policy defeat since 1782"

Last nights vote against intervention was a victory for Parliament who, for once, listened rather than heard and saw rather than looked. The lack of enthusiasm for catapulting us into conflict without a strong case being made to the country, without limitations and without a clear aim has been greeted with relief. Wisdom and maturity have prevailed.

The problem doesn't go away but there is a clear instruction to the government that having done exhaustive preparatory planning,  they must then engage and explain. We're not going to war off the cuff again. We value our country and the lives of our servicemen somewhat higher than the price of post Prime Ministerial American lecture tours.

The clear loser is David Cameron. The Prime Minister has a reputation in Westminster for being idle. He is thought not to anticipate problems coming down the tracks, (partly through not reading briefs thoroughly). This leads to ill thought out solutions hurriedly thrown together. If he spent more time working hard and less time on the beach, (more holidays than most Prime Ministers in modern times), he might not be so disconnected from the prevailing sentiment of the country, Parliament and indeed his own party. 

As my friend Stephen Lewis, (Chief Economist at Monument Securities), points out, 

"Before Mr Miliband and a number of Tory MP's frustrated his plans,  Cameron argued that any military action against Syria had to be ‘specific’.  ‘This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war,’ he said.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Cameron’s stance, one thing is clear.  It would not be for him alone to say whether the outcome would be war.  That would partly depend also on the reaction of Syria and its allies to what they would see as NATO aggression.  One could sympathise with Mr Cameron in the position in which he found himself.  He knows that, to win general support for military action against the Syrian regime, he must at all costs avoid presenting it as the prelude to the kind of adventures Blair initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There is every reason to believe he is sincere in thinking that Syria could be attacked with no further consequences.  Even so, it is disconcerting that he should contemplate action while taking for granted that war will not ensue.  In this, he shares a mindset that has developed within the ruling elite in the developed world.  It does not occur to members of this elite that their decisions might have results other than those they intend.  Consequently, they make no adequate provision for contingencies." 

That he has failed in his first big test creates a pretty big political problem for him. He is not without enemies within his party and many will now be less timid in articulating their concerns. It should be an interesting party season.

Having put a stake in the ground, perhaps the Americans will now prove to be more supportive going forward on issues like the Falklands and Gibraltar

Markets meanwhile, are somewhat relieved that short term uncertainty is removed yet have still to even countenance longer term political change which may result from the events of this week.

Congratulations though, to all those MP's who had the moral courage to stand up for what they believed in. 

Libya; Who's the Nutty One?

Libyan Rebel

As the engagement in Libya rolls on, it may yet dawn on some of the self obsessed minds in Whitehall that this thing may be a wee bit more complex than the initial wheeze it might have seemed to their PR orientated minds. Obviously, our coalition government has a plan so cunning that only a fox could spot it which would explain why I, not being a fox, am completely confounded. We've discussed before, here and here, what madness it is for the UK to be involved in Libya and events have moved on.

Having dispersed with the usual niceties of having diplomats shuttling all over the place trying to find a diplomatic solution before committing our forces, we went straight to weapons free as a result of a backroom deal cobbled together at the UN by a disparate collection of diplomats. The British people now find themselves, without any national debate, embroiled in a complex problem that I'm convinced our apparent leaders only have scant, if any, appreciation of. 

David Cameron & Nick Clegg discuss Libyan Intervention

 

The whole thing is an ill advised and poorly thought through shambles, which has all the ingredients to morph into a complete catastrophe.

I've been loitering over at Think Defence and I repeat here some comments I made there about where we now find ourselves. 

Consider the following:

1. What is the national interest of the UK here?

2. Germany, a key NATO member, is on the sidelines.

3. …. so is Russia, who are happy to see the West embroiled in yet another middle eastern op.

4. The Italians, who have the greatest national interest in Libya are on the sidelines and hedging their bets; ie, their airfields can be used, (for the moment), but their forces are not engaging.

5. What exactly has all this to do with NATO, has it become the armed wing of the UN now or just a convenient cover for some countries to legalise their offensive ops without declaring war?

6. Where did the Arab League disappear to? Bet none of us saw that coming did we…..

7. Who is actually making the calls on the operation now, what is the aim and what is the exit plan? No, I didn’t think so….

8. Has anyone bothered to explain the risks involved here to civillian population in the coalition countries of a terror strike by Gadaffi agents?

9. Can we run a concurrent and potentially much larger op in the Gulf if trouble kicks off there, and where our real national interest lies?

10 Odd that the French, who took what they suggested was the moral high ground in Iraq, should be so aggressive in leading the Libyan campaign…….. why though, are we trotting after them?

11. The loose, and temporary, affiliation of rag tag rebels are only advancing because they are backed by billions of pounds of the best military technology on the planet. At some point, boots will be required on the ground, if just to maintain order when Gadaffi is swinging from a lamppost. From where will they come?

12. It’s not news that the rebels include AQ fighters. Gadaffi was happy to send some of the more fundamentalist elements in the East to Afghan over the past ten years. Now they’re back, how do we feel about supporting them?

13. Isn’t this one operation where the Chiefs could have turned round and said, “On this occasion Prime Minister, it might be an air bridge too far?”

14. Interesting too that the Sherman’s are stepping back by refusing to countenance arming the rebels or committing ground troops. They’ve also sent the USS Enterprise back to the Red Sea. They are definitely on a direct path to let Europe deal with this. We’re going to be left holding this orphan baby and it’s not ours.

15. At the moment, we’ve succeeded in helping to disperse lots of arms all around the area which have been looted by the rebels from government arms dumps. These include, just to keep us on our toes for the next twenty five years, hundreds if not thousands of shoulder launched air defence missiles.

16.Potentially supplying arms to a disorganised rabble with no command and control, no logistics and no training will not help to eject Gadaffi. We’ve seen in the last 24 hrs that the rebels turned tail and legged it down the road at 80mph, not because they needed more arms but because they’re crap and didn’t know what to do when someone had the temerity to shoot back at them.

17. Meanwhile, a king sized problem is brewing in Yemen where things are very close to kicking off but nobody is taking any interest. Thing is, AQ do have power and influence there and could easily slip into any power vacum created by instability.

18. Our key national interest in the region though, remains firmly focused on Bahrain and Saudi. Instability there, under Iranian influence, would create massive problems for the UK and actually, the whole global economy. 

Anyone normal citizen, who doesn't spend most of his time talking to the media or policy advisors will be well aware there is no groundswell of public support for involvement in Libya. Whilst no one has any sympathy for Gadaffi there is no resonance from the public who, at the least, question the unnecessary cost involved. EUReferendum has some interesting numbers, and a few other pithy facts in posts which HMG may find somewhat unsettling in the event they listened to anyone other than the BBC or Sky. 

 

The whole sorry situation brings to mind a speech that Cameron made on the deck of Ark Royal, shortly before he promptly scraped it. After grandstanding about the Covenant, Drake and Nelson he said,

" It is time for us to think again about how to make our country safe, how to project power in the world, how to look after our national interest, and how to make sure we are secure for the future.  That is what we should do."

 Getting into his stride of fairy tale make belief he then went on to say,

".....it is time for us to rewrite that Military Covenant, to make sure that we are doing everything we can for you and your families at home, whether it is the schools you send you children to, whether it is the healthcare that you can expect, whether it is the fact that there should be a dedicated military ward for anyone who gets injured or wounded in Afghanistan or elsewhere."

 Well, I'm here to help so here's an idea Prime Minister. Instead of loosing off Storm Shadow missiles at £1m a copy in a country where we have no business being, why don't you throw some cash at whichever genius came up with this, so we can get our lads out of wheelchair's....

 

 

Libya; No-Fly Zone Issues

 

In my piece, "Libya, The Wrong Issue For Britiain," I discussed the rank stupidity of our politicians grandstanding on the world stage about Libya where we have no pressing national interest. It is for others who do have such an interest to take the lead and commit their resources; our forces have a few other things to occupy themselves with. Taking the discussion a stage further, lets examine the no-fly zone concept which is being bandied about as if it where as easy to implement as putting the washing on. It isn't. Of course, one thing we do know about is no-fly zones. A good starting point for the interested mind would be simply to stare at the sky above Terminal 5 whenever there's a hint of snow or indeed, above our aircraft carrier now that our forward thinking Whitehall strategists have binned the Harrier; that'll be empty too. Actually, they tin tacked the Ark this week as well so I guess the British will be using that American innovation of using large islands like Britain as aircraft carriers by using....... ehmmmm, how far away is Cyprus from Libya?

Smart people stop and think rather than talking off the cuff. Those that do might readily quickly conclude that in order to protect the aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, one must begin by suppressing enemy air defenses. In order to systematically neutralise those defenses we need to know where they are.

The last Harrier squadrons fly past Parliament

We could of course take a stab at guessing where or even make the assumption that they have none but testing those theories out can be somewhat dangerous for those involved.

Now, my experience and knowledge of air defence is limited to shoulder launched weapons but was anyway, years ago. Nonetheless, even the pedestrian observer will realise that to maintain a no fly zone constant patrolling is required by surveillance aircraft and an absolute preparedness to immediately strike at enemy air defence radar's that are radiating. The enemy of course, is not stupid and many gun and missile positions will be located in built up areas, close to schools and hospitals and the like. 

Also, despite the best efforts of the billions of pounds spent on military-industrial complex, years of training and the best of intentions mistakes do happen. For example, the rebels in Benghazi have captured many government weapons, including armour. A few missile strikes in error on the rebels isn't going to come over too well on Al Jazeera.

There can be no doubt that our politicians regard a no-fly zone as a low cost, low risk option. The reality could be anything but and indeed, what it would actually achieve is open to question.

Even if the rebels were to overcome Ghadafi, and that doesn't look like happening anytime soon, ideas of a quick surgical action followed by flag waving, free and happy people is utter nonsense. If we have learned anything from Iraq it should be that engagement in other countries requires long term planning, commitment and resources. To my mind, we have a paucity of all three in the UK.

France meanwhile, is displaying an uncharacteristic enthusiasm for intervention; nothing to do of course, as Bronte points out, with Total's interests in Libya.  

Britain needs to stand off and prepare for any action that may be required in the Gulf, for that is where our national interest lies. I will finally point out, if we were so concerned with human rights, democracy and freedom then we'd be sailing down to the Ivory Coast to sort that impending bloodbath out but, sorry; no oil or media correspondents to speak of there.