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Incompetence Links Britain’s Recent Wars and Its Coronavirus Response
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The government’s controversial Prevent programme aims to stop individuals becoming terrorists, but it would be much more effective if it taught British political leaders not to engage in wars that become the seed-beds of terrorism.

Consider the case of Khairi Saadallah, the suspect in the killing of three people in a park in Reading who came to the UK as a refugee from Libya in 2012 and was granted asylum in 2018. An ID card reportedly shows that he had been a member of the Union of the February 17 Revolution, one of the paramilitary groups that had fought Muammar Gaddafi the previous year. Police and intelligence agencies say they have not discovered any current link between Mr Saadallah and jihadist organisations.

But that is not really the point: if David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton had not launched the Nato-led war to carry out regime change in Libya in 2011, it is unlikely that refugees like Saadallah would have come to Britain the following year.

The same is true of Salman Abedi, the Libyan suicide bomber who killed 22 and injured 139 people, mostly children, in the Manchester Arena in 2017. Abedi was personally responsible for this slaughter, but the British government had relaxed controls on the movements of jihadi groups like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group because MI6 saw them as useful local allies in getting rid of Gaddafi.

It is disgusting how leaders like David Cameron continue to defend the launching of the 2011 Nato intervention in Libya. It was this that led to the ongoing war and the chaos that produced a wave of refugees who needed help and turned the country into a haven for jihadis like Abedi. Yet this predictable consequence of foreign intervention, be it in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, scarcely receives a mention in the wall-to-wall coverage of murders such as those in Manchester, Reading or London Bridge. The media emphasis is on grief and “communities coming together”, a highly convenient response from the point of view of the British government as its own blundering role in turning Libya into place of permanent war is forgotten or is considered irrelevant.

Gaddafi was a dictator but however horrific the conditions under his rule, Libyans are now at the mercy of local warlords who are proxies for foreign powers pursuing their own egocentric interests. This week Turkey and Egypt, and the coalitions they lead, are close to an all-out proxy war as they face off against each other at Sirte, close to where Gaddafi was killed.

This all-consuming violence is not mentioned by the leaders who did so much to bring it about. David Cameron boasts in his autobiography For The Record that, thanks to his efforts, American, British and French aircraft stopped the advance of Gaddafi’s tanks. “Benghazi was saved,” he writes, “and a Srebrenica-style slaughter was averted.”

Cameron has not noticed that Benghazi was not saved at all. Its centre is now a sea of ruins, destroyed in the fighting between the anti-Gaddafi warlords. Cameron’s claim that Gaddafi’s forces were about to carry out mass killings in Benghazi was always dubious. A report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said that the belief that Gaddafi would “massacre the civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence”. His forces had reoccupied other rebel-held towns and there had been no massacre.

Cameron and Britain were not alone in destroying Libya. In a piece of self-glorifying bombast as revolting as anything said by Donald Trump, the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton crowed after the death of Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.”

So did tens of thousands of other Libyans, but is it naive to imagine that Clinton, Cameron and Sarkozy ever cared much about what happened to the 7 million Libyan population? They were equally blind in looking after the interests of their own countries when they replaced a broadly secular authoritarian state in Libya with murderous anarchy.

These three politicians and other interventionists like Tony Blair and George W Bush defend themselves by saying that this is all hindsight. But it was not. I was in Benghazi and Tripoli during the six-month war to overthrow Gaddafi and it was patent that the violence would not end when he was dead. In the week that Britain recognised the rebel leadership in Benghazi as the legitimate government, the rebels had killed, and by some accounts tortured to death, their chief military commander, General Abdel Fattah Younis. Western governments and media had presented the opposition as liberally minded democrats. but an early proposal of the incoming post-Gaddafi transitional government was to put an end to the ban on polygamy.

Western leaders never suffered much political damage from their unforced errors in these wars in the Middle East and north Africa. The countries that were supposedly saved by foreign intervention might be wracked by endless conflict but they had disappeared from the news agenda. Voters at home never connected up terrorist butchery in their streets with wars fought in their name in far away places. I always thought it unjust yet probably inevitable that incompetent ignorant leaders, particularly in Britain, would never pay much of a price for what they had done.

But I was wrong. The same sort of over-confident amateur leadership that I had witnessed committing serial blunders from Basra to Benghazi finally had to face a real crisis in the shape of Covid-19. Their performance was as dismal at home as it had been abroad. Boris Johnson’s shambolic response to the pandemic, producing the worst death toll from the illness in the world aside from the US and Brazil, was foreshadowed by what David Cameron had done before in Libya. In both instances, unnecessary mistakes had calamitous consequences. Perhaps the British political class had become so used to piggy-backing on US political and military power that it no longer knew what to do when that power stumbled over the last twenty years or finally imploded under Trump.


Competence takes a long time to create and its disintegration can also be imperceptibly slow. Nobody in Britain was much interested in the fate of Libya as it was torn apart in an escalating civil war. Even when Britain is the victim of a small proportion of that violence, there is a reluctance to put any of the blame on past British actions. The pretence is that somehow shouldering any responsibility lets the perpetrators off the hook. In reality, both the relatively limited number of British casualties stemming from its Middle East wars and the horribly large loss of life because of coronavirus have a common source: a political class that is hollowed out and no longer copes successfully with real crises.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: Britain, Coronavirus, Libya, Terrorism 
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  1. Gaddafi was a dictator but however horrific the conditions under his rule

    How typical for a virtue-signaling apologist like the author of this article, Mr. Patrick Cockburn.

    Lament on the blowback for your country’s crimes, but stay on the high-horse and keep up the lies to justify wars of aggression against nations that threatened no-one.

    Gaddafi may have been a dictator, but he was Lybia’s dictator. Gaddafi was also a good man. Before the unprovoked European and American proxy invasion and airborne destruction, Lybia was by far the most prosperous nation in Africa. All Lybian citizens enjoyed free medical care and free education, including university education. Women enjoyed equal rights in Lybia. Lybia was in the process of rolling out a grand irrigation scheme to benefit not only it’s own agriculture but also its neighboring countries.

    Lybia was a great nation, ruled by a great man, a shining example of what a united African nation could be. Please, Mr. Patrick Cockburn, tell us again how “horrific the conditions under his rule” were, before the Empire elected to destroy Lybia and butcher Muammar Gaddafi. Tell us all again how your government was motivated by the very best of intentions, while destroying the most prosperous sovereign nation on the African continent, killing its people and literally looting all of its gold.

    And keep on crying those crocodile tears about the domestic blowback you’re feeling from your country’s war crimes.

  2. The government’s controversial Prevent programme aims to stop individuals becoming terrorists, but it would be much more effective if it taught British political leaders not to engage in wars that become the seed-beds of terrorism.

    You have to go back to the British Nationality Act 1948, when politicians opened the borders to aliens thereby committing treason – see We Were Never Asked.

    Imported religious zealots started becoming a danger in the eighties after the Ayatollah issued a fatwa on Indian author Salman Rushdie over his The Satanic Verses.

    This menace was allowed to fester. For years British authorities ignored radicals based at the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park, hence the label ‘Londonistan’.

    In 2017 Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, claimed the UK was home to the highest known number of Islamist radicals in Europe – between 20,000 and 25,000 people. Most aren’t from countries destroyed by Zionists e.g Westminster Bridge attacker Adrian Elms/ Khalid Masood, a mixed race violent criminal.

    UK home to up to 25,000 Islamist extremists who could pose threat, EU official warns

  3. Malla says:

    How the British have deteriorated!! Once, they expertly ran the World’s biggest Empire in human history, now they cannot even run their own nation. WW2 destroyed Britain, the most stupidest mistake in British history.

    Even Chinua Acebe, the anti-colonial Igbo leader of Nigeria would later write in his book ‘There was a Country’, p. 43.

    “The British governed their colony of Nigeria with considerable care. There was a very highly competent cadre of government officials imbued with a high level of knowledge of how to run a country. This was not something that the British achieved only in Nigeria; they were able to manage this on a bigger scale in India and Australia. The British had the experience of governing and doing it competently. I am not justifying colonialism. But it is important to face the fact that British colonies were, more or less, expertly run.”

    • Replies: @Peter Akuleyev
  4. Sean says:

    Can’t have it both ways, and judge Britain as collectively responsible but Libya a land of innocent victims. If people in Britain are responsible for what was once done in the name of Britain, then so are Libyans responsible for what Gaddafi did in the UK.

    Nobody in Britain was much interested in the fate of Libya as it was torn apart in an escalating civil war. Even when Britain is the victim of a small proportion of that violence, there is a reluctance to put any of the blame on past British actions.

    Are Libyans children, is Britain a world power? Was Libya blameless for the PIRA? Ireland had differently allegiant peoples in it, and as a result a Civil War that ended in inconclusive partition. so did Libya. Gaddafi started something with the West, and it was not forgotten whatever he thought, and they eventually settled accounts with him. Tit for tat, and don’t start what you cannot finish.

    • Replies: @Wielgus
  5. Incompetence produces shovel ready jobs


    when the keys to eternal life

    Defibrillators and intubators fail at the first photo op

    which was a stunning success but

    the patient died

  6. @Malla

    WW2 destroyed Britain, the most stupidest mistake in British history.

    It was WWI that was the stupidest mistake.

    • Agree: Gordo
    • Replies: @Malla
  7. While no one detests the Cameron policy on Libya and Syria more than I, it was his policy of using the Royal Navy as a Med taxi service for random Libyan and Algerian bad-hats which killed all those people in Manchester and now in Reading.

    His policy of overthrowing Gaddafi led to the killing of 40-odd middle-aged Brits on a Tunisian beach, murdered by people trained in Libya who’d crossed the open border.

    Cameron was Continuity Blair, but less competent. Which was a Good Thing. The last thing you want as leader is an intelligent, competent villain. He will never be rewarded as richly as Blair, for that very reason.

  8. Malla says:
    @Peter Akuleyev

    It was WWI that was the stupidest mistake.

    Yeah actually you are right. But for all of Europe, from Britain in the West to Russia in the East. One of the biggest mistakes in European history.

  9. TG says:

    I hear what you are saying and mostly agree, but I have a slightly different angle.

    To me it is not so much the the elites are incompetent, but that they just don’t care. The elites are extremely effective at protecting themselves and their own power and wealth and status. If their decisions cause the rest of the nation to go down the tubes, well, why should they care? They are insulated from all of that, and indeed, are mostly profiting form this very handily.

    Never accuse someone of being stupid when their allegedly stupid decisions are making them lot of money.

  10. Wielgus says:

    Kim Jong-un and the like probably looked on and note that it is risky to come in out of the cold with the West. The apparent rapprochement merely gave Western agencies openings to recruit people.
    What vengeance did Britain ever take over the King David bombing or killings by Irgun?

  11. Gordo says:

    Invade the world, invite the world Paddy.

    The invite bit is not a bug but a very significant feature, our countries must be taken away, Ireland just as much as the other home nations of England, Scotland and Wales.

    The enemy is already inside the gates and we are still bickering amongst ourselves.

  12. eggplant says:

    “who came to the UK as a refugee from Libya in 2012”

    No, he came on holiday then decided to stay.

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