Obama-bashing and the British urge to intervene in Libya

The current war on Libya largely led by Britain and France once again highlights the shortcomings of the British anti-war movement.

In the run up to the war on Iraqin 2003 and many years afterwards, many of the leading individuals within this movement circumvented the fact that Britainwas invading Iraqfor its own interests. Instead they mischievously popularised the notion that Tony Blair was beholden to George W. Bush. The latter, they strongly claimed, was dragging the former along into this illegal venture.[1]

Blair, they inveterately argued, was not a co-partner, co-conspirator and co-leader in this military enterprise but a mere “poodle”.[2] The poor soul had his innate and natural sincerity taken advantage of by big bad George W. Bush; he was seduced by the power of a photo-op on the Oval office’s green lawn and at times he was even “stabbed in the back” for his noble efforts on behalf of Bush.[3]    

We now know nothing could be further from the truth.

Unbowed and unlike George W. Bush, Blair is now on record as saying that if the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” pre-text wasn’t available in the run-up to the Iraq war he would have used some other excuse.[4] A firm affirmation that Blair invadedIraq under no political, economic and cultural duress from Bush.

The legacy to refuse to face up to Britain’s own independent motives in invading Iraq lives on, quite seamlessly and shamelessly, in the current intervention in Libya. The leaders of the anti-war movement by-pass and circumvent the fact thatBritainwas probably the most eager country to intervene.

As soon as the British led intervention of Libyabegan with the NATO bombing on the 19th March, Andrew Murray, a leader in the “anti-war movement” was quick off the blocs in blaming the Arab League’s “despots” for the bombing and the UN resolution which supposedly authorised it. He claimed the latest military venture was “instigated” by the Arab League.[5]

It is truly remarkable how he ignored the campaign in the British media and especially the right-wing media from late February onwards to intervene inLibya.

My focus here is deliberately on the main bugles of the right-wing media, the Daily Telegraph and the Times, because by virtue of at least their circulation figures, they are the most consequential.     

On the 26th  February, the Telegraph reported on a joint Anglo-French plan to impose sanctions on Libya at the United Nations.[6] There was no Arab involvement here. In the Times, a journalist informs us that it is “time for Gaddaffi to leave”.[7]

In the week commencing 28th February, the British media stepped up the tempo in promoting intervention. In the Times, Deborah Haynes, reported that “Britain was ready to use force”.[8] The report goes on to say that:

“Going further than any world leader, David Cameron said yesterday that he had ordered General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to work on how to impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace. Fighter jets would shoot down any encroaching Libyan aircraft…”

In the Telegraph, the British urge to drop bombs on Libya was dressed up as a western initiative to do so: a report claimed that the “West is ready to Use Force against Gaddaffi.”[9] For David Cameron, the British Prime Minister,

“…Gaddafi’s departure was Britain’s “highest priority”, adding: “If helping the opposition would somehow bring that about, it is certainly something we should be considering.””[10]

As such certain individuals close to the British military informed the readership that it was ready for a ‘Libyan mission’.[11]   

One can easily see, that all “instigation” came from David Cameron and Blighty’s right-wing media. None of the “Arab despots” were making any noises to intervene at this time.

However, British plans for intervention hit a stumbling block according to Christopher Hope of the Telegraph, when other world leaders shunned the idea.[12]

Coupled with the British urge or instigation to intervene in Libyain the right-wing media, was another bout of British Obama-bashing.[13] British militarism is not keen on Obama. The British right-wing media seemed to have identified that the American administration and specifically Obama, were not as enthusiastic as they, in wanting intervention in Libya.

 “Waiting for Washington” declared the The Times in late February as it praised the success of Geroge W. Bush and Tony Blair in the ‘War on Terror’ and compared their decisiveness and clarity with Obama’s “hesitancy”.[14] In another editorial titled the “Essence of Indecision” the paper urged Obama to show “leadership” and referred to ex-Defence Secretary Robert Gates’s rebuke of David Cameron’s call for military intervention as “inglorious”. Naturally, because the Obama administration wasn’t then keen on intervention it accuses it of “sowing discord” amongst the western alliance as well as accusing Gadhaffi of using foreign mercenaries and child soldiers.[15]

On the 10th March a report in the Times, confirms that it is Britain that is taking the lead in wanting intervention and delightedly declared that there is a “glimmer of hope” in the Obama administration in that it is maybe coming round to seeing the Libyan situation their way:

“…British and French officials seeking quicker action from the US, the White House distanced itself for the first time from a policy tied to UN approval, creating a chance for rapid movement after indecision by the White House.”[16]

On the 11th March, a report in the Telegraph openly asked what Obama’s strategy is:

“Is it cowardice? Is it indecisiveness? Or is it clever diplomacy?”

 before concluding that because of “America’s size and military power, the American president does not have the option to remain neutral indefinitely…” [17]

A comment piece, in the Sunday Telegraph on the 13th March, contrasted Cameron’s urge to intervene inLibya with Obama’s “paralysis”. The author goes go on to “hope” that Obama “follows Cameron’s lead, asClinton followed Blair’s lead in Kosovo”. However, the writer does possess the honesty, unlike the leaders of the ‘Stop the War’, to argue that intervention is inBritain’s interests:

“The argument for intervention in Libyais not purely or even primarily humanitarian, however. Even if one sets aside its importance as an oil-producing nation, Libyaremains central to Britain’s strategic and commercial interests in the region.”[18]

It is only natural that the Telegraph editorialized over the next couple of days that Obama’s “silence” is “hurting the West” (the ‘West’ here is a generic metaphor meaning British interests). One of the ways the silence is hurting the ‘West’ is because:

 “…staying out of other people’s quarrels in the most volatile and oil-rich region on the planet is not a realistic foreign policy.”[19]

Is the Telegraph arguing that other people’s resources belong toBritain?

On the 16th March The Times once again accuses Obama of dithering or as it says, Obama “hovers and havers” while the British are attempting “to get support for more robust action.”[20]

Almost synchronically, both the Times and Telegraph write that David Cameron is finding it “frustrating” working with Obama.[21]Did the journalists who regurgitated Cameron’s feelings in their respective reports, sit at the same governmental briefing meeting?

On 17th March, The Times in an editorial claims that Obama is nowhere to be seen and also seems to be threatening that there would be “consequences” for his treatment of European opinion. They further argue, not for the first time, that Obama has been a “brutal disappointment”.[22] That is, he has disappointed the British urge to war.

On the same day the Times included a report which confirms that it isBritainandFrancewhich have taken the lead in tabling a UN resolution to implement a no-fly zone.

However, one of the problems with taking the lead in instigating intervention in Libyais that it has ‘uneasily’ left Britain“exposed”, as a British minister informed the Times.[23] It would have been much better to pull strings in the background so if there are reprisals no-one would blame the UK for initiating the intervention.[24]

But maybe ‘Stop the War’ can help to ameliorate the “unease” of the British government in taking the lead in calling for a military intervention, or better still could one of Britain’s anti-imperialist “revolutionary socialists” provide a helping hand?

Enter Richard Seymour, a rising star on the far left. He too totally overlooks the fact that it was Britain which led the clamour for intervention and not Washington. It is notWashington’s war, as he claims, but largelyBritain’s (andFrance’s).

He further states that America rather than wanting see popular committees to take root in a revolutionary society (as in Egypt), wants to “have private agreements with regime defectors.” Seymourprovides no evidence to support this accusation.[25]

However, there is now evidence of Libyan regime defectors striking agreements with another Government. Solomon Hughes of the Morning Star reported that Britainhas pressured Mustafa Abdul Jalil, one of the leaders of the “rebels” and made him sign “an apology on behalf of the Libyan people for the Lockerbie bombing and for giving the IRA Semtex.” And in another agreement with a “rebel” spokesman, Mustafa al-Gheriani the British pressured him into announcing that they will respect “all commercial contracts signed with the Gadaffi government” before the EU supported the “no-fly zone.”.[26]

There is no evidence for Andrew Murray’s assertion that the Arab League “instigated” the Libyan intervention. It is quite clear from any cursory examination of the British media (and not only the right-wing media) that from late February until the 19th March, when the bombing campaign commenced, it wasBritain (more than theUnited States) and not the “Arab despots” which was hungry for intervention.

Furthermore, it is highly disingenuous of the likes of Seymour to insist, without any supporting evidence, that this is “Washington’s war” when in fact the British (and French) led the way in this latest imperialist enterprise.

It is on this basis, that one is led to conclude that certain individuals in the anti-war movement, not only insist on eliding the leading role British government played in intervening in Libya (and Iraq) but also use their positions (and organisations?) as a red herring to deflect attention away from Britain’s central role in the Libyan campaign with a view to blaming other governments for the intervention. One is compelled to ask, whether this is done consciously or subconsciously?

Originally published at Black Commentator and Socialist Unity.

[1]see my, “Poppycock of the British anti-war movement”, Karmilised.com, 11th March 2008. (accessed at http://karmalised.com/?p=2990 on the 13th July 2011) 

[2] See my, “Myth of Partner, Lie of Poodle”, Black Commentator, 17th April 2008, (accessed at http://www.blackcommentator.com/273/273_partner_poodle_iraq_numan_think.html on the 13th July 2011)

[3] Seamus Milne, “Blair is plunging Britain into a crisis of Democracy”, The Guardian, 13th March 200.

[4] Riazat Butt and Richard Norton-Taylor, “Tony Blair admits: I would have invaded Iraq anyway”, The Guardian, 12th December 2009.

[5] Andrew Murray, “Real reasons for the UN Libya vote”, Stop the War Coalition, 18th March 2011. (Accessed at, http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/middle-east-north-africa/183-real-reasons-for-the-un-libya-vote on 14th July 2011)

[6] Jon Swaine and Bruno Waterfield, “UN Plans sanctions to turn up heat for Gadhaffi”, Daily Telegraph, 26th February 2011.

[7] Martin Fletcher, “It’s time for Gadhaffi to leave”, The Times, 25th February 2011.

[8] Deborah Hayne, “Britain ready to use force to free Libya”, The Times, 1st March 2011

[9] Robert Winnett, James Kirkup, Nick Meo and Bruno Waterfield “The West is ready to Use Force against Gadhaffi”, Daily Telegraph, 1st March 2011.

[10] ibid.

[11] James Kirkup and Richard Spencer, “Army ready for Libyan mission…”, Daily Telegraph, 5 March 2011

[12] Christopher Hope, “Cameron plan for no-zone shunned by world leaders”, Daily Telegraph, 2 March 2011

[13] The British right-wing media have had intermittent spouts of Obama-bashing since Obama’s election. The first bout was when he removed the Churchill’s busk from the Oval office and another was the way he treated Gordan Brown in the early part of his presidency.

[14] Editorial, “Waiting for Washington”, The Times, 26th February, 2011

[15] Editorial, “Essence of Indecision”, The Times, 4th March, 2011

[16] David Charter, Roland Watson and Giles Whittel, “Britain pushes US to agree no-fly zone”, The Times, 10th March 2011.

[17] Anne Applebaum, “Libya: Gaddafi is about to force Barack Obama’s hand”, Daily Telegraph, 11th March 2011.

[18] Matthew D’Ancona, “David Cameron knows what to do about Libya, but does Obama?”, Sunday Telegraph, 13th March 2011

[19] Editorial, “America’s silence is hurting the West”, Daily Telegraph, 17th March, 2011.

[20] Editorial, “Leadership Needed”, The Times, 16th March 2011.

[21] Phillippe Naughton and Deborah Haynes, “Cameron calls for ‘leadership’ on Libya as rebels lose ground”, The Times, 16th March 2011 and Editorial, “America’s silence is hurting the West”, Daily Telegraph, 17th March, 2011.  

[22] Editorial, “Deserted by Obama”, The Times, 17th March 2011.

[23] Will Pavia, Roland Watson and Giles Whittel, “Britain welcolmes US change of heart over Libya no-fly zone”, The Times, 17th March 2011.

[24] ibid.

[25] Richard Seymour, “Springtime for NATO in Libya”, Leninology Blogspot, 4th April 2011

[26] Solomon Hughes, “Oil, the whole oil and nothing but the oil”, Morning Star, 15th April 2011.

One thought on “Obama-bashing and the British urge to intervene in Libya

  1. Khalif October 19, 2011 / 2:44 pm

    Absolutely right on both

    The brit role – atrocious barbarity
    the worthless/useless ant-war org

    STATEMENT: Stop the War leaders are trying to stifle debate by illegally expelling those who criticise them

    You accuse us of “attacking Stop the War”. Comrades, the organisation belongs not to the officers but to the members. What we have done is to criticise the leadership of the coalition – not because we have failed
    to uphold the aims and objectives of the coalition but because it is our belief that they have done so.

    Full text of Libya statement (September 2011)

    Support Libya’s resistance; denounce StW treachery (Leaflet, Sep 2011)

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