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Wednesday 23 March 2011
Letters: Military action in Libya
For the record, I want to add my voice to those who accept that the world would be a better place without the likes of Gaddafi. But I also believe that, after at least 90 years of self-seeking politics, slaughter of innocents and incontinent arms sales in the Arab world, the British political/industrial establishment has lost the moral right to take any part whatsoever in affecting events in places such as Libya.
We're two days into military action (at the time of writing), yet so far Cameron has apparently refused to say what will indicate "mission complete", or what our exit strategy will be if Gaddafi manages to escalate the war.
By providing some military aid in defence of the rebels, but stopping short of providing them with the means to mount an effective offensive, the coalition is likely to be ensuring the prolongation of fighting – so that in the end far more civilians may suffer than would have been the case with a quick government victory (however distasteful).
And, while efficiently killing Libyan soldiers, many of whom are conscripts who have no say in what's going on, the coalition has no consensus as to whether it would be right to target Gaddafi, whom they firmly hold to be the author of the current horrors.
So, it seems that our establishment has failed to learn from recent history, failed to take account of perfectly foreseeable unforeseen consequences, and failed to agree on the most fundamental moral questions before launching this adventure.
What a lovely war!
It didn't take long, did it? Ten days ago your front pages were chastising the West for failing to intervene in Libya (main headline on 10 March: "Why won't the world help us?"). Now that intervention has begun, your front page headlines have switched to wholesale negativity about the campaign (22 March: "The disunited nations"), just as over the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. The only consistency seems to be that, whatever Western foreign policy may be (whether intervening or not intervening), it must always be attacked.
I wonder whether you ever consider the cumulative drip-drip effect of this on British public opinion and confidence in Western values (freedom of expression, democracy, religious toleration)? George Orwell in his "Notes on Nationalism" in 1945 identified a tendency among "English left-wing intellectuals" to hold the view that "in foreign politics ... any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong" and "getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated".
Sad to see that this phenomenon persists today, and, in a society where popular patriotism is encouraged much less than in 1945 and where young people in Britain are no longer schooled in the virtues of Western values – think of the 7/7 bombers – is that much more dangerous.
Most of the letters published on 21 March featured cynicism on the motives for a no-fly zone. And Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's piece was no better.
Nobody in power, or anywhere else for that matter, ever has unmixed motives. One would have thought Muslims in exile would recognise this better than most, and as the saying goes "even a stopped clock is right twice a day". The "Coalition" has said it will not send in ground troops, and the no-fly zone is there to prevent the opposition being crushed and destroyed by Gaddafi's air force.
Those same voices that question the motives of those sending the aircraft were, not so long ago, declaring that the rebels must be supported. It is now the time for the left to wean itself from knee-jerk anti-militarism. Any military action is, unless aimed with extreme precision, a blunt instrument liable to do as much harm as good, and nobody can ever guarantee that only the guilty will be targeted. Mistakes are made, and bitterly regretted when they are made.
This is a case where Europe has acted, and in support of the right. People should celebrate this, not carp.
The unravelling political debacle surrounding UN Security Council Resolution 1973 not only has grave consequences for the citizens of Libya, but could neuter the UN for a generation.
Something had to be done to curb Gaddafi's violence towards large sectors of his country's people and, upon hearing that the resolution had been passed, I was proud of the UN and the UK's role in helping to frame the Security Council resolution. More importantly, diplomatic efforts had persuaded Russia and China not to veto the resolution and I felt that this represented a really positive step towards the establishment of credible "world governance".
By attempting to hijack this genuine attempt to achieve a ceasefire and protect civilians, and turn it into a regime-change motion (and a potential full-blown civil war by arming the anti-Gaddafi "rebels"), key western governments (including the UK) are in danger of ensuring that the UN becomes quickly regarded, not only as "just a talking shop" but also as a laughing stock, with no realistic possibility of reaching consensus on anything that is remotely important.
Melvyn G Taylor
How blissfully straight-forward must life be for those where everything is black and white, where there are no shades of grey and where there are no moral conflicts or inconvenient past history to get in the way. Such people must lead the most perfectly unblemished lives that are models of virtue for the rest of us to aspire to.
How dreadfully inconsiderate of those beastly Libyan rebels to put such fearless paragons of virtue on the line by causing them to wrestle with their consciences. I would sincerely hope that prior to their death and the hands of Gaddafi's execution squads, the Libyan rebels paused for a moment to apologise to those in the West who have been so dreadfully inconvenienced by their demands for liberty of thought and freedom of expression.
For dictators, autocrats and thugs everywhere, the message being sent by these post-colonial knicker-twisters is that they can get away with murder because, when faced with making a judgement call, moral cowardice is infinitely preferable to taking a stand. Churchill is probably turning in his grave.
If I want to help the suffering I can contribute to a host of charities. I do not want my government to get involved in military action, except in self-defence.
After Afghanistan and Iraq, now for the third time intervention in the Middle East, with no realistic aim in sight, puts this country in an impossible situation. A favourite great uncle once ticked me off for a juvenile crime: "My boy, to do a silly thing once may be a mistake, to do it twice is stupidity. Three times is insanity."
Part of the blame may lie in the cult of youth. Both Blair and Cameron, prime ministers in their forties, would once have had ten years of junior ministerial office before becoming Prime Minister in their middle 50s. Churchill and Attlee were both over 60 when they became Prime Minister.
Reading your report of the carnage inflicted on the Libyan army by the air strikes, I was reminded of a story told to me a few years ago by a retired Russian colonel, who was my translator during a business trip to the Russian Republic.
He told me that he had been in Egypt during the 1956 Suez crisis, training Egyptians to use the artillery that the Russians had supplied. When it came to war he was with the Egyptians on their anti-aircraft post.
He told me: "The RAF flew over, but they did not drop bombs, they dropped leaflets. The leaflets said, "WE START BOMBING IN 15 MINUTES."
On reading these, the Egyptians, whom the Russians had been training for months, just ran off.
With the vastly more sophisticated and accurate weapons that we now have, guaranteeing total destruction of anything on the ground from a height out of range of the weapons the Libyan army will have, it would have been more humane to have given the soldiers some warning of what was to come. These young boys all have mothers, wives and children. They were only doing a job, however unpleasant that job was.
Boston Spa, West Yorkshire
Don't waste time talking about the no-fly zone's humanitarian objectives. The US/UK/French attack is to ensure that the oil fields don't go back under Gaddafi's hands, as he has threatened to work with the Chinese oil giants rather than the West.
Partition would reassert western control over the oil and gas fields. As with Kurdistan, it will divide and rule. The Libyans don't need partition, bombing or Western interference. They need to negotiate within a unified country. The Arab League must assert itself and think of the wider issues rather than preserving its members' own regimes.
The trouble with the West, as one Tunisian politician said, is that "they never know when to leave". We shall soon be occupying three countries at a time of deep recession.
While the Government is now quoting the UN Charter in order to justify the action against Libya, that Charter's original intent was to peacefully resolve disputes between contracting states. It was never intended to provide for intervention in what is essentially a civil war.
Indeed, Article 2 para 7 provides: "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." Thus, the present action may well be ultra vires, albeit setting a precedent at international law which will have profound future repercussions.
Well, that didn't take long. After just 10 months in office the Coalition has its very own war.
We should not be surprised, though. Twenty years ago the Tory government committed us to the first Iraq war, and it was the Tory vote that enabled Labour's Tony Blair to defeat a massive backbench revolt for the second Iraq war. And now we are at war with Libya.
And where does this leave the Liberal Democrats? The silence is deafening.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
"Odyssey Dawn". Who comes up with these ridiculous titles for bombardments and killings. Anyone for collateral damage?
Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, Ireland
Bad idea to have an American General called Ham taking charge of the Christian attack on Muslim Libya.
Public and private goods
Dominic Lawson is no doubt correct that the private sector generates greater productivity growth than its public counterpart ("The public spending 'massacre' is a lie", 22 March). The profit motive to this extent undeniably "works". But the conclusion that it is therefore "rational"' to switch resources into private production is an egregious non sequitur.
Mr Lawson's mistake is to assume that the products of the two sectors are fungible, which is clearly false.
In industry, an increase in output entails – at the margin – greater consumption of consumer electronics, clothing, petrol etc. A rise in public provision, by contrast, means cleaner streets, better public spaces, more extensive social guarantees. The idea they are of comparable value to society is, in the words of John Kenneth Galbraith, who identified this imbalance, "broadly repugnant to common sense".
East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire
I am bemused by the universality of our census form. I wonder if other countries which must have similar exercises find it necessary to have translations into 55 languages and more? The cynic in me suspects that the US and the French would not, to name two. While I am delighted that my Bengali neighbours can have the luxury of the form in their own language, it appears just that, a luxury. No wonder it costs so much.
Twitter hits back
Jack Darrant (letter, 22 March) ought to refrain from accusing others of "appalling generalisation" while also claiming "balanced, intelligent people" avoid media such as reality TV and Twitter. I like to consider myself pretty balanced and reasonably intelligent, while at the same time being a committed user of Twitter. Echoing Mr Darrant's final appeal: "Must we all be tarred with the same brush?"
Perspectives on voting reform
Decide the contest in Round Two
Jim Snell (letter, 22 March) points out the contradiction in the Alternative Vote system whereby the greatest weight is given to the second preferences of supporters of the bottom candidate. However he ignores the logical answer – combining First-Past-The-Post with a run-off in constituencies where neither of the top two candidates has an overall majority – a system used all over Europe.
A senior BBC analyst recently said that the demand for AV was particularly strong because in the May 2010 general election two thirds of all MPs had been elected with less than 50 per cent of the turnout. This was no surprise to me as I have been analysing the results of Westminster general elections since 1997.
In 1997 and 2001 more than half of the successful candidates polled more than 50 per cent of the vote and thus had an overall majority. While AV seeks to deal with the less decisive results, the double poll system is much simpler and more transparent. The more decisive the result of FPTP in round one, the fewer the run-offs needed.
It may be objected that because we conduct our elections on Thursdays this system would lead to children losing two days of schooling. In fact there is nothing particularly sacred about Thursdays (or Sundays these days for that matter), so both rounds, or at least the runoffs, could take place on Sundays.
A tragedy to lose this chance
I do take David Woods' point (letter, 21 March), that supporters of the runner-up under AV do not get their second and subsequent preferences considered, though they do get their first preference considered repeatedly.
This supposed flaw would be avoided if the preference data were processed not by the AV procedure but using Condorcet's Method (reinvented by myself as Equivalent Straight Fights, demonstrating that ideas may be good or original but rarely both). Under this a voter who assigns an order of preference covering all the candidates will have an equal vote on every possible combination of two candidates.
I would, however, respectfully suggest to Mr Woods that actually AV is near enough for farm work. It would be a tragedy if we forfeit the change to preference voting over such a quibble.
I hope that, should AV be adopted, the entire set of preference data will be released for electoral anoraks to pore over. If they come up with a significant and reducible pattern of unfairness it would be a relatively minor matter to tweak the system later by applying a different algorithm.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Germany shows coalitions work
John Naylor says that "manifestos will be worthless under AV" (letter, 22 March). Is that a bad thing?
By their nature, manifestos are a legalised con trick pulled on the electorate by all parties, with policies routinely jettisoned under cover of the "We didn't know it was that bad" excuse.
It is striking that while we have lurched from left to right and back again, with little appreciable benefit to most of us, Germany has assimilated and rebuilt the East, while maintaining a broader, more skills-based economy, not totally in thrall to financiers. And all under a succession of coalition governments.
So the evidence shows that coalitions can (and do) work.
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