UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, reportedly made the startling statement recently that the military intervention in Libya "unlike Iraq, is necessary, legal and right".
Would it not be wonderful if he could take the next logical step towards joined-up thinking and consider sending our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a certain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of porridge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague? After all, Cameron has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was "unnecessary, illegal and wrong"…..
But back to Libya. With the ongoing crisis – now war – much is being written about how the previous UK government collaborated with the Gaddafi regime in the last decade – while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coalition government where, no doubt, similar levels of cooperation and back-slapping and money-grubbing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the continuing flow of oil contracts to the UK.
But, yes, we should be dissecting the Labour/Gaddafi power balance. Gaddafi had New Labour over the proverbial (oil) barrel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whistleblower David Shayler exposed the failed and illegal MI6 assassination plot against Colonel Gaddafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islamic extremists. The newly-elected Labour government's knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook's denials and cover-up for them. Perhaps not so surprising, as the government ministers of the day were uncomfortably aware that the spies held files on them. But this craven response did leave the government position exposed, as Gaddafi well knew.
The CIA was fully cognisant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intelligence services. The Gaddafi Plot is once again being referenced in the media, including the Telegraph, and a recent edition of the Huffington Post. The details are still relevant, as it appears that our enterprising spooks are yet again reaching out to a rag-tag group of rebels – primarily Islamists and the Senussi royalists based around Benghazi.
The lessons of the reckless and ill-thought out Gaddafi Plot were brushed under the carpet, so history may yet again be doomed to repeat itself. Yes, Gaddafi has been one of the biggest backers of terrorism ever, and yes he has brutalised parts of his own population, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those stepping into the power vacuum would not be even more dangerous?
The Libyan government continued to use the 1996 MI6 assassination plot as leverage in its negotiations with the New Labour government right up until (publicly at least) 2009. Musa Kousa, the current Foreign Minister, played a key role throughout. For many years Kousa was the head of the Libyan External Security Organsiation and was widely seen as the chief architect of international Libyan-backed terrorism against the USA, the UK and France.
Another apparent example of this moral blackmail caught my eye recently – this report in the Daily Mail. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was afforded MI6-backed protection when he was finally allowed into the UK in September 2002 to study at the LSE.
The timing was particularly interesting, as only months earlier Saif had won a libel case against the UK's Sunday Telegraph newspaper. A grovelling apology was made by the newspaper, but Saif refrained from asking for "exemplary damages" – which he would almost certainly have won. The resulting pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was welcomed into the UK with MI6-facilitated protection.
Saif's relations with the UK had not always been so rosy. As background to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Telegraph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 classic propaganda operation. As The Guardian reported, the secretive MI6 media manipulation section, Information Operations, (I/Ops), had successfully spun a fake story to hapless spook hack, Con Coughlin, that Gaddafi Junior was involved in currency fraud. This story was fake, but the paper trail it produced was used by the spies as a pretext to prevent Saif from entering the UK at the time.
By 2002 this was all old history, of course. Saif was welcomed to the UK, officially to study for his MA and PhD at the London School of Economics (and showing his gratitude to that august institution with a hefty donation of £1.5 million – it makes the new tuition fees for UK students seem better value for money), and unofficially to chum up to various Establishment enablers to end Libya's pariah status, open up lucrative trade channels, and get the SAS to train up Libya's special forces.
The UK military must be just loving that now…..
So I get the feeling that the UK government has over the last decade indeed "danced with the devil". After decades of viewing Libya and Colonel Gaddafi as a Priority One JIC intelligence target, the UK government fell over itself to appease the Gaddafi regime in the wake of the bungled assassination attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son. These were the sticks Gaddafi used; the carrots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facilitated oil contracts.
Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, following Dave Cameron's "necessary, legal and right" military intervention. If the wily old Colonel manages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impressive track-record of surviving against the odds), then I doubt if he'll be happy to cooperate with British oil companies in the future. At the very least.
If Gaddafi is deposed, who can realistically predict the intentions and capabilities of those who will fill the power vacuum? We should have learnt from Afghanistan and Iraq: my enemy's enemy is my friend – until he becomes my enemy again…..