Once again, the anti-war left decries the democracies and favours the despots

17th January, 2013 10:18 am

With French troops in Mali, and a hostage crisis in Algeria, Paul Richards argues Miliband must support Hollande

Tens of thousands of people across the world are cheering the raising of the Tricolor this week, but for the wrong reasons. It’s not the barricades of Les Miserables which should be getting them to their feet, but the bravery of the pilots of the Armée de l’Air in action over Mali. Over fifty raids since the weekend have been targeted against the terror groups controlling the north. The French are coming to save a democracy.

I wasn’t sure about President Hollande when he was first elected. The more the soggy leftists of British politics claimed him as their own, the more suspicious I became. In recent days, he has joined the narrow pantheon of world leaders prepared to go to war to defend democracy, and for that he should be praised. As I write, a French armoured column is moving northwards to meet the forces of Al-Qaeda, and various Jihadist splinter groups, in a ground battle. In Diabaly, 220 miles north of the capital, battle has been joined.

The French president said this week that ‘when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory.’ He added that he hoped to take terrorists prisoner, but if not he would ‘destroy’ them.

The French military objectives could not be clearer: to secure the safety of the thousands of French citizens in Mali, to support the democratically-elected government, and to stop the country, or any part of it, being taken over by Islamist terror groups. And this is being conducted in accordance with international law, and with the support of the people of Mali. Those voices on the left already calling it ‘colonialism’ or a war for Mali’s gold ore, should ask themselves what the country would be like if Islamist groups took control of Bamako. What would happen to legitimate political parties, to trade unionists, to women? Once again, as in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-war left decries the democracies and favours the despots.

There is, of course, a military and political danger for Hollande. He will need to win. His current deployment will soon prove inadequate. He will need to send more troops. Tragically, French families will start to hear that their sons and daughters have been injured or killed. The French public has its own folk memories of Algeria and Vietnam, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, where still nearly 4,000 French soldiers are stationed. Hollande must avoir des couilles to see the job through. If recent history tells us anything, it could take a decade or more.

The Labour Party has supported our sister party in France. The shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said ‘It is right the international community takes action in Mali. Recent rebel advances in Mali are hugely troubling and it is in British and the international community’s interests that stability is achieved. The presence of violent Islamic militant groups in the country is deeply concerning for all.’

He’s right, of course. It is in Britain’s interest that Islamist extremists are defeated in Mali. The doctrine, expounded in Tony Blair’s Chicago speech in 1999, of ‘liberal intervention’ by democracies into states at risk of failure, now lies at the heart of Labour’s international policy. I would hope that a Labour Government would have done more than send two transport planes to help the French efforts in Mali, especially as one of them broke down at the Evreax military airbase near Paris. It was not the RAF’s finest hour.

Hollande’s courageous action in Mali merely highlights the betrayal in Syria. France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf states have recognised the Syrian ‘rebels’ as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Yet they have stood by as over 60,000 people have been killed, according to the UN, including over 100 Palestinian refugees killed by Assad’s forces. It is this generation of world leaders’ Srebrenica.

In March 2013, it will be ten years since Iraq was liberated. The fierce arguments about the role of the UK, US and UN, about the legitimacy of armed interventions against dictatorships like that of Assad or Saddam, and about how to defend Britain’s interests, will be played out yet again. Labour supporters will be part of that debate, on both sides of the argument. But the reality is that Ed Miliband, when he becomes Prime Minister, like the current French president, will have to make the same unpopular decisions to go to war to defend democracy against those who would tear it down.

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  • This is where the Left looks weak. We decry the horrors of Syria and demand our leaders do something. France intervenes in Mali to stop a state collapsing into chaos and it is slaughtered for being colonialist. France is right to intervene and the more the conflict rages on, the harder it’s going to be for the British Government to ignore France’s pleas for help, particularly in this day and age when we’re meant to be co-operating so closely with the French military in particular. Two cargo planes (actually one cargo plane) is an embarrassment. Imagine if Britain had intervened in Zimbabwe in 2002 (perhaps it should have) and France had sent us a couple of defective planes?

    I would hope that France’s contribution to Afghanistan would be remembered by those who accuse of it having suspicious motives; France has shed blood, just as we have.

  • AlanGiles

    “the narrow pantheon of world leaders prepared to go to war to defend democracy, and for that he should be praised.”

    Easily said when you are not one of those sent to fight. Would you, Mr Richards, be prepared to join the Army and risk getting sent to a war zone? If so, why didn’t you do that instead of taking the “brave” decision of campaigning to become the head of the Police Commission in Brighton. Being a weekly scribbler for a website is so much easier, isn’t it?

    If you think war is the answer to everything, why didn’t you join the Army straight from school?.

    As it is, like Marchant, this is just another excuse to grovel to Tony Blair, that “brave” war-mongering leader of yesterday

    • JoeDM

      It’s a good job that your attitude was not widespread in a previous fight against fascism otherwise we may well have been writing these comments in German. If we were allowed to comment at all.

      • AlanGiles

        Joe, I am merely pointing out that it is very easy for Richards to sit on his backside pontificating, and ten years ago for Blair to mince over to Iraq to be photographed in full make-up in front of the troops for TV, but as both men were so gung-ho, would they, themselves be prepared to fight?

        This raises the question of just how aloof politicians, politicians manque’ and political scribblers are from the “ordinary” people. Richards writes with alacrity about “French families will start to hear that their sons and daughters have been injured or killed.”.

        Easy words to use – I wonder if Blair would have felt quite so blase’ if his son Euan had joined the Army rather than decide to go into the City 10 years ago, or if Richards had a son who was a serving soldier. Just a thought.

        • “would they, themselves be prepared to fight?”

          As the saying goes: they [Blair and Richards] are prepared to fight to the last drop of somebody else’s blood.

          • AlanGiles

            It is interesting that Richards hasn’t even got the courage to come out and answer the simple question of would he be prepared – personally – to fight for what he believes in, so I think we can all see how far his personal “bravery” goes.

            Until next week again when the armchair general gets out his crayons to write his next rivetting piece for LL…….

      • If you’re going to make facetious comments, could you pick less stupid ones? The viewpoint that you shouldn’t advocate war if you aren’t prepared to fight yourself was widespread in 1939, because it was a Britain that still bore the scars of the armchair generals of the First World War.

        • I agree ed, It’s a damn idiotic comparison to make between Mali and Iraq with the second world war when views against war were actually the most prevalent. Indeed one of our own parties great leaders was a pacifist – Lansbury.

  • TomFairfax

    I think the conflation of France’s principled stand to defend a democracy with Iraq and Syria is silly or disingenuous. Doing the right thing once doesn’t make a bad thing good, i.e. Iraq.

    The only thing in the Iraq interventions favour was that the same lies about Iraq possessing WMD’s were being told to Saddam, hence his farcical efforts to hide something he didn’t know he hadn’t got.

    Syria is another matter altogether. The West intervened in Libya because the risks were minimal. The Libyan forces of Gaddaffi were fighting modern weaponry with the equivalent of bows and arrows.

    In Syria the government forces were capable of presenting a threat to Israel whilst also possessing chemical weapons which they have said will be used in the case of outside intervention. If the rebels are armed, then we’re also arming the Jihadists on the rebel side. Trite solutions don’t exist in such cases, and that’s ignoring Russian support for the ruling faction.

    Successive governments have been destroying our capabilities to make meaningful interventions against such states without US leadership. The Mali rebels by contrast might be routed purely with the limited French intervention,in much the same way they dealt with Chadian rebels in the 1980’s. (Though without recruiting mercenaries n London and calling them Foreign Legion when in the field.)

    In Syria formal no fly zones and naval blockade might be tricky, but at least achievable, but not as cost free as in Libya.

  • Less than a year ago you were claiming “Liberal intervention worked in Libya.”* yet the situation in Mali is a consequence of intervention in Libya**. You advocate intervention in Syria against Assad though that would involve assisting Islamic extremists*** – the people who you now say we should militarily oppose in Mali.

    If this approach “now lies at the heart of Labour’s international policy” we can expect Labour voters to defect to parties like UKIP – who have developed a policy of opposition to nonsensical military adventures.

    Or is your commentary on the international scene merely the warbling of an armchair general, bereft of military knowledge and experience, with too much time on his hands?

    * http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/02/10/time-for-intervention-in-syria/

    ** http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/libyas-unintended-consequences.html

    *** http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/world/middleeast/syrian-rebels-tied-to-al-qaeda-play-key-role-in-war.html?ref=world&_r=1&

  • NT86

    “In March 2013, it will be ten years since Iraq was liberated.”

    Is that why it’s now an ungovernable hell hole which is soon to be taken over by those same Islamists? Where women are enslaved and homosexuals are oppressed even more?

    Don’t compare the situation in Mali (which is something any reasonable person can support) with Iraq. In this instance, the French are supporting the Malian government as well as getting assistance from ECOWAS.

    Every conflict in backward countries are quite different from each other. In the case of Syria, Assad is clearly a treacherous leader but giving even tacit support to the rebel opposition groups would be disastrous for the country’s future. Those rebels are Islamists so you need to read between the lines before considering liberal intervention. The end result could sometimes be an even more illiberal country.

    • MrSauce

      Indeed.
      There used to be Jewish and Christian communities in Iraq before we made it ‘free’.
      Not much sign of them now.

      • Harry Goldstein

        MrSauce
        You seem to be one of those who thinks all was fine for the Jews in Iraq until the nasty British and Americans got involved.
        The reality is very different. Jews especially endured a long history of persecution uner Iraqi nationalists, both when they were in opposition and after they gained power, from the 1940s onward.
        This included the pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali, leading to a pogrom in 1941.
        From the 1960s especially persecution intensified. All that was left of a 2,500 year old Jewish community in Sadaam Hussein’s time were a small number of elderly people who were unable to leave.
        Jews are sick of being told how wonderful life was for them in Islamic countries in the past. The reality is very different.

        • Philip Conway

          ‘MrSauce’ did not claim that ‘all was fine’ for Jewish people in Iraq prior to 2003. He only claimed that things are worse for Jews and Christians now. Is this untrue? You may be right about people overstating how good things were for Jews under secular authoritarian regimes such as Saddam’s Iraq but that has nothing much to do with what MrSauce was saying.

  • Redshift1

    You’d come across far more convincing if you ditched the comparisons with Iraq. It was a war for oil.

    • Redshift1

      Come to think of it – your argument may as well be any war against people we don’t consider democratic is good.

      Why didn’t we ever get involved in Vietnam…

      Why not invade Iran? Saudi Arabia? Angola? Central African Republic? Democratic Republic of Congo? China?

      You are quite honestly mental.

  • I actually favoured the intervention in Mali until I read this article, specifically the last paragraph.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Here is a question:
    In the 1930’s, when Hitler was rounding up the Jews and others and murdering millions, and invading or at war with almost all other countries should he-
    1. Have been defeated and removed, as indeed he was, and his regime destroyed or
    2. Should he have been driven back into the boundaries of Germany, and then been allowed to continue murdering and terrorising as long as he stayed within his own boundaries?

    To my mind the anti-war argument would say option 2, which I find impossible to accept.
    Sometimes I think that some people totally forget the graves of tens of thousands of Kurds in Iraq, plus his previous war record when he only got pushed back into Iraq.
    At the end of the first Iraq war the international community could have toppled this tyrant and handed the country over to the opposition in the days when there was an opposition and before Sadam wipde out the opposition and destroyed much of the infustructure.

    Ironically you hear so little of the anti war people when a tyrant is murdering his own people,driving them to starvation. However, whenever a really evil tyrant is removed from power they all come out bleeting about international law.

  • robertcp

    Most of this article was sensible but why did Richards have to bring up Iraq? It is bizarre that he did not like a Socialist until he gets involved in a war! The French are probably right to intervene in Mali and they were right to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

  • You really are a truly detestable war hungry man.

  • ‘Over fifty raids since the weekend have been targeted against the terror groups controlling the north. The French are coming to save a democracy.’

    Erm the democratically elected leader of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré, was overthrown in a illegal military coup 8 months ago by a Army Captain who, it should be noted had been trained in the US. Toure repeatedly condemned NATO’s war on Libya:

    ‘concerning the local Arab-Tuareg rebellions, Gaddafi engaged in mediation, the disarmament and reintegration. His overthrow has left a vacuum….very early, we alerted NATO and others about the collateral effects of the Libyan crisis. To no avail’

    No doubt he would haveopposed a French invasion and bombing campaign of Mali.

  • Cozener1

    ‘Over fifty raids since the weekend have been targeted against the terror groups controlling the north. The French are coming to save a democracy.’

    Erm the democratically elected leader of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré, was overthrown in a illegal military coup 8 months ago by a Army Captain who, it should be noted had been trained in the US. Toure repeatedly condemned NATO’s war on Libya:

    ‘concerning the local Arab-Tuareg rebellions, Gaddafi engaged in mediation, the disarmament and reintegration. His overthrow has left a vacuum….very early, we alerted NATO and others about the collateral effects of the Libyan crisis. To no avail’

    No doubt he would have opposed a French invasion and bombing campaign of Mali.

    I assume the author would support a joint Chinese/Russian invasion and bombing campaign of Syria to defeat extremist islamist rebel forces?

  • Pingback: The future of the British anti-war movement « Though Cowards Flinch()

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