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.