RDN on Libya on BBC R2

Posted by RDN under Politics & campaigns on 21 February 2011

I had a fairlydecent outing on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 today. Since I was defending the UK’s behaviour toward Libya in recent years, that was about the best one can expect, I think.

The discussion was about whether the UK cosied-up to Libya in exchange for oil and whether that makes us complicit in all the ensuing wickedness that Gadaffi has inflicted on his people and cripples us as we now face dealing with the violence he is unleashing in what may be his nihilist end-game.

David Mellor argued that we had fatally contaminated ourselves in our dealings with Gadaffi and especially in an assumed England/Scotland stitch-up over the release of   Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

I argued that – in line with the Kissinger line – countries deal with the regimes which are actually in place, and get what they can. Our relations with Gadaffi were not affectionate so much as expedient. Obviously, if true, it is horrible to contemplate that UK arms are being used against protestors. I don’t know the degree to which that is a matter of UK wickedness, but it remains true that dictators with cash can always find arms.

In response to David Mellor’s charge that the UK behaves badly partly because it is a poodle of the US, I noted that the US has shouted pretty loudly and clearly about human rights abuses in Libya and the UK has hardly been wrong to echo that.

My main point was that our being too close to Gadaffi has very little to do with how he has behaved and is behaving. The twists and turns of UK/Libya relations are small-beer compared to the “demonstration effect” which has flowed from Arabs and others watching Al Jazeera showing them voters in Iraq, protestors in Iran, and then street-led revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

I said what happens next in our relations with Libya depends on how the UK reads its moral and practical options. I am not qualified to be very definite on that subject.  I have some faith that William Hague will get it more or less right, which is the best one can hope for in foreign affairs.

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