The government is rightly proud of the Libya intervention. Not only did it save thousands of lives in Benghazi but it was conducted in way that learnt the lessons of the past. The Foreign Secretary took pains to get a UN resolution, making the mission legal, and kept the shape-shifting Arab League committed throughout.
But unless the government is now willing to unlearn the lessons of the past, and act both more unilaterally and even illegally, its multilateral, UN-sanctioned action may have been for nothing. For Misrata is now getting the punishment that had been planned for Benghazi. The town is being destroyed in a seige that looks like the shelling of Sarajevo. NATO’s air campaign, and especially the recent attacks on Colonel Gaddafi’s communications systems, have evened the odds a little but it is still likely the town will fall, barbarism will ensue and loyalist forces will then push on to Benghazi to exact vengeance.
Some will argue that Britain can do little more now. I could not disagree more. You can’t go to war to save lives in one city and then stand idly by as people are slaughtered forty-five minutes down the road. You can’t say that Colonel Gaddafi must go, only to back down when it gets too difficult. Too much is at stake now for Libya, the Middle East and Britain.
The only way forward is some form of land-based intervention, which will relieve the town of Misrata and change the dynamic of the conflict. It need not be permanent one, but could involve a
temporary assault on Gaddafi’s forces by the 600 Royal Marines who are in Cyprus for amphibious exercises.