Economically, spiritually, we can’t afford this war

ZIMBABWE, North Korea, Uzbekistan, DR Congo; Russia, if you look at it from a Chechen position; Israel, if you take a Palestinian view. Just some of the countries whose governments could be said to threaten their own people.

So what’s so special about Libya?

And, indeed, what’s so special about Britain, France and America?

According to the government we had no choice but to get involved in what were until last weekend the internal troubles of a smallish north-African country. (Smallish, that is, by population – a tenth as many people as the UK, spread over seven times its area.)

No choice? Really?

The governments of Germany, Sweden, Spain, South Africa and Venezuela all thought they had a choice. And they made the right one – as indeed did almost every country in the world.

To keep the hell out of what didn’t directly concern them.

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A week ago, two weeks ago, the situation in Libya was looking bad. It looks a lot worse now, since the Western triumvirate decided to go wading in with all guns blazing.

Taking sides in someone else’s civil war is seldom if ever a wise policy. History has shown it time and time again.

Of course, this isn’t actually war. Oh no. This is just “enforcing a no-fly zone”.

Which means what, exactly?

Air strikes on ground targets? First denying, then admitting, as defence secretary Liam Fox has, that the leader of another country has become “a legitimate target”?

This is “mission creep” with a vengeance. And in a remarkably short time.

Among the barrage of sabre-rattling and self-justification I’ve heard several times the suggestion that the end justifies the means. But what end do we have in view?

In any war the intended end keeps changing. Means alter ends.

Have we forgotten so soon one of the supposed key lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan – that you shouldn’t start a war without a clear idea of what you want to achieve?

Just a few weeks ago a leading Tory commentator, Matthew Parris, described William Hague as “the best foreign secretary we’ve had in years”.

The reason for this high praise was Hague’s refusal to get involved in the on-going turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia.

“What should Britain do about Egypt?” asked Parris.

And answered himself: “Nothing. None of our business. Way above our pay grade; beyond our means.”

And quite right too. So why should Libya be any different?

Could it, just possibly, have anything to do with that dark, treacly substance our advanced economies so rely on?

No one in a high place will ever admit that oil had anything to do with the decision to oust Colonel Gaddafi. Just as no one ever admitted it had anything to do with the invasion of Iraq.

Did you believe it then? Do you now?

Libya, it’s said, isn’t a very big exporter of oil. But then, it’s had over 40 years of Gaddafi’s eccentric, repressive rule.

Remove that screwed-down cap, and who knows how much oil will begin to gush forth from the desert?

Of course, if it really is about the supply and price of oil, perhaps we’d better hope the downtrodden of Saudi Arabia don’t also rise to shake off their despotic rulers.

If they do – if the Arab Spring uncoils that far – the holy cause of democracy might suddenly come into conflict with the cause it’s so often been a cover for.

The cause of keeping down prices at the petrol pump packs a big punch in the democratic West.

And it goes hand-in-hand with one answer to my question above: What’s so special about Britain, France and the US?

And that is: Delusions of grandeur.

More specifically, in the case of Britain and France, delusions that we still have the grandeur we once had. And in America’s case, fear of losing the grandeur they retain for now.

Interestingly, Barack Obama appears to have gained some credibility for refusing to rush Bush-like to war, for taking time to think.

At the same time, his eventual decision has not gone down well with everyone on his side of the American political divide.

Democrat congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio summed it up clearly: “While the action is billed as protecting the civilians of Libya, a no-fly zone begins with an attack on the air defences of Libya and Gaddafi forces. It is an act of war…

“Our nation simply cannot afford another war, economically, diplomatically or spiritually.”

Just so. And neither can ours.

A friend of mine complained the other day about the money being spent supporting Libyan rebels who don’t pay UK taxes.

You certainly have to wonder how many libraries, how many school roofs, how much road repair, how many bus passes, how many police jobs, how many swimming-pools add up to a few hundred Tomahawk missiles or a few thousand air miles in a Typhoon jet.

But in a sense, who pays isn’t really the issue.

If charging into someone else’s fight was the right thing to do, it would be right whoever picked up the tab.

Fact is, it would be wrong even if we could afford it.