With the American media fixated on Donald Trump’s latest outrage, a new report by the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the origins, policies, and aftermath of NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 has gone largely unnoticed.
The report’s findings are a devastating indictment of the leadership of then–Prime Minister David Cameron (who declined to cooperate with the committee) as well as his foreign secretary, William Hague, and defense minister, Liam Fox (who did). The report puts a stake through the heart of the reigning establishment narrative that intervention was justified because Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was about to unleash a massacre on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi—an untruth that has been endlessly repeated by the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, who was a driving force behind the intervention. The new report should—but probably will not, given the sorry state of the 2016 campaign—draw attention to Clinton’s long record of supporting military interventions in lieu of diplomacy.
The report states that the Libyan intervention was “not formed by accurate intelligence” and that the Cameron government failed to see that “the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”
The report questions how the imposition of a UN-mandated no-fly zone—established in order to protect civilians—transformed into a policy of regime change. The UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff at the time, Gen. David Richards, told the committee that “one thing morphed almost ineluctably into the other.” The report points out that as early as March 20, 2011, Qaddafi’s forces had retreated 40 miles from Benghazi after a series of attacks by the French air force. “If the primary object of the coalition intervention was the urgent need to protect civilians in Benghazi,” notes the report, “then this object was achieved in less than 24 hours.”
Was regime change really necessary? The report takes serious issue with the idea that Qaddafi was on the verge of committing a mass slaughter. The Select Committee notes: “Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.” Indeed, only days before the launch of military action by the West, Qaddafi addressed the rebels, telling them: “Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.” Which, as the report observes, is true.