Sunday, 20 March 2011

Media Watch: Jingo All The Way

The New Statesman columnist Peter Wilby recently implied that government foreign policy in Libya could be determined by domestic concerns:
Cameron, as cuts hit home, is likely to experience levels of public unpopularity similar to those recorded for Margaret Thatcher before Argentina invaded the Falklands. Lest we forget, approval ratings for Thatcher’s government were below 30 per cent for 18 months before the Falklands war. After victory, they stayed above 40 per cent for two years.
Starting a war worked for Thatcher, so why not her Etonian protégé? The botched SAS mission could even be viewed as an attempt to gauge public reaction to intervention in Libya.

I have to admit I was sceptical about Wilby’s assertion. Unlike in the 1980s, I thought the population too war-weary and the military too overstretched and fatigued by prolonged conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq to countenance another potentially entrenched war. But desperate needs call for desperate measures and, although military intervention in Libya might not have an immediate effect on public opinion, it certainly helps unify the tabloid press behind an increasingly unpopular government and this, in the long-term, will help shape public opinion. This could be crucial in fortifying the Conservative vote in May local elections.

The phrase “take all measures to protect civilians” means the UN Security Council Resolution amounts to much more than a no-fly zone: it allows air strikes and any military action except landing troops (for now). How anyone could believe a no-fly zone could represent anything else – when its policing would require strict military enforcement – is staggering.

Many people – of both the left and right – see military intervention as necessary in order to protect civilian lives. I’m not quite so convinced what our motivations are and think we need to be much more cautious about our response to military action.

Does this mark a watershed in British foreign policy? Will we be embracing a consistent policy of helping civilian struggles around the globe, or will we pick and choose depending on the incumbent regime and our existing trade relations? Will we abandon hypocrisy and cease arming despots and tyrants? History tells us to be sceptical and only time will tell. What is certain though is that the tabloid press love a war and - saturated in imperialist jingosim - will rally behind the government. It might just be the intervention Cameron is looking for.

1 comment:

Pete @ Eyes on Power said...

There is a chain of events here that is slightly hypocritical. The spark that lit the Arab revolts was the Wikileaks mass cable dump. They showed undue American influence in Tunisia and Egypt. If it’s one thing the Middle East is not fond of its this. Once the domino effect started it spread to neighbouring nations. By supporting regime change in Libya is the West not supporting the leaking of those documents?

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