Having returned from London with its immediacy of daily, and often hourly, TV takes of the conflict in Libya, one seeks better perspective and time to reflect on all the implications of a fast changing landscape. The final outcome in Libya is still in doubt and the configuration of the Middle East remains an unknown. Tonight we will hear President Obama give a speech which will set forth his perspective on the Libyan crisis and the way forward. What is clear is that we are seeing a new Middle East in its immediacy.
While in London, I watched with sadness the equally momentous British debate on the new right-wing Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition budget with its slash and burn attack on public services and protection of the very rich. It is a blatant attack on Britain’s less well off and is fundamentally unfair. We are likely to see greater divisions and pain in Britain in the coming months and years if this plan goes forward.
I was a direct witness to the resulting demonstration of half a million people walking peacefully by my hotel window on Piccadilly Street last Saturday before returning to Washington. The sad part is that just a few hundred anarchists were doing their usual mayhem at the Ritz Hotel across the way and in Oxford Street. The BBC and Murdox’s Sky TV as well as his and other’s right wing papers that dominate the newspaper trade in Britain were reporting the act of a few hundred rather than focusing on the hurt and protests of 500,000 and of the population at large.
The conjunction of a budget debate and a conflict, indeed a war with heavy British participation in North Africa, may seem far apart at first sight, but the underlying reality was their close relationship. The Tory-led government had gutted in their budget the critical health, welfare, housing, educational, artistic, and scientific infrastructure of British society. Doing so while at the same time undertaking a costly war in Libya. Earlier they proposed such cuts in their defense spending as to make unlikely their ever having the capacity to act in saving another nation from mass killing and brutality of some other despot. In both cases the same debate was shallow and myopic but has parallels with the debate here in the U.S.
While clearly saving lives of Libyan civilians and rebel forces, the same government will, with their cuts over the next four years, take far more lives of their own citizens than are being lost in Libya. With one hand giveth life and with the other hand taketh.
The paradox and indeed the hypocrisy were almost too much to bear and even more so for the total lack of recognition by the conservatives and their Lib-Dem collaborators.
Now the hard question comes. Having engineered the possible collapse of a crazy tyrant and the equally likely chaos of a fractured, now largely leaderless and exhausted country, how can the action taken and the lives lost be made right and the Libyan nation reestablished as a fair, prosperous, and democratic nation?
The first answer must be urgent humanitarian relief on a massive scale. The second is long-term assistance in building the civic, economic, and social infrastructure to ensure stability and good governance.
How can nations like Britain, France, and the United States, who undertook to lead the way in trying to free Libya from Gaddafi, walk away from the destruction to Libyan society when this brutal conflict ends? Yet in Britain and, due to the Republicans in the House of Representatives and their own budget slashing, we are doing the same to our own people by our depression policy of cuts, more cuts and slash and burn to the least among us. Can this dichotomy stand and last without splintering?