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Goodbye to Gaddafi: A Libyan woman thanks the UK and France at a rally in Benghazi, September 2011 (© PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)


The report published by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, gleefully picked up by a host of ill-informed commentators keen to trash David Cameron, is woefully one-sided. The committee entirely fails to surmise what might have happened had Muammar Gaddafi been allowed to suppress the rebellion against him. And its summary, with its punchline that “David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy”, includes a string of absurd presumptions, omissions and falsehoods. The partiality of the report brings into question the composition of the committee and its real purpose.

Plainly Libya is currently a disaster. But Gaddafi’s fall, engineered five years ago by Mr Cameron among others, did not lead directly to the current chaos. It was a gamble that in the short run succeeded and in the middle run has failed. But in ten years time Libya is still likely to be better-off than it was under the 42-year-long dictatorship of crazy Gaddafi.

For the first two years after his demise there was progress, albeit patchy and muddled. The Libyans’ initial transitional ruling council performed quite well. A remarkably successful election was then held in the summer of 2012, which produced a plurality for the more liberal and secular-minded Libyans in a fledgling parliament of 200, 80 of whose members were elected on party lists, the rest as individuals of varying beliefs, including Islamist. The treasury, the central bank and the national oil company continued to function adequately, with a plethora of foreign advisers, some of them British, giving sound advice, not always heeded. The 22-country Arab League, with the exception of Algeria and Syria, was unusually united in its enthusiasm, eagerly endorsing the initial Western intervention. The UN, assisted by the British, French, American and sundry Europeans, was entrusted with co-ordinating political and economic aid.

It is true that Libya’s fragile governments soon made a string of mistakes, often against outsiders’ counsel. A cardinal one in 2013 was the passage of a “law of political isolation” — eerily echoing the disastrous deBaathification law in Iraq — which barred from politics anyone who had worked for Gaddafi at a middling-to-upper level, including some impressive people who had defected many years before. Probably the biggest boob was endlessly to pander to the militias that proliferated during and after the rebellion rather than rein them in. But in the absence of an international peacekeeping force or a professional post-Gaddafi national army, none of the newly-elected leaders felt strong enough to crack the whip.

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