Fall of Gadaffi's Tripoli base heralds the Arab Autumn
Sir Cyril Townsend says Europe should give Libya’s National Transitional Council all the political, economic and military advice they seek.
One regularly hears in a pub the foolish line that all politicians are the same. The 6.3 million people who live in Libya, and who have been ruled by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi with incredible brutality and stupidity for 42 years, might want to disagree.
In short, Libya with its vast oil and gas resources and strategic importance South of Western Europe, could have been a country, under a different leader, with the wealth and living standards of an Arab Gulf State. He has ruined the lives of millions.
For Colonel Gaddafi's political opponents torture was part of their confined existence. He gave a huge number of weapons and explosives to the IRA, and arranged the blowing up of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. (Abdel Baset Ali-al-Megrahi, who was convicted for that bombing, was only a junior intelligence official who was ordered to take the responsibility). Colonel Gaddafi had started to develop weapons of mass destruction; the United Kingdom played a commendable part in persuading him to abandon this programme.
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Today the erratic Colonel is out of power and a fugitive fleeing from his own people. It would be best if he ends up before the International Criminal Court; I would be surprised if, in reality, he has a peaceful end.
On February 28 David Cameron mentioned in the House of Commons the need for a no-fly zone over Libya.
Swiftly he was rebuked by Robert Gates, then the powerful US Defence Secretary.
But working with President Nicolas Sarkozy, the two political leaders of Britain and France played the leading role in getting the Security Council Resolution 1973 agreed on March 17.
The Resolution was widely drafted and authorised the use of "all necessary measures" to stop Colonel Gaddafi from attacking his own people.
French aircraft prevented Benghazi and Tubruq from turning into slaughterhouses with only a few hours to spare. Then there was a danger of a deadlock while Tripoli could not attack Benghazi and neither could Benghazi attack Tripoli. The fighting in Misrata got increasingly bloody.
But the rebels, now in the West as well as in the East, and given close air support by Nato, were gaining ground.
After a sense of quiet satisfaction for Nato's superb performance, where do we go from here? First, Nato's official job was to prevent Colonel Gaddafi and his forces from attacking civilians and this phase has to be ended.
The Libyan people gained their liberty by rising up against Colonel Gaddafi, his family and his henchmen, and the future of Libya is now the responsibility of the Libyan people – and not that of Nato, the European Union or the United Nations.
While comparisons with Iraq tend to be ridiculous, as the two countries are so different, the shocking handling of Iraq reminds us of two important lessons. Libya will need a defence force and a police force.
While the top leadership of both must change, both forces have an urgent and crucial priority to bring back law and order, under the firm direction and control of the National Transitional Council (NTC).
Just as it was most foolish to disband the Iraqi armed forces, so it was most foolish to exclude members of the Ba'ath Party from future employment.
Libya will be desperate in the weeks ahead for those with experience of government at all levels. Only named individuals suspected of committing crimes should be excluded, and they should be brought promptly before the courts.
The NTC, apart from the initial financial support required to get them operating effectively in free Tripoli, will soon have the Libyan oil and gas resources to back them.
The European Union would be wise to give the NTC all the political, economic and military advice they may seek, while keeping the decisions for the Libyan people.
The NTC say they will be looking for a quick transition to properly organised and internationally monitored elections, and the present Council members will not be standing in those elections.
There has been talk of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force being despatched to Libya.
If so, I hope it will be largely supplied by the Arab and African nations.
As the Arab Spring turns into an Arab Autumn the liberation of Colonel Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli will come to be regarded as of massive importance.
Such an event will have been watched with horror in Damascus.
One sad and sour note has, most unfortunately, been struck by the African Union which has insisted on supporting Colonel Gaddafi long after this ruthless tyrant had lost the backing of his people.
There is one major lesson for the United Kingdom. Liberal intervention in support of international law can work, but we should remember it should be confined to exceptional circumstances.