The Plastic Hippo

April 17, 2011


Filed under: History,Politics,World — theplastichippo @ 12:28 pm

1973 looks like ancient history now. With only three TV stations still showing some programmes in black and white, no internet, no mobile phones, no pizza delivery and no Jamie Oliver, life was almost medieval.

The year started with the UK joining the EEC and ended with the introduction of the three day week. Edward Heath was Prime Minister and Margaret Thatcher was in charge of education. The Vietnam War ended and the Yom Kippur War began. How remote these events seem in our current, stable society.

It is now almost beyond credulity that America was gripped by the Watergate scandal involving break-ins, phone tapping and cover-ups. That the TUC should organise a day of action to protest against the government. That an oil crisis should send the cost of fuel through the roof and that a civilian Libyan airliner would be shot down by Israeli F4 Phantoms enforcing a no-fly zone. Stranger still the regime change that brought about the “suicide” of democratically elected President Allende of Chile witnessed by CIA special forces and hundreds of heavily armed soldiers loyal to a right wing dictator who just happened to be surrounding him. Thank goodness these shocking events belong firmly in another age.

What seems even more incredible is that Dark Side of the Moon and Tubular Bells were released in 1973.

UN Resolution 1973 demanded a cease fire in Libya and the imposition of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from air attack. It authorised “all necessary means” short of a “foreign occupation force” to stop Gaddafi killing his own people. Within hours, the military might of Britain, France and the US set about destroying the Libyan defence assets supplied by, without any trace of irony, the British, French and American arms industries. First blood went to the French but RAF Tornado in the air over the Maghreb have now been joined by Typhoon Euro-fighters in a ground attack role that they are not designed to perform. A Trafalgar Class Royal Navy submarine along with an undisclosed number of American submarines, are launching Tomahawk cruise missiles intending, proceeding and succeeding, in blowing up some stuff.

All over by teatime, one might have thought. Sadly not. It was not long before civilian causalities resulted from that most insulting oxymoron, “friendly fire” and the ultimate cop out, “collateral damage”. The stated aim of protecting civilians from air strikes is being achieved by striking them from the air and from below the water.

This rapid intervention clearly saved Benghazi from the blood curdling threat of annihilation issued by the mad man in Tripoli and the members of the alliance are to be congratulated on their masterly use of diplomatic logic by managing to include the “all necessary means” clause into UN Resolution 1973. Prior to the resolution being passed, the emphasis was on protecting the population by policing a no-fly zone. Once the hands were raised in favour in New York, it was chocks away, target acquired, weapons locked and loaded. Military logic dictates that flying in a no-fly zone means taking out any air defences and, for good measure, creating a bloody big hole in Muammar`s patio.

This sudden outpouring of humanitarian concern for the good people of Libya and the willingness to bomb them to freedom has, of course, absolutely nothing to do with Libya’s oil reserves and production. The second ship into Benghazi did not carry food and medicine and was, in fact, empty. It departed full of oil. The first ship in was HMS Cumberland, currently berthed in a breakers yard being melted down to make royal wedding souvenirs. Her last task was to evacuate the British nationals and other non-Libyans who made their living digging up oil.

Protecting innocent Libyan civilians is still the focus of a British government removing support from the elderly and people with disabilities, a French government that has made wearing a burqa a criminal offence and an American government with no stomach for another Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. After ejecting Louisiana fishermen from its AGM, British Petroleum are more than capable of handling this latest unpleasantness.

It is reassuring to know that at times of national and international crisis, the best minds in British intelligence, military, government and civil defence gather to formulate a response to dire and volatile circumstances. The very name of this committee inspires confidence and conjures up images of the good guys from “The Man from UNCLE” outwitting the bad guys from THRUSH or a laconic 007 being briefed on the latest dastardly plot by SMERSH.

COBRA, dangerous, deadly, cunning and lightening-quick is protecting us. One would hope that COBRA stood for something like Command Operational Battle Ready Assets, but it doesn’t. Ancient Whitehall retainers know that something is up when their morning chitty requires them to furnish tea and biscuits and fill the inkwells in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. Geddit? COBRA. Do pay attention Bond.

COBRA met to approve armed intervention in Libya as UN Resolution 1973 came into force and prior to David Cameron addressing the commons. There are some MPs, including Conservatives, who are now demanding the recall of parliament as the “war” escalates and boots on the ground seem inevitable. The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe has suggested that the forceful removal of Gaddafi and his loathsome sons would be legitimised using the “all necessary means” justification. 1973 was passed on the understanding that regime change was not the motivation. His predecessor, Ms Michele Alliot-Marie, was sacked by Sarkozy after it emerged that she had spent Christmas with her pal President Ben Ali in Tunisia and offered that tyrant some French assistance to quell his uprising. One wonders if there are chairs reserved for BP and Total SA in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.

COBRA is chaired by Foreign Secretary William Hague, the former host of Have I Got News For You and the man who told the world that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela a few days after the start of the Libyan revolution. Hague also explained that the heavily armed SAS men dropped by helicopter in the dead of night on a remote Libyan farm and then captured by a bunch of farm hands, were actually businessmen looking for an hotel. One hopes that his former “special adviser”, Christopher Myers, was not one of the businessmen involved. Sharing an occasional hotel room with a burly SAS operative is quite different to sharing a room with a cabinet minister.

If only COBRA had James Bond to sort this mess out.

“Commander Bond, you will be taken to Tripoli by submarine and you will make contact with Agent Sienna Miller. She will be at the Casbah wearing a silver lame bikini. In order not to compromise her cover, she will be wearing a yashmak to conceal her identity. She will lead you to the target and you will neutralise him. Here are your Easyjet tickets back to Luton.”

The oil-thirsty western powers have underestimated Gaddafi and have decided to ignore the fact that many of his people still support the crack-pot. He may be barking mad but he is as sly as a desert fox and as cunning as a mongoose. Rather than defeating Riki Tiki Tavi, COBRA may be coiling themselves around a Riki Tiki Timebomb. Arming the rebels might be a quick fix intended to open up the oil terminals but let us not forget the results of arming al-Qaeda to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

The government may wish to accept the loss of PC Yvonne Fletcher and the Lockerbie bombing as part of the price we have to pay for oil. But they should remember that April 4, 1973 saw the official opening of the World Trade Center in New York. That lasted 28 years. Gaddafi came to power in 1969. And he is still standing.

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