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The Libya exodus

This is pure class, pure, unalloyed hilarity from today’s Evening Standard newspaper editorial, page 14, as it talked about how Britain has paid some sort of bribe to Gaddafi to get landing rights and extract British nationals:

“As with other aspects of the rescue effort, the comparison with the response of other nations does ministers no credit. It is difficult to imagine the French military asking permission for its air force to rescue French citizens earlier this week, much less paying special bribes to do so.”

The French don’t pay bribes. Riiiiight. (Cough).

A less daft argument, in the same newspaper, comes from Sebastian Shakespeare:

“It is a sad indictment of modern Britain that a crisis immediately turns into a blame game and everybody expects to be mollycoddled when the balloon goes up. But the days of gunboat diplomacy are long behind us. The time has come to put aside sentiment and face economic reality. The FO [Foreign Office] cannot perform miracles when natural or geopolitical disasters occur. Nor should it be expected to foot the entire bill.”

“And why should the FO be bailing out oil workers, of all people? Yes, they are British citizens but many won’t be paying tax in the UK but earning tax-free salaries. The companies who employ them are enough to charter a whole fleet of 747s to repatriate their staff. They should bear the costs. And why should we put the SAS at risk? BP could hire its own private army.”

Hmm. I guess if people travel and work for high salaries in places known to be dangerous – and Libya and many other thugocracies are clearly dangerous – then it is a bit much to get this sudden surge of moaning when the home country does not immediately come to the rescue. Fair point. And it is also a fair point that oil companies could afford to give good security to their staff. Many do so. Security is a huge growth industry not just for oil industries, but also for the likes of many other multinationals, such as banks. I know of a few ex armed forces guys, including an ex-SAS officer, who earn very good money in this area. This topic has a slight connection to my posting about piracy on this site.

Having said all of which, I think Shakespeare is perhaps being a bit too dismissive, here. A citizen from country A who temporarily – a key point – lives in country B while working for a firm does not, in my view, surrender the protection of his host nation entirely. Of course, simple prudence and commonsense suggests that people who choose to work in a dangerous place are taking a risk and cannot expect that risk to be underwritten by fellow taxpayers who live in safer places. But I am not entirely at ease with the idea that we say to expat workers, even very rich ones, that we leave them to their fate. This is particularly so if such people are working for firms that play a part in the prosperity of say, the UK. This is not a cut and dried issue, in other words.

In the meantime, this whole business must be surely forcing some people in the Ministry of Defence to wonder whether recent UK defence cuts – driven more by understandable cost issues rather than strategic thinking – need to be thought through more carefully. For instance, does it make sense for the Royal Navy to go without any kind of working aircraft carriers for years until the new ones arrive, leaving the UK with no real ability to project airpower to protect things like UK shipping? Here is an interesting associated article at Standpoint.

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32 comments to The Libya exodus

  • “And why should we put the SAS at risk?”

    It’s err… their job?

    We should have had a flight of C-17/C-130Js and top cover and signals and sigint/refueling support out of Cyprus otherwise what is the fucking point of the state?

    I would have had a squadron of Typhoon FGA4s on Cyprus days ago but then that’s just me. I ean we are up against people who think a fine night out consists of a flagon of watered camel piss (aka Carling).

    It is well past time for “El Dorado Canyon II”.

    But then iDave is fundamentally gay.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Carling is NOT watered!

    (Well, OK, I lie; but who can resist a straight line like that?)

  • ral

    Interesting work by international Libertarians in the events there. See: http://www.Libertarian-International.org

  • otherwise what is the fucking point of the state?

    Exactly.

  • Laird

    It’s an interesting conundrum: to what extent to we expect our governments to protect their citizens abroad? If we’re arrested in a foreign country we expect our embassy to intercede. If Iran invades our embassy and holds our nationals hostage we expect them to be rescued (and we properly vilify Jimmy Carter both for delaying a response and for thoroughly botching the job when he finally attempted it). On the other hand, at some point one has to start talking about “assumption of risk” when people knowingly put themselves into harm’s way.*

    Was there ever any doubt that Libya is a dangerous place for westerners? Especially given the political unrest that has been spreading throughout that region for the last few weeks? Those workers clearly knew the risk, since they were quite happily receiving “hazardous duty” pay. Why did they wait so long to withdraw, and why is it the government’s job to pull their chestnuts out of the fire when everything goes to shit? At what point do we say they made their own bed and now have to lie in it?

    I don’t have any good answers, but I think we’ve gotten too far away from requiring people to take resposibility for their own actions. Sometimes, stupidity is its own reward.

    * The four hostages recently killed by pirates off Somalia come to mind. These were apparently missionaries, smugly handing out bibles in that benighted part of the world. I really can’t get myself too worked up over whatever happens to missionaries, who always seem to think that their “noble calling” will protect them from all harm and whom I consider to be arrogant meddlers at best.

  • lucklucky

    I am sorry but the British look worse when they make deals with thugs in a look like Byzantine decadence.
    Maybe the stiff upper lip, WW2 reputation adds to expect a little more from them.

  • Laird

    Aaarrgh! Smited again!

    Thus repuls’d, our final hope
    Is flat despair.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    A few thoughts if I may. First, let me state that I am in no way claiming that the United States has done a better job at evacuating nationals from Libya. Actually, I think you Brits have done a better job than we have; with actual warships on scene picking up your people. We have been discussing this in some detail over at BELMONT CLUB. Of the 600+ US nationals [not counting dual citizens] our State Department has picked up less than 200 and abandoned the rest. And State actually required those picked up to pay a fare up front. Our military seems to have been deliberately manouvered out of position to intervene by our government.

    That said, I have to wonder at the concept expressed that British subjects who work overseas do not deserve to be rescued at need. My first order definition of a passport is a document that declares the bearer to be a citizen [subject in your case] of a particular country and government, and under the protection of that government. The level of protection may vary according to the power of the country concerned, but the passport is the government’s way of saying, “This is one of my people, do not screw with them.”.

    If a government decides that being overseas and getting in trouble means that it is not worth the effort to protect a citizen; then the only worth of a passport is to be able to contact the next of kin to pick up the body. I don’t deny the right of a government to declare that certain areas are off limits and not subject to protection. The US has done that, and I have seen the Crown declare passports invalid for certain areas. But a blanket declaration that someone is on their own once they leave home is ….. a unique approach to the matter.

    Finally, there is this statement:

    For instance, does it make sense for the Royal Navy to go without any kind of working aircraft carriers for years until the new ones arrive, leaving the UK with no real ability to project airpower to protect things like UK shipping?

    I agree that the lack of at least one carrier battle group for state that depends on maritime trade is irrational. However, watching your defense cuts, and specifically the cuts to the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm makes me have grave doubts that you will ever have a carrier again. In order to preserve the welfare state as long as possible, I rather believe that the carrier will be canceled, which would allow cancellation of the air group, escorts, and fleet train. Some budget bureaucrat is going to love that deal.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Laird, to me the obvious answer is: depending on the location*, rescue them first, and, depending on the circumstances of their presence there in the first places*, make them pay the expenses later.

    Such locations and 25circumstances needing to be clearly outlined and made known to any national of a country in question the moment their first passport is handed to them.

  • Laird

    I think Subotai Bahadur’s and my posts crossed in the ether, and I would be interested in his response to my questions. “My first order definition of a passport is a document that declares the bearer to be a citizen [subject in your case] of a particular country and government, and under the protection of that government.” True enough, but does that entitle every bearer of that document to a free pass for the consequences of his own stupidity and/or cupidity? At what point is it appropriate for a government to say “it’s not worth the lives of my soldiers and the treasure of my citizens to rescue this fool”? Isn’t there a line somewhere?

  • Roue le Jour

    To echo NickM “because it’s their job?”

    I’ve shared a beer with a few soldiers from time to time and my impression is they expect to get shot at and don’t appreciate being mollycoddled. All they ask is the means to defend themselves and the right to shoot back.

  • Roue le Jour

    To echo NickM “because it’s their job?”

    I’ve shared a beer with a few soldiers from time to time and my impression is they expect to get shot at and don’t appreciate being mollycoddled. All they ask is the means to defend themselves and the right to shoot back.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Laird,

    Sorry it took so long for me to get back here. Of course, there are some limits. As I said, there are times when the US says that certain countries are off limits to US passport holders. If some silly clot decides to go on a vacation to beautiful downtown Pyongyang, and finds himself in “Dear Leader’s Greystone Lodge for Running Dog Spies”; he is well and truly scrod. And the State Department has not been loath to tell him that ahead of time.

    It is part of a proper national policy to draw those lines clearly for citizens going abroad. The protection of a passport is for the average person going about his lawful affairs in the world. I read the proposal in the posting as being in effect, ‘if you get in trouble outside the country, it is all on you because we don’t want to be bothered.‘.

    There are times and places where the locals like to jam up foreigners. It is the job of the foreigner’s government to take up for him to the extent possible, so long as he has not committed a criminal act under the local laws. If law and order have broken down, it is the job of the issuer of the passport to protect its nationals to the extent that it can, and help them get home.

    I don’t like Libya. I think the whole country would be a wonderful giant catbox, and exclusive of oil that would probably improve its value. I personally have no desire to visit there, and I see the risk of visits there by other Americans. But! The US had dropped all trade sanctions against Libya and we have/had diplomatic relations with them, with all that implies under international law. If the US does not forbid Americans from going there on either safety grounds or because of international disputes, then it is saying that it stands behind the protections of the passport for Americans visiting there. Now what they can do to protect you is a variable with national power, and the culture. Americans tend to be protective of their own from attacks by foreigners, so long as the Americans under attack have not done anything illegal or Darwinian level stupid. Other countries have different capabilities, and may regard their own citizens as being more routinely expendable.

    The Brit comments in question in the posting complains that after all, it comes down to money. Aside from what that says about the national cohesion of a country that is quick to write off its own people if it is convenient to do so; there is the matter of the ideas above, plus in the case of the Brits and Libya there is the matter that HM Government was willing to pay whatever bribes were necessary plus release a mass-murderer specifically in order for Brit nationals to do business in Libya. If the Brit government encourages Brits to do business in Libya, and goes out of its way to create the specific opportunity to do so, it has an even greater responsibility to protect the Brits that are there. The government should be held to the same standard as individuals. They have freedom of choice, but not freedom from consequences.

    If an area is so dangerous that the government does not want the expense of protecting its citizens holding its passports that are there; then all it has to do is make those passports not valid in that area, and make sure that it is widely known. If the State Department, Foreign Office, or whatever have worldwide equivalents of the French Domestic Zones Urbain Sensibiles where the law does not run, make them public. Put out maps with “Here there be Dragons” marked thereon. Otherwise, the government should be on the hook to protect its own people to the best of its ability.

    At least that is how I see it. YMMV. I admit I am still mickle pissed off at how we have screwed up taking care of our nationals in Libya, and I am expecting to see deaths or hostages. And the blood will be on the incompetent hands of the US government.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Eric

    However, watching your defense cuts, and specifically the cuts to the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm makes me have grave doubts that you will ever have a carrier again. In order to preserve the welfare state as long as possible, I rather believe that the carrier will be canceled, which would allow cancellation of the air group, escorts, and fleet train.

    This is true, I think. I will be very surprised if Great Britain ever launches another carrier. Guided missile cruisers have long distance strike capability, so there aren’t a lot of missions unique to flattops. Carriers are very expensive to operate, and the way the technology has shaped up in the last few decades they’re more vulnerable than they’ve been since the invention of ASDIC.

  • John B

    “The four hostages recently killed by pirates off Somalia come to mind. These were apparently missionaries, smugly handing out bibles in that benighted part of the world. I really can’t get myself too worked up over whatever happens to missionaries, who always seem to think that their “noble calling” will protect them from all harm and whom I consider to be arrogant meddlers at best.”

    There are some assumptions that are politically correct and I guess Laird most courageously presents them in this comment, above.

    However. Individual freedom and individual responsibility, in the knowledge that you can’t just cut some bits of the equation out that you don’t like, such as God, are indeed good guidelines.
    Why don’t you just stick with that?

  • PeterT

    In a recent post on his “Ideas” blog David Friedman expounded his position on the right to bear arms. His view was that one of the main benefits of people relying on themselves for their own security, was that they would rely commensurately less on the government. And the less people relied on the government the less willing they would be to be pushed around by it.

    I find this pretty plausible. Lets keep the state’s role to protecting us from other states, and not extend it to helping us whenever we are in a bit of a trouble. Lets keep our fleet within striking distance of Moscow (or Brussels!) and not distract it with duties best left to the private sector.

  • My comment was posted under a nearly comatose condition, so here’s another shot…:

    Laird, to me the obvious answer is: depending on the location*, rescue them first, and, depending on the circumstances of their presence there in the first places*, make them pay the expenses later.

    *Such locations and circumstances needing to be clearly outlined and made known to any national of a country in question the moment their first passport is handed to them.

  • Also, Laird:“The four hostages recently killed by pirates off Somalia come to mind. These were apparently missionaries, smugly handing out bibles in that benighted part of the world. I really can’t get myself too worked up over whatever happens to missionaries, who always seem to think that their “noble calling” will protect them from all harm and whom I consider to be arrogant meddlers at best.”

    ‘Smugly’? ‘Arrogant meddlers’? No one is saying that you should get worked up about them, and not even that you should support their rescue, but why such animosity? And are you sure that you really know what was it exactly that they were doing there? My understanding is that what these missionaries are doing in these hell holes is simply provide humanitarian services – is that not a ‘noble calling’ in your book, even if you don’t wish to actively support it because they may just happen to hand out bibles along the way?

  • Laird

    Subotai, that was very well said, and I am convinced by your argument. It would seem that the onus falls upon the government to clearly warn its nationals where to stay away from or they’re on their own. We (the US) seems to have done a fairly poor job of that, no doubt to avoid upsetting delicate foreign sensibilities. Our people should have been warned away from Libya a long time ago.

    Alisa, I think you are saying essentially the same thing as Subotai, with the minor quibble that “the moment their first passport is handed to them” is clearly wrong, as circumstances can change (US passports have a 10-year life). But as to your other post, everything I have read about those four people describes them as having been “handing out bibles”. Apparently they had a history of doing that. I have seen no indication that they were providing any type of “humanitarian services” (and passing out bibles most certainly does not qualify). I have a deep visceral dislike of missionaries; “arrogant meddlers” is the kindest phrase I could devise for them.

  • Laird: yes, it seems that Subotai and I (not surprisingly for me) are more or less on the same page.

    …everything I have read about those four people describes them as having been “handing out bibles”. Apparently they had a history of doing that. I have seen no indication that they were providing any type of “humanitarian services” (and passing out bibles most certainly does not qualify).

    Everything I have read about the Tea Party activists is that they are Ch…..an Fundamentalists and rabid r…..s. Etc. Hope you get my point. Mind you, I am making a general point, mostly in response to your generalized ‘deep visceral dislike of missionaries’ – I don’t have any specific knowledge on the actual persons involved in this latest incident. And, again, none of this is to say that I necessarily disagree with you on the state-backed rescue efforts or any other logistical support.

  • Laird

    The difference, Alisa, is that most of what is written about the Tea Party movement has a political motivation (one way or the other), whereas what I have read about these people appears to be purely descriptive, with no judgmental component. So I am more inclined to accept it as accurate. Of course, that could be merely a manifestation of my bias against missionaries. Mea culpa.

  • Laird, do you honestly believe that the MSM has no bias against Christians? Or, if you acknowledge the existence of such bias, that it is not political?

    Your bias against missionaries, or rather how much it is based in reality, is my whole point.

    It reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a Brit friend here who was making all kinds of assertions about American soldiers, and who has never even set foot in the US. When I asked her about her sources, all she could come up with was ‘that’s common knowledge’ kind of rubbish. She is an intelligent person, who is normally not in the habit of talking out of her posterior. Of course, I am used to dealing with this kind of thing all the time (to remind you, I am an Israeli, an American, and a supporter of capitalism – sigh). These days everyone and their sister seems to have substituted ‘common knowledge’ for actual facts. I am not saying you have – or at least I hope you have not. And apologies for ranting.

  • wh00ps

    for my two pence worth, speaking as someone who believes government should be consigned to tin dust bin of history, my first natural reaction is that of course, these people should be responsible for themselves, or at least should have negotiated a “mercenaries come save my sorry behind when it all goes tits up.” clause into their employment contracts.

    However, as citizens of their respective countries, they have obviously paid for the privilege (in taxes) of having big brother come to rescue them. Since we seem to be stuck with him, he may as well be of some use.

  • V cogent analysis.

    I have written at some length today describing in detail how the FCO runs consular emergencies and the practical and policy constraints:

    http://charlescrawford.biz/blog/foreign-office-libya-and-other-consular-emergencies-2-

    See also the preceding post to that one.

    And this one about options for Doing Something in Libya:

    http://charlescrawford.biz/blog/libya-what-is-to-be-done-

  • pete

    Jonathan, you are a nannystater when it comes to people who are probably of your own type and class.

    Anyone freely going to work and live in Libya when they knew it had been ruled by a demented despot for decades should not be given help by UK taxpayers.

  • JohnK

    Pete:

    I’m afraid people who work in the oil industry don’t often have the luxury of not dealing with demented despots, it’s one of God’s little jokes that he gave them most of the oil.

  • ManikMonkee

    I have lived abroad ever since graduating and the only help I’ve ever had from the UK gov was getting a new passport. That usually is grudgingly, they told me I’ve lost mine so often they won’t give me a new one if I do it again, even though I pay about 150 quid every time I lose one (which seems pretty overpriced for a small laminated book and probably 15 minutes paperwork).

  • Jamess

    One aspect which hasn’t been picked up so far is the role the government has had in portraying Libya as a safe and stable country thus encouraging investments and letting people go to work out there with a false sense of security. I’d suggest that any organisation giving such a false impression has some responsibility for those who listen to the advice they gave. (Though maybe that responsibility should have been seen with Blair and Brown going on a one way ticket to talk to their friend until the problems were resolved…)

    I’m also fascinated about Laird’s intimate knowledge of these missionaries and how he knows their emotional make up as they were “smugly” handing out Bibles. From what I can work out these people knew the risks and accepted them. If we’re genuinely concerned for liberty, and worried about extremist Islam, these guys ought to be heroes who are engaging with Islam at the only level that will make a difference – the ideological level.

  • Eric

    I have lived abroad ever since graduating and the only help I’ve ever had from the UK gov was getting a new passport. That usually is grudgingly, they told me I’ve lost mine so often they won’t give me a new one if I do it again, even though I pay about 150 quid every time I lose one (which seems pretty overpriced for a small laminated book and probably 15 minutes paperwork).

    I’m sure if they didn’t charge so much people would sell them and live off the proceeds.

  • @JohnK:
    “I’m afraid people who work in the oil industry don’t often have the luxury of not dealing with demented despots, it’s one of God’s little jokes that he gave them most of the oil.”

    I’m nor sure if that’s actually true. The impression I get is that first world, “liberal” democracies are normally unwilling to use the oil they have available, so instead purchase oil from the various despots. I know there’s large oil wells in the US that they legally can’t use, and I’m pretty sure there is not insignificant reseves in Europe and Australia.

  • I love the way all these staunch libertarians turn into collectivists on this issue. I mean, if I go to London and get roughed up, no one will suggest I am entitled to the Marines.

    Hell, if an ENGLISHMAN gets roughed up in London, no one suggests that the SAS should roll.

    But when there are enough of “us” at risk, or important enough of “us” at risk, and it’s just killing Johnny Foreigner…

  • I do not see any vital interests at stake here other than those of the Libyan people… and it seems the Libyan people are fully engaged in trying to exercise their entirely honourable right to regicide, so why get involved?

    The only support they need for us is the sound of thunderous applause when Ghaddaffi gets hung from a meat-hook in some public square, as is his just deserts.

    Frankly Britain should have gone to actual full blown war with Libya over their material support for the IRA, but those days are long gone.