Last month, speaking just before me in an interview with the BBC's Today programme, Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of Defence Staff, stated "The mission under UN SCR 1973 is quite clear: it is to protect people but of course the implied task, and let's be absolutely open and honest about it, is the removal of Colonel Gaddafi".
This brash statement came as quite a shock to me. Having listened intently to the Prime Minister's statement when we first committed to military action in Libya, as well as subsequent parliamentary debates on the matter, I was blissfully unaware of this implied provision. Indeed, I took at face value the words from the Prime Minister when he made the point at the end of his statement that there was no stated objective in UNSCR 1973 to bring about Gaddafi's removal from power. I also took at face value the words of the current Chief of Defence staff when he stated quite clearly that the targeting of Col Gaddafi was not allowed under the UN resolution.
I was one of the thirteen MPs who opposed intervention in Libya during the non-binding vote we had on the action, undoubtedly many more would have defied the whips and media opinion had they known the real intent. At the time I had hoped that I was wrong and that we would not be entering another war, costly in both humanitarian and financial terms. However just fifteen weeks later the situation is markedly different. Unfortunately my fears seem to be well founded and recent events, our escalating action, the lack of any meaningful Arab support and the continuing emergence of an implied second agenda are of major concern. The Prime Minister sold us this military action as a humanitarian intervention to protect civilians, but it is now clearly suffering from 'mission creep'. If we are going to continue to creep towards putting more boots on the ground [we already have "advisors" and special forces] we will seemingly be taking sides in a civil war with a dictatorial butcher on one hand and a rag tag of religious fundamentalists, former gaddafi henchmen and gang leaders on the other. Decisions about being sucked further into this are not for armchair retired generals but for the government to put honestly to Parliament.
The way out of this mess is not to keep ratcheting up our military presence hoping to find a mission and an exit strategy. What we need to do is figure out how we can get a political solution that will last for several generations in Libya. Without that, this adventure has no prospect of coming to a close. Recent steps made by the Foreign Secretary to meet with the rebels' Transitional National Council in Benghazi and discuss a political roadmap for the future have to be welcomed. This should become the focus of our efforts.
We should be using our political firepower on assisting the political solution and getting Libya's Arab friends and neighbours around the table , and less of our military firepower in pursuing an ever changing 'implied' will of UN SCR 1973.