Saturday 8 February 2020

David Cameron was a great failure in foreign policy

I recall to my shame the night before we bombed Libya in 2011 being asked by a British Ambassador 
What would you do?
and being uncharacteristically lost for words. 

The reason was cognitive dissonance. I knew that there had been no reports of  widespread casualties in a small town that had been captured by rebels and then retaken by Gaddafi, so I guessed that a massacre was not likely, and yet I was frightened by reports in the British Press that Gaddafi would massacre the inhabitants of Benghazi. Such is the power of the media even on a contrarian like me.

What a fool I was, but not as great a one as David Cameron, guided as so often by Mrs Cameron, who like me was full of alarm. It used to be called petticoat government.

The only person who emerges well out of this story is Vladimir Putin. He unlike Messrs Cameron, Hague, Johnson and Hillary, was right to support the Syrian government too, though his forces and theirs behaved with enormous cruelty. The alternative was worse.

This is Patrick Cockburn reviewing David Cameron's deluded memoirs:

Cameron recalls with pride his role in the bombing of Libya in 2011, justifying it on the grounds that Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks and troops were advancing on Benghazi where they would massacre the population. He says that “on 20 March, American, British and French aircraft destroyed Gaddafi’s tanks, armoured carriers and rocket launchers, and his forces began to retreat. Benghazi was saved, and a Srebrenica-style slaughter averted. I’ve never known relief like it.”

There are a few things wrong with this as a description of what happened: a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee later revealed that the belief that Gaddafi would “massacre the civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence”. It pointed out that Gaddafi had retaken other towns from the rebels and not attacked the civilian population. 
Nor was Benghazi saved: drone footage of the city taken recently show that the centre of the city has been destroyed, not by Gaddafi’s soldiers but in the fighting over many years between the militias that overthrew him. Had Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton not intervened militarily in the Libyan civil war then Benghazi might really have been saved, along with those who were killed and wounded in the long years of fighting that followed foreign intervention.

I was particularly interested in Cameron’s take on the Libyan conflict because, soon after the bombing started, I visited the frontline south of Benghazi where more journalists were visible than rebels. There was the occasional puff of smoke on the horizon when a shell exploded, but otherwise not much fighting going on. 

This phoney war did not last long and Cameron explains why: “By May 2011 the war had sunk into stalemate, and needed a renewed focus. I agreed deals with France to commit Apache helicopters to help the rebels. I was on the phone to the leaders of the Gulf states to encourage their continued involvement which turned out to be crucial.”

In other words, Gaddafi was overthrown primarily by foreign powers and not by an indigenous rebellion. It requires considerable naivete on Cameron’s part to imagine that the Gulf states, the last absolute monarchies on earth, planned to replace Gaddafi with a secular democracy.

....It is worth studying what Cameron did, or thought he was doing in the Libyan and Syrian conflicts, because war reveals a political leader’s level of judgement as does nothing else. There has been much criticism of Cameron’s decision to first hold, and then lose, the referendum on membership of the European Union, but his second-rate attributes as a leader were already evident in his decisions about these two wars.

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