Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Libyan aftermath: not in his name

What follows is rather jumping the gun – and a lot more firepower besides – but it struck me as potentially significant, so here you go:

I do believe that David Cameron wants Libya to become safe, peaceful, stable, free and democratic, and he’s made a difficult decision sincerely in support of that. But I’m less sure about his deeper political position.

Before all this, his occasional speeches on foreign affairs had been notable for their implicit sneers at (a caricature of) Blair and Bush: “I am not a naive neocon who thinks you can drop democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet”.

His push for military action therefore struck many as a change of heart. But the same scepticism of foreign entanglements is still there. I was struck by one thing he said in the debate yesterday:

This is different from Iraq. This is not going into a country and knocking over its Government, and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently.

I find this unsavoury: it sounds as though the key point is not whether Libya goes to hell after the bombing is done but whether we (or, in practice, he) can avoid blame if it does.

Probably the greatest failing of the Iraq war was the negligent planning for post-Saddam. The result was bloody. One lesson you could take from that is that we should stay out of the Middle East; another lesson is that if we do go to war, we need to be very aware of the social, religious, ethnic and institutional background and think much more thoroughly about what follows any military action.

A third possible lesson, which might appeal to a consummate politician, is that when it’s hard to predict what will happen beyond the short term, you should take care to establish that people won’t say it’s your fault.

I hope we don’t get to find out who would be blamed for disaster.

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