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Coffee House

Forget Blair – will David Cameron admit that Libya was a disaster?

19 June 2014

5:58 PM

19 June 2014

5:58 PM

Never mind Tony Blair and his denials over Iraq. As our government contemplates its response to the latest crisis in Iraq, now may be the moment for a different Prime Minister to admit to another grave error. Will David Cameron concede that he might have been wrong to have intervened in Libya?

Until recently, the Cameroons and most of the inhabitants of the Westminster village were eager to chalk up the removal of Muammar Gaddafi as a win for Team Dave and the coalition. It was proof – badly needed, after a decade of disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan – that military intervention could work. Western firepower played a key role in ending an odious tyranny, and the Libyans seemed eager for democracy. And no allied lives were lost. Hooray. Remember Sarkozy and Cameron’s cringe-inducing freedom tour of Libya? ‘Colonel Gaddafi said he would hunt you down like rats,’ said Dave, slowly, as if speaking to a child, ‘but you showed the courage of lions.’

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That all looks and sounds rather idiotic now – not quite as complacent as George Bush and his ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment, but not far off. As Mary Wakefield put it last month, Libya ‘has become a heartbreaking mess.’ It is a hotbed of extremism and gangsterism. In Benghazi, they have just banned car driving at night in order to stop violence. In April Libya’s parliament was over-run by gunmen. The nation state has become known among security contractors as ‘Scumbag Woodstock’, because it is so rife with jihadist militiamen and armed thugs. Our cover writer this week Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has called the Libya intervention ‘failure disguised as success’. Yet all we hear from our government is an embarrassed silence.

In In It Together, Matthew D’Ancona’s revealing history of the coalition, an unnamed senior government source tells the author that, “whenever things get bad, and the press is saying what a rubbish government we are, I remind myself that there are people alive in Benghazi tonight because we decided to take a risk.”

I hope that source is now honest enough to think differently. Today there are lots of people dead in Benghazi in part because our intervention helped make their country worse — and the destabilising of Libya has led to violence spilling over into Mali and Egypt and beyond. Nato leaders — Cameron, in particular — should consider the condition of Libya today. Surely, as we contemplate how we can assist Iraq in its fight against ISIS, we should try to learn from what happened the last time we involved ourselves in the region?

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