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.’


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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Show comments
  • John Smith

    Allah Muammar libya wa bas,

    Green libya is free libya.

    You rats couldn’t run a shrimp stall, yet you want to run, libya. the reason you have failed is because you don’t have the support of the people.

    Watch this to understand where I am coming from

  • Daidragon

    I hope the right wing can now admit that their neo con crusading in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya has been an unmitigated disaster which has made the world a far, far more dangerous place. Never forget that more Tory than Labour MP’s voted for Iraq and Cameron was gung ho to attack the Syrian regime until a moral minority of his party joined Lab to defeat him.

  • Mynydd

    With respect to Libya, the UNSC, including Russia, passed a resolution for a no fly zone. Mr Cameron bombing went beyond this, thus can be considered illegal. Further more he said there would be no British boots on the ground. Now it seems the SAS were there pinpointing targets. Since this time our relationship with Russia as ground to a holt, when it would have been helpful in Syria. Further more, never again will Russia back a British resolution in the UNSC.

  • Frank

    My problem with Libya is not that France and Britain helped to remove Gaddafi, but that both countries then failed to provide the country with enough support to re-build itself (if you pull it apart, you have to help re-build it). If you remember all the post-war news reporting was Dave crowing about all the business contracts we had signed (presumably not the reason we had intervened). It is an enduring scandal that that both countries are still not doing enough to help Libya and helps explain why thousands of people are fleeing to arrive illegally in Italy (and thus to Calais, etc). It possibly also explains why the west is seen with such suspicion in arab countries.

  • Colonel Mustard

    If I recall correctly it was Cameron who stood to applaud Blair when he left the Commons and urged his “Tory” front bench to do the same. Thereby in one act showing his silly impulsiveness, his contempt for protocol and his admiration for a man who was disastrous for Britain.

    Silly Cameron.

    • Tony_E

      That’s a little churlish. Whatever you think about Blair (and I’m with you, he was a disaster), I think that the display in the commons was simply one or recognition of what he had achieved electorally. As for protocol, I admit it was a bit off – but we are in an age where protocol is largely shunned. I would look at it as simply some misguided generosity.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Harsh rather churlish perhaps.

      • Frank

        No, not churlish at all. Blair was a disaster for Britain and if Dave cannot understand that, then he is bound to pretty much repeat it.

  • Peter Stroud

    Thank The Lord parliament restrained Cameron and Hague from interfering in Syria. Cameron’s quip about being heir to Blair certainly applied to finding armed interference, so attractive. Also, I wondered why we were hearing so little about Libya.

  • Tony_E

    When you blame politicians entirely for this stuff, it shows incredible naivety as to the workings of both government, the intelligence services and the foreign office.

  • Mike

    These sayings are so true when applied to todays politicians and I’m sure you can recognize most of them.

    The wise man, even when he holds his tongue, says more than the fool when he speaks. (generally true of Farage but few politicians in power)

    What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth. (definitely Blair & Clegg with a hint of Cameron)

    A wise man hears one word and understands two. (definitely not Blair or Clegg)

    Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of
    genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (Ian Duncan Smoth and failed benefit reform)

    Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them. (no geniuses in western governments unfortunately)

    You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails. (Why western leaders go to war and f### it up)

    We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. (An endemic problem of most of those in power)

  • Smithersjones2013

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

    Don’t be silly Cameron, the ‘Heir to Blair’ forged in the the same career psycopath mold as Blair who still dementedly claims he was right to go into Iraq.

  • ClausewitzTheMunificent

    Ah but the English thought they wouldn’t have to bear the consequences. After all the Africans would flood Italy and Greece, but who cares about them? There are thousands of Africans migrating to Italy (hundreds dying in the attempt), but in the end many will end up in England because the smuggling network is based in England, and the welfare is more generous over there. So Dave has managed to screw it up both for England and for the Southern European countries. Bravo!

  • Stuart Crow

    I wouldn’t take Libya in isolation. The record of the Arab Spring is disastrous everywhere except Tunisia, and it has had wobbles even there. We created the conditions in Libya which had fed Islamism all over Africa, and encouraged it in Syria.

    In much of the world, “the man in the street” will not distinguish between Blair and Cameron, in that they will wonder what on Earth our policy is when we spend decades condeming Gadaffi, then embrace him, then dance on his grave when he is slaughtered by terrorists. The Arab Spring has left the West looking weak, discredited, and unsure about what it wants. In that environment, the Islamists are flourishing.

    I suspect the half-cock nature of the Western military response in Libya (because it was – the RAF were still deploying assets that should have been in the first wave when the bombing was already over) has been a great encouragement to terrorists in Syria, Nigeria, and Syria. The only people who have acted decisively against terrorism since Libya collapsed are the French, on a small scale.

    The intervention in Libya was a disaster, and we will end up paying a heavy price mopping up its overspill elsewhere.

  • alabenn

    Most of the dead in Benghazi are militias fighting each other for a share in the oil/gas revenues, it is only a matter of degree on their relationship to jihadi terrorists.
    The more they kill each other the less to cause trouble later when the action moves to Europe.

  • Tyron Wilson

    The big flaw in this piece being the assumption that it would have been all roses in Libya now if we hadn’t intervened. Gaddafi was at the gates of Benghazi when we stepped in – do you honestly think he’d have been a merciful victor?

    • alabenn

      No he would not, there would hardly be any left to kill each other if Cameron had not intervened, that is his only mistake if you can call it that, between themselves the people in Libya seem to be making up the shortfall in deaths that Gaddafi would have carried out.

      • littlegreyrabbit

        Most likely the insurgents – there weren’t very many of them – would have scuttled over the border to Egypt and Benghazi would have settled down again.

        I don’t think any intelligent observer really thought that Gaddafi was going to put the entire city to the sword.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, and the casualty statistics to that point hadn’t indicated he was going to engage in the mass slaughter the Camerloons claimed he would.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      He would have been no more murderous than the islamofascist murderers who followed him.

  • Symbiosis

    Bang-on. I cancelled my Conservative party membership when Dave decided to intervene in Libya. Truly the Heir to Blair.

  • alabenn

    There is not many who comment on the Speccy that are great Cameron fans, but really, to put in the same column a plea to not talk about Blair in this context, is like conflating a ping pong ball to a barrage balloon.
    A massive ego combined with a messiah complex cost the country 179 lives and billions of pounds against a man who cost the price of a few bombs.
    I think there is a values discrepancy here.

  • anyfool

    Forget Blair, yes lets forget the man who presided over two of the British forces most disgraceful episodes in recent times, bribing terrorists for safe passage out of Basra and the craven surrender of a Frigates patrol boats to Iranian canoes.
    Lets not take account of his dodgy dossiers, his lies, the death of British soldiers and thousands of civilians.
    Lets forget that since this war that the Saudi`s wanted the West to fight, surely you don’t think Bush and Blair gave a toss about Iraqi people or whether Saddam was a danger to us. no lets forget that since this war and Blairs Premiership ended he has amassed a fortune reputed to exceed 100 million pounds and by the end of the decade will be in excess of 200 million, over a million pounds for each British casualty, where did all this money come from, surely he did not do a Balls and multiply his mortgage claims.
    No lets not forget Blair, whether Cameron has anything to answer for on Libya lets deal with that separately, but never forget what that worthless piece of human dung did.

  • HookesLaw

    More ignorant sermonising from Mr Gray.

    • southerner

      Share us your wisdom as to where he has got it wrong.

    • southerner

      Still nothing?

  • andagain

    “will David Cameron admit that Libya was a disaster?”

    Compared to our gloriously successful Syria policy, which has produced a peaceful land flowing with milk and honey?

    • HookesLaw

      Parliament voted against the proposed Syria policy which was merely to go to the UN to discuss intervention.
      When you wash your hands of reality you get nutjobs like ISIS.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …you mean, you get nutjobs like you socialist Camerluvvies, and your hero Field Marshal Dave.

  • southerner

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

    Of course he won’t. He is an idiot. Bring on May next year and we will be rid of him for good.

    • HookesLaw

      And give us Miliband? You may have to wait a bit longer for your white supremasist state.

      • southerner

        Says the man who himself posts racist comments. Loving that hypocrisy Hooky.
        Are you going to actually comment on the story? Did your hero Dave get it right then?

      • Colonel Mustard

        At least Miliband is what he is and does what it says on the tin. Cameron is a slippery weasel but not even good at it. Southerner sums him up well – he is an idiot who irritates me every time I see his spoonface pontificating about anything, which is about all he is good for. Spouting guff that no-one of any ability to discern believes or engaging in silly trivia.

        The Conservative party has been captured by a bunch of grandee wets with socialist inclinations. Time for a coup.

    • ButcombeMan

      May? Gulp.

      Utterly ridiculous.

      God preserve us.