While Americans may have some quibbles with the speed and extent of Obama’s response to the Libyan conflict, I think we can all agree that David Cameron has not acquitted himself all that well in making his first significant foray into making foreign policy decisions since becoming Prime Minister. Alex Massie sums up the problem:
Is David Cameron a hawk or a dove? And how useful is that question anyway? I suspect the answers are “more of a hawk than not” and “not much”. The Prime Minister has not, shall we say, been at his best vis a vis Libya. Then again, foreign policy is not his longest-suit as anyone who recalls his reckless – and pointless – response to the mini-crisis in South Ossetia. His Dash to Tbilisi was straight from the pages of the John McCain Foreign Policy Manual, substituting feel-good sloganising and photo ops for measured calculations of both the national interest and anything Britain could practically or usefully do.
It isn’t all that surprising that Cameron’s instincts would lead him astray. Despite occasionally saying reasonable-sounding things in the last few years, Cameron was a member of the Tory front bench that supported the invasion of Iraq, and as Massie reminds us he made a fool of himself over Georgia. Hague remains Foreign Secretary, and he belongs to that batch of Tories that fell under the sway of hawkish interventionism and Hannan-esque preaching about democracy during the first decade of the century*. Cameron and McCain both wanted to show solidarity with Georgia in 2008, which caused them to stake out misguided and somewhat irrational positions on a conflict that they didn’t really understand, and both of them have been at it again in Libya.
In this case, the desire to show support for the rebels in words has overwhelmed the reasonable judgment that there is not very much that the U.S., Britain and allies are able to do to lend support to them that would not plunge our governments into yet another foreign war. McCain is an opposition Senator with no real responsibility for making policy, so he has the luxury of indulging his militaristic instincts and can be more easily ignored, but Cameron is a head of government and shouldn’t be so eager to propose military action (which is what supporting a no-fly zone is).
* In fairness to Hague, this report relates that Hague is among the more cautious members of the Cabinet when it comes to Libya.