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Cameron and Self-Flattering Military Interventionism

Interventionists often favor aggressive measures in response to a foreign conflict in large part so that they can make themselves look good or feel better.
david cameron libya

Freddy Gray makes mincemeat of David Cameron’s shoddy foreign policy record in the latest issue of The National Interest. After reviewing Cameron’s role in pushing for the Libyan war, he writes:

This stubbornness seems to have driven him to be hawkish over Syria. Cameron and his friends want to recapture some of the magic they felt when they rid the world of a tyranny. It doesn’t matter whether Britain is tackling Assad, or attacking Assad’s enemy. It doesn’t even matter that Britain is making a pathetically insignificant contribution. What counts is that the Tory top brass can feel they are fighting the good fight [bold mine-DL]. When it comes to international statesmanship, the Cameroons prefer West Wing–style fantasy to realpolitik.

Interventionists often favor aggressive measures in response to a foreign conflict in large part so that they can make themselves look good or feel better. The pitfalls and risks of military action are beside the point so long as they can say that they are on “the right side of history” (and as long as they can vilify their domestic critics for being on the opposite side). If the intervention later produces worse conditions than the ones that existed before the decision to intervene, interventionists can always find some excuse for why they are not at fault and why their only mistake might have been not doing more. If intervention makes things worse for the people in a given country, interventionists are quick to assign blame to anyone, including the people in the affected country, before accepting responsibility for their part in the mess. Cameron and his allies certainly deserve the scorn Gray heaps on them, but they have plenty of company in Washington and London among hawks that insist on “doing something” simply for the sake of being seen to do it.

Gray’s review of the Cameron record is a valuable reminder of how poor the prime minister’s judgment has been since he entered office. In addition to pushing for regime change in Libya, nearly attacking the Syrian government in 2013, and bombing in Iraq and Syria now, Cameron’s government has been a leading supplier of the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Second only to the Obama administration, Britain’s government is the Western power most responsible for aiding the Saudis and their allies in prosecuting this shameful and appalling war. This has not only made Britain complicit in the Saudi-led coalition’s war crimes, but it has demonstrated that there is virtually no reckless and senseless war that Cameron won’t join or support if given the opportunity.

It’s grimly amusing to think that Cameron was sometimes accused last year of being an “isolationist” by hawks (and dimwitted politicians) on both sides of the Atlantic when he was obviously anything but that. If nothing else, Gray’s article drives home just how stupid and wrong those accusations were. The main problem with Cameron’s foreign policy is that he is only too eager to meddle in the affairs of other nations, even if that means committing Britain to fight in wars that have nothing to do with the country’s security.