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Cameron and Self-Flattering Military Interventionism

Freddy Gray makes mincemeat [1] 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” [2] by hawks (and dimwitted politicians [3]) 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.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Cameron and Self-Flattering Military Interventionism"

#1 Comment By bacon On February 22, 2016 @ 1:16 am

Mr. Cameron is Prime Minister of the UK. That is, on the face of it, a pretty big deal. But he finds his job consists mainly of dealing with a nearly bankrupt national health system, declining income from oil, UKIP and less radical factions wanting out of the EU, Scottish separatists with their Welsh counterparts just offstage, enormous imbalance between London and the rest of the country in re income and influence, immigration problems, the list just goes on. Small wonder a relatively low cost military adventure appeals. The same approach can be used to look at the leadership of any country, the US included. One breaks one’s ass throughout a political career to get to the top and finds only mundane problems, serious but still mundane, there’s a tendency to look for a bit of validation of one’s power.

#2 Comment By Dan On February 22, 2016 @ 3:19 am

The debate about Syria was a classic of the is genre.

The debate in the UK took weeks and weeks of political and media coverage, the debate in Parliament was covered live by all the news channels, the vote passed and and TV cameras were already on site in Cyprus to show RAF jets fly off to strike Syria.

Barely a week later the world had moved on, the journalists had come home and the reality of a tiny and marginal impact became obvious. Three months later it becomes obvious the whole debate was a sham, most RAF strikes are still in Iraq because that is were the fighting was, the magic Brimstone missile which the Brits told themselves was so special it was better than anything even the Americans had, it turned out to be so special that not a single one was used in the first 2 months.

The British establishment likes to pretend it is 1944 and the Anglo-American alliance bestrode the world like a colossus whereas the truth is the British Empire is long since gone and any UK contribution to international operations will be marginal.

#3 Comment By wufnik On February 22, 2016 @ 8:30 am

Then there are those arms sales to the Saudis…

#4 Comment By Adam Rosenthal On February 22, 2016 @ 8:31 am

The Syria policy is incoherent and pointless enough when it’s America pursuing it, and actually having some effect on the ground – however unhelpful an effect.

With us it’s just ridiculous – literally the only significant effect our actions have is to drastically increase the chances of radicalising our population and suffering more atrocities at home.

#5 Comment By Johann On February 22, 2016 @ 11:05 am

Its a similar situation with France. And it was primarily France that was pushing the Libyan intervention at first. France has the same has-been world power syndrome as Britain. Its absurd that both these countries are still permanent members of the UN security council. That’s the problem with world-wide constructs like the UN. There is no way to adjust it when the world changes. It will probably only change if there is another great world-wide conflict of some sort. The very best thing would be to abolish the UN and put nothing in its place. Then those countries with the real geopolitical power will be making the agreements between each other.

#6 Comment By Adam Rosenthal On February 22, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

It’s not quite true that we have no real geopolitical power – even leaving aside the security council we have the world’s 5th-6th biggest GDP, its financial capital along with NYC, and we’re pretty well positioned in terms of influence due to being in the EU (for now), G7 and NATO while having a much stronger relationship with the US and the commonwealth countries than other European countries do.

It’s just we have no real power militarily, despite the largish navy. If we got embroiled in any of these conflicts we pursue without the US, we’d be either beaten or badly overstretched and vulnerable at home… and there’s some question over whether we’re not now so synced to the US military technically that we actually couldn’t function alone at all.

#7 Comment By Hyperion On February 22, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

I’m just grateful that Cameron is a Brit. If he were an American pol, I’d be even more depressed by the warmongering nature of some humans.

#8 Comment By Pop! goes the weasel On February 22, 2016 @ 2:36 pm

“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. “

Right on. He’s basically a coward, in that his reflex is to intervene, or more correctly, to egg America on to intervene, and when the requisite level of UK public apathy or fear permits he does intervene, albeit in a “let’s you and him fight while I stand resolutely behind you” way. But he folds and flees in the face of an engaged public.

#9 Comment By cecelia On February 22, 2016 @ 9:50 pm

I really do not think either the UK or France are has been powers. French intelligence services are top notch and UK diplomatic service although diminished is still influential. UK universities are among the world’s best and then there is London certainly a world capital. Then there is the Queen who is a much respected abroad and less appreciated at home figure. Who but the Queen could have accomplished what she did in Ireland for example.

It does though seem like of late the British fritter away whatever advantages they have in part because Cameron and much of the UK leadership is so mediocre. No vision. Too much of the poor us we are in decline narrative.

#10 Comment By Observer On February 23, 2016 @ 3:06 am

It’s often been said that sticking tightly to the US allows Britain to “punch above its weight.”

That must be why the Argentines did not invade the Falklands, and the Chinese extended the lease on Hong Kong until the year 2096.

Seriously, when has Britain actually derived some benefit from being America’s lapdog?

#11 Comment By Dan On February 23, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

I wasn’t suggesting Britain has no geo-political power and influence. Compare it to Bigger countries like Brazil or Nigeria, compare it to other European powers Italy, Spain Poland.

The problem is the long term historical mindset is still the 1940’s and either ourselves alone against the world or the Anglo-American alliance of equals.

Think about this in comparison to today, in 1941 before the US joined the war the British Empire (it’s also often forgotten how big the contributions were from India and the rest of the Empire), invaded and occupied Somalia, Djibouti, Etheopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, came to the aid of Greece and was defeated, invaded Libya, jointly with Russia invaded and occupied Iran. That’s some going in a 12 month period.

However by 1967 and the withdrawal from Aden the Empire was gone, independant operations East of Suez were over and anything since has been as a junior partner of the US.

#12 Comment By David Smith On February 27, 2016 @ 9:55 pm

It’s not only the British Empire that is gone. The entire age of European imperialism ended after World War II. The United States tried to pick up the pieces and take over, but we have seen how well that has gone.