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Cameron’s Libya Legacy

David Cameron’s bad foreign policy record is catching up to him:

David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee.

As scathing as the report may be, this doesn’t sum up everything that was wrong with the Libyan war or Britain’s involvement in it. Britain entered a foreign civil war that posed no threat to it or its allies, Cameron insisted on U.S. intervention because France and the U.K. could not have done it by themselves, and the intervention contributed significantly to the destabilization of the surrounding region as the regime’s unsecured weapons flooded into other countries. The intervening governments didn’t just “drift” into pursuing regime change, but deliberately expanded the mission to include helping the rebels topple the government. Even though Obama and others explicitly ruled out regime change as a goal at the beginning, this was where military intervention on one side of the civil war was bound to lead. If the U.S. and its allies had a responsibility to rebuild the country later (and they did according to the R2P doctrine that they abused to justify the intervention), they had foresworn that responsibility months before Gaddafi was killed. They always planned to leave Libya to its own devices after the bombing campaign had ended. That wasn’t an accident or oversight by the intervening governments. On the contrary, it was a publicly stated part of the “plan” all along. So of course there was “no proper appreciation of what was going to happen in the event of regime change, no proper understanding of Libya, and no proper plan for the consequences,” because the governments that were helping to topple Gaddafi had already washed their hands of all of this early on.

Cameron will be remembered mainly for the EU referendum that his side lost, but we shouldn’t forget how irresponsible and reckless he was in his foreign policy as well. At least there is some attempt at reviewing the errors of the Libyan war in the U.K., and Cameron is being belatedly called to account for them. There has been and will be no such effort made in Congress, and the only thing that Clinton’s opponents seem interested in investigating is a lone attack that likely wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the wrongheaded intervention that she supported the previous year.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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