David Cameron and his Foreign Policy Woes

Post update: 7th March 2011

So William Hague sent in the SAS to sort out his foreign policy, it salvaged red faces initially with reports of gun fire against planes removing British Citizens from the desert.  The warm thoughts of the British public that the good old SAS were sorting it all out, was saving the foreign office’s blushes.

Sadly, the wheels have fallen off again as a botched SAS mission to protect a diplomat and make contact with Libyan rebels has ended in an embarrassing capture by a farming community in Libya.

News leaked out quickly but the government would not deny or confirm the information, which means the story was true.  Misinformation is in overdrive as each media outlet has it’s own “facts” to fit the story.  What we do know from the leaked phone call displayed embarrassingly on Libyan television is that it was an almighty cock up.

It will be interesting to hear William Hague’s statement in the House of Commons later, but he will have to do a lot to bolster his credibility after this.

Any sign of a more coherent foreign policy yet, err. . . not really.

FURTHER UPDATE– Following William Hague’s statement to the House of Commons we know little more and he described the incident as a “misunderstanding”, and then skirted over the details. This will inevitably allow columnists and the media to fill in the blanks and speculate, not very clever, but what did we expect?

– comment on Twitter confirms that Ming Campbell has just attacked SAS operation in eastern Libya as “ill-conceived, poorly planned and badly executed,” OUCH –  I think he has a point!


Over the last 2 weeks we have seen a remarkable example of something that is symptomatic about this coalition government.

Over the past 8 months of the government, we have seen naked dishonesty; hypocrisy; a lack of experience; lack of policy detail; and the twisting and turning of government departments as each one gets found out.

Over the last 2 weeks we have seen something remarkable even for this government, not the twisting and turning with a policy, but the twisting and turning to find one.

Up until last week there was no discernible foreign policy at all to be dishonest about.  The only things we know so far is that David Cameron is keen to visit places for trade agreements and he doesn’t like Europe much.  Not much there then.

Last week, parading around the middle east like Del Boy on speed, with arms dealers under his wing touting for business while blood was shed with arms and bullets made in our own factories, he looked anything but Prime-ministerial.

However, perhaps we gradually saw the real David Cameron emerge in the latter half of the week. He surely had to do something as William Hague couldn’t even get planes off the ground. No snow to blame this time guys.

By the end of the week Cameron was talking tough. If you closed your eyes for a moment you could almost hear Tony Blair rear his head (you remember, he is the middle east peace envoy), and the neo-con paternal instinct coming to the fore and how military intervention should be sought –  a tough response must be given – military action cannot be ruled out – no fly zones could be implemented – Gaddafi should leave – the international court should investigate his crimes etc etc.

The heat was gradually turned up at the weekend as the coalition tried to find out what it was supposed to do.  Can we pursue a no fly zone with the pilots we had just made redundant? Or maybe the planes we have just scrapped. Or even send an aircraft carrier down to Libya, you remember, the one without any aircraft on it.

Since the weekend, it has become apparent as the dust settles from the scrabbling around for a foreign policy that the international community is not really up for another Iraq right now.  That the US don’t even recognise the international court themselves. That China are scared of the uprisings and do not want to allow the precedent of intervention within the UN, and Russia similarly do not want to interfere in internal affairs for similar reasons.

The US is now distancing themselves from the Cameron idea of a no fly zone as Turkey is not keen, and the practicalities would be problematic at best, and very expensive.

We are now even hearing the opinion of Libyan citizens on our media outlets that everyone getting hot under the collar forgot about.  The very idea that Lybyan’s would want ground troops is ridiculous.  No fly zones are problematic because of the inevitable human casualties, or colateral damage as we like to call it.  They are even nervous of the verbal support from the US and UK because it is used by Gaddafi in the propaganda war.

As time marches on, it is looking more and more likely that the situation will turn into something a kin to a civil war rather than an uprising and overthrow of an existing regime.  This would make intervention by the west even more difficult.

So where are we now? Well if David and William were in the boat race they would be in the rowing back stage. The rowing back from the tough militaristic rhetoric, with a more considered response and less of the bullish attitude. Perhaps tempered by the lukewarm response from the Nato Allies and especially the US, the coalition is going a little quieter.

Over the last 8 months we have seen such a lack of policy detail while at the same time moving as quickly as possible to push through policies, many of which were not in any manifesto, without the forethought necessary for sound policy making.

Now we have seen what happens when there was no policy to start with and one has to be made up on the spot.  To say it has been a shambles would be putting it politely.  From near silence; to second hand arms salesman; to bullish neo con and back to the strong silent type.  Where do we stand now?

A telling point to remember in the bid to get the governments Foreign Policy off the ground is that David Cameron has stated on several occasions that even knowing what he knows now he would still have voted for the Iraq war.  So regime change is something that he would go to war for, regardless of the risks this entails.  This is a position we should never forget, in his battle to find a foreign policy.

So far we know that we are not winning the war in Afghanistan largely because it is un-winnable.  We are withdrawing our forces in 2015, yet we have no idea why this date is significant, or what we should have achieved at this point.  The Foreign Affairs select committee has stated as much and is urging more dialogue with the Taliban.

It appears that we have a confused Foreign Policy all round. Whether it is the strategy in Afghanistan or the strategic defence review just undertaken. Rather than just have a quick cost cutting exercise, we should have had a thorough rethink about what our role should be in the world in the years ahead. But it appears that we are still in the dark, clinging on to old notions of being a world power, with influence in the world above our station, bumbling along in the dark.

Cameron has not considered the Dilemma of Democracy for the western nations, the old question of national interest or democracy. Our traditional response has been to back whoever is in our national interest either on the basis of whoever is our enemies enemy is our friend (as in Libya), or for economic interest like with Saudi Arabia.

Do we support democratic groups in societies with arms? Do we sell arms to dictators?

None of these questions appear to have been worked out.  Considering William Hague is billed as the experienced shining light in the Conservative Government, it is surprising (or not) that he has been so ineffective in dealing with the crises of British repatriation, and so ineffective in explaining what the foreign policy actually is.

But perhaps this is not a surprise when Andrew Landsley has been shadow health minister for 7 years, and Health Minister for 8 months yet never told GP’s of the plans outlined in the NHS reforms or that PCT’s would be closed down.

The Foreign Policy Woes of the government are symptematic of a government with policy slogans and strap lines, but with little in the way of detail and well thought out ways of achieving their objectives.

We should all be worried about this, as the changes that are coming our way over the next 4 years could well change our country forever, and if they get it wrong, we will all be paying for it for years to come, only we won’t be able to blame the bankers, this time, and the politicians who are enacting it will have retired with gold plated pensions by the time we discover the mess.


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