The Sketch: If the Foreign Secretary's fighting with words like this, we're in trouble

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The Independent Online

We mustn't laugh but – to paraphrase the Foreign Secretary – you have to laugh.

It's impossible to fulfil the UN resolution with Gaddafi in place, William Hague said, and we can't target him, but we can target him. We can't arm the rebels but our partners can arm the rebels and we can arm the rebels. As our mission creeps there will be no mission creep. It's not a stalemate because it's fluid in the sense of being static.

You could just about see what he was getting at, but then he said: "If it goes well it will be the greatest advance in human freedom since the fall of the Berlin Wall." That didn't mean anything at all. Those East Germans were still Germans, remember. This lot have their roots in desert tribalism and may still be animated by issues alive during the Punic Wars, so Sir Peter Tapsell said.

Hague used a 1930s Pathe News voice, a strong, confident I'm-on-top-of-the-job-I-love voice to stop the rumours. But soon, between "a legitimate interlocutor" and "dialogue is the way to resolve every problem in Bahrain" – my notes record the phrase "what a ****ing **** of old ****".

They're in a rotten predicament now – if they stand aside Gaddafi will kill everyone. If they abide by the stalemate, they run out of support. If they kill the brute they set a dangerous precedent. One that puts all western leaders in the firing line.

At Waterloo, when the Duke of Wellington was told they had Napoleon in range, he told them not to be so damned silly. It was not the job of generals to take pot shots at each other, he said.

Right or wrong, that's the precedent, and dumb allegiance to tradition is a very profound Tory virtue. Earlier Alistair Burt came to the Commons to answer an urgent question with the useful phrases, I don't know. No idea. Search me. Some wag was whistling the theme tune to The Great Escape. Nearly 500 Taliban terrorists/freedom fighters had tunnelled their way out of a maximum security jail in Afghanistan.

Who had escaped, what were their names? Um... Burt has an aimiable way of starting his confessions. "Record keeping is such that we don't know," he said.

Julian Lewis asked something which sounded funny until you realised it might be true. Maybe they hadn't tunnelled out: maybe others had tunnelled in. And then used their keys to go from cell to cell assembling 476 of the most dangerous gunmen in the country and dancing them to freedom.

"Clearly the solution is to pass the responsibility for security over to the Afghan people," Burt said. Blimey, if that's the solution, what's the problem again?