Editorial: Caution, Mr Cameron, caution

The Prime Minister must avoid rhetoric about the spread of Islamist ideology

Share
Related Topics

The ghost of Tony Blair could be heard in the House of Commons on Friday, when David Cameron made a statement about the Algerian hostage-taking crisis. "We will stand with the Algerians in their fight against these terrorist forces," he said. "Those who believe there is a terrorist, extremist al-Qa'ida problem in parts of North Africa, but that it is a problem for those places and we can somehow back off and ignore it, are profoundly wrong. This is a problem for those places and for us."

As the 10th anniversary of the disaster of the Iraq war approaches, and as British troops are still taking casualties in our long overstayed mission in Afghanistan, how uncanny it is to hear a British prime minister using such similar words with only the names of the countries changed.

That may be partly because Mr Blair was not wholly wrong about Afghanistan, at least. The original intervention in Afghanistan was justified. The mistake was to think, once the Taliban had fallen, that it was our responsibility to construct a workable democratic society – from the roads and power stations up.

Therein lies the lesson for Mr Cameron. It was the lesson of Vietnam. The danger is that early decisions may lead to further decisions taken by default, and under less scrutiny. That is why the Prime Minister should be careful about sending those two transport planes to help the French intervention in Mali. That is one of the ways in which countries can take the first innocuous steps into a quagmire.

This is part of a broader lesson, which is that military action, even for the best of motives, can have unforeseen consequences, either because they were unforeseeable or because they were not thought through. The Iraq invasion, far from denying opportunities to terrorists, did exactly the opposite. It created precisely the kind of "ungoverned space" about which Mr Cameron is now worried in the Sahara, in which new groups inspired by al-Qa'ida now operate.

The law of unintended consequences applies in cases where the case for military intervention is far stronger than it ever was in Iraq. This newspaper supported the no-fly zone – authorised by the United Nations – over Libya in 2011, and is proud of the UK's role in enforcing it. Libya's progress since Gaddafi's fall, as John Rentoul notes opposite, is partly to Mr Cameron's credit.

Yet Libya's liberation has plainly sent weapons and soldiers into the Saharan corridor of instability. It was not the cause of civil war in Mali, but it has not helped, and it would seem to have contributed to the raid on the Algerian gas plant.

It is at this point that the Prime Minister should prefer caution to rhetoric of the domino theory and the spread of a violent Islamist ideology against which the democratic world must stand. As our writers explain today, the politics of this corridor are more complex than a simple attempt by al-Qa'ida to find new franchises for its terrorist brand. Ethnic and sectarian conflict merge into banditry across that whole strip of the continent, and direct European military "assistance" is likely to be anything but, except in the shortest of terms.

Mr Cameron, learn the right lessons from Mr Blair, not just how to make fine declamations of apparently moral sentiment. Proceed with care.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?