William Hague was caught between a rock and a hard place in Paris yesterday when he was asked to comment on reports that Italian and French companies are jockeying to get ahead of the British in vying for contracts in a post-Gaddafi Libya.
On the one hand, the Foreign Secretary had to be seen to be sticking up for British commercial interests. But on the other hand the Coalition has gone to great pains to avoid repeating mistakes that contributed to the domestic unpopularity of the Iraq war. One avoidable mistake was giving the impression that Western firms were jumping in to grab the spoils as if the war had been waged for their interests rather than for the people who lived under a brutal dictatorship.
Mr Hague's reply was: "We won't be left behind." Compare and contrast with the promise he made earlier in the day that it will be for the Libyans to decide their country's future. That must mean Libyans deciding which firms get contracts to rebuild the oil industry. Libya needs foreign investment. What they do not need is to discover that they have overthrown a dictator only to have their economy bent into a shape that suits foreign business interests.