Obama is wrong to blame Cameron for the rise of Isis in Libya

The Islamic State has now created a nice little cubbyhole in the middle of Libya and the UK and USA are both to blame

Nash Riggins
Friday 11 March 2016 15:12 GMT
People gather after an air strike on a house and training camp belonging to the Islamic State group, west of Sabratha, Libya, on 19 February 2016
People gather after an air strike on a house and training camp belonging to the Islamic State group, west of Sabratha, Libya, on 19 February 2016 (AP)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


We all know that Britain and America are in a ‘special’ relationship. The pairing makes sense. Both countries are relatively liberal, love free trade and are keen on cruise missiles – but like all relationships, Britain and America do have the odd lovers’ spat.

Today, the Obama administration is doing some frantic damage control after the US President delivered some hard truths on Britain’s role in our shared 2011 military intervention in Libya. According to Obama, David Cameron and his fellow Westminster warhawks were far more interested in destroying Tripoli than they were in helping its survivors to pick up the pieces.

The apologies have already started to fly, but let’s get one thing straight: the White House shouldn’t be trying to play down these remarks. Obama is absolutely spot-on. Britain didn’t do its part to help Libya rebuild its tattered infrastructure, and David Cameron should be ashamed of that.

But this is all a bit rich coming from the Obama administration. America can’t pin this one on Britain alone.

First thing’s first: does anyone even remember Muammar Gaddafi? He had chairs made of solid gold and his sons were huge Mariah Carey fans, if that helps at all. Well, after scoffing at peaceful demands for a fair election and overseeing a few mass slaughters, Gaddafi ended up kicking off a bloody civil war that created a colossal humanitarian crisis and pissed off everybody in Nato.

In the name of democracy, we all agreed to bomb Gaddafi into oblivion. Within weeks, western forces were able to hand Libya over to a secular assembly of opposition groups. We all patted ourselves on the backs, flew home and toasted to a job well done.

What on earth were we thinking? Within months, rookie Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had completely lost control of Libya’s diverse array of political factions. Mutinous military units started to hijack oil fields in lieu of payment, mass shootings began to erupt and headless government officials were turning up everywhere.

All of that should have been a red flag – yet still, neither American nor British politicians expressed a lot of interest. After all, David Cameron was busy trying to turn “Big Society” into a thing, and Barack Obama had a re-election campaign to be thinking about.

It’s not as if we stopped answering Tripoli’s phone calls altogether. We gave the fragile Libyan government lots of money and advice – but that’s pretty much as far as we were willing to go. After all, it would have been bad politics for Cameron or Obama to admit their intervention had given way to anarchy, and isolationist voters on both sides of the Atlantic wouldn’t stand for much-needed boots on the ground after that whole Iraq fiasco. Our hands were simply tied.

The so-called Islamic State has now created a nice little cubbyhole in the middle of Libya – and by refusing to extend Tripoli the same level of post-intervention support we showed countries like Afghanistan, both Britain and the United States are responsible for enabling that demonic presence.

When it comes to Libya, we’re all at equal fault – and so the White House shouldn’t be quick to dish out blame without taking a long, hard look in the mirror.

The fall of Muammar Gaddafi has got to serve as a cautionary tale. Nation-building is a rocky, decades-long process that takes a lot of commitment from every combatant on all sides of the political spectrum. If western leaders aren’t willing to see that journey through, they shouldn’t bother getting involved in the first place.

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