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Tuesday, March 22, 2011 

The tiger who came to tea.


One question that remains completely unanswered and which shamefully hasn't even really been posed in just what exactly it was that first motivated David Cameron to begin pushing for a no-fly zone over Libya. As elegant while at the same time unconvincing as his claim is that not intervening would have once again left a failed pariah state off the coast of Europe with all the problems that would have entailed, that doesn't begin to explain just why he was one of the first to look at a no-fly zone.

Certainly, he has never presented himself as anything other than a pragmatic realist on foreign policy, while before becoming prime minister his most notable statement on the liberal interventionist ideal was that "we cannot drop democracy from 10,000 feet", and to include a part of the quote which is often cut off, "and we shouldn't try". At the same time though he's surrounded himself with cabinet allies whom are either stridently neo-conservative in their outlook - Michael Gove and Liam Fox - or are at least sympathetically inclined - George Osborne and William Hague. No one is suggesting however that it was any of these figures that lent upon on Cameron to support the no-fly zone.

The best attempt at an explanation put forward so far is easily that of Paulinlincs, who invokes Jim Bullpitt and the concept of high politics, and then adds a class based analysis on top of it. He posits that this is precisely the sort of crisis that past practitioners of Tory high politics found themselves most at ease with, and which helpfully distracts from precisely the increasing economic problems and reversals likely to be forthcoming on the reform front.

There are certainly problems with this analysis, not least that it also seems to be consuming the majority of the Labour front bench, who can't all be tarred with the same upper-class political leader brush. It does however help to understand just why while we're bombing the army of one democracy denying tyrant, we're strangely inviting round the foreign minister of one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet and treating him to a cosy chat with tea and biscuits.

Just like many, including myself, found it rather perplexing that Cameron and friends thought it was a spiffing idea to go on a tour of autocratic Gulf states last month with a bunch of arms dealers in tow just as those we're now were protecting in Libya were rising up against their leaders, so it seems strange that as we're defending the Libyan intifada from the air round comes Prince Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, representative of the nation that just helped put down the incipient Bahrain uprising. Faisal, lest we forget, also said just a couple of weeks ago referring to potential disturbances in his own country that they "would cut off any finger" raised against the regime, presumably to make a change from taking the whole hand. It's difficult not to envisage a literal recreation of the famous Low cartoon following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, with Cameron saying "the butcher of Bahrain, I believe?" with Faisal responding "the angel of Benghazi, I presume?"

The reality is that Cameron sees no contradiction between selling weapons to regimes which are only ever going to use them against their own people and using deadly force to stop a potential massacre while our main ally in the region actively helps to squash a related revolution. It isn't because of our interests in not riling the Saudis just as the oil price continues to rise, although that's a factor. It's instead due to how he actively genuflects towards just such dynastic, hereditary rulers, just as he does towards the monarchy in this country. This isn't realpolitik; it's something far more base. How else could both he and Hague with a straight face say that they wanted to work with Saudi Arabia to "promote sensible dialogue" in the region if they didn't genuinely believe it?

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