William Hague is hosting a press conference on Libya this very minute at the Foreign Office, amid concerns that the campaign is bogged down in what America’s Admiral Mike Mullen has called a “stalemate“.
This was not what David Cameron expected earlier in the year, when the prime minister – caught up by the excitement of the Arab Spring – privately anticipated a more decisive action.
Instead, the general spirit was in line with Lord Copper’s advice (in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop) where the newspaper proprietor outlines his policy for a war in the (fictional) north African country of Ishmaelia.
“A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side and a colourful entry into the capital. That is The Beast policy for the war… We shall expect the first victory about the middle of July.
Remember that the patriots are in the right and are going to win. The Beast stands by them foursquare. But they must win quickly. The British public has no interest in a war that drags on indecisively”
There is a must-read column in today’s Daily Telegraph where Con Coughlin explains the situation in stark detail.
He also claims that Liam Fox, defence secretary, is already preparing a dossier of emails, memos and letters that were sent to Downing St expressing caution against an open-ended military commitment. This, claims Coughlin, is Fox’s preparation for an “inevitable post-mortem” in Whitehall.
UPDATE: Fox’s aides have now been on the phone to insist that this is nonsense: “He has always supported campaign, there has never been a point where he hasn’t supported it.” And they have put out a written statement, saying: “Any suggestion of divisions between senior ministers is simply untrue. No such dossier exists.”
(I’m not sure I agree with the premise that all senior ministers agree on this; one I have spoken to thinks the whole enterprise is disastrous, and blames the ‘neo-con’ fervour of Michael Gove and others for entering Libya in the first place).
Hague has today announced the release of £91m of frozen assets to be used by the rebels. That indicates a deepening of involvement rather than the reverse. Ditto, the foreign secretary repeated his claim that this campaign would take as long as it takes – and that Britain can afford to continue ad infinitum.
Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 just asked Hague about MoD concerns – but the question was not answered directly. Here is our ft.com news story on the announcement.
Here is another thought for consideration: Why is it that right-wing MPs and strategists are opposed to the coalition’s Dfid policy of maintaining aid to developing countries – but are much less critical of the war in Libya, an expensive campaign designed for the same outcome (savings lives in Africa)?