UK Prime Minister David Cameron delivers remarks at a luncheon with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2012.

Just as campaigners from various social movements – including those defending the rights of refugees and those who refused to be bowed into not marching for a ceasefire in Gaza – were rightly taking credit towards the removal of Suella Braverman from the office of Home Secretary, the reshuffle that followed brought David Cameron back to frontline politics as Foreign Secretary.

A lot of the coverage on this has focused on the Greensill scandal, but it is also important to look at his record on foreign policy in his time as PM, including the war on Libya, of which he was a central part of.

In 2016, a report found that the intervention of British, French, and American armed forces into Libya in 2011 was ‘not informed by accurate intelligence’.

It went on to say that the action, which was ostensibly to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s government, had ‘drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change’, the result of which was ‘political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of [weapons] across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.’

This summary of the war on Libya in 2011, was not from an anti-war organisation or one of the 15 MPs who opposed the war, including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. These are the words of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, in “ Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options.”

Looking at this report and other investigations into the war, we see that not only was it clearly in reality a war of external powers planning to enforce ‘regime change,’ but also (like the war on Iraq) a war where control of oil and resources was a central motivation. Indeed, on the day Tripoli fell, the New York Times’ led with the telling headline ‘The scramble for access to Libya’s oil wealth begins.’

Also like Iraq, Libya saw a huge number of civilian deaths. In over 20,000 massive ‘shock and awe’ aerial bombardments, major cities and civilian infrastructure were routinely targeted. A December 2011 New York Times report warned of an ‘unrecognised toll’ to the conflict – the ‘scores of civilian casualties that [NATO] has long refused to acknowledge or investigate.’

And if we look at Libya today, we can still see the disastrous effects of Cameron and co.’s war. Libya is home to Africa’s largest oil reserves and the tenth largest reserves in the world, yet misery continues.

Just this September, floods devastated the country and showed to whole world how 12 years on the country’s infrastructure remains devastated, and public services that were widely acknowledged to be amongst the best in the region have never been rebuilt. Even before the floods, many Libyans were living without access to clean drinking water or proper sewer systems.

The return of a ‘respectable’ politician like David Cameron to the post of Foreign Secretary can be seen as part of the current discussions around Britain’s place in the world, and dovetails with elements of the Tories’ ‘defence’ agenda – which includes a commitment to ever greater military spending and an expansion of Britain’s nuclear arsenal.

In this context, exposing his record – including in Libya – can help us in building opposition to this reactionary agenda today.

And this of course relates to the vital discussion taking place right now in the Labour Party and the broader labour movement on what our international outlook and foreign policy should be. Keir Starmer – who was elected with a clear anti-war pledge as part of his leadership programme – has become increasingly hawkish generally, and at the time of writing is facing a massive rebellion across his party due to his ongoing refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

This Gaza stance is consistent a broader Atlanticist foreign policy, which as we run-up to the next Labour Manifesto also involves following the Tories in unconditionally backing nuclear proliferation and even higher raises in military spending.

The rehabilitation of wars– and of those such as David Cameron and Tony Blair who led Britain into them – and increased spending on the weapons of war is something we in the labour movement have a duty to resist.

16 Nov 2023 by Matt Willgress

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