The Libyan fiasco

One of the things that constantly amazes me is the way in which governments and large companies can do unbelievably stupid things. How do huge bureaucracies staffed by intelligent people come to believe utter nonsense? The Libyan adventure on which Cameron and Sarkozy embarked so cavalierly is a good example — as Simon Jenkins points out in a really good Guardian column.

With the humanitarian juices running strong, and America a suddenly timid policeman, London was tempted with a precious moment of glory. The inner cabal of Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove reportedly saw Libya as a neoconservative epiphany. It would be like Thatcher's Falklands task force, a moment when politics aspires to statecraft and puts on the armour of crusade. The Downing Street sofa went electric.

These were men who had never gone to war and never known what war requires of government. Sound advice is drowned by a tide of patriotism. Wisdom is derided as weakness. I doubt if any of those who got Britain into this mess had the foggiest idea how they would get out of it, with Gaddafi dead or alive. Yet ahead they charged. They now have ears only for reports of imminent victory from the front, and from an intelligence service whose susceptibility to political pressure has been revealed by the Chilcot inquiry.

The serious question is why in all this did the normal checks and balances fail to operate. Where were the soldiers, diplomats and civil servants who knew Libya well, who knew about military intervention and the likely outcome of specific operations? Where was the scepticism due to any project so implausible as a "no-fly zone to impede the advance of government forces", when this did not embrace ground action (other by bombing) or a legal entitlement to remove a foreign regime? Where were the law officers or the crown? Where was the adviser to say to Cameron, you may want to do this but it must be all or nothing?

When the army wanted no part of the operation, Cameron should have smelled a rat. By assigning Libya to airmen and sailors, Cameron put in the driving seat the two services without an ounce of strategic sense.

It’s clear that there is no rational strategy behind what the governments of Britain and France are now doing. It’s all based on fantasies that the raggle-taggle crew of anti-Gaddafi forces constitute some kind of potential democratic government. That’s not to say that Gaddafi and his crowd aren’t monsters. But if you decide to take on monsters then you need to have a game plan which leads to their extinction.

LATER: Everything I said about government adherence to unworkable ideas also applies to the Eurozone project.