Last month David Cameron, looking increasingly thumb-like under the African sun, pledged to ‘stand by’ the Libyan government. If he was speaking in the literal sense then one fancies that most members of the Libyan cabinet would rather he stood in front of them, considering the current transformation of North Africa from tourist destination to jihadist central. It is more likely that Mr Cameron, who was bizarrely greeted in central Tripoli by a band that reportedly featured a vociferous bagpipe section, was pledging the support of the UK as a whole, to help nurture Libyan democracy.
To top this Cameron then visited Algeria. Here, days after the siege of BP’s In Aménas complex, he was to talk about a new security relationship with one of the Arab Spring’s loose ends. While the timing of Cameron’s visit was unfortunate, it didn’t stop our dear leader from sticking to his predetermined message of cooperation on anti-terrorism, trade and energy security.
All of this is worryingly similar to the messianic way in which Tony Blair floated across the Middle-East in the mid-2000s, something he has continued to do in his baffling post-politics roll as a United Nations peace envoy. Cameron his distanced himself from Blair comparisons in this regard; the press are already asking questions, but after intervention in Libya and what looks like an increasing role in the conflict in Mali it can’t be long before someone applies a little Face Juggler magic and images of Tony Cameron/David Blair (interestingly also the name of The Daily Telegraph’s Chief Foreign Correspondent) appear.
The similarities between the two statesmen go deeper than their (in Cameron’s case, newfound) fondness for spreading democracy hands on. Obvious parallels can be drawn with the invasion of Afghanistan and the use of the British military in Libya and Mali. More subtle are the parallels between the Blair administrations welcoming in of Mummar Gaddafi from the cold and the new open armed approach to Algeria. No British Prime Minister has visited the country since its independence from France in the early 60s and the potential of boosting gas and oil imports may be contributing to the overlooking of various alleged human rights violations carried out by the Algerian government, particularly as it tries to avoid becoming a delayed casualty of the Arab spring.
You could argue that there is nothing that unusual about this particular tour. This isn’t the first time Britain, or any western ‘power’, has aligned itself for freedom alongside a country with a dubious record when it comes to human rights. Neither is the sending of troops as advisors to Mali the first time British money and manpower has been used to train security forces in Africa. British troops have been deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the year 2000, and the UK government has spent £2.4 million training security forced both in the DRC anyd, surprisingly, in Sudan. The current government’s approach to North Africa is not an original one, which begs the question as to why such an approach is being attempted, having hardly proved successful before.
Cameron is, of course, acting a significant level below Blair, whose involvement in the unilateral invasion of Iraq and aforementioned friendship with a dictator the UK would later help topple will forever stain his reputation, such as it is. As of yet Cameron his refrained from full blooded nation building, but the longer the situation in Northern Africa in particular deteriorates the more worried one should be about where the Prime Minister’s new found international confidence will take him, and by extension, us as a country.