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David Cameron was distracted by domestic priorities as Libya descended into a “mess”, Barack Obama has suggested.
In frank comments about foreign relations, the US president also revealed he warned his British counterpart that the “special relationship” would be at risk if the UK did not commit to spending 2% of its national income on defence in line with Nato targets.
The remarks were made in a long interview with the Atlantic. Obama expressed aggravation with “free riders” among world leaders who call for international action if there is a war or other humanitarian crisis but do not commit enough military resources. “You have to pay your fair share,” he said.
He made critical comments about both the UK and France for participating in military action in Libya in 2011 that removed its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, but subsequently failing to stop it becoming a “mess”.
“The way I looked at it was that it would be our problem if, in fact, complete chaos and civil war broke out in Libya,” Obama said. “But this is not so at the core of US interests that it makes sense for us to unilaterally strike against the Gaddafi regime.
“At that point, you’ve got Europe and a number of Gulf countries who despise Gaddafi, or are concerned on a humanitarian basis, who are calling for action. But what has been a habit over the last several decades in these circumstances is people pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game … free riders.
“So what I said at that point was, we should act as part of an international coalition. But because this is not at the core of our interests, we need to get a UN mandate; we need Europeans and Gulf countries to be actively involved in the coalition; we will apply the military capabilities that are unique to us, but we expect others to carry their weight.”
Obama said that the intervention “averted large-scale civilian casualties” but made clear he felt Europe had not been sufficiently committed to helping sort out the country.
“When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up,” he said.
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Cameron became “distracted by a range of other things” and the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, “wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defences and essentially set up the entire infrastructure”.
On Thursday night the US administration sought to play down the remarks. A US security council spokesman, Ned Price, said: “Prime minister Cameron has been as close a partner as the president has had, and we deeply value the UK’s contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy objectives which reflect our special and essential relationship.
“With respect to Libya, the president has long said that all of us – including the United States – could have done more in the aftermath of the Libyan intervention. More broadly, the UK has stepped up on a range of issues, including Mr Cameron’s leadership within Nato in terms of meeting the 2% commitment and pressing the other members of the alliance to do so at the Wales summit.”
Downing Street declined to comment on private conversations between Obama and Cameron but defended the UK’s record in trying to help Libya have a stable future.
“We would share the president of the United States’ assessment that there are some real challenges in Libya,” the prime minister’s official spokeswoman said.
“That is why we are continuing to work hard with our international partners, including the US, and through the United Nations to support the process in Libya that puts in place a government that can bring stability to that country.”
Cameron refused for months before the general election to say whether the UK would continue to commit to the 2% target but George Osborne, the chancellor, eventually pledged last July that he would continue to hit the figure.
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تاريخ التسجيل : 08/04/2011
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