Over the Water

There used to be a tradition in both Britain and America that criticism of the government stops "over the water" - that responsible politicians and media outlets were careful when dealing with foreign affairs to avoid those types of criticism of a government which could appear like criticising your country in front of foreigners.

During the last Labour administration, however severely the Conservative opposition criticised the government about just about everything else, they were extremely circumspect about criticising the administration when there was a crisis or in ways which might look like failing to support our troops.

If anything the Conservatives could be accused of supporting the Labour government too much on foreign policy rather than too little. (Dare I mention Iraq?)

Nobody could bring the equivalent charge against the present shadow foreign secretary and Labour spinners, or against the substantial section of the Mainstream Media (MSM) who have been dancing to their tune in the past week in respect of the confused and dangerous situation in Libya.

Read any newspaper this mornig and it is ludicrously obvious which sections were written before the news of the SAS rescue was announced and which were written after.

Not that any government should expect to avoid scrutiny and criticism after the fact about how foreign and defence matters have been handled. Nor should such scrutiny be deferred until half a decade later, after the people involved have already left office (Iraq again.)

Nevertheless, it isn't a brilliant idea for supposedly responsible politicians, or the media, to start jumping to all sorts of conclusions about what the government is or isn't doing in the middle of a crisis and before they know the full facts.

As the Sunday Times put it this morning (in one of the articles which had obviously been written after the SAS rescue)

"For the past week David Cameron and his ministers have been subjected to scathing criticism over the way the government has seemingly failed to respond when Libya descended rapidly into carnage and chaos.

"But as Britains trickled out of the country and ministers were accused of dithering, it emerged last night that special forces and intelligence officers had in fact spent most of last week planning a daring mission to rescue ... Britains scattered accross the North African desert.

"The Foreign Office had quickly realised that it would be impossible for British nationals living and working at oil installations deep inland to cover the long, dangerous distances necessary to reach the government's evacuation flights from Tripoli or its ships docking at Benghazi.

"So the Ministry of Defence set about planning an airlift from Libyan soil abd executed it amid complete secrecy."

(The same newspaper's leader, written by someone whose face is now submerged under about ten tons of egg, took a rather different slant and now looks remarkably foolish.)

It would appear likely that while Her Majesty's opposition and certain sections of the media were complaining that nothing was being done, brave men were already putting themselves in danger to rescue British workers who were out there. (Apparently they had been in Libya since Tuesday).

I am glad that nobody either in the country's political leadership nor in the civil service or our armed forces sought to get the media off their back in ways which might have increased the risk to our boys or the people they were trying to rescue.

Some bloggers have been praising the competence of Labour's spin operation and suggesting that the present government is not good enough at managing the media: personally I'd rather have a government that prioritises the lives of the people it is trying to rescue, and those of the troops, sailors and airmen they are asking to do it, above looking good in the newspapers and on the TV.

And in the long term I'm not sure Labour's stance has been wise even from a selfish political perspective. A senior defector from Ghaddafi's regime has now revealed that the man convicted of the worst terrorist outrage in recent British history gained his release by blackmailing the colonel into putting pressure on Labour and SNP ministers to release him, by threatening to "spill the beans" about the Libyan regime's part in the Lockerbie bombing. Remember that this gentleman was released on "compassionate grounds" eighteen months ago because he supposedly had less than three months to live? (He is still alive.) Is a party with Labour's record with respect to Libya in a good position to criticise anyone else on the subject?

Having provided this country with an unsuccessful government, Labour are now providing an irresponsible opposition. Since they can do less damage in that position, I hope the electorate keeps them there for a long time.

Of course there should be a full review of what has happened during the Libyan crisis when it is over, to see if any lessons can be learned and whether anything can be done better when, as is inevitable, the next crisis arrives. That should be standard practice.

And perhaps those in the media who were, shall we say, a little too quick to swallow the Labour line about Libya, should think twice about accepting the next line they peddle quite so quickly.


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