The Libya reader

A round-up of the day’s commentary on Libya.

Andrew Sullivan is furious with the Obama administration for not consulting Congress before agreeing to carry out air strikes on Libya.

When will the US Congress be able to debate and vote? When will the congressmen and senators actually take a position for the record? Or is that kind of democracy the kind of thing we only export and don't actually follow ourselves?

The National Interest argues that the days of hawks and doves are over – it's all about the Valkyries now.

[A] troika of female advisers – Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power – are, by and large, responsible for persuading President Obama, against the advice of Robert Gates and other members of the military establishment – that bombing Libya is a good idea. Power has condemned American foreign policy for failing to intervene sufficiently to avert genocidal wars, particularly in Bosnia and Rwanda. Bill Clinton has himself said that his biggest regret was not intervening in Rwanda to stop the carnage.

While the memory of Rwanda lies heavily upon the Clintons and US policy, it is Bosnia that dominates the thinking of David Cameron and the coalition, according to Ian Birrell, the Prime Minister's former speechwriter.

[O]ne of the books that left its mark on the Prime Minister recently is Unfinest Hour, a howl of moral outrage against Britain's failure to intervene amid the bloodstained break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The book, which argues Bosnia ranks alongside Munich and Suez in the litany of Conservative foreign policy disasters, underlines that doing nothing can be a fateful choice

The author of Unfinest Hour, Brendan Simms, argued in last week's New Statesman that the Conservatives have made a "fundamental break" from the realist policy approach that blighted the government's policy in Bosnia in the 1990s. However, away from Cameron and his hawks (or should that be Valkyries?), many in the Conservative Party are more cautious.

Rory Stewart, writing in the London Review of Books, argues that the decision was taken in spite of Iraq and Afghanistan and the neocon agenda, rather than because of it. Stewart errs on the side of intervention, with a caveat.

But today, though I am in favour of the no-fly zone, it seems as though the real danger remains not despair but our irrepressible, almost hyperactive actions: that sense of moral obligation; those fears about rogue states, failed states, regions and our own credibility, which threaten to make this decade again a decade of over-intervention.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also offered cautious support for the intervention – but left himself space to wriggle and revert to a realist stance, should it all go wrong: "The best we can say of this venture is that it is the lesser of two evils – or so it seems at the moment."

Both Stewart and Johnson are tipped as potential prime ministers as often as they are labelled pompous buffoons. If Libya goes wrong, then Cameron will have no shortage of critics within his party ready to say, "I told you so – sort of."

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.