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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John McDonnell praises New Labour as he enters conciliatory mode

The shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present by crediting the 1997 government. 

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, John McDonnell has been on a mission to reinvent himself as a kinder, gentler politician. He hasn’t always succeeded. In July, the shadow chancellor declared of rebel MPs: “As plotters they were fucking useless”.

But in his Labour conference speech, Corbyn’s closest ally was firmly in conciliatory mode. McDonnell thanked Owen Smith for his part in defeating the Personal Independence Payment cuts. He praised Caroline Flint, with whom he has clashed, for her amendment to the financial bill on corporate tax transparency. Jonathan Reynolds, who will soon return to the frontbench, was credited for the “patriots pay their taxes” campaign (the latter two not mentioned in the original text).

McDonnell’s ecunmenicism didn’t end here. The 1997 Labour government, against which he and Corbyn so often defined themselves, was praised for its introduction of the minimum wage (though McDonnell couldn’t quite bring himself to mention Tony Blair). Promising a “real Living Wage” of around £10 per hour, the shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present. Though he couldn’t resist adding some red water as he closed: “In this party you no longer have to whisper it, it's called socialism. Solidarity!”

As a rebuke to those who accuse him of seeking power in the party, not the country, McDonnell spoke relentlessly of what the next Labour “government” would do. He promised a £250bn National Investment Bank, a “Right to Own” for employees, the repeal of the Trade Union Act and declared himself “interested” in the potential of a Universal Basic Income. It was a decidedly wonkish speech, free of the attack lines and jokes that others serve up.

One of the more striking passages was on McDonnell’s personal story (a recurring feature of Labour speeches since Sadiq Khan’s mayoral victory). “I was born in the city [Liverpool], not far from here,” he recalled. “My dad was a Liverpool docker and my mum was a cleaner who then served behind the counter at British Homes Stores for 30 years. I was part of the 1960's generation.  We lived in what sociological studies have described as some of the worst housing conditions that exist within this country. We just called it home.”

In his peroration, he declared: “In the birthplace of John Lennon, it falls to us to inspire people to imagine.” Most Labour MPs believe that a government led by Corbyn and McDonnell will remain just that: imaginary. “You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one,” the shadow chancellor could have countered. With his praise for New Labour, he began the work of forging his party’s own brotherhood of man.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.