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  1. Politics
6 August 2010

Cameron can’t afford any more foreign policy gaffes

It’s easy to acquire a reputation for gaffes and much harder to lose it.

By George Eaton

By some measurements, David Cameron has now made four foreign policy gaffes in the past two weeks. In the latest example, he mistakenly referred to “the fact that Iran has got a nuclear weapon”. At the same event, he received a verbal lashing over his description of Britain as “junior partner” to the US in 1940 in fighting the Second World War (the Americans, of course, entered the war in 1941).

Labour is hard at work portraying Cameron as a diplomatic nightmare, though I think it’s safe to say that he’ll never make as big a blunder as invading Iraq. It is also important to distinguish Cameron’s comments on Israel and Pakistan (both accurate and refreshingly honest) from his slip-ups on Iran and the Second World War.

But at the same time it’s already clear that foreign affairs isn’t Cameron’s strongest suit. We had a hint of that during the leaders’ debates when he suggested that China posed a nuclear threat to the UK. In the case of Iran, it’s important that Cameron is on top of his brief, not least because the issue has the potential to split the coalition.

Unlike the Conservatives, the Lib Dems explicitly opposed military action against Iran in their manifesto. By contrast, the Tories left all options on the table, stating: “We support concerted international efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

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Either way, as a number of US presidents learned to their cost, it’s easy to acquire a reputation for gaffes and much harder to lose it. Tony Blair was memorably advised to include some economics textbooks in his summer reading. In similar fashion, someone at the Foreign Office might want to have a quiet word with Cameron before he heads off to the beach.

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