The White House has attempted to limit the fallout from President Obama’s comments that appeared to blame Prime Minister David Cameron for the non-committal aftermath of the 2011 intervention in Libya.
In an interview in the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine, President Obama gave a scathing assessment of the handling of the Libya crisis by David Cameron. In the interview he called Libya “a mess”. That word is described as “the president’s diplomatic term” for public use, in private the President says the North African country is a “shit show”.
In what has been described as a remarkable insight into the unspun thoughts of President Obama, he explained how Mr. Cameron, and others including then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, let him down in responding to the fallout from toppling Colonel Gadaffi’s dictatorial regime.
He said he had “more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up,” but that in his opinion Mr. Cameron “soon stopped paying attention” and became “distracted by a range of other things.”
The interviewer also noted how President Obama was angered by other countries relying on America to do the hard lifting in world affairs, saying: “Free riders aggravate me.” Included in that description, until recently, was the UK.
The President warned the UK it could no longer claim a “special relationship” with the U.S. if it did not commit to spending on defence what he described a “fair share” — at least two per cent of GDP. In the event the UK did meet the threshold, albeit with some technical accounting tricks.
Some suggest President Obama’s motivations in making the criticisms were intended to create artificial separation between the White House and Downing Street ahead of an expected “big, public reach-out” to persuade British voters to stay inside the EU.
The intervention is expected to happen around the end of April when the President visits German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Such an intervention, reported the Guardian, will likely focus on the need for European Union (EU) unity in the face of the migrant crisis and perceived threat of Russia. However, the U.S. and UK are both said to be concerned that a President’s intervention “be handled sensitively and could backfire unless it is pitched at the right geopolitical level.”
There is some suggestion that the White House may have overstepped the mark in the comments, angering rather than helping Downing Street and requiring a damage limitation exercise.
A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council subsequently told the BBC in an unsolicited message that Mr. Cameron had been “as close a partner as the President has had” adding that “we deeply value the UK’s contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy objectives”.