It’s hard being the UK Foreign Secretary. In times of crisis, to make life easier, the British normally let the French go first. This summer, the French déploré the shooting of unarmed civilians in Egypt, then the British did; this week the French blâmé the Syrian government for gassing unarmed civilians, then the British did.
It wasn’t always like this. In Libya, the UK tried to get in first, and it was even more embarrassing. However much Foreign Secretary Hague tried, he didn’t write the script. From the start, he was coyote and roadrunner was French. Remember, after the resolution on the no-fly zone, it was their air force, not the UK’s, that saved Benghazi from the armoured column rollicking towards it over the desert, engines backfiring, ammo belts flying like strings of detonating bangers.
At the same time, the British parliament, that club of gentlemen, was still reassuring us – and Gaddafi – that no action could be taken “until after the Commons debate on Tuesday,” as if what they had in mind was no more urgent than choosing a brand of cigar. The delay, of course, would have given the rat-catchers from Tripoli enough time to exterminate half of Benghazi. Mais oui, the French got in first.
The one time Britain did do something… I hope you’ve forgotten the botched essay in the sand, the crack troops helicoptered in, only to be rounded up by a few, good-natured camel herders, when all that needed doing in the first place was to make a phone call ahead. After this, the Foreign Secretary famously admitted that he was fed up with the world, although he perked up again when the war was won (by the US and Qatar), which highlights the common sense of not resigning after your first débâcle.
Let the French go first, and ideally Mr Hague won’t get tired of Egypt and Syria, even when they kick sand in his face. How many countries are there in the Middle East? If he does despair again, let’s hope he doesn’t do so in public.