Obama backtracks Cameron criticism, but not for Netanyahu

March 11, 2016  

Responding to the apparent anger of the UK, the White House on Friday backtracked from US President Barack Obama’s comments in a recent interview with the Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

In the same interview Obama recalled berating Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for being “condescending” – but no similar statement to minimize the damage has been issued regarding the comments against Netanyahu. 

Speaking to Goldberg, Obama reflected on “what went wrong” after Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya was overthrown by the UK and France.

“There’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up,” Obama said.

He accused UK Prime Minister David Cameron of soon becoming “distracted by a range of other things.”

We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess,” he said.

The chaos in Libya since 2011 has recently led to Islamic State (ISIS) gaining ground in the North African country.

Obama also condemned “free riders,” saying European and Gulf states called for action against Gaddafi, but the “habit” for several decades had been “people pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game.”

“Fairly rich coming from Obama”

In an apparent attempt at damage control, the White House issued a statement cited by the BBC on Friday, in which it said, “Prime Minister Cameron has been as close a partner as the president has had, and we deeply value the UK’s contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy objectives which reflect our special and essential relationship.”

“With respect to Libya, the president has long said that all of us – including the United States – could have done more in the aftermath of the Libyan intervention.”

The statement said the UK had “stepped up on a range of issues,” noting a pledge to spend 2% of national income on defense.

According to the Atlantic interview, that promise came after Obama threatened Cameron, saying the UK must pay its “fair share” if it wanted to continue to have a “special relationship” with the US.

BBC North America editor Jon Sopel analyzed the statement, suggesting the British government likely reacted with anger to the interview and in response the White House issued the statement as an attempt at damage control.

“It’s like we’ve seen a curtain drawn back on the unspun thoughts of President Obama, complete with frustration as well, and what we’ve seen…is the White House trying to close the curtain as quickly as it can,” said Sopel.

Obama’s criticism over Libya was met with disdain by former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who said, “to be frank, it’s pretty rich coming from President Obama, because the Americans did far less than either France or the United Kingdom in helping get rid of that dictatorship.”

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