President Obama criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron and other European allies for the “shit show” in Libya after the 2011 international intervention.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Cameron became “distracted” after the 2011 intervention and said the U.K., France and other European countries went rouge, calling them “free riders.”
Following the Arab Spring uprising, an international military intervention helped prevent a civilian massacre by forces loyal to then-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, but since his removal the country has become a hotbed for terrorism.
“When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the followup,” Mr. Obama said.
He said Mr. Cameron became “distracted by a range of other things,” and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to “trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure” for the intervention.
He said Mr. Sarkozy’s bragging helped the U.S. to “purchase France’s involvement in a way that made it less expensive for us and less risky for us,” but admitted that doing so ruffled feathers with foreign policy makers.
Mr. Obama described the resulting fallout in Libya as a “mess,” but privately, the Atlantic reported, he calls it a “shit show.”
The White House has since tried to clarify Mr. Obama’s comments, which were made months before a “farewell” tour of the U.K.
Ned Price, a U.S. security council spokesman speaking on behalf of the administration, said Washington continues to value its “special relationship” with the prime minister, and said Mr. Cameron is as “close a partner as the president has had.”
“We deeply value the U.K.’s contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy objectives which reflect our special and essential relationship,” he said.
Downing Street said it shared Mr. Obama’s assessment that there were “real challenges in Libya.”
“That’s why we are continuing to work hard with international partners to support a process in Libya that puts in place a government that can bring stability, and why we are talking about how we can support such a government in the future,” a representative for the Prime Minister said, Buzzfeed reported.
The representative added that “as the president as said before, coming to the aid of tortured civilians [in Libya] was the right thing to do.”
“We are working hard to support the [United Nations’] process to support a stable government, but ultimately a positive outcome for Libya is not just up to the international community but the Libyan people,” the representative said.