Cameron said: “I simply don’t understand how you can’t understand how democracies have a right to defend themselves. I would have thought this argument is particularly powerful right here in Kuwait which, 20 years ago, was invaded by a thuggish bullying neighbour who disrespected your sovereignty, invaded your country and destroyed parts of your capital city.
He added: “Are we honestly saying that for all time, forever and a day, that countries like Kuwait have to manufacture and maintain every single part of their own defences? I think very few people considering that argument for any time would give it any consideration at all.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. No one – no one – who’s criticising Cameron for taking a trip to the Middle East to talk up democracy in between visiting arms fairs is saying democracies shouldn’t be allowed to buy weapons to defend themselves. That would be stupid. The idea that nice cuddly democratic governments might still need to buy weapons from time to time is entirely reasonable. But as an adequate response to the criticism at hand Cameron’s statement falls short so badly it’s hard to know where to even begin.
First, isn’t it a teensy bit of a stretch to imply – as Cameron seems to – that Saddam Hussein still constitutes a threat to Kuwait’s sovereignty? I don’t think even Genghis Khan managed to conquer anywhere from beyond the grave.
Second, Kuwait’s a democracy now? Oh dear. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s only ranked it 114th out of 162 countries for political freedoms, and classified it as an authoritarian regime. Boy, are they going to feel stupid when they learn that all that ‘research’ and ‘studying’ they did was a waste of time. A country where peaceful political meetings are violently broken up by riot police is clearly exactly the kind of place we want to be selling riot shields to.
Third – and this is so obvious it really shouldn’t need pointing out – it might have escaped Cameron’s notice, but Kuwait’s not the only sodding country in the Middle East. We’ve sold tear gas to Gaddafi’s Libya, Land Rovers and Armoured Personnel Carriers to Saudi Arabia, combat helicopters to Algeria…the list goes on. At this point I almost feel it’s insulting all of our intelligence to point out that none of these regimes are in the least bit democratic, but Cameron seems not to be aware of it, so it seems worth spelling out.
All in all, it’s hard to see how Cameron’s statement could have been less convincing. It’s as if someone had a go at him for running over a small child while five pints over the limit and he came out with a spiel about the vital role cars play in meeting our travel needs in modern society. I know politicians have a habit of being evasive when faced with awkward questions, but it’s kind of galling to see it done so brazenly.