General George S Patton, one of the great military leaders of WW2 and a man who knew North Africa like the back of his hand had a tremendous quote about plans, namely that “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
If only the British Foreign Office had his foresight. It is becoming increasingly clear that the window of opportunity for getting stranded Britons out Libya was probably a week ago. Since then, the situation has deteriorated rapidly but many Britons remain stranded. Some have yet to hear from any officials from this country.
Take this from the Guardian’s live blog today. “10.14am: Helen Assaf, a freelance writer from Beirut has been in touch to say her friend Paul Butcher and 20 other Britons are stuck at the Nafoora oil field about 350km south-east of Benghazi. “Basically they’ve heard nothing from the British embassy [says Helen], their food is running out, and since they have no TV, they don’t really know what’s going on outside so I have been sending a few updates/summaries from the Guardian’s live blog which is the only way any them are getting any news.”
So let’s get this straight. A freelance journalist in Beirut is in touch with stranded Britons by mobile phone and is giving them updates from a British national newspaper, but the British Foreign Office hasn’t managed to get in touch yet?
None of this is surprising to those who have long memories of Foreign Office performance in crisis situations. I particularly remember reports from journalists inside the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, detailing the plight of stranded Britons. The Foreign Office, apparently, was unable to gain entry.
By all accounts, the Prime Minister has now taken personal charge of the situation. We are, apparently, considering intervention by Special Forces with French air cover. I’ll be charitable, let’s assume that after Tunisia and Eqypt we had plans in place for the evacuation of Libya, because it didn’t take a genius to work out that there was probably a domino effect at work here. That plan should have been implemented at the first sign of trouble, which is what Patton taught us.