Jonathan Freedland: For dictators, Britain does red carpet or carpet-bombing

[Jonathan Freedland writes a weekly column for the Guardian.]

You'd be forgiven for being confused; the pace of change has indeed been dizzying. A matter of weeks ago our rulers could not get enough of the desert tyrants of the Middle East, selling them arms, bowing as they offered up our most hallowed institutions, covering them with moist kisses. Now all that's changed. Now we want to take up arms against these evil dictators, David Cameron rushing to the Commons to rattle his "military assets" and warn of impending action.

If Muammar Gaddafi were not mad already, all this talk of no-fly zones from his erstwhile friends in London would surely drive him insane. What is he to make of such a betrayal? Can this be the same government that vowed no interest in the freedom-spreading zeal of its predecessor, that dismissed as naive the "ethical dimension" of the Robin Cook era, that swore instead to be interested only in interests, the first of these being the profits of British businesses looking for customers abroad?

One minute Britain's attitude to Libya is all deals in the desert, lectures at the London School of Economics and bearhugs in the Bedouin tent. The next it's scrambling the jets and readying the SAS. We've gone from the red carpet to carpet-bombing in the blink of an eye.

The reversal is queasier still if you recall the backstory...

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