Libya Defines PM, But Can He Stay Popular?

A fortnight ago his critics depicted David Cameron as an immature and ineffective actor on the world stage.

David Cameron

David Cameron has been calling for action over Libya for three weeks


His calls for a no-fly zone in Libya appeared to have fallen on deaf ears and had been openly mocked by the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office, the Intelligence Services and even the SAS had come under widespread attack after operational setbacks.

But now the Prime Minister appears to have been vindicated. The international community has fallen in behind his call at the United Nations and British forces are playing their part in an international force to defend the Libyan people on humanitarian grounds.

Long after it ceased to be fashionable, Mr Cameron made no secret of his admiration for Tony Blair’s decisive style of leadership, while making it clear that he had little enthusiasm for “Blair’s wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now the Prime Minister has committed Britain to a “liberal intervention” all of his own against Colonel Gaddafi. The irony has not been lost on Number Ten.

Countries voting on the UN no-fly resolution for Libya

The UN voted largely in favour of a no-fly zone with five abstentions

However there is clear evidence that lessons have been learnt. This time a full UN resolution has been secured. It authorises all necessary means but crucially, excludes the commitment of Western ground troops. What’s more, this time, France is on board and the EU is giving support.

In that diplomatic respect this conflict in North Africa is more like John Major’s war in the Gulf to liberate Kuwait, than the controversial post 9/11 conflict. Significantly some advisors from that period have returned to work in Number Ten.

Mr Cameron is also lucky in the newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff Sir David Richards – an experienced can-do soldier, who donned battle fatigues for this weekend’s Cobra meetings. Sir David was one of the first to argue that a no-fly resolution would not be sufficient to do the job. His influence can be seen in UNSCR 1973.

So far this conflict seems to have played to two of Mr Cameron’s strengths. First his communication skills have so far succeeded in uniting rather than dividing the nation behind military action.

Secondly his “chairman not CEO” style – has allowed disparate views to coalesce around his viewpoint, eventually.

But there is a great threat to his leadership. Mr Cameron makes no secret that he wants regime change, but the UN resolution does not include the ousting of Colonel Gadaffi.

If a wounded and vindictive Gaddafi lingers on in power, the Prime Minister may find his judgement being questioned all over again.



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