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Can Cameron turn a diplomatic triumph into a military success?

Tim Montgomerie


The newspapers over recent weeks have obsessed with the FCO's supposedly incompetent handling of the Libya crisis (I argued this time, last week that that talk was hugely overdone). Pundits have talked about William Hague losing his mojo. They have missed the big story. Behind-the-scenes Hague and Cameron have been working hard, patiently and successfully to deliver last night's very significant UN authorisation of action to protect Libya's civilian population. There was cheering in Benghazi when a frightened people, yearning for freedom, learnt that the world was not going to look away.

The Times is describing the resolution as "a diplomatic coup" for Mr Cameron. The newspaper's political editor, Rowland Watson, describes Mr Cameron's "intensive round of phone calls to Arab, African and European capitals" as a significant contributor to the passage of the UN resolution. The Guardian's Nicholas Watt is calling the resolution "a personal triumph" for Cameron.

The UN resolution (read it in full) does not allow for military occupation of Libya but as William Hague made clear last night it is wide-ranging; making it more difficult for Gadaffi to bring mercenaries into Libya, delivers tighter sanctions, imposes the no fly zone and gives authority "to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights". Sir Malcolm Rifkind says the resolution will allow air attacks on Gaddafi's ground forces.

Difficult days lie ahead as we go from the diplomatic to the military arena. John Redwood speaks for many Tory MPs in hoping that other nations provide the military firepower. He blogs that France, Italy and Arab countries "are the neighbours with the planes to do the job and the airfields nearby." Some MPs will undoubtedly be making these points in the Commons later, when the PM makes an emergency statement. Other Tory MPs will be urging Mr Cameron to go further. Colonel Bob Stewart on this morning's Today programme became the latest Tory - after Sir Malcolm and Mark Pritchard - to call for arming of the Libyan rebels. The Wall Street Journal speculates that Egypt and America may already be doing this.

Big dangers lie ahead. If Gaddafi isn't deserted by his military and mercenary infrastructure, today could be the start of a long period in which the international community will be policing a divided Libya. Worse, bombing Gaddafi's forces from the air may prove inadequate and they may still recapture Benghazi. Britain and France were right to seek this route, however. The greater danger was to do nothing and for the Arab world to feel betrayed by the great powers and for Libya to become a failed state on Europe's southern border - becoming a new base for the export of terror and human misery.

PS The BBC's Mark Mardell is spinner-in-chief for Barack Obama this morning - blogging that the White House deliberately held back so that US leadership wouldn't frighten the horses. This really is nonsense. Obama's administration was paralysed with divisions over the last fortnight. Mardell has been fed post-event rationalisation and he should know better.


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