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James Hanson
Upper Sixth
Moberly's House

Those who say Libya is Cameron’s ‘Blair moment’ are missing the point

Those who say Libya is Cameron’s ‘Blair moment’ are missing the point

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how David Cameron’s previously pragmatic, real-politic approach to foreign policy has been hastily ditched as events in the Middle East have unfolded. No one, least of all the Prime Minister, could have predicted such a sudden series of uprisings all in quick succession, and events in Libya in particular have shocked the political establishment to the core. In reaction, the government became one of the first to openly call for a no-fly zone to be put in place, and along with President Sarkozy of France, Cameron has succeeded in convincing the world into a multilateral incursion in order to protect civilians and thwart Colonel Gaddafi.

This has led to some columnists and political commentators to compare the Prime Minister’s sudden diplomatic u-turn with the moment during Tony Blair’s first term in Number 10 when the former Labour leader became convinced that pursuing a liberal interventionist foreign policy was not only morally justifiable, but politically essential. Certainly there are some striking similarities; Cameron addressed the Commons on the need to act in Libya exactly eight years on from the launch of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, and the steely fervour with which the Prime Minister set about lobbying for a UN resolution was reminiscent of the build-up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, this is forgetting one key factor — regardless of the motives of Cameron (whether liberal interventionist or purely pragmatic and multilateral), he has gone about the procedure of a diplomatic incursion entirely differently to Blair. There has been no ignoring of the Attorney General’s advice, no sidelining of the cabinet decision making process, no misleading of parliament and the people, and significantly, this time the United Nations has sanctioned intervention. Added to that, Cameron has presented himself as a global leader, as opposed to Blair’s status as an American follower. Barack Obama has been continually unsure about the advantages of committing forces to another area of the globe, particularly when the President believes progress is being made in restoring America’s reputation in the Middle East. Yet that hasn’t stopped the Prime Minister, spurred on by his beleaguered French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy to lobby successfully enough to obtain the legal vindication for military action.

Of course, it is highly feasible that certain other mistakes from the Iraq War have not been learned. It seems increasingly apparent that the coalition forces in Libya lack anything resembling a coherent exit strategy, and there seems to be much internal dispute within the government as to what exactly the aim of the mission should be, whether humanitarian relief to protect civilians or regime change. Added to this, the recent Strategic Defence Review has raised worries that British Forces will again be badly equipped, a factor that was so abhorrent during the war in Iraq.

However at least we can be grateful that our political rulers have learned the perils of misleading and deceiving an entire nation, particularly over an issue as seismic as war. Whatever we think of the military action in Libya, we cannot complain with the open, frank and completely multilateral approach taken by the Prime Minister. Those who say Libya is Cameron’s ‘Blair moment’ are missing the point.

28 March 2011

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