James Forsyth James Forsyth

Politics: Will Gaddafi’s fall go to Cameron’s head?

David Cameron’s public utterances often appear to have been crafted to make him sound as much like Tony Blair as possible. 

David Cameron’s public utterances often appear to have been crafted to make him sound as much like Tony Blair as possible.

David Cameron’s public utterances often appear to have been crafted to make him sound as much like Tony Blair as possible. But when he discussed the fall of Tripoli on Monday, he was trying to do the opposite. There was no democratic triumphalism, no paeans to liberty and no kaleidoscopes being shaken. Instead, he emphasised the post-conflict planning that had already gone on and warned, ‘no transition is ever smooth or easy’. The subtext was clear: ‘Libya is not Iraq, and I am not Blair.’

Iraq was meant to have put the public and politicians off foreign adventures for a generation. But Britain ended up getting involved in another, new military intervention in Libya even before the inquiry into the Iraq war reported its conclusions.

Tellingly, this Libyan operation was London’s — and Paris’s — idea: the Americans would not have intervened if it had been left up to them. The campaign has provided proof, were it needed, that Britain remains an expeditionary nation keen on shaping the world.

Yet the legacy of Iraq has shaped the contours of the Libyan mission. From the outset, the government knew that this couldn’t be another Western operation which led to British troops trying to keep the peace on another set of Middle Eastern streets. As a consequence, there has been a determination to secure Arab support for Nato’s mission, and ensure that the West expresses its support for the rebels with Tomahawk missiles rather than boots on the ground.

Cameron is determined not to repeat what he perceives as Blair’s foreign policy mistakes. He has thrown himself into the role of winning and maintaining Arab support.

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