After Libya, back to reality for lucky Camo and Sarko
What they gained on the battlefields of Libya will be of no use to them at home
THANK GOD for the Royal United Services Institute. The London-based think tank has declared that those lions of Benghazi, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, were actually very fortunate that their Libyan adventure paid off.
They were "accidental heroes", says the RUSI. The success of the Nato air strikes was down to "improvisation" and "good luck", and the new Libya is emerging despite "big political risk" and "ambiguous command".
What weary backbenchers in London – and Sarko-cynics in Paris – are hoping is that the RUSI warning has come in time to stop the pair turning into Tony Blair Mk 2, advocating expensive intervention here, there and everywhere.
They have reason to be suspicious. Both men have clearly been swayed by the remarkable scenes of adulation that greeted them in Benghazi last week, as their bullish presence at the UN this week has shown.
While the extent to which Obama can act as a negotiator in the Middle East is tempered by his keeping an eye on next year's US presidential election, the French president energetically staked out his position on Mahmoud Abbas's statehood claim, criticising the failure of US attempts to mediate between Israel and Palestine.
A new initiative is needed to help create a Palestinian state within a year, Sarkozy said, and it will come from European and Arab states knocking their heads together – not from the Americans.
As for Cameron, his address to the UN was worryingly reminiscent of Blair’s famous speech Chicago in 1999 when, at the height of the Kosovo conflict, he first set out the 'Blair doctrine' for intervention.
Cameron was on podium-thumping form for his first ever speech to the UN General Assembly. "To fail to act is to fail those who need our help," he said.
"You can sign every human rights declaration in the world, but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?"
Of course, each man is coming from a different place. Sarko is trying to win friends among Israelis and Palestinians after his predecessor, the Arabist Jacques Chirac, burned many bridges.
For Cameron, it is a case of shedding the image of being a diplomatic lightweight. With the canny William Hague at his side, he has assiduously cultivated a more heavyweight approach to international affairs, taking the lead on Libya when many in diplomatic and military circles cautioned against it.
But playing the tough guy on the international stage won't cure economic ills at home. Next year's French presidential election will not be won on the battlefields of Libya.
And even if he never has to buy a drink for himself again in Benghazi, Cameron must surely know that the success of his government will actually be defined by its ability to get the economy growing again while paying down Britain's national deficit. ·
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