Just last month, David Cameron declared that you “can’t drop democracy from 40,000 feet.” He’s right. It’s more like 400 feet: this is the cruising altitude of the 112 Tomahawk missiles fired from British and American submarines earlier this evening, low enough to dodge Gaddafi’s radars and take out some 20 targets. Given that Obama and Cameron have both ruled out ground forces this will be, as Kosovo was, a bombing-only campaign. And launched on the eighth anniversary of the Iraq war.
The US Navy, which was always itching to proceed with the no-fly zone, is now leading the operation; hence its briefing, on CNN, above. There is one British submarine and 11 other US warships in the region. There are Arab countries involved, but they’ve asked the Americans not to name them – they want to confirm this themselves. The French jets were the first over Libya – but it seems that Sarko sent them without telling everyone, just to get the headlines. As Janine di Giovanni says in this week’s magazine, he came third in a recent opinion poll and he has re-election next year. The Pentagon says it’s keen to hand over military command once the Navy has discharged its missiles. The Americans intend to send a drone spyplane over Libya at dawn tomorrow to assess the damage.
The New York Timesreports a rumour that Sarko even stopped bombing on Friday so action could start when Cameron and Hillary Clinton were meeting him the Elysee.
As I say in the News of the Word today, Cameron has shown leadership and clarity that the world will not forget. He was laughed at: the Pentagon denounced “loose talk” of a no-fly zone and the EU rejected it last week. Then the Arab League adopted it, the UN did too and now it seems to be generally accepted, with only the Russians sounding off.
Just for once, Cameron says, the West can prove it’s promoting democracy and freedom: not just cheap oil. As Admiral Gortney says in the clip, this is just the first phase of a multi-stage effort. What comes after Operation Odyssey Dawn is anyone’s guess.