Skip to Content

Coffee House

Obama backs Cameron on no-fly zone

5 March 2011

11:29 AM

5 March 2011

11:29 AM

Everyone knows that a media narrative is a difficult thing to change. So No.10 must be
annoyed that so many newspapers, from the Telegraph to the Independent, are suggesting that David Cameron’s response to the Libya crisis has been “embarrassing,” and rejected by
the US. But the Prime Minister would do well to stay the course and ignore the media for a number of reasons.

First, just because US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is sceptical about a policy does not mean it is wrong. Somehow, the US Defence Secretary’s words are now taken as gospel in the British
media and the PM is meant to repent immediately. Why? So what if the Pentagon chief has a view? While Robert Gates is rightly respected, he is not infallible. When at the CIA in the mid-1980s, he
made wildly erroneous predictions about the dangers posed by leftist-ruled Nicaragua and espoused policy prescriptions considered too extreme even by the Reagan administration, in one case
advocating the U.S. bombing of Nicaragua. He was wrong then and may be wrong now.


More importantly, his view does not seemed to be shared across the US administration. President Obama told reporters yesterday that he is keeping "all options open," including enforcing a no-fly zone with US aircraft. For her
part, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the administration is actively considering implementing a no-fly zone over Libya.

That is not so different from what the Prime Minister has talked about. Speaking to the House of Commons, Cameron said he had asked military chiefs to work on plans for a no-fly zone. The PM even
caveated the initiative by telling MPs there would be some difficulties enforcing it – but it was important to start planning in case Colonel Gaddafi took "further appalling steps to oppress
his people". So Obama and Cameron both agree that all options should be on the table. If you believe that all options should be on the table it makes sense to begin some kind of planning for
them – which is what Cameron has asked that the military do. I am sure the Pentagon will, or already has, followed suit.

The second reason why David Cameron should be relaxed is this: he laid out a principled stance, which I, for one, am proud of. Would it have been better if he had wrung his hands, said he was sorry
for those killed, worried about what Gaddafi would do, but would mainly take soundings, call some people, speak to NATO allies, sit cross-legged on the floor and pray for peace? The Prime Minister
was right to raise the prospects of a no-fly zone, right to pile on pressure on Libya’s dictator, and right to say that there would be a limit to how many people Colonel Gaddafi will be able
to kill.


Show comments
Close