Analysis: Cameron's Libyan policy is risky

David Cameron
Image caption David Cameron faces little sign of any serious opposition at Westminster

David Cameron is entering unknown and dangerous political territory.

He has already taken one huge political gamble in pressing so publicly for a UN resolution on Libya.

That could have ended in a humiliating rebuff for the prime minister if the United States and others had refused to support him.

But that is as nothing to the political risk he now faces with the involvement of British forces in Libya.

The reason? The shadow of Iraq.

Government sources stress that Libya is not about to become an Iraq Mark Two.

British ground troops, they say, will not be involved. There is a UN resolution and Arab countries have played a leading role in pressing for intervention.

Nevertheless there is no escaping the inevitable comparisons that will be drawn with Tony Blair and the Iraq war. A conflict that destroyed his premiership.


Others around Mr Cameron will be concerned that Libya may prove a draining, distraction from pressing domestic issues and that at a time of real economic pain people may question why Mr Cameron is not focussing on hardship at home rather than allowing himself to be diverted by adventures abroad.

And then there is the uncertainty of how the British public might react should there be British casualties.

In Mr Cameron's favour however is the fact that politically there is little sign of any serious opposition at Westminster to his stance over Libya.

The Labour front bench is broadly supportive - and Labour critics on the back-benches appear to be in a minority.

In the Conservative party, while there are serious reservations among many Tory MPs about the danger of getting sucked into another conflict, such disquiet is likely to be dissipated by the passing of the UN resolution.

Many Tory doubters will also be reluctant to criticise at a time when British military personnel are putting their lives at risk.

Indeed some in Tory circles take the view that Mr Cameron's strong lead over Libya - in contrast, they say, to that of President Obama - could yet rebound to the prime minister's political advantage.

And yet history suggests that foreign affairs can rapidly overtake a premiership. It can make or break prime ministers.

Think not only of Tony Blair and Iraq, but Mrs Thatcher and the Falklands. Or Anthony Eden and Suez.

Libya may be none of the above - but there is no doubt Mr Cameron is still taking a huge political risk.

He is entering unknown and dangerous political territory.

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