Libyan air strikes are necessary – but operation cheerleader needs to stop
Here we go again. Some of today's newspapers and some of our TV screens are full of gung-ho images of hi-tech western weapons raining down on the forces of as if it was all a video game.
If I were an educated Arab of liberal or conservative persuasion, reading or watching this stuff in any city in Europe or the Middle East, I think I would find it distasteful, even if I was quite happy to see Gaddafi walk the plank.
The tabloids are, as usual, the prime offenders. But our defence secretary, , deserves a runners-up prize for hinting, apparently twice, that it might be a good idea to bump Gaddafi off. The Israelis, who do that sort of thing, never boast about it. Even Fox's staff hosed him down.
No wonder the Arab League is sounding restless this morning. It may be elderly, spineless and reactionary, but it is not so out of touch that it can't see that bullying the unloved bully of Tripoli from 20,000ft can help looking like bullying too. The league is hedging its bets.
There's another problem. Not only are we seen to be in boastful mode again – do we never learn from past excesses in that sensitive region? – but the way the "British heroes go into action" is being reported in some quarters (it is not one of the Guardian's vices) masks two awkward facts.
One is that, though Barack Obama is keeping a well-judged low profile, most of the military muscle being deployed across the Mediterranean is American. No amount of French bluster or British heroism can disguise that.
Just as Germany increasingly connives in hiding French weakness – political and economic – inside the eurozone, the more to hide its own embarrassing strength, so Washington seems happy to let the Europeans take most of the credit (and possibly the blame to come) in the attacks on .
After all, it's our problem more than America's, our gas and oil, our potential refugees, and – in Nicolas Sarkozy's case — our presidential re-election fight next spring in which the French incumbent is currently trailing behind the National Front's Marine Le Pen, the local equivalent of Sarah Palin. Almost alone in the NF condemns the attacks as, I imagine, the BNP does here.
The second problem is that neither the European nor American flank have an exit strategy for this one. Surely, we were supposed to have learned from this mistake in Afghanistan and Iraq? Old soldiers who have fought real wars between well-matched enemies are always saying, " I can take Cairo/Baghdad/Tripoli for you, but what do I do then?"
It's always a good question and several of today's papers are asking it. The optimistic assumption is that Gaddafi will do a runner – perhaps to Venezuela, just like said – and that the disunited opposition will manage to establish a coherent new regime among Libya's fragile civil networks and tribes.
But I get nervous when I hear Gaddafi routinely described as "mad". He may be a monster– I'm sure he is because 42 years in power is always bad for character development – and he may be erratic, but that is part of his power. He's also obviously shrewd in an awful way and is already deploying that tired old "crusader" trope for gullible audiences who don't know that Saladin was the Robert Gates of his day – not Richard the Lion Heart.
So don't write Gaddafi off. He might just manage to dig in and stay put in Tripoli. We can't winkle him out from 20,000ft unless those smart missiles are smarter than they probably are. A rump regime in a divided country with a very uncertain future?
It sounds like a recipe for higher oil prices and more refugees on French and Italian beaches this summer. Don't get me wrong here, I think we had to do something to support the Libyans rebels we had encouraged in the same way we did the Iraqi Kurds and Shia before letting them down in 1991.
But less triumphalism and more sobriety might be a better tone to adopt. It took 40 tonnes of fuel alone to get those Tornedo GR4s to Libya and safely back on Saturday minus their cruise missiles. There's a few bob George Osborne's budget will not be free to hand back to the squeezed middle on Wednesday.