How Cameron's Libya coup could turn toxic
The passing of UN Resolution 1973 creating a Libyan no-fly zone has suddenly created a plethora of possibilities as well as risks for the British government.
In a sense, Prime Minister David Cameron's championing of the plan is pure Tony Blair - it is precisely the type of liberal intervention envisioned in the former prime minister's speech to the Chicago Economic Club in 1999, which put forward a case for dispensing with the usual rules about non-interference in the affairs of another country if its people were being brutally repressed.
Indeed, the new resolution is such a striking example of this doctrine (which was enshrined in changes to the UN Charter in 2005) that many people may be asking why similar plans are not afoot to sweep the skies of Zimbabwe, Iran, Burma, or indeed Bahrain.
Of course that is not about to happen, but the reason it will not is not connected with the political or legal dimensions of this doctrine but with the harsh real politik that determines that one UN Security Council veto power or other would step in to stop something similar happening in any of those cases.
It seems odd that Mr Cameron should be acting this way since he had gone to such lengths to reassure the electorate that he would take a longer and harder look at any case for the commitment of British forces overseas than his Labour predecessors had done.
Of course the new prime minister's message was partly one about not following the United States blindly into military intervention, and he can certainly say with some justice that this initiative has been driven by the UK and France, not by the US.
However, by championing the case for the Libyan intervention when offers of US support have been lukewarm, Mr Cameron has raised the stakes in almost every way.
If the Libyan regime collapses quickly, then the UK prime minister and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy will, quite rightly, be able to claim much of the credit.
It has been clear from the outset of this crisis though that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is not going to skip off in the style of President Ben Ali of Tunisia.
If he is able to survive the next few weeks - with or without airstrikes - questions will soon multiply about the how long the no-fly zone can be maintained, what the price for its lifting needs to be, and whether the US role in sustaining or expanding it will become central.
There are dangers, then, that Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy may be writing cheques that could be difficult to honour.
The idea of a British prime minister dragging America into a new war would be an impressive political feat, and a fertile subject for comedians, but ultimately would probably not do him or US President Barack Obama much good politically in the long term.
These risks are all the more complex for the British government because it is engaged in cutting its armed forces under the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The retirement of Harrier jets and the Ark Royal, that could have been very useful in imposing a no fly zone, has already attracted widespread comment.
Now the RAF is being asked to send its people into battle at the same time that it is making hundreds of aircrew redundant.
The RAF is of course doing everything possible to send endangered aircraft types such as the Tornado, or Sentinel, and Nimrod R1 surveillance planes. It may hope to earn parts of its fleet a reprieve.
So, just as success will offer Mr Cameron the chance of a major diplomatic coup, the
possibility of it not going to plan could be toxic.
It is one thing to act energetically, and independently in ones diplomacy, but quite another if doing so creates for the military taxing additional missions which your own government has undermined their ability to fulfil.