The attitude of the Cameron administration is just anti-Gaddafi enough to annoy him (and we saw from the Swiss affair that he will up the stakes when annoyed) but not anti-Gaddafi enough to damage him. He'll get the worst of both worlds. As Machiavelli put it :
"Men avenge slight injuries, but not grave ones"
The above analysis is based on the fact that Cameron's anti-Gaddafi moves (freezing assets, stopping arms sales, verbal condemnation) were all carried out in those days a few weeks back when bien-pensant opinion was that Gaddafi was doomed. Therefore he was jumping the gun, it's another Cameronian cock-up by a man better at posturing than governing, and BP and BAE (along with innumerable Libyans) will pay the price. Not only that, but he's sold off Ark Royal and scrapped the Harriers. If we did want to play rough with him, we haven't many options beyond a strongly worded diplomatic note other than a thermonuclear strike, a possibility which I think we can thankfully ignore.
But ho ! What is this ? By financial blogger John Hempton, a man with penetrating analysis when it comes to following the money. Total is the French oil company with close links to the French state.
"...it comes as a big surprise to see Total (ahem the French Government) recognizing the Libyan rebels as a legitimate nation and exchanging ambassadors. France does not sell arms to rebels or terrorists. Recognition of the rebels as a nation is a basis for supplying them weapons. France has gone further and is the major proponent of a no-fly zone. It has also advocated bombing Libya.And, as Mr Hempton points out, British policy is not so far away from French.
Given the very substantial French oil interests in Libya it is absurd to think that Sarkozy (first and foremost a French Nationalist) did this without either the tacit acceptance of Total or without Total's interests in mind. France is not keen to go to war (even with jets and no casualties) in support of American oil companies. They think differently about their own oil companies."
Now he's making me think again. Could it be that Cameron and Sarkozy have a cunning plan ? It would run contrary to Cameron's current performance, but the past is not necessarily a guide to the future and I suppose it's just theoretically possible. I'd like it to be true, but I think I'm entering into the realms of fantasy, as Captain Mainwaring would say. I think Mr Hempton and I differ on what a "French nationalist" might look like, too - I'm not at all sure Sarko falls into that category.
UPDATE - if it's a cunning plan, it doesn't seem to have persuaded any of "our European allies".
Cameron tried and failed to have an explicit reference to no-fly zones and Nato in the summit statement... Merkel said Germany would not become "a party to a civil war in North Africa" and refused the British wording.I suppose Sarkozy could always go it alone, arming the rebels and taking out a lot of Gaddafi's hardware. France probably has the military muscle. It would look somewhat obviously like an oil grab, though - and what of the currently out-of-the-news banlieus ? World opinion wouldn't like it either, though I'd discount Merkel's protests. After all, what can she do - invade Belgium ?
The disputes also involved the French president, who sounded defensive afterwards. Sarkozy's decision on Thursday to recognise the rebel leadership unilaterally was especially contentious, heavily criticised by east Europeans and by Merkel.