The three leaders have penned an war-hawking op-ed that has an especially heavy dose of the kind of double-speaking horse-hockey inherent to the genre.
First, there's this:
Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force.
Alrightee. Then two paragraphs later, there's this:
so long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good.
To summarize: The goal of this mission is not regime change, but the mission will continue until there's regime change. Clearly, this mission extends far beyond what the U.N. mandate allows. It's illegitimate, in others words. Illegal, in still other words. Actually, the mission exceeded its mandate from the U.N. once the US-NATO forces essentially became the air force for one side in a civil war. That was inevitable: mission creep was baked into the mission.
So what we're headed for, it seems, is years of a Western-led "no-fly zone" that aims to pressure Gaddadfi, as by magic, to depart. No one is able to explain how that is likely happen. There'll be an uprising in Tripoli, yeah that's it. No, there'll be a coup. Or something. Saddam, of course, endured a no-fly zone and sanctions for years and eventually "had" to be taken out. Air power doesn't remove dug-in regimes; only ground forces do. Part of me agrees with Simon Jenkins: if you're going take him out, Oh Imperial Powers, go ahead and get on with it already.
The trouble with liberal interventionism is that it lacks the courage of its neo-imperialist conviction. It claims to know what is best for the world and glories in bombing to get its way. But when push comes to shove it backs off. So we have just a few bombs on the road to Benghazi, one Tomahawk on Gaddafi's compound, a few shells to terrorise Sirte, a handful of RPGs to keep the rebels from despair. It makes us feel good. If this is liberalism, you can keep it.
The key difference between Libya now and Iraq in the nineties is that in the former, a civil war rages, and it's not going well. There's a humanitarian disaster unfolding in the port city of Misrata. So far an estimated 1000 have died*, and it could well become the sort of tragedy the west intervened ostensibly to prevent in Benghazi.
Leaving the city under rebel control but surrounded by loyalist forces would bring to mind an obvious parallel to Srebrenica. If the Gaddafi government persists, it is exceedingly likely to value the recovery of Misrata much more than NATO will value its defense. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the intervention designed to prevent a massacre in Benghazi set the stage for one in Misrata. Of course, it would have been nice if someone had thought this through before the bombing started.
As Robert Farley suggests, all this was predictable. At this point, I don't believe anyone has any good answers, or even any not-bad ones. It's hard not to conclude that a) the west truly is committed to regime change: can you conceive of them allowing Gaddafi to to remain? b) to achieve that end, sooner or later, they will have to massively escalate.
* Human Rights Watch has other info:
Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government. Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.
So the "good" news is that a massacre of civilians may not be the offing. On the other hand, the fact that Gaddafi is carefully targeting rebels suggests that the predictions of mass slaughter -- the stated reason for war -- may have been overblow.