Faltering resolve in Libya

While Britain, France, and NATO argued over military strategy, Qaddafi accepted an African Union peace plan that called for an immediate cease-fire and allowed him to remain in power.

What happened

Cracks appeared in the international coalition battling to oust Muammar al-Qaddafi this week as Libyan rebels, Britain, and France openly criticized the air campaign that NATO took over from the U.S. two weeks ago. With the Libyan civil war still locked in a bloody stalemate and rebels struggling to hold onto key coastal towns, French foreign minister Alain Juppé called NATO action “insufficient” and urged other allies to share the burden of bombing raids now being conducted almost solely by Britain and France. Rebels complained of poor NATO air cover and admitted they were hesitant to advance on loyalist forces after two friendly-fire incidents last week in which 18 of their men were killed. NATO generals rejected the criticism, saying Qaddafi had adapted his tactics to blunt coalition air power by staging hit-and-run raids and hiding men and artillery among civilians.

As the West squabbled over military strategy, Qaddafi accepted an African Union peace plan that called for an immediate cease-fire while allowing the Libyan dictator to remain in power. Rebels rejected any deal that would leave Qaddafi in charge. “We will not negotiate with the blood of our martyrs,” said rebel national council chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil. “We will die with them or be victorious.” Their only concession, said rebel leader Salwa Bugaighis, was that Qaddafi could leave Libya with some of his ill-gotten wealth. “We have to open a door for him,” said Bugaighis.

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What the editorials said

“Libya is the only country where the Arab revolution became a military struggle,” said the London Guardian, “and for this very reason it may be one of the places where the regime stays put.” The rebels have proven totally inept as a fighting force. And as the conflict drags on and the death toll mounts, international opinion will sour on the war. “All this points to an outcome with Qaddafi and his sons in place.”

That’s why the rebels must start negotiating with Qaddafi as soon as possible, said the Toronto Star. The African Union peace deal was an “unsteady first step” toward a transition of power. But Qaddafi’s willingness to negotiate may offer an opening for his eventual ouster. “Opportunity knocks only so often.” Rebel leaders should “think twice before shrugging off the next peace initiative.”

What the columnists said

The rebels may have rejected the African deal, said Leslie Gelb in TheDailyBeast.com, but NATO leaders would be “dead wrong to dismiss it out of hand.” Instead they should draft a “beefed-up counterproposal” that demands that Qaddafi’s forces pull back to their bases and mandates a U.N. mission to police the cease-fire. If the result is a partition of Libya with Qaddafi ruling one half and the rebels ruling the other, so what? “That doesn’t seem like a terrible outcome when compared to a never-ending civil war.”

Have you forgotten why we intervened in Libya? asked Benny Avni in the New York Post. We entered this war to “tell Mideasterners that we won’t permit tyrants to massacre their peoples to stay in power.” If Qaddafi “even ends up controlling just Tripoli, the Arab Spring will be over. The message to rebels and tyrants alike will be oppression wins.” It’s disingenuous for everyone to blame NATO for the lack of progress, said Anne Applebaum in Slate.com. The alliance was dragged, kicking and screaming, into this conflict by Britain and France, with Washington’s connivance. That’s why most NATO states are refusing to fly missions. “If Britain and France run out of planes, fuel, money, or enthusiasm, then it’s over.”

Qaddafi knows this war is only going to get tougher for the West as time goes on, said Daniel Serwer in TheAtlantic.com. With each day, the chance of more friendly-fire incidents and civilian casualties only increases, as does the risk of the coalition falling apart as Western enthusiasm wanes. That’s why our best course of action is to offer the dictator an escape route. But we should stress that it stays open only “if Qaddafi and his family take advantage of it soon.”

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