Remember 2003?  After the 9/11 attacks, the US decided that it couldn’t wait for rogue states to conduct attacks before taking action to disarm them, especially those with WMDs who had used them in the past, such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  After spending twelve years trying to get Hussein to comply with both a cease-fire and a series of 17 UN resolutions, George Bush went to the UN for a specific resolution authorizing military force aimed at dislodging the Hussein regime from Iraq.  France, however, balked at the notion of such cowboy diplomacy, and when eastern European nations rallied to Bush’s side, Jacques Chirac informed the EU’s newest members that they had missed an excellent opportunity to keep their mouths shut.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:

The French defence minister has suggested a new UN Security Council resolution may be needed for Nato allies to achieve their goals in Libya.

Gerard Longuet was speaking after a joint letter by the US, UK and French leaders said there could be no peace while Col Muammar Gaddafi was in power.

The current UN resolution makes no mention of regime change.

Not only do the French recognize that the current mission objectives do not meet the existing UN mandate, they want the UNSC to consider adopting a new resolution that does, although they put it somewhat passive terms:

Speaking on French radio, Mr Longuet conceded that ousting Col Gaddafi would be “certainly” beyond the scope of the existing UN Security Council resolution 1973 on Libya, and could require a new council vote.

“Beyond resolution 1973, certainly it didn’t mention the future of Gaddafi but I think that three major countries saying the same thing is important to the United Nations and perhaps one day the Security Council will adopt a resolution.”

The Western leaders have made the goal of regime change more explicit, even if they’re still struggling on whether to actually do enough to accomplish it:

The leaders of Britain, France and the United States said a Libyan future including Moamer Kadhafi is “unthinkable”, as the defiant fist-pumping strongman toured the streets of Tripoli. …

On Thursday, differences between world powers over how to deal with the Libyan crisis began to widen when the BRICS group — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — urged that “the use of force should be avoided.”

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev went further, arguing that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 did not authorise military action of the kind being carried out in Libya by attack jets from NATO and some Arab countries.

Longuet brushed aside this widening divide in the international community, arguing that Russia, China and Brazil “will naturally drag their feet.

“But which of the great countries can accept that that a head of state can resolve his problems in training cannon fire on his own population? No great power can accept that,” he argued.

Unlike in Iraq, this would almost certainly be a war for oil, which is still not an illegitimate issue in the conflict.  Europe has obviously gone all-in for regime change, or at least as all-in as Europeans will go on any military action.  If they end up leaving the Gaddafis in power, they can kiss that flow of Libyan oil good-bye, and watch it go to China or India instead.  They get a significant amount of their energy resources from those fields, which is one of the reasons the British government played Let’s Make A Deal with the Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.  They can’t afford to see those resources disappear.

The contrasts between this situation and Iraq are striking.  Hussein had already conducted a genocidal campaign against the Kurds with chemical weapons, took away water from the Marsh Arabs, and violently suppressed Iraq’s Shi’ite majority.  The US and UK spent twelve years trying to get Hussein to voluntarily comply with UN resolutions, and in the end the UN refused to give the US and UK a mandate for intervention — largely due to France.

The similarities?  France had deep economic interests in Iraqi oil, which Hussein allowed to flow to them while pocketing a fortune through the Oil-for-Food Programme, and they have deep economic interests in Libyan oil, which Gaddafi would probably burn now rather than sell to the French.

Ironically, the US under Barack Obama would probably prove to be an obstacle to this attempt to get a regime-change mandate at the UN.  If Obama backed it, that would put the US on the hook for its eventual success or failure.  As we have seen in the past couple of weeks, NATO turns out to be mainly ineffective at conducting serious military operations in the absence of American leadership, and it’s doubtful that the few nations that would participate in a ground offensive against Gaddafi would have the logistical and operational capability to do it anyway.  Obama certainly isn’t going to get Congressional approval for participation in a ground war in Libya, and an attempt to conduct one without Congressional approval might mean an impeachment — and would almost certainly kiss any chances of re-election goodbye.