Just a blurb on Twitter, but Jackson Diehl’s a longtime WaPo columnist with plenty of contacts, no doubt:
I hear Obama administration has asked for contingency planning on a no-fly zone for #Libya
Let’s hope so, because the White House’s new plan to impose sanctions is so palpably lame as to operate as an admission that they’re not planning to do anything to stop protesters from getting shot. Sanctions would be useful if, like Iran, Qaddafi still had a firm grasp on power; in that case, you’d want to punish him (and ideally weaken him) by starving the beast. We’re way, way past that point now. To see how bad things have become in Tripoli, click here for a video round-up of people bleeding in the streets. It’s impossible to tell for sure what’s happening, but my impression from various news stories today is that Qaddafi’s shock troops are sporadically firing willy nilly into crowds. They’re starting to aggressively take hostages, too; in fact, a VP from NBC News said yesterday that the regime invited them to the capital to cover the story but that they were holding off in case Qaddafi wants to use reporters as human shields. All of which is to say that sanctions will achieve nothing at this point. It’s a symbolic gesture designed to provide moral cover for the U.S. and Europe, not to actually stop the shooting.
As for the no-fly zone, if they’re going to do it, it has to begin immediately. Rebels beat back an attempt by Qaddafi’s forces to retake the areas around Tripoli, and in Benghazi they’re vowing to march to the capital and take Qaddafi’s palace. The final standoff is coming, so if President Present wants to make a difference, he needs to give an order ASAP. Just one question: Has Qaddafi already lost control of his air assets? The Guardian claims that rebels have taken Mitiga air base near Tripoli, which means…
If Mitiga air base near Tripoli is confirmed as having gone over to the Libyan popular uprising it would be a serious blow for the regime close to the heart of the capital. The military base is adjacent to a civilian airport used for domestic and some short-haul international flights.
Mitiga has figured before at dramatic moments in Libyan history. It was a primary target of the US bombing in 1986 — retaliation for Libyan involvement in alleged terrorist attacks on US servicemen in Europe. Soviet personnel were based the during the cold war. Until shortly after Gaddafi’s 1969 revolution June 1970, the US air force used the facility, then known as Wheelus air base.
So even the no-fly zone may come too late, days after it might have prevented demonstrators from being strafed by Libyan jets.
To show you just how close we are to a decisive battle, here’s Qaddafi appearing this morning (allegedly) in Green Square in Tripoli to encourage his supporters to (a) dance and sing (yes, really), and (b) “get ready to fight for Libya, get ready to fight for dignity, get ready to fight for petroleum.” This is his Hitler-in-the-bunker moment and everyone realizes it, with Jay Carney starting to field questions explicitly asking about Qaddafi’s sanity. If Obama holds off and something catastrophic happens, he’ll never hear the end of it.
Update: No word on where Qaddafi is, but his son’s evidently holed up in fantasyland.
A son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Friday that his forces were holding back in fighting with rebels in western Libya and hoped that a negotiated ceasefire could be in place by Saturday.
Speaking in English to foreign journalists flown to Tripoli under official escort, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said of fighting in two western cities: “In Misrata, in Zawiya, we have a problem.
“We are dealing with terrorists … The army decided not to attack the terrorists, and to give a chance to negotiation. Hopefully we will do it peacefully and will do so by tomorrow.”