Days after it might have done some good, UN finally introduces resolution on no-fly zone in Libya

How pathetic is this? The foreign minister of France, which was spearheading the push for a NFZ initially, flatly admitted today that it’s probably too late now. Qaddafi rolled over the rebels in Ajdabiya last night and is poised to utterly devastate the last rebel fortress in Benghazi, so by the time the Security Council passes a resolution and NATO scrambles to begin operations against Libyan air defenses, the entire country may be back in Qaddafi’s hands. (So quickly are the regime’s troops advancing that when Newsweek published this piece last night about a “decisive” battle to come, that battle was already basically over. Already the news has shifted to Benghazi’s defenders “bracing for death.”) Even the rebels know it’s too late for a NFZ: Yesterday they expanded their requests from a no-flight zone to include airstrikes against Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. They’re not strong enough anymore to take him out so they’re begging us to do it for them.

Essentially, rather than tell them flat out that intervening in Libya is too much risk for too little reward, Obama and the EU have spent two weeks jerking them around with stern words about how Qaddafi must go while evidently intending all along to do nothing militarily to help. It’s good domestic politics — the public may like anti-Qaddafi rhetoric but they’re awfully chilly about bombing Libyan air defenses, a necessary precondition to a NFZ — but it’s amazingly cynical.

“It may prove to be too little too late,” says Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It could be of some assistance in creating humanitarian sanctuaries, but if the goal is to roll back Qaddafi’s forces, it is likely to have little military effect, especially with the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on the brink of falling.”

Even though the U.S. is now backing the draft Libya resolution, Danin believes the Obama administration should have pushed harder for action much earlier. “Obama should not have called for Qaddafi to step down if the U.S. was not willing to back up that call with a real sense of an ‘or else’ … consequences for failing to step down.”

The resolution comes amid criticism of the Security Council’s failure to react more forcefully. French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said he is “deeply distressed” by the Security Council’s failure to act and is pushing for the resolution’s passage. But Western diplomats tell Fox News they expect tough negotiations over the days ahead.

France and Britain lobbied diplomats at today’s meeting of the G-8 to at least include a passage about Libya in their final statement — to no avail. (Your quote of the day: “Col Gaddafi, in an interview, said Germany, Russia and China would now be rewarded with business deals and oil contracts.”) Libyan rebels met with Hillary last night in Paris and begged her for airstrikes — to no avail, just three days after The One surreally claimed that we were “tightening the noose” on Qaddafi. I understand the interventionist argument, I understand the noninterventionist argument, but what I don’t understand is the tactic of talking tough while fully intending to let this cretin steamroll his opponents. What does it amount to if not an admission of western paralysis? As Larry Diamond puts it at TNR, “If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?”

That said, and contrary to those on the interventionist side, I don’t think any “lessons” will be drawn from this in, say, Riyadh about how to deal with protesters that weren’t already learned long ago. After watching Khamenei consolidate power two years ago by crushing demonstrators and then watching Mubarak sent into exile after the Egyptian army refused to fire, every autocracy in the region knows how to deal now with its own dispossessed. Letting Qaddafi win reinforces the lesson, but even had we acted against him, there’s no chance of NATO intervention against Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Bahrain or any other friendly regime. If there’s any “lesson” to be learned here, it’s that official U.S. rhetoric on Middle Eastern uprisings is farcically meaningless. We already knew that too, actually, from the White House’s rolling embarrassments during the Egyptian revolution, but in case there was any doubt, this should clear it up. Don’t trust a thing we say about whether X should go or Y should stay or there should be an “orderly transition” from X to Y over the span of blah blah blah. We don’t mean a word of it. We’re simply following events and trying to pander simultaneously to the democracy and “stability” factions in the region.