Leadership.

France became the first country to formally recognize the Libyan opposition – the Interim Transitional National Council – as legitimate representatives of the Libyan people on Thursday, pledging to exchange ambassadors with the country’s newly created transitional council in a major diplomatic victory for the Libyan opposition…

The recognition comes as European Union foreign ministers meet in Brussels Thursday and defense ministers of NATO’s 28 member states also gathered in the Belgian capital to consider the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Ahead of the Brussels meeting, AFP reported that Sarkozy would propose “targeted airstrikes” in Libya as a way to end the violence.

Reacting to the news of France’s diplomatic recognition, Imane Boughaighis, media organizer for Libya’s Interim Transitional National Council, said the Libyan people were “very grateful” to the French government.

This dovetails nicely with Obama’s let-me-think-about-it-a-little-longer strategy. A quick tour around the righty blogosphere reveals a healthy mixture of contempt for, and disgust at, The One’s passivity, but like I said the other day, I’m all for Europeans taking the initiative here. The age of American security guarantees for our allies is disintegrating along with our fiscal solvency, so they need to get back into fighting shape anyway. A humanitarian intervention targeting Qaddafi’s decades-old air defenses is a productive first step. It’s also a useful test of European unity: If the EU really aspires to be a global counterweight to the U.S. in the west and India and China in the east, let them come together now and do something meaningful to stop a tinpot third-world dictator from running amok among defenseless people.

But even if the political will is there, are they capable of doing it? I’ve been tweeting this idea at military expert (and Weekly Standard contributor) John Noonan and he’s skeptical that the EU, even acting in concert, could put together an effective op. Maybe there are 100 combat-ready jets available between them, and maybe you could stage an operation out of Crete or Malta (carriers are hard to come by now that the British navy has essentially been defunded), but there’s plenty of intel work to be done first and mobile Libyan air defenses are a major concern. The F-22 can handle them, but European jets? Not so much. So an EU-led mission against Qaddafi is probably a non-starter, which means when Sarkozy boldly recognizes the rebel government and calls for airstrikes, all he’s really doing is nudging Obama. It’s good domestic politics for him — showing French leadership in a humanitarian military mission will appeal to the Le Pen “national greatness” crowd on the right and internationalists on the left — but it’s ultimately hollow.

If you’re wondering what the Hamlet of Hyde Park is thinking about all this, one of his advisors said yesterday that we’re working to stop the flow of mercenaries into Libya (she won’t say how) and Hillary is reaching out to the Libyan ambassador, who’s now allied with the rebels. All this while Qaddafi’s air force bombs oil fields and, allegedly, hospitals, with his cretinous “reformer” son crowing, “We are moving now.” As an extra gloss on this, here’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (yes, the same guy who called the Muslim Brotherhood “largely secular”) telling a Senate committee today that, unless something is done, Qaddafi’s going to win this fight. The rebels, for all their courage, are simply outgunned, and the regime’s obviously going to show no mercy. Exit question: Time to begin weapons shipments?