Amazing. By Tuesday night, Qaddafi had already rolled over multiple rebel towns and was laying waste to Ajdabiya, which was the last stop before Benghazi. As far back as March 11, four days before his revelation that sanctions wouldn’t be enough, I was wondering how Obama could possibly say we were “tightening the noose” on Qaddafi when he’d been advancing steadily against the rebels by that point for a solid week. Until now, I assumed that the reason the UN waited so long to act was because (a) the traditional diplomatic haggling with Russia and China was dragging on and/or (b) Obama had had a sudden change of heart, for whatever reason, after resolving not to intervene.

But … no. Apparently, intervention was always the next step. It just took until Tuesday, for whatever bizarre reason, for that next step to be taken.

Presented with intelligence [on Tuesday] about the push of the Gadhafi regime to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the president told his national security team “what we’re doing isn’t stopping him.”

Some in his administration, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been pushing for stronger action, but it wasn’t until Tuesday, administration sources tell ABC News, that the president became convinced sanctions and the threat of a no-fly zone wouldn’t be enough.

Already skeptical that a no-fly zone would not have enough of an impact given all the ground attacks, the president met with his national security team from 4:10 pm ET to 5:10 pm ET and asked for more military and diplomatic options, sources tell ABC News…

Rice was instructed to broaden the UN Security Council resolution offered by Lebanon to permit more military might, allowing for the international coalition to stop not just Libyan planes but other Libyan assets such as tanks.

As of 9:40 ET on Tuesday morning, France’s foreign minister already knew that the situation was so dire that a NFZ might well come too late. On Monday night, by 6 p.m. ET, AFP was warning that shells had already started raining down on Ajdabiya and offered this bit of “intelligence”:

The lightly-armed rebels have been pushed back some 200 kilometres by superior forces in the past week and are now only 170 kilometres from Benghazi, Libya’s second city with a population of around one million.

The rebels braced for new attacks knowing they could expect little quarter from Kadhafi’s troops equipped with heavy weaponry and warplanes to which they have virtually no answer.

More than 24 hours before that, by 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Christian Science Monitor was reporting on the collapse in rebel morale as Qaddafi’s troops pushed on mercilessly towards the east. I’m really curious: If sanctions plus threats hadn’t worked by then, what on earth did The One think was going to happen between Sunday and Tuesday to get Qaddafi to stop and turn back? Or is this whole story about dire new intelligence just cover for his own dithering? The only strategic explanation I can come up with is that they knew all along that a no-fly zone wouldn’t be enough and therefore deliberately held off until things got very desperate so that they could push a resolution that would let them target Qaddafi’s assets on the ground too. That makes sense politically — if they had gotten a no-fly resolution right away and then tried to expand it, the media would have gone nuts about escalation and “quagmires,” etc — but waiting that long was incredibly risky. Even now, 24 hours after the Security Council voted, it may be too late to protect Benghazi.

Here’s Krauthammer on Fox last night noting that this isn’t a no-fly mission anymore, it’s basically a no-everything mission.