The axiom “better late than never” doesn’t apply in warfare. Long after it might have made a difference, the US has finally begun considering a military strike against Moammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in an effort to save beleaguered rebel forces in Benghazi:
Libyan government soldiers battled rebels on the road to the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday as the United States raised the possibility of air strikes to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
But the international debate on what action to take may have dragged on too long to help the anti-Gaddafi uprising, now struggling to hold its ground one month after it started. …
The United States, previously cool on the idea of a foreign military intervention, said the U.N. Security Council should consider tougher action than a no-fly zone over Libya.
“We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in New York.
“The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone.”
We need to “be prepared to contemplate” action beyond an NFZ? Literally speaking, Rice isn’t even asking to contemplate action, but to prepare ourselves to contemplate action. If it took the US exactly a month into the uprising — and five days after the Arab League unanimously requested a no-fly zone over Libya — to merely think about preparing for contemplation of action, what exactly will be the timeline for making an actual decision?
Whatever preparing for contemplation requires in terms of timing, the window has almost certainly closed in Libya by now. With Benghazi as their last major position and Gaddafi’s military bearing down and willing to reduce it to rubble, the rebels don’t have many options left. The world’s lack of support for the Libyan rebels, other than lip service, has emboldened Gaddafi to use all of his military power against his own people. Without any outside assistance, the rebels are seriously outgunned.
Under those conditions, the people most familiar with Gaddafi’s brutality have to decide whether to align themselves with the rebels as they lose ground, or back the man that the world refuses to stop. It takes almost unimaginable courage to choose the former at this point, and probably at least a moderate dose of suicidal tendencies.
If the US had decided from the beginning that military action was off the table, that would have been a defensible position to take. If the US wanted to impose a military solution to support the rebels, that also would have been defensible. Had Barack Obama seized the moment to lead the West in either direction, at the very least we would have set an example and demonstrated some sort of principle, either Wilsonian defense against tyranny and oppression or a recognition of the international constraints of sovereignty. The lack of leadership and the vacillation on whether to take military action is utterly indefensible, and this thirteenth-hour suggestion that we will now prepare to think about committing our military against Gaddafi after the game is almost over demonstrates nothing but weakness and incompetence.