Is stalemate in Libya such a bad thing?

Stalemate looks bad: It makes NATO seem ineffectual. Stalemate also sounds bad, which is why nobody publicly defends it. And yet plenty of people, at least in the United States and Britain, are perfectly happy with their Libya policy, even if they never say so. They do give hints: A couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton declared that “time is working against Gaddafi.” The Libyan leader, she argued, will never again be able to establish control over the country. Instead — or so the theory goes — sanctions will begin to bite, food and fuel shortages will grow, his followers will grow restless, and his cronies will defect. Thus without direct Western military intervention, Gaddafi will be overthrown, the rebels can claim victory and NATO will disappear into the night. In Europe last week, President Obama told his counterparts, in effect, that this is his plan. He even urged officials from countries not in the military coalition to join, so as to be “on the right side” when the colonel’s regime collapses.

There is another piece to this argument, also never publicly stated: If time works against Gaddafi, time also works in the rebels’ favor. Time lets the rebels develop politically, giving them a chance to think about what they might want to become. Time lets them develop foreign contacts and a supply chain: Ships carrying supplies are docking in Misurata, which wasn’t possible a few weeks ago.

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