After weeks of intense diplomatic effort by France and Britain, the United Nations Security Council approved a Libyan no-fly zone and authorized the use of any force necessary short of invasion to halt Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy's armored blitz through the eastern half of his country.
However, as Khadafy's forces have moved to within striking distance of Benghazi, the anti-Khadafy movement's last and most pivotal stronghold, any relief for the nascent popular uprising may come too late to save the rebels.
It has certainly come too late for the anti-Khadafy uprising in Zawiyah, Ras Lanuf, El Agheila, and Ajebadia. Those cities and towns have already been overrun by Khadafy's tanks and mercenary thugs, and the people in those places are even now suffering terrible reprisals beyond the scrutiny of the world's media.
Once Khadafy's tanks and columns of troops enter Benghazi, it will be impossible to root them out with air strikes. The time to act was a two weeks ago, when Khadafy's forces were in disarray, and a comprehensive air campaign to destroy Libya's air defense radars and surface-to-air launchers, crater airbase runways and destroy the largely anti-insurgency air armada on the ground, along with judicious strikes against military barracks and tank depots, would have finished the dictator. The time to act was one week ago, when Khadafy's army was stretched out across the Libyan desert, providing a target-rich environment ideal for destruction from above. The time to act was a day ago, when Khadafy's tank formations were lined up in staging areas preparing to take the last pockets of resistance before Benghazi.
By dawn March 18, Khadafy's tanks might already be in Benghazi, and air strikes aimed at his forces then would only result in death, horror and misery for the wretched civilians the UN claims it to wants to protect.
The United States isn't shy about rushing into conflict on behalf of oil moguls or Halliburton, but when it comes to defending popular movements against tyrants, the Arsenal of Democracy hems and haws and mutters about measured responses and non-intervention. Despite the cries of the Libyan people, the resolve of the usually fractious Arab nations, the diplomacy of the French and our special relationship with Britain, the US had dragged its heels.
Republican US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, late of the board of the pro-Iraq War think tank Science Applications International Corporation, was prominently front-and-center denigrating any possibility of a no-fly zone against Khadafy, and decrying any US involvement in such an endeavor. Gates failed to mention that US air power was uniquely suited to the exact mission he painted as impossibly perilous. American air power possessed sophisticated electronic warfare and anti-radar systems designed specifically to punch through any air defense in the world, let alone the rag-tag forces Khadafy could muster. Khadafy had no air superiority fighters to speak of, especially after the loss of half his Mirages to defectors. His radars and anti-air defenses were not the top tier defenses American and NATO strategic and tactical forces were built to punch holes through. The vast majority of Khadfay's air force was, typically for a dictator, comprised of smaller single engine jets and helicopters designed to bomb and strafe civilians.
Gates and his SAIC neo-cons were the primary architects of George Bush's War on Terror, and counted Khadafy as an important ally. There is no way of knowing whether and how much Gates' previous relationship with Khadafy impeded any move to act against the tyrant. An obvious schism over intervention in Libya split the Obama Administration, with the President and the State Department on one side, and Gates and his supporters on the other.
Just as the US rushed to war in Iraq, the US was slow to respond in Bosnia, and never responded at all in Rwanda or Burma. The infamous "pinprick" air strikes against Serbian positions in Bosnia did nothing to prevent the horrific Bosnian genocide, and the eventual American deployment there came only after the mass graves were filled.
Vital American Interests still means opportunities and profits for transnational corporations, so when it comes to wielding the Arsenal of Democracy's might, a no-bid $4 billion-a-month contract for Halliburton, or preserving the bottom line for Kuwaiti oil moguls still trumps the hopes and lives of ordinary people in places like Zawiyah, or Srebrenica, or even Madison, Wisconsin.
The UN has made its move against Khadafy. Russia and China, always loathe to take action against dictators, deigned to abstain. However, with just a little more foot-dragging from the world's democracies, ordinary people in Libya who dared to dream of a future free from tyranny will be lost, and a blood-thirsty madman who happens to be an oil billionaire will have won the day