Again, say what you will about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (I’ll volunteer “He’s like the monstrous antihero from one of Dostoevsky’s novels, except he has tyrannical power over an entire country”), but he certainly is tenacious. It’s just over 5 months to the day that Libyan Army forces deployed to Benghazi mutinied rather than violently-suppress protests there. That development transformed what otherwise would likely have been a close analogue for Syria’s current massive use of force in the northern city of Homs into a civil war almost instantly. Through early March, it appeared the Gaddafi regime was crumbling rapidly, especially to the Liberal Ironist. But then a Rebel offensive against Sirte–Gaddafi’s hometown, the headquarters of the Libyan Special Forces and the last major strategic town preventing a link between the main Rebel territory in the east with the western Rebel-held city of Misurata–backfired unceremoniously but most-consequentially. This led to a Rebel fallback as far as Benghazi, which was only spared a massacre as a result of a hastily-assembled NATO intervention authorized by UN resolution. The Rebels retook Ajdabiya to the south of Benghazi shortly thereafter, though they have fought inconclusively with Gaddafi Loyalist forces for control of Brega, a strategic oil-exporting city, for the better part of the 4 months that followed. Contributors to Wikipedia have maintained a constantly-updated map showing Rebel and Loyalist control of cities and towns in the vast but largely-uninhabited country; this map reveals that the territorial situation there is, with the exception of growing Rebel control around Misurata and throughout the northwestern Mafusa Mountains towards Az-Zawiyah and Tripoli, essentially unchanged since March 26th.
We seem to have arrived at a stalemate.
There is a big lingering question, over the intermediate-term means of helping the Libyan Transitional National Council to consolidate government functions and build a domestic economy. The latter is a necessity, as Gaddafi largely fueled Libyan business (which was a very-centralized affair) on oil exports. Libya’s oil wealth has made it the most-affluent African country–while all along an economy independent of its human resources has abetted the caprices of perhaps the most unabashedly-violent dictator in the World.
Can the Libyan Transitional National Council reach an accord with Gaddafi? The best answer probably came from a Rebel colonel: Not if he intends to remain in Libya, no. The Washington Post interviewed the former Libyan Army colonel in a report on an odd idea recently suggested by well-meaning French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe–that Gaddafi could remain in Libya if he agreed to step down. (The idea is strange because it comes from the minister of a country that, about 220 years ago, made a public spectacle of the execution of its king and queen after a prolonged period in which their fates under house arrest and then imprisonment were uncertain.) Over his 41-year reign (so the colonel’s reasoning goes), Colonel Gaddafi has used tribal patronage, indoctrination, and torture and murder to build-up a likely-small but committed following in those areas of the country over which he has maintained control throughout the current civil war. Parts of the power structure will continue to exist even in the event of a final victory by the Rebels; this would make a Gaddafi who remained in Libya dangerous, as the Rebel colonel argued. He has already demonstrated that he is as stubborn as any of the Arab autocrats that have faced rebellion since mid-December. Now, after a week of Western diplomatic initiatives, he has declared, once again, that no peace settlement with the Rebels is possible. (It is noteworthy, of course, that he negotiated for about a week before loudly declaring such.)
The Liberal Ironist thinks we shouldn’t lose heart over the indecisive nature of the Libyan rebellion; we should embrace it in recognition of the fact that this is as straightforward of a fight between oppressor and oppressed as you are going to find, and that it’s the oppressed who have put everything on the line in making war against an incorrigible tyrant. If we believe in freedom then it isn’t too much to ask to defend it with air power. (In a manner of speaking) it’s time to get religion, people.