UPDATE 6:45 pm: The UNSC voted 10-0 for a no-fly zone. China, Russia, and Germany abstained.

UPDATE 5:45 pm: I guess when you go to war against someone, you have to demonize them, and it was so today with Secretary of State Clinton, who called Muammar Qaddafi a “creature,” while admitting that an NFZ over Libya would mean bombing the country. Said Clinton:

A no-fly zone requires certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems.… Qaddafi must go. [He is] a ruthless dictator that has no conscience and will destroy anyone or anything in his way. If Qaddafi does not go, he will just make trouble. That is just his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”

UPDATE 4:00 pm: The UN Security Council is scheduled to vote around 6 pm today on Libya, and my guess is that the United States wouldn’t push for a vote unless they were sure that it would pass, i.e., that Russia and China won’t veto. The Guardian reports that military action will begin “within hours” of the vote at the UN. It adds:

“Britain, France and the US, along with several Arab countries, are to join forces to throw a protective ring around the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi as soon as a UN security council vote on military action is authorized, according to security council sources.”

UPDATE 12:15 pm: Russia’s President Medvedev has warned that Moscow won’t support a resolution at the United Nations that authorizes military action against Libya, though it appears that Russia, while skeptical of a no-fly zone, hasn’t ruled out supporting that. But he warned that the resolution that the United States seeks would permit all-out war. “The draft resolution proposes permitting ground operations. But you and I understand what ground operations mean: they probably mean the beginning of war, and not civil war but war involving an international contingent," said Medvedev.

UPDATE 12:00 pm: Some helpful suggestions from Jeffrey White at the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs:

“In terms of military effectiveness, the best option would be one combining limited air strikes against regime air and ground forces, the creation of no-fly and no-drive zones, and the insertion of ground forces to bolster rebel defenses in the east. This would best be carried out by a coalition of forces from the United States, NATO, and one or more Arab states (perhaps Egypt). Such an approach could be initiated rapidly and escalated in stages if necessary. Intervention on this level would likely cause the rapid collapse of government forces in the east, with forces in the west succumbing more gradually. In political terms, however, this option would be difficult to green-light.

“The next best option would involve U.S./NATO forces, along with one or more Arab states, establishing no-fly zones and providing military assistance to the rebels. This would have a significant military and psychological impact on both sides and could probably be implemented more rapidly than the previous option. It would also be easier to manage politically, although not necessarily easy.”

UPDATE 11:55 am: Even as it condones the Saudi-UAE invasion of Bahrain to put down a peaceful rebellion there, the United States has the chutzpah to suggest that if it invades or bombs Libya it will seek financial help from—guess who?—Saudi Arabia. Speaking to Congress, Undersecretary of State William Burns said the next steps that the United States takes in Libya will be done in partnership with the Arabs “both in measures that would be taken and also in the financial support for them.” Burns, too, confirmed that at the United Nations the United States is seeking support for “measures including a no-fly zone but not limited to that.” 

UPDATE 11:45 am: According to Reuters, “The latest draft resolution on Libya under discussion at the United Nations calls for ‘all necessary measures short of an occupation force’ to protect civilians under threat of attack, Britain said on Thursday.” Widely reported is that the United States is considering air strikes.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the United States is pushing to expand authority to attack Libya. “There is nothing now holding them back,” said Hague. "In fact, yesterday the United States proposed a strengthening of the resolution which the UK and France and Lebanon were putting forward together at the Security Council.”

ORIGINAL POST The end game in the civil war in Libya is approaching, fast. At the United Nations, backed by London and Paris, the United States is pushing for authority to attack Libya.

Sensibly, Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican, declared that before attacking Libya the Obama administration must seek a declaration of war by Congress. But Hillary Clinton blithely ignores all that. “We are moving as rapidly as we can in New York to see whether we can get additional authorization for the international community to look at a broad range of actions—not just a no-fly zone, but other actions as well.”

It’s possible, of course, that the conflict in Libya will be over quickly, long before the United States can act, even if it can overcome Russian and Chinese opposition at the UN Security Council. So far, at least, the United States hasn’t said it will act unilaterally.

Muammar Qaddafi’s forces have surrounded Ajdabiya, a rebel stronghold that is just south and west of  Benghazi, the capital of the anti-Qaddafi movement. According to the Wall Street Journal, rebels are using seized planes and helicopters to mount air attacks against Qaddafi’s forces as they move east. It’s unclear if the rebels can hold Ajdabiya, though it seems unlikely, and a battle for Benghazi looms.

As the noose tightens around Benghazi, where rebels are expected to mount an all-out defense, the United States position has shifted suddenly in favor of military intervention. Casting aside its earlier caution, which seemed to reflect a sensible unwillingness to involve itself in yet a third war in an Muslim country, the Obama administration now favors military action beyond a no fly-zone (NFZ).

The British and the French are egging Washington on. “What about American power?” said France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppé. Alistair Burt of the UK Foreign Office said that there has been a “significant change” in the views of the White House: “They realize that something needs to be done beyond the isolation and the warnings that have already effectively been given by the international community.” The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, a liberal interventionist who’s been extremely hawkish on Libya, proclaimed that US action needs to go beyond an NFZ. “The situation on the ground has evolved and…a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians.” Presumably that means that the United States is considering actions from imposing a ban on ground and naval actions by the Libyan armed forces—under threat of US attack—and even military counterstrikes against the advancing Libya army. Anything like that would be dangerous and stupid, and in the wake of the military action by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Bahrain, hypocritical, too.

Added Rice: “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. But the US view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point.”

Obama seems poised to cave in to pressure from neoconservatives who have warned that they’ll blame him for Qaddafi’s survival if the United States fails to attack or invade Libya.

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