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Tuesday, March 29, 2011 

The pressure increases.

If there's something ever so slightly imperialistic about holding a summit to decide the immediate future of a country which for now at least has a regime stubbornly refusing to budge, then the assembled great and not so good gathered in London today didn't let it faze them. After all, they didn't actually invite the interim national council to take part, although representatives were certainly hanging around on the periphery, and giving interviews afterwards. Not even our leaders, with the exception of the French, could be that obvious. And indeed, not even our policies are so made up on the basis of the apparent immediate facts on that ground. It's only now, and we've Hillary Clinton's word for it, that we're getting to know the rebels, something thoroughly reassuring considering we've now been spending what is fast approaching 2 weeks clearing the way for them to grab as much Libyan territory as they can.

In fairness to the rebels, they've also started to get their act together. They've issued a not in the slightest bit suspicious vision for what Libya under them will look like, a document clearly not drafted by anyone other than themselves. Suffice to say that should history turn in their favour and they stick to their 8-point plan, plenty of us here in Britain would look in envy at a country with a written constitution, effective economic institutions dedicated to eradicating poverty and unemployment, and a firm rule of law. If you're now reaching for such epithets and terms as jackanory or "and the three bears", then clearly you're just as cynical as I am and should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. The only real pointer to the internal politics of the region and the potential strains on democracy is point 6, with the state drawing strength from "strong religious beliefs" and d of 7, which emphasises the sanctity of religious doctrine.

Where they sadly still look as about as convincing as Ed Miliband on an anti-cuts demonstration is militarily, with Gaddafi's forces tonight having driven them back from the towns they seized at the weekend. It's all well and good issuing rousing and inspiring documents on how Libya will be transformed once the revolution is completed when you're once again on the march; when you're left scattering backwards in panic as the fighters you've continuously predicted will eventually turn against their leader continue to confound those expectations it starts to look thoroughly embarrassing for all concerned.

This of course isn't necessarily a bad thing for the coalition, as it means that once again Gaddafi's artillery and tanks can be picked off from the air without anyone suggesting that resolution 1973's remit is being exceeded now that the rebels are reaching towns and cities that have steadfastly refused to join the rising. It also helps to encourage the decidedly minority opinion that the resolution can be used to arm the rebels, as Clinton suggested would now be actively looked into. For those of us who suggested this was a possible alternative to an intervention, obvious problems as it carries with it considered, it's hardly clear that better arming the rebels would in fact break a potential stalemate: what they desperately need are disciplined, trained and well organised men, with improved weaponry coming firmly second. Having given the impression that they could handle things on their own as long as they were given the necessary air support, bravado and revolutionary enthusiasm taken into account, we now ought to be incredibly careful in just handing over equipment which has every potential to ultimately fall into the wrong hands or even be used in settling scores in the nightmare scenario of the country falling into an Iraq-style state of instability once the dictator's reign crumbles.

Recognise as we must that the intervention stopped a potential bloodbath in Benghazi, the plan as much as there is one, even after today's summit, is that Gaddafi can be persuaded to leave. This seems a forlorn hope when it's apparent that things will have to get much worse for him before exile begins to look appealing, and with the rebels so easily driven back from his hometown of Sirte, where an uprising could persuade him that the revolution cannot be stopped, there is little danger of a mission helmed by Italy or Qatar convincing him to go. Just as there is currently widespread Arab support for the intervention, and as much as our leaders keep insisting that the use of ground forces is not so much as being considered, it remains to be seen whether those who argued for a war on the grounds of protecting civilians are prepared to let someone who has so openly defied their demands to go remain in power. It's still impossible to predict if the entire enterprise will ultimately collapse under the myriad of contradictions that have been inherent in it from the beginning, but the longer Gaddafi stays the more the pressure will increase.

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