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Thursday, April 07, 2011 

Consciences salved, we move on.

It's quite something for a movement to go in the space of six weeks from saying it needed no outside help in its uprising against a dictator, to then conceding it did and desperately calling for it, which it received, to finally condemning those risking their own lives for their sake for not doing enough to "protect civilians".

To suggest that all is not going well in the battle against Gaddafi would be putting it mildly. The longer journalists are on the ground, some of them more battle-hardened than the fighters, the more damning their verdict on the uprising is and the claims which were originally made for how a full-scale revolution was only a heartbeat away (and which I also fell into believing). Any quickly cobbled together volunteer militia is going to be indisciplined and make up in bravery and spirit what it lacks in skill, yet still it seems that a familiar pattern is repeated day in and day out. Rather than digging in or attempting to hold ground, the fighters rush forward in vehicles towards where the pro-Gaddafi forces are, and then as soon as they come under artillery bombardment or even machine gun fire, they beat a hasty retreat, losing men needlessly.

Going by our past record in identifying and then striking properly defined and legitimate targets, it's not exactly shocking that when we catch sight of what appears to be heavy weaponry on the front line we attack it without asking questions, or indeed, despite apparently being told by the rebels that they were going to be moving it there. It does somewhat give the lie to the idea though that NATO isn't being proactive enough, although there could have hardly been more disastrous ways of that becoming apparent. Considering the role of Twitter in convincing the easily led of the overwhelming support for the uprising, it's instructive that the likes of EnoughGaddafi are now convinced that the intervention is going to result in the betrayal of the revolution, as though somehow NATO can simply ignore the facts that have become clear on the ground: that however dedicated and serious the rebels are in their aims, they might not even be able to hold on to the ground currently under their control. What looked like becoming a stalemate could still result in the overrunning of Benghazi, and there's little NATO can do to prevent that from the air without inflicting massive casualties on both sides.

As the more realistic in that city now admit, even with a month's training possibly conducted by ex-special forces it's doubtful they could do much more than hold onto the territory they already have. Putting together a serious challenge to Gaddafi's army would take up to six months of intensive support, something which even if it could be provided by another Arab state could well be in vain. This is exactly why it was so crucial that we had contingencies in place before we began enforcing the no-fly zone; instead, as Peter Beaumont writes, we've moved from one panicky policy to the next.

With the Americans having already effectively handed the entire mission over to the nations which were most keen on the intervention in the first place (ourselves and the French), the consciences of the likes of Susan Rice apparently salved by the prevention of another genocide in an African state, quite where we go from here other than to a ceasefire is unclear. There's definitely no appetite for this to continue for months, not least when it means Cameron being attacked in the Sun for cutting back on defence when we're fighting not one but two wars. That however means that unless the terms involve the removal of Gaddafi, even if only to be replaced by one of his sons alongside some piecemeal reforms, Cameron and everyone else are going to be left looking like fools. And that more than anything else will be resisted to that last.

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