When Britain and France persuaded the UN to back a no-fly zone, it was in pursuit of a negative outcome: to prevent Moammar Gadhafi from massacring civilians in the rebel-held territories he was set to retake. That did not happen and it is a real gain — but because it is a negative one, it is difficult for the coalition to claim as a victory.
The other gain is more intangible: the signal that intervention has sent out to other despots. The momentum of the revolutions in the Middle East continues, with fresh demonstrations now in Syria. The outcome of all this is far from certain, but had we not acted, the moral of Gadhafi’s victory would have been grim indeed.
These are real achievements. Yet the opponents of intervention have a valid point when they identify the flaws and incoherence of the campaign. In the absence of a political solution, the long-term strategy remains unclear. It is also uncertain who, exactly, is in charge: The U.S. is militarily involved in the mission but has no desire to lead it. As Prime Minister David Cameron says, the best candidate to coordinate this loose alliance of the willing is NATO. Yet Turkey, a NATO member, is lukewarm, while the Arab League is ambivalent towards NATO after Afghanistan.
We should, nonetheless, be prepared for the possibility that the no-fly zone will not be conclusive. We could be in much the same position in a month’s time as now. But that is still preferable to Gadhafi having things his own way.
London Evening Standard (March 24)