Peter Preston at The Guardian writes:
It’s fashionable already to cluck apprehensively over Libya. Another botched adventure, another unwanted war. Look how much it’s costing – at this rate, more or less your standard Ministry of Defence project overrun before 2011’s out. Why isn’t it over long since? Why, for all his soaring rhetoric, has Barack Obama decided to rest on his oars? David Cameron broods over sending in four Apache helicopters while the BBC lugubriously reminds us that helicopters can get shot down. If you want to confect a stew of gloom, then any old ingredients will do.
But mix a pinch of foresight with your hindsight, and sprinkle lightly with added realism. Libya isn’t Afghanistan or Iraq. It isn’t even a proper war, more a series of skirmishes strung out along a long coastal strip. Oh! TV reporters talk excitedly as though this was some mighty contest between opposing armies, but they don’t even seem to look at their own pictures. In fact, it’s rag-tag stuff on both sides. There are casualties, of course; but the numbers involved seem relatively small. The colonel’s mercenary regiments are brutal, but militarily feeble. Take away air cover and they’re going nowhere. Will four British Apaches – count them again, yes just four! – make a big difference this week? Merely posing the question helps define this mini-conflict. Its costs and its risks aren’t worth so much rumbling angst.
Recent history tells us Muammar Gaddafi is a menace (especially if you’re in a jumbo jet over Scotland). When he vowed to take revenge on the insurgents, these were no idle threats. His first reaction when the citizens of his second city marched for change was to shoot them down. The chief prosecutor in The Hague already thinks that, just like Ratko Mladic, Gaddafi has a case to answer. On 18 March, as the allies finally prepared to move, his troops were driving into the outer suburbs of Benghazi. No hindsight necessary: it was five minutes to midnight. And no shucking off our own leaders’ responsibility, either.
After Tunisia, after Egypt, the word was the same from Obama to Nicolas Sarkozy to Cameron. The US Senate, the European parliament, the Arab League and the UN security council all knew what had to be done. So did Gaddafi’s man at the UN. There was massacre pending. All the usual recourses had been duly employed: sanctions, seizing overseas assets and the rest. But it wasn’t enough. Hundreds – probably thousands – of Libyan protesters we’d directly encouraged were about to get shot. Do nothing? Then or now, with or without hindsight, it’s a no-brainer.