Jonathan Tobin is right that Britain and France’s new-found willingness to let Muammar Qaddafi remain in Libya represents a humiliating down-sizing of NATO’s objectives. Whether it amounts to a defeat, as Jonathan suggests, remains to be seen. Much would be determined by the sort of conditions Qaddafi would agree to if he stayed in Libya. Would he truly divorce himself from politics, as Britain and France demand, or would he try to manipulate the government from the sidelines?
He would not pose a major threat if he were removed in the way Hosni Mubarak was removed in Egypt, with the onetime dictator going into internal exile and concentrating on fighting various ailments and charges of corruption. But we are a long way from that happening. The priority now for NATO must be to get Qaddafi to step down, period; whether he remains in the country or not should be a secondary concern.
The fact that Britain and France are seeming to relax their stand on Qaddafi is a sign of NATO’s failure to achieve that objective so far. But that failure need not be permanent. All that may be required to turn around a stalemated war effort and produce a breakthrough would be a bigger American commitment. But that would require Obama to modify his “lead from behind” doctrine.