The cards were stacked against Muammar Qaddafi when he vowed Feb. 22 "to purge Libya, inch by inch, house by house, zenga by zenga." Little did he realize how many zengas the top NATO powers would have lost by April in their attempts to bomb him out of power.
NATO members were profoundly divided on Libya when they met in Doha, Qatar, then Berlin Thursday and Friday April 14-15, ten days after taking over command of the anti-Qaddafi military campaign from the US. The cracks were hardly papered over by the joint letter published by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Cameron, to which US President Barack Obama affixed his signature, and which asserted: "It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power."
Obama was forced to admit Friday that the Libyan crisis had entered a military stalemate, while adding that "in the long run Qaddafi will go…" – a mission goal not shared by a NATO majority.
Obama's statement that the US military role in Libya was unlikely to be stepped up turned the tide of war in favor of a Qaddafi victory. British and French appeals for NATO members to contribute more to the military campaign and for US air bombers to return to Libya fell on deaf ears as pro-Qaddafi forces gained zenga after zenga on the ground in Misratah and Ajdabiyeh and won over diplomatic zengas in Europe.
Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced full confidence in the NATO effort, echoing the US president's: "I am very satisfied with the NATO air mission." In other words, no more American military intervention would be forthcoming in Libya.
That brush-off touched off a stream of rejections aimed at London and Paris: Spain said it would not do more and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said very simply: "We have done enough."
Former German intelligence chief Bernd Schmidbauer last week went to Tripoli on a peace mission which guaranteed that Qaddafi would stay in Libya (first revealed by DEBKA file) – contrary to the views of Britain and France. Then, in Berlin, deputy foreign minister Werner Hoyer warned that military action posed a "big risk" that a crippled, divided Libya would become a failed state on the doorstep of Europe with "Qaddafi is still in control of quite a chunk of that failing state. That would be a nightmare," he said.
Canada said that it could not consider increasing its military contribution.
debkafile's military sources report that with NATO constrained from stepping up its air attacks, beyond limited sorties against pro-Qaddafi columns and sporadic bombardments of his ammunition stores, the rebels will have to start counting the days to their defeat. All the Libyan ruler needs to do is to wait until Western air raids fade away altogether. He can then march on the rebel center of Benghazi and either kill the rebel leaders who don't flee in time or take them prisoner and put them on trial for treason.
He may decide to wait out the summer for the sandstorms of early winter to keep NATO aircraft grounded and then force the opposition to surrender; or else he may make a sudden grab for Benghazi before then and andandandand confront the Western allies with an embarrassing fait accompli. With no more than 4-6 coalition aircraft in the sky at any time, NATO will not be able to do much to stop him.
Interestingly, neither the Doha nor the Berlin conferences discussed the possibility of the Libyan rebellion being wiped out or NATO's post-war position.
As for the opposition leaders, while asking for $2 billion to set up a government in Benghazi, they came to the Doha and Berlin empty-handed, without offering an organized military or political plan of action for vanquishing Qaddafi – or even for securing their rule in the eastern half of the country, Cyrenaica.
As the deliberations advanced, rebel voices faded. Neither were they heeded when they called for Libyan cities to stage mass rallies against Qaddafi Friday, April 15.
Rebel claims that Qaddafi is using cluster bombs against civilians in Misratah and that he bombed them with 100 Grads have not improved their prospects. Qaddafi has retaken most of Misratah's zengas and NATO is falling back.