The United Nations Security Council must take "swift and meaningful action" in Libya, the US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said yesterday. "Swift", however, is a strange way to describe the American response to the crisis so far.
While the US may have been justified in its reluctance to avoid directly intervening in Libya, it has articulated its position so poorly and delivered so many conflicting messages that it is impossible to call their actions "meaningful".
It is also not a case of "better late than never", now that the US has voiced full-throated support for a no-fly zone over Libya. Across Libya's coast Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's armies have either routed the rebels or forced them to retreat. There were glimmers of hope yesterday as armies loyal to the Libyan leader encountered fierce resistance on their way to Benghazi, but the rebel stronghold on Libya's eastern coast is quickly becoming the opposition's last refuge.
The argument that air cover is all the rebels require to put an end to Col Qaddafi's four decades of rule in Libya is no longer plausible; their needs are far more extensive today than they were two weeks ago.
The risk of reprisals against the regime's opponents grows. It is no longer a question of how many days Col Qaddafi has left, but of how long it will take him to consolidate power in the towns and cities he has now reclaimed. Vengeance and brutality don't require air power.
The window when a no-fly zone would have been a meaningful solution has closed, although the GCC was right to voice its support for it two weeks ago when it might have effective. Now Gulf nations can play an even more meaningful role in the coming days as the international community urgently considers how to proceed. Organisations such the Arab League and African Union also must play an essential part, one that is no less important now that Washington has expressed a greater willingness to act.
The international community should not have to be reminded of Col Qaddafi's violent and unpredictable history. His henchmen have killed dissidents abroad, sponsored the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin and perpetrated the terrorist attack of a commercial aircraft over Scotland. Col Qaddafi is more likely to revert to form as there is now no reason or incentive for him to keep up appearances. Confronting Libya has become more difficult, but that hasn't made it any less necessary.