On February 22, several days into the Libyan regime’s campaign of terror, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked whether the U.S. was going to stand by while Moammar Qaddafi and his military slaughtered their fellow countrymen.
“Has there been a NATO discussion about this at all?”
“No, no,” Gates said.
“Not even a pre-discussion discussion?”
“No, I think it’s all happened so fast.”
That was two weeks ago. Since then, there have been near-daily reports about Qaddafi killing his own people and using military aircraft to do it efficiently.
On Monday, representatives from NATO countries met in Brussels to review options for an international response to the continued slaughter. And according to U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, those discussions still haven’t started yet. “We're looking at the no-fly zone in a variety of different options. We haven't actually had a discussion yet. The military authorities haven't finalized that planning.”
According to Josh Rogin at the Cable, Daalder said they might get around to it by Thursday.
On the one hand, the lack of urgency might seem alarming. After all, everyone from the Libyan opposition to Senator John Kerry supports a no-fly zone. On Monday, even the six Gulf states in the Gulf Cooperation Council called for a no-fly zone.
But these people don’t know what Daalder knows. Notwithstanding the fact that “military authorities haven’t finalized that planning,” Daalder knows it won’t make any difference.
"[I]t's important to understand that no-fly zones...really have a limited effect against the helicopters or the kind of ground operations that we've seen, which is why a no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn't really going to impact what is happening there today," Daalder said. "And the kinds of capabilities that are being used to attack the rebel forces and, indeed, the population will be largely unaffected by a no-fly zone."
So when NATO defense ministers finally get together Thursday to discuss a no-fly zone in Libya, it seems almost certain that the United States will be at the table arguing against one. But after more than two weeks at least they’ll have found the time to have that discussion.