No help for Libya from President Obama

Friday, February 25, 2011; 9:39 PM

MOAMMAR GADDAFI'S deadly grip on Libya appeared to slip further on Friday - but the tyrant still had plenty of fight left. After his troops opened fire indiscriminately on crowds emerging from mosques after Friday prayers, Mr. Gaddafi appeared in the center of Tripoli to deliver another speech laden with bloody threats to make his country "a living hell." The aim of the outside world ought to be to stop him from delivering on that vow and to hasten what is now the inevitable end of one of the world's worst dictatorships.

Libyans, above all, understand the urgency of acting. A large part of the Libyan diplomatic corps has defected in recent days, including the delegation to the United Nations. At the Security Council on Friday, ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam wept as he pleaded for international intervention. "Gaddafi is telling his people either I rule over you or I will kill you," he said. "Please U.N., save Libya." Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for "decisive action," saying there had been massive violations of human rights.

Sadly, there was little sign that such action was under serious consideration. Among the NATO allies, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the most determined. "France's position is clear: Mr. Gaddafi must go," he said. France, joined by Britain, began pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose an arms embargo on Libya as well as financial sanctions and ask the International Criminal Court to bring Mr. Gaddafi and other leaders to justice.

There was, however, no action by NATO and no move toward establishing the no-fly zone that Libyan diplomats requested, other than some preliminary planning in Brussels. The military support for insurgent leaders suggested by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) seemed out of the question. That's largely because the nation that has always led such initiatives - the United States - was standing back.

At a news conference on Wednesday, President Obama said his administration was considering "the full range of options" for Libya. But by late Friday the most notable measure he had announced was the dispatch of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a discussion at the feckless and discredited U.N. Human Rights Council - on Monday. His spokesman said unilateral U.S. sanctions were being prepared. While China has sent a frigate to Libya to protect the evacuation of its citizens, no U.S. naval operations are underway.

Mr. Obama has spoken only once in public about the Libyan crisis. He has yet to condemn Mr. Gaddafi by name. He has not called for an end to the regime. He has expressed concern about protecting U.S. citizens - most of whom were evacuated from Libya on Friday - but has showed no intention of protecting the Libyans whom Mr. Gaddafi is slaughtering. The White House appears content to allow France and other nations to take the lead. But the reality is that as long as the president of the United States remains passive, the help Libyans are begging for will not come.

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