NATO, meanwhile, can't agree on the contours of the operation's command structure, which Obama wants to be minimally American.
Is this any way to run a war?
It's not without precedent. Bill Clinton's response to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia nearly 20 years ago was largely improvised in its early stages. Call it the liberal way of war. But even by "progressive" standards, Libya is a muddle. No clear objective. No measure of success. No congressional authorization. No sense of how we pay for this, if the conflict becomes prolonged. The House of Commons at least endorsed Great Britain's action. Congressmen as diverse as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are right to be outraged by this.
While the Balkan crisis is a less-than-perfect analogy to the situation in Libya, it offers a suggestion for resolution. In Bosnia, the goal was to remove Slobodan Miloševic. Finnish diplomats were engaged behind the scenes to negotiate Miloševic out of power, while NATO aircraft pounded away from the air. It took time, but it worked.
A back channel should be immediately established with Qaddafi. For that to have any chance for success, however, the allies must meet with more success than is apparent.
Tribal realities undergird Libyan society, a fact Western interventionists do not seem to sufficiently appreciate. The danger of Iraq-style internecine warfare between competing interest groups is real. The West will call it civil war. The Libyans will call it hell.
The bottom line is this: Obama's action certainly avoided a massacre in Benghazi, and that's to be applauded. Moving forward, policy makers should proceed with caution, as should the general public, as it tries to make sense of a bedevilingly fluid situation.
: The Editorial Page
, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Afghanistan, More