At the time of writing, there is a stalemate in Libya. Towns such as Misurata and al-Baida, waypoints between Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west, have been alternately in rebel and loyalist hands. The international community rushed to the rebels' support, then discovered that they were less militarily proficient than it thought, with the result that the Gaddafi regime appears to be regaining its footing. No one seems to know what Nato's mission is exactly: is it to establish a no-fly zone, a no-drive zone, or bring about regime change? Multiple diplomatic efforts are underway to achieve a negotiated ceasefire, although none is having much success, and the Libyan Transitional National Council - the rebel body recognised by France, Italy, Qatar and the Maldives as the legitimate government - has begun to show signs of internal division. A military standoff is a real possibility and even if Nato were to settle on an alternative strategy, such as arming and training the rebels, this would hardly guarantee their success; loyalist forces have considerable reserves of cash and gold with which to acquire weapons, and the country is used to a black economy that would alleviate the impact of sanctions.
LRB 28 April 2011 | PDF Download