The Libyan intervention has begun, led by French military jets. The attack goes beyond a no-fly zone, striking at Libyan forces in the city of Benghazi, which is under heavy bombardment by Qaddafi’s forces. At least one Libyan tank has been destroyed.

Please consider Obama Takes Hard Line With Libya After Shift by Clinton

In a Paris hotel room on Monday night, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton found herself juggling the inconsistencies of American foreign policy in a turbulent Middle East. She criticized the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates for sending troops to quash protests in Bahrain even as she pressed him to send planes to intervene in Libya.

Only the day before, Mrs. Clinton — along with her boss, President Obama — was a skeptic on whether the United States should take military action in Libya. But that night, with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces turning back the rebellion that threatened his rule, Mrs. Clinton changed course, forming an unlikely alliance with a handful of top administration aides who had been arguing for intervention.

Within hours, Mrs. Clinton and the aides had convinced Mr. Obama that the United States had to act, and the president ordered up military plans, which Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hand-delivered to the White House the next day. On Thursday, during an hour-and-a -half meeting, Mr. Obama signed off on allowing American pilots to join Europeans and Arabs in military strikes against the Libyan government.

The president had a caveat, though. The American involvement in military action in Libya should be limited — no ground troops — and finite. “Days, not weeks,” a senior White House official recalled him saying.

The change became possible, though, only after Mrs. Clinton joined Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council, and Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, who had been pressing the case for military action, according to senior administration officials speaking only on condition of anonymity. Ms. Power is a former journalist and human rights advocate; Ms. Rice was an Africa adviser to President Clinton when the United States failed to intervene to stop the Rwanda genocide, which Mr. Clinton has called his biggest regret.

Now, the three women were pushing for American intervention to stop a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Libya.

In joining Ms. Rice and Ms. Power, Mrs. Clinton made an unusual break with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who, along with the national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, and the counterterrorism chief, John O. Brennan, had urged caution. Libya was not vital to American national security interests, the men argued, and Mr. Brennan worried that the Libyan rebels remained largely unknown to American officials, and could have ties to Al Qaeda.

“Hillary and Susan Rice were key parts of this story because Hillary got the Arab buy-in and Susan worked the U.N. to get a 10-to-5 vote, which is no easy thing,” said Brian Katulis, a national security expert with the Center for American Progress, a liberal group with close ties to the administration. This “puts the United States in a much stronger position because they’ve got the international support that makes this more like the 1991 gulf war than the 2003 Iraq war.”

Allied Intervention Begins as French Jet Strikes Libyan Forces

The New York Times reports Allied Intervention Begins as French Jet Strikes Libyan Forces

President Nicolas Sarkozy said French military jets had begun enforcing the no-fly zone over the eastern city of Benghazi, which is under heavy bombardment by Qaddafi’s forces.

American, European and Arab leaders began the largest international military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq on Saturday, in an effort to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s war on the Libyan opposition.

Leaders meeting in Paris on Saturday afternoon announced that air operations to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians had begun over Libya, as approved by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday. And the French military announced that a Rafale jet fighter had destroyed a government tank near the de facto rebel capital, Benghazi, in eastern Libya.

Earlier in the day, people in Benghazi reported heavy bombardment and fighting, despite an ultimatum from Western powers that Mr. Qaddafi hold to a cease-fire. A rebel fighter, speaking over the phone, described a procession of tanks as well as rooftop snipers fighting for the Qaddafi forces in the west of the city. And a steady stream of vehicles, some bearing rebel flags, was seen pouring out of Benghazi toward the rebel-held city of Bayda, where crowds were cheering the first French overflights.

“Our assessment is that the aggressive actions by Qaddafi forces continue in many places around the country,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said after the meeting in Paris concluded. “We saw it over the last 24 hours, and we’ve seen no real effort on the part of the Qaddafi forces to abide by a cease-fire despite the rhetoric.”

Even as Colonel Qaddafi defied demands to withdraw his military, he issued letters warning Mr. Obama and other leaders to hold back from military action against him.

The tone of the letters — one addressed to Mr. Obama and a second to Mr. Sarkozy, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations — suggested that Colonel Qaddafi was leaving himself little room to back down.

“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans,” he wrote in one letter, read to the news media by a spokesman. “This is injustice, it is clear aggression, and it is uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.

“You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs.”

Colonel Qaddafi addressed President Obama as “our son,” in a letter that combined pleas with a jarring familiarity. “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me,” he wrote. “We are confronting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more. What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”

The initial stage of the military operation will be run by France and Britain with significant American help, including radar planes, command and control, and precision-guided munitions, including cruise missiles and B52 bombers, NATO officials said.

But Mrs. Clinton emphasized that the United States was not leading the effort. “We did not lead this,” she said. “We did not engage in unilateral actions in any way, but we strongly support the international community taking action against governments and leaders who behave as Qaddafi is unfortunately doing so now.”

Limiting the US role to support would be wise, assuming one believes we should do anything at all. Other than provide radar guidance for British and French jets, that decision having clearly been made already, the less US intervention the better.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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