As Max Boot implies at Commentary’s “contentions,” we have a fresh data point on what it takes to influence a thug like Qaddafi. It’s worth recalling what did not work. On March 1, the Obama administration communicated the following, as captured by the New York Times:
“Qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters after a special meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. “No option is off the table,” she said, adding “that of course includes a no-fly zone.”
But officials in Washington and elsewhere said that direct military action remained unlikely, and that the moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi and a show of support to the protesters seeking to overthrow his government.
It was observed at the time that the caveat about military action being unlikely served only to cancel out Hillary Clinton’s message. There is no set of rules by which miscreant dictators are bound to take warnings seriously, or ignore the extenuating and mitigating remarks made about them for the benefit of other audiences. Qaddafi didn’t take any of the earlier warnings seriously. But he adjusted promptly to the imminent threat of a no-fly zone.