Bad and badder

A senior Libyan has pleaded for U.S. intervention as Khadafi refuses to quit. "In Tobruk, Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmoud, who defected Sunday from his post as the commander of the local army garrison ... urged the U.S. and other powers to support the uprising and not to allow their interests in Libya's petroleum reserves, Africa's largest, to keep them sidelined." The UN Security Council demanded an "immediate end to the violence"; the Arab League suspended Libya and the EU -- with Italy and Malta dissenting -- called for sanctions, but only the maligned and despised United States has the capability to intervene.

U.S. intervention. Can it? Should it?  The answer to the first is yes and the answer to the second is: why? Simon Henderson and David Schenker, writing at ABC News, suggest a "no-fly zone" to ground the Libyan air force but predict that when the smoke clears, the Islamists are likely to emerge at the top of the heap:

If the crisis continues, the country's long-repressed Islamist movement could benefit. Led by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the movement has an impressive history of supporting jihadist causes, having worked with al-Qaeda for more than a decade. Since 2003, Libya has been the second-leading source (after Saudi Arabia) of insurgents entering Iraq via Syria. And not coincidentally, a plurality of these jihadists hailed from Darna, the epicenter of the rebellion. More recently, al-Bayda --a village not too far from Darna -- was declared an "Islamic Caliphate" by the locals following its liberation this week.

So caught between a rock and hard place, the New York Times, perhaps reflecting the administration's desire not to be seen as abetting Khadafi's bloody reprisals yet afraid to act to unseat him, describes officials talking out loud, like Hamlet deciding whether or not he should act:

Mrs. Clinton said the United Nations Security Council was the proper place for further action against Libya. After a day of debate on Tuesday, the Security Council condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrators in Libya and called for those responsible for such attacks to be held to account. Mrs. Clinton said that the situation on the ground was still too murky to make a judgment. “As we gain a greater understanding of what is actually happening,” she said, “we will take appropriate steps in line with our values, our principles and our laws.” She noted that communications were largely shut down.

Among the steps the United States could take, analysts said, would be to reintroduce the sanctions it imposed on Colonel Qaddafi, starting in the 1970s, for state-sponsored terrorism, most notably the bombing of a Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland. It lifted the sanctions after Libya renounced terrorism.

An even more drastic step would be instituting a no-flight zone over Tripoli to prevent warplanes or helicopters from shooting at protesters. But NATO planes would likely have to enforce such a ban, and analysts said the alliance was unlikely to take such a step without a much greater escalation of the violence.

Administration officials said drafting a United Nations sanctions resolution would take time, since the Security Council would have to prove a case against Libya — something that could be difficult, given the chaos on the ground.