Qaddafi Charges Raise Stakes for U.S. Leadership on Libya: View

The chances of a diplomatic resolution to the war in Libya are now close to zero.

Today, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants on charges of crimes against humanity for the country’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, one of his sons and his intelligence chief, who is also his brother-in-law.

Although there was little evidence Qaddafi and his cronies were considering political exile abroad before, the threat of arrest makes it even harder to imagine they would do so now. There is no precedent under international law for giving Qaddafi immunity as part of a mediated, peaceful solution -- and he is unlikely to accept such a proposal.

That leaves very few possible outcomes. From Washington’s standpoint, there are several acceptable alternatives: The Libyan leader could be killed by an airstrike or by one of his loyalists; alternatively, he and his security forces might be defeated by the rebels who control the east of the country.

But there is also another, less palatable, possible outcome: that Qaddafi and his cohorts could outlast the rebels and NATO forces, and survive for a long time in the part of Libya they hold around the capital, Tripoli.

Having made the decision to join the U.K. and France to prevent the imminent slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children by Qaddafi’s forces, the U.S. should step up its involvement in NATO’s air campaign. The sooner Washington takes on a leadership role -- rather than just supporting NATO as it does now -- the sooner this war can be brought to a successful conclusion.

Shrinking Alternatives

Although the original rationale for U.S. military action was the moral imperative to prevent mass murder in Benghazi, U.S. national security interests are now at stake. With Qaddafi having no alternative but to fight for his life and those of his family members, Washington should consider the danger of leaving in power a dictator who has sponsored terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of Americans and had an active nuclear program.

President Barack Obama has said preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups is the most immediate and extreme threat the world faces. Libya is no theoretical case. If Qaddafi were to outlast the NATO effort, Western nations could face a dictator bent on revenge, who may have the wherewithal to bring about that frightening combination.

Washington shouldn’t run that risk. Preventing this will require Obama to make a strong case to a skeptical Congress and American public, but inaction presents an even greater danger.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at