An armored column of tanks and artillery and a few thousand troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi formed today at a staging ground in Eastern Libya, poised to launch what may be a final push to wipe out a dwindling rebel army, CNN reports.
Western and Arab nations for days ignored appeals from Libyan rebels to take swift action to clear the skies of Gadhafi's air force. Now it may be a waste of time to impose an effective no-fly zone over Libya since the air campaign has already succeeded, experts complain.
"It be too late," warned former President George H.W. Bush's ex-chief of staff Andy Card. He is part of a growing chorus of critics who say the world has a blown a chance to get on the right side of history by helping to take out Gadhafi.
The Arab League, NATO, the G-8 and the United Nations all failed to take immediate steps to ground Libyan jets and it has allowed Gadhafi's forces to systematically recapture cities and territory that had been taken over by the rebels, as Saif Gadhafi vowed this week.
In Washington, a noncommittal President Obama played it safe and stuck to a policy of not interfering with the Libyan revolution. The French and British governments tried but failed to build a coalition in favor of taking fast action. "When there is a state of emergency ... We cannot wait for a mandate," French commentator and writer Bernard-Henri Levy told MSNBC.
But Obama carefully weighed his options, deciding that he could survive facing potential criticism that his inaction helped Gadhafi remain in power. However, the worst case scenario of Americans getting killed or captured while imposing a no-fly zone was unacceptable going into next year's election, Obama and his advisers concluded.
The ex-top Bush aide Card told MSNBC Tuesday that he would have preferred to see Obama opt for a "more clandestine" way to remove Gadhafi.
Most observers do not see Obama as the biggest do-nothing culprit on the Libyan front. Many foreign policy experts believe the 22 nations of the Arab League needed to take the lead with decisive military action on the side of the rebels, but the organization missed its opportunity to rise above being a lobbying group for Middle Eastern dictators.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) slammed the Arab League during remarks at a Washington think tank this week.
"I'd argue we should have had a no-fly zone earlier but we should have invited in the Arab League. They've got some planes to put in the game. They should have been involved in the game," Rogers said. "If they believe a no-fly zone is a good idea, they should have participated with us early on in the process. It may be too late now."
Arab leaders obviously do not sit out all the revolutions in their neighborhood. A clear example is the unfortunate insertion of about 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to prop up Bahrain's Sunni royals against a lively Shiite middle class revolt over their demands for equal rights.
Middle Eastern scholars are already warning the Saudi/UAE expedition into Bahrain demonstrates that those countries are not only forgoing an effort to find a political solution with the mostly peaceful protesters, but they may be giving the meddlesome Iranians an opening to possibly hijack the democratic movement and turn it into a proxy war with the Sunni oil sheiks.