Just how slippery the political track has become for the West emerged last week when France, a leading nation in the coalition attacking Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, said the Libyan leader could remain in the country if he relinquished power.
The idea floated by Foreign Minister Alain Juppé will be anathema to many in the rebel opposition who insist Colonel Qaddafi not only end his 41-year-old rule but also leave the country.
The notion also looks at odds with a Qaddafi arrest warrant issued by The Hague court for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by state forces against civilian demonstrators.
Mr. Juppé’s remark shows how far Colonel Qaddafi’s resilience has diluted Western ambitions five months after the start of an anti-government revolt and four months after NATO began air strikes.
Then, back on February 24, Mr. Juppe, echoing the aspirations of officials in many Western states, said: “I hope wholeheartedly Qaddafi is living his last moments as leader.”
The more modest the West’s expectations, the better deal Qaddafi may eventually be able to strike.
Foreign powers are eager for a rapid end to hostilities, because they want the oil-exporting nation of 6 million to emerge as a stable democracy rather than fall prey to ethnic or tribal conflict, or become a haven for Islamist militants - both outcomes a prolonged conflict might produce.
Opposition activist and journalist Ashour Shamis said it was impossible to imagine Colonel Qaddafi, a proven survivor who ruled for years under sanctions, remaining in Libya in retirement “keeping quiet and not making trouble.”
“In his mind he is Libya and therefore has the natural right to intervene. So this idea of Qaddafi staying in the country undermines the whole project (or reaching a workable solution). It will create more problems than it solves.”
But Colonel Qaddafi remains defiant. Earlier this month he even threatened to take the war to Europe. His Foreign Minister, Abdelatif Obeidi, said that the government was not in any discussions about Colonel Qaddafi’s potential departure from power.
Some analysts say Colonel Qaddafi is not likely to embrace the notion of asylum in a third country, even if the UN Security Council voted to give him immunity from prosecution.