Who Ends the Libya War, the Rebels or NATO?

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Rebels walk to take positions next to a main road leading to Al-Quwalish in the western mountains of Libya during an offensive by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi July 13, 2011. (Photo: Ammar Awad - Reuters)

Like two evenly-matched bantam-weights tiring as they enter the final round of a matchup low on the global strategic undercard in which the crowd has long-since lost interest, NATO and Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are staggering towards the final bell. NATO will keeping jabbing away and win the bout on points, no doubt, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Gaddafi will leave the ring narrowly beaten, but still on his feet — probably claiming he was robbed.

Of course, NATO itself is ostensibly not a contender in the Libya conflict — its bombing campaign is supposedly intended simply to protect civilians in the bloody showdown between Gaddafi’s forces and those of the Benghazi-based rebel leadership who defied the odds to take up arms against the tyrant. But it would be naive to imagine that NATO did not wield the casting vote on when and how the conflict ends, for the simple reason that the rebels are in no position to win — or even necessarily sustain their gains — without continuous Western air support. And the Western powers are clearly signaling that they believe its time to end the conflict with a political solution — one that involves sidelining Gaddafi, but not necessarily his regime. (Some might cynically brand this an “Egypt solution”, given the fact that the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak has not exactly removed his regime from power.)

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