Outflanked by France

Review & Outlook: Outflanked by France – WSJ.com.

As I have said before: “They are making it up as they go…”

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The battle for Libya is moving fast toward what could be a Berlin-style climax, with opposition forces advancing on Tripoli even as demonstrators in that city are mowed down in the streets and mosques by regime loyalists. From French President Nicolas Sarkozy we heard the clarion call of the civilized world: “Mr. Gadhafi must go.”

And from the American President, the leader of the Free World, we finally heard yesterday—a call for sanctions. Details to follow.

The Obama Administration was missing in action amid the ouster last month of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, and hesitant and erratic when it came to the resignation of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Perhaps that was understandable given that the breadth of Arab revolt wasn’t yet clear, and that both regimes—along with Bahrain—are U.S. allies.

But that can’t be said of Libya’s “Brother Leader,” even after the U.S. made its cold peace with him when he abandoned his secret nuclear program in 2003. Whatever claims Moammar Gadhafi had on U.S. forbearance vanished the moment he began to open fire on his own people. We understand the Administration must take account of the security of Americans in Libya. So too must the governments of Britain and France, which have been outspoken in their denunciations.

On the other hand, the U.S. also has an interest in using its resources and power to prevent the bloodbath that Gadhafi’s bitter-end resistance now promises. For the Administration to stand by and propose sanctions that will have little impact while the regime murders hundreds or thousands of civilians will not endear Libyans to the U.S. when Mr. Obama offers his outstretched hand to the next government in Tripoli.

Mr. Obama’s first instincts in these crises invariably is to declare that the “international community,” whatever that is, must “speak with one voice.” What the world really needs is for an American President to lead.

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