By Ethan Bronner and David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 12, 2011
CAIRO — The Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council on Saturday to impose a no-flight zone over Libya in hopes of halting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s attacks on his own people, providing the rebels a tincture of hope even as they were driven back from a long stretch of road it had captured in the three-week war.
The extraordinary move by the 22-nation bloc — an extremely rare invitation for Western military forces on Arab territory — increases the pressure on the Obama administration, which has been reluctant to intervene in a war that could turn out to be prolonged and complex.
However, by inviting the West to take such action, it also clears the way for the United States and Europe to press for a strong Security Council resolution and to counter the objections of China and Russia, which traditionally oppose foreign intervention in a country’s internal disputes.
But it was far from clear that, even if action were forthcoming, it would be enough to stall the march of Colonel Qaddafi’s troops eastward to the rebel capital of Benghazi. As the rebels withdrew from the strategic oil town of Ras Lanuf 100 miles east to Brega, and by nightfall on to Ajdabiya, superior government forces pressed their advantage on an insurgency that began as a disparate protest movement and even as it tried to construct a government and an army remained chaotic, splintered and largely leaderless.
The real-politic question here is whether or not China and Russia will abstain from the vote in the Security Council, clearing the way for the coalition of western countries to mount such a move militarily. All indications so far would seem to favour a veto by one or both countries for such a move. Italy, too, has been lobbying both ways, for and against, as one observer puts it, "trying to have it both ways". As a friend of Libya, from whom she gets a large amount of oil, Italy opposes a No-Fly Zone; yet, on the other hand, as a member of EU, she wants to be part of the community of nations seeking redress for the people of Libya.