The easy portion - if anything in war is easy - of the Allied-imposed no-fly zone over Libya is now over. Allied forces have control of the air, having knocked out anti-aircraft installations and any electronic centers that controlled them. Moammar Gadhafis forces that were closing in on rebel-held Benghazi have been destroyed or pushed back into cities especially Tripoli where Gadhafis supporters are still in control.
With most of Libyas population in large and small cities along the Mediterranean coast, and separated by open terrain, the Allied missile and air attacks have been as close to conventional warfare as is possible today.
So far, identifying friend and foe and the territory each holds has been relatively easy.
Allied involvement came as a result of a favorable vote (five countries abstained) by the United Nations Security Council, and was implemented with days and perhaps only hours remaining before Gadhafis forces reached Benghazi and the rebels. The resolution included language approving all necessary measures to shield civilians. Gadhafi had been applying his military strength in brutal fashion, with random killing and capturing, and there was every reason to believe that behavior would continue as his military entered Benghazi.
Time was of the essence, and action by the United States and several other countries was warranted. As President Barack Obama said in his address Monday evening, in the recent past there were missed opportunities elsewhere on the globe to avoid large civilian casualties. He had not wanted that to happen in Libya.
But that was the easy part. Now comes decisions as to whether to better arm the rebels, provide organizational and leadership support all of which they need and to use special forces troops on the ground to guide missile and aircraft attacks. The latter was very effective in Afghanistan in 2001.
Those significant incremental increases in Allied involvement enlarge the war and increase the stakes for a successful conclusion.
We are buoyed by signs that Gadhafis rule is coming unglued. A few of his senior officials fled Tripoli early in the fighting, as did his foreign minister more recently. At some point and this may be the Allies greatest hope Gadhafi may be left with only his family and either end his 42-year rule in a blaze of gunfire or accept an offer to be flown out of his country into exile. We are making no predictions.
How to shape the U.S. role in the next days and weeks of this military effort is uncertain. That is the nature of war, and in this case magnified a hundred times by Moammar Gadhafis history of eccentric behavior.
But the Allies, led by the United States and now directed by NATO, did the right thing a week ago to intervene. Too many innocents were certain to be slaughtered.