The strategy of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best in Libya might actually be working. News broke this morning that one of the Qaddafi regime's "most trusted envoys" is in London for talks "amid signs that the regime may be looking for an exit strategy." That comes as top U.S. officials indicated they would almost certainly not provide arms to struggling rebel forces in the country.
Mohammed Ismail, a senior adviser to Muammar el-Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, has been in London for a few days, quietly meeting with officials there. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper described him as a "key fixer" for Saif al-Islam, and quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying, "There has been increasing evidence recently that the sons want a way out."
Of course, that may be wishful thinking, as the last two trips abroad by Libyan officials have ended in defections, not exit strategies. Foreign minister Moussa Koussa defected to Britain on Wednesday and Ali Abdussalam el-Treki, a former foreign minister and United Nations ambassador landed in Egypt yesterday. According to the New York Times, that led to rumors of "a cascade of high-level defections," which the news of Saif al-Islam's London visit has stoked.
If a collapse of the Libyan government could ever save the bacon of U.S. officials under pressure from Congress to show results of military action, it's now. After hotly debating whether or not to arm the rebels, top officials said late yesterday that they would rather not. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both indicated that providing arms would be a step too far. Clinton said that's “because of the unknowns” about the involvement of Al Qaeda elements in the resistance. But Gates said the U.S. should still help with surveilance and communications, and everybody agreed it would be great if another country would provide the arms.
There have been few volunteers. While the New York Times suggested France might do the actual arms-supplying, Agence France-Press reported yesterday that the defense minister there had opposed such a move. "This is not allowed by either Resolution 1973 or Resolution 1970. For the time being, France is sticking to the strict application of these resolutions, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
Without material military aid, the Libyan rebels are going to have a hard fight against Qaddafi's regime, but if they can just outlast the fraying political ties in Tripoli and let the government implode, we might all get out of this thing relatively intact.