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Keeping on the right side of history

Mark Mardell | 20:28 UK time, Thursday, 3 March 2011

Opposition fighters in Libya

President Barack Obama, speaking alongside his Mexican counterpart after a White House meeting, told those close to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi that they were on the wrong side of history. "They should know history is moving against Col Gaddafi," he said. He added that the Libyan leader should "step down from power and leave".


But the president himself is concerned about being on the right side of history. He said that all options were on the table, including a no-fly zone, and that the US did not want be hamstrung if there was chaos on the ground, so he wanted the "full capacity" to react rapidly.

However, he stressed America's role in giving in humanitarian aid, rather than taking military action. He announced that US aircraft would be used to take home Egyptians stranded on the border between Libya and Tunisia, and talked of plans to send food into Tripoli if that became necessary. He noted that in the recent protests over the Middle East, no anti-US sentiment had been seen. He wanted people in the region to see America as acting on the right side of history, but doing so as part of the world community.

It is clearer than ever than Mr Obama does not want a no-fly zone or any other sort of military action unless it has clear UN backing, or at least support from others apart from the UK and other traditional European allies. He wants the US to be admired for helping people, not bombing their enemies. That means the no-fly zone probably won't fly.

I suspect the Obama administration sees it as rather a distraction, dramatic and headline-grabbing, but neither as effective as putting legal and financial pressure on Gaddafi's henchman, nor as urgent as easing the crisis on the border.

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