While Washington has been consumed by the battle of the budget, the people running the real war in Libya seem to have given up hope of using American and NATO firepower to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power.
"There is no military solution to this conflict," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said recently. "We need a political solution, and it's up to the Libyan people to come up with one."
"There will not be a military solution to the problem," said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
"We will not see a military solution in Libya," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
All agree, as does President Obama, that there is no good future for Libya without Gadhafi's departure. Yet it appears Gadhafi's chances of hanging on to power have improved markedly since NATO took over military operations from the U.S.-led Operation Odyssey Dawn. Under NATO's Operation Unified Protector, Gadhafi has turned a situation in which the end of his rule seemed imminent into one in which he might well remain in control of at least part of Libya.
At the moment, Operation Unified Protector is anything but unified. Britain and France, with American support, are doing most of the work of enforcing the no-fly zone and attacking ground targets. Some NATO members, like the Netherlands, will not participate in missions to hit targets on the ground. Others, like Italy, won't let pilots fire on anything. And still others, like Germany, Poland and Turkey, have refused to take part at all. As far as the much-ballyhooed participation of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates is concerned -- well, it has been mostly symbolic. With such a fragmented coalition, NATO foreign ministers who met last week in Berlin are desperate to convey an image of unity. "All of us agree: We have a responsibility to protect Libyan civilians against a brutal dictator," Rasmussen told the meeting. But when a reporter asked a simple question -- "How are you going to achieve the aim of getting rid of Gadhafi?" -- Rasmussen had virtually nothing to say. And when another reporter asked whether the secretary general could convince any other NATO countries to take a more active role in the operation, Rasmussen could only respond, "Well, I don't have specific pledges or promises from this meeting, but I heard indications that give me hope."