Paul Greenberg

When, oh, when is the Obama administration going to recognize the rebels in Benghazi as that country's legitimate government?

Those ill-equipped, ill-organized freedom fighters remain the world's best hope of dislodging Libya's still dangerous dictator in Tripoli. Just as our Afghan allies proved capable of driving the Taliban from Kabul with a little help, and maybe more than a little, from an America striking back at al-Qaida after September 11th.

There was nothing uncertain about American strategy or support then. The brunt of the fighting fell on the Afghans, but there was no question about whose side we were on. Just as there was no question that our air power, our supplies and our Special Forces were available -- and being used.

If this administration would recognize our tacit allies in Libya, there would be no need for all the presidential pretense about how the United States is not really seeking Moammar Gadhafi's overthrow even as it seeks it. Hopes for a free Libya would not have to depend on the usual empty UN resolutions and paper sanctions -- the kind that proved so ineffective for years against Saddam Hussein.

A few days ago, London played host to the most impressive array of distinguished foreign ministers and such since the League of Nations gathered in Geneva to hear Haile Selassie of ravaged Ethiopia plead for a little help against aggression in 1936. In vain. All the eloquent statements didn't help much. Those in London in 2011 will prove equally futile unless the world acts, not just talks.

In the latest tilt of the seesaw fighting in Libya, the dictator's mercenaries now have regained the initiative. This despite our president's proud claim in his address to the nation that our allies were advancing. For the moment they're retreating. Even being routed.

Rommel vs. Montgomery is being replayed across the Libyan sands, and this bloody back-and-forth will go on until the country that used to be called the Leader of the Free World acts like it. Openly, decisively, without making apologies for taking the side of freedom in this struggle. Oh, where is a Churchill when you need him?

Once a free Libya wins international recognition, there will be no more wispy legal, diplomatic and political questions about this country's sending aid, ammunition, military advisers or any other help the rebels needs to rid their country of its dictator and his regime. We could then do openly what surely we're doing secretly now. Let's hope we're doing it, anyway.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.