Those members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation who are involved in what is now a war on Libya in all but name are starting to face multiple embarrassments. Militarily, their decision not to send in ground troops requires them to intensify their air attacks far beyond the protection of civilians. For example, the British military are now bombing not only President Muammar Qadhafi's troops and artillery but also buildings and infrastructure, including police stations and government offices. Secondly, the presence on the ground of Nato's so-called special forces has not prevented civilian deaths in aerial bombardment. As the British analyst Simon Jenkins points out in the Guardian, the escalation is reminiscent of the U.S. General Curtis LeMay's vow to bomb Vietnam back into the Stone Age. In political terms, the European wing of Nato is increasingly isolated. Washington is keeping strangely quiet about Libya; the Arab League, whose support was actively sought for the United Nations Security Council Resolution that enabled the original intervention, has disappeared from the picture.

Nato may find it extremely difficult to get out of the political and military quagmire into which it has launched itself, but even greater embarrassment lies in the extent of Western financial involvement with Libya over many years. About $32 billion that the Qadhafi regime holds in the U.S. is not in bank accounts but in legitimate business holdings like shares and real estate. Appropriating even $150 million, as mentioned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would require legislation, which could take months. Tripoli also has about $20 billion in the United Kingdom, $9 billion in Germany, and $1.7 billion in Austria, again as a result of legitimate business activity. Western institutions such as leading colleges and universities have willingly accepted Libyan money. As for the expropriation of Mr. Qadhafi's own accounts, it will probably contravene international law as long as he is in power; in addition, Russia and China have both stated that they would veto any more anti-Qadhafi resolutions in the Security Council. Nato's major member-states can no longer hide the fact that they have long records of lucrative dealings — including trade in oil, weapons, and other commodities — with a dictator they have demonised for decades. It has now become clear that the western project is regime change and little else — and the intensification of the war against Libya has stretched international law to breaking-point.

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