Unless some way is found to stop him, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya will slaughter hundreds or even thousands of his own people in his desperation to hang on to power.
Libyans have shown extraordinary courage, and some members of the military may also be turning against the regime. We don’t know if they will be able to bring the dictator down by themselves. We are sure they need more support than they have been getting from the United States and other Western democracies.
It took President Obama four days to condemn the violence. Even then, he spoke only vaguely about holding Libyan officials accountable for their crimes. Colonel Qaddafi was never mentioned by name.
We understand Mr. Obama’s concern for the hundreds of Americans waiting to be evacuated from Tripoli. The Libyan government denied landing rights, and rough seas have prevented a ferry from leaving.
Administration officials insist they are working hard to find ways to stop the killing. On Thursday, Mr. Obama spoke with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to plot a joint strategy.
There is not a lot of time. Colonel Qaddafi and his henchmen have to be told in credible and very specific terms the price they will pay for any more killing. They need to start paying right now.
It would be best if the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions, but that takes too long. Washington and Europe can immediately freeze Libyan assets in American and European banks and work to block Libya’s access to the international financial system. Europe and the United States can deny travel visas to top Libyan officials and government supporters.
Europe, which sells weapons to Libya, can impose an arms embargo. Washington has other quieter ways to pressure the government, including jamming military communications. It should do so. Libya, which has just emerged from years of isolation, needs to be constantly reminded that it can be fully isolated again. The Security Council has deplored Colonel Qaddafi’s actions, and the Arab League suspended Libya’s participation. When it meets on Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council should expel Libya.
Libya is a major supplier of oil to France and Italy, and for years both countries have enabled Colonel Qaddafi. Mr. Sarkozy now wants the European Union to impose an arms embargo on Libya, as well as an assets freeze and travel ban for the Libyan leader and his collaborators. Germany seems inclined to go along. Britain and Italy should stop temporizing.
If the killing goes on, other steps may be quickly needed, including offering temporary sanctuary for refugees and imposing the kind of no-fly zone that the United States, Britain and France used to protect Kurds in Iraq from the savagery of Saddam Hussein. After Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda, the United States and its allies vowed that they would work harder to stop mass atrocities. One thing is not in doubt: The longer the world temporizes, the more people die.