As the Libyan despot Gadaffi murders his way across the wreckage of his country, it is beginning to look as though the rebellion stands on the brink of defeat.
While Britain and France are trying to muster support for the interim government in Benghazi, continued air raids and merciless attacks with heavy weapons are slow prizing away their grip, even on the eastern half of Libya. It is an appalling situation.
In the face of this obvious crime, President Obama seems content to pose as a neutral- seeking a no fly zone- when the time has long past where this would be successful- or other measures that might have the support of the United Nations. Yet the UN is crippled by the determined resistance of the Russian and Chinese governments to international intervention to protect human rights. After all, both Russia and China may face democratic uprisings again soon. Meanwhile the Obama administration, weary of corralling NATO in Afghanistan, does not find any other multi-lateral forum congenial as a platform to wrest Libya from Gadaffi's grasp.
If Gadaffi wins, it will be a message to the other shaky Arab despots: Mubarak and Ben Ali were wrong to flee, the only way to meet the challenge of democracy is with unlimited violence.
This is a serious test case for President Obama. If he fails to engage with the Libyan rebellion until it is too late, he will have "lost Libya" and will find a brutal and wealthy enemy prepared to fund opposition to the West with all weapons at their disposal, up to an including terrorism. He will be abetting further crimes by the despotic regimes, and he will be opening himself up to his domestic enemies who will regard his "too little-too late" approach as indecisive at best, cowardice at worst.
Perhaps some might see it as somewhat ironic that the European powers- generally reluctant to support the overthrow of Saddam Hussein- are making the running in the potential overthrow of Gaddafi, while the US is hanging back. In fact, a victory for Gaddafi would be a calamity for Europe: a humanitarian crisis on Italy's and Malta's doorstep, and a Libyan leadership which would be -quite literally- beyond the pale. Yet it would be a disaster for the United States too- and very soon President Obama is going to have to make a decision. As so often in past American presidencies, it is a decision in foreign policy that will prove to be the hinge upon which Mr. Obama's success or failure will hang.
The half hearted, half measures that Mr Obama is clinging to at the moment will lead his Presidency to disaster. Unless he can screw his courage to the sticking place, and show decisive leadership against Gaddafi, then his Presidency, like that of Jimmy Carter in the face of Iran, will be utterly ruined.