Beyond providing humanitarian support to Libyan civilians and working to isolate the crumbling but well-armed regime holed up in Tripoli, the most the US and other nations might be expected to do is to try to find a way for Muammar Qaddafi to leave.
But where would he go? He has few friends. The Shiite world still blames Qaddafi for the 1978 disappearance of Musa Sadr, a popular Iranian-born Lebanese imam and philosopher. Qaddafi has at various times threatened most other Arab leaders. And while he has had a hand in terrorism throughout his 41-year rule, he and Osama bin Laden -- whom he blamed in a speech on Thursday for stirring up the uprising -- are enemies. Hugo Chavez? Raul Castro? Maybe they would have welcomed him before he began to fire on his own people. It's unlikely they would now.
The world's options are limited. While the US and NATO could quickly muster a force that could destroy Qaddafi's praetorian guard, intervention would have many risks. As the 2003 invasion of Iraq illustrated, winning on the battlefield is rarely the end of the story. Qaddafi loyalists could go underground and form an insurgency. Collateral damage and civilian suffering could breed resentment.
While there is little love for the mercurial Libyan leader across the Middle East, another US-led intervention would probably spark outrage. All of which makes it most likely that the Libyan conflict will have to be resolved in Libya by Libyans.