While the outside world is rightly cautious about getting involved in Libya, military effort may be needed to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Libya is where the "Arab spring" may be turning into a long, cold winter.
In Egypt and Tunisia, popular discontent led to political change, even if democracy advocates are questioning the speed and depth of that change. Muammar Qaddafi, however, has responded to calls for change with violence, defiance, and attempt to take back parts of the country he has lost since the uprising began last month.
The Libyan opposition is still sketchy. Local communities in eastern Libya have organized to provide basic services. Former Libyan military officers have been training civilians in self-defense. But the ability of Qaddafi opponents to go toe-to-toe with the elite brigades the Libyan leader commands is limited.
Even with covert aid and advice from the outside, it would take millions of dollars and many months to raise a rival force.
Although there are good reasons to be cautious about intervening in LIbya, Qaddafi's counterattack may force the United States and its allies to act to prevent a humanitarian crisis. As in Bosnia and Kosovo, preventing a massacre of civilians by a ruthless despot could soon become a more urgent need than avoiding interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.