Misrata youth goes from Playstation to front line
A Libyan man speaks in his mobile phone as he walks past caricatures of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (R) and Libyan resistance fighter Omar al-Mukhtar in Benghazi June 27, 2011. Reuters

The news that Britain is now open to the idea of Colonel Gaddafi spending his retirement in Libya, as opposed to being dragged off to an absurd court in Northern Europe, does not come as any great surprise.

In Libya David Cameron has achieved in months what it took years for successive governments to do in Afghanistan, that is go from a zero tolerance approach towards appeasement - from Churchill to Chamberlain you might say.

Almost a decade ago the western world was united in its opposition to the Taliban and its al-Qaeda guests. Not only had the Taliban welcomed those who claimed responsibility for the worst terrorist attack in history but they were evil in other ways.

A totalitarian dictatorship, oppression of women, executions in football stadiums, bans on TV, barber shops, kites and ancient Buddhist statues - the Taliban regime was painted as one of the worst regimes on earth.

All of which was true, but now after nearly ten years the Taliban have refused to go away and continue to make attacks against NATO forces and those connected with what passes for the Afghan government.

As a result we no longer hear from our elected leaders about the evils of the Taliban and about how they are so beyond redemption that there can be no negotiation. Certainly there is no talk of "unconditional surrender" because our leaders have lost hope that they will ever get such a thing.

Instead we hear about negotiations with these former arch villains. We even hear about "moderate Taliban" which is amusing as well as being unheard of in 2001.

In Libya we are seeing the same process happen. The British government was keen to jump on the anti-Gaddafi bandwagon in the early days of the protests when over-optimistic protesters insisted Gaddafi would be gone within days of the rebellion beginning.

As it turned out Gaddafi proved himself to be more resilient than Tunisia's Ben Ali or Egypt's Mubarak and is still in power in one part of a divided Libya. This despite almost constant reports over the last four months that he is on is way out because he's losing the war, running out of money, suffering defections, lost his mind or whatever. The reason for the imminent departure changes but the result is the same - he does not actually go.

So the British government, despite chanting student like that "Gaddafi must go" for some time now has come round to the conclusion that actually Gaddafi doesn't have to go but must leave office. Very soon no doubt they'll start saying that he does not have to leave office but should reform his government (like everyone keeps telling Syria's Bashar Assad to do).

What will Gaddafi do in the face of such terrifying threats? No prizes for guessing the answer to that, he'll keep doing as his doing while laughing at NATO for its failure to do anything just as the Taliban might well be sniggering at the knowledge that the U.S.A. and Great Britain are determined to pull out of Afghanistan just in time for their respective general elections.

What's the moral of the story? Obviously not to get involved in military adventures unless one knows what you are getting into, or at least unless one is willing to do everything to see it through to the end.

In Afghanistan it appears that western governments have given up on this and are trying to make their excuses to leave the party as early as possible without losing face. In the meantime of course young boys die and are maimed for life in defence of a regime not much better than the one it replaced.

Meanwhile in Libya the shadow of Iraq (an enterprise which went very well when compared with the Afghan ulcer) means that no western power is willing to do what is necessary to get Gaddafi out of power, namely sending ground troops.

As things stand Gaddafi looks likely to remain in power for as long as his only opposition on the ground is a rag-tag army of rebels. Even if the rebels were to topple Gaddafi the new regime may not be much better than Gaddafi's.

It has been noted that some of the rebel fighters have previous military experience - in Iraq as Islamist or Saddamist insurgents.

Higher up the rebel chain of command the Transitional National Council, which has now been recognised by many governments as the legitimate Libyan government, is populated by many ex-Gaddafi men, rather than members of the Libyan opposition as it existed before the "Arab Spring".

Would a TNC regime basically be the Gaddafi regime minus Gaddafi as the face, just as the new Egypt is basically the old one without Mubarak's charming features to front it?

The only way to ensure the removal of Gaddafi and the creation of a halfway democratic successor regime is almost certainly for democratic countries to invade it with ground troops - the one thing none of them wish to do for fear of looking like George W. Bush or imperialists.

One hates to say it but people should really either be in the neo-con regime change business or not in it. If you want to use military force to spread democracy around the world then do so, but, if you feel the cost in blood too high then stay out of other people's countries.

But to say that we want to spread democracy through force but neither do what it takes to achieve that nor fund the military enough for such a purpose makes us look ridiculous. It's time for the government to decide whether we are the world's policeman or just a self interested onlooker.

There is honour in both positions but if the government chooses the former it must not only increase defence spending to a half-respectable level but must be willing to court unpopularity by sending ground troops to Libya and any other hotspots that make their way to the nation's conscience via the TV.