As the UN's Security Council meets to draft a text on whether, when, and how to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, spare a thought for the scenes unfolding at London's House of Commons.
According to the Guardian;
William Hague, the [UK] foreign secretary, approved the botched plan to send a team of armed diplomats and SAS [Special Air Service] soldiers into eastern Libya in an effort to build diplomatic contacts with anti-Gaddafi rebels.
The eight M16 officers and SAS soldiers were arrested then deported after only two days in the country.
The prime minister's official spokesman was reluctant to reveal details, partly due to the involvement of special forces, but told a briefing Hague had approved the operation "in the normal way".
How could that happen to a British delegation that was trying to help? What really transpired? Hague's statement at the Commons created more questions than answers. He said:
On 5 March opposition groups in the East formed an Interim National Council based in Benghazi. Ministers and FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] officials are in contact with members of this Council, who welcomed the idea of a British diplomatic mission to Libya....
Last week I authorised the despatch of a small British diplomatic team to Eastern Libya, in uncertain circumstances which we judged required their protection, to build on these initial contacts and to assess the scope for closer diplomatic dialogue. I pay tribute to that team. They were withdrawn yesterday after a serious misunderstanding about their role leading to their temporary detention.
The British opposition smells blood. Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander is accusing the government of "serial bungling," saying that "The British public are entitled to wonder whether, if some new neighbors moved into the Foreign Secretary's street, he would introduce himself by ringing the doorbell or instead choose to climb over the fence in the middle of the night?"
Menzies Campbell, a former opposition leader from the Liberal Democrats, called the mission "ill-conceived, poorly planned and embarrassingly executed."
But that's just rhetoric at the Commons. It's part of the usual thrust and parry of British politics, and it's internal. The real embarrassment for Britain was played out across TV screens in Tripoli. Here's what happened:
10 Downing Street's man in Libya was called in to explain what the "diplomats" were doing in eastern Libya. British Ambassador Richard Northern spoke to a rebel leader to explain the mission. And, you guessed it, the call was intercepted by Gadhafi's regime and duly found its way to Libyan state television on Sunday. Now all of Libya will have a very different take on James Bond.
The whole fiasco makes it ever more important for countries to think very carefully before they engage with Libya. There's also the question of who you're dealing with in Libya – Gadhafi himself, or the varied opposition groups that are rising up in arms? And how will they respond?
As U.S. Defense Secretary Gates testified at a House hearing last week, discussing no-fly zones without fully understanding the repercussions is just "loose talk."