Westerners who rushed to the defense of the Libyan rebels bridle at the thought of any cease-fire proposal that doesn't require Col. Gaddafi's removal from power. Indeed, Libyan rebels have already rejected the proposal by African leaders that restricts itself to a straight cease-fire and puts off other contentious issues. But NATO leaders would be dead wrong to reject the African proposal out of hand. They would be wrong to let the absolutists and the rebels let the war go on until they have everything they want, no matter what the costs. For all the holes in the African initiative, it does start the ball rolling toward a possible cease-fire. At the very least, U.S. leaders owe it to Americans to explore the ideas seriously, perhaps through NATO or the U.N. Security Council. And the moral war-mongers can always console themselves with the thought that if these cease-fire talks collapse, all parties can resume the killing in the name of freedom and humanity.
No one expects Col. Gaddafi to agree to or keep a full-fledged cease-fire, but he has accepted the limited African proposal. Obviously, NATO shouldn't simply accept the African plan as is. But it should respond with a beefed-up counterproposal, one with inspectors in place and other reasonable requirements that can't be dismissed as ploys to make the cease-fire idea fail. And if the colonel says no to that, most Westerners—including myself—would feel less strained about the ongoing and costly battle.
In sum, here's what the five African presidents placed on the table on behalf of the African Union: (1) An immediate cease-fire, (2) the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, (3) protection of foreign nationals, and (4) a dialogue between the government and rebels on a political settlement.