Although Mubarak obtained an unprecedented waiver of U.N. restrictions for his flight into Libya Thursday, the move may signal a wider crisis in Washington's use of sanctions: "Sanctions tend to work for a limited period, after which they inevitably begin to collapse," says Dowell. "Washington's long-term sanctions against various countries have been very unpopular around the world, and their value has often been questionable." But with U.S. standing in the region at a low ebb following the Iraq crisis and the collapse of the Mideast peace process, there may not be much Washington can do to keep gentleman callers off Muammar's porch.
When Egypt's president visits with Colonel Ghadafi, Washington's sanctions policy against Libya is in trouble. "Egypt is America's best ally in the region, and if Mubarak is prepared to visit Ghadafi, then other countries are likely to follow suit," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "The U.S.'s ability to maintain sanctions is waning, because African countries are threatening to ignore them."