By JOSEPH BERGER
Published: March 6, 2011
Despite skepticism from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, three influential United States senators from both political parties on Sunday called for the United States to consider carving out a no-flight zone in Libya to prevent Col. Muammar Qaddafi from massacring the rebels trying to overthrow him.
Rebel Advance in Libya Set Back By Heavy Assault (March 7, 2011)
Obama’s Choice: To Intervene or Not in Libya (March 6, 2011)
But the Obama administration continued to resist such appeals.
“Lots of people throw around phrases like no-fly zone — they talk about it as though it’s just a video game,” William M. Daley, the new White House chief of staff, said in at appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” television news program.
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, challenged Mr. Gates’s admonition that establishing a no-flight zone required the United States to attack Libya’s antiaircraft installations and other air defenses.
“Well, that’s actually not the only option for what one could do ," Mr. Kerry said, in what sounded like a rebuke to a cabinet member, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.”
Senator Kerry pointed out that Libya’s air force is small and that the United States would consider trying to ground Libyan planes only if Mr. Qaddafi uses his air force “as a means of massacring large number of civilians.” He also said that establishing a no-flight zone would not require a long-term American or Western commitment, as was the case in Iraq and Bosnia.
Mr. Kerry’s support for a no-flight zone was echoed by two Republicans who spoke on the Sunday television news shows — Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.
Mr. Gates, the Obama administration’s most prominent Republican, testified Wednesday about the risks of a no-flight zone before the House Appropriations Committee just as Libyan forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi were bombing insurgents outside Tripoli. He said such a strategy would require “a big operation in a big country” and scoffed at “loose talk about some of these military options.”
“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Mr. Gates said last week. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”
Mr. Daley took pains Sunday to support Mr. Gates, saying Mr. Gates “knows the difficulty of war and the challenges.” And while President Obama said last week that Colonel Qaddafi had to go, Mr. Daley, when pressed, would not say that removing the Libyan strongman was vital to the interests of the United States — a threshold that the Obama administration would presumably want to meet if it ordered military intervention.
“It’s in our interest as human beings,” Mr. Daley said.
Mr. Kerry urged Western powers not only to provide humanitarian aid but to turn over $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets to the insurgents. He also said he assumes that weapons supplied by the West “are going to find their way over there in the course of the next weeks.”
Senator McConnell said a no-flight zone was “worth considering,” and he urged the administration to explore other options like “aiding and arming the insurgents.” But he cautioned that the United States was “not sure who the insurgents are,” so it “ought to make sure who we’re dealing with here.”
He too said he did not believe Libya was “vital to our interests,” but said that the United States “ought to look for ways of being helpful to those seeking to overthrow dictators, short of sending our own personnel.”
Mr. McCain, speaking on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” was asked about Mr. Gates’s skepticism and said, “we can’t risk allowing Qaddafi to massacre people from the air.” He said sending in ground forces would not be appropriate, “certainly not at this time.” But taking measures like a no-flight zone, humanitarian aid and offers of intelligence would send a signal to those around Colonel Qaddafi “to depart a sinking ship.” Mr. Qaddafi would not change his outlook, Mr. McCain said, because “he’s insane.”
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.
I found this is very moral by these well spoken senators. The harm is people do not like to have America interfere in the Arab world. But this is quite a moral decision to save people who are bombed by a crazy guy who has no respect or ethics. The Libyan opposition council have to make it clear it is their request and it is humanitarian. American troops would not need to fight in the ground, no fly zone and above are great ideas how to do it. There is no black and white in this world some great decisions were made by America I consider this to be one of them. I think internationally the case is even much more compelling than Iraq. The guy is totally crazy and ruthless. People went peacefully to demonstrate and he met them with huge brutality. The useless Arab league does not want America to interfere, but no solutions just let people die. We know well what behind the decision the rest of the corrupt Arab tyrants do not really want Qaddafi to go or be killed it is a club and membership has some respect even if you are a ruthless tyrant. The world community have to stand against this crazy tyrant it will be a shame in history that we let him dictate what the history would look like.