American Senators Suggest to Arm Libyan Rebels

As Libya violently suppresses protests, American lawmakers wonder what the West can do to help.

With close to 100,000 people fleeing the country, Libya’s regime is under mounting pressure from demonstrators and defectors who have effectively taken control of the eastern part of the country. North Africa’s veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi has been deserted by officers and diplomats while the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the violent crackdown of anti-government protesters.

This weekend, the Security Council agreed to impose an arms embargo on Libya, freeze government assets and install a travel ban for Colonel Gaddafi and his family. A resolution also referred the situation unfolding in Libya to the International Criminal Court where Gaddafi and members of his inner circle may face charges of war crimes.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday that Gaddafi “must go,” echoing a call by Barack Obama a day earlier. Last week, the American president condemned the bloodshed as “outrageous” and “unacceptable.”

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, who is a prominent member of the Libyan administration, suggested that the leader’s resignation would not end the violence. He told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview that millions of people across Libya and in the capital of Tripoli remain loyal to the regime. “Nobody is leaving this country,” he said. “We live here. We die here.”

Earlier in the week, his father pledged to “die a martyr” in Libya. He has blamed foreign “agents” for stirring the unrest and promised to open up armories to civilians. His son has warned that “civil war” would certainly ensue if Gaddafi’s regime collapsed.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut characterized the regime’s response to the unrest as a “slaughter” on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. He and Senator John McCain of Arizona have together visited different countries in the region, including Egypt and Tunisia where longtime rulers were toppled by popular demonstrations earlier this month.

Asked what the West can do to protect protesters and possibly hasten Gaddafi’s demise, Lieberman suggested imposing a no-fly zone to prevent Libyan air forces from attacking their own people and supporting a provisional civilian government with humanitarian assistance and arms.

France already favors a no-fly zone as was imposed by Western powers over northern Iraq in 1992 to prevent Saddam Hussein from bombing the Kurdish people living there. Britain hasn’t endorsed such proposals yet, fearful of antagonizing the Gaddafi regime while many Britons remained trapped in the country as of this weekend. Some 150 British oil workers were rescued by special forces on Sunday from installations south of the city of Benghazi.

In Geneva, Switzerland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that America was “ready and prepared to offer any type of assistance” to a post-Gaddafi government.

Neither Lieberman nor McCain would explicitly commit to military intervention. “I’m not ready to use ground forces,” McCain told NBC’s Meet the Press. The best thing America could do, he added, was make clear that “anyone who continues or is engaged in these kinds of barbarous acts is going to find themselves on trial in a war crimes tribunal.”

According to the former Republican presidential contender, Gaddafi’s days were numbered. “The question is how many people are going to be massacred between now and when he leaves,” he said on CNN. “We ought to shorten that time frame as much as possible. I believe we can.”