Senator John McCain on Sunday urged American leadership in Libya and a deeper commitment to support the country’s anti-government forces. He recommended that Washington recognize the rebels’ interim council as the sole and legitimate representative of the Libyan people and the efficient use of airpower to “bring Gaddafi to his knees.”
Even as unmanned drone aircraft were deployed by the United States to precision target loyalist forces, it was clear to McCain that his country had to “play a greater role on the airpower side. Our NATO allies neither have the assets nor, frankly, the will,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press before pointing out that only six European nations were actively involved.
The former Republican presidential contender and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee visited the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya on Friday where he called for an end to Muammar Gaddafi’s forty year rule and the beginning of “a peaceful and inclusive transition to democracy that will benefit all Libyans.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is also a member of the Armed Services Committee, urged greater pressure on Tripoli. “The people around Gaddafi need to wake up every day wondering, will this be my last?” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. The rebels don’t have the momentum necessary to topple the regime, he admitted. “The military commanders in Tripoli supporting Gaddafi should be pounded.”
Graham didn’t worry about an international backlash if the NATO targeted Gaddafi specifically. “I don’t think there are many people in the world that would be very upset if Gaddafi is taken out of Libya,” he said. “You can’t let the Russians and the Chinese veto the freedom agenda.”
China and Russia both wield veto power on the United Nations Security Council and both abstained from voting on the resolution that authorized military intervention in Libya to protect its civilian population against the regime.
McCain urged caution lest airstrikes against Tripoli inflict civilian casualties but he agreed that the coalition “ought to make Gaddafi aware that his very life is in danger.”
The Arizona senator proposed to arm Libya’s rebels as early as February of this year. He told ABC’s This Week in March that the United States could not “risk allowing Gaddafi to massacre people from the air, both by helicopter and fixed-wing [aircraft].” The enforcement of a no-fly zone stopped attacks from the air against protesters but could not prevent a stalemate from emerging with neither rebels nor loyalists able to decide the battle in their favor.
Several European countries have called upon NATO to intensify airstrikes against Gaddafi’s regime and overtly assist the rebels in the civil war. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to commit however as it is waging two wars in the Middle East already.
While both the administration and McCain have ruled out putting American troops on the ground, the latter said on Friday that Western powers needed to do more to “facilitate” the delivery of weapons and training of the rebels.
Britain, France and Italy earlier announced plans to send military advisors to rebel held territory while Qatar has reportedly supplied the anti-government forces with arms.