Top US Senators Urge Heavier Involvement in Libya

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.

Contemplating America’s Options in Libya

As Libya’s longtime ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi clings to power, confrontations between rebels and supporters of the regime grew evermore violent this week. Heavy clashes occurred in the western city of Az Zawiyah, some forty miles west of Tripoli, on Saturday while anti-government militias claimed control of Ra’s Lanuf, a hub of the Libyan oil and petrochemical industries on the Mediterranean coast.

In Zawiyah, the government deployed tanks against protesters but air attacks appeared to have been limited to strategic targets in the east of the country. Rebels have nevertheless called upon the West to enforce a no-fly zone to allow them to advance on the capital where Gaddafi remained in power.

A notable supporter of American involvement is Arizona Senator John McCain who told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that his country “can’t risk allowing Gaddafi to massacre people from the air, both by helicopter and fixed-wing [aircraft].”

McCain favored enforcing a no-fly zone last week, suggesting that America should arm rebels and supply them with humanitarian assistance. He told Meet the Press that he wasn’t “ready to use ground forces” at the time, noting that the United States should 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.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague launched an investigation this week but it hadn’t deterred Gaddafi from deploying military force against his antagonists.

Democrat John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rejected outright military intervention but didn’t believe enforcing a no-fly zone would amount to that. He suggested on CBS’ Face the Nation that America “crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.”

The United States military has been hesitant however with defense secretary Robert Gates warning Congress on Wednesday that “a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.” He added that the navy would have to field more than the single aircraft carrier currently near Libyan waters to effectively mount such an operation.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that reports of Gaddafi deploying air force against his own people had not been confirmed. McCain responded to that remark on Friday, telling reporters that he assumed the Pentagon was “not completely up to speed.”

On This Week, the former Republican presidential contender argued that the “air assets that Gaddafi has are not overwhelming.” The Libyan air force consists of mostly Soviet era ground attack and bomber craft, only some of which are believed to be flyable.

Enforcing a no-fly zone and supporting a provisional government in the east of the country would send a powerful message to the regime that its days are numbered, said McCain. Gaddafi himself may be “insane,” he admitted, “but perhaps the people around him would begin to depart the sinking ship.”

Already senior members of the regime, including ministers and ambassadors, have publicly disavowed the colonel to side with the rebels. While Gaddafi appears cornered, “he obviously remains lethal,” said Kerry.

Both senators opposed putting American soldiers on the ground in Libya. “Ground intervention would not be appropriate,” according to McCain and could be counterproductive. Kerry agreed. “We don’t want troops on the ground. [The rebels] don’t want troops on the ground.”

American Senators Suggest to Arm Libyan Rebels

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.”

Senators Affirm Commitment to South Korea

While joint American-South Korean military exercises commenced off the Korean Peninsula today in response to North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island near the demilitarized zone last week, American lawmakers offered their views on several of the Sunday morning talk shows.

On Meet the Press, both Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, a senior Democrat, and Jon Kyl of Arizona, minority whip, affirmed America’s commitment to South Korea’s security. According to Durbin, the two parties agree that the country must “stand strong in [its] alliance with South Korea.”

According to Senator John McCain of Arizona, the latest confrontation in Korea is evidence of the failure of a policy of appeasement. Billions in foreign aid and repeated concessions to the regime have not changed its behavior. “The North Koreans’ only cling is their nuclear capability,” he professed on CNN’s State of the Union.

They key to resolving the situation is China, said McCain. As North Korea keeps inventing crises in order to legitimize its destructive regime, Beijing will eventually run out of excuses not to penalize its fellow communist state. So far though, “China is not behaving as a responsible world power,” according to Senator McCain. It has urged restraint and recommended to resume negotiations with the powers involved but what is needed, he added, are “significant penalties” from the Chinese side.

Since China is pursuing a more independent foreign policy, it may be difficult to win their support for sanctions however. McCain suggested “adjustments to [American] policy with regard to China” but unless that manages to shift their position, he said, “I think it’s time we talk about regime change in North Korea.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who, like McCain, is a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also suggested to push China, hard. “I’m looking at China to step up their game against North Korea and try to bring them in the fold of a peaceful nation,” he said on Fox News Sunday. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a Democrat, agreed. “This is brazen and it’s belligerent and it’s something that I believe that all of those six countries, all of the people in the six party talks need to get to work on,” she said on the same program.

Since 2003, China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas have been engaged in six party talks to try to prevent North Korea from attaining a nuclear weapons capacity. Although the parties agreed on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula years ago, the talks have produced few concrete results. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, according to the United States, and has tested ballistic missiles that could deliver them.

Russia’s role is not to be underestimating, according to Senator McCaskill, “which is why the START treaty is also important here.” Republicans in the Senate have been postponing ratification of the latest nuclear arms reduction treaty between Russia and the United States which the administration fears is threatening its “reset” of American-Russian relations.