As Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi vowed to hang on to power, a close congressional ally of U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday called for an end to his regime.
“The Gadhafi government’s use of deadly force against its own people should mean the end of the regime itself,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who frequently acts as a stalking horse for the Obama administration on foreign policy issues.
“It’s beyond despicable, and I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power,” he said in a statement issued by his office that also called for the administration to pursue a series of bilateral and multilateral measures to expedite Gadhafi’s ouster.
The administration itself, however, remained largely silent on the situation in Libya Tuesday, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced government repression, which is believed to have killed hundreds of people since Friday, as “completely unacceptable” – its harshest criticism to date.
The administration appeared, however, to be unwilling to go further at this point due to concern over the fate of several thousand U.S. citizens still in Libya and in deference to deliberations of an all-day U.N. Security Council session that took place behind closed doors.
“[W]e feel like when the international community speaks with one voice, it can be most effective, so we are obviously participating fully” in the Security Council meeting, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters while traveling with Obama to Cleveland, Ohio.
The administration’s silence was strongly assailed by some lawmakers and commentators – mostly neoconservatives and other hawks – who called on Obama to speak out publicly against the regime and consider taking more aggressive measures to support anti-government forces, which appear to have gained control of Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, and most of the eastern part of the country.
“The United States should not remain silent in the face of Gadhafi’s egregious violations of human rights,” said two Republican senators, Minority Whip John Kyl and Mark Kirk, in a statement issued early in the day. “We urge the president to speak out clearly in support of the Libyan people in their struggle against the Gadhafi dictatorship.”
“We’d … tell the Libyan armed forces that the West will bomb their airfields if they continue to slaughter their people,” advised the Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial Tuesday. “Arming the demonstrators also cannot be ruled out.”
“Now that the Libyan people are rising against [Gadhafi], they deserve urgent and tangible American support,” it added.
As the policy debate gathered steam Tuesday, the situation inside Libya itself remained unclear due to cuts in communications links and the absence of independent reporters on the ground.
In a rambling televised address from one of his residences, Gadhafi himself vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” against the demonstrators whom he repeatedly called “rats” and “cockroaches” doing the bidding of foreign powers.
“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired,” he declared in one passage that contrasted strongly with the video and personal accounts that have emerged from Libya over the last five days. “When I do, everything will burn,” he declared.
Instability in Libya “will give al-Qaeda a base,” he warned in a passage that appeared directed at the U.S. and other Western nations that have cooperated closely with Tripoli over the past decade in the so-called “global war on terrorism.”
That cooperation helped rehabilitate Gadhafi, who had been treated as an arch-enemy for most of his 42-year reign.
Bilateral ties reached their nadir during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who in 1981 ordered U.S. warplanes to attack targets in Libya and again in 1986 in alleged retaliation for terrorist attacks. The latter incident killed 40 Libyans, including Gadhafi’s baby daughter.
Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, also led a successful diplomatic campaign to impose far-reaching U.N. sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which all 259 passengers were killed.
In 1999, however, Libya surrendered two Libyans for trial for the Lockerbie bombing in what would become a gradual – if at times erratic – process of rapprochement with the U.S. and Western Europe lubricated in major part by Western interests in exploiting Libya’s ample oil and natural gas resources.
That process gathered pace in 2003 when Tripoli accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, agreed to pay compensation, and began dismantling weapons of mass destruction programs.
The administration of President George W. Bush authorized U.S. oil companies to re-open offices in Libya by early 2005, restored full diplomatic relations the following year, and sent then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tripoli to celebrate a “new phase” in bilateral ties in September 2008.
Washington has even offered to sell the regime “non-lethal” military equipment, including helicopters, and to help finance training for Libyan officers, according to a 2009 State Department cable disclosed by WikiLeaks.
In his statement, Kerry, who has carried out a number of diplomatic missions for the administration, called on all U.S. and foreign oil companies to suspend operations in Libya and for the Obama administration to consider re-imposing bilateral sanctions; for the U.N. Security Council to impose its own sanctions, including an arms embargo, and provide authorization for emergency humanitarian supplies and the protection of Libyan civilian centers (presumably through a no-fly zone); and on the Arab League and African Union to take action against the regime.
Meeting in Cairo Tuesday, the Arab League reportedly suspended Libya’s membership.
At the same time, George W. Bush’s first-term deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, urged the administration in a post on the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Web site to seek U.N. approval for, among other things, “recognition of a provisional authority in liberated areas, … imposition of a NATO-supported no fly zone over Libya to halt further bombing by Gadhafi’s forces; [and] … provision of arms to the provisions authorities.”
“When there are so many things that could be done to help the unbelievably brave Libyan people – without any risk to American lives – it is shameful to be sitting on our hands,” he wrote.
“If that is not reason enough to act, then we should be thinking about the terrible reputation the United States is acquiring, by its inaction, among the Libyan people and throughout the region,” Wolfowitz, a major architect of the Iraq War and now a visiting AEI scholar, concluded.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, and independent Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman also issued a joint appeal for the U.S. and the European Union, among others, to immediately impose a no-fly zone “to stop the Gadhafi regime’s use of air power to attack Libyan civilians.”
(Inter Press Service)