Two high-ranking U.S. senators are calling on the Obama administration to recognize Libya’s opposition, as France has done, and impose a no-fly zone to aid rebels battling forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi. The senators introduced a resolution Monday urging prompt U.S. intervention in Libya.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona says the situation in Libya is growing increasingly grim. "At this moment, opponents of Colonel Gadhafi and his supporters are fighting for their very survival. Gadhafi has unleashed a merciless campaign of violence against the Libyan people, including civilian non-combatants, using every tool at his disposal," he said.
Forces loyal to the Libyan leader have been continuing an offensive against rebel-held towns in the east of the country. Over the past week, the rebel advance west has been pushed back nearly 200 kilometers.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McCain said the United States cannot remain on the sidelines of the conflict and watch Mr. Gadhafi reassert control over Libya.
"First, the president [Barack Obama] should recognize Libya’s transitional national council, which is based in Benghazi but representative of communities across the country, as the sole legitimate governing authority of Libya, just as France has done. Second, the president should take immediate steps to implement a no-fly zone in Libya with international support," he said.
On Saturday, the Arab League endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone and said it would ask the U.N. Security Council to impose such restrictions. The White House said it welcomed the Arab League position, saying the international community is unified in sending a "clear message that the violence in Libya must stop."
McCain said a no-fly zone would not, by itself, assure defeat of Mr. Gadhafi’s forces, but would provide a boost to rebels when they need it most. "It is Libyans themselves who want to do the fighting against Gadhafi. But they want it to be a fair fight, and so should we [the United States]," he said.
President Obama has said that Mr. Gadhafi is "on the wrong side of history," and the U.S. leader has not decided on any military action but is still considering imposing a no-fly zone. Critics of a no-fly zone say it is an act of war, and could embroil the United States in another conflict in the Arab world on the side of forces whose ultimate intentions are not yet clear.
Those arguments are rejected by Independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who also sponsored the proposed resolution. Lieberman said the anti-totalitarian revolution sweeping northern Africa must not be allowed to fail in Libya.
"There is a danger that what is happening in Libya is essentially a wall being put up, which says, 'this peaceful, democratic revolution in the Arab world ends here.' That the ‘Arab Spring’ might be going the way of the 'Prague Spring' of 1968. We simply cannot let that happen," he said.
For weeks, the two senators have urged a more active U.S. response to events in Libya. In the United States, the executive branch bears responsibility for conducting foreign policy. Congress may urge and advise the president on foreign matters. If adopted, the proposed Senate resolution cannot force President Obama to intervene in Libya, but could add weight and political backing to any decision he may ultimately make.