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Lawmakers urge Obama to take stronger action to oust Kadafi

Three prominent senators take to the Sunday talk shows to push for more U.S. military aid to Libyan rebels fighting the regime of Moammar Kadafi, perhaps even targeting him directly, though others call for a more cautious approach.

April 24, 2011|Noam N. Levey | Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington  — A trio of U.S. senators redoubled calls on the Obama administration Sunday to step up U.S support for Libyan rebels in their battle against the regime of Moammar Kadafi, even targeting Kadafi directly if necessary.

"I think the focus should now be to cut the head of the snake off. That's the quickest way to end this," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Let's get this guy gone."

Graham was joined by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who just completed a visit to Libya, and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in urging the U.S. to resume a leadership role in the air campaign against Kadafi's forces.

Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats on Capitol Hill, also called on the U.S. to step up support for the popular uprising in Syria, which has met with increasingly violent reaction from the regime of President Bashar Assad.

"This is a moment of extraordinary opportunity for the cause of freedom in Syria, and it has tremendous strategic significance for the region," Lieberman said, noting Syria's close ties with Iran.

Lieberman called on the U.S. to freeze Assad's wealth and go to the United Nations to place an arms embargo on the regime.

Several Democratic lawmakers urged a more cautious approach Sunday, emphasizing the need to continue to work with other countries.

"We should encourage the democratic movement in Syria, but at the same time avoid anything like an open-ended commitment," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Appearing on the same program, Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) urged patience in Libya as well.

"We need to give it a little bit of time. I think the squeeze play that we are applying more and more pressure on Kadafi with military action, with an embargo, will eventually succeed."

But even while applauding the Obama administration for deploying drones in Libya, McCain, Graham and Lieberman criticized the White House for removing other U.S. attack aircraft from front line roles in the support of rebel forces.

"You can't get into a fight with one foot," said Lieberman.

McCain, who has been a leading advocate for a more aggressive U.S. action in Libya, warned that a military stalemate there could provide an opening for Al Qaeda and he called for more concerted efforts to arm the rebels using intermediaries the way the U.S. helped Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union in the '80s.

But McCain and Lieberman signaled less confidence in targeting Kadafi specifically.

"We have tried those things in the past with other dictators, and it's a little harder than you think it is," McCain said, warning of the danger of civilian casualties should the U.S. strike at Kadafi and his inner circle.

noam.levey@latimes.com

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