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Libyan regime could collapse from within, U.S. officials say

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton say they have received hints that some officials close to Moammar Kadafi may be ready to abandon him.

March 27, 2011|By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — Top Obama administration officials predicted that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's regime may crack from within, as allied warplanes, resurgent rebels and the international community put more pressure on Tripoli.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in appearances on Sunday talk shows, said they had received indications that some officials close to Kadafi might be ready to abandon him.

"We have a lot of evidence that people around him are reaching out," Clinton said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're also sending a message to people around him: Do you really want to be a pariah? Do you really want to end up in the International Criminal Court? Now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direction."

Gates, on CBS' "Face the Nation," said that Kadafi "could see elements of his military turning, deciding this is a no-win proposition. The family is splitting. Any number of possibilities are out there, as long as the international pressure continues and those around him see no future in staying with him.

"One should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking," Gates said. "I would not be hanging any new pictures if I were him."

Clinton and Gates were seeking to explain what some critics have portrayed as a contradiction in President Obama's statements on Libya. On the one hand, the president has said that U.S. policy is that Kadafi must go. On the other hand, Obama also has said that the military operation involving the U.S. and its allies is not intended to drive Kadafi from power, but is strictly limited to protecting Libyan civilians from attacks by government forces.

The message delivered by Gates and Clinton was that the airstrikes had largely achieved the limited goal of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, and that other kinds of force — including economic sanctions — could be counted on now to weaken Kadafi's grip on power.

"The president has made it very clear there will be no American troops on the ground in Libya," Gates said on ABC's "This Week." "Beginning this week or within the next week or so, we will begin to diminish the commitment of resources we have committed to this."

Meanwhile, on "Fox News Sunday," Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) defended Obama's decision to intervene in the Libyan conflict.

"The fact is that Kadafi's forces were on the outskirts of Benghazi. He said himself he would go house to house and kill and murder people," McCain said. "Thank God, at the eleventh hour, with the no-fly zone, we prevented that from happening."

Lieberman said critics would have had more to complain about had the United States not acted.

"If the coalition forces had not gone into Libya, we'd be on this Sunday show bemoaning — really, crying over a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi, a slaughter of thousands of people. And we'd be asking, 'Why didn't Obama do something? Why did the world stand by?' Instead, today, we have averted that."

david.savage@latimes.com

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