Two key Senators on foreign policy criticized President Barack Obama on Sunday for not taking a more aggressive stance toward Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s crackdown on political protesters, with one calling for arming Libyans to form a new government.
Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain said Obama should have strongly condemned the Libyan dictator as soon as the political uprising began this month, despite concerns about putting Americans in Libya at risk.
“The British prime minister and the French president and others were not hesitant, and they have citizens in that country,” the Arizona Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
People in Libya and other nearby nations experiencing political upheaval “are looking to America for leadership, for assistance, for moral support and ratification of the sacrifices they have made in defense of democracy,” he said. “America should lead.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, agreed on “State of the Union” that the United States should have come out early with a stronger response. “I wish we had spoken out much more clearly and early against the Gadhafi regime,” the Connecticut Independent said.
Now is the time to step up action against Gadhafi, said Lieberman, who endorsed giving weapons to citizens who are trying to form a new government.
Obama should recognize “the revolutionary government, the citizens’ government, and support for them with both humanitarian assistance and I would provide them with arms,” he said. “This takes me back to the ’90s in the Balkans when we intervened to stop a genocide against Bosnians. And the first [thing] we did was to provide them the arms to defend themselves. That’s what I think we ought to do in Libya.”
Both McCain and Lieberman have been traveling in the Middle East, and they appeared on the show in a live feed from Cairo.
McCain said “there possibly could be” a military option for the United States, but he said enforcing a no-fly zone is the best solution for now.
“Libyan pilots aren’t going to fly if there is a no-fly zone, and we could get air assets there to ensure it,” he said.
In a separate appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McCain continued making the case for imposing a no-fly zone. “A no-fly zone would be a very strong signal,” he said. For the moment, the United States is “not ready to use ground forces.”
A political uprising in North Africa and the Middle East began last month in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. While the protests in Tunisia and Egypt were relatively peaceful, Gadhafi’s regime has cracked down hard on dissenters, and the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted Saturday night to impose military and financial sanctions against the leader. The Security Council also voted to refer the regime’s actions to a war crimes tribunal to investigate possible crimes against humanity.
Obama first called on Gadhafi to step down Saturday. He took the stance during a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Libya.
“The President and the Chancellor shared deep concerns about the Libyan government’s continued violation of human rights and brutalization of its people,” according to a White House overview of the conversation released Saturday. “The President stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”