The Obama administration needs to “cut the head of the snake off” in Libya, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said Sunday that the only way to avoid a prolonged military stalemate in the North African country is to directly target embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
But although the South Carolina Republican and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) broadly agreed during their appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that a stalemate would be dangerous and costly, they disagreed over how to avoid one.
An international coalition including the United States has been enforcing a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for military action to protect Libyan civilians from Gadhafi’s regime since last month.
“Start bombing Gadhafi’s inner circle, their compounds, their military headquarters in Tripoli,” Graham said. “I think the focus should now be to cut the head of the snake off. That’s the quickest way to end this.”
Graham added that the United States should go after Gadhafi regardless of whether the United Nations agrees.
“I like coalitions. It’s good to have them. It’s good to have the U.N. involved. But the goal is to get rid of Gadhafi. A military stalemate is ensuing,” he said. “The only way I know to make this thing successful is to put pressure on Tripoli. The people around Gadhafi need to wake up every day wondering, ‘Will this be my last?’ The military commanders in Tripoli supporting Gadhafi should be pounded. So, I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.”
But McCain, fresh from a trip to Libya, saw things somewhat differently when asked about Graham’s remarks.
“We have tried those things in the past with other dictators, and it’s a little harder than you think it is,” McCain said from Cairo. “Gaddafi’s a great survivor. We don’t know exactly where he is. We do have to worry about civilian casualties. That could turn the Libyan people against us. I certainly think we ought to make Gadhafi aware that his very life is in danger, but I think we just have to be a little careful how we do that.”
McCain said a stalemate would be dangerous for American’s national security.
“I think it’s very possible that al-Qaida could come in and take advantage of a stalemated situation. But right now, it’s not al-Qaida that motivated this, and it’s not al-Qaida that’s running it,” he said, adding what may have been a dig at President Barack Obama, his opponent in the 2008 presidential contest. “I really fear a stalemate. I hope that Gadhafi goes. I hope that there’s that kind of overthrow from within. But hope is not a strategy.”
Lieberman agreed with the Republicans that “Gadhafi and his family and everybody else near him wakes up every day thinking it is their last.” But he said that a decision to target the Libyan leader directly should be left to the United Nations. He noted, however, his belief that the current U.N. resolution could be interpreted as authorizing such a move.
“Whether we directly target Gadhafi personally, as John McCain said earlier, it’s not easy to do that. But it is possible. And I’d leave that decision to NATO,” he said.