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White House defends mission in Libya

- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

After a week of criticism that the White House has failed to articulate a clear mission on the military intervention in Libya, the Obama administration dispatched two Cabinet members to push back on the Sunday talk shows.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates appeared together on several programs to discuss the no-fly zone over Libya being imposed by the United States and its allies.

"There are no perfect options," Mrs. Clinton said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But, she said, the U.S. intervention has helped turn the tide in the battle between the anti-government rebels and forces loyal to military strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi. "I think the results on the ground are pretty significant," she said.

Both Cabinet members responded to critics who contend the rationale for the intervention — to prevent the slaughter of Libyans — is too open-ended and could leave Col. Gadhafi in power.

"Don't underestimate the possibility that elements of the regime could turn (on Col. Gadhafi)," Mr. Gates said. Col. Gahafi's days are numbered, he added. "Let's put it this way: I wouldn't be hanging any new pictures if I were him."

Mr. Gates downplayed the idea that Col. Gadhafi would survive the operation.

"There are more tools in our toolbox than just a hammer," Mr. Gates said. "There are a lot of possibilities. His military could turn. The (ruling) familiy could split."

Mrs. Clinton said the situation in Syria, where government forces have shot and killed protesters, was unlike the fight in Libya, where Col. Gadhafi has used tanks and air power against his opponents.

"There's a difference between calling up aircraft and indiscriminately strafing your own cities and police action that, frankly, goes beyond what any of us would want to see," she said.

On ABC's "This Week," Mrs. Clinton compared the effort to remove Col. Gadhafi to the multinational mission to intervene in the Balkans in the 1990s.

"It took a long time in the Balkans, in Kosovo, to deal with a tyrant. But I think in what has happened since March 1 — and we're not even done with the month — demonstrates really remarkable leadership," she said.

"Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered ... the cries would be, 'Why did the United States not do anything?'" she said.

The appearances by the two Cabinet secretaries came one day ahead of a nationally televised address by President Obama, who is scheduled to speak Monday night on the action in Libya and the Middle East.

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