- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

One day ahead of a major address by President Obama on the crisis in Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates praised the no-fly zone being enforced by the United States and its allies as a success.

Appearing together on the Sunday talk shows, both secretaries were optimistic one week into the American-led air operations targeting the forces of dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

“There are no perfect options,” Mrs. Clinton said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” before adding that U.S. air power has helped turn the tide in the favor of rebels opposing Gadhafi.

“I think the results on the ground are pretty significant,” she said.

Asked about a timetable on American involvement in the operation, however, Mr. Gates said flatly,”I don’t think anyone has any idea.”

The defense secretary, who had counseled against involvement in the Libyan conflict, according to administration insiders, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he doesn’t think Libya is of vital interest to the U.S., but, “we clearly have interests there and its a part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States.”

But Mrs. Clinton, who has become the administration’s leading proponent for action on Libya, said the U.S. needs to be on the side of the democracy movements in the Middle East.

And both secretaries downplayed concerns that Col. Gadhafi might survive the military operation.

“Don’t underestimate the possibility that elements of the regime could turn” on Col. Gadhafi, Mr. Gates said, predicting that the Libyan dictator’s time in power is drawing to a close. “Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t be hanging any new pictures if I were him.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” Mrs. Clinton compared the effort to remove Col. Gadhafi to the multinational mission in Bosnia 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.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said the decision to intervene in Libya was “very different” than the Bush adminstration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

“It is a flyover which is succeeding,” Mr. Levin said on CNN. He said removing Col. Gadhafi is not necessary for the mission to be a succes, as long as the dictator is “so weakened or so cornered by his own people that he cannot again start slaughtering his own.”

Other lawmakers were sharply critical of the White House.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, appearing on NBC, said, “There should have been a plan for what our objectives were, a debate as to why this was in our vital interest before we committed military forces to Libya.”

He said the Libyan rebels are people “who we really don’t know.”

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