President Obama’s chief of staff on Sunday said that many of those calling for the U.S. to enforce a “no-fly zone” over Libya “have no idea what they’re talking about” when it comes to the burdens of such an undertaking.
Days after Mr. Obama said he is considering a full range of both military and nonmilitary options to thwart leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s violent crackdown on rebels, William Daley pushed back against intensifying calls for a no-fly zone, suggesting that some advocates don’t grasp the seriousness of such an operation.
“Lots of people throw around phrases of ‘no-fly zone’ — they talk about it as though it’s just … a video game or something,” Mr. Daley said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “When people comment on military action, most of them have no idea what they’re talking about.”
Among those calling for a no-fly zone are the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.
Both are decorated Vietnam veterans, and Mr. McCain was a Navy aviator.
Libya seems headed for civil war as the Gadhafi regime struggles to regain territory captured by the rebels, who have taken several eastern cities, as well as the western oil center of Zawiyah.
Witnesses to this weekend’s fighting in Zawiyah accused government-backed forces of massacring civilians.
Mr. McCain said a no-fly zone would send a message that Mr. Obama is serious in his call for Col. Gadhafi to step down immediately.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. McCain described Libyan air forces as “antiquated,” and argued that restricting the airspace is crucial to preventing humanitarian abuses.
Mr. Kerry agreed the U.S. and its partners should ready plans for a no-fly zone, but ruled out the use of any ground forces.
“The last thing we want to think about is any kind of military intervention,” the Massachusetts Democrat said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And I don’t consider the no-fly zone stepping over that line.”
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates seems to see it differently. In congressional testimony last week, he likened a no-fly zone to an act of war. “Just call a spade a spade,” Mr. Gates, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, told lawmakers. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone,” he said.
The Pentagon chief said the operation would require more military aircraft than could be placed on a single aircraft carrier, as well as the redeployment of some fighter jets already committed elsewhere.
The fighting in Libya comes after autocratic rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt were toppled in a largely nonviolent wave of political unrest that’s since spread throughout the Arab world.
While U.S.-backed leaders in Yemen and Bahrain have offered concessions to opposition movements, Col. Gadhafi has remained defiant, blaming the uprisings on everyone from Osama bin Laden to foreign journalists.
The U.S. re-established relations with Libya in recent years, removing the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006 after nearly three decades.
The State Department has since shuttered its embassy there in wake of the violence.