The stalled offensive by Libyan rebels and the increasing prospect that Moammar Gadhafi could emerge victorious appears to be driving a sea change in Washington toward arming the insurgents or providing them with air cover to continue their march to Tripoli.
At the White House, where all eyes are on the climbing price of gas at the pump (currently $3.89/gal U.S. average, according to Triple-A) as result of what some allege is profiteering by oil companies seeking to cash in on the Libyan revolution, spokesman Jay Carney insisted today, "We are not at a decision point."
The clock is clearly ticking, however. Western powers are proceeding on two tracks: The French and British are pursuing a United Nations resolution allowing a conditional military intervention, and in Brussels, NATO member defense ministers meet tomorrow to consider whether it will be the organization that carries out a military intervention.
While many Republicans and Democrats in Congress are already calling for a no-fly zone, the Obama adminstration does not want to appear to look like it is taking a lead role in backing the rebels. Quietly they note U.S. bombs dropping on civilians could become a recruiting video for Al Qaeda, while the potential loss of U.S. pilots could become a campaign ad for the Republicans next year.
It is a public relations nightmare standing in the way of averting a human rights catastrophe, as The Worden Report blog notes. For the time being, the Obama administration is more comfortable hiding behind its European partners and the Arab states.
"There is an international effort going on. The British and French governments are going to the United Nations with a draft resolution that would authorize international action. We think it’s very important that there be a UN decision on whatever might be done. The Gulf countries put out a statement yesterday saying that they would support a no-fly zone, and yesterday too, the Arab League, through its secretary general, said that they would not object to that," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS today.
"So we believe it’s important that this not be an American or a NATO or a European effort; it needs to be an international one. And there is still a lot of opposition, as you probably know, within the Security Council. But we’re working to try to come up with a good, solid international package," Clinton added.
CNN analyst Fouad Ajami, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said rebel leaders are telling him they need a no-fly zone over Libya or else could faced defeat at the hands of the better armed Gadhafi forces.
"They're telling us that they can't win this fight. They're telling us patriotism is not enough," Ajami said. "That unless you have air cover and neutralize the advantages of Moammar Gadhafi, this rebellion will be crushed."