–Top intelligence official says Gaddafi likely to prevail; U.S., Europe weigh responses
By Craig Whitlock and Edward Cody
Thursday, Mar 10, 2011
The top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is likely to “prevail” in his battle against rebels without foreign intervention or some other major change, as European governments and U.S. lawmakers sought ways to aid Gaddafi’s opponents.
James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Gaddafi has consolidated his position in recent days and that his forces are far better equipped than the rebels, giving him a clear advantage.
“We believe that Gaddafi is in this for the long haul,” Clapper said. “Right now, he seems to have staying power unless some other dynamic changes at this time.”
Some members of the committee, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), have been pressing the Obama administration to intervene more aggressively in Libya, either by imposing a no-fly zone or giving direct aid to the rebels. They said Clapper’s assessment reinforces their fears that the United States is missing an opportunity to do more to drive Gaddafi from power.
“There’s a real possibility that the regime will prevail,” Lieberman said. “That’s a very bad outcome.”
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, asked Clapper and Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, whether imposing a no-fly zone on Libya would constitute an act of war.
Clapper said he would have to consult with government lawyers before answering. Burgess replied that “my general understanding” is that enforcing a no-fly zone would be an act of war.
The testimony came after France recognized the main Libyan rebel group as the legitimate representative of the country Thursday and urged its European allies to do the same as a way to hasten Gaddafi’s downfall.
France made the announcement in Paris as European Union foreign ministers and NATO defense ministers gathered in separate huddles in Brussels to weigh proposals for military, diplomatic and humanitarian steps to push the embattled 68-year-old Libyan leader out of power in Tripoli.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week to promote democratic reforms and meet with Libyan opposition figures. She also announced that the United States is suspending relations with the Libyan Embassy in Washington.
Libya’s ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations – who have both defected to the opposition – announced, meanwhile, that they would hold a joint news conference Friday to call on the Obama administration and Congress to recognize the rebels’ National Transitional Council as Libya’s sole legitimate government.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accused Gaddafi’s security forces of “systematic and generalized” attacks against civilians and said their conduct could amount to crimes against humanity. If the need arose and if the United Nations authorized it, he said, NATO was prepared to take military steps to pressure the Gaddafi government to give up.
“We are watching what the Libyan government is doing to its people very closely indeed,” Rasmussen said in a speech starting the defense ministers’ gathering.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy met at the Elysee Palace with two representatives of the rebels’ Benghazi-based National Council of Libya, identified as Mahmoud Jibril and Ali Essawi. The meeting was depicted as a gesture of support for the rebellion that has taken control of the eastern third of the country and is battling counterattacks by Gaddafi’s forces in several cities. On Thursday, government forces appeared to tighten their siege of rebel-held Misurata, while skirmishes continued in the contested city of Zawiyah.
France will soon send an ambassador to Benghazi to establish regular contact with the rebel organization, officials said, and Essawi said the council planned to send a representative to Europe.
French officials told reporters, however, that the recognition did not signify diplomatic recognition of the council as a government. Rather, they explained, it was designed as an act of encouragement.
“We would like all the European Union to follow suit,” one official told Reuters. “But it’s not in the bag.”
Sarkozy’s government, which was slow off the mark in recognizing the scope of the recent revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, has been eager to get out front in supporting Libya’s rebellion. Its determination to act boldly comes despite past efforts to cultivate good relations with Gaddafi and an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to use some of his oil billions to buy France’s Rafale multipurpose fighter.
The Obama administration has emphasized that, whatever action is contemplated, it must have a legal basis, probably a U.N. Security Council resolution; it must be approved by regional nations; and it must be seen to be a necessary response to the situation in Libya.
Obama’s advisers say the U.S. president is content to let other nations publicly lead the search for solutions to the conflict.
The 28 E.U. heads of state and government are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Friday to decide on a common course on Libya. Reports from Paris said some French officials are pushing for a no-fly zone or bombing raids on Gaddafi’s military installations, provided that such moves are authorized by the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League. But other European capitals have expressed caution, saying Libya’s rebel movement is little known and military strikes would be a serious step fraught with danger.
Jibril and Essawi had asked for E.U. recognition during conversations Thursday in Strasburg with members of the European Parliament. Parliament members endorsed the idea, but the E.U. foreign affairs head, Catherine Ashton, declined to take the step pending the summit meeting Friday.
A senior U.S. official said the NATO defense ministers were examining a wide range of options prepared by military planners. Although much discussion has centered on a no-fly zone, he said, the planning also includes smaller-scale responses, such as military protection for delivery of humanitarian relief and jamming of Libya’s military communications.
NATO-nation Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft have been flying intelligence-gathering patrols off Libya for a number of days, he said.
Consultations on a possible Security Council resolution have been underway for a week at U.N. headquarters in New York. But Russia and China – along with other nations – have made it clear they are not eager to support military action.
The Arab League is scheduled to meet in Cairo on Saturday. A senior Libyan official traveled to the Egyptian capital Wednesday on what appeared to be a mission to invoke pan-Arab solidarity to prevent the group from endorsing military action against Gaddafi.
The mercurial Libyan leader has enemies as well as friends among the Arab leaders, however, having clashed with many of them over the years at various summit conferences and often calling them traitors to the Palestinian and Arab causes.
Cody reported from Brussels.