Following his strong suggestion to Moammar Ghadafi that he needs to leave office, President Obama has suggested the US might be willing to take action to insure he leaves.
Which, of course, everyone in Washington doesn’t agree with.
President Obama, appearing Monday morning with Australia’s prime minister, tried to raise the pressure on Colonel Qaddafi further by talking about “a range of potential options, including potential military options” against the embattled Libyan leader.
Despite Mr. Obama’s statement, interviews with military officials and other administration officials describe a number of risks, some tactical and others political, to American intervention in Libya.
Of most concern to the president himself, one high-level aide said, is the perception that the United States would once again be meddling in the Middle East, where it has overturned many a leader, including Saddam Hussein. Some critics of the United States in the region — as well as some leaders — have already claimed that a Western conspiracy is stoking the revolutions that have overtaken the Middle East.
“He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic,” the senior official said, quoting the president.
At the same time, there are persistent voices — in Congress and even inside the administration — arguing that Mr. Obama is moving too slowly. They contend that there is too much concern about perceptions, and that the White House is too squeamish because of Iraq.
Furthermore, they say a military caught up in two difficult wars has exaggerated the risks of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, the tactic discussed most often.
The American military is also privately skeptical of humanitarian gestures that put the lives of troops at risk for the cause of the moment, while being of only tenuous national interest.
Some of these critics seem motivated by political advantage. Others, including the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who is among Mr. Obama’s closest allies, warn of repeating mistakes made in Iraqi Kurdistan, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina by failing to step in and halt a slaughter.
The most vocal camp, led by Senators John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, and Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent and another hawk on Libyan intervention, say the central justification for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya is that the rebel leaders themselves are seeking military assistance to end decades of dictatorship.
It is hardly an effort to impose American will in the Muslim world, Mr. Lieberman argued in an interview on Monday.
“We have to try and help those who are offering an alternative future to Libya,” Mr. Lieberman said, sounding much like Mr. Obama at the White House on Monday. “We cannot allow them to be stifled or stopped by brutal actions of the Libyan government.”
But even the critics acknowledge that the best outcome would be for the United States not to go it alone, but join other nations or international organizations, in particular NATO, the Arab League or the African Union.