Pressure in Congress Mounts For No-Fly Zone In Libya

As air attacks against Libyan rebels grow more violent, calls for attacking Muammar Qaddafi’s Air Force are growing in Congress.

Britain and France are drafting a UN resolution establishing a no-fly zone, which will be considered at a NATO meeting Thursday.

But some in Congress believe time is of the essence and are urging Obama to act independently.“It’s becoming crystal clear that every day you wait to create a no-fly zone, Qaddafi gets stronger,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told TPM Monday evening.

President Obama has continued to say that all options, including a no-fly zone, remain on the table and Monday warned Qaddafi and his supporters that they would be held accountable for massacring their own people.

“I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gaddafi: it is their choice to make how they operate moving forward and they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there,” Obama said. “In the meantime, we’ve got NATO, as we speak, consulting in Brussels around a wide range of potential options, including potential military options.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said Obama is doing the right thing by looking at all of his options and waiting to win support from the international community. Levin said Pentagon officials briefed him on the status of those considerations on Friday.

“[Obama] should and is looking at all the options,” Levin told TPM. “It’s important there be international support.”

Levin also said the Arab League is considering supporting the no-fly zone. Its ministers will meet on Friday in Cairo to discuss the Libya crisis, according to a report in Reuters.

Graham, however, said waiting for the Arab League’s seal of approval is not the leadership the Libyan people are looking for from the United States.

“Waiting for the Arab League really falls deaf on my ears,” Graham said. “I don’t see that that’s who the Libyan people are looking for. … The risk of doing nothing is a lot worse.”

Graham said he is far less comfortable with any plans to arm the Libyan rebels because he doesn’t know what forces are behind the rebels and exactly who they are.

Graham joins a chorus of senior senators from both parties, including Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), who have stepped up their calls for a no-fly zone over Libya.

Other senators have urged a more cautious approach while Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week warned against military intervention in another Arab country. He told a congressional panel last week that suppressing Libyan air forces would require military strikes.

“A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses,” he said.