'Tightening noose' on Gadhafi, weighing more steps

The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 5:40 PM

WASHINGTON -- Pledging a relentless drive to kick Moammar Gadhafi out of power, President Barack Obama said Friday the U.S. and the world community are "slowly tightening the noose" on the leader of Libya and will keep up the pressure. But he would not commit to intervening at any cost, warning of potential perils in military action.

"It's going to require some judgment calls, and those are difficult ones," Obama said from the White House as Gadhafi's violent counteroffensive against rebels gained strength.

By choosing tough and even grisly language when questioned about Gadhafi at a news conference, Obama sought to show the United States would not simply stand by. Beyond the rhetoric, it was not clear which next steps Obama might be willing to take, but he said he was considering all options, including military efforts with NATO partners.

Obama also tried to repair an embarrassing crack in the administration's public stance on Libya. His director of national intelligence, James Clapper, had testified to Congress Thursday that Gadhafi's regime "will prevail" in the long term. Although Clapper was referring to the government's weaponry advantages, the comment served to undermine Obama's broader message.

"He wasn't stating policy," Obama told reporters at the White House. "So let me be clear again about what our policy as determined by me - the president of the United States - is. I believe that Gadhafi's on the wrong side of history. I believe the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now. And we are going to be in contact with the opposition, as well as in consultation with the international community, to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Gadhafi being removed from power."

Gadhafi has warned the U.S. and other Western powers not to intervene, saying thousands in his country would die and "we will turn Libya into another Vietnam."

Obama himself said he would not proceed without a deeper consideration of the benefits and the dangers. "Any time I send United States forces into a potentially hostile situation, there are risks involved, and there are consequences," he said.

The NATO alliance on Tuesday is to review military options in Libya. Planning continues for the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace to keep Gadhafi's air forces from bombing his people from above, even though Obama's government has said such an enforcement move may have limited impact, and there is far from international agreement on it.

It would require U.S. and possibly allies' aircraft to first attack Libya's anti-aircraft defenses, a move tantamount to starting war.

As the leader of a superpower who has defended military intervention on moral grounds, Obama is under pressure to show engagement and results in Libya. He spent much of his discussion on Libya describing what the United States has already done, including instituting sanctions, freezing assets and providing humanitarian aid.

Obama acknowledged his concern that Gadhafi could get cornered and fight to the end. The president has warned Gadhafi loyalists to abandon him or face consequences.

"Part of what we're going to be wanting to do is to change the balance - not just militarily inside of Libya, but also to change the balance in terms of those who are around Gadhafi and are thinking about what their future prospects are if they continued down the course that they're on," Obama said. He added: "We're going to have to continue to apply pressure."

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