On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discussed the conflict in Libya and defended the military action being undertaken by coalition forces, attempting to place U.S. military action in the wider context of the nation’s overall foreign and military policy.

Libya “had a leader who used military force against the protesters,” Clinton said, defending coalition forces’ action in Libya in the absence of such action in other Arab nations. Clinton said that if there had been a coalition backing military action in other countries, such action would have taken place. “We can’t draw some general, sweeping conclusions about the entire region.”

“I think what you’re seeing is the difference between a military mission and a policy initiative,” Gates said. When asked if he knew when the no-fly zone would be lifted, Gates would not pin down a date, “I don’t think anybody has any idea.”

“The military attacks began essentially a week ago,” Gates said. “Don’t underestimate the potential for elements of the regime themselves to crack and turn.” As to Gaddafi’s future, Gates was succinct, “I wouldn’t be hanging any new pictures if I were him.”

Gates reminded viewers of the bigger picture. “We are so focused on these individual countries, I think that we have lost sight of the extraordinary story that is going on in the Middle East,” he said, describing a “wide-spread” change in the “tectonic plates” of the region. “We are in dark territory,” he continued, in an effort to underscore the wider challenge being faced by the United States and coalition forces. “We can’t lose sight of the historic, dramatic nature of what’s going on.”

Clinton followed up quickly in agreement: “There are no perfect options.”

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