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US talks tough on Libya

Mark Mardell | 05:26 UK time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

The US, so long hesitant about military action in Libya, now says a mere no-fly zone doesn't go far enough. They want something tougher.

For days the US has held back, refusing to reveal its position - even to allies like the UK and France who are behind the demand for a no-fly zone.

Now the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has said that the resolution which is being discussed may need to go beyond this proposal, adding that no-fly zones have "inherent limitations" in protecting citizens at immediate risk.

She said the UN Security Council is focused on swift and meaningful action to halt the killing on the ground. We're told that is diplomatic speak for airstrikes and bombardment from the sea. Sending in troops has been ruled out.

She has a point. Most in the US top brass are scornful about the idea of a no-fly zone. The US flew more than 30 sorties a day over Iraq and it didn't bring down Saddam Hussein.

No-fly zones would have been no good against the awful massacres of Rwanda and Srebrenica.

But the argument has gone further than this.

There's been serious debate inside President Obama's administration about the wisdom of using military force at all.

There's an aversion to getting involved in another war with another Muslim country, or giving the impression that democracy is a Western plot. Libya is seen as a distraction, not a core US interest.

Perhaps a promise of Arab nations leading any such action is a key to any change of heart.

The New York Times reports that unnamed European diplomats have privately suggested America's support for tougher measures is a deliberate plot to provoke a veto.

That's too cynical for me. But the speed with which the rebels are apparently being crushed must be a factor.

The Russians and Chinese are not on board yet, and any international endorsed action could come too late.

The UN advances rather more slowly than Col Gaddafi's forces.


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