5:00pm

Tue February 22, 2011
World

U.S. Lacks Leverage To Pressure Libya

The United Nations Security Council met in emergency session Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Libya. And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had tough words for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, saying the violence against protesters is unacceptable.

But unlike in Egypt, the United States has little leverage to stop the bloodshed in Libya.

While the U.N. Security Council condemned the violence wracking Libya, it stopped short of taking concrete steps to prevent it. Some activists wanted to see the council impose a no-fly zone to stop Libyan aircraft from firing on demonstrators.

Still, Clinton said the international community is coming together on this issue and speaking with one voice. "We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence, as we've received reports of hundreds killed and many more injured. This bloodshed is completely unacceptable," she said.

Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, went further, saying the United States should put Gadhafi on notice that his "cowardly actions will have consequences."

Kerry said American and international oil companies should stop their operations in Libya until the attacks on civilians end. And Kerry said the United States should consider re-imposing sanctions that were lifted by the Bush administration.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley wouldn't rule that out down the road, but he said for now, the U.S. is focused on trying to evacuate Americans. He also suggested that U.S. influence in Libya is limited.

"We want to see the bloodshed stop. Our calls have been very clear and very compelling," he said. "I don't know that we can do any more at this point."

A Trickier Position

The United States has been careful to coordinate with others on this issue, so it is not seen as just the Americans criticizing Gadhafi. The Libyan leader highlighted America's history there when he spoke Tuesday in front of the ruins of his former residence, destroyed by U.S. airstrikes in 1986.

And it's not just the United States that lacks leverage in Libya these days, said Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group. His organization is suggesting a series of steps that the U.S. should take together with the U.N., the Arab League and others if any outside pressure is to work.

"As they put pressure on Gadhafi to stop the sort of mad violence that he's engaged in, people also have to be thinking about the day after," Malley said.

Unlike in Egypt, where there were institutions like the military that could take over the transition, Malley says Gadhafi's system of governance is all about him and his tribal alliances. He didn't even trust the army, Malley said, though Gadhafi came to power in a military coup.

"Gadhafi has been everything, and he hasn't developed and Libya hasn't developed those institutions that could survive his fall," Malley said. "So once he goes, everything might go, and that is going to be a very, very difficult and very different kind of transition, if it came to pass, if it came to that — a very different kind of transition to manage and a much greater challenge for the Libyans themselves."

The International Crisis Group said there are some steps that can be taken now, though. They include targeted sanctions on Gadhafi and his associates; safe haven for pilots and other security personnel who refuse to carry out Gadhafi's orders; and an arms embargo to make sure the Libyan regime doesn't have the means to continue what it's doing. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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