S.C. Sen. Graham urges cautious approach on Libya

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 2, 2011 

Sen. Lindsey Graham has traveled to war zones with Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman while sharing tough stances with them on Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror.

Now, Graham, R-S.C., is breaking with his close Senate allies for the first time on a major national security issue as he rejects their calls to arm rebels trying to topple Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

"Providing arms, I'm not sure that helps us," Graham told CNN. "I don't know if you could control right now who would get the arms."

McCain, R-Ariz., and Lieberman, I-Conn., were traveling in Egypt, where they urged President Barack Obama to take tougher steps against Gadhafi.

"Now is the time for action, not just statements," Lieberman told CNN. "(We need to provide) the kinds of tangible support - no-fly zone, recognition of the revolutionary government, the citizens government, and support for them with both humanitarian assistance and I would provide them with arms."

McCain said the United States should do more to help oust Gadhafi and "hasten his demise" two weeks after pro-democracy protests began in Libya on the heels of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

"We should recognize a provisional government somewhere in eastern Libya ... perhaps Benghazi," McCain said. "We should make it clear that we will provide assistance to that provisional government."

McCain stressed that the United States should give rebels "the equipment and the materiel that they could use."

Graham, though, urged less aggressive steps.

"What I would suggest is that we really keep implementing U.N. sanctions on the economic side, on the travel side, and go after assets," Graham said. "And a no-fly zone would make a lot of sense to me."

Graham and McCain, who was the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, are close friends who have made numerous visits together to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Graham and McCain have often been joined by Lieberman. The three men sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee and have worked closely with one another on laws regulating the detainment and trial of alleged terrorists.

Graham's stance on Libya puts him more in line with the Obama administration's evolving position on the Middle East nation now threatened by civil war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday he had ordered two warships to the waters off Libya, though he ruled out more direct intervention at least for now.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for Gadhafi's exit from power and hinted at more forceful measures by the United States.

"Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay," Clinton said. "No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone."

In a no-fly zone, U.S. and possibly allied warplanes would patrol the skies above Libya to prevent Gadhafi's military aircraft from firing on the rebels.

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