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Obama wants Qaddafi out of Libya, but what is he ready to do?

Amid calls for a no-fly zone, Obama says a wide range of options are being discussed to deal with Libya. Analysts say he is in no hurry to use force, especially not unilaterally, to oust Qaddafi.

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“He’s also distinguishing between a vital national interest, and what is nice to have, and it is hard to see how … we have a vital national interest in Libya,” Mr. Korb says.

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Obama critics including John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations under President Bush, fault the president for at best offering some rhetoric on the situation – Obama’s statement Thursday, for example, that Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and must relinquish power – and for ceding leadership of the international effort against Qaddafi to the British, French, and even (gasp!) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Wary of Al Qaeda narrative

Obama and administration officials have made it clear that one of the most positive aspects they see in the successful antiregime movements in the region – in Tunisia and Egypt – is that the populations in those countries made the changes happen themselves and in that sense “owned” them (Obama mentioned this publicly in his comments Thursday).

Another concern for the administration is that any international military intervention in Libya might be construed by the regional population as another Western (or worse, American) takeover of an oil-producing Muslim country – a view that would fit nicely into the Al Qaeda narrative.

A number of US senators, including John McCain (R) of Arizona, Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, and John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, continued to call over the weekend for either a no-fly zone or other direct action against Qaddafi. Senator Kerry has suggested the US could bomb Qaddafi-controlled airstrips and render them useless.

But such actions would seem, at least for the moment, to go against Obama’s conception of military action as a last-resort option to be used only to address a vital national interest.

Given those limitations, it is not clear that the US – or the international community – will move very far beyond where it is already, with one sanctions resolution against the Qaddafi regime approved by the UN Security Council, and a focus on addressing Libya’s humanitarian crisis.

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