WASHINGTON— The U.S. and its allies should plan for a no-fly zone over Libya and consider bombing the country's airports and runways, but they should take no action unless there is an international agreement, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and other lawmakers continued a drumbeat for military action in Libya, in the face of reluctance from the White House and U.S. defense officials, who argue that taking out Libya's air defenses would be tantamount to going to war.
"Lots of people throw around phrases of 'no-fly zone' and they talk about it as though it's just a game, a video game or something. Some people who throw that line out have no idea what they're talking about," White House chief of staff William Daley said.
The administration has said that all options are on the table but that any military action must be an international effort. Pentagon chief Robert Gates cautioned last week that an attack on Libya could drag the U.S. military into another conflict, even as nearly 150,000 troops continue to battle in Afghanistan and Iraq.
British Defense Minister Liam Fox on Sunday said that any talks about establishing a no-fly zone over Libya are at "the early stage of contingency planning." Fox told BBC radio that more details will be discussed by NATO defense leaders at a meeting in Brussels later this week. Gates is scheduled to attend that meeting.
Fox also insisted "there was no and there is no plan to use British land forces" in Libya.
The U.S. debate continued as the North African nation appeared to slide toward civil war, with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces in helicopters and on the ground firing on rebel fighters advancing on the capital.
The U.S. moved military forces closer to Libyan shores, but they were mainly providing humanitarian and evacuation support. The U.N. and U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Libya and froze billions in the country's foreign assets.
Kerry said that taking out runways and airports could be an effective tactic short of what Gates described, and he said a no-fly zone would not step over the line into military intervention. He added, however, that moving against Libyan air defenses should only be done if Gadhafi were to use his air force as a means of terror or to massacre large numbers of civilians.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said sending in ground troops would not be appropriate at this point but that implementing a no-fly zone would not be difficult because Libya's air defenses "are somewhat antiquated."
McCain said it would send a signal to the embattled Gadhafi "that the president is serious when he says we need for Gadhafi to go. And also, it would be encouraging to the resistance, who are certainly outgunned from the air." [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East protests.]
McCain added that the U.S. could provide the rebel force with intelligence, training and other assistance to help them form a provisional government in Benghazi.
Kerry appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS while Daley spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press." McCain appeared on ABC's "This Week."