WASHINGTON – With forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi continuing to pound and push rebel forces into retreat, America’s top intelligence official said the Libyan dictator was likely to prevail over time, an indication that the reliance on diplomacy by Western nations may not be enough to topple him.
In a blunt assessment, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate panel Thursday that the battlefield momentum had begun to shift toward Gadhafi’s regime and, because of its superior firepower and logistical capabilities, “I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.”
The retired Air Force general said his assessment was based in part on secret intelligence, which indicated that special military units loyal to Gadhafi and equipped with tanks and artillery have been able to maintain and replenish their weapons.
Even if Gadhafi doesn’t defeat the rebels, Clapper said, Libya could end up split into two or three parts in “a Somali-like situation,” which senators said would be disastrous for U.S. interests.
Clapper’s comments prompted the White House to organize an unusual on-the-record conference call with reporters by national security adviser Thomas Donilon, who said Clapper’s view didn’t take into account the pressure the U.S. and other countries were bringing, such as economic sanctions, travel bans and the freezing of assets.
Gadhafi’s determination to fight back against the opposition has rattled the West, which had watched democratic forces in Tunisia and Egypt topple authoritarian regimes without international military intervention. But Libya has presented a contrary, darker example.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that if the Gadhafi defeated rebels, “it would signal to rulers across the region that the best way to maintain power in the face of peaceful demands for justice is through swift and merciless violence.”
“Perhaps the greater concern for all of us should be what it would mean for America’s credibility and moral standing if a tyrant were allowed to massacre Arabs and Muslims in Libya, and we watched it happen,” McCain said.
McCain and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the Obama administration should do more to help the rebels, including imposing a no-fly zone, to prevent Gadhafi from retaining power.