By Hayley Peterson
President Obama is so far resisting the growing chorus of international calls to create a no-fly zone over Libya as the death toll there rises and President Moammar Gadhafi shows no sign of weakening.
Meanwhile, NATO officials are preparing to vote as early as Thursday on a proposal that would ban all air traffic over the embattled country. They are already monitoring air and ground traffic in Libya to determine the logistical requirements of establishing a no-fly zone there, according to Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO.
"I can't imagine the international community and the United Nations standing idly by if Gadhafi and his regime continue to attack their own people systematically," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels Monday.
Back in Washington, President Obama maintained that "all options are on the table ... including military options," but stopped short of backing a no-fly zone.
Though they did not dismiss the possibility of creating a no-fly zone, senior administration officials voiced skepticism over its practicality and potential effectiveness.
"There are some things that a no-fly can do in terms of air traffic, and things that it can't do," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "This option is very much on the table, but people need to understand the complexities of it, both in its implementation and what it can and can't achieve."
With the U.S. military already stretched thin by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carney stressed concerns over the cost of undertaking an operation in Libya.
Intelligence officials, however, say a targeted military approach in Libya could be effective -- and affordable.
Establishing a no-fly zone above eastern Libya would "protect 95 percent of the rebel holdings and vulnerable population and avoid 99 percent of Gadhafi's surface-to-surface missile holdings, almost all of which are in Tripoli," said Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East intelligence office. That zone would cover about 480 square miles.
The operation would require that the U.S. deploy land-based aircraft at nearby bases in Italy, Spain and Greece. The number of planes needed and the cost were not clear.
"Quite frankly, in my long involvement with Gadhafi, the man can be bold and unpredictable but he tends to be very fearful of foreign intervention and provoking foreign attacks against him," White said.
Raj Desai of the Brookings Institution is among those who question whether a no-fly zone would deter Gadhafi.
"We should be pretty skeptical of [the United States'] ability to actually make a difference at this point," Desai said. "The result [in Libya] will be determined by the balance of tribal forces for and against Gadhafi."
On the Hill, GOP leaders are mounting pressure on Obama to create no-fly zone quickly, though White said the opportunity may already have passed.
"One wonders by the time they get a no-fly zone in place whether Gadhafi will have made enough progress to hold his own," he said.