How to Deal with an Untethered Dictator? Almost Like a Hostage Negotiator

By Kristina

Feb 24, 2011 7:40am

Officials analyzing Moammar Gadhafi's rambling speech are concerned that the Libyan strongman is so untethered to reality he may "burn down the house with him," as one put it, putting the Lybyan people — and hundreds of Americans — at risk, and prompting President Obama to carefully calibrate his words.

In his first public remarks on the crisis Wednesday, President Obama didn't mention Gadhafi's name, not wanting to personalize the crisis and feed into Gadhafi's megalomaniacal worldview of this crisis as a showdown between him and President Obama.

Officials describe the careful way President Obama is treading almost as if he were a law enforcement negotiator trying to deal with a hostage-taker: wanting to calmly back him down from the precipice of a rash and violent end, not wanting to inflame the situation.

The president would have been more forceful in his comments, sources said, if the hundreds of Americans in Libya had been able to escape the country. But as of now there's a real fear Gadhafi could accuse the Americans of being spies and take them hostage.

At the same time, the president is pursuing a variety of actions aimed at further isolating Gadhafi from the international community: unilateral and multilateral sanctions and a potential travel ban. Next week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet her fellow foreign ministers in Geneva at a convening of the United Nations Human Rights Council where she will support an effort to remove Libya from the Council.

-Jake Tapper

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