For President Obama, Libyan Tipping Point Came Tuesday: “What We’re Doing Isn’t Stopping Him”

Mar 18, 2011 6:11pm

On Tuesday, President Obama became clear that diplomatic efforts to stop the brutality of Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi  weren’t working.

Presented with intelligence about the push of the Gadhafi regime to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the president told his national security team "what we're doing isn't stopping him.”

Some in his administration, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been pushing for stronger action, but it wasn’t until Tuesday, administration sources tell ABC News, that the president became convinced sanctions and the threat of a no-fly zone wouldn’t be enough.

Already skeptical that a no-fly zone would not have enough of an impact given all the ground attacks, the president met with his national security team from 4:10 pm ET to 5:10 pm ET and asked for more military and diplomatic options, sources tell ABC News.

Another significant moment in that meeting: Clinton told the president that a crucial point for him — that Arab countries would be willing to contribute military force to any international coalition — was achievable.

On Tuesday night the president met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and other military officials over dinner. 

Tuesday night at 9 pm ET, the president went to the Situation Room where he met with principals such as National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan Rice patched in through secure video teleconference. There they hashed out plans for the behind-closed-doors meeting of the UN Security Council the next day.

Rice was instructed to broaden the UN Security Council resolution offered by Lebanon to permit more military might, allowing for the international coalition to stop not just Libyan planes but other Libyan assets such as tanks.

All the while the administration worked furiously to put an international face on the opposition to Gadhafi, emphasizing the Arab League’s vote over the weekend in support of a no-fly zone. President Obaam is mindful that the American public is war-weary and that there is significant international sensitivity to the notion of the U.S. taking military action against yet another Muslim country.

The Lebanese government introduced the no-fly zone resolution on Wednesday, though behind closed doors the U.S. pushed amendment after amendment to make it stronger. The U.S. also insisted on the involvement of Arab countries, securing a commitment for the UAE and Qatar to contribute jets to the effort.

President Obama, also behind closed doors, was working the phones, trying to secure as much support for the resolution – or least lack of opposition – as he could. He contacted South African President Jacob Zuma to urge him to support the resolution. Thursday night, South Africa, which has a rotating seat on the Security Council, voted in favor of it. Other countries that opposed the resolution – Russia, China, Germany, India, Brazil – abstained rather than vote against it.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon was gearing up for action. On Wednesday, Admiral Mullen presented Donilon with the single copy of a dossier outlining military options. On Thursday, Donilon presented those options to the president. All the while the president kept low-key, letting Clinton and Rice be the voices of the administration, pushing the concept of an international movement. 

What role the U.S. will play versus that of European and Arab countries is still being worked out, but there’s little doubt that whatever happens will be with significant U.S. support made as inconspicuous as possible.

-Jake Tapper

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