WASHINGTON, March 6, 2011 -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reiterated his call for a U.S.-backed no-fly zone over Libya this morning and called Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "insane."
In calling for the no-fly zone, McCain told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour, "We can't risk allowing Gadhafi to massacre people from the air, both by helicopter and fixed-wing [aircraft]."
Amanpour pointed out that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had recently noted that imposing a no-fly zone over a country as large as Libya would be a significant endeavor.
"If it's ordered, we can do it. But the reality is there's a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options," the secretary said on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. "And let's just call a spade a spade: a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone."
McCain noted that, "these air assets that Gadhafi has are not overwhelming."
If the U.S. gets involved, Amanpour asked, is that taking sides?
"Clearly," McCain said, "we are on the side of the rebels. We have called for Gadhafi's removal – that's the President of the United State's policy. I want to emphasize: ground intervention would not be appropriate – certainly not at this time.
"A ground intervention by the part of the United States could be very counterproductive," he said. "But we can assist in a lot of ways: humanitarian, intelligence, providing them with some training and other things we can do as they form up a provisional government in Benghazi."
So how can the U.S. push Gadhafi to leave?
"I hope that Gadhafi understands the inevitability of --" McCain began to say.
"But he hasn't shown much indication to us," Amanpour interjected. She sat down with the Libyan leader last Monday.
"Oh, I agree with you," McCain said. "He's insane. But perhaps the people around him would begin to depart the sinking ship."
"Again," he added, "by a no-fly zone, by declaring our support for a provisional government, perhaps, which is being formed up now – there is a lot of steps we can take."
McCain, who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently returned from a trip around the Middle East where he met with government leaders in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.
He said the best way for the U.S. to help fledging governments manage the transition to democracy was to avoid the appearance of interfering or dictating the countries' internal affairs.
"There's a lot of skepticism in Egypt, in Tunisia and in other countries because of our support of past rulers," he said.
McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for President, emphasized the importance of assistance.
"The most important thing we could do in the long-run for these countries is investment. Because, you know, this was all about jobs," he said.
"This is really about the economies of these countries," McCain explained.
The senator noted that Egypt was the key to the burgeoning movement of democracy in the Middle East. "It's the heart and soul of the Arab world. The other countries are very important," he said, "but maybe we could fail in one of these other countries. We fail in Egypt: it has severe consequences."