Levin: Qaddafi could return to supporting terrorism if left in power

Levin: Qaddafi could return to supporting terrorism if left in power

Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi could return to his role as a supporter of international terrorism if he remains in power, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said on Tuesday.

Levin is one of the strongest supporters of President Barack Obama‘s decision to intervene militarily in Libya, and has noted that he agrees with the mission limits that constrain action to protecting Libyan civilians. But when speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, he acknowledged that the mission’s goal is a ceasefire, which could leave Qaddafi in a position to kill citizens in areas under his control, or resume attacks in other countries. Qaddafi’s regime has been implicated in a 1986 attack on a German disco and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

"As long as he’s in power, I’m concerned that he could support acts of international terror. That’s why it’s important to get him out of there," Levin said. "What happens if he [bombs] an airliner? He did that before, what’s to stop him from doing that again? Obviously, nothing’s stopping him."

But Levin echoed Obama’s argument that an expansion of the mission in Libya to topple Qaddafi or arm the rebels could crack the coalition and destroy the international agreement that both Levin and Obama saw as crucial to justify the intervention. But he was skeptical that the economic measures being implemented against Qaddafi would force him to step down.

"If he survives, then the question has to be considered if the international community takes this action again in the future," Levin said.

The question of what to do about Qaddafi will be at the top of senators’ minds when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates come to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a classified briefing on Libya, which all senators are invited to attend. On Thursday, the House and Senate are planning to hold public hearings on Libya. Clinton and Gates have been asked to testify but have not yet been confirmed.

Many senators, including Levin, will also want to know whether or not the administration supports arming the rebels. "I think there are a lot of pros and cons on that, they need to be weighed," Levin said, noting that he’s still conflicted on the issue.

While the international intervention in Libya is supposed to be limited to stopping a humanitarian catastrophe in the country, Levin said that it was also having the effect of supporting the rebel advance.

"If you stop [Qaddafi’s] attack on civilians you are in effect weakening his grip on power," he said.

While he said he thought Obama’s Monday night address to the nation on Libya was excellent, Levin added that he doesn’t yet see an "Obama doctrine" on foreign policy or military intervention.

"I think there is something that I would call the hallmarks of his policy," he said. "I don’t know whether it rises to the dignity of a doctrine yet."

Levin also said he was condsidering introducing a senate resolution to express support for the Libya intervention but had not yet had a chance to speak about it with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

UPDATE: Tuesday afternoon the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will testify on Thursday, but not Clinton.