Sen. John McCain said Thursday that establishing a no-fly zone over Libya should be a viable option for the United States military -- and saying so does not amount to "loose talk."
McCain (R-Ariz.) did not mention Defense Secretary Robert Gates by name at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, according to the Associated Press
. But Gates has warned Congress about loose talk in connection with the difficult task of setting up a no-fly zone in response to Moammar Gadhafi's air offensive against rebel positions.
On Wednesday, in an appearance before House Appropriations Committee
, Gates said establishing a no-fly zone
to police Gadhafi's warplanes would involve a "big operation in a big country." It is doable, Gates testified, but he added, "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. . . . And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down."
came as Gadhafi launched airstrikes Thursday
against two rebel-held towns. Gates, the highest ranking Republican in the Obama administration, is well respected on Capitol Hill, but McCain also has credibility as a onetime Navy pilot whose plane was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war.
McCain said Thursday U.S. experience in southern Iraq beginning in 1992 suggests that keeping the skies clear over a contested zone is "not hard to do," The Hill
newspaper reported. Even threatening a no-fly zone would amount to a "strategic deterrent," he said during an exchange with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. "Deterrence" is an option the national command "should always have," Dempsey said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also endorsed serious consideration of a no-fly zone.