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Making Up Reasons

Diplomats say NATO won't act to stop Moammar Gaddafi from bombing his own citizens unless the U.N. Security Council passes an authorizing resolution -- and Russia and China will not allow that. Pentagon officials are meanwhile warning that any no-fly operation would require preemptive attacks on Libyan air defenses. At a Senate hearing Tuesday Gen. James Mattis, chief of U.S. Central Command, called the potential mission "challenging" and added, "it would be a military operation -- it wouldn't be just telling people not to fly airplanes."

Those comments exasperated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a former Navy pilot who, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), just returned from a tour of the Middle East. "We spend $500 billion on defense, and we can't take down Libyan air defenses?" he asked incredulously in an interview he and Lieberman gave to me and The Post's Fred Hiatt. "You tell those Libyan pilots that there is a no-fly zone, and they are not going to fly."

"I think they [in the Obama administration] are making up reasons" not to act, McCain added. "You will always have people who will find out the reasons why you can't do it. But I don't recall Ronald Reagan asking anyone's permission to get Cuba out of Grenada, or responding to the killings of American soldiers.." - Jackson Diehl

This is a very odd way to describe what's happening. A top military official tells a Senate panel that bombing Libya is an act of war and not something to be entered into lightly (a message also conveyed by Secretary Gates to British Prime Minister David Cameron), and Senator McCain thinks this is the geopolitical equivalent of calling out of work sick with a "stomach bug."

I don't believe anyone in the Obama administration is arguing that establishing a no-fly zone is some kind of technical or logistical impossibility - they're saying, to borrow a phrase, that it wouldn't be prudent. Senator McCain's counter-argument consists of saying the words "Ronald Reagan" and making an unsubstantiated assertion of how Libya will behave after it gets bombed.