White House weighs options over Libya violence

A Libyan border guard walks through an empty customs hall on February 24, 2011 on the Libya-Egyptian border.
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THE PENTAGON - The State Department is considering closing down the American embassy in Libya.

As the U.S. clears the decks for sanctions and perhaps even military action that will, as the White House puts it, compel dictator Muammar al Qaddafi to cease and desist counterattacks against his opponents, who now control most of eastern Libya and are closing in on the capital in the west, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

The White House said Thursday that President Obama has called European leaders to review options for forcing Qaddafi to stop the violence. Everything is on the table.

"Any strategy to compel a leader attempts to put at risk the things that he values: his power, his money, his family," said CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate.

Among the options the U.S. is considering are U.N. sanctions, freezing or seizing Qadaffi's assets, banning Libyan officials and airliners from international travel and suspending exports to Libya, all of which take time, none of which go for the jugular.

"For a trade embargo to work with Libya, you would have to consider seriously cutting off trade in oil," said Zarate. "But the trick here is that the world needs Libyan oil."

Other options involve intervention: sending in relief supplies, broadcasting to the Libyan people and creating a no-fly zone over part or all of the country to prevent Qadaffi from using his air force against the protesters.

"It may take military force or intervention of some sort to defend the Libyan people and the protesters and to remove Qaddafi from power," Zarate said.

Although no one will talk about it, there has to be at least a plan for doing what the U.S. tried to do when it bombed Qaddafi's tent back in 1986.

"If the human carnage is dramatic enough, there might be a sense that you have to take Qaddafi out," Zarate said.

That may be the only way to deal with a dictator who has said he intends to fight to the death.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.