WASHINGTON Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is warning that Libya is at risk of collapsing into a "protracted civil war" amid increasingly violent clashes between government forces and those opposed to leader Muammar Qaddafi.
She tells Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. must lead an international response to the crisis.
She says protective military air cover in Libya is a real possibility, although she acknowledged there would be drawbacks.
"We have joined the Libyan people in demanding that Qaddafi must go - now -- without further violence or delay," Clinton said in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. "We are taking no options off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to turn its guns on the Libyan people."
Clinton was before the committee to detail the State Department's fiscal 2011 budget request, but also answered numerous questions from committee members, most of them focusing on the turmoil in the Middle East. She said the U.S. was still actively considering enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.
Clinton said Monday that "no option was off the table," including the possibility of Qaddafi seeking refuge in a safe haven, such as in Zimbabwe.
"I was almost rendered speechless by the idea of him and Mugabe together," Clinton told a news conference in Geneva, but that the goal is for an end to the violence, "and if the violence could be ended by his leaving ... that might be a good thing.""
Testifying before a separate panel Tuesday, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East says the military would have to take out Libyan air defences in order to establish a no-fly zone there.
Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, says a no-fly zone would deter attempts to bomb Libyans as they protest the government.
On CBS' "The Early Show" Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador the United Nations Susan Rice echoed the Clinton's sentiment that Qaddafi must go. "First of all, most importantly, we want to see the violence end and the people of Libya have the opportunity to determine their own future peacefully and democratically," Rice told "Early Show" anchor Erica Hill. "Muammar Qaddafi is clearly not only slaughtering his own people and acting in a completely unacceptable and outrageous fashion, but he is an obstacle to the achievement of that goal.
"And so one way or the other, it's important that he get off the stage and off the scene, and the people of Libya have the opportunity to determine their own future. Exile may be an option that he looks at, and obviously that's not one that we would rule out," Rice said.