An update on the plane crash in the French Alps. Saudi Arabia launches air strikes against Yemen rebel bases. And President Barack Obama slows U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with European leaders in Paris yesterday to discuss options for Libya. France, Britain and the Arab League are pushing for a no-fly zone to dismantle Libya’s air power. Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are making gains in re-taking rebel territory. While in Paris, Secretary Clinton met with a key member of the Libyan opposition. But the Obama administration has not publicly endorsed any Libyan group or military action. Turmoil has escalated elsewhere in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to quell unrest. And Yemen hardened its stance against protesters. An update on Libya and the region.
- Mark Landler diplomatic correspondent, The New York Times.
- Nancy Youssef Middle East correspondent, McClatchy newspapers; she just returned to Cairo from a 10-day reporting trip to Libya.
- David Schenker Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant at the Pentagon.
- Muftah Tarhouni a citizen of Benghazi and a supporter of the opposition. For reasons of security, he asked for his tribal name to be used instead of his surname.
- Mark Quarterman senior adviser and director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. is weighing whether to support limited military action in Libya, but some say the best opportunities for intervention may have passed. Meanwhile, unrest and uncertainty grow in other parts of the Arab world.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about Libya and the region, Mark Quarterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mark Landler of The New York Times, pardon me, and David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us by Twitter or on Facebook. Good morning to all of you.
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning.
MR. DAVID SCHENKERGood morning.
MR. MARK QUARTERMANGood morning.
REHMMark Landler, if I could start with you, talk about Secretary Clinton's meeting in Paris.
LANDLERWell, it's actually been sort of two separate meetings. One is a multilateral meeting with foreign ministers from the G-8, which was sort of designed to try to marshal support around a response to Libya, perhaps a no-fly zone resolution that could be presented at the United Nations Security Council later this week.
LANDLERAnd then separately, but also importantly, Secretary Clinton met with a leader of the Libyan opposition in Paris late on Monday. This was important because the United States hadn't yet taken a step of meeting with a senior member of the opposition. They -- there have been meetings between Libya's ambassador to the United States who had defected from the government, but this represented a sort of a formal sign that the U.S. was prepared to deal with a government other than Moammar Gadhafi's.
LANDLERBy all accounts, it was not a meeting that led to concrete steps or responses. It was held behind closed doors. Very few details were given out about it. So we don't really know what Secretary Clinton said to this gentleman. His name is Mahmoud Jibril. But the mere fact that she met him suggests a level of engagement on the part of the United States that is a step forward from they've been so far.
REHMThere has been a request from France from the EU for a no-fly zone in Libya. What would that mean?
LANDLERWell, you could look to precedent for what a no-fly zone means. And indeed, if you do look for precedent, there are some very clear cases, and it doesn't always mean the same thing. We had a no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq for more than a decade. We also had a sort of a no-fly zone over Bosnia. And what it would mean depends a little bit on who you ask.
LANDLERIf you ask the Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, he describes a fairly aggressive military operation that would involve destroying Libya's air defenses to disable their ability to shoot down American or NATO planes that are over the country. And he describes that as a very large operation and one that as a result should only be entered into very carefully.
LANDLERThere are those who argue you can do something that's a little less aggressive. But I have to say, in the United Sates, at least at the U.S. government, Secretary Gates' point of view has held a great deal of sway, and there's been a lot of reluctance on the part of the White House to even consider such a step.
LANDLERAnd perhaps, the diplomacy of the last several days, including, most importantly, the endorsement of the Arab League for a no-fly zone, brings the U.S. a step closer. But there is still, as I say, some hesitance on the part of the U.S.
REHMMark Landler, he is diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times. And joining us now from Cairo is Nancy Youssef. Good morning to you, Nancy.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning, Diane.
REHMNancy is a reporter for McClatchy News. Nancy, I know you've been traveling throughout Libya over the past two and a half weeks. What do the people of Libya say that they want?
YOUSSEFWell, above all else, they want Moammar Gadhafi to no longer rule Tripoli, and that they want a new country with Tripoli still as its capital, but no longer has any of his henchmen and his way of life and his green book over them. They are convinced that they can't do this on their own and they want the West's help. And yet, they don't want foreign intervention. That is, they want this to remain a Libyan effort. But having lost so many towns in such a short period of time, they can see that they need some help.
YOUSSEFA lot of these fighters -- hmm?
REHMI'm sorry. In your assessment, considering the fact that they have lost town after town, can they truly win the overthrow of Gadhafi without significant U.S. or other outside help?
YOUSSEFYeah. I don't think so. Because they're just out -- their weapons are -- you have to remember, these forces are filled with people who've never fight -- the rebel forces are filled with people who've never fired a weapon before. When I was going to the frontlines, I was more afraid of them than I was of Gadhafi's forces.
YOUSSEFAnd Gadhafi has come up with a successful strategy, it seems. He comes in on these towns with air strikes and missile strikes from ships at port, and the rebels flee -- the poorly trained, ill-equipped rebels flee, and then his ground forces come in. He'd done this in now three towns successfully. And so, until that fear of the air strike disappears, the rebels are simply outmanned. Now, they certainly have more will and more determination than Gadhafi's forces, but they simply don't have the weaponry to fend off air strikes and missile strikes.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers. She's just returned to Cairo after a 10-day reporting trip to Libya. Now turning to you, David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, some are saying that the optimal time for a no-fly zone has simply passed. What's your impression?
SCHENKERWell, certainly the rebels have lost a lot of ground in recent days and weeks. They've lost the one town that they controlled west of Tripoli. They lost the third largest town, Misurata. Today they lost yet another town, and it looks like Gadhafi is marching on Benghazi, which is the largest city the opposition controls.
SCHENKERCertainly, it would have been better -- if we were gonna do anything -- to have started already. I think, you know, many commentators think that we've been hand-wringing and dithering as the Libyans have been slaughtered, essentially, by Gadhafi. Still, in spite of that, I think that if we take a step now and soon, we can maybe forestall the inevitable or at least give the opposition, the rebels, a fighting chance.
REHMDavid Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And turning to you, Mark Quarterman, do you think the U.S. needs to proceed with great caution?
QUARTERMANI do think the U.S. needs to proceed with great caution. I think also that the U.S. needs to let the multilateral process play out. Secretary Gates was very clear that unilateral U.S. action would not be advisable. Having said that, though, I believe very strongly, as do a number of people, that these multilateral processes -- the Security Council are not set up to take rapid action in the case of extreme violence.
QUARTERMANAs much as we say never again after Rwanda, of course, first after the Holocaust, but after Rwanda, after Sreberenica, the member states, the leading member states have not set up mechanisms to ensure that there can be rapid action in violence.
QUARTERMANMultilateral processes are slow. It requires agreement between a number of different states, including states that have very sharp differences over intervention in the domestic affairs of other states. And we're seeing that now in the discussion in the Security Council over a follow-on resolution on Libya.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, Mark Landler, that the Arab League is really pushing for some action, but the Arab League itself is not going to participate.
LANDLERWell, yeah. The Arab League, in effect, is giving its stamp of approval for other people to take the lead in this, which is partly a simple matter of capability. I mean, most people acknowledge -- the Europeans can obviously supply planes to an effort like this, but the United States, by general acknowledgment, would have to play a central role in terms of providing the military capability.
LANDLERSo that's why, to some extent, this conversation depends on the United States weighing in at some point for -- really to gain traction of momentum. And I come back to what I said earlier, I think there is a great deal of reluctance on the part of the administration.
LANDLERI think the telling moment in all this came late last week when the National Security Advisor Tom Donilon held an hour-long conference call with reporters, largely devoted to Libya, but also talking about some of the other crises in the region. The point he made at the very end of that call -- the most important thing he said was right before he signed off.
LANDLERAnd he said, we are of course concerned with the -- I'm paraphrasing -- we're of course concerned with the crisis of the day, but we have to keep our eye on the broader challenges. If you speak to administration officials, they will tell you they still think this ballgame is largely about Egypt and what happens in Egypt.
LANDLERTo some extent, it's, of course, also about the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. But from an American national security standpoint, Egypt and the Gulf are far more important than Libya. A country from which we don't buy much oil, with which we've only have diplomatic relations for a few years -- and that's not to say the U.S. could somehow stand by if there was a genuine genocide underway, but it does suggest that they don't view, in the administration, Libya as a vital national security interest of the U.S.
REHMMark Landler. He is diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times. We'll take a short break now. When we come back, we have someone on the line from Benghazi, and we'll take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back as we talk about the ongoing strife in Libya. And joining us now from Benghazi is Muftah Tarhouni. He's a supporter of the opposition. For safety reasons, he asked that his tribal name be used instead of his real surname. Good morning to you, Muftah. Thank you for joining us.
MR. MUFTAH TARHOUNIGood morning, Diane.
REHMPlease tell me where Gadhafi's forces are. Are they now close to taking control of Benghazi?
TARHOUNINo, not close, but they are bombarding the next biggest town to Benghazi, which is called Ajdabiya. It's about 150 kilometers west of Benghazi. The man has huge firepower, all kinds of weapons. And he's -- the opposition consists mainly of civilians with small weapons. So it's not a fight between two armies. It's a fight between thugs and brigades, Gadhafi's brigades, mercenaries, who are -- have all kind of weapons, sophisticated weapons, air force strikes, ship strike, area -- you know, hitting civilian areas and inflicting heavy casualties on civilians. That's what's going on right now. It's a real massacre.
REHMTell me who is in charge of the opposition.
TARHOUNINow who's in charge of opposition is the council of military men, even though Gadhafi made sure, in the past, to destroy the army as an institution and made real power in his brigades, which is led by his son and his cousins and -- you know, dictatorship usually relies on family members to run the military brigades. And so Libyan -- the opposition is run by former army officers and civilians, basically, who have no knowledge of weapons except small ones. And they just taught them, and then how to shout -- how to shoot those -- how to use those weapons.
REHMAnd tell me what you think a no-fly zone would accomplish.
TARHOUNIA no-fly zone will be a little -- will be helpful for the opposition that at least will eliminate one source of threat, which is bombardment, early bombardments to the -- where the opposition is before his ground forces start moving. If we have -- the no-fly zone will eliminate that danger. And the -- now we'll have the upper hand if he comes into our cities to fight in the streets, street fights, you know, which is he is not prepared for it because Gadhafi's thugs are, you know, fighting for money.
TARHOUNIThey are not fighting for beliefs, and we are fighting because we believe we are right. We believe we need to be free after 42 years of iron fist rule by a madman. He is a delusional man. He is a man who controlled this country with no repercussion, without, you know, fear of any reprisal. He has the money. He has the total wealth of the country to squander on mercenary, on buying weapon for his brigades.
REHMAll right. Mark Landler of The New York Times has a question.
LANDLERMuftah, I just wonder, the United States and President Obama, from the start, has been reluctant to intervene not only in Libya but anywhere in the Middle East because they're worried that the moment they intervene and start, as they put it, dictating outcomes, that it's sort of no longer a homegrown movement. It strikes me that we're past the point of having that debate in Libya. Based on what you say, it sounds like you feel like you're being forsaken by the West. I mean, does President Obama have a point when he worries about the West intervening, appearing to be yet another colonial power going into the Middle East, or have we moved past that point?
TARHOUNIWe don't want ground troops to intervene. We don't want Americans to fight our fights. We want -- we only want no-fly zone to help us fight Gadhafi's -- as for the point that Gadhafi -- that Obama feels that if he intervened it might be perceived as a colonial, no, I don't think so. I don't -- what's going on -- because what's going on in Libya is like what's going on in Rwanda. It's like what's going on in Serbia and Srebrenica. It's a massacre. It's a man who has all the power, all the money to buy the mercenaries, fighting his own people, massacring his own people.
TARHOUNIAnd people -- and the history, we'll start talking about it, like you talk about Rwanda and like we should intervene, we should help those people. We -- the movement starts with the civilian, a peaceful movement started by young people walking the streets without -- no weapon, a civilian movement, people who are facing bullets with bare chests, you know.
TARHOUNIAnd it still is. The only -- we're only forced to bear arms just to defend ourselves. The army we took, we took it from Gadhafi's thugs. We have no source of armament, you know?
REHMAll right. Muftah Tarhouni, I want to thank you so much for joining us this morning. I wish you all the best.
TARHOUNIThank you, Diane.
REHMAll right. And turning to you now -- is Nancy Youssef still with us? Okay. Nancy, you...
REHMYeah. You heard him. You heard Muftah Tarhouni. Is that -- is what he said consistent with what you saw, what you are hearing? He talks about a wholesale slaughter.
YOUSSEFWell, yes. I mean, in the towns that he's going into, there is -- there are numerous areas of bombardments. A lot of them, though, are missing people. I was near one where it would have been very easy to kill several hundred people, and they're missing now. I think, in a way, these bombardments are designed more to scare people away. That said, in Benghazi, where Muftah lives, there is a sort of subverted campaign going on where people are being threatened by Gadhafi forces still in town.
YOUSSEFThey're being told that if they take sides with the rebels, they will eventually be killed. And many rebels will tell you that if we don't win, then we're going to be -- we're gonna be killed or hanged in the public square by Gadhafi if he did -- either way, they feel like they face death. So their only option is to fight and to hold on to the territory that they have.
REHMDavid Schenker, what about the idea of arming the rebels?
SCHENKERWell, I think this gets into a whole can of worms that goes beyond no-fly zone. We know that these people are fighting bravely and that are -- they are committed to their cause. But we don't know exactly who they are. We don't want a situation where we put, you know, weapons that are larger than RPGs or antitank weapons in the hands of people who, you know, essentially may not be our friends indefinitely. So, you know, you look at what happened with Afghanistan, for example.
SCHENKERThere is -- by all accounts, it doesn't appear that these people are running this opposition. But there is a presence of al-Qaida in Libya. There's a Libyan Islamic fighting group that allied with al-Qaida some 10 years ago. You know, the -- Libya served as a second leading point of insurgents who entered Iraq to kill Americans behind Saudi Arabia. So, you know, we don't know who everybody is there. And while it may help in the short-term, I'm not sure it's in our long-term interest to do that.
REHMMark Quarterman, what happens if Gadhafi wins?
QUARTERMANWell, I, along with a number of people, am seeing with sadness the violence there. And, clearly, the Gadhafi regime is an autocratic regime that could well be carrying out crimes against humanity in its bombing of civilians and -- which is one of the reasons why the Security Council referred the issue to the International Criminal Court. But I think that your broader question, Diane, is, are we looking at a civil war, or are we looking at a situation like Rwanda, where there was a genocide?
QUARTERMANAnd I worry that our reactions are more geared to the history of inaction in Rwanda rather than a desire for efficacious steps that will actually bring about effective goals in Libya.
QUARTERMAN...for efficacious steps that will actually bring about effective goals in Libya. And I wonder, for example, precisely what a no-fly zone would accomplish. Would it turn the tide? Would it create enough of a stalemate for a negotiated settlement? Will it lead to Moammar Gadhafi's removal from office? We're not entirely sure, in part, because we do have so little knowledge about the situation in Libya. I'm also afraid that it might lead to a slippery slope too. If we decide to back one side in this civil war and the no-fly zone doesn't really turn the tide or doesn't help them, where do we go from there?
SCHENKERYeah. No doubt, there is a concern, I think, about mission creep. But I think there's some very real implications for the United States if Gadhafi wins. Certainly, on the ground of Libya, there will gulags, people will be executed by the hundreds, if not thousands. I think that's for sure.
REHMMany are already being taken away and tortured.
SCHENKERAbsolutely. But I think in the broader sense, there is this implication about the United States' presence in the region. Our ally Mubarak falls. Our ally Ben Ali falls in Tunisia. And now Gadhafi gets to stay. It's gonna undermine confidence in the United States in the region. Our allies in the Gulf, in particular, are gonna look at this and say that we're not involved anymore, that we have no interest, we're getting out of the region.
SCHENKERThey may look to cut a deal on Iran because we're not gonna be there to protect them from this predatory state. It's gonna fuel conspiracy theories about U.S. keeping Gadhafi in power, and it's gonna ensure, I think, essentially, that all future revolutions in the Middle East or elsewhere are met with overwhelming force, that the way to approach it is to slaughter people and you can just get away with it.
LANDLERI was simply gonna second David's last point that a lot of what's happened in the Middle East in the last two months -- one country has acted as an example or an inspiration for another. So if Gadhafi survives by crushing this brutally, it's a template or a precedent for anyone else who's in that situation. And, you know, it's not as though there aren't already precedence for this. The Iranians did it a year -- a couple of years ago. The Chinese did it after Tiananmen Square.
LANDLERBut to the extent that you began to see ferment in a lot of other places, including in China in the last few weeks, a bad outcome in Libya gives other autocratic leaders the pretext they need to crush any rebellion and not try to come to the kind of accommodations that the U.S. so desperately hopes for in places like Bahrain, for example, where we have thrown our weight behind a reform process and a royal family that seems to be tethering between whether they wanna really engage or simply rely on reinforcements from the Saudis to crush the opposition.
REHMMark Landler, he is diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Mark Quarterman, you wanted to add something.
QUARTERMANWell, thanks, Diane. I actually agree with what Mark and David are saying up to a point what -- in that there could be a demonstration effect. We're seeing even far afield from Libya, in Cote d'Ivoire, the attempt of an autocrat to stay in power and using violence against his people. I suppose the question I have, though, is when I hear the arguments about the demonstration effect and I hear, well, we have to make sure that that demonstration effect doesn't occur.
QUARTERMANAnd so what steps do we take to make sure that it wouldn't occur? And I'm not so sure that the U.S. has the power to affect outcomes in the Middle East in the way that that implies. So we have to think about what these steps will accomplish, whether an ineffectual no-fly zone might also be a negative step as well, that the international community was willing to go a little bit down the line to support these -- this uprising but not far enough.
REHMNot far enough, meaning?
QUARTERMANMeaning Gadhafi still might win. There still might be the demonstration effect for other autocrats. So, once again, if we think about actions we need to take, we should think about what we want to accomplish and what they can realistically achieve.
REHMWhat do you think could be worst-case scenario, Mark Landler, if Gadhafi stands firm for the other areas of the world like Bahrain, like Saudi Arabia?
LANDLERWell, again, not to overdraw the demonstration effect argument because some of these things are happening on their own momentum, but I think we're already seeing a very troubling development in Bahrain, where you have not only the Saudis but other Gulf neighbors sending in troops and reinforcements at the request of the Bahrainis, they say. But let's face it. Bahrain is a vassal of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis are simply not going to allow a Shiite-led insurrection in that country because of their fears about their own country.
LANDLERSo I think that Gadhafi surviving, you know, does have some spillover effect in the region in terms of setting a bad example, but some of these things are gonna happen for their own reasons. And I think what's happening in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is much more linked to a long-running tension between Shiites and Sunnis, a sense of insecurity on the part of Sunni leaders, a sense of resentment and anger on the part of Shiites. And that's, to me, a very troubling new development that, frankly, the U.S. is even less well positioned, in some ways, to respond to because of our deep strategic reliance on Saudi Arabia.
REHMBut should the rebels somehow regain a foothold in Libya? Should Moammar Gadhafi be ousted, would that give new energy to those who want to overthrow the monarchy, establish a parliamentary government in Bahrain?
SCHENKERThere are people who are calling for constitutional monarchy. Bahrain is different than Libya, though. I think the level of oppression is less, and the monarchy was willing and has been willing, I think, you know, like we heard from Mark, willing to negotiate and talk about political reforms. I think they are tethering, bolstered by the Saudis, to crush this and put an end to it. But we also have to remember that this is a state, you know, at one point, the Sunni and the Shiite were cooperating, talking about reforms with the monarchy in Bahrain. But recently, the Sunnis are getting very scared about the prospects for Iranian influence in Bahrain. I mean, this is not only about Sunni-Shiite.
SCHENKERThis is about Iran, which has historically stated a territorial claim on Bahrain. So the Saudis are concerned about this. They have their own Shiite population. And not all Shiites, even in Bahrain, want this type of Iranian influence. It's a very complex thing. But the point is, these are different states, and there are different chances for reform in both. Gadhafi will not ever be a reformer.
REHMDavid Schenker, Mark Landler, Mark Quarterman. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, time for your calls and e-mail. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back talking about the current situation in Libya. It's time to open the phones. We'll go first to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Good morning, Mohammed. You're on the air.
MOHAMMEDYeah. Good morning to you, Diane. I like to say that what happened in Libya is an armed rebellion against the government. It's not anything more than that. Those people are nothing but rebels who are against the government. So I think Gadhafi has the right to use war against them.
REHMThat's interesting. How do you react, David Schenker?
SCHENKERWell, this is obviously a person who either is, you know, a monarchist, a loyalist to authoritarian regimes. I think, fundamentally, this is not, in any sense, a government that would have legitimacy by anybody's imagination. It has been committing atrocities of the worst kind for 42 years, you know, killing its own people, killing foreign nationals, you know? The La Belle disco, the UTA French airliner downed in Africa, the Pan Am Lockerbie, the atrocities go on and on, perpetrating against the people of Libya. This is a guy who took over in a coup in 1969. And the areas that he's looking to crush now never particularly liked him. They liked the king.
REHMHere is an e-mail representing a point of view that many of you have. It's from Kevin in Albuquerque who said, "We should help the Libyans before it's too late. The world is watching as were a billion Muslims." Mark Quarterman.
QUARTERMANYou know, and I sympathized with that. And I'm actually not opposed to intervention. I think it should be carried out under international law and with the support of the Security Council, which would also provide legitimacy for it. I suppose I'm only saying that we need to be clear about what we're trying to accomplish, and we might not help the people we want to help with actions that aren't designed to do that.
REHMLet me read to you an AP bullet. Bahrain's king has declared a three-month state of emergency, gave the country's military chief wide authority to battle a Shiite-led protest that's threatened the Sunni monarchy and drawn in forces from around the Gulf. The martial law style order was read out on Bahrain state television a day after more than a thousand Saudi-led troops arrived to help prop up the U.S.-backed regime in the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world. Mark.
QUARTERMANYou know, it just strikes me that this illustrates the complexity of this issue for the U.S. government. The Gulf Cooperation Council, which is made up of the countries in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, has condemned Libya and called, I believe, for the removal of Moammar Gadhafi. That same group now, not as the group but the members of that group, had sent troops into Bahrain to put down the rebellion there. This is extraordinarily complex and it makes it difficult then to make a blanket policy that we will apply country by country.
SCHENKER(word?) and same inconsistency applies to the Arab League. I mean, the Arab League now is calling for a no-fly zone in Libya. They're calling for U.S. involvement. This is -- and, you know, condemning Gadhafi. This is the same group, the Arab League, that was opposed to no-fly zone in Darfur, and that in 2009, the Arab League hosted Omar Bashir, the indicted war criminal president of Sudan for killing a million people in Darfur. They hosted him at the Arab summit in Doha, Qatar.
LANDLERAnd the same inconsistencies from country to country are what is making the U.S. response such a difficult one. And, you know, one thing that President Obama and his advisors have been very clear on is that we are going to approach this on a country by country basis.
LANDLERThey talked about pushing for general principles in respect for universal rights and peaceful protests. But their -- underlying that is a sense that many of these things will play out very differently and the U.S. needs to be agile and different, as different things pop up.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Henry in Dearborn Heights, Mich. Good morning to you, sir.
HENRYGood morning. I have several things, Diane. I'm surprised that your experts over there don't consider if we start to bomb in the overflight of how many civilians would be dying, just like when we overtook Iraq. And from what I've keep hearing, 1 million people have died since we've been in Iraq. And the other thing would be, the men been in there for 40 years don't remember anybody taken a shot at and would try to kill them. So it's kind of conflicting. And then that -- number four would be, don't you remember our own riots, what did we do with the people?
LANDLERWell, he raises a good point about no one ever having taken a shot at Gadhafi. I mean, it's not quite true.
REHMHe's pretty well protected, isn't he?
LANDLERHe's -- and it isn't quite true. The U.S. has had strikes against Libya years and years ago. But it is true that when you have this discussion of a no-fly zone, a legitimate argument is, well, we have tolerated this guy for decades. So, you know, why should we now suddenly intervene in a situation we didn't intervene in before?
REHMBut what about the deaths that Henry talks about, civilian deaths that could result from instituting that kind of no-fly zone. Wouldn't there necessarily be civilian casualties?
LANDLERI think there would necessarily be casualties. And I'm not a military expert, but I imagine that a well-designed no-fly zone, where you're targeting air defenses and maybe catering runways, sure, there could be the potential for collateral damage and casualties. But if...
REHMI hate that phrase.
LANDLERIt's a terrible phrase. It's a...
REHMIt's a terrible phrase.
LANDLERIt sort of leeches all the humanity out of it.
LANDLEROkay. Killing of civilians.
LANDLERAnd that's probably unavoidable. One would hope that if it were well-designed and well-executed, you'd keep those numbers down. And I guess the argument would be, in any event, if you are preventing a wholesale slaughter by Gadhafi, isn't it worth taking that risk?
REHMAll right. To Tulsa, Okla. Good morning, Shannon.
SHANNONYes. Iraq and Afghanistan did not ask for our help, but we're there anyway. The people of Libya have asked for our help, and yet we continue to ignore them. This is America. It's supposed to be the home of the brave. And yet, our politicians are too chicken to do the right thing.
SCHENKERYes. Secretary of State Clinton said it on February 25th. This is a time for action. Now is the opportunity for us to support all who are willing to stand up on behalf of the rights we claimed to cherish. Well, that's, you know...
SCHENKER...much passed the 25th. I think, you know, we do have a responsibility. I think they want us there. I think the Arabs have...
REHMSo you think we should go to establish a no-fly zone?
SCHENKERYeah, I do. I think...
SCHENKERI think it's a little bit late, but I think we should.
QUARTERMAN...that David is right that Secretary Clinton did say that. The problem is what do you do about it and where do you stop? We're also being asked for help by the opposition in Cote D'Ivoire, any number of other places where the U.S. might intervene. We're actually in a period of relative U.S. decline where other countries are rising and the U.S. is, I would think, less able to send its military and act willy-nilly around the world. I mean, certainly, what's happening in Libya is horrible and it could rise to the level of crimes against humanity.
QUARTERMANBut I wouldn't say that our leaders are too chicken. I think that what's going on is they're being very careful and cautious about taking actions that are effective and that we're capable of.
REHMNancy Youssef, do you want to step in?
YOUSSEFI did, only because, you know, I wanted to tell you that's the feeling among Libyans to why isn't the United States getting involved. I was outside Ajdabiya a couple of days ago, about two days ago, and I ran into a history teacher who rattled off Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and all these American names and he said, where -- your country stands for freedom, and here we are fighting for our freedom. Why won't you help us?
YOUSSEFThat's how Libyans feel. I heard it over and over and over again. They don't -- this sort of discussion we're having in terms of the consequence of it, you know, if you're in the frontline, you're not thinking about that. You want some form of help or at least some acknowledgement that you're doing something for your country.
YOUSSEFAnd I think for Libyans, just having their opposition council formally acknowledged by the United States would mean something. But the silence from the United States is deafening on the frontline.
REHMDavid Schenker, what is the likelihood that the U.S. could enforce a no-fly zone? What's the likelihood that Libyan forces would fire on planes trying to maintain that no-fly zone or on a U.S. humanitarian agent?
SCHENKERListen, there are many risks to doing this type of operation -- I don't want to downplay that -- but there are military people who are experts in this issue who are saying that these are overcomeable. You take care of the air defense systems. As the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Merrill McPeak said recently, he said, I can't imagine an easier military problem if we can't impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable.
SCHENKERYou know, there are people out there who think that we can do this with minimal risk to U.S. forces. And particularly, if we have international buy-in on this, I think it's something we really have to consider.
REHMAll right. To Mystic, Conn. Good morning, Austin.
AUSTINGood morning, and hi to everybody. I just wanted to respond those who are supporting the no-fly zone and those commentators on various talk shows and their last caller who seemed to want to paint this administration of President Obama as being weak as a leader or chicken, and say that Afghanistan was a different case because we were retaliating for an act of war against us.
AUSTINI don't think anybody would agree that we want to use Iraq as a template for how we should act in the future with some of these dictators across the Middle East. And with Libya and now Bahrain and maybe Jordan, all these places, at what point do we stop feeling as though we have to police a region that we have very tenuous ties with and very, you know, complicated ties with.
AUSTINAnd if we keep doing that Iraq thing, trying to take over these countries that we feel is weak enough to -- we can take over, where is it gonna leave us in blood and treasure? We're already in a very bad situation with our deficit right now. And I don't see us running into Iran when they have humanitarian issues or China when they had humanitarian issues, so as that we only bully those countries we think we can win again.
REHMAll right, sir, thanks for your call. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Mark Quarterman.
QUARTERMANWell, at the risk of seeming contrary now, I think that diplomacy is about -- as people say about politics, diplomacy is the art of the possible. We might condemn the Iranian government for its actions against its civilians, but we know that no amount of military action we might take, or an extreme amount of military action, might turn the situation around. If we decide that a reasonable amount of military force can turn the tide and can make the difference, I think we should do it.
QUARTERMANSo it's not about making blanket policies, either to intervene or not to intervene, but to think about each particular case. And in the case of Libya, it could well be. Specific action actions like (unintelligible)
REHMBut as you said, Mark Landler, Secretary Gates' position is really holding sway right now, is it not?
LANDLERI feel that very much it is. And I think it's a combination of a very deeply felt belief on the part of President Obama that intervening, that thrusting the U.S. into the Middle East can only provoke a backlash, that one of the great virtues of Egypt and Tunisia were that they were homegrown. And I do think they genuinely worry about that. Plus, the fact that between all the other challenges on the plate today, and we haven't even talked about Japan, there are so many reasons that the U.S. is going to have other obligations that will maybe make it difficult.
REHMLet me ask you all something. Could what's happening in Libya now affect ongoing progress in Egypt and Tunisia? Mark Quarterman.
QUARTERMANI think it was David Schenker who said that there really could be knock-on effects and that autocrats might see what's happening in Libya and realize maybe I don't need to retire to Sharm el-Sheikh. Maybe I can stay in power and use my military. But once again, it's a country by country question. The military in Egypt made it very clear that they weren't going to fire on their civilians. The military in Libya is organizing a completely different way from the military in Egypt, from the military in Bahrain, from the military in Yemen. So I think that we're going to see -- we'll probably see demonstration effects. But will we necessarily see templates? I don't think so.
LANDLERWell, I only say that the country we haven't talked about for the last 45 minutes is Yemen, where there's also been extremely negative developments, including the stabbing of this provincial governor. And the violence that broke out in Yemen broke out about an hour after the White House as counterterrorism coordinator, John Brennan, spoke with the Yemeni president, Abdullah Saleh, and urged him not to use violence against the protesters. So to speak to the point of how relatively little influence we may have, remember, Robert Gates was in Bahrain the day before the Saudis came in and an hour before the security forces open fire in Sana'a that we were urging Saleh not to do it. So I think we need to understand that our influence is limited in many of these cases.
SCHENKERYou know, I think Yemen is an entirely different story. It's essentially a failed state, you know, with the dictator who controls about the amount of territory that has paved roads. So, you know, the amount of influence that we have is basically the amount of influence that one might have in Sana'a. But certainly, Bahrain, it's a different calculation. And Saudi, at the end of the day, is a very different calculation, about what the cost of instability in a place like Saudi Arabia would be. We know that the market is going down dramatically today. If there was instability in Saudi Arabia, there would be global financial catastrophe.
REHMDavid Schenker of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, Mark Landler of The New York Times, Mark Quarterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The turmoil continues. Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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