A rebel attack on Yemen's capital throws the country into crisis. U.S. lawmakers renew calls for sanctions against Iran. And American and Cuban officials meet in Havana for the first time in decades. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Allied air strikes continue to hit Libya– from Tripoli to Benghazi to Misurata. Those strikes are now aimed at Colonel Moammar Gadhafi’s ground forces, tanks and artillery. A British commander said the allies have effectively destroyed Libya’s air defenses. But Gadhafi remains defiant. Earlier this week he appeared on Libyan television and declared, “we will not surrender.” As the sixth day of a U.S. led military mission continues, we get an update on progress, hear why there’s disagreement within the U.S. and among the international community, and discuss the risks associated with a prolonged conflict.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times.
- Peter Bergen CNN national security analyst, director of national security studies at the New America Foundation and author of "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda."
- Leslie Gelb president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy”
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit at WJZT in Jacksonville, Fla. Six days into a U.S.-led combat mission in Libya, air strikes have essentially grounded Libya's air force, and troops loyal to Col. Muammar Qaddafi have retreated from key cities. President Obama insists the U.S. will step back from a leading role soon. But for some, that won't come fast enough. In this hour, we discuss the debate over U.S. involvement in Libya and the next steps for coalition forces. Joining me in the studio, Mark Landler of The New York Times and Peter Bergen of the New American Foundation. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning.
MR. PETER BERGENThank you.
PAGEAnd joining us from a studio in New York, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome.
MR. LESLIE GELBGood morning.
PAGEGood morning. We hope to be joined now by David Kirkpatrick of New York Times Cairo Bureau chief, calling us from Tripoli. We're having a little trouble, I guess, making that connection. We hope he'll be able to join us shortly. So, instead, Mark Landler, tell us, six days of air strikes, do we essentially have a no-fly zone now over Libya?
LANDLERI don't think that American officials are ready yet to say we have a no-fly zone although they say we're sort of moving very close to that point and that this handoff that you keep hearing about from the United States to its allied partners would happen within days. That said, if you'll look at the situation on the ground in Libya, it's quite confusing in places like Misurata. There is conflicting reports about rebel forces having made gains, but then loyalists of Qaddafi coming back in with heavy artillery attacks.
LANDLERSo one thing that's clear, six days into this, is we're looking at intensive military action, hundreds of sorties, 162 tomahawk missile strikes and then all the questions that flow out of that, both the costs of it, how long the U.S. will bear the principal burden, and whether the president of the United States characterized this properly at the outset when he talked about a fairly short, limited U.S. involvement. It still may be short, but it certainly is not limited by most people's definition of that word.
LANDLERAnd that's why you can already see in Washington a fairly fierce debate building up on Capitol Hill with people like House Speaker Boehner now criticizing President Obama, both for his failure to consult Congress adequately in advance and demanding answers. How much is this going to cost? How long is it going to drag out? How extensive is it going to wind up being?
PAGEPeter Bergen, we have a report from ABC News this morning that a Libyan plane has now been shot down by a French fighter jet. This would be the first such incident, I guess, of a Libyan plane being shot down. Do we know if this is true? Do we know what's happening there now?
BERGENWell, I mean, we have this one report from ABC News. Other news organizations haven't gone with this story as yet, but, clearly, pretty unusual for a French plane to shoot down a Libyan jet. So that does suggest that the no-fly zone is being enforced in a very rigorous way.
PAGELeslie Gelb, you were critical of the Arab League's call on the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone. Do you think that the United States has made a mistake in going into Libya in this way?
GELBI wasn't critical of the Arab League asking the U.N. to take further action. I was critical of the Arab League not putting up more forces of its own to do something about it. I was critical of our allies in Europe throwing the burden on us. I think here was an opportunity for us and for them to show that they could take some responsibility in a situation like this.
PAGESo did the United States make a mistake in moving in, in the absence of very much participation from the Arab League? I guess only Qatar is contributing to this effort now, militarily.
GELBYeah, I think it was a mistake to start the operations when we didn't get commitments up front by the others to take the action they were saying was so necessary. I wasn't quarrelling with the humanitarian need. I was quarrelling with who is going to deal with that need.
PAGENow, Mark, you mentioned the reaction from Congress, which has been pretty fierce. This has been a surprise to the White House that they are getting pushed back, not only from Republicans in Congress, but also from some Democrats.
LANDLERWell, I don't think it should have been. I think suddenly thrusting the United States into a fairly heavy military conflict and doing it relatively swiftly -- remember, the White House, President Obama and his top advisers were themselves very reluctant about getting drawn into this. So to do that over a period of, really, what amounts to about a week, you couldn't expect people on the Hill to be other than taken aback by it. And one of the things that you're already now seeing, even this morning from House Speaker Boehner's office, is the suggestion that the White House didn't properly consult Congress. They notified Congress on March 18. They brought some leaders in, but they never really asked Congress.
LANDLERNow, the president could argue, perhaps validly, that for the limited kind of action that he was proposing and the urgency of the timetable and the need to prevent a wholesale slaughter in Benghazi, he really didn't have a choice. He was going to act within 48 hours, or the game was going to be over. But I think it's only predictable that you'd now have some recrimination, particularly as the French foreign minister today commented that this is a project that might take days and weeks, not just days. So already the prospect of something that lasts a bit longer than people thought initially is bound to raise hackles on Capitol Hill.
PAGEWell, Peter Bergen, the White House, the president himself, has said repeatedly that the U.S. efforts is going to be days, not weeks. But, as of tomorrow, it will be at least one week. Is this timeframe for the United States likely to get stretched? Or do you think we're very close to the point where the U.S. can hand over the lead on these operations?
BERGENYou know, Niccolo Machiavelli, a long time ago said wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you will. So -- I mean, the fact is no one knows, including the administration, right? I mean, of course, they'd like it to be a short-term operation, but the history of wars doesn't suggest that that's the case.
PAGELeslie Gelb, let me ask you. You've been observing...
GELBMay -- Susan...
GELB...may I just comment on that? Because what Peter said is just profoundly true, and it's a lesson that Americans seem to have to learn anew every time we face a crisis like this. You know, as soon as you start shooting, particularly in a civil war situation, you don't know what's going to happen, how long it will last, who is going to win, how long you'll have to take the lead. And you can't say, you can't say, based on any experience that we're just going to implement a no-fly zone. Inevitably, the no-fly zone means attacking ground air defenses. Inevitably, it means going after ground forces. And that's what happened. So we're now fully immersed in this Libyan civil war.
PAGEHaving gotten immersed in this Libyan civil war, does it make it impossible to extricate ourselves until the task is done -- whatever the goal is that would be articulated? Leslie Gelb, do you think we are inevitably in this for whatever the long haul will be?
GELBIt's going to be very difficult for us to extricate ourselves from the lead role. In fact, what we're talking about is passing the torch from the United States to NATO, but the United States is NATO. We're the ones who do the command and control for NATO and supply most of the arms. So that's a ruse really.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. We invite our listeners to join our conversation. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Mark, interestingly the House Speaker John Boehner, released a letter just as the president was landing yesterday from his six-day trip to Latin America. That included a series of quite pointed questions to the president when it comes to Libya. What is Speaker Boehner's argument with him?
LANDLERWell, Speaker Boehner's argument is that the American people haven't been given answers to all sorts of vital questions, starting with, I guess, the most basic one, which is, what is the ultimate goal of the operation? The U.N. Security Council resolution says that it's to protect civilian populations in Libya. But President Obama has repeatedly said that Qaddafi has lost the credibility with his people and should go. And so Speaker Boehner wants to know, what is the goal? Is the goal to get rid of Qaddafi? Or is it merely to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi? Which you could argue, perhaps, we've already done. So that's one question.
LANDLERThe other question is who's going to pay for it? Each of these tomahawk missiles costs between a million and a million-and-a-half, so you can assume we spent about $200 million on missiles alone. By some reckoning, the cost of a no-fly zone for the United States, or maybe for the whole operation -- but, of course, as Les points out, the U.S. is providing the bulk of this -- is somewhere between $300 million and a billion dollars a week. And, you know, in an era when we're about to have a fierce or are already in a fierce debate about cutting the budget on the Capitol Hill, these are real figures. So those are the types of questions that the speaker has laid out in this letter.
PAGEYou know, Peter, one reason, I think, there has been such a reaction from Congress is this sense of deja vu somehow about an invasion in Libya like the invasion in Iraq, a war that we are still engaged in. Is that a fair comparison for policymakers to make?
BERGENI don't think so, on several grounds. First of all, the president made it abundantly clear there's no ground forces. Secondly, the U.N. resolution was extremely unambiguous, very -- the U.N. is not usually unambiguous. When it says protect civilians, it's not pointed out by any means necessary. That's very strong language. It's the same language that George H. W. Bush got in 1991 for -- when Saddam invaded Kuwait. Secondly, even though the Arab League has had biased remorse -- yeah, the Arab League has a very well-founded reputation for a being a toothless talking shop. And, here, for once in its life, it actually said something. And I think, suddenly, they realized, oh, oops.
BERGENBut the fact is Qatar is involved, as you mentioned, Susan. The pro-Qaddafi demonstrations in Europe are being 200 people in London. Think about the anti-Iraq war demonstrations, which were literally millions of people in places like London and Jakarta and other places around the world. The Arab street just -- you know, they loath Qaddafi. Qaddafi has no plan B. He can't retire. There's no sort of Idi Amin option, going to retire in Saudi Arabia, as many dictators have done in the past. So, you know, I think there are many differences that are important to think about.
PAGEPeter Bergen, he's with the New America Foundation and a CNN national security analyst. And his new book is called, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaida." We're going to take a short break. When we continue, we'll talk about what this conflict has taught us about President Obama's approach to the world. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page from USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining us in the studio, Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times, and Peter Bergen of CNN and the New America Foundation, and joining us from New York, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's the author of "Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy." Leslie Gelb, you have been an observer of U.S. foreign policy for decades. And I wonder what you conclude from the Libyan example of President Obama's approach to the world. Does it reflect an Obama doctrine?
GELBLet's hope not. I'm not big on doctrines. I think, for the most part, when we do doctrines, we end our thinking. Foreign policy, to really work, has got to depend on choices, giving yourself real choices. Doctrines remove choice. They tell you the answer before you even have the questions, let alone the evidence. So let's hope that this new clamor for an Obama doctrine doesn't end up an Obama doctrine.
PAGEWell, does it...
GELBWhat we -- what...
PAGEBut, I mean, I wonder, even if it doesn't -- even if there's not an Obama doctrine -- you reject that terminology -- does it tell us something about when he's willing to act, for instance, and when he will choose not to act?
GELBI'm afraid so. I think it is yet another example of their lack of experience in dealing with international crises. You know, the -- he is very smart, President Obama, and I wish him the very best. But his instincts on matters like these just, more often than not, turn out to be plain wrong. He started off this crisis by pronouncing that Qaddafi must go. Now, he hadn't worked out, let alone his government hadn't worked out, how the devil to do that and what the cost of doing it would be, how long it would take.
GELBBut here they -- he set the standard that became something the Pentagon tried to walk away from, and others never could figure out how to fully implement. And it is true what the critics say, that here we are now fully immersed in this crisis, and the goals of the mission just aren't clear. The potential costs, the length of stay, still aren't clear. And to get involved in shooting without more or less settling those basic issues first is not a good sign.
PAGEWell, Peter Bergen, what do you make of what we've seen? Do you see clues to Obama's approach to it? Do you see something that we've learned from this experience that goes beyond the Libyan enterprise alone?
BERGENWell, two points. First of all, on the question of the kind of conflicting goals -- these conflicting signals we've sent out -- there might be a good reason for that. We said Qaddafi must go, implying, you know, and we've also sort of said he can leave, which is a little bit of a different message. But I think there would -- that may be a fairly sophisticated thing to say, in the following way. If your negotiating position is, I am going to exterminate you, that's not a negotiating position. We have to leave Qaddafi something of a way out. So I think it's smart to say he can leave.
BERGENSecondly, think about if we hadn't done this in terms of signals and forgetting about doctrines. We would have essentially greenlighted every Arab dictator to basically repress. If you can't do it with Qaddafi, you can't do it with anybody else. I mean, he was a relatively easy test, we hope. And if we hadn't done this, we would have just greenlighted every autocrat in the region to suppress any dissent they have.
PAGEYou know, we have an email from Linda, who makes a similar point. She writes, "I have assumed that a key reason for taking on Qaddafi was to make a statement to the other countries in the region that they cannot follow Qaddafi's lead and put down peaceful demonstrations in their countries with violence." Mark, do you agree with that? Do you think that's one of the rationales for the administration?
LANDLERAbsolutely. I think that -- the administration would argue that it has approached this entire Arab spring with a few basic principles, and one of those is that governments must allow peaceful protest. And so they would argue that they're simply holding up that principle, albeit in a far more difficult way because they've had to actually undertake military action, so I think that's the argument that they would make. And it's a difficult one because, obviously, the U.S. response in Libya is not the same as it was in Egypt, nor is it the same as it is in Bahrain, nor is it the same as it is in Yemen. Each of these countries have different circumstances. And the level of U.S. interest in each of these countries is very different. And, I think, that has led to a series of very awkward situations for the administration.
LANDLEROne that I find that's sort of vividly on display is Libya versus Bahrain, where, in Bahrain, the U.S. continues to back the efforts of the royal family to work out a compromise with the protesters, accepting the fact that the Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, that the Saudis are not going to allow a Shiite majority to take over in Bahrain.
LANDLERAnd then, lastly -- and here's a direct connection to Libya -- we're seeking Gulf and Arab participation in our Libya mission. And we understand that the United Arab Emirates has been reluctant to commit to the Libya mission, in part, because they're frustrated that the United States has come down too hard on the Bahraini royal family. So there's a direct example of the types of conflicts that the administration finds itself dealing with in each of these countries as it balances these principles I mentioned earlier with American interests, which, frankly, in Libya, there were never tremendously central American interests. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Yemen, far more central, which makes it even more complicated.
GELBSusan, can I take issue with some of what I've just heard...
PAGEYes, of course.
GELB...by Mark and by Peter? You know, Mark said at the end of his comments that, you know, here we have, in Libya, not profound U.S. interest. That's true. And yet here we are engaged in war in Libya. What sense does that make? And to say that we're doing this in Libya in order to prevent other Arab autocrats and dictators from killing their own people is, I would say, a mirage because, if the Saudis come into Bahrain, as they did, to kill the demonstrators, we're not going to make too much of a fuss about it because of our interests in Bahrain.
GELBThe same thing in Yemen. The government starts to kill the demonstrators. We may say something privately about try to work it out, but we're not going to send in the troops and start bombing them and setting up no-fly zones. That's not going to happen anywhere else in the Arab world because we have important interests there. The irony of this all is since we have the least important interest in Qaddafi -- in fact, we'd like him to go because he's a monster -- then we can go to war with him. I think this whole thing is "Alice in Wonderland."
PAGEAnd so the -- President Obama, of course, was under some considerable pressure to get involved with this from members of Congress, from some foreign leaders. Do you think he just simply should have resisted that and said, this is not our fight?
GELBNo. I think he should have said to the Arab League and to the Europeans, who are the neighbors, this is a humanitarian situation. We will adopt a supporting role, a serious supporting role, but you take the lead. And put the pressure on them to do it. Because, in every one of these situations, they know how to make us the sucker, to be the ones who are going to take all the responsibility, the cost and so forth, and we have to, for once, establish the principle that if they think it's important, they ought to do something about it.
PAGESo, Peter, do you think we've been played as a sucker?
BERGENWell, look, this is a replay, in a sense, of the Bosnian situation where the Europeans stood by for two years when a massacre was going on in their backyard and did absolutely nothing about it. In the end, you know, American air power reversed that situation. Instead of waiting for two years, we waited, like, two weeks here. I mean, you know, Leslie's, of course, correct in all -- much with what he said. But the fact is if we're not going to lead, no one else is.
GELBWell, in the case of Bosnia, it wasn't our air power that turned things around. It was the fact that we started to supply the Bosnians and the Croats with arms. Clinton administration had gotten a resolution, passed in the United Nations, preventing any arms from going into that part of the world, which meant that the Serbs had an absolute superiority. And when we started to break our own resolution and gave these Bosnians and Croats a chance to fight back, then they established a balance of power, and then there was a basis for negotiations.
BERGENObviously, it was both the air strikes and the fact that the Bosnian...
GELBYeah, the air strikes started it.
BERGENAnd then, in fact, you know, another interesting irony there, of course, is we essentially greenlighted the Iranians to harm the Bosnians. And we basically said we didn't have to take -- took a position on that, which was...
PAGELet's go to the phones and invite some of our listeners to join this conversation. We're going to go first to Dennis. He's calling us from Indianapolis. Hi, Dennis.
DENNISHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just have two quick comments, one being the politicalization of -- kind of the criticism that the Obama administration is getting about this rush. I think it's so disingenuous knowing how quick Iraq was rammed down everyone's throat and really happened there. And then, second, if America is going to put a base in every country and monitor everything and be behind the scenes pulling the -- you know, the strings -- as we know from WikiLeaks -- what do people expect us to do when they actively see somebody, you know, harming their people? I mean, this is our role. If we don't like it, slash the defense funding budget to zero and give us health care or do something with it. You can't have it both ways. Those are my comments, and I will take it off the air. Appreciate the show.
PAGEAll right, Dennis. Thanks very much for your call. Does Dennis make a fair point that the Republicans, like John Boehner, the speaker, who are now criticizing the president, were, in fact, eager for military action in Iraq and some of them also pushing for action in Libya before the president moved? What do you think, Mark?
LANDLERWell, you know, it's true that this does not break along simple Democratic-Republican lines because you did have John McCain and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry, who is one of the closest allies of the administration on foreign policy, pushing hard for the U.S. to support a no-fly zone. And so the debate you're seeing is not simply Republicans, perhaps, being hypocritical or Democrats tying themselves in knots to support their president. It's actually more complicated than that. I mean, Boehner's people argued this morning that it's wrong to say that he was calling for a rush to a no-fly zone. I think they're arguing that the White House is being disingenuous in saying, well, they pushed us to do a no-fly zone, and now they're criticizing us for it.
LANDLERThey say that Boehner never did. And, actually, to be fair, I don't remember Boehner or Eric Cantor or some of those House Republicans being on the leading edge of this. This was very much driven by Kerry, McCain, Lieberman and some of the traditional hawks in the Senate. And it's also worth pointing out that the president is also getting support on the Hill. Three senators, two Democrats and a Republican spoke yesterday to reporters and said that they were very much behind the president and believe that a majority on the Hill would be as well.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Peter, you mentioned the idea that Qaddafi might choose to leave, being a very attractive option from the U.S. point of view. And we just heard the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton say in an interview on Tuesday that there were signs that he might be looking for a way out. Are there signs? Do you think it's possible that this will end in that peaceful way?
BERGENWell, there have been reports of multiple contacts between senior members of the Libyan government and the U.S. government. What -- but the reports also suggest that no one has really cared what these contacts are about. You know, Qaddafi has no -- very few places he could go. I mean, I guess Venezuela is really the only place. So it's a limited set of options for him compared to some other dictators that we've dealt with in the past.
PAGEAnd if Qaddafi went, Leslie Gelb, do we know who would take over? Or do we know very much about the rebels who are pushing him out?
GELBNo. And that's a serious problem with the protesters in the streets of all of these North African and Middle Eastern countries. You know, what tears at our heartstrings, particularly as Americans who deeply -- are deeply emotional about these matters, is the people we hear are doctors and lawyers and educators and they are genuine democrats, and our sympathies are all with them. But in among these people and waiting in the background are people who are really quite sinister, and we don't know who will emerge.
GELBI mean, just take a look at Egypt. It was just stunning to see the democratic commitment of the people in the streets there. But they themselves now are saying they're losing control to the established old Mubarak army party and to the Muslim Brotherhood. And I think that's a danger in every one of these countries. But it's incredibly difficult -- and I would say irresponsible -- to get deeply involved in these matters until we have a much better sense of who we're helping, as well as who we're fighting.
PAGESo the best-case scenario for the United States would be Qaddafi leaves and the rebels turn out to have some democratic instincts. We'd be very happy with that outcome. Mark Lander, outline for us the worst-case scenario for the United States, moving ahead.
LANDLERWell, you could argue that the worst-case scenario perhaps has been averted. The worst-case scenario might have been Qaddafi marching in to Benghazi, crushing the rebellion, killing 10- or 20,000 people and remaining in control and, perhaps, setting an example for others in the region. And they would argue -- the administration -- that they have averted that. And that said, you could see -- and, in fact, it looks like we're on the way to seeing -- some kind of a stalemate, where the east is in the hands of the rebels. Or I should say a rump portion of the east around Benghazi, and Qaddafi digs himself in in Tripoli in the west. And you effectively have a stalemate and a long-running civil war that Qaddafi begins resorting to state-sponsored terrorism again.
LANDLERThe rebels fail to coalesce after 42 years of a tyrannical state. They have terrible trouble putting together political parties and the type of political culture you need. And Libya is a sort of a festering wound in the Middle East and a consuming issue for the West. I mean, no-fly zones can last, as we saw in Iraq, for years and years and years. So, I mean, that's the worst case. And, in fact, you could argue, based on the first six days, that the stalemate outcome, maybe it looks a bit more likely right now.
LANDLERI mean, the administration, as Peter said, is hoping for a stroke of luck. And a stroke of luck, frankly, is probably one of his own top aides deciding there's too big a risk for me personally. I'm going to take this guy out. And I think that's what they really hope for.
BERGENYou know, certainly, the U.S. government has no idea who the rebels are, and that's a fact, you know. But -- that's an unfortunate fact. I mean, we can -- they're getting their information from CNN. They're not getting their information. We have no assets. We haven't had assets in eastern Libya. Clearly, the revolutionaries appear to be a mixture of former military, ordinary people, Islamists, including perhaps members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, you know. And that potpourri could produce -- we don't know. But that is -- and, also, of course, there is a tribal dimension to all this. And the east and the west have always, you know, long been in conflict. That said, it's hard to imagine somebody coming up who'd be worse than Qaddafi.
PAGERight. So -- but that does make it worth doing?
BERGENYeah, I think -- in my view -- it does.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones and take some of your calls, questions and comments. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining us from a studio in New York is Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the council on foreign relations, and within the studio here in Washington, Mark Landler from the New York Times, Peter Bergen, CNN national security correspondent. We've seen some divisions in NATO, Mark, going along with this operation in Libya. What are the divisions and I wonder particularly why Germany is refusing to go along with this operation?
LANDLERWell, the German reaction appears to be driven by a couple of things. Some are historical, which is that Germany's -- historically, since World War II -- have been very reluctant to be drawn into any armed conflict and, perhaps more importantly in this case, is domestic politics. Chancellor Angela Merkel has elections coming up that could set back her party, and she does not want to get drawn into this. And so Germany abstained. It had one of the rotating seats on the Security Council and abstained from the resolution and has now withdrawn ships from the Mediterranean because it doesn't want them to be put in a position of having to defend the arms embargo.
LANDLERAnd this is going to prompt, I think -- I was based in Germany, so I wrote about this for years -- it will prompt the usual round of hand wringing in Germany about whether the Germans are really ready to step up and play a political role that's commensurate with their economic power within Europe. And it also raises perennial questions about political unity in Europe. You have the French President Sarkozy sort of leaning way forward, the Germans holding back. The Italians are miffed because NATO doesn't seem to be -- being given the full command of the operation that the Italians would like. The French are calling for some sort of a political council that would sit above NATO.
LANDLERSo, I mean, in some ways, it's a classic European kerfuffle, and everyone seems to be playing their usual roles with the Germans in this kind of angst-ridden role of wondering whether they need to take a part or not and ultimately deciding not to.
PAGEWell, does that cause any problems in the U.S.-Germany relationship? Any hard feelings on our part when Germany resists?
LANDLERI don't think so. I mean, the White House was actually asked about this. And, frankly, I mean, in this case, unlike Iraq, where the German position allied with the French against President Bush was really quite important. In this case, they have cobbled together this coalition. And I think their attitude is, look, we have so many headaches right now. If the Germans don't want to have a couple of ships in the Mediterranean, fine. We have to worry about the Arabs, the French and everyone else.
BERGENAnd as a small quid pro quo for this, they are actually sending 300 more troops into, you know -- to the Afghan effort.
PAGELet's take another call from our listeners in San Antonio, Texas. We're joined by Cho. (sp?) Hi. Thanks for holding on.
CHOYes. This is a humanitarian effort. It's been well-defined with international support. He's done the right thing. I hear a lot of echoes from a corporatist media, okay, and it's penetrating NPR, too. Very powerful. Let's stop beating up our president, okay? He's a very thoughtful man, okay? You guys are way too quick to judge. This is a humanitarian effort, and it has international support. So get with the program, okay?
PAGEOkay, Cho. Thanks for...
PAGE... (word?) your call. Leslie Gelb, I'll give you a chance to respond.
GELBCho, I'm a non-corporatist critic. I don't represent any corporation. I've had the corporate interest myself. Look, can I -- forgive me again. I'd like to get back to a critical point that Peter made a moment ago. He said the devil we don't know is better than this particular devil we know. And it's -- that's justification for fighting. And he said, I think so. I don't think, I think so, is enough justification for this kind of war effort. You know, we went in -- we should have gone into Rwanda. And the Pentagon had a terrific plan for how to stop that genocide, or at least mitigate the consequences of that genocide, without our getting involved in a civil war or a genocide.
GELBThey wanted to put troops on the border area to create a safe haven for the refugees to go to, and that would have saved most of them without our being involved in that war. We have to think creatively about these humanitarian intervention situations, and we have to find situations and be tough about getting others to take their share of the responsibility.
PAGEAnd, of course, President Clinton in -- said, in retrospect, that he regretted not having gone into Rwanda. Peter Bergen, what do you think?
BERGENYou know, Les, I thought was going to invoke an argument that he's too smart to make, which is that lots of bad things are happening everywhere. Therefore, we shouldn't be involved in this, which is a bit like saying, well, there's lots of murders in Washington, D.C. where we're sitting, and I'm witnessing a murder in progress. Because there are so many, I shouldn't do anything about it. I think that, you know, Rwanda is -- obviously weighs on the mind of the people involved in those decisions, Susan Rice being -- she was assistant secretary for Africa at the time. Clearly, the history of non-involvement in situations where we could have made a difference is part of the calculus here.
PAGEI wonder if we look at the beneficiaries of this operation in Libya, is al-Qaida among them, do you think, Peter Bergen?
BERGENNo. Not right now, probably not in the future. I mean, one thing very striking in all these things, all these events, Susan, is that I haven't seen a single picture of Bin Laden in any of the protests, no one spouting his venomous anti-Western critique. He's just not part of the conversation. That said, Eastern Libya -- Mark and I were discussing this earlier -- has been a place where al-Qaida has recruited in the past. We know from a cache of documents recovered from al-Qaida in Iraq, the largest cache of documents, that 20 percent of the foreign fighters coming to Iraq in '07 at the height of the violence were from Eastern Libya mostly. So that's kind of sobering.
BERGENThat said, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group -- the al-Qaida former affiliate there -- is a relatively small group. They may be involved, but, you know, we're looking at tens of thousands of people in these protests, in these battle actions.
PAGEThe Associated Press, by the way, is now reporting that a U.S. official has confirmed that a French jet has attacked and destroyed a Libyan airplane. Let's go to Jeffrey, calling us from Massachusetts. Jeffrey, hi, you're on the air.
JEFFREYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'd just like to add a few thoughts to the conversation. The emerging democracies in the Middle East is a wonderful thing to see. I don't think it's necessarily mandatory nor necessarily enforceable, certainly not by the United States. The constitutionality of the war or intervention I'll leave to the constitutional scholars, but I think that definitely a beneficiary as you noted is definitely the Arab League politically. Should things go well, you know, things go well, and it's at no cost to them. Should things go poorly, it only, I guess, adds to the anti-United States feeling in the Middle East. And they can say, oh, well, they tried, but they're Americans.
JEFFREYI'd also like to add that, ultimately, a result of all these emerging democracies or free people is going to engender the same kind of thing that we saw in Bosnia when the Soviet Union took its boot off the back of their neck in that there will be old fights that will open up on these different fronts, I believe. And what will we do about them?
PAGEAll right, Jeffrey. Thanks very much for your call. Peter?
BERGENJust on the issue of anti-Americanism -- 'cause I think it's quite important -- another very striking thing, Susan, that we haven't seen is we haven't seen a single American flag being burned in any of these protests in any of these countries. This is so pro forma in that part of the world. We haven't seen any Israeli flags being burned. Anti-Americanism is not part of this conversation. For the first time in a long time, many of these people, you know, in the Arab world, they're able to rise up against their real enemy, which is not the United States, but their own rulers.
PAGEInteresting. Here's an e-mail from Nathan, who writes us from Loveland, Ohio. He writes, "I'm aware that Qaddafi vowed to give up on his WMD program, and, as far as I know, he has followed through with those plans. However, now that Libya is facing this new conflict, I wonder if your guests think there is a chance that some aspects of that program still exist? I'm especially concerned that Libya may have access to chemical and biological warfare agents." Leslie Gelb, do you have a response or some insight for Nathan?
GELBYeah, I could tell you what our intelligence people say. I can't tell you whether or not it's true. But they feel they scoured the country well enough. And, based on what they knew, they believe that he got rid of all of his nuclear capabilities, his labs, his programs to develop nuclear weapons, and they think that's true on the biological front as well. But there were some chemical weapons left over in one place, but whether they're usable is another matter. Frankly, if he had them, I think, we believe he would use them.
PAGEMark, let me also ask you -- you cover the White House for The New York Times -- how serious were the divisions within the administration about whether to move ahead? We have reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was really pushing forward, that Secretary of Defense Gates was against it or resistant, reluctant. What have you reported?
LANDLERWell, there was obviously a debate, as you'd expect there would be, before a decision like this. And Gates' position was public. I mean, he went out and tried to drive a stake through the no-fly zone preemptively. I think Secretary Clinton's position, from what I was able to gather, is that she shared some of the qualms about a no-fly zone but was not as dismissive of it as Gates. And after the Arab League vote, I think she really very much turned around. You know, there's been this idea, this narrative that's played out over the last few days that it was a sort of a girls versus guys debate with Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power on one side against Gates, Donilon and, you know, the sort of cautious crowd.
LANDLERThe White House has pushed hard back -- has pushed back hard against that. And I think, frankly, the truth is that at the end of the day that one person's decision mattered here, and President Obama decided that it was time to make a move. So I don't know whether we should overdraw this gender thing that we've all had a lot of fun with over the last few days. Frankly, the president is who matters, and he had a strong change of heart. And that's clear, and I think that led to the action that we saw last week.
GELBBut I think the girls and Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain used the powerful argument from analogy on this. And I, frankly, think -- this is what I've heard -- had turned President Obama around. Namely, they said, if you didn't act now, this would become your Rwanda. And that was a blame game that President Obama didn't want to have to withstand.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, we have an email from George who says, "I want to say that it's a matter of practical reality. Any involvement of our military in Libya that would not achieve the goal of making sure Qaddafi is ousted would be President Obama's greatest foreign policy failure. The president should be a man of his word. He said Qaddafi must go. He should make sure that happens on his watch."
PAGEPeter, do you think this is true? Having said those words, is President Obama setting himself up for failure if in the -- at the end of the day, Qaddafi remains in power?
BERGENI think the short answer is yes, right? I mean, the stated position is he must go. So if that doesn't happen, then it's not worked out.
PAGEAnd, Leslie Gelb, do you agree with that? And would it be more than just a loss of face? Is there something -- are there consequences if the president utters words like that and then doesn't deliver?
GELBI think the consequences are mainly domestic and political, that is, he'll be attacked for not backing up his promise and his commitment. That's why he made a mistake in laying that out front in the beginning. It also cut off a serious line of possible compromise. Now, you know, we all want to get rid of Qaddafi. He is a monster. The question is, what's the best way to do it, either by forcing him out through some kind of negotiating process, where we corner him and take his allies away, or by an open-ended war effort?.
PAGELeslie Gelb mentioned the domestic political consequences. Here's an email from Diane, writing us from New Hampshire. She writes, "President Obama's decision to go into Libya without consulting Congress may be one of his most -- sorry to say -- the final straw for those of his remaining supporters. His militarism is a bitter reminder of what we elected him not to do." And, Mark, it's certainly true that his opposition to the Iraq War was Barack Obama's early calling card in the Democratic presidential race in 2008. Does this cost him dearly among the -- some of the Democrats who supported him then?
LANDLERWell, yeah, of course, it will. I mean, there is -- there'll be some constituency of his base that voted for him primarily or largely for that reason. And they will react very negatively. You know, that said, there's obviously difference between campaigning and governing. And he's now the president, and he has to make difficult decisions. And we may debate whether he made the right call of the wrong call in this one. But he'll probably get credit from others, including some of the listeners and people who have written in in the last hour, for intervening to head off what could have been a humanitarian catastrophe.
LANDLERSo, you know, one person that I interviewed about interventions a few weeks ago described it as a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you wait too long to intervene, you're accused of allowing a bloodbath. If you intervene too quickly, you're allowed -- you're accused of being militaristic and feckless. (sic) So -- or reckless, I should say. So I feel like he's in a very tough spot. It will hurt him politically with some people that will probably help him with others. And we'll just have to see how this whole thing plays out.
BERGENI think it's off a piece of his most significant foreign policy decision of his presidency, which has gone largely unremarked, even though it's been reported, which is we've doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan and we're staying till Dec. 2014. We're going to have a token drawdown in July of 2011. This is huge. Imagine if a Republican president said, hey, we're going to have 100,000 men and women in uniform in Afghanistan for four more years. The liberal side of the Democratic Party would be going nuts. And so this is -- this decision is much more of a piece with the Afghanistan decision, which I don't think is being totally processed because it doesn't fit with the narrative of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president that's supposed to be weak on democratic -- on national security democratic polity.
PAGEBut I do think Afghanistan has the potential to be a big debate in 2012. I mean, you see Haley Barbour, the governor -- Republican governor of Mississippi, a potential presidential candidate calling -- questioning the U.S. troop levels there. And you certainly see some liberal Democrats who are very uncomfortable with the expansion of U.S. force levels in Afghanistan.
BERGENSure. But it's -- you know, compare the level of public debate to the Iraq War, I mean, you know, the news hole in Afghanistan is tiny compared to that on Iraq.
PAGEWe've certainly had a lot of news in the last few weeks, given Libya and developments across Northern Africa and the Middle East, not to mention Japan. I want to thank our guests here today for discussing the Libya situation with us. Mark Landler of the New York Times, Peter Bergen with the New America Foundation and CNN and Leslie Gelb with the Council on Foreign relations, thank you all for joining us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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. Our email address is drshow.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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