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President Obama will deliver a speech to the nation tonight about Libya. He’s expected to address some of the many questions Americans have about U.S. involvement in the North African nation. Yesterday NATO agreed to take over command of the allied military campaign in Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said actions by the U.S. and NATO to implement a no-fly zone had averted a humanitarian disaster. But some U.S. lawmakers of both major parties remain skeptical. We’ll talk about what, in effect, it means for NATO to take control and what the U.S. role is likely to be in the months to come.
- 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.
- Phyllis Bennis director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies; author of "Ending the Iraq War: A Primer."
- Ambassador Nicholas Burns professor in the practice of diplomacy and international politics at the Harvard Kennedy School and former undersecretary for political affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In Europe, NATO announced yesterday it had agreed to assume command of all allied military operations in Libya. At home, the Obama administration faces criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans about U.S. involvement in the conflict. Joining me here in the studio to talk about the changing U.S. role in Libya and the region, David Schenker of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and, joining us from a studio in Cambridge, Mass., Nicholas Burns of Harvard University. I'll be interested in hearing your questions and comments. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook and Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. PHYLLIS BENNISGood morning, Diane.
MR. NICHOLAS BURNSGood morning.
MR. DAVID SCHENKERGood morning.
REHMNick Burns, if I could start with you, I'd be interested in your reactions to the statements by Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Sunday. Did -- what did you read between the lines?
BURNSWell, Diane, I think, I -- what we heard yesterday is likely what we'll hear from President Obama tonight. The administration has to persuade the American people in Congress and a very big international audience of several largely contradictory points. First, they need to persuade the American public that we were right to intervene 10 days going to Benghazi. I think they've made a good case that with the imminent siege of Benghazi, 10 days ago by Qaddafi's forces, with the fact that the Europeans, the UN and, ironically, the Arab League calling for American intervention, the administration had no choice on a humanitarian basis to go in.
BURNSBut there are two other points that are also going to be important in the minds of President Obama's listeners that we heard a little bit from Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton yesterday. They need to persuade the American public that the U.S. is not going to get bogged down in Libya, that we're not, in essence, getting ourselves involved in a third war in the Greater Middle East. They'll be able to point, as you said at the top of the program, to the fact that NATO decided yesterday to take command and control, not just of a no-flight zone but of the entire military operation. And, third -- I think the third point is very important -- will this international strategy work? Now, you -- you heard the two secretaries talk about that yesterday.
BURNSThe president will have to be particularly persuasive tonight. That's the most difficult. Because despite the great events over the last 48 hours, the rebel gains moving westward again, perhaps even to pressure Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte today, I think the likeliest outcome here, at least in the short term, is a protracted civil war, where neither side is strong enough to win an outright military victory. What do we do then? Is the United States -- is the Western coalition an independent, neutral referee between two warring parties in a civil war? Or are we still going to, in fact, take sides and try to help the rebel army weaken and hopefully vanquish Qaddafi? I don't think the administration has made a clear case for what a winning strategy is yet in Libya.
REHMYou talked about convincing the American people. What about congressional Democrats and Republicans who complained that the president did not get the needed authority or even come to them for discussion before he moved on this?
BURNSWell, I'm a little bit sympathetic to the president on this because -- more than a little bit because, as you know, the administration did not want to go into Libya. Secretary Gates made that clear, as did the president. But when the great change came, when the Arab League decided that Qaddafi's attacks on civilians, besieging cities were so atrocious that it warranted American intervention, the president made a decision -- I think on a Tuesday -- and then we're -- that we would turn our policy towards intervention. We joined the international coalition, and, by Saturday, we were in. I just don't think there were sufficient time to do the types of things that American presidents normally do to try to explain to the public and Congress why this intervention was necessary.
BURNSBut, Diane, I guess I'd say, I think that what we're hearing from the Congress is a bit of war fatigue. We've been in Afghanistan for nine-and-a-half years. We've been in Iraq for eight years. We're not out of either place. And you're beginning to hear, really for the first time in my memory -- I was a practicing diplomat for the better part of three decades -- members of Congress say, we can't afford this financially. We never heard that in Bosnia and Kosovo in the '90s. We didn't hear it. Maybe we should have thought about it more in Afghanistan and in Iraq when we went there in 2001 and 2003. Can we afford a third war? Can we afford a protracted military involvement? That becomes a big issue now.
REHMNicholas Burns, he is professor of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School. And turning to you, David Schenker, NATO has agreed to take over all aspects of this military operation in Libya. What exactly does that mean?
SCHENKERWell, it means that it's a larger coalition. It means that the United States is not going to be the primary front figure on this operation going forward. That, in itself, is a good thing. But it doesn't mean operationally that we're going to be carrying less weight. Traditionally, the U.S. has been the backbone of the North Atlantic Alliance. And my guess is that we're going to continue to be in this operation, even as you have a European being the lead out-front spokesman.
REHMBut it's interesting. You used the word operation. Exactly, what is the operation? Is the operation to provide defense for civilians? Is it to encourage the rebels? What is the operation?
SCHENKERWell, I think you're going to have the Europeans continue to fly air operations over Libya going forward for -- to carry this no-fly zone. But you have this conference coming up in Europe where there's going to be 35 nations, NATO, the UN, the African Union, and I think it's going to be the United States' job there to convince this international community of what Obama's agenda is in Libya, that Qaddafi, in the end, has to go, that it's not going to be fine to have this two-state solution, apparently, in Libya, that there's going to have to be the type of operations that look at taking out, for example, tanks that might be surrounding different cities. That's a more involved operation than just a no-fly zone, and that may require a bigger U.S. role.
REHMDavid Schenker, he is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Phyllis Bennis, some have called this a civil war and have said the U.S. has no place in that conflict. What is your view?
BENNISWell, I think there's no question, Diane, that this has become a civil war. When you have two sides that are defending territory, seeking to take other territory, this is no longer an uprising of a population against a government. It's -- the country is divided. There is no question that as dictatorial as that regime has been throughout the years and throughout the years that the U.S. continued to sell them weapons, through the 19 -- through the Bush administration, into the Obama administration, millions of dollars in weapons sales to Qaddafi. Since 2003 with the rehabilitation, there's been a complete embrace by the Europeans, a not quite as enthusiastic but nonetheless an embrace by the U.S.
BENNISBut despite that, it's clear that there are people in Libya who support the regime. Aside from those who are afraid not to say so and who are terrified, this regime has acted as a one-man sugar daddy in terms of people's jobs, et cetera. It would be sort of astonishing if there weren't people who saw this as the stability of their lives. So, I think, there's no question that it is now a civil war. The U.S. has weighed in on a civil war. And the question of the goal is the fundamental disagreement. We've heard in the UN resolution, it says that the only legitimate use of force is to protect civilians. Just this morning, we heard from the Canadian general who's going to be the new NATO commander that the goal is to protect and help the civilians.
BENNISNow, what does mean? Does that mean we're going to help the anti-Qaddafi side win? That's what they're doing right now. The actual military attacks have included going after retreating tanks, attacking Qaddafi's soldiers in their barracks, and that's not protecting civilians at that moment. That's destroying the military capacity of the regime, which is a different goal that we're not acknowledging.
REHMAnd yet, as you said, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada has said the military alliance is in the process of taking over command and that it has deflected suggestions that international air strikes from whom our Qaddafi's forces are essentially providing air cover for advancing rebels. Is NATO going to arm rebels?
BENNISI think that's one of the questions. What they're doing right now is fighting Qaddafi's forces on behalf of the rebels. They're participating in the civil war. Whether the next stage is providing new weapons, I think it would have to be done covertly because the UN resolution prohibits all weapons to go into the country on any side.
SCHENKERYeah, I think what we're seeing, you know, that might be sort of exaggeration from where I stand. I think what we're seeing really are that regime positions are collapsing under coalition air strikes that it requires, you know, quite a bit of taking on these tanks and these positions that are attacking civilians. And when we're doing it, they're leaving.
REHMDavid Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Short break, and when we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd here in the studio to talk about the current situation in Libya, the enforcement of a no-fly zone by NATO, the more -- the incredibly active involvement by NATO, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and, on the phone with us from Cambridge, Mass., Nicholas Burns. He's former undersecretary of state for political affairs, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. We're going to open the phones shortly and take your calls, 800-433-8850.
REHMNick Burns, I want to go back to that conversation yesterday on "Meet the Press" with -- between Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton. When Secretary Gates said that Libya was neither a threat to the U.S. nor a vital national interest, how did you interpret that when Secretary Clinton felt somewhat differently?
BURNSWell, I think we've seen a divided view within this administration and, indeed, internationally. You remember that Secretary Gates made a very tough statement in congressional testimony about two-and-a-half weeks ago, saying that he didn't think the United States should go in, that imposing a no-fly zone would have great costs. I think what he is reflecting -- and, I think, certainly Secretary Clinton and President Obama are reflecting the same thing -- 22 Arab nations are in turmoil. We've seen this extraordinary two-and-a-half-month process of the Arab awakening or the Arab revolt -- however you see it. And we certainly have greater interest in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia than we do in Libya.
BURNSAnd so the opponents of intervention would say, you know, we can't intervene everywhere. We've got to make choices. And Libya just is not that important in terms of our political, military, economic, strategic interest. Important to Europe, certainly, because of Europe's dependence -- certainly Italy's dependence -- on Libyan energy. Important because of the migration flow from North Africa to Europe. That's why, I think, you've seen, from the very beginning, Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton try to push the Europeans to do more, shoulder more of the responsibility, which is what NATO is supposed to do.
BURNSThe problem with NATO -- the problem is that the United States, as David said -- the United States is the heart and soul and backbone of NATO. It has been for 62 years. And I think that NATO has the potential to do well here and to take some burden off the United States. But I wonder if we're going to see, in that very fractious democratic alliance with Turkey and Germany resisting until the last moment, NATO's participation. I wonder if we'll see the kind of unity that we need to prosecute the no-flight zone and to help the rebels in the way that the U.S. military has done so in such an impressive way in the last 10 days.
BENNISWell, I think that, first of all, the no-fly zone, which got so much attention from the beginning, was always a bit of a red herring, if you will. The massive amount of civilian casualties in Libya were not coming from Qaddafi's air force, which hardly existed. It was coming overwhelmingly from tank and artillery attacks. The air strikes against the air force were really a very small part. What we're looking at now is a situation where NATO is -- whether it's in with the U.S. as its partner officially or if it's NATO alone with the UN -- with the U.S. within NATO -- we're seeing a major role being played by NATO in the civil war. And the question of how NATO plays that role is going to be different because of the opposition of countries like Turkey and Germany.
BENNISBut if we see the NATO commander who is, after all, the deputy to an American general, who is himself under the top NATO commander, who's also an American, this is seen around the world as an American operation, very much like in Afghanistan. The fact that there is a parallel NATO operation in Afghanistan doesn't mean that, in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, inside Afghanistan, it's seen as Washington's war. This is going to be seen very much the same way. And the notion that the Canadian general has already said, that he defines protecting civilians as helping them -- presumably helping them win this civil war -- it's a very bad, very dangerous precedent for a third Western war in the Middle East-North Africa region.
REHMAnd on that very point, let me read to you an email from Larry, who's in Efland, N.C. He says, "If President Obama can do this, what stops a future Republican president from bombing Iran under cover of humanitarian aid to distance in that country? Even President Bush got congressional approval for use of force. As much as I like President Obama, I believe he's violated the Constitution and set a dangerous precedent." Putting aside the question of constitutional permission or otherwise, what about the president, David Schenker?
SCHENKERWell, listen, the executive has always had a certain amount of latitude when it comes to foreign policy and when it comes to military operations. I think that this president, in particular, is in a pickle because he set the standard before he came in, beating up the Republicans for operations that they had done and said that it's an absolute requirement that you first go to Congress before you do any of these type of things. And so now he is being hit not only by the right, but also by his own constituents who don't want to see any other type of military operation -- in fact, would like to see the United States, I think, retire from the Middle East entirely. So, yeah, it's one of these issues that the president's in a no-win situation. But he does have prerogative.
REHMNick Burns, you were U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2001 to 2005. Considering what Phyllis Bennis has said about U.S. command over NATO, what are your concerns about NATO assuming command? Is this just a screening operation?
BURNSWell, I think Phyllis has made a number of very good points, and I agree with her, that this is going to be seen as an American operation by the Libyans, by Qaddafi, by the rebel forces and by most of the Arab countries. Here's what I worry about, Diane. The United States -- it's hard to take the United States out of NATO. We're so important. We're so militarily dominant. We've been the strategic leader for six decades. The U.S. will be involved in this. But I worry if the U.S. is distant in a political sense, and if President Obama doesn't feel ownership of the NATO effort, if he wants to really hand it off to President Sarkozy of France or to Prime Minister Cameron of Britain, I worry that NATO might stall, that you might not see the same, first of all, intensity in the application of military force to protect those civilians.
BURNSAnd you might see a fractious alliance fracture over the inevitable fissures that come in a difficult operation like this. And here's what I'm thinking of. Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, gave a press conference this morning, where he said that NATO did not have the right to prosecute -- to use offensive arms. It was going beyond the UN mandate. I could see those objections arising from within the NATO alliance. And without the U.S. guiding the NATO alliance, I think it could stall, and we therefore could see this protracted civil war that a lot of us fear. And then what do we do? Are we a neutral arbiter? Are we going to get in there and see that Qaddafi is removed? We have no clarity from the administration on that point.
BENNISWell, clearly, we have not been a neutral arbiter yet, and I don't think we will be. I think the problem going on in Washington right now is that you have President Obama trying to justify this on humanitarian bases, despite his earlier statement that it would not be acceptable to go to war without congressional approval, absent an immediate threat to the United States, which everybody says it isn't.
REHMBut has he prevented a humanitarian crisis?
BENNISWell, I think there's a big question about that. When the tanks were first attacked by French warplanes outside of Benghazi, the reason they were outside of Benghazi is that the opposition forces in the city had driven them out. They had the capacity to drive out those tanks. Now, could they have kept them out? We don't know. Clearly, there are soldiers in large numbers in the eastern part of Libya that have defected from Qaddafi's forces. We have not seen them in large numbers fighting. They're there somewhere with their weapons. They're not as well-armed as Qaddafi's forces, clearly. They're not as well-trained. They're not as well-organized. But they do have a military component here. So the notion that this was solely innocent -- I don't mean innocent. They, of course, were innocent.
BENNISThey were not unarmed civilians. They included a major military component that had driven out the tanks. But the one point I wanted to say on the humanitarian side, I think the problem that the Obama administration faces is that, given their ongoing position in the rest of these uprisings of the Arab spring, it's very hard to get us to believe that. If it was really about humanitarianism, it wouldn't necessarily mean saying we should have military responses to other places.
BENNISBut we would do something other than what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said when she said that Saudi Arabia was absolutely fine going into Bahrain, when she said that Bahrain had the sovereign right to invite the Saudi troops in to suppress their uprising, when we've said nothing about cutting the $300 million of aid that has -- military aid that has gone to the government of Yemen, which has killed 52 people immediately -- unarmed protesters -- and injured another 200 or more. And our government is saying nothing about changing our position towards them. So how can we say it's humanitarian?
SCHENKERWell, you look at it -- you know, we have to remember where we were nine days ago or so. You've had the momentum entirely shifted. You had tanks rolling back the rebels. You had, you know, Misurata being surrounded and shelled, Zentan being surrounded and shelled. The body bags were, you know, being loaded up, and people were being carted away dead. I mean, the pictures were horrific. And it looked, in short order, like Benghazi was going to collapse. And, I think, given this context, you know, it is entirely appropriate to say, yes, this isn't humanitarian. There is going to be slaughter wholesale of civilians.
REHMEspecially considering what Qaddafi himself said.
SCHENKEROh, yeah. We're looking at, basically the, you know, wholesale slaughter and the gulags being set up to cart these Libyans away who protested the regime. I think, you know, that very few people, I think, had a problem with it at that point. We can look back on it and second guess it. But at the time, it appeared absolutely critical.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones now. First to Little Rock, Ark., and to David. Good morning to you, sir.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. Hey, I just want to say I'm very proud to take this on as an American operation. It feels good to be proud about us actually going in and providing some leadership in the world again and liberating the oppressed people of Libya. Yeah, you can make, you know, angels dance on a head of a pin all day about different points, but what we're doing is providing a wonderful amount of leadership. Don't forget, there's still a statue of Bill Clinton, I believe, that's in Belgrade for our intervention in Kosovo.
DAVIDThose people there regard us as the shining city on the hill again, and it's a very good feeling to me. I was pretty -- I was actually pretty sad when I heard Hillary talking about how we didn't, you know, need to intervene in all these different places around the world where there are terrible despots and all that. This is just such a wonderful, clear opportunity to provide international leadership that we've been lacking for so long and rebuild our status in the world as someone who's willing to put our money where our mouth is.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. What about that, Nick Burns?
BURNSWell, David, I think -- thank you for your point. It is remarkable to see the United States greeted with open arms in parts of the Arab world because of what we've done in Libya. When we lost the F-15 last week and the pilots had to eject and when they hit the ground, one of them was, you know, rescued, surrounded by a happy group of Libyans who welcomed him. And, you know, for those of us who remember Iraq -- 2003, '04, '05 and '06, Fallujah, Anbar province -- that's a remarkable change. But I would say this, we cannot intervene everywhere. We cannot -- we've got to marshal our resources and be very smart about how we respond to the transformation in the Arab world. Certainly, we have clashing interests, and I think Phyllis and David have pointed them out.
BURNSOn the one hand, we want to support democratic movements where they exist. We want to support freedom for the people of the Arab world. But we do have some concrete interests that are important in Bahrain. That's where the Fifth fleet is. We have important interest in Yemen despite the brutal nature of that government -- and Phyllis is right about the deaths there. But that's where al-Qaida and the Arabian Peninsula is. That's one of the greatest threats to American security. So I think you see the Obama administration hedging. When we have these concrete interests, we're not going to intervene and be the critic of the Bahraini or Yemeni governments, perhaps the Saudi government in the future, as we've certainly been in other parts of the Arab world, most notably Libya.
BURNSAnd I think that's the challenge of governance. And I'm not trying to be critical of the president. I think he's probably got this about right, that we shouldn't be thinking about intervening in places like Yemen and Bahrain, but Libya, given the UN support, given Arab support and European support, it was probably the right decision.
REHMNicholas Burns, he's at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Hudson, Ohio, and to Mike. Good morning.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me on.
MIKEI just got two questions. The first -- the last speaker just kind of covered part of it -- was, given what was happening in the Arab world, given the revolutions that were sweeping North Africa, didn't we have to act? And doesn't the change in the Arab world as it was happening in Libya -- doesn't that trump all the other considerations as far as intervention? I think -- wouldn't -- my question is, wasn't our intervention absolutely critical at this time because of what appears to be something new entering the history of the Arab world, which is this democratic revolution sweeping propelled by the Internet?
MIKEMy second question is, what happens if a confederation of tribes in Libya decides that they are the legitimate government of Libya and they form one, and they -- and say that Qaddafi does not have legitimacy as a dictator ruling the country for 40 years without actual support and now we're the government? And, I guess, my question is, what happens then? What if they decide that they want to legitimize NATO's presence there and basically invite us in?
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Phyllis.
BENNISWell, thanks for that question. On the first part, I think the key point to remember is we are intervening in all of these countries. We're not intervening militarily in all of them, but intervention is not only military. We are propping up in at -- I would say 19 of the 22 Arab countries. Maybe 20 are dependent on the United States for either financial support or military support or both. Saudi Arabia, we just signed a $67 billion arms deal. That's the biggest arms deal in history.
BENNISThat's where they get those planes and stuff that they're using to suppress their own people. That's true throughout the region. So it seems to me that when we look at this massive uprising throughout the Arab world, this Arab spring, our first role should be to say we have to stop intervening the way we have been. Stop supporting these dictators in all the other countries.
REHMPhyllis Bennis, she is at the Institute for Policy Studies. We'll take a short break. More of your emails, your phone calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here is an email from one of our listeners who says, "The conflict in Libya is being referred to as a civil war. In order to be a civil war, doesn't there have to be a government on each side? We can barely identify the rebels, and they certainly don't have a government we can point to." Is that true, David?
SCHENKERNo, not exactly. You do have a provisional government that's been set up by the rebels in Benghazi headed by a guy named Jalil, a former minister of justice in the Qaddafi government, and one of the deputies is a former revolutionary partner of Qaddafi's who defected. They have been recognized by the French. Secretary of State Clinton has met with them, although the United States has still not recognized them. But it's not as if the French and the Western states are the only people to recognize this government. In fact, the Qataris recently recognized the provisional government.
SCHENKERThe Arab League threw out Libya and Qaddafi from the Arab League, and what's more, that this provisional government is actually starting to sign contracts to sell oil. They signed an oil deal with the Qataris to sell them 300,000 barrels per day.
REHMSo, Nick Burns, do you regard this as a civil war?
BURNSOh, I do. Libya is a tribal-based society, and you have had a significant division in that society between forces supporting Qaddafi. You now have the emergence, as David said, of this provisional government. We're going to have here at Harvard University tomorrow night, Tuesday night, the Libyan ambassador to the United States who has defected from the Qaddafi government. He now is in opposition, and he is in league with this provisional government. You didn't have this three weeks ago when you -- four weeks ago when you had demonstrators on the streets in Tripoli, in Benghazi. But because Qaddafi reacted so savagely to those peaceful demonstrations, people did take up arms. So I certainly think this is a civil war.
REHMAnd here is an email from Kevin in Albuquerque who says, "The quickest way to end the conflict in Libya is to offer Qaddafi a golden parachute for a safe landing in exile." What do you think, Phyllis?
BENNISWell, I think that one of the sad things about this focus on the military intervention is that the other parts of the UN resolution, including the call for diplomacy and negotiations, have been completely sidelined and made far more difficult. I think Kevin raises a very important point. There needs to be negotiations. There's going to have to be some way of ending this. Unless Qaddafi is somehow sidelined by people close to him on -- which we have no control over -- I hope we're not seeing the U.S. trying to do an assassination or something. It would be disastrous.
BENNISBut if that happens inside, that's one way. But the other alternative is there will have to be negotiations. And by saying that Qaddafi must go, Qaddafi has no legitimacy, the U.S. is making negotiations far more difficult. The African Union tried to go to Libya on the -- right after the UN resolution was passed to begin those negotiations, but they weren't allowed in.
REHMBut, David, do we know what's going on behind the scenes?
SCHENKERWell, we don't. I think that a lot of people would like to offer Qaddafi a golden parachute. The Turks, I think, are trying right now to give him the...
REHMDoesn't he already have one? There is said to be some, I don't know, $46 billion...
BENNIS(unintelligible) where he would go.
SCHENKERWell, he -- yeah, he has a lot of money. But Qaddafi, unlike a lot of the world's dictators, cannot go to Saudi Arabia because, for example, he tried to assassinate the former crowned prince of Saudi Arabia. But even if you offered him this golden parachute, the problem is this would not give him any immunity for his atrocities that he's perpetrated in recent weeks and, in fact, over 42 years in power. He would not be immune from the international criminal court for what he's done. So he can go somewhere, but somebody can extradite him and throw him in the docket in the hay.
REHMNick Burns, what do you expect President Obama to say tonight?
BURNSWell, I think he's going to -- he'll defend the intervention, military intervention by the U.S. and coalition 10 days ago. He'll say it's been effective, and it's met the UN terms. He will try to assure the American public that the United States is, in effect, handing this off to the Europeans. That, I think, because of what we said, is going to be difficult because we're still part of NATO. And I think he's going to try to focus perhaps on other parts of the Middle East that are more important to the United States. Diane, I'd just say in this last conversation for this last email, I think we're going to see in the next couple of days a Turkish move towards a ceasefire, that Turkey might offer itself as an arbiter between Qaddafi and the rebel forces.
BURNSThere will be a lot of controversy about this. Some people will be under the suspicion that Qaddafi is going to use the cover of a ceasefire to reposition his military forces. Others will wonder what it could really resolve because these two sides are really -- are going to fight to the end.
BURNSBut we may see the Turks move towards that . It will be interesting to see if the U.S. supports that.
REHMWhat do you assume he will say as far as Congress is concerned?
BURNSWell, I think you've already seen the administration reach out to members of Congress. Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton are going to testify, meet with congressional committees on Wednesday after Secretary Clinton returns from the London conference to discuss Libya tomorrow. And I think you will see this fuehrer on the congressional end whether or not President Obama had the constitutional right. He certainly did. Congress has the right now to deny funds for this operation. I don't think it will do that. I think that we're quickly going to turn to the big strategic question. If there is a protracted civil war, what do we do? Do we take sides? Or do we move towards a ceasefire?
REHMAll right. To Sycamore, Ill. Good morning, Bob.
BOBGood morning. I think that we should take the cost for this current conflict out of the Qaddafi's frozen assets. And, in the future, anybody who wants us to come and help with our military aid be willing to pay the cost. And I would even say that the NATO countries that don't spend the money to develop their own cutting-edge technology command and control and weapons systems and don't have the plethora of ships and planes that we have should also pay some cost when they want us to intervene in conflicts. The American taxpayers can't afford to pay for a chain of endless wars.
SCHENKERWell, this is, no doubt, a very expensive endeavor. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of the United States being the paid mercenaries of these, you know, essentially good people abroad that want to be done with their dictators. There is, I think, some wisdom in the Europeans paying a larger burden -- sharing the burden on this particular operation only because it is so much more of strategic importance to them of their energy and in terms of the security and the cost that would be associated with this tremendous impending humanitarian disaster of all the refugees flowing into Europe.
REHMNick Burns, give me your view on the constitutionality of the president having taken these steps as far as Libya is concerned.
BURNSWell, first, I -- one quick note, Diane. There is precedence for other countries paying for military operations. Operation Tin Cup during the 1990-1991 Gulf War when we kicked Saddam out of Kuwait, that entire 500,000-person coalition war was paid for by other countries.
BURNSAnd that was the work of George H. W. Bush and James Baker. It was really brilliant. I have no problem with other countries paying when they want the United States to do the work. But on the constitutionality of this, Diane, the constitution and president in American history does give our executive the right to act. When he must act, he or she must act in a very rapid way, and that was the state after the UN Security Council resolution passed a week ago, Thursday, in Benghazi. Congress has an absolute constitutional right to come in and deny funding. I don't think we'll see the Congress do that. So I do think the president acted appropriately. I don't agree with those who say he acted outside of the bounds of our constitution.
BENNISI think there's a big question about that. I think that the reality is that the -- the understanding of the constitutionality is based on the idea that there is a U.S. threat that must be responded to immediately. That was not the case here. There was time to negotiate with the UN. There was time to negotiate with the Arab League, with the African Union. There was time to negotiate with Congress. The Obama administration chose not to, I think, because there would not have been support for spending this money. The money just for the Tomahawks that first day could have covered 4,400 new green jobs in this country -- just the Tomahawk missiles, just on the first day.
REHMDoes that take you back, David Schenker?
SCHENKERListen, this is a dictator that is doing remarkably atrocious things to his own population. Tomahawk missiles are expensive. We have a defense budget that, you know, we choose to fund this type of operations. If we define this as being in the national interest, I have no problem in expending there with the resources.
REHMHere's an email from Chris, who's listening online in Sudbury, Ontario, who says, "This may be a third war for the U.S. and second for Canada. But, comparatively speaking, is this not a much cheaper war as compared to Iraq and Afghanistan both in terms of money and risk to our troops?" David Schenker.
SCHENKERYeah, nobody is talking about troops on the ground here, boots on the ground. I think that air operations are expensive, but in terms of risk, no, it does not rise to the level. But the thing about it is we need to define what the goals and the objectives of this operation are because, without, I think, defined objectives, this can be open-ended and long-lasting.
REHMNow, Nick Burns, do you expect the president this evening to do exactly that, to define what the end goal would be?
BURNSI would hope he would. I'm not sure he will. I think he's going to focus on these questions of defending the intervention of 10 days ago and emphasizing that the United States is now withdrawing, and the Europeans in NATO are stepping forward. But the weak link and what's bothered me in the strategy -- and the weak link that's bothered me since the beginning is that the president and the other coalition partners have not been able to articulate what success is. When do we withdraw? When do we deconstruct that no-flight zone when we know that we can go home? And, you know, this is a vicious civil war. I don't see Qaddafi agreeing to a political compromise or a ceasefire. I think he'll fight to the end.
BURNSAnd, therefore, getting back to this last question, how cheap or expensive must this be? We have to beware, anytime you start a war, you don't know when it's going to end.
BURNSChurchill said that.
BURNSChurchill said that. We don't know what the cost are going to be. This could go on for months or years, and that's why, I think, you're seeing a lot of questioning from members of Congress. What is the end state? What is the ultimate objective? I think the president should focus on that. I hope we'll hear from him tonight on that.
BENNISNick raises a very important point. Once you start a war -- and this is a war, the U.S. is at our third war in that region -- you don't know how it's going to end. The UN resolution itself recognized the long-term nature of this when it said that the secretary general should report to the UN Security Council within seven days and then every month hereafter. That means that they're anticipating that it goes on for months, and I think the reality of military force is you don't know what is going to come next.
REHMPhyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Schenker.
SCHENKERAnd, I think, another thing we're going to hear from Congress is questions about why Libya and why not Syria. I think that's what a lot of Americans are asking. In fact, Secretary Clinton was asked that this weekend on "Meet the Press," and she answered that there was some sort of difference between calling out the aircraft and strafing and bombing your own cities and police actions, presumably in Syria, that are resulting in the deaths of protesters. I mean, I think it was somewhat of a tortured effort to distinguish Syria from Libya. You know the Syrians aren't calling out aircraft, I think, primarily for the geography reasons. They don't need aircraft. It's not as big a territory.
SCHENKERThey can call out the goons and the military to kill civilians rather than have to go over these long distances. Likewise, I think the only difference, really, between Qaddafi and Syria is that perhaps Bashar al-Assad has killed more Americans than Muammar Qaddafi.
REHMDavid Schenker, you said earlier that you did not expect to see boots on the ground, either U.S. or NATO forces. But do you expect -- would you expect special ops forces?
SCHENKERI don't think, you know -- it's impossible to tell where this is going. I do not anticipate the United States after working so hard to establish a predicate for the operation through the United Nations that we would go and disobey so blatantly what the international community has defined as the parameters. I think that you can make, and that we are being -- we are making a very strong argument that, to protect the civilians, we have to go after military targets in a robust manner. And that may mean, you know, in the end, killing Qaddafi. I mean, how better to protect the civilians of Libya than to kill the leader who is organizing all these attacks against -- now, that is not something that you can, perhaps, target him. But, if it happens by chance, I don't think anybody would shed a tear.
BENNISWe have to be clear. First of all, we should not be advocating assassination of foreign leaders under any circumstances. And I think we also should be clear that there have already been Special Forces on the ground. We have had boots on the ground or perhaps flippers because I'm not sure if they're Navy SEALs or not. But, clearly, when the no-fly zone was started, it included rescue operations. And when the F-16 either was shot down or fell down -- whatever happened to it, we're not sure -- the pilot was picked up by an Osprey without maybe having to land. But the bomber was rescued by local Libyan civilians who then turned him over. And we're hearing it in very coyly described, turned over to U.S. forces.
BENNISNow, I don't think that they took him and swam out to the Kearsarge, to the warship out at sea. I think they turned him over to U.S. forces who were on the ground.
SCHENKERIt's called search-and-rescue.
BENNISWhatever it's called, they're U.S. troops. They wear boots. They're boots on the ground. That's a first step. So this notion that somehow there's this bright light line between air strikes and troops on the ground simply isn't the case.
REHMNick Burns, last word. We've got about 30 seconds.
BURNSI guess I'll just say, I don't think that we're going to be going into Syria because we have no UN or Arab support. It will be much more difficult. It will be risky. So I don't see -- I feel safe in saying the Obama administration is not planning a military operation there. The pressure is on the president to give one of those great speeches that he gives at times of great crisis and tension. He has a lot to talk about tonight. Let's just hope that he presents a very clear strategic view, and a country can get behind him.
REHMNicholas Burns, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He's currently professor of diplomacy and international politics at the Harvard Kennedy School. Phyllis Bennis is at the Institute for Policy Studies, David Schenker is at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Thank you all so much.
BENNISThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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