Weighing The Official U.S. Response To Libya

Guest

Marie Colvin, foreign affairs correspondent, Sunday Times

Libya's government reportedly continues a violent crackdown on protesters in the capital. Anti-government forces claim to control much of the Eastern portion of the country. In Washington, there are growing calls for a stronger U.S. response against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

For much of this hour, we focus on the Motown sound. Tomorrow the White House celebrates this great American music with a gala. Martha Reeves will be among our guests.

But we begin with the crisis in Libya, where protests appear to be gaining ground. The government reportedly lost control of more cities, more diplomats defected, more officials resigned. After Moammar Gadhafi's defiant speech yesterday the capital of Tripoli was reported to be relatively quiet but foreigners thronged Libyan air and seaports and thousands of Libyans crossed the borders into Egypt and Tunisia.

Amidst the violence and threats of much more violence to come, many call on the European Union, the United Nations and the United States to impose sanctions or establish a no-fly zone.

What, if anything, should the United States do? Call 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at NPR.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Marie Colvin is foreign affairs correspondent for the British Sunday Times. She's interviewed Libya leader Moammar Gadhafi several times and leaves for Libya tomorrow. And she joins us tonight from the BBC Television Center at White City in London. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. MARIE COLVIN (Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Times): Good evening, Neal.

CONAN: And as far as we can tell, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi continue to control the capital of Tripoli but maybe not much else.

Ms. COLVIN: No, the protesters, or basically the opposition to Gadhafi -which is a ground-up opposition - they've steadily taken cities from the east towards Tripoli, which is in the far west, much nearer Tunisia. They got Misurata today. Now that's different because it's a port city, it's quite wealthy and it is a place that Gadhafi would very much have wanted to hang on to. And it's getting a lot closer to Tripoli.

You do have bodies in the streets of Tripoli from overnight fighting, but he does appear to retain control in Tripoli itself.

CONAN: And you're familiar with his person and his rhetoric. What did you make of his speech last night?

COLVIN: It was classic Gadhafi. I mean, I've just come from two weeks in Tunisia, where Ben Ali, the president, left after demonstrations. And then I've just been in Egypt, where Mubarak left after demonstrations, as well.

What you saw in Gadhafi is - you almost want to smile because it's so mad. But he's not mad. He rambles on because he's self-indulgent and after 40 years and tons of oil money, he's been allowed to self-indulgent. He is ruthless and he has decided to stay. As much as he rambled on and, you know, quoted from his green book, he will kill people and he will do anything to stay. I believe him when he said -when he started talking about himself in the third person - I Moammar are a revolutionary and I will not leave - he means it.

CONAN: And the setting for that speech was symbolically important: the ruins of one of his palaces which was destroyed in an American bombing raid in 1986.

Ms. COLVIN: That was '86. It wasn't actually a palace. I was there then. It's the Bab al-Azizia barracks. He does a lot of, you know, dramatic moments, where he greets world leaders in his tent. He actually lives in the Bab al-Azizia barracks. It's an army barracks and he has a house in the middle of it. That's how paranoid he was, even before this latest time.

And it's been preserved almost as a museum. The cracked glass and stuff you saw, that is from the - you're right - that is from the bombs in 1986. They hit it, they killed his adopted daughter. He went to ground for a couple weeks and emerged later. I interviewed him in the Bab al-Azizia barracks, where you saw him there, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah, and of course he was saying it is either me or the deluge. You can be occupied by the Americans. The Islamists will come in. You must rally around me.

Ms. COLVIN: Well, it seemed to be the theme of dictators in the Middle East, doesn't it? That's what Mubarak said and he left two days later. That's what Ben Ali said and he left 12 hours after he said that.

I don't think anyone in Libya is listening to him. I think they - the problem now will be how do you defy a dictator who's willing to open fire? Remember the reason that there was a successful overthrow of the leaders in Tunis and Egypt is both armies - the Tunisian army and the Egyptian army - they said we will not kill our own people.

In Libya you seem to be seeing the opposite. The army is firing. However, you're seeing defections. We've heard that both in Benghazi and in Misurata - not Tripoli yet - but a lot of the army has refused to shoot. We've seen several pilots from the air force actually defect to Malta because they were told to fire on Libyans and they refused to do so.

So, that could turn, but right now you're having an extremely different and horrific situation in Libya for people who are trying to get out from under this dictator.

CONAN: And you have then outsiders considering what to do. In Europe, the European Union is considering sanctions in a situation where every oil worker, every foreign oil worker in the country is desperate to get out. And the economy seems to be in chaos already. What good would sanctions do?

Ms. COLVIN: I don't think sanctions do any good at all. A, let's look at it: They take - they've got to be sanctions from who, the U.N.? It's going to take weeks to pass. OK, say it takes days to pass. It's still too late for the people in Libya. No-fly zone? I don't think that works because we will then - we, as in the West - America, Britain; whoever enforces no-fly zones - A, how do you enforce it. B, we're then blamed for overthrowing an Arab leader. We feed right into Gadhafi's rhetoric.

I think you've got to just think outside the box. Who does he listen to? Well, very few people but Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela is someone -one of the very few people Gadhafi does listen to. Let's fly Nelson Mandela in there. Why not?

But sanctions, no-fly zones. No-fly zones, you have to shoot down planes. There's people flying those planes. That doesn't work. Let's get Nelson Mandela in there.

CONAN: We want to hear from listeners on what the United States should do, if anything to alleviate the situation in Libya. 800-989-8255. Thomas(ph) is on the line with us from Circleville, in Ohio.

THOMAS (Caller): All right. Thank you having me on.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

Ms. COLVIN: Oh, hi, Thomas.

THOMAS: Hi. I think the most that we should do is just freeze every asset that he has and all the other countries should do that too. We should stay completely out of it. Give them moral support because we're already in two countries where we're not wanted. And I don't care how much the people say in the United States that they love us over there, they do not. I've been there. They really hate our government and everything else, and if we get involved in it, that's just going to sow more hated. We're in two places where we shouldn't be at all. We should give our support to the Libyan people, but other than that let them solve their own problem and I'll take my answer off the air...

CONAN: Well, Thomas, a quick question: Will the Libyan people be happy with lip service from the American government and no support otherwise?

THOMAS: Well, you know, until they form a government, you know, maybe we help them write a constitution, you know, if they ask us for it. We can do that but other than that, you know, this could be a blessing in disguise, actually, to tell you the truth, because we need to wean ourself from foreign oil. We need to rely on ourselves and not another country for our way of living.

CONAN: All right. Thomas, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

Libya supplies very little oil to the United States; quite a bit though to Southern Europe, in particular Italy and France. And as you listen to Bob's(ph) point, I think he reinforces your suggestion that maybe American intervention would not be welcome there.

But on the other point, Marie Colvin, as you consider the situation, you do feel like you need to do something.

COLVIN: I know. It's heartbreaking when you see these images - and I have a lot of contacts and friends in Libya. In fact, I was trying to call last week, and people were very apologetic: Please, I have to put the phone down. It tells you the level of fear. No one can even talk on the phone without being worried that the, you know, the secret police will show up at your door and drag you and your family off. Libya has been like that for a long time.

Heartbreaking as that is, what do you do? We do not - let's go down the list. What can we do? We're not going to invade Libya. No-fly zone. You shoot down planes. You get involved in another war. That is not going to work; A) it's not feasible, but also it's not going to work.

I'm afraid the Libyans do have to liberate themselves. I think it is worth as much outrage as can be generated internationally so that people in Libya, even though the Internet is cut off, mobile phones are cut off, I have seen in my weeks in Tunis and Egypt, Tunisia and Egypt, in the last two revolutions next door to Libya, it does. That moral support means a huge - makes a huge difference.

People say: I didn't know that we were - that as many people thought the way I did. I didn't know that the world out there was watching us. It does matter. Intervention? No, not going to work, counterproductive, feeds into Gadhafi's own mythology.

CONAN: Let's get one more caller in. This is Omar(ph), Omar with us from San Antonio.

OMAR (Caller): Hi. With regard to what the United States should do in Libya, I don't see that there's hardly anything at all that we can do because events are just overtaking us on the ground. And anybody else, I don't think that - the most that we can do, and I am a person of, you know, Libyan extraction, is support a no-fly zone because there's a constant bringing-in of mercenaries. You know, gunships are being used against the civilian population.

CONAN: Omar, that means parking aircraft carriers off the coast of Tripoli.

OMAR: They're not that far away anyhow. I mean (unintelligible) I'm not asking for that. I think at the end of the day the Libyan people will take care of their own mess. This regime, I believe it's only a matter of time. Whether it's days, weeks or months, I don't know. But you know, the Libyan people, at the end of the day, will be able to stand back and proudly say: We took care of our own country. We got rid of a tyrant.

CONAN: Omar, thanks very much. And Marie Colvin, that seems to be a consensus, and the difficulties of no-fly zones, as you mentioned, are -well, there are a great deal...

Ms. COLVIN: Tremendous. The real difficulty now, let's face it, is Gadhafi. I mean, Gadhafi is starring in his own movie, and it's not made in Disneyland. We don't know what he's going to do.

The crucial thing to what happens in Libya is what his military does, what his army does. Do they remain loyal to him? I would say the only thing that perhaps would be helpful in this situation is to try to break those ties, and that is not done by military means. It's not done by, you know, aircraft in the sky, but just try to, you know, in some way -propaganda, radio broadcasts, like we're doing now. He's got to go. The Libyan people are the only people who can do that. Make it a different movie.

CONAN: Good luck on your assignment.

Ms. COLVIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Marie Colvin, foreign affairs correspondent for the Sunday Times in London, joined us from BBC Television Center at White City. She is headed for Libya tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we'll also look at more on the U.S. response to Libya and what options are on the table to send a message to Tripoli and perhaps bring an end to the violence there. Join us for that.

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