Ongoing Debate Over U.S. Intervention In Libya
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
As pressure builds for international intervention in Libya, concern mounts that any decision may come too late. On Saturday, the Arab League unanimously appealed for a no-fly zone and recognized the rebel government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to meet with rebel representatives this week. NATO will discuss options tomorrow. But there's no indication when or if the United Nations Security Council might authorize the use of force.
In the meantime, better equipped, better trained and better organized forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi continue to roll towards Benghazi, the rebel capital.
General Wesley Clark considers the risks of a U.S.-led intervention unacceptable. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch wonders what happens if we let Gadhafi win.
What argument for or against intervention has swayed you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, Pew's annual State of the Media Report. But first, the latest on Libya, and we begin with George Joffe at the BBC studios in Cambridge, where he's a research fellow at the Centre for International Studies. And George, nice to have you back.
Mr. GEORGE JOFFE (Research Fellow, Centre of International Studies, Cambridge University): Thank you very much.
CONAN: And is the situation for the rebels becoming critical?
Mr. JOFFE: I don't think it's critical yet. It's becoming serious. That is to say, they've lost control of two of the towns in the Gulf of Sirt. There are still two towns on the way to Benghazi, and they're some way away from the city, and there they're still fighting to make sure that the forces loyal to Colonel Gadhafi can't break through.
And even if those forces do break through, they're running into problems, too. First of all, their lines of communication are getting very stretched. And secondly, their numbers apparently aren't very large.
So whether they can really attack Benghazi, a town of over a million people, seems to me rather doubtful.
CONAN: Yet air attacks are continuing in that direction.
Mr. JOFFE: That's certainly true. Air attacks are continuing. They're being used against small towns on the way, along the coast up towards Benghazi, but whether again they can be used effectively in Benghazi itself to destroy the resistance, I wonder.
CONAN: And when you talk about lines of communication, this is not just radio contact, but food, fuel - in particular fuel.
Mr. JOFFE: It's the whole logistics chain that any army requires to keep itself moving. And that's getting longer and longer. Distances in Libya are very long indeed, and indeed when the forces get to Agedabia, if indeed they do, then they've got a very difficult choice to make.
They could travel due east and try and reach Tobruk and the Egyptian border, thereby isolating Benghazi, or they could try and attack Benghazi itself. In either case, the lines of communication will get even longer, they'll become more vulnerable, and of course, they're approaching the rebel stronghold, Benghazi, and therefore they may well find themselves facing a resistance that they can't overcome.
CONAN: What kind of forces have the rebels been able to organize?
Mr. JOFFE: Well, the rebels certainly have irregular forces. They've been recruiting very heavily inside Benghazi itself. They have some organized, regular Libyan army forces that defected to them in the very early days of the rebellion.
And amongst those, there appear to be some elite troops. They were used recently in Mersa Brega to force the Libyan army out. And they therefore are quite well-prepared.
What they lack, of course, is air power and apparently heavy artillery, too, and that's going to put them at a disadvantage. But again, in terms f house-to-house fighting inside a major city, that disadvantage may be minimized.
CONAN: Yet house-to-house fighting in a major city, that can also be a very bloody operation.
Mr. JOFFE: Oh, undoubtedly. I think one has to assume that any operation involving Libya's supporting Colonel Gadhafi is going to be a very bloody operation indeed, and the use of air power makes it more so. So I don't think we should be under any illusions but that the continuation of this struggle is going to cost many, many lives.
CONAN: And the pro-government forces, are these conventionally organized armored brigades?
Mr. JOFFE: Yes, they are. They are conventional forces as far as one knows, together with paramilitary groups, partly from Colonel Gadhafi's tribal territories but particularly mercenaries that have been recruited over some considerable period of time, I think, in Tripolitania.
So they represent a threat, but their real effectiveness as a fighting force we don't really know. We only know that their armaments are superior.
CONAN: Tripolitania the western part of Libya, Cyrenaica the eastern part of Libya and the home of the rebellion, and obviously students of the Second World War and the campaigns in North Africa remember places like Tobruk very, very well and decisions like: Do you cut straight across east? And in the case of General Rommel - or do you cut straight across west in the case of General Montgomery.
Mr. JOFFE: That's quite correct. And, indeed, the memory of those campaigns still remains amongst the people of Cyrenaica, as do certain physical remnants, as well. There are very large minefields still along the Egyptian-Libyan border, and these regularly cost people's lives as they travel through the desert.
So in a sense, the Second World War is there as a reminder of what is to come and what has already occurred.
CONAN: And have we learned more about the rebels themselves? Who makes up this community?
Mr. JOFFE: Well, the rebels are led by a former minister of justice, Mr. Jalil, and the military side we think is led by the former interior minister, Abdul Younis Fattah. And that's quite significant because they are people who were very senior inside the Gadhafi regime, and we think they've got links with the tribes of Cyrenaica. They therefore represent very important poles around which resistance can gather.
There's an organized transitional national council, which is actually a ministry in Benghazi, and it appears to be in overall charge of the military effort to confront the forces of Colonel Gadhafi.
There's also a tribal element, too. We know that some tribal leaders in Cyrenaica have actually joined the rebel groups. So it's a very heterogeneous force, but nonetheless quite effective.
CONAN: Will those people see their - that they have tossed the dice, that there is no way back?
Mr. JOFFE: There is no way back. They know that perfectly well. There was always an antagonism between the Gadhafi regime based in Sirtica and in Tripolitania, and the population of Cyrenaica. It's one of the reasons why the rebellion broke out there originally.
And they know that Colonel Gadhafi, on this occasion, will repress them ferociously and without mercy. It already happened, actually, at the end of the 1990s in the town of Darnah, which is just along from Banghazi to the east.
There, after an attempted Islamic rebellion, the Libyan army was extremely brutal for a period of over a year in suppressing any sign of dissent. And they therefore know that what they face is an absolute repression should Colonel Gadhafi win.
CONAN: We have also heard, and this is hard to confirm, but we have also heard that there is a large number of jihadists who left from the eastern part of Libya, from the Benghazi area, who went to fight and die in Iraq.
Mr. JOFFE: Well, yes. They - it's certainly true that there was a significant recruitment of Libyans to go and fight in Iraq. Whether one could call them jihadists, in the sense that they were properly trained, committed extremists or not, is much more doubtful.
They were mainly Libyans who believed they should be involved in defending the Islamic world against what they saw as the American aggression. And, as such, they did go, and the shringa(ph) records demonstrate they were the second-largest group after Saudi Arabians in going.
So there's been support for that there, but whether that indicates that there is a Salafi jihadist movement in Cyrenaica, that I really doubt. I don't think there's any evidence of that.
CONAN: Yet a lot of people would question the popularity of what would inevitably be - many people see as an American-led intervention.
Mr. JOFFE: Well, that's true, but that will be questioned on grounds quite different from those of the Salafi jihadists. That will be questioned simply on the belief, which is very widely held in the Middle East, that American interventions, and indeed European interventions, too, reflect a kind of neo-imperialism, trying to impose upon the region a particular kind of political order that people in the region haven't chosen and do not want.
And therefore we're looking at something much more generalized than questions of religious extremism.
CONAN: How significant is it, that the Arab League, which had expelled the Gadhafi government earlier, that they have unanimously recognized the rebel regime and have also called for a no-fly zone?
Mr. JOFFE: Well, I'm not sure that they actually did so unanimously. I think Syria and Algeria abstained. But apart from that, it's very significant that they did it, otherwise decide to confront Colonel Gadhafi and call for a no-fly zone.
It indicates, I think in part, the degree of unpopularity that Colonel Gadhafi had earned for himself inside the Arab League. He was cordially(ph) hated by the Saudis, for example. He had attempted, some years ago, to organize a coup against the Saudi king.
And he was much disliked by other leaders, too. Egypt had little warmth for him, and that was true of some of the Middle Eastern states outside the gulf.
So in a way, he brought upon himself this particular problem, and I think the Arab League is probably very glad that it can now get rid of an obstreperous and irritating member. And the question of the no-fly zone is extremely interesting. The question is, who the Arab League thinks should carry it out.
CONAN: And, well, it was also portrayed rather defensive, almost as a humanitarian gesture when, in fact, we've heard descriptions of this as a campaign of war, beginning with the destruction of air fields and anti-aircraft systems and wonder whether, indeed, the governments or their population is going to tolerate that kind of military effort from the West.
Mr. JOFFE: Well, again, it's a question of how, as you say, as to how it's done. And there are various theories as to what may be done. If you look at the case of Iraq, which is the most recent no-fly zone that's been in operation, there was no preliminary campaign to destroy the anti-aircraft batteries of the Saddam Hussein regime.
It was just simply that the regime was warned that any attack, even opening up radar on Western planes, would be treated as an act of hostility and war and would therefore receive retribution.
Now, that could be done in the case of Libya. The alternative, and that's what's been proposed by the secretary of defense, is an all-out attack on the anti-aircraft defenses that Libya has to guarantee security for Western aircraft.
But it's very difficult to know quite how this would be done. We know that plans have been made by NATO, by some European powers and probably by the United States, too, but what those plans are are still shrouded in secrecy.
CONAN: You mentioned the Iraqi no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq. Even in those situations, where there was not an all-out attack, there were, well, casualties of civilians, and indeed France, now the country calling for the no-fly zone in Libya, withdrew its participation because of civilian casualties.
Mr. JOFFE: Yes, you're right, it did, indeed. And there were indeed casualties. And there would no doubt be casualties in the context of Libya, too. But that's, I'm afraid, part of the consequences of any military operation. There is always that danger.
Think only of the current intervention in Afghanistan. And I think that that just simply can't be avoided. The real question is: Would the no-fly zone impede the Gadhafi regime from massacring its own population? Would it be effective in preventing effective movements of pro-Gadhafi forces into the region? If it would, overall it has to be an advantage.
CONAN: George Joffe, thanks as always for your time.
Mr. JOFFE: You're welcome.
CONAN: George Joffe, a research fellow at the Centre of International Studies at Cambridge University, joined us from a BBC Radio Cambridge studio.
When we come back, we're going to be talking about the pros and cons of a no-fly zone, indeed military intervention in Libya. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
David Cameron, the British prime minister, told parliament today that time is of the essence in Libya. Moammar Gadhafi, he said, is brutalizing his people. NATO is drawing up contingency plans for a no-fly zone, though a no-fly zone with clear limits.
The Right Honourable DAVID CAMERON (Prime Minister, United Kingdom): There is no intention to get involved in another war or to see an invasion or massive ground troops. That is not what is being looked at. What's being looked at is: How do we tighten the pressure on an unacceptable, illegitimate regime to try and give that country some chance of peaceful transition?
CONAN: British Prime Minister David Cameron in London today. We've heard this debate play out over recent weeks. What argument for or against intervention has swayed you? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email is email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And let's see if we can begin with a phone call. Let's go to - we'll start with Tom(ph), and Tom's with us from Circleville, Ohio.
TOM (Caller): Hi, thank you for having me on.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
TOM: I feel that we don't need to be there at all. We are just now wrapping up one war that we shouldn't even have been in. We're trying to finish up another war in Afghanistan. There are plenty of countries there that should be able to step in, that we have trained, that should be able to handle it.
Egypt, and I know they're having their problems there, but they have a military force. I'm sure that they can spare some people. Saudi Arabia, you even have Jordan. You know, you have other countries there, and you even have some countries in Africa that could step in.
We've shed enough blood over in that end of the world, and we are not wanted. They really don't care for our way of life, and they surely do not want our freedom.
CONAN: And it would be okay with you if, in the end, Colonel Gadhafi won out?
TOM: Well, you know, if he wins out, he wins out. You know, God love those people for trying to throw over a dictator, but we cannot be the policemen of the world. And if we did put ground troops on there, I'll guarantee you they'll start shooting at us once it's all over, and we couldn't get out fast enough.
CONAN: Tom, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.
TOM: You're welcome.
CONAN: Here's an email from Jim(ph) in Wichita. Here's what swayed me: They're fighting against Gadhafi and fighting for freedom. Duh.
And this from Davie(ph): We claim to stand for human rights, justice and democracy but are unwilling to stand up for it. Sent on - that's his email.
Let's see if we can go now to General Wesley Clark. General Clark is the former NATO supreme commander. He led NATO forces in Kosovo during the air campaign there in 1999 and wrote an op-ed that ran in the Washington Post over the weekend. He's a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA. General Clark, nice to have you with us today.
General WESLEY CLARK (Retired, U.S. Army; Senior Fellow, Burkle Center for International Relations, UCLA): Thank you very much, happy to be here.
CONAN: And the Arab League did ask for a no-fly zone. Reports indicate the rebels are being pushed out of some strategic locations. If we're going to act, it seems we should be acting now.
Gen. CLARK: Well, that's - I think the situation on the ground is very dynamic. I'm sure there are a lot of people behind the scenes, trying to structure something that makes sense. I think we should welcome the fact that the Arab League has found consensus in enforcing a no-fly zone.
I'd like to know how much the members of the Arab League intended to contribute in terms of aircraft and pilots and leadership and whether they couldn't do it themselves. And if not, why not?
CONAN: And you've said you think the United States' leadership in this would be a poor idea. Why?
Gen. CLARK: Well, I think that for the United States to go in, first of all, you have to have a basis for intervention. So what's the legal basis? You could recognize the Libyan government, the rebel government, and say that you're trying to help them. You could call for a cease-fire for humanitarian purposes. You could put peacekeeping forces, under Chapter 7, in to separate the sides
CONAN: Chapter 7 of course is the U.N. charter, yes.
Gen. CLARK: Right, and you'd still be left with Gadhafi. You could presumably charge Gadhafi with various crimes and excessive use of force and so forth and construct all that.
I think those discussions are ongoing, behind the scenes. But it's important that we think our way through this. Americans don't like Gadhafi. Europeans know he's troublesome. And it's not about the oil. It's about the fact that he's a dictator, he's repressive and he's supported terrorism.
Everybody's got sympathy for the fact that the people of Libya, or some people in Libya, have not only had enough, but they're standing up to fight for it. But that doesn't - that's not sufficient for - to make an effective intervention work.
So what's the basis? What's the - is it legal? Is it humanitarian? Is it war crimes, excessive force? What's the objective of the intervention? Is it to provide hospital care and food support? Is it to cause a cease-fire to be enacted and separate the two warring parties? Is it to force Gadhafi out? And if so, think it through to the end.
And then what comes next after that? Is it a Libyan government? Do we know that that government is a democratic government? Who's in it? Who's supporting it? And who will be there to guide its transition?
CONAN: There is also the question that if we do stand aside, and Colonel Gadhafi succeeds, it's going to send a terrible message.
Gen. CLARK: Well, yes and no. If we interfere and a couple of bombs go astray and so forth, I mean, the first person to cry out and take a deathbed conversion to Islam will be Moammar Gadhafi, who will suddenly say that this is NATO and the West attacking Islam.
And he'll be the first one to appeal for al-Qaeda to come in and help him. And there'll be a rallying cry for a fatwa, and before you know it, there will be fighting against Islam. And so there are risks on both sides.
CONAN: And you think that the risks of - well, the United States, once you establish a no-fly zone, it's difficult to limit it to that, isn't it?
Gen. CLARK: Well, the question you have to ask yourself is: If you establish a no-fly zone, and the rebels are limited just to Benghazi, and he's now commencing the assault on Benghazi without using any aircraft, just using tanks and heavy artillery, are you going to circle around at 20,000 feet while he finishes the fight in Benghazi, or are you going to do something else?
And if you are going to do something else, you need to have thought that through early on.
CONAN: Is not a no-fly zone a signal that the victory by Colonel Gadhafi is unacceptable to the United States and the West?
Gen. CLARK: You could certainly make that argument, and you could say to Colonel Gadhafi: Look, you're only seeing the no-fly zone, but let me tell you something. The fist is coming later. And maybe that'll be the case.
All I'm saying is that if you're going to do that, please think it through and know that you're going to follow through with this and then don't let any more people die. Get it stopped.
CONAN: General Wesley Clark is with us, general retired, of course, the leader of the U.N. - the NATO forces in the war in Kosovo. Let's see if he'll take one call with us before he has to go. Jerry's(ph) on the line, Jerry calling from Denver.
JERRY (Caller): Hi.
Gen. CLARK: Hi, Jerry.
JERRY: I just had the thought that Wolfowitz, back when the Iraq war was started, and we spent a trillion dollars on it, said that Iraq was going to be a beacon of democracy for the area. It seems like that idea has happened. We've had the ripple effect from Iraq. And we've invested a trillion. We ought to keep on supporting that investment. That's about it.
Gen. CLARK: Well, I think we're still in Iraq. It's certainly questionable whether it's a beacon for democracy in the region or not. I don't think you could argue that what happened in Tunisia or Egypt had anything to do with Iraq, per se. It had more to do with Twitter and the Internet and longstanding repression and denial of freedom there than it did to do with having American troops come in.
I certainly hope it works out well for the United States in Iraq. We do have a government there. There's a lot of tensions underneath the surface, still a lot of people dying in Iraq, and we've still got four combat brigades here.
And it's been a trillion dollars. And by the way, Iraq's oil exports are lower than they were before we went in. But - so when Wolfowitz preaches intervention, I always think twice: Once burned, twice shy. And so should you.
CONAN: Jerry, thanks for the call. We appreciate it. And General Clark, we know you've got another meeting to go to, and we appreciate your time today.
Gen. CLARK: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Wesley Clark, retired Army general who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that raised questions about the wisdom of an American-led military intervention in Iraq, even a no-fly zone.
With us here in Studio 3A is Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, and here to share his thoughts on what could happen if the U.S. does not intervene in Libya, and Colonel Gadhafi eventually triumphs. And nice to have you with us today.
Mr. TOM MALINOWSKI (Washington Director, Human Rights Watch): Thank you.
CONAN: And General Clark laid out some of his concerns. Do you share them?
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Well, any use of military force is risky, and I think he raised some very, very good questions that I'm sure President Obama is wrestling with right now.
I do think, though, that as we think about the uncertainties that might follow any kind of U.S. action, we also need to think about the certain outcome of Gadhafi winning and being able to retake Benghazi and eastern Libya.
CONAN: And it's interesting, the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper said last week in congressional testimony that just on the basis of military capabilities - and that doesn't take into account a lot of things, but just on the basis of military capabilities, that's the way he sees it playing out.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Well, he may have been right. It does look right now like as if the rebels are losing. They're falling back on Benghazi, which is the major population center in the area. And so here's what will likely happen. First, you have a last stand by the rebels in Benghazi, which will be bloody and brutal. There will be house-to-house fighting. I think those folks know that there's no possible surrender. There's no possible compromise here. They will be hunted down and, therefore, they will fight.
And then if Gadhafi does succeed in taking Benghazi, I think you are going to have a really serious bloodbath. This will be, for this administration, a Srebrenica moment.
CONAN: Srebrenica, of course, the town that was under a no-fly zone, as it turned out, in the Balkans that was the source of genocide during the conflict there.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Yeah. I was in the Clinton administration at that time. So I know what it's like to go through this and the painful dilemmas that the administration is facing. But I can tell you that you don't want to live through that again.
CONAN: Yet what if General Clark's concerns, if you establish a no-fly zone and it proves ineffective, it's not enough, and that fighting goes on anyway, do you permit it to go on?
Mr. MALINOWSKI: I think that's a very valid concern. I'm not sure that a no-fly zone would be enough to prevent it. It might be. It would be a very powerful psychological blow to the government, to Gadhafi's government. It would provide a psychological boost to the rebels who would see that there's some support being provided from the outside world. But it might not be enough.
And if not, then I think General Clark is right. You do have to ask at the outset what additional steps you might be prepared to take and, in particular, would you be prepared, for example, to take out tanks and heavy artillery that Gadhafi's forces are bringing to bear on Benghazi? That is ultimately how the genocide in Bosnia was ended, by the way. There was a very brief, two-week campaign by NATO that largely focused on taking out the Serbian artilleries surrounding Sarajevo. And once that was done, the genocide ended and diplomacy was allowed to begin.
CONAN: Genocide ended in Bosnia.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: In Bosnia, correct.
CONAN: Yes. Right. It went on some other places. We're talking with Tom Malinowski - Washington director for Human Rights Watch and a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton - about options in Libya.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.
And one more question. You were quoted over the weekend as asking: What message would it send if the West did not intervene and Colonel Gadhafi succeeds?
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Well, the question is: What is the message sent if Gadhafi wins? I think all around the world, from Iran to Saudi Arabia to China, authoritarian governments are going to draw a very simple lesson, that violence works, that Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, was wrong not to massacre all those protesters on Tahrir Square. That's why he lost. Gadhafi was right to use extreme violence. And if want to survive, Gadhafi's survival strategy is the one that we should be emulating.
CONAN: Let's go next to Dante, Dante with us from Portland.
DANTE (Caller): Yes, sir. I can't agree with that last statement, because I believe that that's the philosophy that those types of leaders already have, which is Gadhafi and the Milosevic, and those kind of things. I don't think any action that we do is going to convince them whether or not to massacre or not to massacre people.
But I'm against military intervention in - anywhere unless it's in our self-interest or self-defense. And I feel very bad for these people, and I wish them the best of luck. But my leaders have not convinced me that they know enough about the situation and have enough intelligence on how to make it a better situation, regardless of the outcome, for us to order our troops to kill and be killed.
I am - I can't believe that we haven't learned the lesson yet that enemy of my friends - the enemy of my enemy is not my - is my friend is wrong. I mean, look at where we are right now, and I haven't been convinced by American history that we can do much better in this situation.
CONAN: Dante, thanks very much for the call. Humanitarian concerns were part of the no-fly zone in Iraq when it was imposed over both Kurdistan and the southern part of Iraq. There were civilian casualties there. It is hard to believe that Colonel Gadhafi might not gather a group of civilians and set up a radar in a mosque and hope that it would be bombed.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Well, that raises the difficult question of whether you would need to bomb every radar site in Libya.
CONAN: If it turned on and started irradiating American aircraft.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: If it started painting an aircraft, that's right. That would be the - but the rules of engagement in Iraq did allow U.S. planes to fire on radar sites that turned on. It's a concern, and it's a perfectly valid concern.
You know, I would say that, you know, the Iraq example is a fairly positive one. The northern Iraq no-fly zone probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It prevented Saddam Hussein from repeating his genocide of the Kurds, which he almost succeeded in completing in the late 1980s. The southern...
CONAN: There were Marines in Kurdistan as well, so.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Well, it was - they were ground forces that belonged to the Kurdish government. In other words, it was...
CONAN: And United States Marines.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: They were across the border in Turkey.
CONAN: No, they were not. They were in Iraq.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: No.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: At the same time, there was a southern no-fly zone, as you know, which failed miserably, in part because there were no either rebel forces or U.S. forces on the ground to help in the enforcement. So this is very, very complicated. The history is mixed.
CONAN: We're talking with Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch about the prospects for a no-fly zone or other military intervention in Iraq. 800-989-8255. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Malinowski, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate the difficult questions and how awkward this can be.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: Thank you.
CONAN: And in - when we come back, we're going to be talking with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, about their new report, State of the News Media 2011, which, among other things, concludes that, for the first time last year, news usage came most often from the Internet and not from newspapers. Stay with us.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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