Goal For Libya Is Have Gadhafi To Step Down

The mission in Libya is multi-pronged: protect civilians and utlimately, have Moammar Gadhafi step down. Former ambassador John Negroponte talks to Steve Inskeep about why he thinks intervening in Libya is a good idea. Negropnte is a former career ambassador, and is currently a lecturer in international affairs at Yale University.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, so Yemen's government totters at the same time the U.S. has launched military strikes against Libya, which we'll talk about next.

In our studios is John Negroponte, a career U.S. diplomat who's held many positions, including ambassador to the U.N., ambassador to Iraq, director of national intelligence.

Welcome to the program once again.

Mr. JOHN NEGROPONTE (Former Director of National Intelligence): Thank you.

INSKEEP: You have favored military action in Libya. But I want to start by playing you some tape. Over the weekend, on CNN, Republican Senator Richard Lugar was asked if he understands what the U.S. is doing in Libya.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): I do not understand the mission, because as far as I can tell, in the United States there is no mission and there are no guidelines for success.

INSKEEP: Here's a deeply-respected Republican. He's worked with President Obama in the past. He says I don't get it. What's he missing?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, you know, I think it's going to maybe take a few days for this thing to clarify completely. But I think what the president's doing here is making a distinction between the humanitarian mission, which has been authorized by the United Nations...

INSKEEP: Protect civilian from Gadhafi.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: ...and which is being carried out at this very moment, create this no-fly zone that enables the protections of civilians, and the political goal, which he distinguishes from the military mission that's been authorized, and the political goal remains that Mr. Gadhafi leave power.

INSKEEP: Well, though, you can understand how people are baffled by that notion. If the political goal is to remove Gadhafi, why wouldn't you...

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, I think what they may be asking themselves is, well, when the United States uses military force, why doesn't it stick around with its military activities until the political goal is accomplished? But I think what the president is saying, this is a two-stage process. We're creating this free - no-fly zone so that the situation can stabilize, the opposition has a chance to survive, the civilians aren't being slaughtered by Mr. Gadhafi, but the next phase is going to involve other types of action. He said we have other means at our disposal to achieve these political objectives, and I think that's the phase that you're going to see unfold once this military situation stabilizes.

INSKEEP: Is there some past event in history where you can point to a no-fly zone that worked?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, I think the I think the Kurdish experience, which almost for almost a decade after the first Gulf War...

INSKEEP: That was in Iraq...

Mr. NEGROPONTE: ...in Iraq, in the northern Iraq there was a no-fly zone and that helped the Kurdish people preserve and maintain a certain degree of autonomy and gave them political experience in running their own affairs that the rest of Iraq did not have.

INSKEEP: Would you agree with those who fear or suspect the United States is allowing itself to be limited by the need to act with allies here the need to have consensus with allies is limiting the U.S. to less than it might like to do?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, these are some of the tradeoffs you make when you opt for multilateral solutions and you say that we're not always going to be the country that is out in front. But in some respects, this may be a breath of fresh air. We were criticized for going it alone in Iraq. The president was very committed in his political platform - and I think he's personally committed - to pursuing multilateral approaches. Well, this is what a multilateral approach looks like.

I think one of the reasons you heard Senator Lugar say what he did was that in the end this action occurred rather abruptly and a little bit faster than we thought it would because we hesitated, for one.

INSKEEP: Uh-huh.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: And secondly, whereas the opposition looked like it was doing extremely well at the beginning and people were kind of confident and complacent...

INSKEEP: They looked like they were on the verge of losing last week.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: And so that caused things to happen very quickly.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: I think it did, very abruptly. And then Mrs. Clinton went to Cairo. She got the people bent her ear there, and Susan Rice and Samantha Power, and I think they said, my goodness, if we don't act within the next 48 hours, the opposition is giving to be eliminated.

INSKEPE: Is there a danger of I mean I'm trying to you can think of any cliche that you want - mission creep, quagmire. Is there a danger of this thing getting out of hand?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, there are always dangers. In fact, I think people are right to be a little bit leery because, after all, this has happened with many of our interventions in the past. The original action and the stated purposes and then the ultimate sort of evolution of events very often differ. That's not usual not in warfare. But I think the president is trying to make these general distinctions between the humanitarian and the ultimate political goals, and I think that's the road he's embarked on.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, thank very much.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: John Negroponte is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to Iraq, and also former director of national intelligence. He now teaches at Yale University and also works for a consulting firm right here in Washington, D.C.

We'll have the latest on the developing situation in the Arab world right here on NPR News.

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