What Does The U.S. Do After Air Strikes On Libya?

Some foreign policy experts call the intervention in Libya a war of choice, and an ill-advised one at that. Steve Inskeep talks Richard Haass, the president of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, about his criticisms of the mission in Libya.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We've been sampling the debate over intervention in Libya. U.S. military action came so swiftly that we're hearing this debate after the fact, but it matters all the same. This week, we've heard from people who back the airstrikes. Richard Haass does not. He is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and served in the Bush administration.

Welcome to the program, sir.

RICHARD HAASS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: What's wrong with this intervention?

HAASS: Oh, any number of things. I don't believe our interests there are close to being vital. So I don't think it's warranted. I also don't think this is designed in a way that people have thought through what happens after the airstrikes. We're already seeing that they're not going to be military decisive. So then what?

The president has essentially articulated ambitious goals, but he keeps talking about how limited the means are.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask you about those two key points that you just made there. You said not vital interests. The oil in Libya does not make this a vital country?

HAASS: No. I'd say two percent of the world oil output does not make something vital - important, yes, but already, the world had learned to live with much less Libyan oil.

INSKEEP: And also, you said this was not thought through. A number of lawmakers in both parties have said they are confused by what's going on. Why is there a no fly zone and not an effort to get rid of Gadhafi, for example.

But I want to play you a piece of tape. You worked in the Bush administration with Ambassador John Negroponte, who was on this program yesterday. And he said the intervention makes sense.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: I think what the president is saying this is a two-stage process. We're creating this 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.

INSKEEP: And, Richard Haass, the air offensive does seem to have pushed back Gadhafi's forces in the last few days.

HAASS: Somewhat, but air forces were never essential to what Mr. Gadhafi was doing. But again, now what? What comes next? He's likely to survive this. At some point, there are going to have to be boots on the ground. If they're not going to be Americans, then who? And even just more important, on behalf of whom?

Why are we so confident that the people who oppose Mr. Gadhafi represent something fundamentally better? Do the people involved in the decision-making truly understand the tribal composition and makeup of Libya? Can they promise the American people with confidence that the people we are now supporting would put into place a government that would be democratic, benign, respect human rights, oppose terrorism - essentially, be partners of the United States?

I think anyone who is promising you any of those things is selling you a bill of goods.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Negroponte yesterday raised the example of the Iraq, where, for years, when Saddam Hussein was still in power, there were Kurds in the north. They certainly were not perfect, but they made a lot of progress under the protection of a no-fly zone for years.

HAASS: Sure, and there you had ethnically solid area. It was, as you say, Kurdish. It was somewhat distinct from the rest of Iraq, and there has - there was a lot of progress there. Why anyone thinks that Libya is an analogous situation is beyond me.

INSKEEP: I want to ask, also, Richard Haass, does the United States have a moral obligation to join the international community in stopping a leader who says that he's going to give no mercy, no pity to his political opponents, something that Gadhafi did say?

HAASS: Well, two things. This is a civil war. This is not a classic genocide. This is not, if you will, one tribe or one religion or one sect against another. So it is a civil war in Libya. People are taking on the government. You have to expect there's going to be violence. And people who use arms against the government are taking enormous risks. That comes with the territory, so to speak.

Secondly, simply because others join in with us - in this case, the Arab League, at least on paper, the Europeans and so forth. Just because you have a degree of multilateralism doesn't mean a policy is wise. So the idea that we're supporting this policy because others are urging us to do it, to me, simply doesn't wash.

Again, this is not a humanitarian intervention, no matter what people are saying. This is American involvement in the Libyan Civil War. This is the tribal country, and we have the essentially gotten ourselves in the middle of something that I fear - and I truly hope I'm wrong here, Steve - but I fear will be extraordinarily complicated and extraordinarily messy.

INSKEEP: We just got a few seconds left. But would you stand aside and let whatever happens in Libya happen?

HAASS: What I would have done from outset was negotiate with the government, basically try to reach an agreement...

INSKEEP: Negotiate with Gadhafi?

HAASS: Why not? We have dealt with them for years. I would have basically said we will either increase or decrease sanctions, depending upon how you behave, vis-a-vis your own people. If that didn't work, there were all sorts of sanctions.

But American intervention may well prolong this civil war, and it may well increase the suffering of the people we are purportedly trying to help.

INSKEEP: Mr. Haass, thanks very much.

HAASS: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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