Weighing Factors Ahead Of Libya Strikes

It may be decades before we know what the discussions were inside the Oval Office that led to the decision to intervene in Libya. But Robert McFarlane, who was national security adviser during the Reagan administration, says the determination to use military force always involves several factors. Among them: U.S. interests, humanitarian concerns and capabilities. He says that while U.S. interests in Libya are low, humanitarian concerns are high.

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GUY RAZ, host:

The White House has come under some criticism for taking too long to explain the objectives in Libya. Tomorrow, the president will address the nation on that topic.

We asked former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who served under President Reagan, to walk us through the kinds of questions that were probably asked in the Situation Room before deciding to launch those attacks.

Mr. ROBERT McFARLANE (Former National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan): Notably, isn't there a moral dimension here, which really impels us to go and do this, to help the Libyan people? And that's a healthy sentiment that ought always to be a part of American thinking.

And yet you do have to take into account, well, what if we do go in? Do we really know how to form a government there if we win? And this sort of thing.

RAZ: What's your take? Is it in America's interest to be involved?

Mr. McFARLANE: Well, there's no security interest involved here. The interest is driven by the humanitarian concern, and that's a legitimate one. But you have to weigh it against whether you have the resources, the allies and who really ought to have the primary responsibility.

RAZ: So there are obviously risks here now because it started a week ago, and we don't know how long this can last.

Mr. McFARLANE: It's true, and we have to bear in mind Libya is a tribal country. There isn't a strong set of institutions, and Gadhafi has been truly a dictator that maintained all the levers of power. So it isn't going to be easy, assuming we can prevail, to form a stable government.

RAZ: I don't mean to oversimplify this, but if you can imagine being in the White House now, and you were the national security adviser now, as you once were, and the president said, look, I thought this thing was going to be over in a matter of days. We clearly cannot extricate ourselves from this as long as Gadhafi is in power. What do we do?

Mr. McFARLANE: Well, I think we have to have a round of very, very intense diplomacy, not only with our European allies who are going to be taking significant risks for the loss of life, but with Arab governments and pointing out you are seeing here - and someone said 11 countries - significant revolutionary movements.

In order to introduce a measure of stability, the Arab governments are going to have to play a role here, concretely in reform measures and in paying for those who are trying to avoid the loss of life and protect innocent Libyans.

Well, that isn't easy to do on the fly, but it's what we have to do if we're to emerge from this with a measure of stability and credibility among allies in Europe, as well as the Middle East.

RAZ: Robert McFarlane, ultimately, it seems to me that what you're saying is this cannot end with Gadhafi in power, still in power.

Mr. McFARLANE: No, I think we have nailed our colors to the mast, and I think that is the right call. He is an evil person. And the Libyan people deserve better.

But getting that better day for them is not going to be a walk in the park by any means. It's going to be a long time and a lot of complex negotiations.

RAZ: Do you think if you were in the White House, you would've advised the president to do this?

Mr. McFARLANE: No. If I had had people on the ground for a long time, even good intelligence for a long time, I might have said yes because we would have had a much better handle on exactly what are we dealing with. We would have had people locally, internally, to engage and help in forming a government.

But without any of that, I would not have urged that he do this.

RAZ: What do you think are the outcomes here now?

Mr. McFARLANE: Well, I believe we're going to go into a position where two things are at play: Arab governments quietly and behind the scenes are going to be working to get Gadhafi out. For our own part, we will probably see an escalation, certainly a use of American and European power against military targets.

But before long, my guess is within a week's time, you're likely to see Gadhafi gone into exile in some Arab country. But then the really hard part starts, and that is, how do you get tribal representatives to form a government that can function in Libya?

RAZ: That's Robert McFarlane. He was the national security adviser to President Reagan from 1983 to 1985.

Robert McFarlane, thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. McFARLANE: Always a pleasure.

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