What Is The Standard For Intervention In Foreign Conflicts?

NATO has reportedly taken control of aerial missions in Libya but the United States continues play a vital role in the military operation. Members of Congress on both sides of the isle have pressed President Obama to clarify the U.S' role in the conflict. Meanwhile, protests against government leaders in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria are continuing. For a broader view on the policy implications of American intervention in the region, host Michel Martin speaks with former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President George W. Bush, Jendayi Frazer.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We're going to continue our conversation on the U.S. involvement in Libya, and what it means to our relationship in the region now with Jendayi Frazer. She is a leading expert on U.S. Africa policy. She was assistant secretary of State for African Affairs under President George W. Bush, and before that was U.S. ambassador to South Africa. She's now a distinguished public service professor at Carnegie Mellon University. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

Dr. JENDAYI FRAZER (Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University): Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So I wanted to talk to you just, first of all, if you have a baseline view of President Obama's decision to send any U.S. military to participate in this intervention.

Dr. FRAZER: Well, it makes sense to me from the point of view of the responsibility to protect, and he mentioned that when he got the Nobel Peace Prize. And so, I think that that's very much part of his doctrine.

On the other hand, I don't think that we know enough about what's going on on the ground. And so, I wonder if it perhaps was premature. I know there was a lot of talk about Gadhafi's forces were advancing and killing innocent civilians, but there's often a fog of war in those early days, and it's not clear to me what really was going on there.

MARTIN: Now, the Speaker of the House John Boehner, to that point, sent a letter to President Obama last week, saying that he is, quote, "troubled" that military resources were committed to Libya without clearly defining objectives to Congress and to the American people, and I wonder if you share that criticism.

Dr. FRAZER: Well, I certainly share it in terms of sharing the objectives to the American people. Normally when the president's going to launch tomahawk missiles he'll stand before the nation from the Oval Office, or the East Room, and tell the American people this is the reason why we're doing it.

But there was some congressional notification clearly, but I do think that the mission is unclear. Clearly, they stated at the outset that it was a no-fly zone to protect civilians, but then the president said as a matter of policy, the idea is to remove Gadhafi. And that leads to a lot of confusion about what is our strategic objective there.

MARTIN: Well, it is important to note that the president is expected to speak to the American people tonight, so presumably we'll know more. But there is a question of, you know, what is the standard for U.S. involvement. As we are speaking now, there's continued violence in Zimbabwe, in the Ivory Coast there's a protracted election battle. And so, I think the question that a lot of people have is why this place, and why not another place?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, it's really unclear. And, in fact, President Obama when he was a candidate said that he was going to do a no-fly zone over Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced. And they didn't take that option.

And so, you're quite right that the question of where do you use that force, in Cote d'Ivoire as you said, are ready. There as hundreds of thousands who are displaced internally and at least 100,000 refugees who are going into Liberia and perhaps destabilizing Liberia.

And so, this norm that says that we will use military force as a last resort to protect civilians who are under threat of crimes against humanity, under threat of genocide, where do you define when a genocide is happening, or where there's a crime against humanity, or where there's ethnic cleansing?

In this case, under Security Council resolution that they passed authorizing force in Libya, they were saying that there was crimes against humanity. And that was based on the notion that Gadhafi was bombing innocent civilians and using African mercenaries to attack innocent civilians. But I'm not sure if they were rebels before they were innocent civilians, or - that's where I say the fog of war makes it very unclear.

MARTIN: And finally to that point, President Obama has emphasized that this decision to intervene was multilateral, and in contrast to a major criticism of the previous administration in which you served was that President George W. Bush was perceived by his critics as being too willing to go it alone.

Dr. FRAZER: Yes.

MARTIN: And I wanted to ask whether you feel that this president has rallied international opinion in a manner that you think might be beneficial.

Dr. FRAZER: Well, I don't agree with him that President Bush's actions were unilateral. In fact, he did have a broad coalition, including many of the same Arab countries. What he didn't have was a U.N. Security Council resolution, not because he couldn't get the vote, but because of the threat of a veto. And so he had the general will of the Security Council when we went to war in Iraq. And as I said, we had a broad coalition.

What I think the Obama administration has done better than the Bush administration is that they forced the Arabs to come out publicly and call for this, whereas the Arabs were allowed to stay secret coalition partners during the Bush administration. And so, I think that that was very effective. But clearly that international consensus is quite weak, because as soon as the tomahawk missiles started, the Arab League started backtracking.

The African Union also was asking a lot of questions, and I think that it's a healthy move to try to push for some type of ceasefire and some type of negotiated end to this - what looks like a developing civil war.

MARTIN: Jendayi Frazer is a former assistant secretary of State for African affairs under President George W. Bush. She's a former ambassador to South Africa. She's currently a distinguished professor of public service at Carnegie Mellon University, and she was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. FRAZER: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

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