What Are The U.S.'s Next Steps In Libya?

Robert Siegel talks with Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser to President Obama. They discuss what the U.S.'s next steps are in dealing with Libya now that the Gadhafi regime is all but toppled.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Joining us from the White House is deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough. Welcome to the program.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Thanks a lot. It's good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And first, Moammar Gadhafi, does the U.S. have a position on what should happen to him now?

MCDONOUGH: Well, no. The real deciders here in this regard are the people of Libya. What happens with him is really up to the people of Libya. Of course, the president has made clear over the course of the last, frankly, several months but most explicitly in the last couple days, what we expect him to do so as to allow his country to move on from this very tumultuous chapter into a new chapter where the Libyan people get to decide for themselves for the first time in 42 years.

SIEGEL: But whether he's tried in Libya, tried in The Hague or shot on sight, no preference in Washington?

MCDONOUGH: Correct. These are choices for the people of Libya to make. Obviously, the president has outlined our views as to how best for this transition to come about. And obviously, the TNC leadership themselves have also made those points about avoiding retribution and so forth. But these are decisions for the people of Libya.

SIEGEL: President Obama has been faulted by his critics for what they said was a lack of clear leadership on Libya. The phrase from a New Yorker article, "leading from behind" has been used against him as a derisive slogan. You've been inside the National Security Council. I want to know, how do you describe the U.S. role in Libya, and how much credit should the administration get for the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the credit really belongs with the people of Libya, but the role of the president here, I think, is not different than what we've seen in other instances, Robert. The president demanded of us late one Tuesday night in the Situation Room a new option. The options that we had presented to him he found insufficient, in fact dictated to us that we come back to him with an option that was not on the table at the time. You'll remember in early March there was a lot of discussion about a no-fly zone. He recognized that a no-fly zone alone was going to be insufficient.

He demanded that we come back to him with a proposal that will allow us to use our unique resources and our unique capabilities to leverage additional actions from our allies. Frankly, what you've seen here is a return to the kind of traditional burden sharing and alliance management that has served the United States very well over the course of many decades. And we feel very good about it. Now, this is not done. There's going to be additional work to be carried out.

But what I'd ask the critics is, is that they're unhappy with the outcome, or is it that they're unhappy with the cost? Because it could have been done more costly, and it could have been done with more exposure to American resources.

SIEGEL: What's the difference between events in Libya and events in Syria that makes the former a place where allied military force could play a decisive role and the latter a place where sanctions are proposed, the ruler is urged to step down, there's encouragement for the dissidents but no threat of military action at all?

MCDONOUGH: Well, in the first instance, you've seen - what we saw early in March was a request for assistance from the opposition in Libya. Then, you saw the unanimity of the neighbors, led by the Arab League, by the Gulf coalition from the Arabian Gulf and then from our European friends and NATO and otherwise joining into this effort. So there are two very unique aspects to Libya that are not present today in Syria.

SIEGEL: But just to be clear here, as the administration sees it, the situations in Libya and Syria, where we have not threatened intervention, are more fundamentally different than they are similar is what you're saying.

MCDONOUGH: That's correct.

SIEGEL: And that explains why there is not a proposed NATO role. Do you think most people in the region would agree with that, that they're fundamentally different, or that they're all part of something called the Arab Spring, and it's the same issue, and there's military repression there?

MCDONOUGH: Oh, I think what you see people exercising are rights that we believe are universal, and the president has outlined this since those very heady days in Tunisia earlier, late this winter, which is that certain and, you know, we obviously, hold these truths to be self-evident, Robert. That's to say that everybody has certain inalienable rights. And what we're seeing now is people across the region exercising those, but they're exercising them differently in each country.

The makeup of each country is different. The way they're exercising them and the opportunities they're creating for themselves are different. And we have to be able to see those differences and not follow some kind of set, standard, cookie cutter approach. And frankly, that's exactly what the president's done and we believe it's served our interests well.

SIEGEL: Well, Denis McDonough, thank you very much...

MCDONOUGH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: ...for talking with us today. That's Denis McDonough, who is the deputy national security advisor, spoke to us from the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: ..COST: $00.00

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