Coalition Contemplates Way Forward In Libya
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
As the international community continues to watch events in North Africa in Libya, we'll head to West Africa to the Ivory Coast where a stalemate between two men who both claimed the presidency is headed into its fourth month. Hundreds have died and the U.N. says nearly one million people have fled their homes. We will have more on that story in a few minutes.
But, first, more on Libya. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with other international leaders, including Arab ministers, in London today to talk about the way forward as the U.S. turns command of the no-fly zone there over to NATO commanders.
Last night, of course, President Obama spoke to this nation to explain his decision to get the U.S. involved.
President BARACK OBAMA: As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do and will do is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre. And we will work with our allies and partners to maintain the safety of civilians.
MARTIN: We wanted to hear more about the efforts to organize an international response to the Libyan situation and to gauge international reaction to Mr. Obama's remarks. So we've called upon NPR foreign correspondent Philip Reeves. He is in London. He's covered the Middle East extensively, including conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
For reaction from the Arab we're joined once again by Abderrahim Foukara. He is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera International. He's been with us to help us understand the crises in North Africa and the region. I welcome you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.
Mr. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA (Washington Bureau Chief, Al-Jazeera International): Great to be with you again.
PHILIP REEVES: Yeah, good to be with you.
MARTIN: Now, Philip, we've been hearing strong statements out of the Congress. For example, we hear that British prime minister David Cameron decried what he called Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi's murderous attacks on the people of the Libyan city of Misrata. And I also want to play just a short clip from Secretary of State Clinton. Here it is.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): All of us have to continue to pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Gadhafi regime. This includes a unified front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Gadhafi, he must go.
MARTIN: So, as I said, strong statements, Philip, but can you tell us a bit more about the purpose of this meeting and what it is intended to accomplish?
REEVES: Well, officials here were pretty clear from the very beginning, their purpose is to broaden the base of this coalition that has ranged against Gadhafi. We all know there have been fissures, there have been fractures within that coalition in the last few days over issues like who should assume command of the coalition and the extent to which it is entitled, acting under a U.N. resolution, to define its goals as actually removing Gadhafi himself.
The Russians, very recently, as you recall, were complaining that the coalition forces were actually becoming players in an internal civil war. They were interfering in the civil war. So it's been a rough ride, these last few days, for the coalition. And they've made no secret that today's meeting is about creating unity and broadening the base.
And I think that explains why you've had such passionate words from British prime minister David Cameron and also a rallying cry, there, from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
MARTIN: And I understand that she met with an opposition leader - a Libyan opposition leader today. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
REEVES: Yes. She did, indeed. She met with a leader from the Interim National Council. And interestingly, actually, the council issued a statement of some significance, today, outlining its vision for what it called a democratic Libya. They're not actually officially here at this conference in terms of being invited guests. But there are several of them, including the gentlemen that both Hillary Clinton and David Cameron met.
And this vision for democratic Libya makes interesting reading. Because as you know, one of the key issues that has really fueled the debate about whether this is or is not a mission that the Western world and its allies should be involved in, has been how much we actually know about the rebels. Are we supporting people who are generally democratic and who are going to usher in a new and much better era in Libya.
Or are we talking people who are embroiled in a more historic battle to do with their interests connected with the tribal factors in the region, and of course, power and money and oil and so forth. And I think this document an attempt to allay these fears. It talks about drafting a national constitution. It talks about forming political organizations and civil institutions. Libya under Gadhafi, of course, had notably lacked these. They have to be built from the ground up.
It talks about the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, and establishing that. It talks about the need for freedom of expression and political pluralism. These are all words that the coalition and its partners have been very keen to hear and that's what they heard today, both at that meeting that took place between Hillary Clinton and a representative from the interim council, but also in the large domain of the conference itself.
MARTIN: Philip, if you'll stay with us. Abderrahim, we'd like to turn to you now. You know, the president clearly had two audiences. I mean, there are those who are saying that the effort to, you know, organize the International Coalition is actually more advanced than his rallying of American public opinion.
So I first wanted to ask you, just what was the reaction around the region, the Arab region to the Middle East to the president's remarks last night?
Mr. FOUKARA: I think, broadly speaking, we seem to be having something of a historic context, in which the interests of the West in wanting to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi, seem to be overlapping with the interest of people in the region. Many of them, actually, want him to go. I found it very interesting last night in the speech by the president - President Obama - that he talked about something which a lot of people are talking about in the Middle East.
And he was trying to define why Libya, why U.S. intervention in Libya; one of the reasons he gave is that there's been a revolution in Tunisia, there's been a revolution in Egypt, and if Moammar Gadhafi is allowed to survive, the achievements of those revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt will be undermined. And that is precisely the fear in North Africa and the Middle East, that if these two revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt - a lot of people are pinning a lot of hope on them to lead to a better future in the region. And they feel that if Gadhafi survives, then that's going to, you know, raise a lot of questions about that future. So we have this overlap of interest. Although, it has to be said, a lot of people continue to harbor fears and concerns about Western intervention. You know, the memory of what happened in Iraq in 2003 is still fresh. The memory - more than a memory - of what's going on in Afghanistan where even NATO continues to kill civilians, that is clearly a concern.
But I think it's safe to say that people in the Middle East have more or less the same objective, ultimately, which is getting rid of Gadhafi - whether President Obama states it that way or not, people obviously may not understand that he has domestic considerations to not say, in the U.S., will try to move Gadhafi from power. But I think everybody understands that ultimately, that's what NATO, including the United States, are working for.
MARTIN: Well, I want to ask you a bit more about that, but before I do, I just want to say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the role of the U.S., the European and Arab countries in Libya. We're speaking with Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief of Al-Jazeera International. That's who you just heard. Also with us, NPR foreign correspondent Philip Reeves - he's in London.
Abderrahim, I just wanted, on that point, there's ambivalence, as you, I'm sure, know, in the U.S., about what the U.S. role should be. I just want to play a short clip from Republican senator John McCain today, speaking today, on CBS News.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The president made a strong case for our intervention last night, and a convincing one. But when the president says that we are not going to use force, that is really, first of all, contradictory to the facts on the ground. We are supporting the anti-Gadhafi forces, and the reason why they're succeeding is because of our air power.
MARTIN: So, Abderrahim, I just wanted to ask if you feel that - what is the reaction in the region to this? Is there a sense that the U.S. is what, hedging its bets, it's that not - is there an appreciation of sort of a delicacy of the role or is there a sense among some that the U.S. is not doing enough?
Mr. FOUKARA: I mean, there is concern that there may be ambiguity on the part of the Obama administration. But I think people do understand that the public opinion in the United States is still unclear in which direction the Obama administration is going with regard to removing Gadhafi from office. But I think a lot of people have read the statements of President Barack Obama right from the start when the Libyan uprising or revolution, whatever you want to call it, started.
And they were able to read, for example, when he said Gadhafi's government is illegitimate, a lot of people read in that that the United States wants to work towards having al-Gadhafi removed from power. It would've been obviously for people who want that to happen, it would've been even better if President Barack Obama said it outright in clear terms, we will work to have Gadhafi removed. But I don't think the fact that he doesn't say it, I don't think Gadhafi should take much comfort in it.
MARTIN: And, finally, Philip Reeves, are you in a position to tell us about -what's public opinion in Europe, particularly in Britain, about the intervention to this point?
REEVES: It's actually extremely divided. The polls recently have shown that the public is very ambivalent about getting embroiled in what they perceive as possibly another prolonged conflict in the Middle East, North Africa, on the, you know, following closely on the heels of involvement, which is still going on, of course, in Afghanistan and their engagement in Iraq, which went on, you know, and it was more bloody than British people hoped.
So there really are divided views here. It's coming out in the media every day with people arguing both sides of the case very articulately. It's interesting, though, that politically, almost all - in fact, all the main political parties have supported David Cameron and his coalition government getting embroiled in this.
So you have an interesting mismatch here between parliament, essentially, and the big political parties of Britain, who voted in favor of doing this and are lending their support to David Cameron, who has played a leading role in forming this coalition and taking the fight to Libya. And the people themselves who are war weary. They are facing unprecedented post-war terms, cuts in public spending and they don't like, many of them don't like the idea of getting involved in another conflict.
Although, you will also find plenty of people who are very, very happy indeed, to see the back of Gadhafi, who is widely regarded as a tyrant and a dictator.
MARTIN: Philip Reeves is a foreign correspondent for NPR. He was with us from our bureau in London. Philip, thank you.
REEVES: You're welcome.
MARTIN: Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera International. He was kind enough to join us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C. Abderrahim, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. FOUKARA: Great to be with you again.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.