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Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. won’t put “boots on the ground” in Libya, but the C.I.A. is already there. Following NATO’s takeover of the military mission, a look at the U.S. role in the conflict going forward.
- Paul Pillar Director, graduate studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University and a former CIA National Intelligence officer
- Mark Hosenball Investigative correspondent, Reuters
- General Barry McCaffrey (U.S. Army-Ret.) Retired U.S. army four-star general, and former director of the office of National Drug Control Policy
- Dirk Vandewalle Dartmouth College Professor of Government, author of the book "Libya Since Independence: Oil and State Building"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. begins pulling its planes out of the NATO-led air campaign in Libya today, but U.S. planes will continue support missions. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress there will be no U.S. boots on the ground, but CIA agents are already there. The White House has said it has not ruled out arming the rebels. Today, we look at the U.S.'s involvement in Libya's future. Joining me in the studio, Mark Hosenball, he's an investigative reporter with Reuters -- pardon me. Paul Pillar is a former CIA agent now at Georgetown University, and also here in the studio, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Joining us from a studio at Dartmouth College, Professor of Government, Dirk Vandewalle.
MS. DIANE REHMI'll look forward to hearing your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Mark Hosenball, if I could start with you, we have some reports this morning -- I don't know how much faith we should be putting into them-- that two of Qaddafi's sons are looking for a compromise and that Libyan envoys from both Qaddafi's side, the rebels' side, are headed for Turkey. What do you make of all this?
MR. MARK HOSENBALLWell, this has been going on -- these kind of fillers have been going on, I think, for at least a week, maybe longer than that. Representatives, both of the Qaddafi entourage and of the Western governments -- United States, Britain and France as I understand it, maybe Italy and Austria as well -- have been making approaches to each other to see if there's some way to get this all settled or to start a ceasefire. The people close to Qaddafi has suggested to me that they've proposed a -- putting in some sort of observer force, setting up a ceasefire, then putting in some observer force to keep these sides apart.
MR. MARK HOSENBALLHow real -- I mean, it's certainly real that these discussions are going on. How productive they are is really unclear. And I wouldn't put my lunch money on this getting sorted out that quickly at this point.
REHMGen. McCaffrey, what do you make of all this?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREYWell, there's a good argument that both sides -- both NATO, which is assumed extensively responsible for the operations, as well as Qaddafi, are looking for ways out. It's hard to imagine a clear cut, significant military success on the part of either the rebellion or Qaddafi's military forces. I mean, the whole notion of the U.S. withdrawing its combat air power and standing into the background and then subjecting the rules of engagement to the NATO political process, which is -- having served in Brussels, this is some kind of indecisive lot normally.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREYWe got to remind ourselves, Turkey opposed us in many ways from the start, the French never did really feel comfortable about NATO assuming responsibility, and many of the NATO members, really, have announced already that they're going to provide humanitarian assistance but won't take part in military operations. So, I think, Qaddafi feels assured we won't take him down personally. And he's assured there won't be boots on the ground, and he's reasonably confident he can survive. And then the rebellion, of course, doesn't know how they're going to break into Tripoli if NATO has announced, for God's sakes, that they intend to bomb the rebels also if they, so-call, threaten civilian populations. One of the more Bizarro World military operations I've ever observed.
REHMPaul Pillar, no boots on the ground according to Secretary of Defense Gates, but we know CIA people are there. As a 28-year veteran of the CIA, what are they doing?
MR. PAUL PILLARWe can assume that they are doing their normal function of collection of information, which is something that the agency does in scores of countries around the world, whether we're at war or not. I would say the number one collection need is to find out as much as we possibly can about this Libyan opposition in the East, who are these people, who has the most influence in particular, what role might be played by Islamic extremist types of the sort that we would be uncomfortable with and, also in terms of collection, the kind of information that, at least possibly, could assist targeting of the Western military forces air operations.
MR. PAUL PILLARNow, we've also heard the reports that the president has signed a covert action finding, which implies not just collection, but taking action. These things never get announced. We don't know for sure what happens to them until years later when there are revelations. But perhaps what's happening is some kind of assistance to this nascent opposition in Benghazi to help them get organized, help them administratively in terms of information, in terms of communication. But, right now, we can only guess as to what it consists of.
REHMSo, just to be clear, you're saying that even though the CIA is presumably there to collect information, this covert order that President Obama has signed has said what, Mark Hosenball?
HOSENBALLWell, as I understand it -- and I was, I guess, the first one to report on this covert action finding by the president -- it basically authorizes a broad program, broad operations supporting the rebels against Qaddafi. But, basically, all it does is say you could do a bunch of things with specific permission if we give you permission to do them. So it basically authorizes the CIA to go out and plan a bunch of stuff. But in order for them to actually carry out anything specific at all, ranging from delivery of a radio to sending in trainers or the arranging for the Saudis or the United States to deliver, you know, planeloads full of arms to these people, they have to go back to the White House -- the agency does -- and ask for specific permissions to deliver that stuff. And, as I understand it, at least as of late last week, none of that had been authorized.
REHMDirk Vandewalle, turning to you, there have been stories that al-Qaida itself is present in these opposition forces. What do we know about that?
PROF. DIRK VANDEWALLEWell, what we know primarily, Diane, about Islamic opposition in general, particularly in the eastern part of Libya, is that it was quite active, particularly during the 1990s. And then in a very forceful campaign, most of the militants were either pushed out of Libya or were jailed by the Qaddafi regime. Now, there were two groups primarily -- there was the Libyan Fighting Group and then also a variant of al-Qaida in North Africa. By the time that this -- what we could perhaps already call a civil war -- started, most of those opponents -- or I should say a substantial amount of the opponents had been re-released as a campaign by the son of Col. Qaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and were back in Cyrenaica.
PROF. DIRK VANDEWALLENow, whether or not they will find enough traction among the general population, I think, is perhaps a more difficult question to answer, in part, because the general Islamic feeling in Libya, particularly in the eastern part of Libya, has centered very closely around Sufi lodges, around Sufi interpretation of Islam, which is quite the opposite of the kind of militant organizations that we saw in the 1990s. And whether or not the Cyrenaicans, the eastern part of the country and certainly the Tripolitanians in the western part of country would ever tolerate a more aggressive Islam in Libya, it seems to me very problematic.
REHMDirk Vandewalle, he is Dartmouth College professor of government, author of the book "Libya Since Independence: Oil and State Building." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark Hosenball, what about reports of a rift developing among or between the opposition forces?
HOSENBALLIt appears that the opposition forces -- I mean, what do you mean by rift? I mean, they are tribally based. Some of them, I guess, are religious. There's two or three different commanders there who seem to be completely at each other's throats, one of whom, I guess, spends some time in suburban Virginia, schmoozing or maybe more than schmoozing with the CIA there. So they seem to be completely disorganized. Adm. Mullen -- I think it was the other day -- the head of the American military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated that amongst all these rebels, there were only a thousand or less competent fighters.
HOSENBALLThis is not really the sort of force that you can see organizing itself to get rid of Qaddafi, let alone organizing itself into running a country. So there's a big learning curve here in terms of what these rebels really can do, what they can accomplish.
PILLARWe shouldn't be surprised by any of this, Diane, because in the more than four decades of rule by Qaddafi, he has made sure that there hasn't been anything that would amount to an opposition structure or potential opposition structure. Unlike, say, next door in Egypt where, even though the opposition parties were kept under the thumb of the ruling party, at least there were opposition parties. There was more of a civil society. There's very little of that in Libya. So here what you have is a combination of defectors from the regime, returning exiles, as Mark mentioned, and locals who have taken up guns and have tried to make something of this new governing apparatus in Benghazi. They really are starting from scratch.
MCCAFFREYWell, I had sort of hoped that the end game would occur in Tripoli, not in Benghazi. I -- they were -- clearly, it's not just tribal. There's massive opposition to Qaddafi. He's the most hated figure probably in the Arab world. We got to remind ourselves the initial opposition was thousands of people streaming out of mosques in Tripoli, being directly engaged by mercenaries in Qaddafi forces. So I don't see how the east takes down the west. It would have to be a broader insurrection.
REHMGen. Barry McCaffrey, retired U.S. Army four-star general. Back in just a minute.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the current situation in Libya, where forces on both sides -- that is, supporters of Muammar Qaddafi and rebel forces -- continue to fight, retreat, fight some more, go back and forth. Paul Pillar is here in the studio. He's former CIA national intelligence officer, currently director of the graduate studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. Mark Hosenball is investigative correspondent for Reuters. And Gen. Barry McCaffrey is former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. On the line with us from Dartmouth College is Dirk Vandewalle. He is Dartmouth College professor of government.
REHMI do invite your calls, questions, email, comments. Paul Pillar, we had an "accidental" -- I put that in quote -- attack by allies on rebels this weekend. What happened there?
PILLARThis is one of the kinds of risks that one assumes whenever we have a military intervention. We've seen plenty of friendly fire incidents in our other interventions, in places like Afghanistan. I would say here in Libya, given the -- to be quite blunt -- ragtag nature of the rebel force in which matters of command and control and communications are rudimentary at best, we can expect all the more of these things to happen. And I would expect we'll probably see more such accidents.
HOSENBALLBecause -- and I totally agree with that -- because this is going to happen again, likely because these people that -- rebels are so disorganized, and therefore the people shooting from, you know, 10,000 feet or whatever in the air don't necessarily know who they're shooting at if they don't have good intelligence from the ground or coordination from the ground as to what's going on on the ground. And there doesn't seem to be much coordination amongst any of these people on the ground.
REHMGen. McCaffrey, there have been stories that these rebels were shooting their armaments in celebration, and, by mistake, the allies bombed them.
MCCAFFREYWell, that's probably the least likely explanation I'd sign up for. I mean, the notion of an F-16 at 20,000 feet -- by the way, this is still a hot anti-aircraft environment. There's 400-some-odd anti-aircraft weapons on the ground with Qaddafi forces, so, you know, the long-shot missiles have been neutralized, and a lot of the radars. But those pilots are flying combat missions. Now, in addition, Qaddafi has done the obvious thing. He's put most of his troops in civilian clothes. They've moved their armor inside build-up areas -- Misurata, Sirte. They're downtown.
MCCAFFREYSo we've got some reasonably inexperienced combat aircraft now. U.S. Air Force can do anything. But when they attack, they have Air Force NCOs on the ground with U.S. military units. So we've got no ground command and control, and they're trying to plink tanks from 15,000 feet with -- both sides are wearing civilian clothes.
REHMIt sounds like an extraordinarily confused and confusing situation for all sides.
MCCAFFREYWell, it makes no sense. I mean, analogies are always weak or inappropriate. But, you know, the notion that NATO is neutral and objective and will strike either side that threatens civilians just struck me as laughable. I mean, what do we -- we want a fair fight in the open desert between the two sides. Obviously, Qaddafi is a murderous dictatorship. That was the only reason that united the Arab world and the United Nations to take these actions. For us, now, to step back from it and suggest that we're really doing some vague notion of an air CAP strikes me as we may have lost our way.
REHMProf. Vandewalle, President Obama has certainly not ruled out arming the rebels. But do we know enough about them yet to begin that process?
VANDEWALLERight. If I can go back just a second to...
VANDEWALLE...what was said, Diane, about the civilians, it looks to me that, increasingly, we are really in a stalemate in Libya. And in a stalemate, the kind of stalemate that we have, in effect, the international coalition is very quickly becoming the arbiter on whether or not there will be a true civil war in Libya that is depending on whether or not they support the rebels or not, that either the Qaddafi forces will be able to, in a sense, split the country in half in which we have a civil war, or else the coalition really has to commit itself and go forward.
VANDEWALLENow, there is an added difficulty here. And that is as we go more westward from Sirte on toward Tripolitania -- toward Tripoli, that we're increasingly getting into territory where the support for Qaddafi is stronger, has traditionally been stronger. I don't buy the explanation that Qaddafi enjoys no support. I've worked in Libya for 25 years. I've lived in Tripoli for extended periods of time, and it's quite clear that the regime does continue to have some support.
VANDEWALLEBut the problem at that point is, if indeed the rebels move forward -- with the help, perhaps, of the international coalition -- and start attacking civilians on the Qaddafi side -- who do not want intervention by the international coalition -- then what exactly does that international coalition do? And already we've seen the United -- sorry, the European Union warning the rebels not to attack civilians -- pro-Qaddafi civilians, that is. So it seems to me there's quite a slippery slope here, and, in a sense, the international coalition is really caught this particular point in time.
REHMHere's an email from Jonathan, who's here in Washington. He says, "It sounds like, right now, we're being told what we want to hear. While there are indications of quite the contrary, the government says it has no boots on the ground, but we have CIA Special Forces. We're also pulling our jets out. But, yesterday, NATO requested return of U.S. fighters because of bad weather. My point is, our top military experts are saying no to military action or arming rebels who may pose a long-term threat to U.S. interests." Lindsey Graham yesterday said, our goal should be to depose Qaddafi's regime. What exactly is going on, Mark?
HOSENBALLWell, I think the problem is nobody's sure what's going on. Nobody's sure what the objective is. The only objective that has been articulated to me of this American intervention or allied intervention so far by American officials that I've spoken to -- and I've spoken to quite a few -- is to create more time for the rebels to organize themselves. Now, that's a very limited short-term objective. And even that objective seems to be, you know, at the moment, perhaps out of reach or not being accomplished very quickly. So to get from there to the point where you actually figure out some way to get rid of Qaddafi and reorganize the country, that's a real long way to go. And, you know, nobody here -- in Washington, anyway -- that I've spoken to seems to have any idea how to get past that initial objective.
REHMIn sheer numbers, how many forces does Qaddafi himself have?
HOSENBALLI think -- well, the figure that I've heard is, you know, 10,000 or something like that.
REHMAs compared to 1,000.
HOSENBALLOne thousand, right. I mean, at least Qaddafi has, I think, 2- or 3,000, or at least had before the beginning of the conflict 2- or 3,000 supposedly competent, you know, elite troops. Although compared to, let's say, the American Special Forces, they're not that competent.
REHMAnd, Gen. McCaffrey, you say you think it's a big mistake to let Qaddafi know that our situation is limited.
MCCAFFREYWell, exactly. I think part of the problem was the president -- I'm very sympathetic to the decision to intervene on humanitarian grounds to stop the so-called slaughter of civilians although, arguably, that logic would then apply to many other templates. Having said that, once you've decided to use military force, you have to have some notion of what it is you want the outcome to be. And I think that's where the rhetoric got fuzzy until the military actions don't lead to an outcome that would be favorable to U.S. interests.
REHMAnd Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman say they think the U.S. ought to focus on getting rid of Qaddafi.
MCCAFFREYI think the minute we raised our arm to strike at a sovereign nation with 600 airstrikes and hundreds of Tomahawk missiles, at that point the notion that we're really going to bomb them for a week and reassuring Qaddafi of the limits of our exercise of power made no sense. If you want to protect civilians at that point, you'd have to try and take down the Qaddafi regime and buy in to the ensuing chaos and, potentially, with an outcome that would be also unfavorable to the United States.
PILLARWell, there has been dissembling from the very beginning about what this operation is all about. I mean, the president has said repeatedly that although Qaddafi's departure is a goal, that is not the military mission. And yet, you look at the nature of the military operations going on, which clearly have already gone far beyond anything that can be rationalized as protecting civilian elements, there have been offensive attacks against Qaddafi's forces that have been stationary or even in retreat.
PILLARAnd one of the things this has done, Diane, is it's given the regime a lot of good propaganda material in which they have said repeatedly -- and they've milked this for everything it's worth -- the Western powers say they're just protecting civilians, but look at the kind of operations they're doing. They're going beyond their own U.N. resolution. And I have to say they've got, unfortunately, a good propaganda point.
REHMMark, what about the divide within the U.S. government itself? Is Defense Secretary Gates simply trying to distance himself from this operation?
HOSENBALLI don't think there's much doubt on that. I think he's been pouring cold water on it since before it started. I think the uniformed military in general -- the commanders anyway -- didn't want to get involved in this. I think the intelligence people, the intelligence professionals, didn't want to get involved in this. Even Hillary Clinton, at least at the beginning, as I sort of understand it, didn't want to get involved in this (unintelligible).
REHMAnd yet it was she and two other...
HOSENBALLAnd Susan Rice and -- what's her name -- Samantha Power, who, at the last minute, decided or -- well, Samantha Power and Susan Rice have been pushing all along for the idea of a humanitarian intervention. And when they saw the tanks of Qaddafi moving in on the city of Benghazi, ready to either strangle it or allegedly -- or apparently flatten it, that's when there was this sort of convergence of concern, which led to the beginning of this operation, I believe.
MCCAFFREYWell, one of the, I thought, preposterous occurrences was having the president in Latin America, the secretary of state in Europe, Secretary Gates, a magnificent human being, hiding in the Pentagon and sending Adm. Mike Mullen over to tell the American people what we're doing in Libya and then Gen. Ash Carter, U.S. Army general operating from AFRICOM, ostensibly running the operation, this was a, again, I think, very poorly done political process to get the American people informed, supportive, to reassure our allies. And then Secretary Gates went to Moscow. I remember sort of poking at him. You're in the wrong city. You should be in Brussels, organizing NATO's command and control.
REHMGen. Barry McCaffrey. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Prof. Vandewalle, are we on a slippery slope toward major further involvement in Libya?
VANDEWALLEWell, it seemed to me, to take off from the last question you asked, Diane, that, in a sense, the problem has been that it's -- the differentiation between what the United Nations resolution said and what figures publicly have been saying, including Sens. McCain and Lieberman and Secretary Clinton after her conference in Cairo. But also President Obama is, of course, adding the sense we want a regime change. And it's, in a sense, the kind of bifurcation between the two that we're now facing up to. And, as I mentioned a minute ago, in a sense, it is up to the international coalition now. It's the international coalition that will determine whether or not Libya slips into a civil war.
VANDEWALLEIt's not really longer -- any longer up to the Libyans themselves. And so if you look at it from that point of view, there is always the chance of a slippery slope that we will have to commit more publicly than we have done so far. And that brings into question all the kind of arguments that the other panelists just raised about, you know, what the exact policy is, how we go about that and how do we prevent exactly from it becoming much worse than it seems to be turning into?
REHMWhat's the downside of U.S. involvement here? Could it backfire substantially, Paul?
PILLARWell, two big downsides. I mean, in Libya, we are on a slippery slope. And in addition to everything Dirk Vandewalle mentioned with regard to the facts on the ground in Libya, there is this enormous pressure on the administration from both allies and from internal elements, like Sen. Lieberman and Sen. McCain, to go all the way and to use military force more forcefully and more openly to overthrow the regime. There's another cost that we haven't mentioned, Diane, and that is the larger message that's being sent.
PILLARWe have to remember, this was a regime with whom we reached an agreement eight years ago, and it -- a regime that had gotten out of the terrorist business and had agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction. And so what message is being sent today to the Iranians and to the North Koreans or anyone else who might contemplate an agreement like that with the West? The message is, don't trust the West. Don't trust the United States. You would be a fool to do what Qaddafi did.
REHMSo what are you saying? Should the U.S. not have gone in, in the first place, Paul Pillar?
PILLARIn my judgment, it was a mistake to have gone in militarily, yes.
MCCAFFREYWell, you know, I almost always try and avoid answering that question because I think it's essentially a political one, and you can make a very strong argument that Secretary Clinton did for humanitarian reason. However, backing off it, there are no vital U.S. national security interests at stake in Libya.
REHMWhich is what Secretary Gates said.
MCCAFFREYRight. Exactly. And so, you know, when you say, well, then what are we doing? This is an elective operation with an unclear outcome, with politically shaky allied support, where our national interests are at stake in Saudi Arabia, the GCC states, Egypt and countering Iran. That's where U.S. national interests lie. This is a diversion.
HOSENBALLWell, there's also this issue of the U.S. is already fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan, one in Iraq. The U.S. forces that are involved in those conflicts are stretched pretty thin. If there's any need for some of those U.S. forces to go into Libya to help sort out a mess that probably would get even worse if Qaddafi suddenly disappeared or if a bomb hit his compound, then those forces are going to be stretched. And where are we going to get all these people from? It's not good for the American military. It's not necessarily good for anybody, you know?
REHMSo what is your understanding? Is the military trying to persuade President Obama to get out?
HOSENBALLI'm sure they're trying to persuade him not to get in deeper. Put it that way.
REHMNot to get in deeper. But what does that mean? Doesn't it mean getting out?
HOSENBALLI think -- eventually -- I do, yeah.
REHMAll right. Mark -- Hosenball. We'll take a short break here. And when we come back, I want to hear your comments, your questions. Join us on 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Pittsburg, Kan. Good morning, Don. You're on the air.
DONGood morning. You know, there's a disconnect between the Washington elites and the rest of the country. The United States is losing its position as a developed country. We're closing libraries, schools. We can't provide decent health care for much of our population. Our prisons are full to overflowing. We need to -- this is insane. We're already involved in two wars. We need to demilitarize and start spending money inside our country on our own population.
VANDEWALLEWell, I think, to some extent, of course, there is some truth to that. Obviously, on some fronts we are overextended. But, on the other hand, particularly in the Libya case and even, of course, as all the panelists have pointed out, there are lots of difficulties in terms of the way this looks forward. And in many ways, I think this may very well turn out to be a no-win situation in the long term because if we don't move forward in Libya, we will likely encourage civil war. That is, if the international coalition doesn't move forward, we'll likely encourage a kind of civil war, which may split the country.
VANDEWALLEIf we do move forward and, indeed, we depose Qaddafi, then we have the spectacle of Tripolitania, in a sense, being at the mercy of the rebels. And for historical reasons, that also is not a prospect I would welcome very much. It seems to me the only win-win situation in Libya in the end then will be if we are able, after all that happened, to create long term stable institutions for the country. But in light of, what Paul Pillar also said, the kind of evisceration of Libyan society during the 40 years of the Qaddafi regime, that will be very difficult. Having said all that and to go back to the question that was asked, in a sense, as a superpower, I think there's very little choice sometimes that you have.
VANDEWALLEAnd, certainly, in terms of the humanitarian dimension, I think there was perhaps a persuasive point to be made there. Anything beyond that, again, I think I would share the kind of skepticism of all the other panelists that have been expressed so far.
MCCAFFREYWell, I think the caller from Pittsburgh makes an important point. At the end of the day, the American people, I think, are sort of fed up with the continuing military operations. You know, the burn rate in Afghanistan is $10 billion a month. We're getting 2-, 300 killed and wounded a month. Hopefully, we'll come out of Iraq, you know, between now and December, but it's still 50,000 troops there. So I do think there is going to be very little political support in this nation for this nonstop military engagement abroad. We've got to rethink this.
REHMHow much have we already spent on the Libya operation, Mark?
HOSENBALLThe only figure I've seen is $500 million, half a billion dollars in the last, whatever it is, two or three weeks. I guess that's pretty steep.
REHMThat's burning through money at quite a pace, Paul Pillar.
PILLARRight. I agree with everything the general said and the caller raising the issue of resources. This is one of the things that does not seem to get as much attention before we get involved in things as it ought to.
REHMHow do we, in your view, Gen. McCaffrey, get to a win-win situation? Is that possible?
MCCAFFREYWell, of course, you know, what you can't do is go back and revisit the notion to intervene. We're stuck in this situation now, and the question's, going forward, what do we do? We've also turned over the decision-making authority. And, to a large extent, it's no longer in our hands. It's going to be -- we've said publicly, and we won't be able to back away with this, it's a NATO military operation. We've got 28 nations now that will collectively decide what's going to happen going forward. They have very little capability to implement what they may or may not decide.
MCCAFFREYSo I do believe, from where we are now, it's unknowable unless the U.S. and the stronger allies, the Brits and the French, decide unilateral action to take down Qaddafi, make him a target and, more importantly, politically announce that's our goal.
REHMHow likely is that, Paul Pillar?
PILLARI don't see a lot of likelihood in any of that. I think the thing we are hoping for in our government is -- hoping for -- I underscore the word hope -- is that the regime will collapse from within, with an accelerating sequence of further defections. We've had some encouraging defections, especially Moussa Koussa, the former foreign minister, long-time head of the security service. And the hope is that this will snowball and that it will have a crumbling from within. But, again, that's only a hope.
HOSENBALLBut that result would leave some sort of security forces or army or whatever intact. And then the hope is that those security forces would at least be able to reorganize themselves in the way that they could bring some sort of stability to the country. Otherwise, NATO and the United States are going to literally have to put boots on the ground to sort things out, which is why I believe that they're avoiding getting rid of Qaddafi immediately because then you'd have to do that more quickly.
REHMTo Sean in Auburn, Mass. Good morning.
SEANGood morning, Diane. I wanted to make a few comments. One is that I'm kind of against the giving of firearms to the Libyan rebels. They may have the intention of being able to topple Qaddafi, and that's admirable. But the problem is that ever since Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has had a less than spectacular success rate when it comes to forcing regime change using military firepower or even the use of clandestine operations. And since the Cold War, that seems to have become even worse for us.
SEANI mean, we only need to remember, we did provide weapons and training to the Mujahedeen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and they were more than happy to turn that training and weapons against us not too shortly thereafter we left. The second question -- the other comment I have is that we kind of put ourselves in the position where we have publicly stated that Qaddafi needs to go and he does. But at the same time, we are treading the line between staying and acting. We don't want to use our military firepower to put him down because once he goes, his security apparatus, his command officers, they scatter. They become difficult to find. They become the resistant that we are going to wind up having to fight again.
REHMSo we are in a very, very difficult position, Prof. Vandewalle.
VANDEWALLELet me maybe say a word, Diane, about the first comment that your -- that the person raised and that is the whole question about arming the opposition. The opposition in Libya, or at least the public face of the opposition in Libya, now consists of 31 members that are what is called the interim council. I must say I've watched Libya for 25 years. When the names became available -- and only a part of them became available. But when the names became available, they were, at most, three or four that I recognized.
VANDEWALLESo what it means is that, in a sense, to go back to the kind of description that we heard about the ragtag formations of individuals within Libya, I would argue that the interim council -- which calls itself an interim national council, which, you know, is totally, in a sense, inappropriate because it is not national at all -- what it means is that we know very little about these people. We also don't know, frankly, very much what kind of constituencies they represent. And in light of what has happened in Libya in the last 40 years -- again, this complete demolishing of any kind of socio-political institution that you can think of -- I think we should be quite skeptical.
VANDEWALLEAnd, indeed, we should be pushing that opposition, the interim council to really not only release the names of people that supposedly support them, but also to make sure that there are a number of things coming down the pike that should be very important for anybody who thinks about the future of Libya. That is, there should be some guarantees given what happens, for example, to those who have supported Qaddafi, all kinds of institutional development that we should push upon them and push forward before, I think, I would feel very secure about what that opposition really represents at this particular point in time.
REHMAnd here's an email from Joe, who wants to know where Qaddafi is getting his ammunition. Is there a munitions infrastructure in Libya, General?
MCCAFFREYWell, the country is a giant stockpile of ammunition from one end to the other. It's just astonishing amount of investment from a very sophisticated air defense system, high performance aircraft -- all of it very badly maintained. But a lot of these dictators throughout the Arab world, to include Saddam Hussein, spent insane amounts of money on armaments, and that's where it's coming from. I think -- by the way, to extend the logic, though, again, to arming the opposition, you know, if you were taking down Hitler and you heard there was an underground, you weren't quite sure, you wouldn't have to imagine and empower an Adenauer before you agreed to support the opposition. I think, again, fuzzy political thinking.
MCCAFFREYArguably, we shouldn't be in there. But if we're in there, our objective ought to be, take down Qaddafi and then try and nurture a better regime that emerge from the ashes.
REHMHere's an email from Steve in South Bend, Ind., who says, "I think President Obama has it about right. A slaughter was about to occur, and the U.S. has encouraged popular uprisings. We are involved in limited intervention to allow those uprisings in Libya to remove their tyrant." Paul Pillar.
PILLARDiane, we really need to speak to this business about a slaughter being -- about to occur. You know, this is basically worst-case speculation. I really have to disagree with those who say that, if nothing were done, you know, there would have been another Rwanda. There would not have been another Rwanda. And if you approach this issue as an ethicist would, as a moral philosopher would, trying to justify the use of military force -- someone like Michael Walzer, for example, who is a moral philosopher, who has addressed exactly this kind of question -- it is not clear that the moral thing to do was to intervene on humanitarian grounds. In fact, Walzer himself was opposed to the intervention. Richard Haass has spoken about this as well.
PILLARTo speak about a possible worst-case does not constitute the certainty of another Rwanda that we are about to avoid, and the people like Samantha Power would want to avoid. So I think we need to watch ourself with regard to that justification.
REHMBut how can we possibly know -- we do know that Qaddafi gassed his own people. We do know he did not treat his own people very well. What do we know, Mark? Was this idea of a forthcoming slaughter pure, unadulterated speculation?
HOSENBALLIt's certainly speculative. I don't think we really knew. We knew that his troops were moving in on Benghazi. That's kind of all that we knew, and we knew that they had taken back or had surrounded some of these other towns on the road to Benghazi, including, I believe, Misurata and maybe Ajdabiyah. We do know that there has been, at least allegedly, some shelling of what are believed to be civilian areas of those towns. But, again, the situation is so confusing we don't really know what the casualty rate was or anything like that. Also, I mean, we don't really know what the commander's orders were. And, in fact, the U.S. government claims that the rest of military operations have degraded the command and control capabilities of Qaddafi significantly.
HOSENBALLSo we don't even know who's in charge anymore in any of these situations. So it's pretty confusing. Could Qaddafi have pulverized Benghazi? Maybe. Again, I don't even know if they have the capability to pulverize Benghazi, but that was the fear. It certainly didn't get that far.
REHMMark Hosenball, he's investigative correspondent for Reuters. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Bob in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning to you. You're on the air.
BOBHello, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
BOBI am very cynical about our media in the United States. We just got led under false pretenses into a $3 trillion regime change fiasco in Iraq, and I see the same biases at work in this Libyan intervention. You just stated that Qaddafi gassed his own people. I would like more information on that because I don't believe that Qaddafi is the monster he is being portrayed as. And, also, I hear that we do not know who the rebels are. We definitely know that there is extreme militant Islamists in that group. As a matter of fact, because I don't trust America's media, I was watching German television last week, and I saw captured black men clad in blue jeans that the militants -- excuse me -- the rebels were calling mercenaries.
BOBBut they were clad in blue jeans. They were not in uniforms. And they were getting ready to behead them. They had their hands tied behind their backs, they were on their knees, and one of the rebels, one of the Libyan rebels, had his arm cocked with a huge machete. And he's getting ready to behead these men.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Paul Pillar, what do you we know about Qaddafi's potential, his behavior in the past and what he could have possibly done?
PILLARWell, he could have done all kinds of things. I would just go back again to the observation that he consciously, on his own initiative -- as later ratified by an agreement with the U.S. and Britain -- forced war terrorism. He became a partner in counterterrorism, and he opened up and gave up his unconventional weapons programs, his programs of weapons of mass destruction. So if you want to talk about Qaddafi's intent, his direction, his policy, that was an enormous turnaround that he made a decade ago. And here we are proceeding as if that had never happened.
HOSENBALLWell -- and moreover, I mean, when you actually hear some of the stuff that he said after this rebellion started, he was mainly -- his main propaganda line was that al-Qaida is going to come in and get you.
REHMBut he also said, we're going to go into every doorway, every closet.
REHMWe're going to find those people who are against our government.
HOSENBALLAnd that's the humanitarian case. I mean, but would he have done that? We don't know.
MCCAFFREYWell, you know, again, I'm very sympathetic of the argument for intervening military power for humanitarian reasons. On the other hand, that argument is clearly weakened when you see our desperate actions. When the Iranians rose up, we had 100,000 shouting, God is great, from the rooftops, and we didn't intervene there. And the Syrians have slaughtered people for two generations, and Yemenis' actions against their own people are simply atrocious. So, I think, we're in trouble politically explaining why are we there. And then we became timid having struck, and we're likely to end up with a mess.
MCCAFFREYAnd, you know, Collin Powell's old notion, if you broke it, you own it, hopefully, that won't be an argument that leads us to another, you know, $2 billion a month for the next 10 years.
REHMBut you fear it will?
MCCAFFREYWell, I don't see how we claim starting Tuesday when we're no longer conducting strike operations and when NATO has the command and control that we've distanced ourselves from an action that, clearly, we led.
REHMGen. Barry McCaffrey, retired U.S. Army four-star general, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Mark Hosenball, investigative correspondent for Reuters, Paul Pillar, he directs the graduate studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, Dirk Vandewalle of Dartmouth College, professor of government, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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