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‘Time for Gadhafi to Go’: World Leaders Weigh Response to Libya

February 28, 2011 at 6:54 PM EDT
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said all options, including sanctions and no-fly zones, are on the table in dealing with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Margaret Warner talks about the government's response with the International Crisis Group's Robert Malley and Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner has more on Washington’s and the world’s response to the Libya revolt.

MARGARET WARNER: And for that, we turn to Robert Malley, former director for Near East affairs at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration — he now heads the Mideast-North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group — and Michael Singh, who held the same NSC post in the George W. Bush administration. He’s now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

And welcome to you both.

Rob Malley, beginning with you, arms embargo, asset freezes, travel bans, what do you make of the international response so far?

ROBERT MALLEY, International Crisis Group: Well, two things.

First, if you compare the international responses to other such occurrences in the past, it has been extraordinarily quick. And I think that may not feel very good if you’re sitting in Tripoli and you have to endure the continued rule of Colonel Gadhafi. But again, just from a comparative perspective, it’s been extraordinarily rapid.

And I think that’s in part because Gadhafi himself has very few friends. He has alienated virtually the entire world over his years of rule, and that he is now paying the price for that, also because of the atrocities that have occurred, and also because I think this administration in particular has some staff who feel very strongly about this, the president himself and some who work for him, and who see it as their life mission to prevent what happened in Rwanda from happening again.


Michael Singh, what’s your assessment of the international response? And do you think these kinds of measures that have been taken so far will persuade Gadhafi that he has to leave?

MICHAEL SINGH, former National Security Council staff: Well, I think that Rob is right. It has been quick comparatively.

But I think for many Libyans and people in the region, it seems very slow. Simple steps like sending humanitarian teams to the border, which Secretary Clinton announced today, are certainly things that could have been announced two weeks ago now.

And so I think that the steps announced today are good, but I think that we need to see more. I do think that something like a no-fly zone, for example, should be put in place, because you have two goals right now. One is to prevent a humanitarian crisis, and the other is try to persuade Gadhafi to step down.

Some of these measures that were described today by the E.U. and by Secretary Clinton will, I think, get at that question of trying to convince some of the senior Libyan officials around Gadhafi that they have no future with this particular leader.

But as far as the humanitarian crisis goes, you know, inadvertently or sort of paradoxically, some of these measures could convince Gadhafi that it’s actually in his interest to try to hold on with all of his might.

And so what you want to do is deter him and prevent him from using those most serious heavy weapons he has at his disposal and the foreign mercenaries being flown in from elsewhere apparently against the opposition.

MARGARET WARNER: So, a couple things on the table, Rob Malley.

I mean, one thing is to deter Gadhafi from further killing.


MARGARET WARNER: How do you do that?

ROBERT MALLEY: I mean, very hard to deter him. Personally, I think, as Mike just said, he’s somebody who may in fact see all of this as the writing is on the wall: If I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose by fighting and by…

MARGARET WARNER: Well, and you heard him in that interview say: My people love me. They will die for me.

ROBERT MALLEY: So, I think I agree that one of the objectives is to peel off as many of his supporters as possible. There’s already been a huge number of defections. You want to make sure that as many people who are the ones who are keeping him in power leave and leave now, and that they know that, if they don’t, they’re going to be — they’re going to lose in the end.

MARGARET WARNER: And that is — is that a matter of what Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice were saying today, basically threatening those who stick with him that they will face the consequences?

ROBERT MALLEY: I think that’s part of it. I think that’s part of the sanctions. It’s part of international accountability with the International Criminal Court.

I think there are other things that can be considered. And that’s where we talk about military actions, which are always sort of the last resort. And one should consider them if in fact he continues to resort to violence, and does it in a way that is really putting at risk large numbers of civilians.

MARGARET WARNER: And just briefly, because I want to get back to Michael Singh, what do you mean military actions? Do you mean the no-fly zone?

ROBERT MALLEY: The no-fly zone is the most obvious one that people are talking about. It may not be really — it was pertinent a week ago, when what we were hearing was that aircraft was strafing civilians.

We haven’t heard that for a while. The war or the conflict has now entered a different phase, where it seems like it’s going to be the rebel army against the forces loyal to Gadhafi. That becomes much harder for the international community to intervene in militarily.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there be any hesitancy, Michael Singh, or should there be, to appear to be going in, in some way on the side of the opposition forces, I mean, that one, it’s a slippery slope, but two, that it can almost delegitimize an opposition in the eyes of its people if they’re seen as a sort of Western instrument?

MICHAEL SINGH: Well, I don’t think there’s much hesitancy from that point of view.

You heard already many Libyans themselves calling for a no-fly zone. You have heard calls coming from international officials as well, human rights officials. And so there’s plenty of cover, as it were, for something like a no-fly zone, not for, say, direct military intervention.

I think the hesitation on a no-fly zone is that this may be an open-ended military commitment. You know, in 1991, we imposed a no-fly zone in parts of Iraq, and we were there for quite some time. And so that’s I think where the hesitation comes in.

Where I may differ with Rob is that I think that we shouldn’t assume that the reasons for a no-fly zone are sort of in the past now. You know, with those forces sort of closing in like a pincer around Gadhafi, he has still has got plenty of firepower available to him. He still has these foreign mercenaries coming in from — from Africa, apparently.

And you want to make sure that he doesn’t think he can win this fight against the opposition.

MARGARET WARNER: What are the politics here for the Europeans, Rob Malley? You have seen them almost one-upping one another in suggestions. I mean, David Cameron is calling for the no-fly zone. The German foreign — foreign minister, I think — or defense minister today suggested that there should be some — it’s the foreign minister — that they should withhold all the payments that Europe makes to Libya for the oil it imports.

What is driving the European response?

ROBERT MALLEY: First, just to add to what Mike said, I’m not against preparing for a no-fly zone. And in fact, you’re right. It may become very, very important at some point.

The Europeans, I mean, they have some of the same considerations we have. To add to that, they have the real fear of a migration crisis, of floods of refugees coming into Europe. And we have already seen what happened in Tunisia, that that’s begun to happen. It could happen. It’s happened in Libya, with people leaving Libya to go to Tunisia and Egypt, as you just suggested.

So, I think the politics on their side, if anything, they really would like to see this resolved quickly. They would like to see Moammar Gadhafi go. And they’d like to stability restored, because otherwise their direct interests could be at stake.

MARGARET WARNER: And you’re saying both in terms of oil and refugees?

ROBERT MALLEY: Well, oil, yes, and I’m — but I think oil — when there will be another regime, I think that the oil — whatever — the oil flows will resume.

Right now, I think we’re seeing — and, again, it’s one of the very positive aspects of this — that the international community, not just Europeans and Americans, but Arabs and Africans, seem to be working more or less hand in hand. And that’s — that’s pretty unprecedented.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see the Europeans’ reaction here?

MICHAEL SINGH: Well, I think Rob is right.

I think there’s — one additional angle might be that there was a lot of — many calls for action before this in the preceding two weeks. And, of course, both the Europeans and the United States were hesitant because of the citizens that we had in Libya and needing to get them out. And so…

MARGARET WARNER: And the fear they could be taken hostage…

MICHAEL SINGH: The fear they could be taken hostage, that there could be retaliation against them.

And so, given that criticism, I think now you see European officials and American officials falling over themselves to show that they’re tough with someone like Moammar Gadhafi, in light of everything that’s transpired there.

MARGARET WARNER: Given the sorts of things he’s saying, including in this interview today, and what his sons are saying, who has time on their side, and, fairly briefly, but from each of you on this?

In other words, can the U.S. — is Gadhafi losing ground every day, or, in fact, is the momentum with him?

ROBERT MALLEY: At this point, he does seem to be losing ground every day. That could shift, but it doesn’t — but the problem is, he may still be able to wage a protracted fight just from the holdout he has in Tripoli, and then try to wage a war outside.

That’s the biggest danger. And I think that’s where we need to be, to start thinking ahead of time of what we do if that’s the scenario that unfolds, as opposed to a quick — a quick ouster of Gadhafi.


MARGARET WARNER: So, how much of a sense of urgency do you think the West, the international community should have here?

MICHAEL SINGH: Oh, I think we should have a tremendous sense of urgency.

And I think that those who don’t have time on their side are the Libyan people, I think, here. You know, one problem that was pointed out today was the lack of humanitarian access. We just don’t have great insight into what’s happening, especially in western Libya, where the government is still in control. We don’t know what the casualty figures are like. We don’t know what the food and water situation is like for those people or the medical situation.

And so, as the days go by, it not only increases the chance of a violent confrontation, but there may be people who are in desperate need that really aren’t being attended to there.

MARGARET WARNER: And more people who will lose their lives, could lose their lives.

MICHAEL SINGH: Absolutely.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael Singh and Rob Malley, thank you both.