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If Gadhafi Falls, Who Would Govern Libya and How?

March 9, 2011 at 6:29 PM EDT
As foreign countries and international organizations continue to consider options for ending the violence in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi denounced the idea of implementing a no-fly zone. Jeffrey Brown talks with former State Department officials Richard Haass and Anne-Marie Slaughter about what could happen if world powers intervene.
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JEFFREY BROWN: So, should the West, should the U.S. intervene in Libya?

We join that debate with two people who have wrestled with similar questions as director of policy planning at the State Department. Richard Haass held that position in the George W. Bush administration. He’s now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars.” Anne-Marie Slaughter worked in the Obama administration State Department until earlier this year. She’s now professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, I will start with you.

We have heard some of those fighting against Gadhafi calling for outside help, specifically in the form of a no-fly zone. So what’s the chief argument for helping them?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, Princeton University: The strongest argument for helping them is strategic, which is that we’ve finally seen a major shift in the narrative of the entire Middle East, from anti-Americanism and anti-Israel, and focused, really, outside to an indigenous demand for democratic government, for accountable government, for government that provides decent services, by the young people of the region who are the majority of the region.

They are now asking us to help. They’re expecting to see us deliver on our verbal commitment to that kind of government. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is every Islamic country in the world, is asking for a no-fly zone.

And we have a chance to actually put ourselves where our words have been for decades…

JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: … on the right side in the Middle East.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

And, Richard Haass, you wrote an op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal with the headline “The U.S. Should Keep Out of Libya.”

So, what’s your chief argument?

RICHARD HAASS, “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars”: Let me paraphrase what you just heard. The real reason is it’s not strategic.

Our interests in no way warrant it. Libya is by far from the most important country in the Middle East. We should be focusing on places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq. Limited interventions would not turn the thing around. No-fly zones and the like wouldn’t be decisive.

Interventions that might be decisive would be far, far, far more costly than our interests warrant. One last thing: Who would we be helping? We know we hate Gadhafi, or people do. But are we so sure that those we would be helping are good guys? Do we really think, if we went in, they’d all be reading the Federalist Papers in Arabic translation a couple of days later?

We simply don’t know enough about Libya. One of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, I would suggest, only intervene militarily if you really know the country well enough to know what you’re getting into.

We clearly do not on Libya.

JEFFREY BROWN: So we don’t know enough, you’re saying, about who we’d be helping, and we don’t know that the intervention would be effective.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, start with the — the effectiveness of a no-fly zone. You acknowledge that it would — that it’s a military-type intervention, but you think it could be effective.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Let me — let me start just by saying what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a no-fly zone which would involve attacks on anti-aircraft capability.

But I’m not talking about boots on the ground. And I am assuming that we would actually be requested by the revolutionary council to give that kind of aid, and it would then be supported, as I said, by every other Islamic country in the world and people in the region.

So, with that — with that, it certainly would help the opposition. You can see what Gadhafi’s airstrikes are doing on the news. You can see how he is using his airpower. We would basically neutralize that.

But there’s no guarantee that that is, in fact, going to allow the rebels to win. But we can be quite certain that, if we don’t do that, and if Gadhafi then wins, and he’s got everybody severely outgunned, then he will take an absolutely terrible retribution.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: And in the views of many in the region, we will have stood by and let that happen, notwithstanding our repeated calls for exactly what the opposition is fighting for.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let me — let me stop you on that point.

Richard Haass, do you ignore — she makes the point. You see it on television. We might see much more. So do you ignore mass casualties? Is there some point where you do step in with a — at least — something like a no-fly zone?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, first of all, let’s keep a sense of proportion. This is not Rwanda, where 800,000 innocent men, women and children lost their lives. This is something on a far smaller scale.

Do we ignore it? No. There’s all sorts of humanitarian actions we can take to keep people alive. But the United States is overextended in two wars. If there’s going to be some sort of humanitarian or large-scale intervention, it would have to be a lot more than a no-fly zone, which quite honestly is symbolic. The planes that Gadhafi…

JEFFREY BROWN: Symbolic because?

RICHARD HAASS: The planes and helicopters that Gadhafi is using are not central to his ability to defeat the opposition.

You have got to stop the tanks, the APCs. You have got to stop the mercenaries. You actually do have to put people on the ground. You would have to arm people, but any time you arm people, you don’t know what they’re going to do with those arms.

So, no-fly zone, to me, is the worst of all worlds. It’s a little — it’s the little-bit-pregnant problem. It gets you a little bit involved. It won’t turn the tide. And then what? What do you do next?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: It does what you can.

RICHARD HAASS: It’s exactly the sort of symbolic action that American military forces shouldn’t take. It’s not strategic. It’s not serious.

But again, I’m suggesting our interests are not sufficiently large, they’re certainly not vital to warrant the kind of full-scale intervention that might make a difference.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what — Anne-Marie Slaughter, what about that, but what also about his earlier point that you don’t know exactly who the opposition is, who you’re helping, and what you get at the end, and, as he puts it, without the kind of larger interests at the end of the day?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Well, let’s tackle the core point.

Richard thinks this is not in our interests, because he’s looking at it solely in terms of is it in our vital interests as to who governs Libya? And I’m saying that’s a very narrow view of our interests, given that we have spent the past 20 years in the Middle East fighting various battles, and we are finally seeing across the Middle East a major movement driven by young people for the kinds of government we seek.

And it’s in that context that I am saying, doing what we can, even if success is not guaranteed, is very much in our interests, and not doing anything will be seen as actually siding with Gadhafi. There are not mass casualties now, but Gadhafi has made absolutely clear that he will do whatever is necessary to crush this. And that will mean, if he retakes rebel series — rebel cities, unbelievable violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that puts it in the largest frame, right, getting on the right side of whatever is happening in the Middle East, getting on the right side of history.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Well…

RICHARD HAASS: But strategy is about linking what it is you do, the costs you’re willing to pay for your foreign policy, to your interests.

To have a tremendous mismatch, to invest far more than our interests warrant, makes no sense. Secondly, this idea of getting on the right side of history, why are we so sure, if we intervene, that things turn out right?

You know, most revolutions in history start out a lot happier than they end up. Why are we so confident that we know enough about the tribal structure of Libya, about the various clans that are competing for power, that if we intervene, that the guys we want are going to win, that we’re not, for example, going to create security vacuums that might be exploited by an al-Qaida in which various types of radical Islamists may not come to power?

Again, we should have learned some humility here. We should have learned that, in these countries, we have got to be extremely careful. There’s no guarantee, and there’s not even reason to be confident, that if we go in and remove old structures, new structures more to our liking are going to come into power.

Indeed, I would suggest something very different is likely to happen here.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, very briefly, just 30 seconds, if you could, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a response to that?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: OK.

We do not know what will happen, but we can be quite certain that, if Gadhafi wins this, the results will be devastating, and that — that will be felt throughout the Middle East in terms of what people were calling on us to do. We have spent 20 years calling for democracy in the Middle East.

We actually tried to impose a democracy by force. Now people are calling for us to help, and we stand back and don’t do what is, in the end, a quite limited measure.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: We will reap the missed opportunity. Richard wrote a book called “The Opportunity.” This is a great, important strategic opportunity, and we have to take it, if we’re requested to.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Richard Haass, thank you both very much.

RICHARD HAASS: Thank you.