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NATO Dispute, Cease-Fire Negotiations Hint at Possible Stalemate in Libya

April 13, 2011 at 6:25 PM EDT
Intense fighting continues between rebels and Moammar Gadhafi's forces as NATO nations met in Qatar to debate their next steps in Libya. Gwen Ifill discusses the NATO rift with the Institute for Policy Studies' Emira Woods and the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid.

GWEN IFILL: For more, we turn to Emira Woods, co-director of the Foreign Policy in Focus program at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Doha Center at the Brookings Institution.

Welcome to you both.

Listening to that report, you can’t help but wonder, is there a stalemate now in Libya?

SHADI HAMID, Brookings Doha Center: Yes, there is a stalemate. Neither side can decisively beat the other. So the question is how do we get out of this?

So, the only real solution that I think would be viable for the rebels and also for the Western nations is that Gadhafi has to step down. But he’s made clear he won’t do that. So, I think that’s where we get into a discussion about NATO intensifying its efforts, and America and its European allies more aggressively using airstrikes and so on, arming the rebels. There’s a variety of options that can be considered here.

GWEN IFILL: So, Emira Woods, is this about arming the rebels? Is this about the U.S. stepping up? Or is this where it was supposed to be; it was never going to be resolved this easily?

EMIRA WOODS, Institute for Policy Studies: Well, I think this is a reminder that military interventions are quite complicated, and there are huge costs, both in terms of treasure and in terms of lives, when a military intervention is undertaken.

I think, clearly, what’s at stake here in Libya is that we need all the tools in our international toolkit to respond to this very real crisis. The package that we saw today, we see still civilians in harm’s way. And the international community must actually do its share.

But we have to have a slate of issues, from financial sanctions to actually putting forward a serious effort to clamp down on the Libyan regime, make sure we create a stranglehold. Those political pressures are as needed as the other options on the table.

GWEN IFILL: But it’s a question of priority. Is the priority now for NATO to decide what its common goal is, because everybody doesn’t agree at NATO? Is it to step up the military? Is it to train the rebels? What should be the first option?

SHADI HAMID: Well, there’s lack of clarity about what the Western nations are trying to do.

The U.S. says one thing. France says another. And this is really an opportunity for the West to unify its position, but it’s failed to do that so far. And right now, it seems the French and the British are really the ones pushing this forward. What we’re hearing from the U.S., which is kind of odd compared to, say, the Bush administration, is that the Obama administration is trying to minimize its role and say, we’re kind of stepping back, and NATO is stepping in. We’re playing a support role.

And we keep on hearing that rhetoric from the U.S.

GWEN IFILL: Is that a good idea, bad idea? Is that what the U.S. should be doing?

SHADI HAMID: Well, it’s nice for the U.S. not to be so unilateral. That’s good.

But I think there comes a point where the U.S. is the world’s superpower. Whether we like it or not, we’re still the indispensable nation. Things don’t get done without an active U.S. role. And that’s why the no-fly zone and the U.N. resolution wasn’t going to happen until the U.S. declared its support for it.

GWEN IFILL: Where is the African Union on all this? They came up with a proposal which involved, at least in part, allowing Gadhafi to stay in power. And that was a no-starter, apparently, for the rebels.

EMIRA WOODS: Well, the African Union put out a very clear message that a cease-fire was what was needed first, and that talking to both sides, both the Gadhafi side and the rebel side, that all sides needed to agree to a cease-fire, to really put an end to the hostilities on the ground and put an end to the violence against civilians.

This is the one measure that they have put forward. But, clearly, the opposition said it was a nonstarter. I think it is urgent now to look at all the options that have been put forward by the African Union and really by others. Clearly, what is happening within NATO is a fractioning of the coalition.

You have some that are saying, intensify the strikes, intensify the military option, arm the opposition, and others that are recognizing that if you set up this trust fund and actually create the opportunity to purchase arms, the costs are going to be quite grave.

GWEN IFILL: How dangerous is it if indeed NATO is in danger of being fractured in this mission? How dangerous is that?

SHADI HAMID: Well, that sends, I think, a very bad message to Gadhafi, where he can say to himself: Well, I’m going to wait this out. The rebels aren’t that strong. The West can’t agree on what the goals of the mission are. They’re not getting along with each other.

So, Gadhafi can say: Well, I’m just going to stay in power and try to fight this out.

And that’s what a stalemate is. And again, I think we have to be very clear about this. If Gadhafi stays in power, that’s not good for anyone, for U.S. interests, for the Libyan people. So, we have to think to ourselves, how do we get from point A to point B?

And I think, contrary to what the African Union was saying, a cease-fire is not enough. Any deal that doesn’t require Gadhafi to step down is a nonstarter because he can’t be trusted. He won’t uphold the terms of any cease-fire. And this is someone who has killed thousands of his own people.

So, I think we’re beyond the point where we can really come to a compromise with Gadhafi and his family.

GWEN IFILL: So, what does — what does NATO and the U.S. do? Do they sit on the sidelines and hope that Gadhafi spontaneously combusts internally, or is there something they can do to force that issue?

EMIRA WOODS: Well, I think there can still be a lot of pressure put on the Gadhafi machinery. There still can be pressure put.

Remember, Gadhafi, while he has quite a lot of weapons and money, is still very much allied to a machinery that has kept him in power for the last 42 years. I think putting pressure on all those forces are really critical at this moment. But it is also important to keep negotiating, understanding that the pro-democracy forces have to have…

GWEN IFILL: Let me interrupt you. Negotiating with whom, exactly?

EMIRA WOODS: Well, that’s a complicated thing, because, clearly, the pro-democracy forces have many different spokespeople, and it’s quite unclear the “with whom” on that side as well.

And then, on the Gadhafi side, the whole issue of credibility and legitimacy of Gadhafi, you know, it’s very much at play as well. So, it’s actually trying to figure out, can there be a road map in this complicated mess, essentially…


EMIRA WOODS: … that brings really all factions still to the point where there’s an exit strategy and there is actually a movement beyond this impasse?

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Mr. Hamid.

Negotiating with who?

SHADI HAMID: Well, that’s the problem, as Emira said.

I think what we have to look at here is Gadhafi is not going to step down. And that’s the only way we can have a real compromise. Maybe there’s some way that he will change his mind and we will get to that point.

GWEN IFILL: But you can’t plan on that.

SHADI HAMID: You can’t plan on that right now.

So, I think we have to — no one should take military action lightly. And intensifying the strikes, no one likes that. And that’s going to generate opposition in the Arab world and so on. But I think, if we’re in, let’s see this mission through and be serious about it.

I think the problem with the U.S. is that we have these half-measures. We step in, but we’re not really sure. We don’t know what we really want. Now it’s time to be clear and say to the international community, this is what we are trying to do. These are the goals of the Libya mission.

And let’s also be clear about what the U.N. resolution said. It says all necessary actions to protect civilians. And, from my standpoint, civilians will never be safe in Libya as long as Gadhafi is in power.

GWEN IFILL: So, do you agree with that, that the U.S. needs to step up?

EMIRA WOODS: Well, I think we’re having this dual dialogue here.

In the midst of a conversation about austerity measures, about cuts to health care and to education and housing, I think we have to really think about what would be the cost of yet another full-speed-ahead military engagement that is unending for the U.S.

I think we have to really be cautious what military intervention means. Do we continue 800 sorties by NATO, over 100 a day by the U.S.-Africa Command, AFRICOM? Clearly, these have a cost. And I think we have to really weigh the cost to the long-term issues, which ultimately will need a political resolution.

GWEN IFILL: Finally, before we go, we — we got into this, the U.S. got into this, because they said a — the president said this was a humanitarian crisis which needed to be averted.

All this time later, has the humanitarian crisis been averted, Mr. Hamid?

SHADI HAMID: Well, I mean, this is the reason that the U.S. had to act.

Gadhafi’s forces were advancing toward Benghazi. And if we stood by and did nothing, thousands of people would have been massacred. And the question…

GWEN IFILL: But now they’re advancing toward Misrata.

SHADI HAMID: Right. And that’s, again, why we have to stop Gadhafi’s forces from doing that.

And, for me, it was a very straightforward humanitarian argument. Would we as Americans be comfortable — when we have the ability to act — again, we are the U.S. We’re not some random country elsewhere. We had the ability to act, and, if we didn’t, the world would have said, the U.S. stood by while thousands were massacred.

GWEN IFILL: Very briefly, is the humanitarian effort still ongoing?

EMIRA WOODS: The humanitarian has — it has not been averted. If anything, you have attacks that are actually bombs landing on civilians, as we have seen reported already. But also you have a refugee crisis that is escalating every day.

You have also internal migrants, internally displaced peoples that are at — really in harm’s way. So, the humanitarian crisis remains. And yet, as we see…


EMIRA WOODS: … the military solution has not brought an end to the crisis.

GWEN IFILL: Emira Woods, Shadi Hamid, thank you both very much.

SHADI HAMID: Thank you.

EMIRA WOODS: Thank you.