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Hart Calls for Obama Doctrine, Coleman Predicts ‘Trouble’ if Gadhafi Stays

March 23, 2011 at 6:15 PM EDT
Jim Lehrer talks with two former senators about President Obama's decision to use military force to counter Moammar Gadhafi's troops in Libya. Democratic Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado is a scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado, and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota is CEO of the American Action Network.
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JIM LEHRER: Now, how it looks to two former U.S. senators, Democrat Gary Hart of Colorado and Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Sen. Hart is now a scholar in residence at the University of Colorado and chair of the Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Advisory Council. Sen. Coleman is CEO of the American Action Network, an issue advocacy organization that supports Republican candidates and policies.

Sen. Norm – Sen. Coleman, what is your reaction to Mr. McDonough’s assessment of what’s been going on so far in this Libyan operation?

NORM COLEMAN (R-Minn.), former U.S. senator: First, let me say that I support the president’s decision to avert a slaughter in Benghazi. I think that was the right thing to do.

It was interesting to say the national security adviser say that regime change is not one of our objectives right now. The president has said that our policy that — was that Gadhafi has to go.

Here’s the problem, and something Sen. Hart would understand. In the Congress, we have something called regular order. Something goes through a process and, in the end, it’s all kind of worked out. When you don’t have like that, like Obamacare, a year later, you’re still wondering what’s in it.

There’s no regular order here: consultation with the Arab League, the U.N. The U.N. resolution passed Thursday, consultation with Congress on Friday. The American people are being asked a lot, when our boys, men and women are in the field of battle. And I don’t think the case has been made to the American public as to what’s our mission, what’s the measurements of success.

And so I applaud the president’s actions, but I think he hasn’t done the job that has to be done in terms of working with the representatives of people, the Congress, and then more directly with the American people themselves to lay out: What are the measures of success? What is the mission here?

JIM LEHRER: Well, what do you say about what has happened thus far in the operation?

NORM COLEMAN: Well, I think, thus far, our men and women have performed admirably, and the international community has performed admirably.

The problem is what’s next? The problem is what are the goals? What’s it going to cost? How long are we going to be there? Who’s in charge? What’s the endgame?

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Hart, how do you feel, first of all, about how it’s gone so far? And then pick up on what Sen. Coleman said about his problems with how this whole process has worked and gotten us here.

GARY HART (D-Colo.), former U.S. senator: What strikes me, Mr. Lehrer, about this operation is how much it is part of a pattern over the past 20 years, since the end of the Cold War.

If you look over the past four administrations, what has been remarkable, in addition to the two wars, long wars, that we’re involved in, are how many of these brushfire operations we have either gotten into or not gotten into.

We did not in Rwanda. President Clinton said that was a mistake. We have in Libya. What is lacking here is any kind of framework for deciding when American military force will be used. We have gone through four administrations — we’re in the middle of the fourth administration — since the end of the Cold War.

And what I think is needed right now is what I would call an Obama doctrine, which lays out a framework for intervention or nonintervention. And that would help the American people, certainly people like myself, understand why we get involved, when we get involved and how much we will get involved.

And that kind of context has been lacking for the better part of 20 years.

JIM LEHRER: But what about Libya specifically? Was the president wrong to do what he did?

GARY HART: Well, history will show. I — there is clearly a moral argument to be made for preserving life here.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

GARY HART: But the point I’m trying to make is we’re now in an era of grays and plaids and not blacks and whites.

We fought in the 20th century imperialism, fascism, communism. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys now? Clearly, Gadhafi is a bad guy. We invaded Iraq because of a cruel dictator.

By the way, I have yet to meet a noncruel dictator.

The point is the world is full of dictators. Are we going to intervene in every civil war just because there’s a dictator on one side, without even knowing who the other side is? I think that’s prescription for peril.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that overview, Sen. Coleman?

NORM COLEMAN: Actually, I don’t have much to disagree with my former colleague, except to say I think it’s clear the president stepped forward for humanitarian purposes. That appears to be part of the Obama doctrine.

But I think where we both agree is the idea that you’ve got to lay the case out to the American public. I really do think that the reason Representative — Speaker Boehner today wrote a letter to the president which laid out a lot of questions. And I think they’re good questions.

I think liberals, conservative, Democrats, Republicans want the answers. And we haven’t seen them so far. So we have committed American troops, I believe for good purposes. I think the president’s doing the right thing. They are performing admirably with others within the international community.

But there’s no clarity here. And the American people — when you’re asked to put troops’ lives on the line, you’ve got to make the case to the American public. And this president hasn’t done that in this instance.  

JIM LEHRER: Are you saying he should not act until he has done certain — in other words, you’re not saying he did the wrong thing; you’re just saying he got there through a wrong process?

NORM COLEMAN: I’m smiling because, in 2007, he said presidents shouldn’t be committing — utilizing force unless there was imminent threat to America. I think he was wrong in 2007.

I think he was right when he kind of stepped in for humanitarian purposes to stop slaughter in Benghazi. However, there is — the process I’m talking about is, when you do that, before you do that, you sit with the members of Congress. You consult with the representatives of the people.

Here, it seemed like he stepped forward working with the international community, working with the U.N., working with the Arab League, before Congress ever got involved. And that’s going to make it a lot harder for folks on both sides of the aisle then to kind of be comfortable with where we’re at, even if it is the right thing.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Hart, the big overview aside for a moment, we now — this thing, this operation is now under way. And how would you state the desired outcome from this military operation, however it goes, with how many other countries finally get involved or whatever? What do you think should be the point of this?

GARY HART: Well, first of all, it is important that other countries got involved. As one who’s argued for a long time that the United States should not be the only cop on the block, the fact the French and the British took some leadership here is remarkable and hopeful for the future, if that trend continues, so it isn’t just the United States all the time.

I don’t think you can — in a murky situation like this, you can become much clearer than the president has done. That is to say, we would like to see Gadhafi gone, but in the meantime, we are not going to by ourselves dispose of him or depose him, but we will prevent him from slaughtering his citizens.

But the broader question I keep coming back to is…

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GARY HART: … is this a pattern that is going to be repeated over and over and over again?

NORM COLEMAN: Jim, could I jump in and respond to that?

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Sure. Sure.

NORM COLEMAN: Because, if Gadhafi doesn’t go, we’re going to have a problem. This is a guy that has used terrorism in the past and has taken American lives. And so, if he doesn’t go, if he’s left in power, we’re going to find ourselves in deep trouble.

We had a no-fly zone with Saddam for a long time, a very long time. So, ultimately, I think the president has to clearly say what he said early on. Gadhafi has to go. That has to be the end result of this. It’s not clear how we’re going to get there.

JIM LEHRER: But, as I understand both of you — and maybe I’m misunderstanding this, Sen. Hart, Sen. Coleman as well — that even if turns out well, Gadhafi goes and democracy flows in — in Libya, getting there was wrong, the way President Obama did it.

NORM COLEMAN: I think we’re both saying we’d all be better served with greater clarity. What’s the nature of the — what’s the Obama doctrine? How are we going to govern, not just for this case but in the future? I think both sides of the aisle are looking for that.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Hart?

GARY HART: Well, first of all, Sen. Coleman’s formulation assumes a better outcome if Gadhafi’s gone. It couldn’t be much worse, but we ought to withhold judgment on that. We don’t know — really know who the opposition is.

And we found out in Iraq that just getting rid of Saddam Hussein didn’t bring democracy and peace.

JIM LEHRER: But am I right, Sen. Hart, that your — your complaint here would be — would remain no matter what the outcome is?

GARY HART: It is. And it’s a pattern over the past 20 years of ad hocery. We intervene; we don’t intervene.

The only clarity, militarily, in my judgment, in the last 20 years was the invasion of Afghanistan to get al-Qaida. That mission — of course, we can discuss that at great length — began to change, and we’re now in a prolonged insurgency war there that we shouldn’t be in.

But in any case, besides that initial retaliatory action against al-Qaida, all the rest of the irregular, unconventional conflicts we have been involved in or not involved in have been very ad hoc. There is no U.S. doctrine. There was no Bush I or Bush II doctrine, no Clinton doctrine, and now no Obama doctrine.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We will leave it there.

Gentlemen, thank you both.

NORM COLEMAN: Thank you.