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tv   Washington Week  PBS  March 25, 2011 8:00pm-8:30pm PDT

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gwen: the libya dilemma. we look at the military, diplomatic, and political complications of what no one wants to call a war. tonight on "washington week." >> no american lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of somebody else's civil war. gwen: that was candidate obama in 2007. >> because of the extraordinary capabilities and valor of our men and women in uniform, we have already saved lives. gwen: that was president obama this week as bombs were falling in libya. but the definition of victory remains unclear. >> i think there are any number of possible outcomes here and no one's in a position to predict them. we didn't set out to do regime change here.
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we set out, as i said, to do a very targeted mission. gwen: and now nato steps in. >> we have taken on responsibility for the no-fly zone, while the coalition continues its activities. gwen: but does gaddafi stay or does he go? will congress go along with the plan? and what dominoes are set to fall next? covering the story this week -- helene cooper of "the new york times." doyle mcmanus of the "los angeles times." gloria borger of cnn. and john dickerson of "slate" magazine and cbs news. >> award-winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens. live from our nations capital. this is "washington week" with gwen ifill, produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for washington week is provided by --
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>> corporate funding is also provided by prudential financial. additional funding for "washington week" is provided by the annenberg foundation. the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. almost exactly a week after the coalition assault on libyan leader moammar gaddafis forces began, we sit here tonight with more questions than answers. i asked white house deputy national security adviser dennis mcdonough this week what americans should expect. the success of this mission, then, to is not necessarily whether we leave or whether we stay. it's what? i guess i'm trying to figure out, what is the exit strategy? >> well, we're not talking about an exit strategy. the president defin it
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clearly the other night in terms of our initial efforts in this undertaking. we carved out a space where we will be able to enable our partners to take over the no-fly zone. we have turned the troops back from benghazi, protected those civilians. and we continue to degrade his forces, so they can't undertake the kind of mass atrocity that we all feared just a week ago. gwen: but gaddafi is still in power, even as nato is leading the mission and as secretary of state hillary clinton conceded last night, the end is not yet in sight. >> this operation has already saved many lives, but the danger is far from over. as long as the gadhafi regime threatens its people and defies the united nations, we must remain vigilant and focused. gus: we now expect to hear from -- gwen: we now expect to hear from president obama in an address monday night. how significant is it that it was the secretary of state, not
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the president or the secretary of defense who was delivering this message? >> i think a lot of this speaks to the ambivalence the obama administration has had about the war. secretary of state hillary clinton is one of the people who pushed for the intervention. i think you showed secretary of defense robert gates who has for weeks now been saying, we're already in two wars in iraq and in afghanistan, we need to be careful here about defining the mission. he was very, very cautious. i think part of the reason you saw secretary of state clinton out there is because after the arab league voted to invite this no-fly zone and invite this assault, she was the one out there hearing from all these diplomats and all these different country the british, the french, who said the united states has to lead on this. she's sort of the first port of call for the rest of the world. gwen: secretary clinton is also the one ho said before the
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president did that gaddafi should go. but regime change is not the goal here. how do they justify that? >> >> there are two halves to the administration's policy and the administration is -- administration is pretending there's not a connection between them but there is. mission one, to establish the no-fly zone and protect the libyan people. that's where you have administration spokesmen saying the policy is very clear. that's what they're talking about. the second half, the extralegal half, is it's the national purpose of the obama administration is overthrow gaddafi, but you can't say that at the u.n. because it's not allowed. they're pushing the envelope on bombing the command and control centers to increase the possibility that as a happy
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side effect of the u.n. mission he might be toppled but they're not allowed to make the connection. that's why when you ask a question with the word end game in it, you get a blank look. gwen: did the president jump the gun when he said gaddafi must go and to make those policies sort of mesh? when they don't? >> i think saying that gaddafi certainly put president obama in a box. once he said that, once he's established that as the political end game that he's seeking, he's sort of -- when he then go into military assaults, you're looking at those two things. i was speaking with some people in the pentagon earlier this week and they were adamant that they define the military mission as protecting the population, taking out air
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defenses and said, our military mission is not to get rid of gaddafi. when you see these two halves here, that's why you have this kind of schizophrenic -- >> exactly. when we talk to people at the state department, we ask, what happens if gaddafi stays in power, the response you get is, that's not part of the plan. >> if he stays in power what's to stop it happening all over again? >> that's not a success. it's not the worst case for the administration but a tough problem for the administration is if you get a result that's in the middle if gaddafi pulls his troops back, says, cease fire, big mistake, whatever you want, and says yes, the administration is going to have a really hard time taking yes for an answer. the last time we had a no-fly zone that left the guy in place, the country was iraq and that no-fly zone lasted 12 years and i think it ended when we invaded. >> don't forget how long the
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no-fly zones can go on, look at bosnia, look at milosevic, look at saddam hussein. that's one reason why the obama administration pushed for a stronger resolution which is why we're looking at the no drive zone, why they're bombing tanks and ground troops, americans aren't, but they're going after ground troops as well. >> nato is part of the first half of the two half policy. they're trying to hand off now. the administration is saying we're going to hand this off to nato. how possible is that? america is first among equals, as they say, in nato, so if we step back, who's stepping up? >> let's look at the two parts. to hand off the no-fly zone, it's pretty easy. once you've established it, that's pretty easy to do. there'll be american surveillance planes and american intelligence involved, but it'll be run by a canadian.
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the second half, the no drive zone, that's actually where the application of military power is going to start pushing, is already pushing against gaddafi and the united states is still in the lead in that. and they haven't quite figured out a clean way to hand it off to anybody else. today the pentagon was talking about possibly using helicopters and ac-130's, slow-flying, tactical aircraft that get awful close in. that's going to look like combat. >> who are the people, assuming they can displace ka due fee, who do they have in mind to replace him? >> that's the five bazillion dollar question. one thing the white house terrorism advisor is most worried about is we don't know who the libyan rebels are. you saw, and this could well have been an attempt by al qaeda to hijack this democracy protest but they put out a
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statement a week ago saying how much they were with the libyan rebels, al qaeda did. and a lot of these people are believed to have those sorts of ties. nobody knows right now but that's something people are worried about. >> can i get back to the notion of us being in the back seat. it's hard for people to believe that when the united states is part of something, we're never in the back seat, right? but let's assume that we are. and that this is an unwieldy coalition. how do you get the clarity of mission that congress wants or that we're talking about here when you have this kind of huge coalition. we just have to learn to accept more ambiguity in the new world order, do you think? >> probably. look, for a while the united states is going to look very much in the lead of this. the administration has been advertising a handoff that's happening even now on the no-fly zone but it's not going
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to look like that for a while. but there have been other case, kosovo in 1999, bosnia at various times and yes it drives congress crazy, drives the american public crazy because who's in charge? a french general is leading american troops? that's happened since the revolutionary war, but never mind. and you end up with a committee of 28 different countries trying to decide the policy. it's very aggravating. >> but that's the difference between, welcome to the return of multilateralism. during the bush administration, he got a lot of grief about cowboy diplomacy, he went off and unilaterally, america did things on its own, president obama has made it a point from the time he came into office to say, i'm going to consult with the rest of the world, well, when you con cult -- consult with the rest of the world, you're very, very happy. >> they called it the coalition of the willing. now that same coalition is called foreign entities by john boehner in his letter to the
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president. >> absolutely. >> democrats do tend to care more about getting the u.n. security council or nato, the traditional institutions, so, yeah, there is a difference there. where the bush administration did consult with other countries, they were happy to get as many volunteers into iraq and afghanistan as they could, but there was no question who was in charge. the other point, and this goes to gloria's question, president obama and most of the american public don't want to pay for every one of these police actions from here on out. if you don't want to pay for this thing, you have to let somebody else in the room when it's the sided on. if we don't want -- when it's decided on. if we don't want to pay for it, we have to get used to it. >> if we're not paying for it, we don't call the shots. >> this whole notion of us not being in charge, i think that's a bit overstated. >> so we are? >> of course we're in charge. from the time we started, president obama got out there and said, announced the
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military assault and said, we're not going to be doing much, blah, blah, blah, it's american worship, it was american cruise -- warships, american cruise missiles, how many did the british send? the americans, we are in charge. even after the handover, there are things ethe american military can do that nobody else can do. we move on to the second part, but the political half of this, the administration worked to come up with a message on the world stage and encountered predictable pushback at home. either the president moved too quickly or too slowly or was too dependent on international organizations or whatever we talked about. speaker boehner greeted the president with a long critique on his return from a foreign trip this week.
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"because of the conflicting messages from the administration and our coalition partners," boehner wrote in a letter delivered to air force one," there is a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are, and how it fits into our overarching policy for the middle east." politically, was this entire exercise fated to be a lose-lose proposition, john? >> he's facing criticism from both sides. the problem was the president didn't move fast enough, then when he did move, they said he went in too deep, but he also made his situation worse in two important ways. one, the president kind of dealt congress out a little bit he knows how this works. members of congress, at least the leaders, like to be consulted. one leadership aide in the house republican said, it would have been nice if he consulted the congressional leaders as much as he had the arab league. the coalition he put together didn't include the members of congress. this happens, congress doesn't like it when the president acts
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without consulting them but in this case secretary of defense gates said this was being done on the ply and the fact that there wasn't a consultation adds to the ad hoc feeling of it. the second was communication. the president talked about objectives but in and around other stuff. a little press conference here, they didn't want to do a big oval office address. they didn't want it to look like america is in charge, this is like afghanistan, this is like iraq. the problem is, if you don't have one of these bring everybody around to watch the tv moments, you lose that opportunity to say, here's exactly what we're trying to do, here's our goals and here's how we're doing it. >> the president had a phone call with a lot of members of congress, i don't know if he consulted or just notified or what the distinction is, but did he make any progress? >> what he did was restated what he's been stating which is that the mission is very clear, that it's limited in scope and that they've saved lives, as
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hillary clinton said they've averted a massacre. i'm told the republican leaders pushed back on him, asking for what's the end game, how to we get out of this, etc., etc. and then democrats wanted to know when you're going to speak to the american public and we got that answer but in the end, he didn't give them any more than he's already -- >> i have two questions for you is there ever, anymore, an end game articulated in advance? and is there ever anymore true consultation with congress in these things? >> people always say, you ought to know how-year going to come out before you go in. >> they say that. >> the criticism of barack obama that i have heard is that he spent so much time talking about the process of getting the coalition together, i mean this was no easy feat. and he does deserve an awful lot of credit for that. getting the arab league on board, which was clearly the tipping point here, getting the arab league on board, getting a
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vote out of the u.n. security council, everybody was saying, you can never get a vote out they have u.n. security council, he focused so much on the process, the question was, ok, so you do it, let's talk about the strategy. that's the -- the white house pushes back on that, i would say. >> there is, actually, an end game, as far as they say, but only of this first half, to continue doyle's point here, there will be a point where the missiles stop and it will be handed over to nato and they'll call that an end game. and the chikey thing to watch, the difference between what the president said it's supposed to look like and what the allies say is going on. if there's a gap, the president may be spinning us and that's a credibility problem. and you bring congress in to cover your behind, you can say, we were all in on this together. so don't criticize me so much, we all had a big discussion
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about this. that's why you at least bring them in. >> here's the problem if your strategy succeeds and you stop the humanitarian crisis, then his problems begin because then the issue is, what happens with gaddafi. so in the -- >> the questions never go away. >> particularly politically. >> one of the things that struck me as interesting, before this thing started, the criticisms and the commentary didn't break down on partisan lines. you had democratic interventionists who said we ought to have a no-fly zone, like john kerry, and republicans like john mccain. then you had both republicans and democrats on the other side, let's not go there. what's happened since? has this unified the republican party at least? made them all mad at obama but for different reasons? >> yes. and they can take all positions of this, too. >> and they have. >> and they have. that's often the case with these things. it looks confused and so you
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can say it looks confused and say, here's what i would have done differently. some say you should have moved quickly. but if you move quickly and out a coalition, we've seen that movie before and that doesn't always work out well. it is an opportunity to have a few free hits on this. >> it also plays into the whole question of american exceptionalism and haley barbour gave an interview in which he said that barack obama is making it seem like the united states is, quote, just one of the boys. this is three or four days after he said he wasn't going to criticize the president. >> whatever. >> and we are getting up to 2012. and so there is this sense that the united states, if it engages in any military activity, can never take a back seat. yet, we don't want to take a front seat because we don't want to start a war in a middle eastern country. so you kind of can't win here.
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gwen: what is so striking about this, barack obama is being criticized for not taking a leading role when he is actually taking the front seat. >> but he won't say it. >> he won't, because they don't want to look like this is afghanistan or iraq. but this is what's interesting about trying to figure out barack obama and assess him. what a lot of republicans are saying, we haven't seen the pluck moments from the president. so this behind the scenes work that we're all talking about, the careful diplomacy, the deciding, hey if you're going to move into an arab country, you have to have a lot of people, all of that doesn't happen in public, therefore they have to make the case at the white house and it's easier for the republicans to criticize. >> that speaks to the question of prerogative. we heard what the president sounded like as a canned dad and as a president. if you're president, you want to have the prerogative to do
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what is right and the congress wants to be consulted. will be consensus on that? >> probably not. hillary clinton said this was a humanitarian dister that was averted, they had to move quickly, benghazi was about to fall, there could have been a massacre of thousands of people and in these particular moments, that's what commanders in chief are for. congress is out of town, though there are telephones, congress is out of town and they say they did talk to members of congress, though members of congress will say, we were informed we were not consulted. >> monday night, president obama is going to make a speech. is this the oval office moment? is this the my fellow americans? >> we have seen these speeches from the president before, the capital bmbing, capital s big speech. this is going to be about why he made the decision he did about libya, how he sees it in
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terms of presidential power. it won't be about the entire change that's going on in the middle east but that will be a part of it but it will be the specific decision he made but they will also try to fly at a higher level to give some kind of context to this and what we're to make of president obama. >> did the president want to give the speech? do we know? or is it something that after a while theambing drum beats started, aware that congress was coming back to town next week -- >> have you ever known barack obama to not want to give a speech? i think it was the timing that was problematic. he wanted to have the nato thing sort of solidified. he wanted to have everything in a row, talk to the members of congress, get the nato -- and i don't know if the nato thing is going to be solidified by monday night but presumably -- >> he's going to claim it is, whether it is or not. >> but what i think is so interesting, think back to george bush, there was a clarity with george bush. some people complained about
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it, said it was too simple. it was black or white. >> obama doesn't do clarity. >> no he does nuance. so you always, the president you elect is in reaction to the president you had. so you had a president always clear, always black and white, then you get barack obama who is all about the ambiguity and nuance. gwen: final question, do we think there is going to have to be a vote on this? is there a role for congress to play? >> money. >> that's the thing. and depending on how long this last the nato countries involved now, they're not bursting with cash. you may run into a situation here, a former nato ambassador said, we need the u.s. to come back in because you guys have more money, you have more of this weaponry and pleaps sitting there already paid for. that's probably where the biggest crunch will come. gwen: we'll be watching for all
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of this. i get the feeling we'll be talking about libya and syria and yemen for the next several weeks. thank you all very much. the conversation ends here, but it continues online. check out the "washington week" webcast extra for more. really good stuff. you can find us at pbs.org. and keep up with daily developments over at the pbs "newshour," on air and online. well see you right here, around the table, next week on "washington week." good night. gwen: down load our weekly podcast and take us with you. it's the "washington week" podcast at "washington week" online at pbs.org. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by --
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