CHARLIE ROSE: It is a decision that every modern American president must face, whether and how to intervene in a distant conflict. As the uprising in Libya spirals into a bloody civil war, the debate intensified this week. In Washington there was a bipartisan support for a no-fly zone with some senators saying the risk of waiting outweigh early action.
President Obama has been cautious and emphasized the important of international support for any intervention. A White House statement today said the president and British Prime Minister David Cameron are planning for a full spectrum of NATO responses, including surveillance, an arms embargo, and a no-fly zone.
Joining me from Princeton, New Jersey, Anne-Marie Slaughter. Until this January she was director of policy planning at the State Department, from Boston David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of "The New York Times," from Washington, Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also in Washington Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of "The New Republican" magazine. I am pleased to have them on this program to engage one of the big ideas that is being talked about in Washington today.
Let me go first to David Sanger, who wrote in today’s "New York Times" that the politics of military intervention to speed the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi grow more complicated by the day. Tell me what’s going on, David.
DAVID SANGER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Charlie, the president finds himself caught between forces on the right led by Senator John McCain, who of course ran against him two years ago, and Senator Joe Lieberman and some others who have argued the president has been two indecisive and has not come down clearly enough on the side of those pushing to topple Colonel Gadhafi.
But on the left has gotten criticism as well from those who fear he has not moved swiftly enough to prevent a slaughter or at least has no not indicated he’s willing to act. And Senator John Kerry, head of the Senate arms committee believed the U.S. had to show it was full my prepared to step in and showing the prepared to step in. But Senator Kerry said we failed to act in Rwanda and the slowness to react in Bosnia and under the first President Bush encouraged the Shia to do an uprising against Saddam Hussein and didn’t come to their aid as well.
So there are all kinds of ghosts haunting the error and President Obama is very cautious at his core that every time the United States has gone into intervene in the Middle East there’s been a long-term consequence to the perception of our position or our actual position that’s been negative.
CHARLIE ROSE: Anne-Marie, tell me what the options are.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: The first, best option is definitely a negotiated solution that gets Gadhafi and his family out of office and out of the country, and that is actually still a possibility on the table. He made an offer. Obviously it’s hard to know who’s saying what, but the fact is we’ve been putting a lot of pressure on him both outside the country in terms of sanctions and in terms of diplomatic pressure and telling him and everybody around him they’ll be accountable for this long term.
So a lot of what we’re been doing is still putting pressure on him to get him out, and if we can do that the rebels negotiating with him, that’s the first, best solution.
After that I do think we have to consider a no-fly zone and go to a no-fly zone if we’re requested to do that the provisional government and have agreement, certainly if the Security Council were to agree but if we’re requested by the rebel government and the Arab League agrees or if the head of the Arab league agrees then I think if we don’t do it we’re going regret it not only morally but strategically.
CHARLIE ROSE: It only comes at the request by the people on the ground in Libya?
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Yes, I think absolutely. And I would just say whatever we do has to be limited to air I don’t think anybody wants to see U.S. troops or NATO troops on the ground and if the Libyans say we need you to help us defeat a tyrant to establish the government you say you want us to have then I think we can answer and should answer.
CHARLIE ROSE: Leon, what should the president do and why.
LEON WIESELTIER, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Look, I think some of what the president has stipulated as the appropriate conditions for American intervention already exists. David reported today in "The Times" a White House person telling him the president said the best revolutions are organic. It makes them sound a bit like vegetables. But if he means indigenous and made by the people, this is a popular uprising that is indigenous and is made by the people.
The complication comes and this is something we can recognize from the study of history and our personal lives as well is sometimes autonomous people need help. And it doesn’t compromise the people to help them especially if they’re asking for help, which they already are.
Secondly I’m not worried about the United States intervening in a Libya civil war. I don’t think there’s another civil war. I see a dictator and some of his army and a lot of his paid mercenaries brutal brutally suppressing a popular democratic uprising.
Thirdly, I think Anne-Marie is right. No one is introducing American ground forces on the ground and it inhibits the conversation to even say that and they should recognition the provisional government in Benghazi, and I think we should arm the rebels and deny Gadhafi the free use of the skies over Libya.
If we do those three things both for moral reasons, which I think are obvious. We’re talking about helping autonomous people liberate itself from one of the most deranged dictators of modern times, and strategically we’re talking about placing the United States in the forefront of helping peoples, Arab peoples, indigenous people, authentic people, use any adjective you want achieve democracy on their own. And if we do this I think we’ll have done the right thing.
CHARLIE ROSE: Jessica, is this the right time for the United States to be on the right side of history?
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: I think the right side of history is a different set of activities, and I would say if we can possibly arrange it to stay out, that’s the right side of history. In fact, it’s probably the most important point that I think will be said tonight, which is the historical significance of what’s happening in that Arab spring is it’s not about us. It’s about them.
It’s not about an ideology or a protest against western imperialism, but it could become such a narrative. What it has been about individual dignity and freedom and a rising up of people who have had enough of incompetent governments. And the importance of the narrative and the integrity of the narrative is it has nothing to do with anybody outside Tunisia or Egypt. And so in my view there are many options.
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s the best one?
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: The best one is the steady development of an international consensus on how to proceed with explicit involvement of the Arab league and other than arming rebels of an arms embargo the last thing this country or anybody in the region needs is more arms, and serious humanitarian assistance and maybe enforce humanitarian zones, and developing a steadily louder international pressure, not against Gadhafi, who’s not listening, but the remnants of regimes around him.
And I think President Obama was exactly right last week when he made the point of those who participate will be held responsible. The message wasn’t to Gadhafi but to the others.
So the military intervention and a no-fly zone is an open-ended military intervention that is costly and probably unlikely to be decisive.
LEON WIESELTIER: I disagree ferociously with Jessica.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: So do I.
LEON WIESELTIER: I think it’s a misunderstanding of the situation to see time is of the essence on moral grounds and practical strategic grounds. Secondly, I do not accept that there is some prior massive disqualifying guilt that would inhibit us from any action.
I think Jessica’s right. The most striking feature of the uprising is to the extent in which they’re not anti-American, anti-colonialist. There is a new generation that is interested in democracy and for democracy pure and simple.
It seems to me that -- and moreover, they identify with the president. They look to the president for support. They did in Tehran and Cairo and are doing so now in the desert of Libya. And it would be crushing to them, unfair to them but also against our larger sense of our historical role if we were not very quickly forthcoming with unequivocal practical and unambiguous support.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I agree with Leon. Jessica’s right to focus on the narrative but we have a chance to change the narrative fundamentally. The narrative in the Middle East for decades has been against the United States even governments friendly to us whipping up popular support against us in terms of our support for Israel. It’s been constantly deflected from the real issues of decent governments that provide for their citizens.
Now we suddenly is a narrative that is an indigenous narrative led by young people saying it is time to claim our right to join the rest of the world and get decent governments. And we, the United States, have been talking about that for decades and not just before this administration. President Obama went to Cairo, called for a new beginning of the Muslim world and part of that was democracy. Secretary Clinton has talked about regime with foundations crumbling in the sand.
And here we have the chance to change our own position in the region and stand up to the world we believe in, if we don’t do it we’re making a complete mockery of our own words and will see pictures that will equal Rwanda in horror if not in number.
JESSICA MATHEWS: The measure of acting is not undertaking a military action. It’s developing a political consensus to move and broadening a base so it’s not about us.
LEON WIESELTIER: But not if people who we support and should support are being slaughtered.
JESSICA MATHEWS: There are lots of people throwing around the word "slaughter." And I defy you to tell me how many people have been killed in Libya, because nobody knows.
LEON WIESELTIER: As far as I know the opposition is giving numb of like 2000, 2,500. I see no reason not to believe those numbers. I understand the situation is murky but I have to say when it comes no this sort of emergency it seems in most important policy cases and crisis it’s right to reserve military force for a last resort and abide by the standard canonical rules and there are certain emergency it’s you don’t ask forcefully in the beginning you misunderstand the nature of the crisis and emergency. We made that mistake in Bosnia and stopped it at the tail end of something very terrible.
DAVID SANGER: Anne-Marie discussed the narrative the uprisings bring about and I think it’s very central to the thinking you hear when you talk to people in the house and in Anne-Marie’s old haunt in the state department these days that the uprising provide an alternate narrative to Al Qaeda and an alternative narrative to the position that Iran’s mullahs have taken, who initially were hoping these uprising were Islamic in nature, and they have not been.
So then I think what the whole debate is circling around is if the United States inserts itself into this in any military way does that interrupt or change the narrative or support it? And that’s all based on something that none of us can predict, which is what happens after Gadhafi falls, because if the U.S. becomes involved it will bear some responsibility, rightly or wrongly, for what follows.
And if it does not it will be a situation like Egypt where it will be up to the Egyptians work out, and that’s what makes everybody in the government so nervous. There are happy outcomes of this and South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines. There’s also Iran, a place where a revolution began in 1979 that many thought would be turn out to be a more democratic kind of government and for the first year looked like something we could work with, and the last 30 --
LEON WIESELTIER: David, wouldn’t it be the case though if the United States failed to intervene and terrible things happen and Gadhafi in some way survived that we would bear responsibility for that outcome also? When you’re the United States of America, you bear responsibility abroad for regardless of what you do because of the enormous power we have to affect situations.
So I don’t think that -- whatever we do our failure to have act order having acted wrongly will make us a part of this story.
I would add -- I think David is right even make the point more dramatically. I think the uprisings in the Arab world are for strategically and morally the single most exciting development for the United States since the collapse of communism in the Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Nothing has yet equaled the potential for transformation of populations of regions.
JESSICA MATHEWS: Something we agree on. And that’s the reason to stay out of it.
LEON WIESELTIER: How could we not.
JESSICA MATHEWS: That’s the reason to stay out.
LEON WIESELTIER: It’s too important for us to stay out of.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: It’s perfectly imaginable that we --
JESSICA MATHEWS: There is no opposition government.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: As much as there is in any situation where very to choose to recognize, there’s a constituted council in the lead city. Obviously in any situation like this you can’t sit down and hold an election, but it is -- they are calling for us not to put in ground troops but to block Gadhafi’s major ability to attack them from the air. And today he used his air force very powerfully.
But there’s no reason why we can’t put in the no-fly zone when Gadhafi goes, that’s then over and then up to the Libyans to complete their revolution. We got help from the French in our own revolution, but they didn’t own it. It was ours. We just got help when we needed it.
JESSICA MATHEWS: I think of all the recent historical examples you can’t find one where you can say well we’ll go in and just do this and walk away.
LEON WIESELTIER: What about Bosnia?
JESSICA MATHEWS: Let me just finish, OK. Military power has not been decisive in this struggle back and forth so far. It could conceivably be that, but it certainly hasn’t so far. So you have to ask the question, and you’d have to ask it anyway, suppose we do this and it doesn’t change the outcome that we would like to see, then what do we do? Yet we’re undertaking a military intervention --
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: It’s one we’ve taken in countless areas, including in Iraq.
JESSICA MATHEWS: With very bad outcome, with terrible outcome.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Not with the Kurds, that’s not true at all we protected the Kurds with the no-fly zone for a long time and it was very effective.
LEON WIESELTIER: What I hear in Washington is no-fly zone would require us to take out Libyan aircraft battery and the assumption in work that if we do that it’s god forbid a military operation and then on the road to all the other military operations. I don’t believe that’s the case. I don’t believe that’s the case.
JESSICA MATHEWS: Nothing could be more irresponsible than to start something and not ask yourself the question about the next step. Nothing.
LEON WIESELTIER: The overthrow of Gadhafi and his replacement by what we know of this provisional council --
JESSICA MATHEWS: We know nothing.
LEON WIESELTIER: We know a lot more than nothing and the overthrow of Gadhafi and the replacement by this provisional council seems like a net gain for the country, for the region, for us. I don’t see how one could even begin to imagine otherwise.
LEON WIESELTIER: Here’s part of the reason why. There’s a whole set of military issues that you can’t answer which are the next step, next step, next step, and in particular the relevance of air power to this struggle.
But the other has to do with the point I’ve raised at the beginning which is where we ought to be listening to is not the conversation in the White House or the State Department but the conversation in the region. And that conversation is very clear including Libya and Libyans have been. We may wish the narrative were not here’s the dirty western imperialist comes again but that’s the narrative they’ve been fed and which many start with. So it would be an extremely story to tell.
LEON WIESELTIER: They said they do not want American ground troops. No serious policymakers -
LEON WIESELTIER: They’ve also said they would like our help in leveling the playing field. The reason the military means have been indecisive is because the asymmetry in power between Gadhafi’s regime and the rebels fighting.
JESSICA MATHEWS: No, it’s because they don’t have a functional air force and in part I would guess he doesn’t want to lose because of the warning.
CHARLIE ROSE: David.
DAVID SANGER: What happened if you did a no-fly zone and in the end it didn’t change the balance of power, that today, as Jessica pointed out, there was a fair use of air power. But until now and the last weekend the Gadhafi forces made inroads without the significant use of air power?
And as Jessica points out, if you use this and it’s not effective, then how much are you committed to your next set of steps? And I think that’s the slippery slope you heard Secretary Gates warning against during his testimony last week and I think that’s also particularly worries President Obama.
And it’s also the reason that everybody in the U.S. government I’ve spoken to wants significant political cover for whatever is done, whether that’s a U.N. Security Council resolution or the Arab league as Anne-Marie suggested or the African union or a NATO vote.
LEON WIESELTIER: Wouldn’t it be the case if the U.S. wanted the political cover they can go get it? George H.W. Bush did this with Kuwait, and when it came to Bosnia we took a while. If the president of the United States is determined to intervene in the situation the way some of us have been advocating and requires the political cover, then that’s a role for American diplomacy.
CHARLIE ROSE: If you help them at their request, will the reaction in the region be, there goes the United States again, or will it be thank god the United States saw the opportunity to be on the side of right and did the right thing at the right moment this time?
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I think it’s going to be the second. I think we’re seeing signs in many, many ways that where we didn’t act quickly in Egypt to support the protestors they knew it immediately, and when we did act they were glad though they thought it was late.
In Bahrain we get reports the protesters are worried we’re not supporting them. This is a completely connected younger generation that as David or Leon said actually often takes President Obama as a symbol of the kind of thing they think they ought to be able to have.
And if it’s a slippery slope, it’s a short slippery slope because no one is talking about or can imagine troops on the ground. So you have a no-fly zone and you arm the rebels as best you can. It’s hard to imagine going beyond that.
Wait a minute, let me finish. Jessica is right I think to say you have to ask what will happen next. Absolutely you have to do that. But you can’t always get all the answers. We would not have known the endgame in Rwanda if we had sent troops in, and yet I don’t think anybody thinks now it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.
CHARLIE ROSE: Let me ask one question because you were in the government - - should the United States have spoken out more strongly at the time of the huge massive demonstrations against the Iranian election?
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: In retrospect that looks easy to say. At the time President Obama had come in with the understanding that what was wrong with the Iran policy it had been his position that we had not engaged. So he was trying to engage. He was not getting very far, but it was in that context that the protests happened and initially there was the sense that we didn’t want to interfere for exactly the reasons that Jessica is saying.
I think in retrospect we would have been better off taking a stronger position, but I also think Iran is a different context in which the regime has been able to turn that immediately to advantage when anytime the U.S. seems to intervene they turn that to their advantage in a way I do not think Gadhafi possibly can.
CHARLIE ROSE: Jessica, what circumstances may change your mind on the ground?
JESSICA MATHEWS: You can’t undertake a military intervention, which is what a no-fly zone is, and say we’re drawing an absolutely clear line at troops on the ground and nobody could possibly imagine troops on the ground.
I can tell you nobody imagined ten years ago we’d be fighting a war today in Afghanistan. I can tell you nobody imagined it because I can remember being on the show and debating that intervention. So we have to think about that, and we have to answer the question that you just answered.
This is Colin Powell’s, one you break it you own it. We didn’t break it, but once you intervene you’re involved and then you’re in, and then we are into another really tough in fact probably the toughest nation-building operation we would have ever confronted, because this is a country where there really is nothing much except Gadhafi.
But I would go further, and this is an attempt to answer your question, and that is that the historical significance of what’s happening across the Arab world right now is in direct proportion to what we’re not involved.
The pride of the Egyptians of what happened and the meaning of what happened in Egypt across the region has the fact that it was Egyptian and nothing to do with us, virtually nothing. And so I think our debate has become much too much about us, and this is not about us. It really is not about us. It’s not about us. It should be about them. It should be about them reclaiming their futures and what we’ve got to do is keep this discussion from being about the United States. It’s not.
LEON WIESELTIER: No one could possibly mistake the revolution in Tunisia and Cairo and what happens in Libya and Iran in 2009 as anything that was ginned up by the United States. We are passed that. The people in Iraq -- the people on the streets -- we have no evidence whatsoever the people on the streets of Tehran or Cairo wanted anything but their support. There is anecdotal evidence aplenty from all the areas. They do not want American ground invasions or American imperialism.
But helping them does not compromise their autonomy or make them stooges of the United States if we come to the assistance of the popular democratic movement in the Arab world.
JESSICA MATHEWS: That’s how we feel, Leon. It’s not necessary how they feel.
LEON WIESELTIER: These are empirical questions. We have evidence.
JESSICA MATHEWS: It’s not a question of empirical.
LEON WIESELTIER: I read the same things and heard the same reports from all the cities and uprising that you did.
JESSICA MATHEWS: Are you listening to Al Jazeera in Arabic?
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Al Jazeera has had a steady drumbeat precisely of Libyans calling for a no-fly zone. In fact last week I think erroneously Al Jazeera English reported the African Union and the Arab League have endorsed a no-fly zone. In the end this is their revolution, but if they need help we should give them help to achieve the goals that they and we want.
CHARLIE ROSE: So David, what’s the timeframe and how is he viewing this, and I close with this, as a decision imperative?
DAVID SANGER: I think this is closed in on the White House a whole lot faster than they would like it to. They’re clearly trying to set up Thursday’s meeting of the NATO defense ministers as a place that would set the conditions for a no-fly zone and perhaps put more equipment in place.
And yesterday they announced, for example, that surveillance flights were moving to 24-7. I was a little surprised they weren’t already, but they had only been doing surveillance about ten hours a day.
In the end while this is a fascinating ideological argument and about nation building, an argument about when the United States has moved passed the ghost of the Iraq intervention which was eight years ago next week, I think what will decide it in the end is whether or not Colonel Gadhafi uses his jets in a serious way to push back and crush these rebels.
And I think if there were more days like today where he was using the jets more effectively I think the pressure on the White House to approve a no- fly zone despite all the reservations you’ve heard is probably going to become somewhat overwhelming.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you all very much.