U.S.-led Airstrikes Continue In Libya
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi are continuing their assault against opposition groups, despite the increase in U.S. and allied airstrikes across the country. We discuss the U.S. strategy in Libya, and the costs associated with getting involved in another conflict in the Middle East.
Bob Kittle, director of news planning and content for KUSI
John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint
David King, editor and founder of San Diego Newsroom
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Events in Libya are heating up fast and the United States is inevitably drawn into a third major conflict. NATO has now taken over the leadership, but the U.S. is still intimately involved. Questions: should the US have intervened earlier? or later? Should Congress be more involved? Is the US taking the right level of leadership? we would like to hear from you (888)895‑5727 is the number to join us here at the Roundtable. Bob we live in a military town and more than 100,000 active duty people home based here and all their families. Do you think the military community is ready to take on another conflict?
B. KITTLE: I think Robert Gates the Defense Secretary was being very prudent when he urged we not take on this responsibility ‑‑ not because we can't conduct a no fly zone. The US has the full capability, in fact the only capability, with those cruise missiles to take out the fixed air defenses that Gadhafi had. And cruise missiles are excellent tools because you don't risk a pilots life, for example. Only the US had that military capability. But there are a lot of military people who question whether this no fly zone can be effective. I for one don't think it can be effective. Number one you don't win wars in the air. And I think while you might slow Gadhafi down a bit, his chances of defeating the rebels will not be changed substantially by the no fly zone. That will happen on the ground, whether he wins or loses. So I question basically the effectiveness of this measure which is to basically go in half way, certainly we will not put any troops on the ground. I just don't think the no fly zone is going to be effective
ALISON ST. JOHN: That was a point that Senator Dianne Feinstein who was in San Diego this week. She also made that point that really Gadhafi is not going to be gotten out unless there are troops on the ground. Democratic Senators are making that same point here. David, what do you think? Do you think there is sense of relief that there is something being done finally. I think there was a sense come on, come on somebody has to do something with Gadhafi's forces on the move. Or do you think it is just making things worse?
D. KING: Absolutely. Gadhafi is a guy that Americans have looked at and said this is somebody we ought to take out for decades, and we think he is a lunatic and a cruel dictator. You go through the list. There is just nothing positive to say about Gadhafi. And this is a situation where you have this momentum with revolutions in the Middle East, and positive motion, and then you're going to stand by idly while Gadhafi is slaughtering his own people. I think this is a chance to buy some time for the rebels, to regain their momentum and I think that's about the best that we're hoping to do here is to let them get back and reestablish themselves to that over time they, the rebels, can organize and take him out. We probably sneak in a couple of ground troops, special forces, to infiltrate and get some organization and help them out in that way. But I don't think you will see a situation where we are going to put a mass of American troops on the ground in Libya. Even the French and NATO were saying this is a matter of weeks not months we are just buying them some time to stem the momentum that Gadhafi had to take them all out.
ALISON ST. JOHN: John on the other side of it Obama and the Pentagon were focusing on getting an agreement with Allies and NATO but should they have been focusing on getting Congress's permission before acting?
J. WARREN: No. I think a lot needs to be said here. First of all, the president acted very prudently in terms of waiting and looking. He was in a damned if you do damned if you don't scenario. Some want you to rush, others want you to wait. There is always the issue of Congressional approval, some decisions have to go the route he took in terms of this particular situation. I think it's very important to point out that one of the determining factors was the requests from the Arab coalition for us to intervene. That is the signature point in this whole thing. Even though they might have changed their mind later. But they asked for support people were being killed and they stepped in to stop the slaughter. Now, Boehner and the Republicans obviously for political reasons will jump on this issue about did you get congressional approval? That is always the issue. I think the president did not go in and declare act of war. He took an action that was consistent with our position as a part of the NATO alliance. Now we can talk about where we go from there.
B. KITTLE: Here is a fundamental question I don't think has hardly been asked. That is, what would the rebels produce? Say the goal is to get rid of Gadhafi and have the rebels succeed. What does that leave in Libya? We don't know. These rebels not fighting no create a constitution with a president and a congress. They are fighting to get rid of Gadhafi. In my mind, there is no clear evidence the rebels would be any better than what we have in Gadhafi, lunatic that he is. Secondly this operation falters under Obama's leadership in this way, John. He wants to go in use the American technology, the Tomahawk missiles that are required to get it started and then back out and let NATO take over. Well NATO now ‑‑ the French don't want NATO to take over. They reluctantly agreed to this committee approach. Now we are going to have the war run by committee, and Obama seems to think the US can stand aside. That's not going to happen. If this leadership committee falls apart the United States will ultimately have to step back in. This whole operation is fraught with problems. We don't know where it's going to end. The French are saying we are in this for a matter of days or weeks, but not months. So if we haven't succeeded in getting rid of Gadhafi within a five weeks, we're out of here
ALISON ST. JOHN: (888)895‑5727 is the number to join the editors at the Roundtable. Can we afford to commit our military to another conflict? Can we afford not to? We'd love to hear from you and we have Alex from Oceanside on the line.
ALEX: Thanks for allowing me to inject comments here. The comments on this have been excellent. My comment is I'm looking at what happened in Egypt as the catalyst for Middle East social change, whether democracy emerges. We doubt it because those countries have different histories, different societies where democracy cannot pop up over night. The United States has no choice in taking some time of role active or as part of NATO or part of a coalition. If we did not, then these other nations would continue to say the United States is weak and now we can continue to do what we want to, and war against our own people who want some social change and human rights. So I think what the United States and the Obama administration are doing is correct. One thing to remember is our own conflict with Libya goes back to Carter and the Reagan administration when Lockerbie and some assassination attempts that were being drawn up by Libya and Gadhafi. One time we did drop a bomb on his mansion when when Reagan was president. There has been a lot of things going on with Libya and I think we needed to take action we are taking.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Alex, thanks for that call. John, any comments?
J. WARREN: I think it's important to notice that America and the United States in this instance has learned from the past. We know what we did when Afghanistan was invaded by Russia and we went in and provided weapons to the Mujahideen and today they are the Taliban, the people we're fighting against. In Egypt, that was different because of our relationship with Egypt our involvement with them militarily and otherwise, that is different. Here we don't have a relationship. Here we are looking at the people on the ground. Secretary Clinton has met with different elements that are emerging and we are cautious of who will be the leadership in each scenario that we are looking at. I think that's very important. We're not just rushing in sending supplies and weapons and letting them grab them and see who comes out the strongest. That is a very improvement in terms of us exercising some caution.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I'm wondering if this is a watershed moment in a sense in defining the US role in global conflicts. Can the US afford to be the policeman with the big stick for everybody forever?
D. KING: I think this is the lesson: Every situation will be different and has to be looked at differently. Everyone wants a rule of thumb exactly when we go in. By the standards that President Obama laid out on Iraq when he was protesting against going into Iraq, we would not have gone into Libya. But I think he most certainly did the right thing by taking an affirmative stance here. We're the United States. If we don't do something no one will. And in this case we got international support. We've got a coalition. This is working. This isn't going to be a quick fix. The Congress is doing their job. They're supposed to be holding the president accountable and saying give us more information and tell us what we are doing here. They're doing exactly what they're supposed to do. There are checks and balances here. They are not just supposed to hold hands and say this is the right thing. They're supposed to call him into account and find out what the end goal is. Probably doesn't know what that is right now. I think we are being a little disingenuous in saying our end goal is not to take out Gadhafi.
ALISON ST. JOHN: The president did say this morning US policy is to remove Gadhafi, it's just that means might not be military.
D. KING: Right. I think that we're trying to do is hope the rebels will be able to do it, but if we just so happen to drop a bomb on him ourselves, that would be a wonderful thing.
ALISON ST. JOHN: (888)895‑5727 is the number to call and Rick is on the line he has a slightly different perspective on this go ahead Rick
RICK: I would like to start with Mr. Kittle's response that no war has been won in the air. The Bosnia Kosovo conflict under Clinton was essentially an all air war and that brought an end to that. Also, it would have been nice to see if the other people of his ideology had come to this epiphany about the use of force back in 2003 when they mindlessly supported Bush when he went into Iraq. I like this type of response because it's more measured and it does offer us a chance to get out a lot quicker instead of like Iraq where we had 5,000 dead and another 15 thousand horribly injured. So I like this better than what he advocated before.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Good thank you for your perspective Rick. Bob, what about this issue of air power actually being enough in some conflicts.
B. KITTLE: Kosovo this was not a war it was Serbian troops slaughtering civilians. The civilians were not fighting back. They were being rounded up and massacred. Last week I was talking with a former UN official who was involved in that operation and he was lamenting how ineffective the airstrikes were. Not that they didn't help, because they did I think in pressuring Milosevic to pull his armored units back out of Kosovo and creating for a while at least a safe area for the Muslims in Kosovo. But that air power when you have trying to deal with ground troops air power is not terribly effective. If you want to counter an army on the ground you have to counter it on the ground.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Let's take one more call before the break. Muman from San Diego has a different opinion.
MUMAN: I just want to say it's too little too late and I'm sorry to comment that I think it's kind of a superficial conversation because we need to look at the bigger picture and history. The bigger picture is we have to created little monsters all over the Middle East so that is what is needed to be discussing. We are still doing that as we speak, right now. Gadhafi is just one of them.
ALISON ST. JOHN: What would your position be on the role that the United States should play in this particular conflict?
MUMAN: Right now it's a big mess. I have no solution for the Libyan mess, but we can prevent other conflicts like that because as of yesterday I learned that we had 32 billion dollars of Libyan assets in the United States. This is a guy that we thought was a terrorist. 32 billion dollars of assets in the United States. That is a lot of business with this guy. So let's talk about how much business we are doing with other dictators. Let's look at the numbers and see how much business we are doing with them how much weapons we are giving them and talk about gas to prevent another war with God knows Algeria, Yemen, who knows what will happen in the next five or ten years
ALISON ST. JOHN: You make some very good points in terms of looking at US policy in other countries and how that might be promoting situations like this and preventive measures that could be taken. We have to take a break here but thank you very much for the call. We will continue the discussion right after the break with Bob Kittle David King and John Warren here on the Editor's Roundtable on KPBS.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You are back with the Editor's Roundtables here on KPBS with Bob Kittle, John Warren and David King. David I believe wants to respond to the caller who called in before the break to make the point that the United States has a role in creating some of these regimes that are now imploding. How would you like to respond to that?
D. KING: Whether it's European colonialism or American intervention in other countries we can't allow the unattended consequences of our prior acts to tie our hands permanently. We wake up every day deal with the world that we are confronting. After September 11th the world didn't think we shouldn't go into Afghanistan because our support of the Mujahideen may have led to the creation of the Taliban. We have to deal with the facts on the ground any given day no matter whether or not our own commerce with another dictator or anything else may have contributed to their power.
ALISON ST. JOHN: We need to move to our last topic but I think the issue of how much this is going to cost the United States I have heard figures of a hundred million a week and more than that at a time when the economy is already struggling, but as you say we can not afford to stay clear of this.