Media Conference Call: Assessing Military Action in Libya

Media Conference Call: Assessing Military Action in Libya

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Listen to CFR senior fellows Max Boot and Ray Takeyh as they discuss the strategy and ramifications of military action in Libya by coailition forces.

OPERATOR: Excuse me, everyone. We now have our speakers in conference. Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode. At the conclusion of the presentation, we will open the floor for questions. At that time, instructions will be given if you'd like to ask a question.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Deborah Jerome. Ms. Jerome, please begin.

DEBORAH JEROME: Thank you. Good morning, and welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations media call on Libya, where the United States and allies are in their fifth day of trying to impose a no-fly zone. My name is Deborah Jerome. I'm the deputy editor of

I'm here with Max Boot and Ray Takeyh. Max is CFR's Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies. You might have seen his op-ed in The New York Times on Monday on "Planning for a Post-Gadhafi Libya."

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow for Middle East studies here at the council who wrote for the council's website recently on the costs of Libyan intervention.

I'd like to kick this off with a question for both of you. Max, maybe you can start and then Ray can take over. If you'd like to use the answer to frame an opening statement of some kind, feel free to go for it. And the question is, as you know, there's a lively debate both in the policy world and in the council about what the United States' strategic objectives are in calling for the ouster of Moammar al-Gadhafi in working with European and other allies to impose a no-fly zone. So could you clarify these objectives and tell us whether you think they are, so to speak, on target?

Max, take it away.

MAX BOOT: Well, I can't clarify the president's objectives, because I think he's been fairly muddy in what he's said. I can tell you what I think the objectives ought to be. I think at this point we need to oust Gadhafi. I mean, I think we can't live with this indefinite crisis going on with a no-fly zone of airstrikes and rebels controlling eastern Libya and Gadhafi controlling western Libya. That's not a tenable long-term status quo. I mean, this is not like the former Yugoslavia where you could break off Bosnia or Kosovo and Milosevic could remain in power in Belgrade. The battle here is for power in Tripoli. And as long as Gadhafi remains in power, you're going to have a crisis, you're going to have human rights violations, you're going to have a large-scale military commitment by the U.S. and our allies. And so I think we need to bring that to an end by toppling him.

But I think one of the difficulties here is that President Obama has talked about the need to get rid of Gadhafi, but he has not made that an explicit part of the military mission, and so there's confusion here. But I do think it ought to be part of the mission for both strategic and humanitarian reasons, having to do with ending the bloodshed but also having to do with ousting him before he can stage acts of terrorism or other reprisals against the U.S. and the West. And I think it will also send a positive message to the rest of the region to see that a tyrant who tried to slaughter his own people was not able to get away with it.

JEROME: Thanks.

Ray, what about you?

RAY TAKEYH: I think Max is correct in the sense that the objectives are nebulous and in some cases they may even contradict one another. The United Nations Security Council resolution has suggested that the objective is protection of Libyan civilians. Now, that doesn't mean Libyan civilians in Benghazi. It means Libyan civilians in Tripoli and elsewhere. So the resolutions call for protection of Libyan civilians. The extension of that is the removal of Colonel Gadhafi, who is a menace to Libyan civilians. And I think the president and maybe even the members of the international community don't want to engage in this sort of a military conflict that would achieve that objective.

I saw -- I don't know where exactly you go from here, because subsequently what the president has said and subsequently what the United Nations resolution has suggested -- and it would have been nice if you have some sort of a congressional resolution to get the sense of what the legislative branch's opinion is. But all these events have committed the West to the viability and survivability of this nascent Libyan government and opposition, and the viability of the -- of the insurgency, the rebellion.

And I think what the United States will like to do, given its commitments elsewhere, is to somehow discharge this obligation while limiting its military presence. So hopefully Europeans and perhaps even the rebellion itself can make inroads, and Colonel Gadhafi, there will defections from his regime. But all those things -- as I said, in some ways the commitment and the means that we're willing to deploy for it seem to be inconsistent with one another at this point.

JEROME: Thanks, Ray.

We are ready to open this up for questions now.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.) Our first question comes from Trudy Rubin from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

QUESTIONER: I'd like to ask Max Boot, when you say that removing Gadhafi should be the objective, could you give nuts and bolts about how you think this could be done and justified without causing a huge ruckus globally and in the region, given that the Arab League is opposed to military force on the ground, the U.N. resolution doesn't call for it, the Russians and the Chinese would probably call for a Security Council meeting and oppose it widely, as would many members of NATO? It probably would cause huge confusion among the rebels around the region. So do you just see -- what, the U.S. lands ground troops in Benghazi and we move from there? I really am looking for a scenario.

BOOT: Well, I've written about this quite a bit in the last few days, and I am not suggesting that we land group troops. What I am suggesting is that we essentially follow the model that we used in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 and in Kosovo in 1999, in both cases where we used NATO airpower to help rebels on the ground achieve their military objectives.

All we really need to do that -- we already have the airpower in place. All we really need to do is to send some Special Forces teams to work with the rebels, to act as forward air controllers to coordinate their actions with those of the NATO air forces flying overhead. And I think that would be a very potent one-two punch.

Now, history has shown that it's almost impossible to topple a regime purely through the air. You need to have ground action. And we need to increase the capacity of the Libyan rebels to act on the ground if we're ever going to bring this crisis to a halt. And what I'm suggesting is by no means at odds with Security Council Resolution 1973. All that says is that there will not be a foreign occupation -- foreign occupation force on Libyan territory, which I'm not suggesting there be a foreign occupation force.

All I'm suggesting is there be some Special Forces to work with the rebels to bring about what Security Council Resolution 1973 also calls for, which is a, quote, "peaceful and sustainable solution," end quote, to this crisis. I don't think we're going to have that peaceful and sustainable solution unless we get rid of Gadhafi, which is something that Obama has called for, Sarkozy has called for, Cameron has called for. They've all said we want to see Gadhafi go. Well, all I'm saying is we need to step up and do a little bit more to get rid of him.

And the other thing I'm adding, by the way, is I think we also need to -- very, very important, we need to think about what happens in Libya after Gadhafi, because I do think there's a real danger of chaos, there's a real danger of a -- of a protracted war between the tribes, with al-Qaida and other extremist groups getting into the middle of it. I think there are grave dangers there.

So I think we do need to think about the need to dispatch an international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the U.N., the Arab League and NATO, but that is something that would obviously take another U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize.

QUESTIONER: Could I just follow up? The U.N. Security Council resolution forbids arming either side, so that's one obstacle. Second, the Northern Alliance was a honed fighting force, and even though its commander had just been killed, they were organized; they knew how to fight. And this, as everyone has pointed out, opposition is a grab bag, with many civilians who have never fought, totally disorganized.

So basically, aren't you suggesting that we would violate the Security Council resolution, which would lose Arab support and U.N. support? And we'd have to do a hell of a lot more than just send a few commandos, because this is a gang that hasn't yet learned how to shoot straight.

BOOT: Well, again, what I'm suggesting is that we should send Special Forces, who would work with the rebels to increase their military capacity, including providing some fast training for them to increase their ability to overthrow the Gadhafi regime.

In terms of providing arms, there are credible reports that Egypt is already providing arms and we're looking the other way, much as we looked the other way in Bosnia, where there was an arms embargo but we looked the other way as the Croatians and other anti-Serb factions were armed. I think that's the -- that's the right thing to do here. I think it's a mistake to impose an arms embargo on both sides.

And by the way, you can have a legal argument about whether the arms embargo actually applies to the Arabs or that it only applies to the Gadhafi-controlled portion of Libya. But I think, you know, in terms of strategy, if we don't do what I'm suggesting, which is to boost the capacity of the rebel forces, we could be in for a protracted stalemate. And we don't want to be having a no-fly zone in Libya for 12 years like we had in Iraq. That's the last thing in the world we want.

So I think what we need to do is to act on the logic of what -- of what Obama has said, Sarkozy has said, Cameron and others have said, which is that Gadhafi must go. All I'm suggesting is, we need to take a couple more steps to achieve those objectives.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Our next question comes from Clifford Krauss from New York Times.

QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. I'm just wondering if the two of you could address how you see oil entering into the thinking of the administration here and of the allies, and how Libyan oil can be returned to world markets.

TAKEYH: I'll start. I don't think this particular conflict was about oil. I don't think America's conflicts in the Middle East have been about oil. I think this was a legitimate humanitarian intervention when Colonel Gadhafi's forces approached the gates of Benghazi and there were calls by he and members of his regime about the mass killing that they were going to engage in.

I think so long as Libya remains a sort of a truncated state, between some sanctuaries and enclaves for the rebellion and sort of remnants of Colonel Gadhafi's regime, it is hard to see how it can be economically rehabilitated and resume its oil exports. I think, should Colonel Gadhafi manage to dispel the insurgency, then it is hard to see how Libyan oil comes back on the market, other than contraband and so forth, because of the level of economic sanctions imposed by the international community. So you can have this Sudan situation, where, you know, Chinese buy the oil and they sell it to Japanese or -- but that's a sort of a contraband trade.

I suspect the only way Libyan oil can return to the market is you have a sort of a different Libyan government. So Libyan oil, I think, is some 2 million barrels, 1 1/2 million barrels per day. It has some qualitative aspects to it that was -- low sulfur and the sweet (brew ?), as they call it, so it didn't need much refinement. But that particular oil is unlikely to come about to the markets unless there's a different political situation in Libya, I suspect.

BOOT: Right, which is -- which, you know, I think is further evidence or further argument for the point that I'm making, which is, we should not let this crisis drag on indefinitely. Aside from the humanitarian cost, aside from the cost to us of maintaining the no-fly zone, which is considerable, there is also the cost to the world economy of keeping Libyan oil production off the market, which -- and I agree with Ray; it's not going to come back on the market until Gadhafi is out of power and the crisis is ended. So I think we need to do what we can to end the crisis.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Our next question comes from David Martin from CBS News.

QUESTIONER: If you stipulate that the U.S. and the other forces can execute the mission as described in the U.N. resolution, establish the no-fly zone over all of Libya and protect civilians from attack, can Gadhafi realistically survive that for very long, if there are allied planes circling over Tripoli and if he is under an embargo and if all his assets are frozen?

TAKEYH: I'll start. I -- you know, that's one of the scenarios that is painted; namely, that the regime will weaken and there will be defections and under stress of international opprobium, embargoes and some military intervention, there will be some kind of a palace coup or some kind of a negotiated settlement for Colonel Gadhafi's departure. I think his departure voluntarily is less likely. Just the nature of his personality, there's no -- really no place he can go where he's exempt from prosecution for war crimes.

But that's one scenario. Look, I don't know if this situation -- a stalemate on the ground is as unsustainable as is suggested. I mean, Saddam hung out for a -- for a long time. And it was hoped in 1991, if you recall, that the situation was created where there were no-fly zones protecting the Shiite population in the south and eventually Kurdish population in north. And there was sort of sanctions and so forth. And it was anticipated by the first Bush administration that that sort of pressure would ultimately lead to sort of a regime change, where some military generals and others would dispense with Saddam Hussein.

He managed to stay in power. Now, this is not to suggest that Colonel Gadhafi will similarly stay in power, but it's merely to point out that that scenario may not necessarily come to fruition.

BOOT: Yeah, and I think the scenario that David Martin raises is very much the one that is in the minds of the administration. I think that's why on the one hand, Obama has said it's time for Gadhafi to go; but on the other hand, he has not ordered his military commanders to do what it takes to get rid of him because he's hoping that if we just stalemate him on the ground that eventually some kind of pressure from the outside or a palace coup or the rebels or something will get to him and overthrow him. And I would certainly hope that would be the case, but I wouldn't necessarily bet on it.

I mean, we sort of got lucky in the former Yugoslavia when Milosevic pulled out of Bosnia and Kosovo, even though we weren't marching on Belgrade. And eventually, he was overthrown. That worked out pretty well. And I would hope that things would work out as well in Libya, but a hope is not a strategy.

And so I think we better be prepared for what happens if it doesn't work out and we should do something to avoid a protracted and very costly stalemate.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Ross Schneiderman from Newsweek.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thanks so much. Kind of transitioning from what you guys were just talking about, to what extent can we tell that the strategy already is working in terms of limiting Gadhafi's ability to attack the rebel forces? What can we tell on that front at this point?

BOOT: Well, I'm happy to start. I mean, clearly the strategy has worked already to some extent because his offensive into Benghazi was blunted; his forces were driven back. There's a report this morning that his forces have been driven back again from another town in Western Libya.

So clearly, the offensive is having an impact; and, you know, having his columns of tanks burning on the roads and his air force and air defenses dismantled -- all that has an impact. The question is whether it's going to be a decisive impact and whether it will be enough to allow the rebels to retake the towns that Gadhafi had previously conquered and even to march on Tripoli. I mean, that's an ambitious agenda.

And again, I would, you know, look to the lesson of history, which is it's almost impossible to find conflicts which have won -- have been won purely by aerial bombing. One of the few was the defeat of Japan in World War II, but, you know, I don't think we're going to be dropping nuclear weapons on Libya.

So short of that, it's hard for me to imagine that just a no-fly zone and some airstrikes alone will be necessarily enough to topple Gadhafi from power. Something more is going to be required, whether it's a palace coup, a voluntary abdication or successful military action by the rebels on the ground -- some combination or some of those things are going to be needed. And, you know, it's by no means guaranteed that any of that will happen any time soon.

QUESTIONER: And just as a follow-up, you had mentioned earlier that -- you know, that Gadhafi could possibly stage terrorist attacks against the U.S. To what extent is he realistically able to do that, now that he's essentially besieged by, you know, coalition forces and has had a number of his assets frozen and what-not?

BOOT: Well, that's a good question, and I don't honestly know the answer to that question. Clearly, he's had long-term links with various terrorist groups. Now, he gave up his support of terrorism a few years ago, but the question is: Can he reactivate those links?

I mean, all indications are, even though his outside assets are frozen, he probably has quite a bit of money that he -- that he still has access to. And so, you know, I don't know that it's an imminent danger, but it's certainly something we need to think about, given that, you know, before 9/11 he was considered one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism in the world. That's -- and he has made threats along those lines in recent weeks, about how he's going to attack shipping in the Mediterranean, for example. You know, I don't -- again, I don't know what the likelihood of it is. It's probably, you know, maybe not that high right now. But if he stays in power and is able to recuperate a little bit and -- you know, I think the danger of that kind of counterattack grows.

TAKEYH: I will say one thing about terrorism, with all the caveats that were mentioned. The complexion of terrorism has changed since Colonel Gadhafi was engaged in it. In the 1970s, the terrorist organizations he relied upon, whether -- they were radical secular groups, whether it was various nationalist groups or Red Brigades or what-have-you. Increasingly, as we got to the 1980s, and certainly 1990s, Middle East terrorism became more religious-based. It was Hezbollah, Hamas, and in due course the extension of that was al-Qaida. And he always had less of a relationship with that kind of terrorist organizations. And so some of those links have been attenuated because all of those secular terrorist groups went away. Some of them, like PLO, became sort of rehabilitated and so forth. So he might not have as many latent terrorist assets. He would have to develop new ones. And under the circumstances, I think it would be difficult, since he doesn't have sort of the full command of a nation's resources. But, you know, all this is not to discount the possibility of him lashing out in a more of an unorthodox or unconventional way. It -- try to put his terrorist (portfolio ?) in some sort of a context.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from James Kitfield, from National Journal magazine.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I want to pick up on Max's point about what happens the day after Gadhafi falls, if he falls. Because it seems to me, for those of us who were in Iraq when Saddam fell, and we had no plan in hand and insufficient security forces to deal with the looting, and then the spiral toward sectarian violence -- it seems to me that this could be a very similar scenario. And it seems very unlikely to me that there'll be an international peacekeeping coalition ready on the spot the day he falls. So could Ray and Max go into that a little bit more?

I know there's not the sectarian Shia/Sunni divide, but there's lots of tribal divides, lots of reasons to fear retribution from the rebels against loyalists, et cetera. Could you go into that a little bit?

BOOT: Sure. First, let me just say that I really enjoyed "Prodigal Soldiers." I thought it was a fabulous book.

QUESTIONER: Thanks, Max.

BOOT: But second, in terms of, you know, the dangers, I mean, in some ways I think they are less than they were. The dangers of an insurgency I think are somewhat less than they were in the case of Iraq or Afghanistan, because Libya has a much smaller population -- about 6.5 million people, as compared to 30 million in Iraq or Afghanistan -- so easier to control. Most of the population lives within a few miles of the coast. And it doesn't have neighbors like Pakistan, Iran or Syria, that would probably try to foment an insurgency, as occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That said, I think you're absolutely on the money that some of the same dangers that existed in Iraq certainly exist in Libya because, again, you have very much a one-man state, so what happens when that one man disappears? A lot of the Libyan armed forces are made up of mercenaries, and it's not that big to begin with anyway. So it would be doubtful that the Libyan military could stay intact and safeguard a transition, as has been happening in Tunisia or Egypt. So the risks of chaos grow considerably, especially because Libya is such a tribal society. You could easily see -- and there's something worth fighting for in Libya, like in Iraq, which is the oil.

And you could easily see competition between the tribes for control of the oil resources, and that provides an opening to jihadists who are already fairly prominent in Libya. A number of -- Libya's been one of the major exporters of suicide bombers to Iraq, so there is -- there is a tremendous danger there.

And I am very, very concerned right now that we are not talking enough about phase four, we are not talking enough about post-Gadhafi Libya. I mean, I had this op-ed in The New York Times yesterday suggesting a -- you know, what we need to think about: an international peacekeeping force for Libya after Gadhafi. And as far as I know, I think I'm the first person to suggest that. And I'm not saying that to beat my chest and say that I'm ahead of the curve. I'm astounded that we're not talking more about this.

I mean, in some ways, this is like Iraq redux. We're very much focused on the immediate objectives, but we're not looking down the road to how do we create a stable and relatively peaceful Libya after Gadhafi's departure. So I think part of that -- what we need to be doing is preparing a peacekeeping force that could go in, preferably with minimal American presence. Hopefully, some of the neighbors -- Egypt, Tunisia and others -- would take a lead role, but I think we do need a -- I'm guessing we probably will need a peacekeeping force.

The other thing we need to be doing -- and I mentioned before -- is in terms of building up the rebel forces. That's not only so that the rebels can oust Gadhafi, but it's also so that there can be some kind of military force in place once Gadhafi is out of power to keep law and order, because again, I don't think -- I mean, we should certainly try to integrate the existing Libyan military into a new Libyan state. But again, a lot -- it's -- the Libyan military is not that big. A lot of them are mercenaries, so you can't necessarily count on them to be a stabilizing force. So we need to try to build up a rebel military/police force that can maintain order after Gadhafi's eventual departure.

BOOT: I would just draw attention to kind of two events that are happening. And I think to some extent they're happening in -- separate and distinct from one another. Number one is a sort of an Arab awakening that has taken place throughout the Middle East, and number two is of course the Libyan situation. The danger is that the Libyan situation will force us to make compromises on the Arab awakening, because in order to get the funding that we -- that would be required to rehabilitate a post-war Libya, one of the places you would go to is the Gulf, where there's a lot of money in the Persian Gulf, the sovereign funds and so forth.

Now, what sort of compromises are we prepared to make in terms of our call for political reform in Bahrain in order to get the Saudi support? What kind of compromises are we prepared to make, if we need Saudi funding, about the Saudi behavior, which is repression at home and repression abroad, that's -- this -- the sort of (to an extent ?) if Libya suffuses our concerns, if Libya takes over and becomes a principal American and international community's concern today. And in terms of its post-war, it's to what extent are we therefore prepared to make compromises with the status quo powers in the Arab world in order to achieve that coalition. I think we would inevitably need the coalition, and you can see this in discussion of the Arab League.

Let me just say something. There has seldom been an organization more devoid of moral credibility and political power than the Arab League, and suddenly we seem to require the political umbrella that this gallery of despots provides in order to facilitate operations in Libya. I am concerned about how the Libyan situation could cause us to take our eyes off the most important prize in the Middle East, namely how do we usher in transition toward more representative and accountable rule in the Middle East, which requires us to put pressure on our allies and requires us to put pressure on the Egyptian military to abide by its commitments and so forth.

And if you are detracted from that in order to gain Arab support for Libyan rehabilitation, recovery or military operations, then I think the Libyan situation would have done damage to the Middle East, because the future of the Middle East is going to be decided in the heart of the Arab world, in places like Egypt and Bahrain and so forth, not necessarily in North African state of Libya. And that damage that could potentially come about if we're not careful is something that will damage the Middle East for generations to come.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Terry Moran from ABC News.

QUESTIONER: Yes, thank you. Just following up on the post-Gadhafi Libya question, given the history there -- and Libya's not a very old country -- what do you think the likelihood is of partition or secession movements, that Libya doesn't continue in the form that we've known it, given the tribal rivalries, the fairly recent history of the sovereign entities within Libyan territory? And what should the position of the United States and the international community be about that?

BOOT: Well, I -- I mean, I think the position of the international community ought to be that it's up to the people of Libya what they want to do. I mean, personally I don't care if there's one Libya or two or three as long as it's done peacefully and with the consent of the people. I mean, if you have a breakup in the way that Czechoslovakia broke up, that's fine by me. But what we want to avoid is obviously a breakup in the way that Sudan has broken up or a breakup in the way that Yugoslavia's broken up with the years of terrible bloodshed. That's the last thing we want.

And so that's why I'm suggesting we need to have some kind of game plan for the -- Gadhafi's departure so that we don't in fact see in this tribal warfare possibly leading to a split of the country.

TAKEYH: I mean, historically, it is true that the state of Libya was an amalgamation of a number of provinces put together; in this case, by Italian colonization, which was brief but rather bloody in terms of its impact. And Cyrenaica and Tripolitania were sort of put together -- as well as western Libya.

And it's always been the political culture of the Benghazi-Cyrenaica area were always different from Tripoli. I mean, to a large extent, it wasn't so much tribalism, but religion -- orthodox Islam -- defined the politics of eastern Libya more so than it did in other places. And one of the things that -- Gadhafi waged two conflicts against traditional, if you would, Libyan political norms. One was his own eccentric redefinition of religion as a means of undermining and prosecuting this sort of a traditional ulama, the men of religion in Benghazi area.

The second was despite everything that is said about tribalism, Gadhafi tried hard to remove tribalism as a factor in Libyan politics, you know, by sort of drawing the administrative lines differently to urbanization and so forth. In we know in an urban area, you have different patronage networks and really relying on your tribes. He did -- it didn't work, but nevertheless you can see these three entities have sort of different political identities. And so therefore, the possibility of them wanting to separate from another is something that has to be taken into consideration. Now, if it's done peacefully and through plebiscites and referenda, that's one thing.

But also the question of a partitioned Libya -- one, two, three Libyas -- is how does the oil wealth -- is going to be dispensed here, because it tends to have concentrations in -- I believe it's mostly eastern Libya. So that's going to be another issue that's going to be at hand. So you might have some sort of confederation system, but then you get into sort of a lot of complexities here.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jim Dingeman from Pacifica Radio.

QUESTIONER: Yes, hi. Thank you for this discussion. First of all, I'd like to ask if Max -- what sense he has of the order of battle of the rebel forces, because if we look at the Libyan army, it's not as if it's not sizeable. It's listed to having 20 to 30 infantry and mechanized and armored battalions. Aside from the brigades, the 32nd Brigade, that seems to be sort of the palace guard, if you will -- it was essentially -- mainly attacked around Benghazi. So I'm curious to how that has fractured, in your mind, into the rebel forces and not.

And secondly, Ray, you know, we have a nationalist tradition in Libya. I'm thinking of the first and second Italian Senussi wars against the Italians -- people like Omar Mukhtar.


QUESTIONER: And so how do you feel those traditions will play in the post period if there is indeed, as Max argues, an international peace-keeping force?

BOOT: Well, I don't -- I mean, I don't think I know enough to give a good order of battle on the rebel side. I mean, certainly, everything I've seen suggests that they're pretty disorganized. And, you know, they don't have -- while they've had certainly defections from the Libyan armed forces, they don't seem to have reconstituted regular military units. I mean, certainly from the pictures and accounts that I see, they seem to be, you know, guys in civilian clothes riding pickups with a few machine guns on the back and some infantry weapons that they have in their hands.

So, you know, I think there's a long way to go before they're a credible military force that can take on the remnants of the Libyan armed forces, which, you know, have armor, which have artillery, which have all sorts of heavy weaponry, which the rebels don't, and which have greater cohesion and better leadership, even though I think, in the greater scheme of things, the Libyan armed forces are not very formidable compared to, you know, a western military.

But compared to these fairly ragtag rebels, I think they've certainly been able to hold their own and, as we've seen, to go on the offensive and come close to wiping the rebels out. So you know, I think whatever the rebel order of battle, it's not that impressive. And I think that they have a ways to go, which is why I've been suggesting that we need to be helping them with special forces trainers to increase their capacity.

TAKEYH: I mean, it's correct to suggest that there was a history of resistance to Italian colonization, but I will say Italian colonization was brutal and quite intrusive. I'm not quite sure if the same sort of anti-Western national spirit is going to be born in a Libyan situation, in a post-war situation, where it's going to be disarrayed, disorganized, and they will require international assistance for the reconstitution of the country and this rehabilitation of its infrastructure and even its military force.

Nevertheless, that -- the sort of a protracted occupation is not something that anybody's looking for. I don't think the international community's looking for it, I don't think we're looking for it, and I suspect the Libyans will not be looking for it. But the critical question is if Libya disintegrates as a nation-state, whether that will lead to more conflicts over sort of a disposition of its natural wealth, and whether that international force that is designed for a stabilization operation is going to be sort of trying to referee further conflict, and how would that settle itself. So there has to be a lot of thinking on how a post-Gadhafi Libya will -- or post-Gadhafi Libyas, plural, will try to coexist with one another, and in terms of the relationship with the international community.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Olivia Ward from the Toronto Star.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. I'm wondering about the larger issue as well, and that is that, having created the no-fly zone, which was based on the doctrine of responsibility to protect innocent civilians, within hours in fact the protesters in Bahrain were also asking for help. Now the situation seems to be sliding in Syria. So are there wider implications to what is going on in Libya outside of the very complicated situation in Libya itself? And I'd like to ask both.

BOOT: Well, I think the answer is clearly yes. I mean, when you look at the Arab Spring and the origins of the Arab Spring, you know, as we know, it all goes back to Tunisia. And once Ben Ali was toppled in Tunisia, this longtime strong man, all of a sudden, the movement spread to other Middle Eastern countries. You saw Mubarak falling; you saw the protests in Bahrain, and now in Yemen and Syria and elsewhere -- and Libya, obviously. So clearly there is a -- there are real connections among the different countries in the region, with people looking at what's happening elsewhere and either being encouraged or discouraged based on events elsewhere.

So you know, that's why I think it is -- as I've suggested before, I think that's why it is important that Gadhafi not be allowed to slaughter his own people and put down a demonstration by force. But you know, just because we're intervening militarily in Libya obviously means -- it doesn't mean we're going to intervening militarily everywhere. And you know, the situation in Bahrain, for example, is a very different one, where I think we should certainly protest the use of force by the Saudis and by the government of Bahrain and push for negotiations. But you know, I don't see much chance that we're going to be imposing, you know, a no-fly zone over Bahrain as we've done in Libya, for a whole host of reasons.

TAKEYH: I (disagree ?) that we should protest the Saudi use of force or intervention in Bahrain, but we should also protest the Saudi narrative. The Saudi narrative is: This is a Shia uprising instigated by Iran against sort of a benign ruling family in Bahrain and elsewhere. That's not the case.

What is happening in Bahrain is what happened in Tunisia and what happened in Egypt, is those who are politically disenfranchised and economically dispossessed are protesting against a ruling elite that is often corrupt and often accountable -- unaccountable, I'm sorry. And they're calling for not necessarily establishing Shia theocracy along the line of Iran. I don't think this is a sectarian conflict in Bahrain. The ruling elite just happens to be Sunnis and the protesters happen to be Shias.

But the Shia rebellion -- they're not rebelling against the ruling authorities because they're Sunnis. They're rebelling against the Sunni authorities because they're unaccountable, their unconstitutional rule, and that's the basis of protest. But nevertheless, there's a sort of Saudi narrative coming about that I think many people are unfortunately buying into.

It is very -- what happened in Egypt and Saudi -- and in Bahrain are important for two very different reasons. What is happening in Egypt is very important because if it is successful, it is the military transferring power to an elected civilian government, and that establishes a precedent, given Egypt's importance in defining the political landscape of the Middle East.

What is happening in Bahrain is equally important, because if this is a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, which is what the protesters were asking for before the Saudi intervention and Bahraini resistance, their government's resistance, is essentially we move beyond sectarian politics of the Middle East, and we finally establish the fact that you can have Sunni and Shia representation in governments that are accountable to both religious sects. And perhaps the basis of governing in Bahrain and elsewhere will become citizenship and not some sectarian identities. So they -- both very important, and we should be pressing the Saudis to remove their forces. We should be pressuring, to the extent that we can, the Bahraini government to essentially resume dialogue with the protesters and move toward constitutional monarchy.

And the question and the concern that I have is whether our intervention and entanglement in Libya detracts us from making those particular political pressures at a time when we may think we need the -- sort of the support of the Saudi rulers or the Egyptian military and others.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Fernand Echenberg (sp) from the Global Newspaper.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, hi. I'd like to ask a question, a more general question: that I've seen some debates in the media concerning Obama's doctrine that -- I'd like to know how do you see this, this Obama's doctrine, how this conflict or this military intervention -- (inaudible) -- then this doctrine, if there is one? And also, what do you think about this -- the critics inside the States about this intervention, that it is -- that Obama could -- should have asked the Congress or should -- about the high costs of this intervention?

MR. TAKEYH: I could --

MR. BOOT: Well, I --

MR. TAKEYH: Please go ahead.

MR. BOOT: OK. Well, I certainly don't see any Obama doctrine. If there is one, I think it would take a wiser analyst than me to detect it, because instead what I see is the president frantically reacting to the press of events and being pulled hither and yon by different factions with his -- in -- within his administration, which is understandable, because what's happening in the Middle East is unprecedented right now, this massive people-power protest that's toppling regimes and threatening others.

And you know, there's a tendency in the region to ascribe tremendous power to the United States and to say that we're in control of everything, but in fact we're usually behind the curve in this case. And I think, you know, you saw in the case of Egypt where, you know, Obama didn't know how to respond, and at first he was sort of supportive of Mubarak, but then he (decided ?) no, Mubarak his time has gone, and at that point Mubarak was toppled. But I don't think Mubarak was toppled because of what Obama said. It was simply the pressure of events in the street.

And likewise, you see in the case of Libya where there have been calls for several weeks for a no-fly zone, and if Obama had heeded those calls earlier, I think we could have had a smaller-scale intervention because the rebels were stronger a few weeks ago, but now he waited until the last moment, which in some ways is understandable because, you know, he doesn't want to rush into the use of military force. But essentially, you know, he only decided to act when Gadhafi was on the verge of taking Benghazi and he was threatening to slaughter everybody inside. And so Obama was driven to intervene because of the humanitarian imperative to save lives.

But you know, it's not clear, as we've discussed before, whether he is also willing to use force to try to topple Gadhafi, which is something he's talked about as being a -- an outcome he would like to see, but not necessarily one that he's going to enforce.

And then meanwhile, we're dealing with the situation in Bahrain that Ray talked about where it's a very difficult situation for us because Obama has talked about the need to have a negotiated outcome, but the Saudis and the Bahraini royal family are interested in using force. And of course, Bahrain is an important base for us. It's an area where we're afraid of destabilization. We have a somewhat similar although also somewhat different set of concerns in Yemen.

So I think they're really dealing with this on a case-by-case basis, and I just don't see any kind of comprehensive approach that could possibly be labeled an Obama doctrine.

TAKEYH: I think prior to the imposition of the no-fly zone in Libya earlier, there was an attempt -- the president was going to give a speech to lay out his strategic vision. I don't know if that would be a doctrine, but he would lay out how he views the relationship between the United States and the changing political landscape in the Middle East. I don't know where that speech stands in light of the events in Libya, or how it's being modified in light of those particular events. So there's some attempt to offer what was once called "the vision thing."

I think it's very important, the second part of your question, the sort of consultation with Congress and the representatives of the American people. I realize that this was a military intervention that came about rapidly, given the events on the ground and the threats that were being made in terms of Colonel Gadhafi's forces moving into Libya and -- I apologize, into Benghazi -- and there had to be some rapid decision. But, you know, it would have been nice for the president to have called in the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee and the House counterparts of those, at the time when he was making calls to other leaders in order to get their support, international leaders.

It is obviously not too late. I think Congress has to have something to say about this, as the representatives of the American people, the House of Representatives and the Senate. And this is one of the problems, is when you're getting into the conflicts where the objectives are somewhat nebulous, the exit strategy is not obvious, you do have to have some sort of a fortified public opinion and congressional opinion on your side. Because as things become complicated, as they sometimes inevitably do, you need to rely on that support before, as opposed to trying to forge it in the aftermath of a decision that's been made. So I think they do have some work to do in terms of repairing congressional relations with both Democratic representatives as well as the Republican minority in the Senate and majority in the House.

BOOT: You know, and just to follow up on what Ray just said, I mean, everything that Obama has been -- has been saying for the last week is basically intended to minimize the intervention, saying: We're not going to do very much; the Europeans are going to do most of it; it's only going to be a no-fly zone; we're not planning to topple Gadhafi, et cetera, et cetera. And so he is not really preparing the American people for the possibility that this could be a quite protracted and costly conflict.

And, you know, I think he needs to do more to level with the public about some of the potential risks involved of what we're doing because, you know, knock on wood, hopefully, everything will go great, Gadhafi will be gone and Libya will be stable; but, you know, there are a lot of other possible scenarios I could unfold and, you know, we should not be -- the public and the administration should not be going into this with rose-colored blinkers on.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Trudy Rubin, from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

QUESTIONER: Max, I would just like to continue from where we left off, because I'm really trying to grasp what this would take logistically. You were saying there's credible rumors that Egypt is -- under the table, so to speak, under the sand -- bringing weapons across. I don't know if that's true or not. But as you said later, the Libyan army has heavy weaponry. In order for the rebels to win, would there have to be open delivery of credible heavy weaponry to them, so they could counter the Libyan forces?

And would it take much more than a handful of U.S. special forces? And I mean, if the Europeans don't want to go along with this -- I've talked to French who say, oh, no. Well, then what? Should it just be us alone, if nobody else wants to come, and even if it's denounced at the U.N. and by the Arab League?

BOOT: Well, you know, I'm with Ray in suggesting that we should not be paralyzed by the opinion of the Arab League, which is hardly representative of the Arab people and tends to swing back and forth, as we've seen with Amr Musa, first supporting the coalition, and then saying, oh, no, this isn't really what I meant, and so on and so forth. I think it's imperative that we -- as I suggested before, to get rid of Gadhafi. And if we can do that without, you know, providing more aid to the rebels, that would be great. If there's a palace coup, that's great. But again, I wouldn't necessarily count on it.

In terms of what the rebels actually need, you know, I don't think they need tanks. They don't need to match up one-to-one with the Libyan military. But they may very well need antitank missiles, so they can negate some of the threat from Gadhafi's tanks, especially in an urban area where it would be very hard to hit them from the air.

But I think most -- mostly what they need is just a little bit of greater cohesion, some training and some liaison with the NATO air forces, because the key thing is to be able to call in close air support, which is a very, very potent tool, as we've seen in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. If you have people on the ground spotting where the air strikes ought to go, that vastly enhances the capabilities of even a fairly modest military force.

So I think we need to have that kind of cooperation. And, you know, whether that's going to cause a fracture with our allies, I have no idea. I mean, we already have a fracture with our allies. They can't even agree on what the command-and-control relationship ought to be. But as a starting step, I think we ought to be clear in our own minds about what we need, and then we can deal with our allies and see what their reaction is.

But until we have a clear strategic idea that we're pursuing, we're not going to get agreement on anything.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Diana Molineaux from Radio Marti.

QUESTIONER: Yes, good afternoon -- good morning. I am wanted -- I wanted to -- (just actually ?) you just spoke about this right now, about the lack of cohesion and the disagreement among the NATO partners. And how bad can this become if it is more of a force on the ground in whichever capacity?

TAKEYH: I can try. My suspicion is that if this is a protracted conflict, you're likely to see some greater divisions. I mean, you already had Germany abstaining from the U.N. resolution. The Italians are going to be complaining more because they get a substantial amount of their fuel from Libya. My -- and just the European Union as such is a fractious body at any rate. So I suspect there'll be more fissures within it, unless there's some sort of a structure and objectives established right now -- some sort of command structure, some sort of clearly identified objectives that everyone can buy into.

And, obviously, they may be compromise objectives, but nevertheless, once those guidelines and guideposts and structures are set, then perhaps if this conflict endures, then you have a greater degree of cohesion. But inevitably, as you saw in the Gulf War with the French, who were the first ones to actually leave the no-fly zone that United States, Britain and France imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime in the aftermath of the '91 war. So I suspect some of these can come about; that's why establishing some sort of objectives and structures is more relevant today than it was in the past.

OPERATOR: Thank you. (Gives queueing instructions.) Our next question comes from Nicole Gotti (ph) from Bloomberg News.

QUESTIONER: Hi. That's Nicole Gaouette.

My question was actually asked by the Toronto Star, but while I am on the phone, I wanted to ask Max why he is so certain that there aren't special forces on the ground, either U.S. or British. Does he know that for sure?

BOOT: No, of course not. I'm not certain at all. I hope that there are. I hope that there are CIA folks on the ground. I would -- you know, I hope that's what we're doing, but if we're not, we ought to be doing it. That's -- you know, that's all I'm saying.

QUESTIONER: OK. Just wanted to --

BOOT: There certainly have not been reports -- I mean, normally, that kind of thing is not that easy to keep quiet, and so normally I would expect -- like any secret operation of the U.S. government, I would expect it to appear on the front page of The New York Times, and maybe it's only a couple of days.

QUESTIONER: So early, though?

BOOT: What?


BOOT: Well, yeah. Things -- I mean, the U.S. government, as you may have noticed, is not the greatest instrument for keeping secrets in the world. I mean, pretty much everything leaks out, usually pretty fast, and I haven't seen those leaks. And you know, I'm not saying it's not happening. I would -- I would be very surprised if there weren't CIA folks on the ground and talking with the rebels, but I think we need probably a little bit more of a presence to beef up their capacity.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Thank you.

BOOT: And I -- by the way, I mean, one of the things that concerns me is that a couple days ago General Ham, who's the head of Africa Command, who's running the operation for the time being, said, you know, we are not coordinating airstrikes with the rebels. Again, I don't know if that's true or not, but if it's true, it's a cause for concern because to my mind, we ought to be coordinating airstrikes with the rebels. And my question is, if we're not coordinating with them, why not?

And I think that's -- you know, if we're not, then we're hewing to this very narrow definition of what our mandate is, which is to try to create a cease-fire. But as I've been suggesting before, a cease-fire is not going to be durable. And as long as Gadhafi remains in power, the crisis will go on and on and on. And so, you know, if the best way to get him out of power is to coordinate airstrikes with the rebels, I say let's go for it.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Wadsley Socks (ph) from People's Freedom (sp).

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Thank you for doing this. My question is to Max Boot.

Obviously, the Obama administration would be much more comfortable with playing a supporting or secondary role in this, not just being in the forefront of setting the agenda. If that is the case, how big -- how significant a shift this is, in your view, in terms of American foreign policy in general -- historically, not just compared to the Bush administration? Thank you.

BOOT: When you say is this a shift in -- you're saying Obama trying to keep the U.S. in the background, you're asking if that's a shift?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. I mean, what's the significance of this position of the U.S. government historically in terms of U.S. foreign policy? I mean, this is -- the contrast is obviously big compared to the Bush administration, but I'm just wondering how that, you know, works out historically?

BOOT: Well, you know, I'm not -- I'm not sure this is a big historic shift. I mean, clearly, Obama, you know, feels very uncomfortable with, quote/unquote, "unilateral" displays of American power. But you know, every president tries to involve as large a coalition as possible so as to reduce the burden on us. I mean, even in Iraq, we had a lot of nations with us, at least initially. Certainly in Afghanistan we've had a lot of nations supporting us.

You know, Obama has made a big show out of trying to put the U.S. into the -- into the background and saying, oh, we're not going to be doing that much, our allies will be doing most of it. So far, that has not been the case. In fact, so far, we've done almost all of it. I mean, I think, you know, on the first night of operations, there were something like 120 Tomahawks launched from U.S. ships and like two from a British submarine. So, you know, certainly in the early days of the operation, it's been very much an American show.

And now they're talking about how we're going to try to step into the background and let the allies carry more of the burden, which is fine; I don't have a problem with that. I mean, I'm -- you know, the more that other nations can do, the better for the United States. But, you know, I don't think we can abdicate leadership here just because everybody knows we're the top dog here. We're the one that has the country with, by far, the most military capacity.

And so if something is going to get done, we're going to have to be in the lead. And we saw that simply with the authorization at the U.N. where, you know, Sarkozy, for example, was way out front in talking about the need to intervene, but it didn't happen until last week when Obama said, OK, now we're on board. Let's go to the U.N. and get the Security Council resolution. And lo and behold, we did get the resolution, for which I give him a lot of credit.

But again, he can try to be, you know, humble and try to put the U.S. in the background as much as possible, but the reality is we are the number one power in the world and, you know -- so we're going to have the biggest say in terms of what happens no matter how Obama tries to camouflage it.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Alex Kingsbury from U.S. News and World Report.

JEROME: I'd just like to interject, sir, that this will probably be our last question. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Given that it's the last question, I'll kind of do a quick two-parter.

Do we have a clear enough sense of who the rebels are, what their intentions are and does our support -- should it be more contingent on some identity of this opposition force, for one? And, two, there are some reports that the British, in particular, are putting heavy pressure on Gadhafi's loyalists in the army to defect, and I wonder if that's sort of a legitimate strategy, encouraging those defections, going forward?

JEROME: Ray, do you want to take that?

TAKEYH: Sure. I mean, we have some idea of the -- sort of association in Benghazi; you know, there -- some of them are representatives of the old order.

You know, they're jurists, they're doctors, and -- but in terms of the composition of the political authority that is going to emerge or likely to emerge, I'm not sure if we have a clear idea. It would have been nice if that had been something that we were informed by or tried to do so, but this is a fairly hazy situation and Libyan politics have always been very ambiguous to us anyways.

I think the second part of your question was the British attempt to get military allies of Colonel Gadhafi to defect. I hope that's everybody's objective, in terms of kind of hollowing out Colonel Gadhafi -- the remnants of Colonel Gadhafi's regime and perhaps leading to his collapse or even to some sort of a departure of Gadhafi to Zimbabwe or what have you. So I'm not quite sure if that's -- if that's something just the British are doing. I was hoping -- I hope that that's what everybody's trying to do, in terms of trying to denote to those who continue to support Colonel Gadhafi that this is a losing proposition.

To some extent, that's more difficult to do, given the sort of a statement that has come about, signaled by the head of national intelligence in the U.S, saying this regime is going to survive and what have you. But nevertheless, I think it's perhaps something that we should concentrate on more closely. It'd be an easier way of trying to deal with the situation.

JEROME: OK. Before we hang up, I want to thank everyone for calling in. And of course, many thanks to Max Boot and Ray Takeyh. And I'd also like to remind everyone that if you're looking for more information on Libya, you might want to check out the council's website,

Again, many thanks. Bye.











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