From Libya to Washington

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent for the New York Times, discussed what's on the Obama administration's mind today.

Warships, no-fly zones, and UN resolutions in the Middle East. Unions, collective bargaining and budget troubles around the US — there's a lot on President Obama's mind these days.

A CBS News Poll released on Tuesday reports a majority of Americans oppose efforts to limit collective bargaining for unions and are also against slashing pay and benefits to public workers in order to reduce state budget deficits. A quarter of those surveyed view labor unions unfavorably, but 42 percent said they hadn't heard enough about labor unions to have an opinion.

David Sanger said, he's not shocked anymore about what people don't know.

Always what's shocking in polls is when people admit what they haven't heard of. In the course of watching what's going on in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, all the other places in recent times, I've been astounded by the poll numbers of people who say they have only barely heard that there is something going on.

As for deficit woes, Sanger explained why it's something the states are shouldering as opposed to Wall Street.

Certainly there have been growing deficits and the effort to get out of the economic situation. The US has been in for the last two years has taken those deficits and put them on steroids. So now, suddenly we're trying to catch up with a deficit conversation that we probably, as a nation, should have been having much more seriously before the crash of '08 and '09...and it's fallen down to the states in time because once federal aid begins to dry up, it flows down to the troubles that the states have.

As for Libya, as discussions continue in the White House about what to do next, Sanger argued that the central question is whether NATO, the US or the UN can intervene when a country hasn't "committed an act of aggression" beyond its own borders. This is an issue that came up in Rwanda and Serbia, and we're seeing it again.

Sanger went on to say, there are two things that haven't gone wrong in Libya that could have.

The first is, we don't have a hostage crisis. That gives the president much more leeway now in deciding what to do...The second and far more important of that the Bush administration was successful in 2003 and 2004 in getting the nuclear weapons program stopped and shipped out of Libya and getting its chemical weapons destroyed...This was volunteered by Gadhafi as he was trying to win his way back into the good graces of Western countries...Can you imagine how much more complex the situation we're facing now, horrific as it may be, would be if Colonel Gadhafi could threaten the use of nuclear chemical weapons?