Comments Roundup: Libya Intervention

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Smoke billows after a Libyan jet bomber crashed after being shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as Libya's rebel stronghold came under attack (PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty)

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, callers give us their opinions on the U.S. intervention in Libya, and Politico’s White House reporter Glenn Thrush pitches in on the action.

It’s been five days since the United States sent planes into Libya to protect civilians from military attack under Libyan Dictator Muammar Gadhafi. So far opinion on the action, while divided, seems to fall into six major camps, which can be summed up thus:

  • Neo-cons: It’s America’s place to lead the world to democracy, by force if necessary.
  • Conventional conservatives: War is only appropriate if there is a direct threat to United States
  • Liberal Interventionists: We have a responsibility to protect people if a slaughter is under way.  National sovereignty is suspended if a dictator is attacking  his own people
  • Liberal opponents to war: The United States throws around its military power too easily
  • Libertarian Isolationists: We need a limited government unless we are really under direct attack.

Thrush said this is an unusually popular war among the left for complicated reasons. 

This is a different sort of intervention; this is much more in the line of what Democrats have been calling upon for interventions in the post-war era. There’s a real precedent of humanitarian interventionism on the part of the progressive Democrats. This really even attracts some of the people who were opposed to the Iraq war.

Much of the anger coming from the left about the move to war is due to a feeling that there was not enough discussion about the decision prior to the engagement. 

I think the largest camp here, I would describe as the congressional opportunists camp, in which you had a lot of hill Republicans in the last three weeks bashing the White House pretty intensely for moving really slowly, and when the President outstripped them, moving beyond the no-fly zone into this sort of fuzzy idea of a no-drive zone they’ve had to sort of switch their attacks and their now hitting him for having responded too late, [etc.]

He jokingly referred to Newt Gingrich’s changing political position — from vehemently condemning the president for not taking action, to condemning the president for taking action — as political “Kama Sutra. Lots of positions here.”

A caller from Monticello opposes the US involvement in the war, calling it a territorial expansion. 

It seems to me more like a capitalist agenda… and it looks like as long as the revolutionary sweeps are continuing to brew throughout middle east, that gives America an advantage to go ahead and step in and reshape these governments the way that they want, and put the people in that they want, so they can always have their hands in the pot for the resources.

A different caller from Putnam county finds it ironic that a country with partisan politics as divisive and as angry as the United States presumes the role of promoting democracy elsewhere, yet said he was totally for the intervention. 

As a matter of fact I was praying for Obama to step up and show the character that he has.

A listener from Manhattan said he’s not sure if he’s for or against the action, but he’s disappointed the president hasn’t spoken more in public about the decision. 

He hasn’t said to the American people what we’re doing! I’m a big fan of President Obama but I feel left in the lurch here that the country’s gone to war and no one has told us in any way that we can either agree with or disagree with or learn from, why, what’s happening [and] what the possible outcome might be.

Thrush said a lot of people feel that way. 

As late as last night, senior administration officials were asked point blank about this. Will he give some sort of oval office address… and the answer was no, which I have to say is quite surprising. I think the answer that the president wants to give on this is not one that explains the policy in the context of a larger doctrine, or of larger goals, but in terms of expedience. The real reason we did this was to stop the pro- Gadhafi forces from taking over Benghazi… the initiative for moving ahead quickly was that Gadhafi was going to consolidate his power in the entire country, and this was a hail-Mary pass to stop him from doing so.

Thrush said in that regard the administration really can’t provide much explanation. The U.S. is in a tough spot because, as command and control of the mission, there is no one immediately ready for them to now hand-off control to. 

It’s sort of like we’re in a position where we have rented a car, and we want to drop it off, but there’s nobody at the desk to take the keys or contract, so we’re driving this thing around in the hopes that the French will rescue us. 

It’s difficult to try to describe Obama’s intellectual framework for making this move, whether it is to show U.S. leadership, or to protect U.S. interests. Thrush said many different pieces identify different Obama doctrines. 

I think the most coherent strand in it, and you’ve heard it in the president’s public pronouncements over the last week as well, is that we can do what we can do, and we should not be taking on every single crisis in the world. There needs to be sort of a pragmatic checklist for action, and his point is that this checklist was met for Libya but not for Bahrain or Yemen.

A caller from Kearny is more conflicted. While he agreed there is a responsibility to protect, he wondered where that willingness to protect was during the genocide in Darfur.

I think basically this is centered around some ethnic situations, but more so financially [based].

A listener in Fort Lee disagrees with war in general. 

We have to take a very large picture of it and the European interests should be taking care of what’s going on in Libya and not us…. We should not be there.

A caller from Manhattan, who lived in Libya, was for the intervention of the United States because it might head off a future Libyan Civil war, yet wondered why the U.S. didn’t simply assassinate Gaddafi. 

It is important for the new government that is going to happen... to clearly say that whoever used to follow Gadhafi will be forgiven, because we know a lot of people belong to Gadhafi, and they’re very faithful to Gadhafi. So later on, if he gets killed, they know they are going to get killed. So they are going to start fighting and that’s going to cause a civil war. So my opinion is it is really important, yes, to get rid of him, but meanwhile get a government that represents the whole country.

Thrush said while of course, no one knows what is going to happen, the intervention and the freezing of Gadhafi’s assets may be effective. 

They think that if they corner [Gadhafi], and they’re able to bolster the rebels, that this is a long-term sustainable endgame. Of course we saw similar strategies in Afghanistan and we know how that turned out.


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Comments [30]

Harrison Bergeron from Fair Lawn NJ

"The world's policeman".

Do you remember that statement by George Herbert Walker Bush? After the fall of the Soviet Union, we were casting around for something meaningfull to do with our military. In retrospect -- it might not have been such a good idea.

Mar. 25 2011 02:39 PM
MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill

Gary from Queens,

Are you saying that only after millions of bodies have been piled into ovens, or the Mediterranean turns red from the blood of Libyans, should intervention take place? This country spends trillions of dollars per year on the military. Isn't it best that we and the rest of the world use strength to establish a threshold, and to send the message to deprave leaders like Ghaddafi, that unjustified violence against peaceful demonstrating citizens have consequences, beyond meaningless embargoes? Or must there always be holocaust like destruction before the world stirs to react? I am sure you would have a different attitude if you were wearing the shoe of a Libyan opposition member.

Mar. 24 2011 12:32 PM

Citizens can not suit public official but with WNYC help they can be held to a high standard, by exposing partisanship or stupidity while in office. Chris Cox and Michael Brown come to mind but scientist and political appointed bureaucrats during the Bush years should be highlighted. How about a hour show on where are they now and why? Let’s not forget a blunder of the Obama administration such as the NYC fly over, the director of the White House military office, Louis Caldera, took the blame and resigned.

Mar. 24 2011 12:05 PM
gary from queens

Dear MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill:

There had been genuine genocide going on in Nazi Germany and in Rwanda.

In Libya, from the beginning, there had been armed insurrectionists---most being anti semitic jihadists. The towns where most young people picked up arms to support the insurrection in iraq---against the Coalition forces.

The numbers killed doesn't even approach "genocide" numbers, even if it were the government killing peaceful protestors.

Instead, we intervened on a threat---in which Qaddafi promised to capture or kill every citizen who had tried to topple his government.

Hardly a selfless mission of mercy on our part, huh?

Mar. 24 2011 11:57 AM
Carl from CT from Stamford, CT

The discussion I think our invention should bring up is what is, or if there is a responsibility, some might say a moral responsibility, for the US and the EU who say they support HUMAN RIGHTS and DEMOCRACY to actually DO SOMETHING when those rights are clearly being threatened by some pretty miserable people. Frankly, I think it is a very, very complicated question, but one that we in the West (especially Americans) have to develop a view on. We depend on shows like yours to help us develop that understanding. As entertaining as your "ïnfornmation colonialism" and ""capitalist plot" callers were, I hope to hear more intelligent comments on this topic somewhere on WNYC or NPR very soon.

Mar. 24 2011 11:50 AM
MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill

There is good reason why atrocities in places like Congo and Sudan have been able to take place in modern times. One would think that people in the US would find it in the interest of this country to support military action for humanitarian reasons. But, clearly savings lives in being proven to not be as important as war for the sake of showing American might and ensuring the flow of oil. Remember that the US stayed out of WWII even though it was well aware of Hitler's atrocities. Obama and world was right to take the action they have in Libya, and would equally be right to do the same in Zimbabwe, Congo, and any other place where peoples desire for peaceful democratic change is being suppressed violently.

Mar. 24 2011 11:42 AM
gary from queens

Your guest is WRONG. It it precisely because this intervention is not in out vital interest or defense that obama seek Congressional support and advice. Instead, he obtained that from those he doesnt represent nor obtain his funding----the UN and the antisemitic Arab League!

And it's clear to everyone now that we are fighting alongside Jihadists and Al Qaeda, who are seeking to topple Qaddafi.

How could any loyal American feel good about that?!

Oh, wait. Perhaps obama isn't one?

Mar. 24 2011 11:36 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Just to be clear, by "small country" I mean population wise. Also, the hysterical reaction around this whole intervention is really amusing, this IS NOT another Iraq or Afghanistan, this is a big winner for Obama to trumpet during the election run-up, trust me on that, Obama is no fool and Qaddafi is a sweet trophy to have in the case when they start bashing him over the head about his "leadership" and "defense" credentials.

Mar. 24 2011 11:36 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Despite Washington's famous "Farewell Address" that implored America not to engage in "foreign entanglements," we have been intervening in overseas adventures and conflicts since 1801, from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli. And each and every time, there has been some justification or pretext for our involvement.

The creation of the UN was supposed to regulate and be the body that authorizes or condemns such incursions by states into the territories of other states, but like all organizations, it is politicized and mostly gives lip service to those who have the most votes or power.

I'm afraid there are no hard and fast rules. Each case will always be judged on its own merits. And we cannot say we will always stay out of foreign entanglements, because we know that just is never going to happen as long as we have the power to do so.

Mar. 24 2011 11:33 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

The goal is OBVIOUSLY regime change, can't anyone read between the lines? Qaddafi will be dead by coup/exile or assassination within the year. First step was neutralizing his offensive military power, now we squeeze him until he and his sons are gone or dead, then there will be a new "unification" government whereby Tripoli and Cyreneica are reconciled. Libya is a small country and has little military tradition, it won't take long for Qaddafi's loyalist troops to fold, trust me on that. The Chadeans beat them badly, mostly with RPG's and technicals! Just give it time.

Mar. 24 2011 11:32 AM

Why was my comment on the lack of proper call-screening removed?

Mar. 24 2011 11:31 AM
dbklyn from bklyn

the usa should not be involved in libya. it will only make us more unpopular - it's lose-lose for usa. let UK, France, Italy, Germany start to pull their own weight in resolving world issues. They like to talk but then they run for the hills at the first sign of real cost (be it blood or treasure). Let them deal with libya, usa would be better off working with mexico to help resolve issues in our own backyard.

Mar. 24 2011 11:30 AM
Karl Marques

I love this guy! He's right. You have to forgive the party that used to be in power. Otherwise you have the same situation as when the U.S. disenfranchised all the Sunnis in Iraq.

Mar. 24 2011 11:29 AM
Katie Kennedy from Huntington, NY

I am against this war, but less against it than I was for Iraq. Democracy must come from the people in the country, not other countries desiring a regime change. The problem here is that although the people started the revolt, Gaddafi is overpowering them and committing atrocities. The fact that we are helping in a UN effort, but letting others take the lead makes it more palatable. I am soooo disappointed that President Obama didn't go to Congress (imagine that!) and hasn't spoken to the American people; everyday he is a little more tarnished than the day before.

Mar. 24 2011 11:28 AM

Brian the Corporations are playing us. Where was the no fly zone when Israeli jets and tanks devastated Gaza in 2009? and Darfur for the last decade? We needlessly go to war when oil is involved. I agree with R. Paul on this issue only.

Mar. 24 2011 11:28 AM
john from Office

Brain, please screen these calls. The segment is terrible. I dont want to hear from would be professors.

"information colonialism"


Mar. 24 2011 11:27 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Is taking a side and giving aid in a foreign civil war or uprising the same as starting a "war"?

Mar. 24 2011 11:19 AM
Maria K.

The President was right not to get out in front of this war. He can't give the impression that America is invading yet another Arab country. He needs to force the world to accept that fact that America is just one player in an international effort.

Mar. 24 2011 11:19 AM
john from office

I hate these segments. The ignorance out there is incredible. The first caller was a prime example.

"Capitalist War"

Big words, no undeerstanding of their meaning.

Mar. 24 2011 11:18 AM
Yusuf from Queens

I wouldn't be surprised if America's motives aren't completely pure and disinterested, but, like Jon Stewart said, if Gaddafi dips into his Strategic Crazy Reserve a lot of women and children are going to die. He's proven his genocidal tendancies before.

Mar. 24 2011 11:17 AM
RJ from prospect hts.

I'm ambivalent, but I'm still stunned that the 5.4 million deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with thousands still being killed every month since the supposed end of the war in 1998, is basically still, still, still ignored. NYC would be covered with memorials if we had the same number per 3,000 as died in 9/11 if we had a comparable number.

Mar. 24 2011 11:17 AM
Michael from Carroll Gardens


You incorrectly identified Ron Paul as a "isolationist." It is well known that he is NOT an 'isolationist." he is a "non-interventionist."

There is a HUGE difference. I trust you understand the difference, and will correct your error on the air. When the media makes a factual mistake, they really should correct it.

Thank you.

Mar. 24 2011 11:16 AM
Eileen from Bronx

I think there is another camp, beyond what Brian delineated: the "I'm not sure if it is a good idea, but if we are so damn broke, I am certain we can't afford it" camp.

Mar. 24 2011 11:15 AM
Bob from Queens

At some point, we have to concede that the type of leadership you find in different countries in some ways reflects their national character. Maybe there's a reason some countries have autocratic regimes. We tried to impose "democracy" on Iraq. And what has that achieved?

Mar. 24 2011 11:15 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

In theory it would be nice to help others who needed our help. In practice, I think it's important for us to admit that we rarely leave a country better than it was before we "helped" them out. I fear we are just too ignorant as a nation, both of the countries that we "help" and of our own abilities, to be of much use to others. Considering what a mess our own country is these days, it seems fairly absurd to think we somehow know what's best for others. Perhaps if we weren't in two useless wars for purely political rather than humanitarian reasons, I would be more open to us helping out the Libyans. Nevertheless, the reality is that when it comes to money - we never have it for our own people (unless they're Wall Street bankers) but somehow we are always able to find money to bomb people.

Of course there's also the issue that the Middle East as it stands now is mainly the result of horrible politicking on the part of the US, Israel and before that, Britain. But it's considered impolite to discuss that here in the States.

Mar. 24 2011 11:14 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

Why not intervene in Saudia Arabia ?
The USA supports lots of Non Democratic Countries and it almost always comes down to OIL .
As far as Human Rights issues the USA is not part of the International Criminal Court, for reasons that are never talked about, like killing civilians......

Mar. 24 2011 11:14 AM
Michael J. Flood from Rockaway

Europe can’t throw a war?

European oil interests European war.

They need the U.S. to curate the party.

The new CCC U.S. Army.

Mar. 24 2011 11:12 AM
Greg from Manhattan

I think it's too much at this point. Haven't we learned our lesson? It's too much of a coincedence that we have protected certain countries, and ignored others that needed our help. We have enough on our plate.

Mar. 24 2011 11:09 AM

Yes - for it. Even though I'm somebody who considers the NY Times too conservative.

I wish the intervention happened earlier, but understand the need to get the (however shaky) Arab League involved.

File me under "responsiblity to protect."

Mar. 24 2011 11:09 AM
Coach Rich from Murray Hill

I was one of those who was frustrated that it took us so long...I was and am against the Iraq war and believe that Afghanistan is as foolhardy as a country can get after the lengthy history of interventions there. However, I am also ashamed of how we watched Rwanda and took our time in the Balkans. I believe we do have a moral responsibility as the one who has the ability to help and that we should do so, but that we should NOT stay anywhere. And if we were not bogged down in two extremely expensive and foolish wars we could do more by way of helpful, short-lived interventions. I am proud we are helping, no matter what shape Libya takes. That is up to the people there. The hypocrites here who want to believe we are the righteous white hats without doing anything to demonstrate our world leadership need to learn
that you have to walk your talk. And I couldn't care less what John Boehner et al. have to say. Real leaders have a moral compass and i am glad our President re-located his GPS.

Mar. 24 2011 10:38 AM

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