Obama issues ultimatum to Libya

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: As we heard earlier, President Obama made it clear today that the United States will not be deploying ground troops in Libya, and he said that the U.S. goal there is limited to protecting civilians in Libya. Beyond that, though, there are many options for what the United States and its allies could do. Anne-Marie Slaughter is a former advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She tells us that the international community cannot wait much longer to take action.

Anne-Marie Slaughter: I think we should be initiating attacks as soon as possible. This is in no small part about our own political credibility here. If he thinks that we don't really mean it and we're looking for some excuse not to have to use force, he will push that advantage as far as he can. We need to act as fast as we can.

Mullins: When you talk about losing credibility, is it not the case where we could lose credibility because we are going in where we are not necessarily welcome by everybody there, and certainly moving in against Arab nations in the past has gotten Washington and the international community into a lot of trouble.

Slaughter: Well, the first thing to note is the leaders of this no-fly zone are the French, the British, the Gutteries(???) â�" the people from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. So this does not look like any coalition anyone has seen before. I â�" and remember, the Arab League explicitly asked for a no-fly zone, as have the Libyan opposition, very clearly. And the young people across the region have been waiting for us to basically match our words with deeds. So this is a very different situation. Gaddafi has watched very carefully what the odds were against him. Early on, when he thought there was going to be a no-fly zone, he offered a negotiated departure. At that point the rebels were very flush and were not at all prepared to accept his terms. I think now, if we make clear that either he leaves in a negotiated solution or it's going to be a fight to the end and he will lose â�" that's really what we have to demonstrate right now.

Mullins: Are you making distinctions with Libya that perhaps would not be made with Yemen and Bahrain, both of whom have had governments that moved against their people quite violently?

Slaughter: This is really the trickiest part of this. On the one hand, every country is different and is going to have a different trajectory. On the other hand, the United States was in its strongest position when in Egypt our military worked very closely with the Egyptian military to urge them not to use force. And again, in Bahrain where the Bahraini government used force and we came in very strongly and urged them to pull back. That's the position we've been taking; that's the right position, because in the end you're talking about a movement that is animating 60 percent of these populations. It is like riding a hurricane. These governments are not going to be able to suppress it. There have to be negotiated solutions. And that was the position we were taking by delaying as long as we delayed on Libya. We made it harder for us to take that line, and in the meantime other governments were concluding, Well, wait a minute, force can be on the table.

Mullins: Let's say that the protest movement does win out; the rebels win out in Libya. How strong would their revolution be, if it's perceived, at least, as having come through the hands of the international community? Washington, whether or not it's in the lead, will be seen as first and foremost.

Slaughter: I think the way to assess that is to look at the Arab League. If those governments thought that calling for a no-fly zone was leaving them to â�" meant that they were siding with the West against the Libyan people, they wouldn't have done it. Their assessment of their own politics has changed. That this one is going to be seen, assuming we do not put boots on the ground, as our helping a Libyan opposition seeking an accountable and democratic government to at least level the playing field.

Mullins: Anne-Marie Slaughter, thank you very much.

Slaughter: Thank you.

Mullins: Anne-Marie Slaughter is a former advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There are opposing views on the practicality of international intervention in Libya. Barry Posen directs the Security Studies Program at MIT.

Barry Posen: My personal view is that this is a mistake. And the reason I think it is a mistake is because I think the United States has already been too activist in the Arab world. In general I don't think it's particularly advantageous for us to be seen as using military action against Arabs, even Arabs that some perceive as the bad Arabs or bad actors. So that's point 1: It's not clear to me that it's really in our interest. There's no obvious material interest here. The downside that the United States once again, you know, slippery slope, mission creep, etcetera, etcetera. You're going to find yourself in an internal political fight where neither side turns out to be particularly wonderful, and where you end up making somebody mad that you'd rather not have mad. And then the third reason I oppose it â�" I think that one of the problems in the Arab world is they feel like they are buffeted about by forces they do not control. And it seems to me that it's good for these Arab political movements that have suddenly emerged across the Arab world, have ownership of their revolution. That they should have ownership of the strategy, the tactics, the successes. But that also means ownership of the costs. So when the victory comes it will be their victory and not our victory.

Mullins: Is there any argument that you would make for intervention, then, anywhere right now, that's undergoing unrest in the Middle East?

Posen: No, I think quite the reverse. I think the United States should be lowering its profile across the Middle East.

Mullins: The international community as well.

Posen: At this point, all I want to say â�" you asked me about the United States, and I think the United States should be lowering its profile across the Arab world. And if there's one thing that looks kind of interesting about this no-fly zone idea in Libya, at least on the basis of very sketchy preliminary information, it appears that maybe the British and French together will lead this operation. And if you're going to have an operation like this, I would much prefer to have someone else lead it other than the United States.

Mullins: Barry Posen, director of the Security Studies Program at MIT. Very nice to talk to you. Thank you.

Posen: Nice speaking with you.