US intervention in Libya

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

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: Ryan Crocker has been the US Ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Kuwait. Mr. Ambassador, we've just heard BBC's Kevin Connolly in Benghazi say that Libyans do not want outside force to be used against Gaddafi. Some are even skeptical about the effectiveness of a no-fly zone. What do you think should be done?

RYAN CROCKER: I think we need to loosen very carefully [?] to the Libyans. You know Libya's history of foreign occupation. There are acute sensitivities there to the notion of military intervention however well intentioned. And boots on the ground I think is simply not a viable prospect. I do hope that further consideration will be given to a no-fly zone. It made a huge difference as you remember in protecting the Curds and the southern Shia. It does not involve armed forces actually on the ground, but it can neutralize what may be Gaddafi's most important weapon to murder his own people, his aircraft.

WERMAN: So describe how a no-fly zone would operate.

CROCKER: Well ideally it would be authorized by the United Nations. And I think we would structure it much as we did having the previous experience in Iraq. It would be simply saying, "You fly a military aircraft, we shoot."

WERMAN: So some international force would be up in the air 24/7, and if they see any of Gaddafi's planes they come down?

CROCKER: Exactly. And again we know how to do this. We've done it before.

WERMAN: Libyans also remember 1986, and there's that suspicion of foreign air power, especially American air power. What if a no-fly zone didn't work?

CROCKER: Well again this is all a matter of great uncertainty. I've just come back from Kuwait. I was there for the 20th anniversary of liberation. I had a chance to talk to a number of Arab leaders, all of whom want to see Gaddafi gone. And all of whom hoped he would have been by this point. But he has proven quite tenacious. The reality is we could face a situation in which he is able to retain power in Tripolitania while unable to reassert it in Fezzan and Cyrenaica, and you would have an effectively divided country. And we would have to deal with that.

WERMAN: That does take the US in a completely different direction if we were somehow involved in an international force. You've got US warships in the Mediterranean with their humanitarian mission. Then they become kind of assistance for an undetermined period of time to the rebels if Libya goes into sort of partition. That's sounds like a place that nobody really wants to be.

CROCKER: I think that's exactly right. What we do want to do is assist in any way we can the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi, to assist on a humanitarian level anyway we can those who've already stood against him. But we do not want to become directly involved in this. We have assistance teams on the ground in both Egypt and Tunisia from USAID, as does the United Nations, and other communities. But I think what we've got to do is avoid any direct involvement on the ground either or against Gaddafi, or in support of those who have stood against him.

WERMAN: Let's just go back to that no-fly zone quickly. I mean how do you think that would play in neighboring countries, where they've seen the popular uprisings in Egypt, in Tunisia, and now there's this Libyan uprising, which you know might not be able to go further without assistance from the outside. I mean that wouldn't be a good foot to start on for a new Libyan government, would it?

CROCKER: You do raise an important point. I think while we need to be actively considering and planning for such a step. We also need to be in very broad based consultations with Libyan oppositionists, those outside of Libya and any in Libya that we can reach about this issue. And we need to be in close consultation with Libya's Arab neighbors on the concept of the no-fly zone. It would need to be understood, and it would need to have broad support if it were to achieve its objective. The last thing we would want is a negative reaction either inside or outside of Libya that could have the unfortunate effect of strengthening rather than weakening Gaddafi. So consultation is key.

WERMAN: Ambassador Ryan Crocker is now the dean of Texas A&M University George Bush School of Government and Public Service. Thanks very much for your time.

CROCKER: Happy to do it.