(UPDATED: From today’s Wall Street Journal and shared with FBN by John McCain.)
President Obama made a compelling case for our intervention in Libya on Monday evening, and U.S. actions there deserve bipartisan support in Congress. As the president rightly noted, failure to intervene militarily would have resulted in a humanitarian and strategic disaster. Because of our actions, the Gadhafi regime has been prevented from brutally crushing its opposition.
The president was also correct in framing what is happening in Libya within the broader context of the democratic awakening that is sweeping across the broader Middle East—the most consequential geopolitical realignment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
If Gadhafi is allowed to hang onto power through the use of indiscriminate violence, it will send a message to dictators throughout the region and beyond that the way to respond, when people rise up peacefully and demand their rights, is through repression and slaughter—and that the rest of the world, including the U.S., won’t stand in the way.
What is needed now is not a backward-looking debate about what the administration could or should have done differently, but a forward-looking strategy that identifies America’s national interests in Libya and works to achieve them.
As President Obama has rightly and repeatedly insisted, a successful outcome in Libya requires the departure of Gadhafi as quickly as possible. It is not in our interest for Libya to become the scene of a protracted stalemate that will destabilize and inflame the region.
While both Arab leaders and public opinion are hostile towards Gadhafi personally—a fact that helps explain the Arab League’s unprecedented decision to support intervention in Libya—we are concerned that regional support will waver if Western forces are perceived as presiding over a military deadlock. We cannot allow Gadhafi to consolidate his grip over part of the country and settle in for the long haul.
There are several steps urgently needed to prevent this outcome. First, while we understand the diplomatic reasons behind the Obama administration’s reluctance to make Gadhafi’s removal an explicit goal of the coalition military mission, the reality on the ground is that our coalition’s air strikes against his forces must work toward this objective.
In the days ahead, it is imperative that we maintain and if necessary expand our air strikes against Gadhafi’s ground forces, which pose a threat to civilians wherever they are. In doing so, we can pave the way for the Libyan opposition to reverse Gadhafi’s offensive and to resume their quest to end his rule.
The battlefield reversals suffered by the opposition this week, when weather conditions hampered coalition air strikes, underscore the need for a more robust and coherent package of aid to the rebel ground forces.
The U.S. should also expand engagement with the Libyan opposition, led by the interim Transitional National Council currently based in Benghazi. We have been encouraged by the Obama administration’s growing rhetorical support for the opposition, but we hope to see more tangible manifestations of it in the days ahead.
In particular, we and our allies should be providing the council with the communications equipment, logistical support, training, tactical intelligence and weapons necessary to consolidate rule over the territory they have liberated and to continue tilting the balance of power against Gadhafi. We do not need to put U.S. forces on the ground precisely because the Libyans themselves are fighting for their freedom. But they need our help, and quickly, to succeed.
Another immediate priority should be getting humanitarian assistance into eastern Libya and restoring telecommunications access there, where Gadhafi has cut off land lines, mobile networks and the Internet. While top opposition leaders have satellite phones, we have both humanitarian and strategic interests in restoring the ability of people in liberated parts of Libya to communicate with each other and the rest of the world. We should also take steps to get Gadhafi’s satellite, television, and radio broadcasts off the air, while helping the opposition air its broadcasting.
Finally, we should follow France and Qatar in recognizing the Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya, and we should encourage other allies and partners to do the same.
Some critics still argue that we should be cautious about helping the Libyan opposition, warning that we do not know enough about them or that their victory could pave the way for an al Qaeda takeover. Both arguments are hollow. By all accounts, the Transitional National Council is led by moderates who have declared their vision for (as their website puts it) Libya becoming “a constitutional democratic civil state based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and the guarantee of equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens.”
If there is any hope for a decent government to emerge from the ashes of the Gadhafi dictatorship, this is it. Throwing our weight behind the transitional government is our best chance to prevent Libya’s unraveling into postwar anarchy—precisely the circumstance under which Islamist extremists are most likely to gain a foothold.
We cannot guarantee the success of the Libyan revolution, but we have prevented what was, barely a week ago, its imminent destruction. That is why the president was right to intervene. He now deserves our support as we and our coalition partners do all that is necessary to help the Libyan people secure a future of freedom.
Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut. Mr. McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona.
Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman discussed the U.S. role in Libya and the situation in the Middle East yesterday on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Flagstaff Business News obtained the transcript for readers who would like to see it.
CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now are two of the Senate’s leading authorities on foreign and defense policy: Senator John McCain, and in West Palm Beach, Senator Joe Lieberman. Let’s start with what Secretary Gates said on one of the other Sunday shows, Senator McCain. He says that he doesn’t think that Libya is a vital interest for the United States, but that we have a vital interest in that part of the world. Would you be sending American servicemen and women into harm’s way for something that was not a vital interest to the country?
SENATOR JOHN McCAIN: No, but, obviously, we could quibble over what the definition of “vital interests” are. We said after Srebrenica that we’d never, again after Rwanda, never again, after the Holocaust never again. The fact is that Gadhafi’s forces were on the outskirts of Benghazi. He said himself he would go house-to-house and kill and murder people. Thank God, at the 11th hour, with the no-fly zone, the quote, “no-fly zone,” we prevented that from happening. Now, clearly, the momentum has shifted dramatically and the initiative is in the hands of those who are – the second aspect of it, of course, is that if you had allowed Gadhafi to do that, as soon as the signal to the other leaders in the Middle East, dictators and not, it’s OK to massacre your own people to stay in power. And, finally, well, this is a moment of historic proportions. And this will give us a golden opportunity to help with democracy and freedom throughout the Arab world.
WALLACE: Let’s get to some of the nuts and – let’s get to some of the nuts and bolts questions, however. Senator McCain, NATO has taken command of all aspects of the Libyan operation, both the no-fly zone and also the civilian protection. Given the fact that the U.S. is already tied down in two wars in Muslim countries, in Iraq and Afghanistan, is President Obama right or wrong to turn over so much of the control of this operation to NATO, to Arab countries and European countries?
SEN. McCAIN: As long as the United States does what it always does and we actually lead. The assets – many of the assets that are there are uniquely held by the United States of America. But I just repeat again what Joe is saying. This really should be the focus of our attention right now. Some have compared it to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Some have compared it to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is historic times of enormous opportunity and proportions. And we should be doing whatever we can to not have brutal dictators remain in power without the commitment of U.S. ground troops in Libya or anyplace else.
WALLACE: Well, do you think because – supposedly we haven’t taken a side. I understand that it’s just protecting civilians. But, you know, now, apparently the rebels have taken Brega, they are headed on the way to Sirte, on the way to Tripoli. How much should the U.S. do to advance the rebel move on to the capital of Tripoli?
SEN. McCAIN: If three week ago, we would have imposed a no-fly zone, this thing would have been over then. It’s very clear that air power is a decisive factor in battlefields of this nature. We found that out in World War II. So, we should continue to make sure that the civilians are not harmed or massacred or killed by Gadhafi forces. The day the French aircraft flew over, the Libyans stopped flying. This policy has been characterized by confusion, indecision and delay. And it’s no wonder – the nature of your question – that Americans are confused to do exactly what our policy is because on one hand, it’s humanitarian. On the other hand, they say Gadhafi must go. The President, I hope, will clarify that in his speech on Monday night.
WALLACE: And would you like him to commit the U.S. to some role in toppling Gadhafi?
SEN. McCAIN: I would like to say – hear him say Gadhafi should be either with Hugo Chavez, with Hitler and Stalin or the International Criminal Court, and we should take actions to make sure that happens over time.
WALLACE: Let me switch to Yemen, though, Senator McCain, which is a little bit more complicated, because President Saleh has been helpful in the U.S. war on terror. And if he steps down, Al Qaeda, in Yemen, may take – not control of the country – but is going to have a kind of free vacuum that they can fill. And there are new reports that al Qaeda in Yemen is planning terrorist strikes. What do we do about Saleh and Yemen?
SEN. McCAIN: First of all, on Syria – let’s give some moral support to those people who are risking their very lives against this brutal regime. Every one of these countries is different. I’m very optimist that over time, Egypt and Tunisia can make transition to democracy. Yemen is entirely different. This is going to be a huge problem because it is basically a tribal society. As you know, cobble together the country by the British, and so it’s going to be very difficult in some of these countries. And frankly, I don’t know what we do about – I have to be honest. I don’t know what we do exactly about Yemen, except that, obviously, the President has to step down, as he has agreed to do so. It’s going to be very complicated and complex in that some of these countries that have never known a modicum of democracy, or even national unity. Egypt is the key. Do not take our attention off Egypt, the center of the Arab world.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) tonight made the following statement regarding the President’s speech on U.S. involvement in Libya:
“I welcome the President’s strong defense of our military action in Libya, and I appreciate that he explained why this intervention was both right and necessary in light of the unprecedented democratic awakening now sweeping the broader Middle East.
“Had we not acted in Libya, Benghazi would have become a scene of mass slaughter and a source of international shame. Libyan refugees would now be streaming into Egypt and Tunisia, destabilizing those critical countries during their already daunting political transitions. If we had allowed Qaddafi to slaughter Arabs and Muslims in Benghazi who were pleading for our rescue, America’s moral standing in the Middle East would have been devastated. The ideology of Al-Qaeda would have grown more appealing in Libya, not less, as violent radicals exploited the resulting chaos and hopelessness. The forces of counterrevolution across the region would have gotten the message that the world would tolerate the violent oppression of peaceful demonstrations for universal rights. This would have been a dramatic setback for the ‘Arab Spring,’ which represents the most consequential geopolitical opportunity in decades.
“I welcome the President’s clarity that the U.S. goal is for Qaddafi to leave power. But an equal amount of clarity is still required on how we will accomplish that goal. U.S. and coalition airpower has decisively reversed Qaddafi’s momentum, but the potential for a long and bloody stalemate is still far too high. That is not in America’s interest. As long as Qaddafi remains in power, he will increasingly pose a threat to the world, and civilians in Libya will not be fully secure. The United States and our allies must continue to take ‘all necessary measures’ to compel Qaddafi to leave power, as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1973. That means providing material support to opposition forces in Libya while continuing to target Qaddafi’s forces in the field. We are not neutral in the outcome of the fighting in Libya. We have chosen a side against Qaddafi, and now we must help the opposition succeed.
“The mission in Libya is going well, but we have not yet accomplished our goal. I am thankful for our many friends and allies, especially our Arab partners, that are contributing to the mission. However, that is not a substitute for U.S. leadership. If our goal in Libya is worth fighting for, and I believe it is, then the United States must remain strongly engaged to force Qaddafi to leave power.”