March 7th, 2011

Sen. Lugar on Libya: I believe it’s a civil war

CNN’s John King spoke with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) about Libya and 2012. This interview aired tonight on John King, USA — 7pm ET. A full transcript and embeddable videos are after the jump.

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO: Sen. Lugar: ‘It’s a civil war’

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO:  Sen. Lugar readying for re-election



JOHN KING, HOST, “JOHN KING USA”:  As the bloodshed in Libya continues, there are more calls in Congress for the Obama White House to help the anti-Gadhafi forces.  There’s little appetite for any commitment of American ground forces, mind you.  But some in Congress suggest helping to arm and advise the opposition.

And the leading suggestion is to impose a no fly zone so that the Gadhafi regime cannot use its air force to attack the opposition. My next guest, however, warns that even a very limited U.S. military commitment at the outset could grow to something more troublesome and more costly both in lives and resources. Richard Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he joins us from Capitol Hill.

And, Senator, I want to start right there.  Our producer on Capitol Hill, Ted Barrett, talked to you several days ago.  And you said you did not think it was time to consider either a no fly zone or any sort of military action or arming the rebels. Have you changed your position at all?

SEN. RICAHRD LUGAR (R-IN):  No, I haven’t, but I’m listening carefully, obviously, to the president, to members of Congress.  I just have not yet heard, however, a very crucial discussion as to what is our objective; specifically, who it is that we want to help and in the ways that we might want to help them, do we harm them in terms of ruining their influence in a post-Gadhafi Libya?

Specifically, we know that the rebels, so-called, are people that are against Gadhafi and are trying to drive him out.  But it’s not really clear how unified they are and what kind of governance system, even roughly, they might have.  And furthermore, it’s not really clear who is fighting for Gadhafi.

A lot of the armed forces have deserted him and he always kept the armed forces very weak and — and kept, really, people that he was certain were loyal to him, including many mercenaries.

Now, it’s in that context that I appreciate the frustration the president faces and members of Congress, because the public says what are you going to do? There are people being shot at and killed, there’s a ruthless dictator there, why are you simply sitting there?

So as a result, lists of possibilities, including a no fly zone, perhaps increased sanctions, meetings with the NATO allies in terms of some broader alliance there. All of these things keep floating along to try to allay people who are saying that those in charge on our side have inactivity.

KING:  But as they float along, as the proposals float along — and the NATO defense ministers will meet on Thursday and they say they have an assessment in place of what a no fly zone would take, then they will debate whether to seek to go forward on that, many people would say, as the deliberations go on, as you noted, people are dying. At what point do the scales tip, sir?

LUGAR:  Well, people, unfortunately, are dying throughout the Middle East.  There are disruptions.  There are people rebelling against authority.  There are authorities killing people who are rebelling against authority.

Now, the basic question for the United States and/or for the United States as part of an alliance, is are we prepared to come in, take hold of the situation and say now we’re going to straighten this thing out, folks, we’re behind this group and democracy is our goal now and so forth?

We have been down that road before.  We are still working our way through that road in Iraq, even in the late stages, haven’t quite got there, certainly, in Afghanistan.  And the American people really have to understand at this point that if we are prepared for more war, for more conflict, for more American boots on the ground, that is a huge commitment.  And that requires, I believe, a declaration of war by the Congress of the United States, not an informal thought that somehow a no fly zone, with or without danger, might be imposed.

KING:  And so your point — and I’ve — do you think the president needs to do a better job explaining this to the American people, if it gets to this point, that — that even if we started with a no fly zone, hoping that that was as far as the United States and the NATO allies would have to go, that there’s no guarantee and that once you make that investment, you’d better be committed to going all the way, even if that ultimately leads to some sort of escalation?

LUGAR:  Precisely.  The fact is, a no fly zone doesn’t guarantee anything at all, except that a few aircraft that might be up there in the air might be shot down by our aircraft or our allies, we hope without casualties to Americans in the process.

But having said that, the — really, the ground action is where the people are being killed very swiftly.  After you’re certain the aircraft of Libya are gone — at least Moammar Gadhafi’s aircraft — then the hue and cry would be, but there are still people being killed, slaughtered, on the ground. What are you going to do about that?

KING:  Is there any place, in your mind, at any juncture, where U.S.  boots on the ground, NATO boots on the ground, would be necessary or is this a civil war — unfortunately bloody, but a civil war and the United States should stay out?

LUGAR:  I believe it’s a civil war and the United States should not intervene in a civil war.  Now, after the war is concluded, the United States and other nations will have to make determinations as to how we treat whoever the winners may be.  And at that point, the winners will want to have the independence of action, not be seen as shills of the United States or somebody else, because if they’re seen that way, then they’re going to be repudiated by others and we’ll be back into civil strife, either between sectarian groups or between tribes that we haven’t heard a great deal about in Libya.

KING:  And so when your chairman, Senator Kerry, says maybe we could at least crater the runways so that Gadhafi can’t fly his planes or Senator Lieberman says maybe we should think about arming those opposition forces, Senator Lugar says what?

LUGAR:  Well, that gives, I’m certain, my colleagues satisfaction that as humane individuals, they are attempting to stop the killing of other people on this earth by a person that we repudiate.

But I — I would say even though that is their wish and perhaps we could effect some saving of life, we are very likely, I think, to create conditions in which even more lives would be lost by a continuation of civil strife.

KING:  How much of this would be Dick Lugar’s position anyway?

Or how much of it is Senator Lugar’s position because this would be, as you noted, if military — if the United States intervenes using military force of any sort here, it would be the third time in 10 years the United States has done so in a Muslim country.  And it hasn’t always gone well.

LUGAR:  Well, I won’t take the final option.  I believe that we all do the very best we can in each of these conflicts.

At the same time, I do make the point that in this particular one — and it may not be the only one — we — we do not know the number of countries that still may have civil strife in which there are atrocities being committed and people’s lives being lost.

Now, at the same time, it seems to me that cautiously, we are trying to assist in Tunisia — not much heard about that these days or it’s shoved off the front page, and — and likewise cautiously with Egypt to try to bring about, perhaps, some economic assistance to people there.

Because we have to understand that throughout that entire area, there is a food crisis which is fundamental to the instability.  And that calls for a different kind of response altogether, including more production of food throughout this world and the ability to get it to people who are, in fact, in great need throughout the Middle East.

KING:  I want to close with a political question, Senator.  I haven’t had a chance to talk to you in quite some time.  In recent weeks, we have seen Senator Bingaman and Senator Akaka, on the Democratic side, say you know what, I’m going to call it quits and not run for reelection; Senator Ensign on the Republican side today.  You’re up in 2012.  And as you know all too well, Tea Party and other conservative forces are saying we’re going to primary Richard Lugar back home in Indiana.

Any second thoughts or are you in until the end in 2012?

LUGAR:  Oh, I am in until the end.  And I’m enthusiastic about a great campaign that our supporters, they’re waging, much more prematurely, than, perhaps, we would have anticipated.  But with fundraisers every week, with boots on the ground, literally, in Indiana, people who are out working the precincts.

KING:  Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, appreciate your insights tonight, sir.

LUGAR:  Thank you very much.

KING:  Thank you.