CNN's John King spoke with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) about the future role of the United States in Libya. Parts of this interview will air tonight on John King, USA – 7pm ET. A full transcript is after the jump.
MANDATORY CREDIT: JOHN KING, USA
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Senator Lugar, let me just start with what I would hope would be a pretty simple question to answer. Do you understand clearly the mission in Libya? When will we have success?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: No, I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission. There are no guidelines for success. That may well be true with our allies, although conceivable they may have other missions in mind and simply are trying to get security council clearance to proceed.
KING: Well I want you to listen. First, let's listen to the President of the United States. This is back on March 3rd. He was with the Mexican president and he made a pretty declarative, pretty firm, pretty clear statement about what should happen to Moammar Gadhafi.
KING: "He must leave," from the President of the United States. But listen to General Carter Ham, the head of the U.S. Africa command, who is essentially coordinating the U.S. role and the Libya operation now, Senator. Listen to his comments earlier today.
KING: Is it fair to say there's a mixed message there, or is this military operation somehow separate from the president's goal that Gadhafi has to go?
LUGAR: Well, it would seem to be very separate. I think, however, in fairness that the president, in outlining that the violence must stop and Gadhafi must go was impelled then, to offer a plan as to how that was to occur. Certainly the president has given some end missions to this. But, in fact, the advice given to members of Congress by the president was that there - pardon me - there would be no boots on the ground, no ground action. There would be no American aircraft over Libya.
As a matter of fact, there is some criticism of the 110 tomahawk missiles the United States sent into Libya, that they may have killed civilians, although that's denied by everybody involved on our side. But there are certainly - is no follow up action implied. And furthermore, at this point the Arab League, through Amr Moussa of Egypt said that they feel it's overstepped as it stands, that we've already had the African Union dropping out.
So this situation really needs clarification of a plan, end-objectives, some definition of how the United States plans to be involved, either with European powers, because NATO is not going to be involved given the Turkish veto.
KING: Well, when you ask the White House for clarification, what's the answer?
LUGAR: Well, there is no answer. There’s simply is the thought that the president gave to congressional leaders on Friday, that no boots on the ground, no aircraft over. And he said it's days, not months. Now, that's not an answer to any of these questions.
KING: Do you believe the United States is leading here? Or is the United States being dragged along by Europeans who might have a more muscular, more aggressive position than the president does?
LUGAR: It would not appear that we are leading. And the fact that President Sarkozy of France called the meeting of the heads of state and gave a major conference, was sort of an announcement, at least, that activity was going to occur. And we clearly are in a very supportive role and apparently have decided to have a very limited role.
KING: Your comments - some of your comments were run by the chairman of the committee, now Senator John Kerry. And he said, "Senator Lugar's a wise, wise," you know "counselor on these issues, but we're not policing Libya, we're engaged in a humanitarian initiative to prevent the slaughter of innocent people."
Is that what we're engaged in? A humanitarian mission?
LUGAR: Well, that's been one definition of why we sent 110 tomahawk missiles there.
KING: Have you ever seen 110 tomahawk cruise missiles used in a humanitarian mission?
LUGAR: Only in the broadest sense, that it would knock out aircraft facilities, and therefore, that is Moammar Gadhafi was going to use aircraft to bomb opposition people, he would be denied that opportunity. But as it stands, as far as we can tell, Moammar Gadhafi is not only alive, but is in control of Tripoli, likewise in a great number of cities. Apparently the government is still in control. In other places, so-called rebels appear to be in control. And all of the people seem to have guns and other armament and they're frequently firing at each other. People are being killed.
So the question is, how do you stop the killing, I suppose and furthermore, after you do, who do we recognize? Do we recognize Gadhafi, who is still there after all this time? Or do we take further action to depose him, literally, to eliminate his regime? That is not at all clear. In fact, it's hardly been discussed as far as I can tell.
KING: You don't seem to think that there is a solution, a clear, at least, political solution in the foreseeable future here?
LUGAR: I think there may be a vague hope that due to the fact that there appear to be allies, including the United States of America involved, that Moammar Gadhafi would step aside, would leave with his sons and his people, that by in large, then there would emerge a group of people who are roughly characteristic of the rebels and the various dissident groups in the various cities with whom we could deal - maybe we have to sort of organize them so we have someone to deal with at that point.
But absent there being a plan for Gadhafi to go, merely calling for him to go does not appear to have been impressive join (ph).
KING: Do you consider what's happening now? An act of war by the United States? The use of military force, isn't it an act of war?
LUGAR: Yes, it is. The president has indicated he believes he's within his Constitutional rights and very limited scope of what he has suggested, mainly (ph) support of other countries in this respect. But nevertheless, American armed forces have been at work. We did fire the tomahawk missiles. We did, apparently, offer background support to the aircraft of the French and the British. And my judgment, if we're not on the edge of an active war, we are close enough that the president really ought to have a debate in the Congress, ought to have on behalf of the American people, a very clear definition of why American forces are going to be at risk, what the objectives are so we can claim success on the basis, literally, of having to define what we were about.
KING: On the House side, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee says the president should address a joint session of Congress to explain the mission. A more liberal member, Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, says that if the president doesn't seek Congressional approval for this, he could be impeached.
What do you make of those statements?
LUGAR: Well, I'm not certain at this point a joint session is going to do the job. I think the block and tackle work required of the administration, including the president and his cabinet members to define what we're going to do requires very thoughtful consideration of what our policy is in Bahrain, in Yemen, likewise our relationship with the Saudis who are clearly angered that we let down Mubarak, who have sent 2,000 troops into Bahrain, simply to - apparently to forestall any possibilities of Iran and the Shiites coming in to upset the Sunni government. There are all sorts of situations that are well beyond simply the humanitarian quest, or Gadhafi must go in Libya.
This is why some very good block and tackle work needs to occur with the administration and the Congress. And then I believe if we're going to declare a war on Libya or any other country, we ought to declare a war, have a vote, take responsibility. Because I think the American people are going to find this has a long-lasting tinge to it. It has a very expensive tinge to it and this comes at a time in which our troops are stretched, and certainly our budget is stretched.
KING: Let me ask you lastly sir, as someone who has the experience, and as even your colleague Senator Kerry when he disagrees calls you a "wise, wise man," how would you have handled the communications of this differently if at all? I believe it's the first time the United States has launched weapons into a foreign country when the president was overseas.
Do you think how it has been explained, both to the Congress and the American people, could have and should have been handled differently?
LUGAR: Well of course it should be handled differently. I'm not going to criticize the president's trip to Brazil. I think it was very important that he finally make this trip to Brazil and other important South American, Latin American countries who feel overlooked and they are important to us.
But I think, at the same time, it comes with the Congress in recess, the president out of the country and the fact that the mission was not defined at all, as far as I can tell to begin with, in terms of its objectives and what we do next in any of the cases. Quite apart from the relationship with everything else going on, with governments under fire in the Middle East.
So that does require concerted effort by the president and the Congress and the American people to come to grips with this and decide, as a matter of fact, what kind of sacrifices we're prepared to make over what period of time.
KING: Senator Richard Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for your time today.
LUGAR: Thank you, John.