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Charles Krauthammer On Obama’s Libya Strategy, & The House GOP Budget Strategy

Sunday, March 20, 2011

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HH: Joined by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. You also see him, of course, on the Fox News all stars. Charles, at this hour, the prime minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, has announced that Tornadoes and Typhoon aircraft will be over the skies of Libya, probably later tonight. What do you think of what’s unfolding in Libya?

CK: Well, the President’s statement was very difficult to understand, very confusing. I love when he says let me be perfectly clear, let me be unambiguous, and then he gets ambiguous. On the one hand, he talks about population protection. That’s a minimalist policy. His administration has been talking from the beginning of Gaddafi has to go, which is regime change. That’s maximalist. And then Obama did something sort of in between, where he said one of the non-negotiable conditions is that Gaddafi withdraw from Ajdabiyah, Misurata and Az Zawiyah. Now if you look at the map, that means you’re telling Gaddafi he’s got to pull back, basically give up all the territorial gains of the last couple of weeks, and pull back essentially to Tripoli, which he’s not going to do. And is Obama saying, therefore, that this thing is going to continue unless he pulls back? That’s much more than population protection. So it isn’t clear what the objective is, and it’s also not clear what the U.S. is going to do. Obama made it sound as if no Americans on the ground. That’s fine. We understand that. But his people are telling Fox News that there are not going to be any aircraft over Libya. It’s all going to be logistic support. Is that really what we’re going to do?

HH: Well, that is what is so confusing about this. Let me play for the audience a little bit of President Obama’s statement earlier today.

BHO: I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal.

HH: And let’s contrast that with David Cameron in the Parliament earlier today.

DC: The attorney general has been consulted, and the government is satisfied, that there is a clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of U.K. forces and military assets. He advised the cabinet this morning, and his advice was read and discussed. The Security Council has adopted Resolution 1973 as a measure to maintain or restore international peace and security under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter. The resolution specifically authorizes notifying member states to use all necessary measures to enforce a no-fly zone, and to protect civilians and civilian populated areas, including Benghazi. At cabinet this morning, we agreed the U.K. will play its part. Our forces will join an international operation to enforce the resolution if Gaddafi fails to comply with its demand that he ends attacks on civilians. The defense secretary and I have now instructed the chief of the defense staff to work urgently with our allies to put in place the appropriate military measures to enforce the resolution, including a no-fly zone. And I can tell the house that Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons, as well as air-to-air refueling and surveillance aircraft.

HH: So that’s a little bit different tone than President Obama adopted, Charles Krauthammer. What do you think of the clarity gap between Great Britain and the United States?

CK: It doesn’t surprise me at all. When Obama announced a tripling of our forces in Afghanistan, what did he say? We’re going to do the surge, and then the very next sentence, this was at West Point, December 1, 2009, the very next sentence, he says we’re going to begin our withdrawal in 18 months. I mean, what kind of commander-in-chief is this? We’re going to surge, but we’re going to leave? And now even Libya, let me be unambiguous, we’re going to participate, we’re going to protect, but you know what? Nothing on the ground. And then, this is not what he said officially, but what his people are telling the press, no Americans over Libya. Maybe a Cruise missile, maybe Naval gunfire. You know, what I think Obama wants is an immaculate campaign with no American ever in danger, which is nice. I mean, I’m an American. I don’t want to see an American in danger. But to me, if you do that, what you’re going to end up with is a stalemate. If you’re going for population protection, you’re going to get a withdrawal of some of the forces of Gaddafi. And since there is nothing in here about changing the regime, you’re going to end up with a West Libya and an East Libya, with a Gaddafi Libya and a rebel Libya. And what are we going to do? Protect it until the end of time, which would be a prolongation of this? What we should have done is right very early on, immediately early on, and before all this international nonsense and cover, attack, attack hard, and this man was on the ropes. He was in an enclave in Tripoli with no support, having lost the entire country, and we let him off that hook. And now he’s all the way to Benghazi, and I think what this policy is going to give us is a country split in two, and an ongoing commitment.

HH: Is it Somalia 2.0 in terms of an ungovernable western Libya?

CK: Well, Somalia, there was no objective at all. It was to feed the population in a crazy, chaotic civil war. I was always uneasy about it. It didn’t have any strategic objective at all, and that’s why I think it sort of collapsed.

HH: No, I meant sort of a failed state run by Islamist extremists.

CK: Right. Yeah, well, that’s the other problem, is we do not know who the rebels are, who’s going to emerge, what the tribal situation is. It’s very complicated, and we know less about the opposition in Libya than we certainly knew in Iraq, and we certainly knew in Afghanistan and other places. So that is, I mean, that’s a problem above everything else. But remember, this administration had said early on, the President himself said Gaddafi has to go. If you say that, and you’re president of the one superpower on the planet, you have to be thinking ahead about the successor regime. You have to know something about them. And Obama appears to me to be acting nothing but reactively to placate public opinion, and that’s where we are now.

HH: Let me ask you what your advice would be about Yemen, at least to Jay Carney, because he ought to get this question, which is today in Yemen, Saleh’s people mowed down at least 45 demonstrators, killed 45, may have wounded more than 200. So you’ve got population predation going on in both Yemen and Libya. How would you explain, Charles, the different attitude of the United States towards the Arabs in Yemen, and the Arabs in Libya who are being murdered by their government?

CK: I would simply say the United States is not omnipotent. If we were, we would be everywhere, and we would be consistent, and we would stop every slaughter on the planet, and we would be in the Congo right now. And why aren’t we in the Ivory Coast? Ivory Coast had an election, the dictator lost the election, he refused to accept the other side, he’s been shooting people in the streets. I mean, where are we going to go with this? I think you have to have two things in order to act. You have to have a moral justification, you’re protecting slaughter, maybe preventing a genocide. But you also have to have a strategic rationale. Otherwise, we will spend ourselves into penury, into destitution, and into very great sorrow by deploying all over the world. So I mean, it seems to me we have to be extremely hard-headed as well as idealistic about this. You have to have a moral rationale and a strategic one. If you only have one and not the other, you don’t act.

HH: Now I want to switch domestically, Charles, because yesterday on this program, Mark Steyn was on, got picked up by the Daily Caller today. And Mark said, “I think John Boehner has basically climbed into the Bob Dole suit,” and that’s the headline, and that they picked up the tape, and that will ricochet around. Fair, unfair, and do you expect the Speaker to do anything over the next two weeks to get out of that Bob Dole suit that many people think he’s put on?

CK: Well, I don’t think he’s been actively putting on anything. I think he’s getting maneuvered by a pretty, let me say activist, freshmen class, that I think is misreading the terrain here. They’re the ones who are giving Boehner a hard time. They are impatient about cutting $2 billion dollars a week. I’m happy to cut $2 billion a week. That’s $100 billion a year. That’s not chump change. It puts the Democrats on the defensive week after week. And in a situation where the Democrats, the President and Harry Reid are not going to give you anything on a deal that goes until October 1, and therefore, you therefore have no leverage, why not go week by week? It’s not efficient, it’s nuts, it’s no way to run a railroad, but that’s because the Democrats, who had control of the House and the Senate and the presidency last year, never passed a budget. And this is a $1.7 trillion dollar deficit. So I don’t understand why, you know, the zeal of the conservatives, the freshmen in the House of ending this process in the short term won, we win. And the one that you go until October 1, we’re going to lose.

HH: I’m with Steyn on this, and my friend, Powerline’s John Hinderaker, said $6 billion dollars is the equivalent in caloric content of one-third of one French fry in a Big Mac supersized meal. And he did all the stats, Charles. It’s not real money. But you get the last minute. But I wanted to make sure people knew there was…

CK: If you’re talking about discretionary spending, which is only a 12…an eighth of the budget anyway, and you’re cutting $2 billion a year, and you end up with $100 billion in cuts? That’s a serious cut. The real money, everyone knows, is in entitlements, and that’s to come elsewhere. And that’s why I wouldn’t shut down the government over these discretionary cuts. It makes no sense, it’s nuts, and it would, we’re down to the presence of…and to no one else’s.

HH: Charles Krauthammer from the Washington Post, always a pleasure. Thank you, Charles.

End of interview.

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