Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Read the transcript from the Thursday 6 p.m. hour
Guests: Gary Ackerman, E.J. Dionne, Hisham Melhem
CENK UYGUR, HOST: Welcome to the show. I am Cenk Uygur.
Now, it‘s looking more and more likely that the United States will soon relinquish military command in Libya. What happened? I thought we were taking too long? I‘m surprised. Huh.
We were expecting to hear live from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the status of handover arrangements. There were reports of a possible deal reached late this afternoon following a conference call between Clinton and her counterparts in Turkey, France and Great Britain.
That is not Hillary Clinton, that dude walking in right there. We‘re going to see Secretary Clinton in just a little bit.
For it‘s part, the Pentagon said today that they were working to hand off control to NATO by this weekend. What happened? I thought we were taking too long!
In Libya, after another intense round of air strikes, coalition forces appear to be making headway on breaking the grip of pro-Gadhafi forces and the grip that they had on some of those cities. What happened? I thought it wasn‘t working.
In Misrata, rebel fighters reported that the air strikes helped them drive Gadhafi‘s forces out of the city, including forcing his warships to flee, thereby unblocking the port. What happened? I thought it wasn‘t working! I thought we had to panic in under than a week!
The strikes involved a French fighter jet firing on a Libyan warplane that violated a no-fly zone over the city of Misrata. So there‘s the no-fly zone for you.
So it seems as though President Obama is on the verge of staying true to his word when he promised the handoff of command in Libya, and that it would happen in a matter of days.
Now, do you think Republicans are going to give him any credit for that? Of course not!
It‘s been less than a week since coalition forces started the military operation in Libya, and the Republicans, like former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Newt Gingrich, are all over President Obama. Gingrich first blamed him for not imposing a no-fly zone. Then he turned around and blamed him for imposing one.
So you know what happened next? Newt flipped again. He says now we have to see the mission through. That‘s three flip-flops.
But guess who he blamed for all of his waffling? Oh, you guessed it.
You got it right. Of course, President Obama.
He tried to explain all this waffling yesterday with this tweet. Here‘s Newt‘s tweet: “Given choice, use allies, not Americans. After Obama, March 3rd, says Gadhafi has to go. Make sure he goes. Obama changed the choice.”
It‘s impossible to understand those tweets when it‘s under 140 characters. But here‘s what I got out of that.
It was Obama‘s fault! Since he couldn‘t explain it in a tweet, he went to Facebook writing this: “On March 3rd, President Obama said publicly, ‘It‘s time for Gadhafi to go.‘ Prior to this statement, there were options to be indirect and subtle to achieve this result without United States military forces. The president, however, took those options off the table with his public statement. After March 3rd, anything short of a successful public campaign for regime change would have been seen as a defeat for the United States.”
Obama made me do it. You see, I wouldn‘t have flip-flopped all those times if it weren‘t for Obama.
But look, here‘s my real question. Where does the right wing even get the audacity to talk about foreign policy and wars in the Middle East, and to criticize this president because he‘s moving too slow?
Do you know how long they took in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you remember back when President Bush was floundering around in Iraq, and he had already been there for over three years? Not three days, not three weeks—three years! And we were told we just had to wait and give him time to succeed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The second thing you do is
you stay the course
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It‘s absolutely essential that we stay the course.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Most Americans believe still that we have to stay the course.
BUSH: We‘re going to stay the course in Iraq. And that‘s why when we say something in Iraq, we‘re going to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: So we had to stay the course back then. It‘s been eight years in Iraq. It‘s been 10 years and counting in Afghanistan. But in Libya, Obama didn‘t even get a week.
These guys were the same stay the course guys. Six days later, they‘re in mid-panic. Oh, my God, what are we doing? What are we doing? It‘s not going to work! Let‘s panic!
Look, the Bush administration created a disaster in Iraq, but one of the main guys responsible for it, Donald Rumsfeld, had the gall to criticize President Obama‘s policy in Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: If you‘re going to put Americans at risk militarily, it seems to me you have to have clarity in what you‘re doing and be willing to do it in full.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: Are you kidding me? Clarity? Clarity? This is the guy who had no plan for the occupation.
Do you know that they had four slides for going into Baghdad, and General Franks at the time presented it. And the fourth slide was occupation after they get into Baghdad. Occupation. You know what it had? It had three letters on it—TBD—to be determined.
Now, that guy who organized that is talking about clarity? And remember, that‘s the same guy who when they said, hey, look, there‘s no link between Iraq and the WMD and the terrorists, there‘s nothing of the sort, he gave this nonsense response --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don‘t know we don‘t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: Clarity? Clarity? He‘s talking about clarity. You‘ve got to be kidding me, man.
Look, the Republican Party is a how-to guide on how not to deal with the Middle East. Listening to the GOP for advice on the Middle East is like going to Bernie Madoff for financial advice. They have no grounds to say anything. The adults are having a conversation now.
Republican Party, shush.
All right. Joining me now is one of those adults, Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York. He is the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East.
All right. Congressman, first of all, do you agree with the no-fly zone and what President Obama has done so far?
REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: First, well done, Cenk.
UYGUR: Thank you.
ACKERMAN: I absolutely agree with the president. He‘s doing a fantastic job. My only criticism was, for my taste, he could have been in a little bit sooner, with a little bit more consultation with Congress. But this is the result we want, and he‘s handling this absolutely superbly.
UYGUR: You know, I remember your criticism about that earlier. We had this conversation throughout the Middle East. You wanted him to act quicker in Egypt and in Libya. And that‘s a fair point. And we lost a little bit of time there.
ACKERMAN: But he has the policy right. That‘s the main thing.
These guys had the policy completely wrong, didn‘t know what they were doing. And if it wasn‘t for circumstances, they would still be looking for the weapons of mass destruction.
UYGUR: Yes. No, some of them are still looking for it. Where is it?
Where did it go? OK—you know, known unknowns.
Anyway, in this case, he did go in, though, and it looks like we have reversed Gadhafi‘s gains, that‘s for sure. And it looks like, according to some reports on the ground, that we have prevented massacres.
Even if nothing else happens, is that a win of a sort?
ACKERMAN: It‘s a major win. You know, we‘ve prevented so far a major humanitarian crisis. Too late for some people, but this could have been major, major, major league.
We have complied with the suggestion and the request, the fervent request, of the Arab League, the United Nations, the entire international community, and we‘ve wiped out a dictator‘s ability to fly his planes and use his air power within several days. Done. Complete. Now it‘s on to a little bit of some other things that we have to do technically before we do the handoff officially.
UYGUR: Are you in favor of the handoff?
ACKERMAN: I‘m in favor of the handoff. I don‘t think we should be fighting three wars at the same time. This is not considered a war, technically, but we‘re there. I guess it‘s a war if some foreign troop drops a bomb on your house.
UYGUR: Right. That depends on your definition, no question about that.
ACKERMAN: That‘s a new definition I think.
UYGUR: Right. So you want—OK, and if we do the handoff quickly, hey, it‘s not our responsibility, primarily, so that‘s a good thing. How about the next difficult step?
All right. So, part one, stop the massacres. Accomplished. Right?
It appears so. Right?
Now, part two is getting rid of Gadhafi, right? Now, if it turns out that the NATO or whoever we‘re handing off to, as Secretary Clinton will tell us in a minute, cannot get rid of Gadhafi, how long do we stay? How long do we support NATO in doing that no-fly zone?
ACKERMAN: Well, this is an important, important question that you raise, because it is not our mission, our goal or our stated purpose—
“stated” is the operative word—to get rid of Gadhafi. We do not do regime change except in our own country by way of election since—I guess since the Bay of Pigs. We don‘t eliminate other people‘s rulers.
We politely ask them to leave, we suggest that they leave. We do other things if that‘s the will of the people.
UYGUR: We suggest they leave with our F-15s. That is a polite suggestion.
ACKERMAN: We‘ll send a limo again. It was a printed invitation from the sky.
UYGUR: Right. I think the key is whether we cut off the money or not. Because if we cut off the money, then he‘s in a lot of trouble. If we didn‘t effectively cut of the money, then he‘s going to last a lot longer. That‘s the way I see it.
ACKERMAN: Right. It‘s hard to do because he has a lot of mattresses. And he‘s stuffed billions of dollars under the mattress, and we don‘t know where he has all the money. But certainly we‘ve been working very well under this president, with the international community, in freezing all of his known bank accounts that we could get our influence over.
UYGUR: Right. That‘s a very good point.
I want to bring in E.J. Dionne here. He‘s a columnist for “The Washington Post” and he‘s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
E.J., you know, I want to go back to my original question here. For us to even listen to Republican criticism—oh, President Obama didn‘t do it right, he didn‘t do it quickly enough, in six days or seven days—isn‘t that a bit of a joke?
E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, I only want to talk about unknown unknowns tonight. I don‘t want to talk about anything else.
DIONNE: I mean, it‘s a free country. They‘re free to criticize. And I think the Republicans are operating on a couple of levels here.
The one level which you suggest is, basically, if Obama is doing it, it must be wrong. And you take a look at that letter Speaker Boehner wrote, which is actually more sober and responsible than some of the stuff some of the Republicans have said, and you ask the question, would he have written that letter if George W. Bush had done exactly the same thing that President Obama did, and I think it‘s pretty certain that the answer is no.
But I also think the Republicans have been, for a month and a half now, looking for a wholly different line of attack to take on Obama because he‘s really kind of shrunk himself as a target. They can‘t really criticize him as a big liberal now because he has been trying to be the voice of sweet reason above the ideological melee. And he‘s taken himself out of, I think, in some ways too much, but out of the congressional fray over the budget. So they find it easier to turn to other targets, and this is a target of opportunity for them, and so they‘re doing it.
UYGUR: You know, E.J., I have a slightly different take on that.
By the way, of course, everybody, we‘re waiting on Secretary Clinton to come out and give an important announcement on Libya.
But, E.J., my sense on that is that on domestic policy, President Obama has agreed with them so much, that that‘s why they can‘t find a way to disagree with him, because he can‘t find a way to disagree with them. So when they had an opportunity here in foreign policy, my sense of it was no matter what he did, if he does the no-fly zone, doesn‘t do the no-fly zone, that is there a single policy he could have named where they wouldn‘t have attacked him?
DIONNE: No. I think if they couldn‘t attack him on the actual policy, they were going to attack him on the execution of the policy. If they couldn‘t attack him on the execution, they were going to attack him on, well, he didn‘t move fast enough.
So, I agree, they were ready to attack him here. But there‘s another element, which is that there were a lot of Republicans who always were anti-interventionist. And, you know, you‘ve got the Rand Paul Libertarians, but you have got a lot of other Republicans who didn‘t like it when we intervened in a humanitarian mission in Kosovo or in Bosnia.
All of that part of the party went in hibernation under Bush because they weren‘t really supposed to speak up. And so some of what you‘re seeing now is the reemergence of these non-interventionist Republicans who feel freer to speak now than they ever did when Bush was president.
UYGUR: Well, another way to look at that, of course, is that while Bush was president, they weren‘t really being honest. OK.
So, look, we‘ve got to come back in a second. Hillary Clinton is going to speak on what‘s going to happening next. Andrea Mitchell of NBC News is already reporting that we are going to hand off to NATO. We‘ll find out from Secretary Clinton when we return.
UYGUR: All right. You‘re looking at a live picture where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is going to come out and speak any second now on the handoff in Libya.
Who will we be handing off to? Reports are that we will be handing off to NATO. That was a tricky question, because Turkey, for one, did not want to participate initially, and then there were reports that they were going to participate in the naval blockade. The French had wanted to do a different setup where it would be some of the European powers like France and England, along with the Arab League.
And so we will find out in just a second if those reports are confirmed. And if it will, in fact, be NATO that we‘re handing off to.
Here in the studio with me is Congressman Gary Ackerman, and E.J.
Dionne is joining us as well. Of course, he‘s from “The Washington Post.”
We‘ve been having a conversation about that. I want to pick that up here before Secretary Clinton comes back in.
Congressman, is it possible that the president is being slightly vague on purpose that, look, if he says, I‘ve got to get Gadhafi, we‘ve got to get rid of Gadhafi, then he‘s stuck in that position, right? And he doesn‘t want to be in that position because he doesn‘t want to use ground troops.
Is that the reason why you think?
ACKERMAN: Exactly. You know, I believe that he has this exactly right.
The Republicans, they‘re having a fit over it because they don‘t know what to do because their entire purpose is to pull the rug out under from the president and sabotage his administration and the success, which, of course, is the success of our country. That‘s not what we could be cheering for and be happy about. That should not be our goal.
When I disagreed with President Bush, I hoped that I was wrong and not him, because he was dictating the policy, and it was unacceptable for our country to get it wrong. They‘re cheering for the wrong team here, is what the real problem is. They‘re very hypocritical about it. And they‘re so transparent about the hypocrisy, that it‘s absolutely amazing that a lot of people just don‘t see it.
UYGUR: Right. And I‘m amazed by that as well, because I remember the Bush years, that if you said anything about Bush—oh, my God, you‘re endangering the troops, what‘s the matter with you?
ACKERMAN: And you were unpatriotic.
UYGUR: Unpatriotic. Exactly right.
Now, E.J., is it a little unpatriotic here for the Republicans to turn so quickly against the president less than a week into a war? I mean, that seems like they‘re going against the commander in chief. Sarah Palin did it outside of the country, like the Dixie Chicks. How could she?
DIONNE: You know, I never have ever liked it when somebody criticizes another American who opposes a policy of being unpatriotic. I mean, Abraham Lincoln came to national fame the first time because he was against the Mexican War. He gave great speeches critical of Polk on the Mexican War. So I don‘t think somebody is unpatriotic for opposing a president‘s policy.
In this case, I think—you know, in Newt‘s case, for example, there‘s been a certain incoherence to the criticism, because, you know, it‘s one thing to say we just shouldn‘t go into Libya—and you‘ve got some Democrats saying that, and you‘ve got some of the Libertarian Republicans saying that. But I think it‘s something else again to kind of switch your position whenever Obama makes a move and your old position looks like it might be endorsing Obama. I just don‘t get that.
And I think Haley Barbour—you know, it‘s very interesting. He is, as far as I can tell, the one Republican presidential candidate who has sort of stood back and said look, he‘s president, let‘s see it play out.
UYGUR: Right. Well, that is interesting. He‘s also got a number of issues as well.
DIONNE: Well, yes.
UYGUR: If I can, I want to ask both of you this question. Look, if it turns out we hand off to NATO, as we think Secretary Clinton is about to say, and they try the no-fly zone for six months—let‘s put a time on it, right? -- and it turns out, hey, both sides solidify their positions, we don‘t get Gadhafi out, but the rebels are safe and Misrata is safe and Benghazi is safe and just bunkered in, is that a win because we stopped the massacres and we didn‘t allow Gadhafi to take over all those places? Or is that a loss? Or is it somewhere in the middle?
DIONNE: Well, I think the mere fact that we stopped what was potentially a horrible situation in Benghazi, real mass killings, that is a victory. But more importantly, we just did the right thing, I think, to stop that.
Now, if this turns into a kind of—you know, a civil war, or sort of a country divided, that‘s going to create problems for us, for the NATO coalition, assuming—I‘m assuming it‘s going to come together—and for President Obama. I mean, we‘re going to have to make other choices. But having stopped something—just having stopped a potential bloodbath is a good thing all by itself.
UYGUR: Do you agree with that Congressman Ackerman?
ACKERMAN: I agree with that. I think it‘s a triple for us.
I think we‘ve stated—the president has stated very narrow, specific goals. There‘s a humanitarian effort here to prevent the massacre en masse of the Libyan people, which we‘ve been asked to do specifically by all 21 of the others, excluding Libya, states in the—
UYGUR: Surprisingly, they weren‘t on board.
ACKERMAN: Yes, they didn‘t quite go along with that one, although if you poll their ambassadors around the world privately, they might have gone with that (ph), but certainly not Gadhafi.
ACKERMAN: And to enforce a no-fly zone, which is what they wanted us to do.
We‘re going to accomplish that. And you could almost say we‘ve just about accomplished it right now, and the secretary might announce that.
UYGUR: Congressman, let me follow up on that real quick. How long do we stay with a no-fly zone? Assuming we‘re not getting Gadhafi, and assuming they‘ve bunkered in, six weeks, six months? Any sense of it?
ACKERMAN: It‘s hard to say. But at that point, we are not going to be in charge of that mission. It will be the entire international community to whoever the secretary will hopefully momentarily describe to us. That is an open question.
UYGUR: But Republicans are going to criticize that and they‘re going to say, hey, wait a minute. Are you telling me I‘ve got to listen to the French? Yes. I mean, I would say if you have an alliance with the French and --
ACKERMAN: One day, they don‘t want to be the cops of the world, and then the next day they don‘t want to hand it off to anybody, and the next day they‘re questioning why we‘re not doing it and shouldn‘t we be in charge. They have no grounding in a real policy position because their policy position on international affairs is just say no to anything Obama tries to do.
UYGUR: E.J., between these two things, wouldn‘t we rather not be in charge, that somebody else is taking most of the burden and most of the responsibility?
DIONNE: You know, there are some people trying to argue that if we act in concert with others, if we don‘t take the lead and the dominant position on all of these matters in which we get involved, that somehow we‘re weakening the United States. And I actually think the model that says we‘re going to act in concert with other countries, we‘re going to build alliances and organizations where other people are prepared to defend interests and values that we hold in common, I mean, to me, that‘s a much better way forward for American foreign policy.
America used to be one of the great institution builders in the world, you know, going back to Truman and Roosevelt, and continuing through—
Roosevelt and Truman and continuing through Eisenhower. You know, from NATO to the international financial agreements, I mean, multilateral doesn‘t mean weak. It actually means multiplying our strength.
UYGUR: Look, I couldn‘t agree more with that, because, look, I‘m a progressive who believes in American exceptionalism. But what made us exceptional is not our wars, it‘s what we did after the wars.
It‘s what Truman did. It‘s the Marshall Plan. It‘s working with the world. It‘s creating the United Nations. It‘s pushing the idea of human rights and democracy throughout the world.
That‘s what made us exceptional. And if we go back to doing that under President Obama, I think that‘s a huge win.
All right. We‘ve got to take a quick break here. But we‘re going to come right back with Secretary Clinton.
UYGUR: All right. We‘re still awaiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She‘s going to come and talk to us about the handoff.
This is a handoff that people had been waiting for. It‘s been less than a week, but people are antsy to make sure we do not get further ensnared in the war in Libya. And, of course, we are enforcing the no-fly zone right now. And the question is, who are we going to hand that off to?
Secretary of State Clinton is going to answer that question momentarily.
Andrea Mitchell is already reporting that it appears that it is going to be NATO, which is a good thing, obviously, because it‘s obviously an alliance that we have used many times before and is familiar with the terrain, and it‘s not something that was going to be put together. Because the alternative possibility was that the French were going to put together something new for this instance involving the Arab League and the British, et cetera.
We trust NATO a little bit more. It‘s not an impromptu thing that‘s being put together. But we don‘t know for certain that‘s what‘s going to happen. Secretary Clinton will speak to that in a minute.
Now, I have with me here Congressman Ackerman from New York. And we‘re talking to E.J. Dionne as well from “The Washington Post.”
Congressman, I want to talk to you about something I was going to have a discussion with Nicholas Kristof with in a second, which is this idea that only the extremes are right. You know, everybody just wants black and white answers. We‘re either going in all the way or we‘re going in none of the way.
And my crazy idea is sometimes that‘s not the right answer. Sometimes the answer is in the middle here.
And is this a good example of that, where the answer might be in the middle?
ACKERMAN: This is a very good example of that. And the answer is somewhere in the middle.
You don‘t have the extremists in the Islamic world screaming about having Western troops or Western forces on their soil, defiling the integrity of their religion. You have the Arab league inviting the United States of America. We are the super power. There is no other superpower. And here we‘re acting in our role of the superpower in a humane and humanitarian way in their interest and handing this over with their acquiescence, their support, their blessings and their encouragement to NATO. How more of a western invitation from the Islamic world into their region can we have? If the Islamists were in charge, this never would have happened.
So you have the extremes on that side have been muted, which speaks much, much better and a much more important than cohesive voice to the fact that we‘re going to win the competition with the Islamic extremists at the invitation of the moderates in the Arab world. And that is something to watch very, very carefully. And we‘re doing it in a non-bullying way. And some of my friends, our friends on the other side of the aisle who are screaming about turning this over. If we didn‘t turn it over, they‘d be screaming about the total quest of the United States and what about burden sharing.
UYGUR: No, question about that. Now, E.J., Mitt Romney has said that the president is being, quote, “tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced” here. Yes, we had a president who didn‘t do nuanced. Famously George Bush told Joe Biden that at one point, and we had Iraq. So, is it a blessing that we have a president who‘s willing to do nuance in Libya?
DIONNE: I guess I do like nuance. You know, I heard that statement by Romney, and my first thought was well, tell me when you have a really complicated situation, where you‘ve got to weigh a lot of different factors, you know it may not come out perfectly at the end, you‘re not really certain exactly who is in that opposition to Gadhafi, yet you know that you don‘t want a slaughter in Benghazi. How else can you be anything but nuanced in a situation like that? You know, the other thing I‘ve been thinking about is somebody mentioned this to me today, when we look back historically, I think it will be interesting to figure out what role did that Cairo speech by President Obama play in helping begin this process of kind of unfreezing the political situation in a lot of countries in the Middle East. You know, I don‘t want to sit here and say it was that speech that made all this happen, and yet you‘ve got to believe that there were some subtle effects of that. And I think it turned out to be in a way a more useful speech than people were giving it credit for, even six months ago.
UYGUR: You know, I think the key there is—and I love that speech. I did a whole show where I took that speech apart, and said, that this makes sense, and that was great et cetera. And then I remember being on with Congressman Ackerman during Egypt and saying, he‘s got to follow that speech quicker. You know, and we were worried that he wasn‘t, you know, following through on that in a way that he should have, right? But he got there. And we were talking about it here just a minute ago. He got there in Egypt, he got there in Libya. And E.J. to your point, I mean, it‘s one thing to give the speech but it‘s another thing to actually execute the speech. And it looks like he has here. Now, of course, there are lot of other factors, there is, you know, the internet and how that is spread. And honestly, Al Jazeera has spread the pictures and the video throughout the Middle East and that has helped flower it. But it looks like he delivered on that speech a little bit here, didn‘t he?
ACKERMAN: He delivered it on the—we were worried at that point, when we were talking about Egypt in the midst of, is this guy going to leave or he‘s going to stay? It looks like the president in that speech was absolutely pernicious, he understood what was going to happen. He asked in that speech, if I could say, one sentence if someone said, what was the most important, he wanted to reset the clock in our relationship so that the impression they had of us throughout what‘s his name‘s previous eight-year administration was not going to be the same and that we could really partner up and we had no ill intentions to that part of the world or to that particular community and wanted to be their friends, allies. We expected things of them, we expected things of others, and we wanted to be helpful in that process. I think we‘re going down the road on that in the right direction.
UYGUR: Right. And you know, Nicholas Kristof did write about this in “The New York Times.” And he talked to people on the ground, and they said two different things. One, Michel Gabaudan, the president of Refugees International, and he talked to people on the ground in Libya and they said, quote, the opinion was unanimous that we have averted a major quote, “a major humanitarian disaster.” And the second part of that, was what you‘re referring Congressman, they want us in. And there‘s been a reverse in the tide of refugees. As Gadhafi was attacking, refugees were pouring out of the country. As the military strikes begin from our allied forces, people poured back into the country saying good, great, we want these strikes. So now, but there is one thing Congressman that people have a legitimate criticism about. The president didn‘t go to Congress and get authorization. What‘s your thoughts on that?
ACKERMAN: Well, you know, sometimes things are designed to be deliberately fuzzy, so you have more flexibility and have to move. You know, we have the war powers act. It‘s very controversial. Neither side really wants to test it. The president claims he has the authority, and the act is in countervention of his constitutional responsibilities. And the Congress protects itself institutionally by insisting upon our prerogatives which is to declare war and the president has the authority and responsibility to conduct the war. So, that‘s where we are in this. I would have preferred much more and a little bit of a longer consultation than the day, day and a half that the president gave to specifically designated congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans on the Thursday before this thing, you know, started. He‘s not defining it as a war, so we didn‘t have to declare a war. The Republicans—this was fine with the Republicans, by the way, because that‘s the way it came down on Mount Sinai to Moses in their view, as long as Bush was the president. Now they have flip flopped, a word that you‘ve use.
UYGUR: Of course.
ACKERMAN: .on the show several times.
UYGUR: All right.
ACKERMAN: Flip flopped their position because the president has changed. A policy has to be a policy. And these guys can‘t stick to one. It depends on who the president is. So, he can do nothing right. But certainly my view, which I believe is consistent, is that the president should have consulted more with Congress, given us more of a heads up and listened to some additional voices, although I know he listened too many before embarking down this road.
UYGUR: Right. And, you know, a lot of progressives having been consistent on that. You do have to give him credit for that. But E.J., I mean, are we ever going to declare another war in our entire history? Or is that part of the constitution just now in effect moot?
ACKERMAN: I think the last time we did it was in 1942 against some of the eastern European countries who were allied with Hitler. We did, however, have congressional resolutions. I mean, if you go back to the gulf war, there was a real debate in Congress. It was actually, I think, one of the best debates with we‘ve seen on a foreign policy issue in a long time, before we went into Kuwait. And that was a serious congressional debate, and there was a vote. I think in this case, I agree with the congressman that the administration really did not seem to bring in Congress early enough. I mean, they‘ve been saying today, well, yes, we did consult. But I don‘t see why they couldn‘t have done more to bring in the Congress. But in terms of declaring war. We didn‘t do it with Bosnia or Kosovo which are sort of interventions that are very much akin to this one, I think.
UYGUR: By the way, as you talk there, you know, E.J., I was reminded of something that I have said earlier, it‘s, you know, what we‘ve got here, honestly the closest thing we have to the Obama doctrine is the new world order by George H. W. Bush. He got an appliance together to go into Kuwait. It was fairly quick and it was fairly successful. It looks like Obama is talking the same model. So, it‘s interesting.
DIONNE: I think Barack Obama‘s foreign policy is so much closer to George H. W. Bush‘s policy than his sons was. I think you saw that during the 2008 campaign. Brent Scowcroft, one of the first President Bush‘s closest friend, real realist in foreign policy, was actually quite sympathetic to Obama. I have no idea how he voted but I have a hunch he voted for Obama. And I think that is the tension in Obama, which is why people who wanted to having move more quickly in Egypt were disappointed. There was a really strong realist streak akin to George H.W. Bush in Barack Obama. And there‘s this other side which is sort of democratic and humanitarian and the U.S. should stand up for values in the world. And I think, you see that fight inside Obama all the time.
UYGUR: I think that‘s exactly right. But first, we have to take a break right now. We‘re going to come right back, hopefully Secretary Clinton will speak at some point. All right. We‘ll be right back.
UYGUR: All right. We have been awaiting the handoff and that‘s a good thing. And we are looking for the handoff from us being in-charge of the Libyan no-fly zone to someone else being in charge, so that we don‘t play as big a role so we don‘t have the responsibility and so, we‘re not deeply involved in three wars in the Middle East. Which no one wants, right? We do want of course to be able to be effective here and to protect the people of Benghazi and some of the other cities. It looks like we have done that. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has got to come out, hopefully any minute now, although we‘ve been saying that are for quite a while, to be honest with you—we were discussing whether with Congressman Ackerman who‘s in the set here, whether she‘s grabbing a sandwich or just being careful.
My sense is the reporting of course will likely be true, Andrea Mitchell has already reporting that we are most likely go to the handoff to NATO, and that would be a good thing obviously, Secretary Clinton will give us more of the details of how we would do that handoff. What are the parameters of it, I doubt she‘ll get into how long we will institute the no-fly zone, although that is an interesting question, but we‘re waiting for her to come out and explain to us exactly how that would happen. Now, Congressman, if—and of course Congressman Ackerman is from New York and he‘s been joining us all hour here. If it turns out that we do this handoff in about six days, is that some sort of record? Should we be pretty happy about that speed?
ACKERMAN: I‘m thinking this through and it seems to be like a relay race where the laps may be different. We certainly have done the first lap as the superpower. We‘ve cleared the deck. We have disabled the Libyan military from being able to launch their planes, from being able to fly their planes. We‘re going to handle off the baton to NATO, who‘s critical part of the team. They‘re going to run the next lap. The president thought at the first lap would be days, not weeks or months. It looks like he‘s going to be certainly within that time frame.
UYGUR: Yes. I was a little skeptical when he said days not weeks, but it looks like that‘s what‘s going to happen here. You know, we‘ve also brought in Steve Clemons who‘s been helping us with this discussion throughout. Steve, what would a handoff mean? What would a new role be if we do the handoff?
STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICAN FOUNDATION (on the phone): Well, our new role would be confined to a set of behind the scenes with the Pentagon called unique capabilities, which is code word for intelligence and systems integration. There is no nation in the world that‘s better, than putting a lot of different stuff together and weaving together a force structure from component pieces. And I think you‘ll see the United States play, you know, the role of a kind of wizard of oz behind the curtain, if you will, without a lot of public exposure, but playing a vital systems integration role. To help weave in and coordinate and also, of course, we‘re a key part of NATO. I mean, we‘re part of the backbone of NATO. So, we‘ll be engaged there just in terms of planning. And I think the broader global intelligence system that we have is another part of our unique capabilities that will continue even after the handoff.
UYGUR: Well, let‘s get little more specific. Congressman, do you know if that means we still do bombing if we need to? We still impose the no-fly zone if we need to?
ACKERMAN: Yes. The idea is that we do not. And anything can happen. But the major role which basically, we, I don‘t know if we‘re unique at it within the system, but certainly we could do it the fastest and the best. And that was clearing the field, the communications network, grounding all the planes, knocking them out, and impeding and limiting their ability to do anything in a serious nature. We stand in the background now, we stand ready to assist. The important thing is, we are behind the curtain as the wizard, playing a toned down version, but everybody knows that we‘re there if needed and that‘s important.
UYGUR: So, let me ask you a follow-up question. What if France in the middle of this, you know, we get a—it‘s seven weeks in and the French go, oh, Se la Vi, Gadhafi is going to stay it looks like and they‘re like hey, we would like to take off. Are we left holding the bag if we.
CLEMONS: I don‘t think so. This becomes a NATO responsibility and all of the NATO partners and members take their roles very, very seriously. And they had to think this out. And it might be part of the discussion right now that as we‘re waiting for the secretary. As so what happens if it goes beyond a certain period of time? This cannot drag out forever where the entire international community is for the next 100 year, going to police the skies over Libya. Something has to happen.
UYGUR: Is that part of their agreement? Let me go to E.J. here, E.J. Dionne from “The Washington Post” is still with us as well. Do we, you know, any sense on whether that would be part of an agreement here in terms of time lines? Are they saying, hey, you know, the Turks and the French, and the whoever else is saying, hey, you know what? We‘re going to do this for “X” period of time or no?
CLEMONS: No. I doubt there is an agreement on time lines. Because I don‘t think anyone knows how this is going to play out, or what Gadhafi is going to do. But, you know, a no-fly zone can last for a very long time. It lasted for a very long time in Iraq before the Iraq war. The Kurds were able to effectively establish a state in northern Iraq because that no-fly zone existed. So, it is a kind of open-ended commitment that we have made. I mean, we can end it at some point, but, you know, this could be a very serious undertaking.
UYGUR: Well, Steve, would you consider what happened in Iraq in regards to the no-fly zone, given the expense, given everything else, to be a success and a model for what we could do in Libya?
CLEMONS: No, I thought it was a terrible failure. I thought, it turns a lot of things in place, you know, first, it might saved some people, but it fundamentally didn‘t change the dynamics on the ground, and of course, Saddam Hussein created lots of backdoors to keep himself, you know, quick, pretty potent as leader. And I think that Gary Ackerman has it, you know, right that, you know, the length of time here, the fundamental issue, but it‘s not the questionable tonight since the ally, the way these things work is you‘ve got an incredible degree of international consensus today about Gadhafi being a bad guy, having to go. You have a kind of unprecedented surge of like minded concern around the world in a very short period of time.
This is stating contrasts to what happened in Rwanda, what happened in Bosnia, and what‘s important to realize, as the calendar goes on, if Gadhafi were able to stay in place, other countries don‘t have the same cost benefit relationship with Gadhafi and Libya that we do. Which we can afford to put him in a box and not worry about it. Many other countries may not see it that way, and it wouldn‘t surprise me to see a Brazil, a Turkey, an India or others begin to deal with him economically and begin to kind of erode and chip away at that broad global consensus. And at that point, you‘re really stuck in a very different kind of international political bind. I think given, you know, history and the various metaphors that we have to look back to, that‘s a highly likely scenario.
UYGUR: That‘s interesting.
CLEMONS: I think that‘s something to worry about.
UYGUR: We have to take a break here. But when we come back, if we have time, I want to talk about the money, how much money will this cost us? And also, does it open the door for Gadhafi to get back into the terrorism business? That‘s an interesting question. I want to thank E.J. Dionne who‘s been with us throughout, Congressman Ackerman and Steve Clemons will be back though. Thank you, E.J. We‘ll be right back.
UYGUR: We‘ve been covering the handoff, or so far, not the handoff, Secretary Clinton is about to cover and announced, as we‘ve been telling, I have never looked at the door more in my life. Congressman Ackerman is here. And I just want to ask you something we mentioned earlier. You know, are we worried if Gadhafi stays, entrenched for a while that he‘s going to get back into the terrorism game?
ACKERMAN: Of course we‘re worried. And you put your finger on an unspoken reason for why we really have to stay and backstop this whole operation, and that is if we leave, we are abandoning the playing field to al Qaeda, to the brotherhood, to all of these al-Qaeda-like and al-Qaeda-lite terrorist groups that are just looking for a reason to get in there. And he would welcome them with open arms as a partner and a reliable partner because of that because they don‘t like to quit no matter what the odds are.
UYGUR: Right. And it‘s a precarious situation in that regard. So, obviously we have to keep an eye on how that develops. Congressman Ackerman, thank you so much for joining us through out.
ACKERMAN: My pleasure.
UYGUR: All right. We‘ll be right back.
UYGUR: We are awaiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to come out and speak on the issue of handing over operations in Libya. We understand and Andrea Mitchell has recorded that we will be handing off operations to NATO. We‘ll see, obviously there‘s been a little bit of a delay here, if there‘s some new news that she‘s going to come out with and that might be the reason for the delay. We‘ll find out obviously when she comes out. Now, we‘ve got more people joining this conversation.
Hisham Melhem is the Washington correspondent for Al Arabiya. He‘s on the phone with us. Hisham, I want to ask you, if NATO does do this no-fly zone, how long can Gadhafi last? Any sense of how much money he has? How long he can keep the loyalty of the army?
HISHAM MELHEM, AL ARABIYA: Gadhafi is not Iraq, is not Iran. He‘s a paper tiger and I think with NATO baring heavily on him, it would be a question of time, weeks, not months. I don‘t think the Europeans could afford to have a protracted conflict in the southern med. And that‘s why they have a strategic interest. And they would be forced to play a more active role. The Arabs also have to get their act together, and I don‘t think the Arabs in the end will object to NATO, because NATO saved Muslim lives in the 1990s, and what the Arabs want, definitely the Arab streets so called would like to see now is a quick end to this brutal regime.
UYGUR: All right, wow, that‘s a bold thing to say. Weeks, not months. I hope you‘re right. Thank you for your expertise. I want to thank everybody who joined us in this hour. And when Secretary of State Clinton does come out, MSNBC will cover it line. So, stay tuned for that and obviously what she‘s going to say is very important, very interesting. There‘s been a lot of pressure on this administration to do this handoff. It appears that they are going to do the handoff. We‘ll going to find out exactly what they‘re handing off too.
“HARDBALL” is up next. But we will carry this speech live when it happens. So stay tuned right here to MSNBC. “HARDBALL” up now.
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