April 12th, 2011
02:10 PM ET

Fareed on a de facto partition of Libya

In this Q&A, CNN's Fareed Zakaria reminds us that a de facto partition of Libya is better than a Gadhafi-ruled country, and he explains why foreign policy cannot be applied consistently across vastly different countries.

Amar C. Bakshi: How do you see us getting out of the stalemate in Libya?

Fareed Zakaria: I think that the mistake would be to say we’re in a stalemate and the way we’re going to get out is by keeping ratcheting up military force, because that just gets us more deeply and deeply committed in an area and with an issue where everyone agrees our interests are limited.

How do we get out of the stalemate? We keep the pressure on: We push for diplomatic and political solutions. Gadhafi is cornered. He is isolated. He’s quarantined. He’s sanctioned. This is not a great life for him. And so you’ve got to hope that at some point he realizes that.

Worst case scenario: the status quo is not so bad for the United States. It’s not particularly expensive.  We maintained a much more robust no-fly zone over Iraq for 10 years or so.

People say, “Well, it may mean the de facto partition of Libya?”

Well, so be it. I mean, it’s not particularly clear to me why a partitioned Libya is worse than a Libya run by a Gadhafi. If you want to be very cynical, you could say for a consumer of oil like the United States having lots of little oil producing countries is better than having a few big ones.

On GPS this past Sunday you talked with former U.S. Secretary of State and Treasury James Baker about the U.S. intervention Libya (see video above and transcript here).  What struck you most about this interview?

What I was struck by was how uncomfortable James Baker was with the Libyan operation but how he seemed to recognize that he probably would have found himself backed into the same position Obama was.

Here’s a guy who was really a pretty steely-eyed realist who was very uncomfortable with the idea of an open-ended humanitarian intervention. But when we talked about how the Libyan opposition begged for it, the Arab League surprisingly and for the first time in 60 years endorsed it, the UN approved it with the Russians and Chinese abstaining, and the Europeans - France and Britain - pleaded with the Americans to help, it would have been pretty tough to say no.

And so it just gave me a sense of the dilemma that Obama is in.  It’s all very well to say - as Richard Haass has said on GPS - that Obama should have just stuck it out and said "No, no, no." But when you’re in that situation and it’s your closest allies there that are asking and the Arab street is asking for it - even James Baker sort of ended up saying, yeah, I probably would have had to go in, but let’s keep it very limited.

And I think that is what Obama is doing. He went in clearly reluctantly and he’s trying to keep it very limited, so I think that the trick will be in maintaining that discipline of staying limited while all of us in the media are going to clamor for action to solve the problem and win against Gadhafi because we view it as a game of chicken.  We want to see Gadhafi blink.

Violence is mounting in Syria. What should the United States do in Syria?

I think that in the case of Syria, it isn't such a bad thing for there to be instability. It isn't such a bad thing for the regime to be on edge. There isn't an easy path for the United States to do anything. I think when people say we have to be consistent everywhere, this is nuts. You’re never consistent in foreign policy. You can't be. The circumstances are different. Each country is different.

In the case of Libya, you had a Libyan opposition that had wrested control from Gadhafi of several key cities, had tried to create a kind of alternate government and was requesting a limited form of Western military intervention. None of that is happening in Syria. What you have is street protests that are being put down.

Now if something similar were to happen in Syria where one part of the country was somehow to effectively try to secede and would be under the control of rebel groups and they were to come to the West and ask for some help - that would pose an interesting and difficult dilemma.

I would say that in all of these cases my attitude has been we should support them economically, politically - we should stand with them - but using military power is a very, very dangerous game. You’re inserting yourself into these very complex political struggles and you start taking ownership for the resulting political situation in those countries. You start taking ownership for those countries.

Colin Powell’s great line about the Pottery Barn Rule - “you break it you buy it” - there’s some truth to that. The more you insert yourself militarily in these countries, the more you have to accept responsibility for the outcome.

I should point out by the way that Pottery Barn insists that they do not have a rule like that and that, you know, people should feel free to…

To break what they want?

Well, if people do break things they are not going to be forced to buy them in the Pottery Barn.  I’ve never tested that theory.

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Topics: From Fareed • GPS Show • Libya • Middle East • Syria

soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. Pua

    Moral Responsibility???? It was Mr. Zakaria's favorite president that decided the moral responsibility lay with a nation involved in two dragging wars, an economy in stagnation, a constituence at each others throats, and wildly out of control illegal immigration... If anything Mr. Gadaffi should have taken a moral interest in setting the US straight...

    April 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  2. Patrick A.

    We know that the united can,t be consistent,since Anyone with a Brain knows that this is about STEALING OIL,plain and simple.
    We have no shame but then again as they say there is never any honor among THIEVES.
    Britain,USA,France,Italy,Spain the same OLD Thieves from yesteryears are still doing it,only now under some garbage nonsense about protecting civilians.

    April 12, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  3. Victor Chief

    I've never quite run across someone that has an "expert" opinion on everything. Partitioning Libya is another formula for a 100 year war. Brilliant. Bravo. You really should be running a call center somewhere, not pontificating on geo-political issues you have no understanding of.

    April 12, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  4. crudahfi

    It's very premature to start talking about partitioning Libya, although a replacement government in absentia might exist for a while, which has happened at other times in history. The civil war in Libya has been going on for less than two months. The important thing is to keep targeting stockpiles and supply lines, and seal up the borders so that Gadhafi can't import arms and fighters. At least keep it to a trickle. After a while, his army will simply run out of enough bombs and weapons to adequately fight. Meanwhile, let's make sure the CIA trains up the rebels in basic combat skills. The opposition's victory might not happen this month or next, maybe not even for a year, but as long as we give them the support outlined here I doubt they'll give up. Plus they can start earning from oil exports. NATO's support is a worthwhile investment in every way, not least to show we mean good will to the people of the Middle East. Attitudes in the Middle East are becoming more modern and we need to catch that wave.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  5. fred swisher

    geo-politics is way above my pay grade. As a landscaper I see Libya as land along a coastline w/oil and a dangerous nutjob in charge. I've seen some customers who held the purse strings but made bad choices, that don't pay in the long run. Ultimately Reality Wins! K-daffy is having his ownership foreclosed because of his poor decisions, as he runs out of money, support and military hardware he will leave. It's been smart to pick the right battles and be passive otherwise as he "sinks his own ship." Low hanging fruit should be picked off by NATO while K-daffy's position weakens each day.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  6. Ian

    a symbol with a clear but powerful message’
    Headline: The first concrete step towards a free Libya “a symbol of defiance has started to appear all around Tripoli, even reaching the walls of Gaddafi's compound”

    THINK! How many lives & dollars could be saved, if only enough wise Libyans of goodwill worked together to encourage others to unite behind a simple common symbol, a symbol with a clear but powerful message that left little room for tyrants or terrorists?
    All people of the world deserve a chance to prosper.
    “Say something like a version of the eyes21st.org logo been put to good use”
    See http://eyes21st.org/

    Think what you like, it could be an effort with better odds than most – If only it was this easy for us mere mortals without access to the big messengers

    April 12, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  7. Count Of Montecristo

    Got it. Create Pakistan in Libya.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  8. Daveusa

    Didn't anyone notice that the side we backed in Egypt to overthrow the tyrant there opened fire on protesters the other day? I have to say, it is so much better in Egypt now, glad they had the revolution. Does anyone really think it will be any better in Libya with this guy gone? Didn't anyone notice that the arab brotherhood which support Shria law wants to take over and run this country? Pssst – they don't like Americans. Case in point, they started blaming the US and NATO for not supporting them enough, it has started already. Keep wasting missles and time for nothing. Good plan.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  9. Blue Person Group

    Italy gets a significant fraction of its oil directly from Libya. Italy and France do not want conflict in Libya, because they have no interest in receiving the tens of thousands of refugess who are already crossing the Mediterranean and arriving on their shores. They have legitimate interests in stopping the fighting.

    Barack Obama, once again, is being led around by a woman who is stronger than he is. No, it's not Hillary Clinton, but rather his advisor Samantha Power, another left-leaning academic. Unmindful of the lessons of the Carter administration, she has encouraged Crusade 2011 to protect human rights, with little understanding of the possible consequences. As Carter's "human rights uber alles" policy led directly to the overthrow of the Shah and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Obama's short-sighted policy and possible abandonment of long-time allies could cause further deterioration of pro-Western states in the Middle East and northern Africa.

    April 13, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  10. saeed

    The Libyan Americans are telling you to keep your opinion to your self Mr Zakaria.Libya will never be partitioned
    We will be united god willing and you will eat your own words. Your opinion is meaningless to us.
    You should be on Ghaddafi's Payroll.

    April 13, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  11. Miss

    I'm not usually this blunt or rude in my comments anywhere, but the ignorance of some of these comments is astounding. Some of you are spouting talking points, and some of the rest of you seem to have read a couple of articles online about Libya and now think you're experts on foreign policy in the MENA.

    At least a few of you seem to know what you're talking about. And I guess Fareed doesn't like seeing Libyans flying American flags in Benghazi...

    April 13, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  12. Goran

    What the hell is wrong with you people!? Do you hear yourself Mr. Fareed?! You're talking about partitioning a contry, and you're saying maintaining instability in another country is good? You think you're playing a game?! There's people out there, death, hunger, war! You should get out of that suit of yours, put on a uniform, pick up a weapon and go to those countries you're talking about, and tell them all of that in the face. And see what happens! You'd definately change your ignorant lattitudes! Go out there and get some "instability" to see what it feels like!

    April 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  13. Demetrius

    Some of us have forgotten that the purpose of the government isa to serve and protect the country governed. It is not to export our values to every other country in the world. I am happy knowing there are a bunch of Libyans who want to be Libyans. They should not want to be American, British, French – or anyone else.

    Trying to bring out the little westerner in each Libyan has killed a lot of Libyans so far. how many have to die before we allow the Libyans to decide their fate? If the Libyans don't want to be ruled by their government, they will take control of their land without billions of dollars in forwign airstrikes and black ops missions.

    Obviously the majority of Libyans do not want a change. We are pandering to the greed of a few at the expense of the lives of the many. Until the day that the majority of Libyans decide they don't want their government, they should keep their government. Until that day comes we should leave them alone.

    April 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Rishav

    Fareed, you should probably not talk like a president, it doesn't suit your profession. You should be telling us what the US would do instead of what you think should be done. Having said that, I'd disagree that partitioning Libya would be a good solution. The west did that with Palestine and the results have not been really fruitful. Furthermore, your assertion that Syria should be left as it is does reflect the undertone of what the US has been doing for the whole time- it has been pursuing foreign policy that suits its own interest, in the guise of spreading democracy.

    At this time, it would be unwise for the US to engage in the MENA region. There are more important things, like providing insurance to the 48 million Americans who are uninsured or getting the 20 million illterate Americans on the path to education or providing more employment.

    In my view, the developed countries should start delegating military operations to an organization like the NATO or create a war council in the UN which will take care of such operations so that individual countries like the US does not need to get unnecessarily and unwillingly involved in others' affairs.

    April 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  15. Rick McDaniel

    The US needs to learn to keep out of other people's business, and allow other people to self-determine.

    April 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  16. JOSH

    OMG how to defend our idiocracy? To establish a democracy in any arab country is like building a bank in the Amazon jungle and use the indies as cashiers.HELLO, people in those countries dont even know the word DEMOCRACY, take for example Lybia, they have a TRIBAL society in the XXI Century.

    April 13, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  17. Pat B

    Well Fareed you can thank Obumbler for backing off on taking Goofgaffi down and letting him drag on a repressive and violent resistance to his people's desire for more freedom, thus inspiring other authoritarian regimes to emulate his limited success. Good thinking there B.O.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  18. Ghimire, Krishna

    On what basis we are judging that a majority of Libyan people have revolted against Gadhafi? How about finding facts before attacking, and giving time for any nation for correction, before we start bombarding? So you are saying the NATO bombarding for humanitarian mission is successful, and not stalemate? Do you think such mission of 10 years’ of no- fly zone, and 10 years of warzone of mass murder is good for our nation, or humanitarian? Breaking the back of our country for what? Is it worth to risk our nation’s strength for killing one Saddam Hussein or for teaching one Gadhafi a lesson, or for their regime change? We have to have better goal than leveling and fighting with these developing small nations?
    You know, it doesn’t have to be billion dollars elected president or seasonal power and money grabbing Prime-ministers in small and developing countries. One size doesn’t fit everywhere. England may have luxurious Queen without performing, some may have president, and some may have established rulers as long as the majority of the people are willing to live with it. That is beauty of the world, a real freedom and democracy. I don’t think, majority of Libyan people are ready to trust these unfamiliar rebellions than to Gadhafi. So the outside selection of a leader for any nation will only bring clash and death, and disaster to human sufferings.
    War is not like giving a candy to please kids, so even if these Europeans – France and Britain pleaded with Americans to bombard, our nation must have preserved tolerance in its wisdom. However the fact is quite opposite. We have carefully witnessed the persuasive effort of Mrs. Clinton: the relentless flight for overseas, the unbreakable hand shaking with these European leaders until she pulled them to agree for her mission. And the action was taken like Tsunami, in no time creating disaster, without giving to express our opinion.
    In my view US interest must be focused on American’s betterment than war making into Middle East. This is costing our nation more than we would have to pay for gasoline without war or bombarding. This reckless behavior is not recipe for humanitarian, but a contributor to our rising national debt. This is sad that even intelligent people like you hesitate to speak for the truth and supporting for long conflict. Let support for no-fly zone at all than for more robust no-fly zone. Let try that way and see how the sky will fall over our head! Let not make war on hypothetical calculations. It wouldn’t cost for humankind this much even if we proceed 100 times for peace without thinking than for war even after 100 times thinking over it. As important our life and my family is for us, it is that important for other too. So we should always pause and think before heading for mass destruction and casualties. I agree, war might boost media business temporarily, but if the nation plunges into downturn, it will be bad news for everyone and everything.
    Besides, we must not abuse other nation’s freedom. We can condemn with words but not with bombarding; moreover our call for moral must be maintained with the standard means to all the nations.

    April 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  19. L. Kouyoumdjian

    Cynical, immoral and arrogant. Killing civilians, using depleted uranium on Libya appear to be legal and legitimate for Fareed Zakaria. Partitionning Libya is welcomed, a no fly zone is not expensive. 10 years in irak killing children as collateral dommage is considered a good strategy.

    May 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
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