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.