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Clinton, Gates on Defensive about Libya Actions Clinton, Gates on Defensive about Libya Actions

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Foreign Affairs

Clinton, Gates on Defensive about Libya Actions


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates appeared on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the United States' role in the military operations in Libya.(Getty Images)

Despite violent retaliations by Middle Eastern dictators against their own people, officials say the United States is not planning a military role similar to the mission in Libya, Obama chief lieutenants assured Americans on Sunday.

“Each of these situations is unique,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on CBS’ Face the Nation, after saying the U.S. is not planning action in Syria or other Middle Eastern countries.


“Certainly we deplore the violence in Syria,” Clinton said, “but with the situation in Libya…the international community moved with great speed, in part because there’s a history here.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the military mission to establish a no-fly zone in Libya was “for all practical purposes” complete on ABC’s This Week. Gates said maintaining the no-fly zone would require fewer resources than implementing the mission.

Clinton added that NATO would “meet in the next few days,” to decide whether to take control of the civilian protection mission.


When asked why the U.S. military objective was not fully removing Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, Gates said the military mission had to be “achievable.”

“What you’re seeing is the difference between a military mission and a policy objective,” said Gates on CBS.

“You don’t, as a military campaign set as a mission something you can’t achieve,” Gates said, noting that regime change was “very complicated.”

Gates said he did not believe anyone knew how long the mission in Libya would last, despite reports that officials within the Pentagon believe the mission could last several months or longer.


When pointedly asked if the U.S. mission would be complete by the end of the year, Gates said “I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that.”

 Clinton was pushed on her and President Obama’s opposition, when they were both in the Senate, to former President George W. Bush’s unilateral invasion of Iraq without seeking congressional approval. Congress has not authorized the Libyan mission.

“We would welcome congressional support,” said Clinton. “But I don’t think this kind of internationally authorized intervention…is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama were speaking of several years ago.”

Clinton defended the adminsitration’s role in Libya by saying no policy position is perfect.

“Every decision that we make is going to have pluses and minuses,” said Clinton.

“Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered…the cries would be ‘Why did the United States not doing anything?’”

But Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned the United States’ role in the conflict in Libya Sunday.

“I don't believe we should be engaged in a Libyan civil war. The fact is we don't have particular ties with anybody in the Libyan picture. It is not a vital interests to the United States,” Lugar said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “American interests are not at stake,” he said.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Clinton and Obama’s position on Libya versus the Iraqi invasion highlighted the difference between serving in the legislative and executive branches.

“I think President Obama and Secretary Clinton are both experiencing the difference in serving in the legislative branch and then serving in executive position. The perspectives are enormously different,” said Rumsfeld on ABC.

Rumsfeld also said the U.S. must stay in Libya until Qaddafi is removed.

“I think the goal has to be that Qaddafi leaves. My personal view is that once you’re involved, you have to recognize the prestige of the United States is at stake,” said Rumsfeld.

“What we do in Libya will unquestionably have a serious impact on the more important issues of Iran and Syria and Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”

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