Former Defense Secretary William Cohen says there is a serious disconnect in the U.S. mission in Libya between the humanitarian effort to help the rebels, who are trying to topple Libyan despot Moammar Gadhafi, and President Barack Obama’s call to remove his regime. Cohen also said Thursday on Fox Business Network aiding the rebels is a dangerous move.
“One of the problems I have had with the mission — there seems to be a great disconnect between our so-called military mission, which is supposed to be humanitarian in nature, and the political objective, which is the removal of Moammar Gadhafi,” Cohen said. “There is a great deal of ambivalence and self-doubt. My objection has been once you enter the fray, once you have come down on the side of the rebels — not knowing who they are or what their agenda is, sending in the CIA to try to determine their legitimacy — now we’re in the middle of this minefield, not moving forward to the other end or finding a way out.
“You need clarity of mission — once you step into this, you have to conclude it — and to leave Gadhafi in power now would be a defeat for the United States and for NATO, and generally would be unsettling to the entire Middle East region,” he said. “And we have to use whatever power is necessary to reconcile the military mission consistent with the objective of having Gadhafi either step down voluntarily or be taken out.”
Cohen said there also is a fundamental inconsistency between choosing the rebel side in the conflict and then questioning who they are.
“Whether we picked the right side or not, we have picked sides by coming on the side of the rebels as such — now we have backed off, saying: ‘Well, we’re not quite sure who they are and we’re not prepared to fully recognize them as a legitimate government at this point,’” he said. “So you’re sort of halfway across the stream and now deciding, maybe we got the wrong side or we picked the wrong people.
“But it seems to me, from our — my point of view — once the president declares our political objective is removal of Gadhafi, once you have the British and the French and the Italians, the Qataris . . . and others involved, then it seems to me we have an obligation to really achieve the mission, which is the removal, either voluntarily or by force, of Moammar Gadhafi,” Cohen continued.
“It seems to me that when NATO speaks and the European members of NATO say we want to have a European self-defense force as such — well, where’s the money, so to speak? Where is the mettle? Where is the ability of our allies to carry out this mission?” Cohen asked. “We have done some pretty heavy lifting by sending in our stealth aircraft, taking out the air defense systems, for the most part, or reducing them at least.”
Cohen added Obama should not put boots on the ground in Libya and the onus should be on U.S. European and Arab allies.
“Now the burden should be on our European friends to take up the rest of that — we can certainly supplement it — and we can increase our firepower,” he said. “It seems to me that would be a fair allocation of responsibility for them to put the boots on the ground, helping us direct the military missions from the air as well.”
Host Charles Payne then asked Cohen about Obama’s nomination of CIA chief Leon Panetta to head the Defense Department and whether he would implement serious cuts in Pentagon spending.
“Well, we have to be worried about it — obviously, defense budgets will be under consideration,” Cohen said. “But what we have to remember is every time you talk about cutting defense, you're talking about affecting jobs as well. This is something that you will run into whether it's the speaker of the House, whether it's key members of Congress.
“It’s great to talk about cutting defense in the abstract — when you get down to how it is going to impact our ability to produce weapon systems, our ability to keep our force fully manned, et cetera, then it becomes much more difficult,” he continued. “I think that Leon Panetta, understanding the budget, is going to be in a very good position to debate this on Capitol Hill.
“But I think he is going to have to try to hold the line as much as possible.”
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