This week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the rounds, defending the administration’s decision to join coalition forces in creating a no-fly zone over Libya. Other guests included former House speaker Newt Gingrich on accusations of flip-flopping last week, and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on the House-adopted amendment eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s health-care programs.


Carl Levin: ‘We cannot use military means to remove every dictator’

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that he was fully on board with the military action in Libya. “We’re part of an international coalition. . .to prevent the slaughter of the civilians in Libya,” he said. Pressed regarding the coalition’s plan for Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, Levin was adamant that the goal was not Gaddafi’s removal. “It is a flyover which is succeeding,” Levin said. “It has set Gaddafi back. He’s on his heels now moving his troops towards his capital where he is strong.” But he said it was the responsibility of the Libyan people to remove their leader. “We are not going to be the ones to remove him.”

Asked why the United States had pursued military action in Libya and not in Syria or in other countries with civilians suffering under government-led persecution, Levin said that “we cannot use military means to remove every dictator.” For Levin, the key distinction was that the international community had vocalized its support for the no-fly zone over Libya -- a call that had not been made on behalf of other Arab nations.


Gates: Libya ‘was not a vital national interest’

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the crisis in Libya. Asked how long the U.S. mission will last, Gates replied, “I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that.” On whether Libya posed an “actual or imminent” threat to the U.S., Gates responded, “No, no. It was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest.” Clinton defended the administration’s decision to go ahead without formal congressional backing, a point on which she and President Obama had earlier criticized former President Bush. “We would welcome congressional support, but I don’t think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama was speaking of several years ago,” Clinton said. Gates said that the U.S. has “prevented the large-scale slaughter that was beginning to take place” in Libya and that things are now at the point where the establishment of a no-fly zone has been accomplished and the effort can now move to sustainment. Regime change, he emphasized, “was never part of the military mission.”

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized the administration on Libya, saying that “the mission has to determine the coalition. The coalition ought not determine the mission.” He also said that the administration’s effort has been marked by confusion -- “confusion about what the mission is, confusion about who the rebels are, confusion about whether or not Gaddafi should be left in power, confusion about what the command and control should be.” He also pointed out that the current international coalition on Libya “is the smallest one in modern history.”


Gates: No decision yet on supplying arms to Libyan rebels

Asked whether the U.S. would supply arms to Libyan rebels, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that “no decision has been made about that at this point.” Gates also said that he believed the no-fly-zone part of the U.S. mission in Libya “has been accomplished.” Gates also reiterated that President Obama has said he wants Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to go, but would not act militarily to do so. “We have other things in our toolbox besides hammers,” Gates said, adding later that “one should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the administration’s action on Libya, which was taken without a formal vote by Congress. “I certainly believe it was within the president’s constitutional authority to do so,” she said. On how long the no-fly-zone might last, Gates responded, “Nobody knows the answer to that question.” Gates also said that Libya is not a “vital interest” to the U.S., but the U.S. clearly has vital interests in the region.

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that “there should have been a plan for what our objectives were, a debate as to why this was in our vital interests before we committed military forces to Libya.” He noted that Obama justified action as a humanitarian gesture and that it “would have been unconscionable” to stand by. On how long the U.S. should continue intervening, Lugar said, “I don’t believe we should be engaged in a Libyan civil war; the Libyans are going to have to work that out.”


Gingrich defends himself on Libya

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) defended himself against charges that he flip-flopped on whether the United States should intervene in Libya, saying that in his most recent comments, he was reiterating his February stance that the United States should replace Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi without using the U.S. military. Once Obama said Gaddafi must go, Gingrich said, the U.S. had “an obligation to get rid of him.” Gingrich added that the U.S. should strike at Gaddafi, although ground troops should not be used. “We should be able to find allies who are prepared to go on the ground,” he said. Gingrich also said Obama should call on Congress for a war supplemental for Libya but sounded a cautious note on whether the United States should get involved in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

On running for president, Gingrich said that “I think within a month, we’ll have that taken care of and we’ll be running.” Gingrich also faced a series of questions on his personal life. Host Chris Wallace said that many believed Gingrich’s defense that he had had extramarital affairs partially because he cared “passionately” about the country was “kind of lame.” Gingrich responded that in the interview, he “went on to say that I had to seek God’s forgiveness.” Asked about leading the charge against Bill Clinton while he himself was carrying on an affair, Gingrich responded that “obviously, it’s complex and, obviously, I wasn’t doing things to be proud of.” He continued: “You have to look at whether or not people have to be perfect in order to be leaders. . . . We’ll find out in six months or a year from now whether people are forgiving.”

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) defended U.S. involvement in Libya. “This is a historic time of enormous opportunity and proportions,” McCain said. “And we should be doing whatever we can to not have brutal dictators remain in power without the commitment of U.S. ground troops in Libya or anyplace else.” McCain did, however, criticize the administration’s policy, saying that it “has been characterized by confusion, indecision and delay.” Lieberman said that if the U.S. hadn’t acted, people would now be “bemoaning a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi.” Lieberman added that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as well as the one that’s started in Libya “are the most profound repudiation “ of al Qaeda and Iran. As for the conflict’s endgame, Lieberman said that the “only acceptable way for this to end is for Gaddafi to go.” Asked about potential intervention other countries, Lieberman said that Syria was a possibility. “There’s a precedent now that the world community has set in Libya, and it’s the right one,” Lieberman said. McCain was asked he would do on Yemen. He responded, “I have to be honest. I don’t know what we do exactly about Yemen, except that obviously the president has to step down, as he has agreed to do so.”


Defense Secretary Robert Gates: ‘We are in dark territory’

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discussed the conflict in Libya, defending the military action being undertaken by coalition forces and attempting to place U.S. military action in the wider context of the nation’s overall foreign and military policy. Asked why the United States had pursued military action in Libya and not elsewhere, Clinton said that if there had been a coalition backing military action in other countries, such action would have taken place.

“I think what you’re seeing is the difference between a military mission and a policy initiative,” Gates said. “We are so focused on these individual countries, I think that we have lost sight of the extraordinary story that is going on in the Middle East.” He described the shift as a “wide-spread” change in the “tectonic plates” of the region. “We are in dark territory,” he continued, in an effort to underscore the wider challenge being faced by the United States and coalition forces.


Planned Parenthood president: ‘Women’s health care is being treated now as a political issue’

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards addressed the House-adopted amendment sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) that would deny funding to the organization for women’s reproductive health care. “Women’s health care is being treated now as a political issue,” she said.

Asked how she justifies federal funding of Planned Parenthood, Richards argued that the House leadership singled out Planned Parenthood and that the cuts did not result in overall budget savings. She said that family planning advice, contraceptives distribution, cancer screenings and other preventive care are “one of the best investments that the government makes.” “This is not about abortion services at all,” said Richards, citing the decades-old Hyde amendment, which prevents federal funding of abortion.

Asked about the potential repercussions candidates may suffer in 2012 as a result of the funding amendment’s passage, Richards said the organization has heard from over 800,000 individuals expressing concern over congressional action. “That was a direct, political swipe at us,” she said of the Pence amendment.