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'Shop Talk': Role For U.S. In Post-Gadhafi Libya?

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and Corey Ealons. He's a communications strategist and former staffer for President Obama.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good, man.

COREY EALONS: Doing great, Jimi.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get things started talking about the death of Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. Now, he was shot and killed after he was captured in his hometown of Sirte yesterday. Gadhafi's dictatorship lasted more than 40 years, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, that's right, Jimi. And I do think it's important to note that the U.S. has had a very complicated relationship with Libya. There was Gadhafi's involvement in terrorist attacks throughout the 1980s, but more recently, I think people may remember that he tried to rehabilitate his image and relationships with Western countries, including the U.S. and the U.K. You know, but ultimately, this government, the Obama administration, supported the NATO intervention that ended the regime.

I'll just give you a short clip from President Obama's comments about this yesterday. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: One year ago, the notion of a free Libya seemed impossible, but then the Libyan people rose up and demanded their rights. And when Gadhafi and his forces started going city to city, town by town, to brutalize men, women and children, the world refused to stand idly by.

IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. A Train.


IZRAEL: Listen, man. You know, I'm glad we got him finally - or somebody got him because, you know, I was really afraid this was going to be Obama's mission accomplished moment because, you know, we ousted him a few months back and we declared, you know, everything was free and clear, but you know, I thought it was going to be one of those super-villain moments where, you know, like the Joker comes back and, like, takes Gotham. I thought Gadhafi was that kind of cat and could come back and say, aha, got you.

But, you know, we got him and the U.S. has been calling for democracy in that area for a long time. President Reagan, he called Gadhafi the mad dog of the Middle East. So how significant is this all?

IFTIKHAR: Hide your kids, hide your wives, hide your Moammar Gadhafis. The people of Libya are free tonight. It's a game changer. You know, let's not forget that Moammar Gadhafi, as you mentioned in the intro, was one of the longest serving dictators in the world, serving over 42 years over the people of Libya.

What I think is most important to note is the fact of the Arab Spring. You know, here you have in one calendar year, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and now, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, all falling in the same calendar year. And so I think it really, really speaks to the Arab Spring and I think, for once, you know, the people of Libya and Italian supermodels everywhere will be able to sleep peacefully at night knowing that Gadhafi is gone.

IZRAEL: So what role should America play, if any, in the rebuilding of the region?

MARTIN: Yeah. Because I don't really - because, Jimi, you use this locution. I think you were just short-handing here, but I don't know that we got him. I don't know that we...

IZRAEL: Right. It wasn't what...

MARTIN: Who's we?

IZRAEL: Okay. Okay.

IFTIKHAR: In this case, you know...

IZRAEL: Right. Not us. Right.

IFTIKHAR: We were just part of the NATO mission that gave air support while Gadhafi's air force was striking down on civilians. You know, if there was a mission accomplished moment for Obama, it was on May 1st when we got Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

NAVARRETTE: Right. Yeah, that's different.

IFTIKHAR: But here, I think what's important to keep in mind is that Libya is the ninth largest oil producer in the world, the largest in Africa and so there is an economic base to build the country and now the Transitional National Council, the TNC, you know, will have to see what sort of transitional government comes into place.

Tunisia's having their elections next week right next door, so we'll see now in the next few months what kind of elections happen in Libya and what comes about from that.

EALONS: It has to be said, though, that this is what George W. Bush thought he was going to get when he invaded Iraq back in 2003. He thought that he was going to be able to charge into Baghdad and have the type of resolution that we've seen in just eight months under President Obama's leadership.

So here's the point. The point is Obama ultimately showed incredible restraint and very sound judgment in how he involved the United States in that mission. No boots on the ground, just as he promised.


EALONS: Less than $2 billion spent. That's extraordinary at the end of the day. And he allowed the United States to be an active partner with NATO in executing this mission. Ultimately, that's important.

MARTIN: So, Corey, let me ask you this.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Corey.

MARTIN: Do you think this had a - is that the Obama doctrine? Is that the Obama doctrine? The notion of - I don't want to say leading from behind because I don't think that's accurate.



NAVARRETTE: Yeah. But close. She's close. Yeah.

MARTIN: But leading from the middle, or what would you say? It's rather than, you know, those sort of the leader of the charge or the orchestrator in charge.

EALONS: There's something...

MARTIN: How would you describe it?

EALONS: There is something to be said about the strength of American fire power. The strength of the American Armed Forces - that's to be sure. But there's a time for us to withdraw – to the draw the sword and there's a time to sheath it. And this president appreciates what it means when you deploy troops. You also have to appreciate he understands, we were engaged in two wars already, so we really didn't have the resources to commit to Libya. But ultimately, I think what drove his thinking on this and ultimately his decisions, is we need to be partners with NATO again. I think that's the Obama Doctrine. And ultimately, the Libyan people need to decide when this happens and how it happens. And that's - so I think it is in part an American victory.


IZRAEL: Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: Here, thank you for that word from the Democratic National Committee, but let me instill something here.


NAVARRETTE: Here's the Obama....

IZRAEL: I knew it.

NAVARRETTE: Here is the Obama Doctrine...

EALONS: Well, you know, we got to have some...

NAVARRETTE: The Obama...

EALONS: We go to have some pushback so that's totally fine. Come on, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Here...

EALONS: What you got? What you got?

NAVARRETTE: Here we go. The Obama Doctrine is real simple: I claim credit when things go right. I pass blame when things go wrong. The idea of we, I think, would correctly, you know, pushing back on the idea of we. The people who are at the tip of the spear on the we, it really merits saying are the Libyan people. And the...

EALONS: That's what I just said. I just said that - the freedom fighters.

NAVARRETTE: Well, the freedom fighters, while Obama and to some degree, other countries around the world, other leaders around the world watch from the stands because they didn't want to get down on the ground, boots on the ground – as you said – and get their hands dirty.

One of the things that troubled me about Libya, is the - sort of the ambivalent nature with which we approach this mission - with a timetable, you know, with a pull in - a pull out - and not necessarily sort of in for the long haul. The bigger question here though, or the bigger credit, I guess, goes to democracy - to the idea that what happens in Egypt is contagious, what happens in Libya is contagious. And I don't know where the seeds where planted for this, maybe they were planted in Iraq. But the important point here is that freedom wins out in the end when people on the ground who don't go home at the end of the day, who don't retreat back into the White House or to the policy rooms, but the people on the ground there, keep pushing, keep pushing and keep pursuing Gadhafi.

This man was guilty of mass crimes against his own people and guess what? His own people decided he was not going to get away with it.

MARTIN: Well, hold on a minute, though. The implication is that air power is not the use of force.


MARTIN: I mean air power clearly played a role in the capture of Gadhafi.

IFTIKHAR: It was the French NATO...

MARTIN: It was the French NATO - go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: French NATO air strike...


IFTIKHAR: ...that knocked his caravan so that the...

NAVARRETTE: There's - yeah.

IFTIKHAR: ...the NTC could come and finish him off. And so...

NAVARRETTE: There's nothing wrong with air power. But, you know, if you study all the various wars we've been engaged in - the wars around the world, there's a difference - and throughout history - there's a difference between air power and boots on the ground. And Arsalan pointed that out. I mean there's a world of difference between a Seal team going into a building, at personal risk to themselves, going after Osama bin Laden - and kudos to them - versus and air...

MARTIN: What's wrong with bring ambivalent about - what's wrong about...

NAVARRETTE: ...an air strike.

MARTIN: ...being ambivalent about using military force against another sovereign country, Ruben? Let me ask you, what is wrong with ambivalence...

NAVARRETTE: I think this...

MARTIN: ...when it comes to risking people's lives?

IFTIKHAR: And especially when the Republicans...

NAVARRETTE: I can give you - well...

IFTIKHAR: ...you know, were condemning him for even, you know, going in with NATO.

NAVARRETTE: It sounds like you're making that...

IZRAEL: Let him get the answer out. Go ahead.

NAVARRETTE: It sounds like you're making the argument for why the ambivalence is there. I mean, you have it on the left and you have among supporters of Obama a really a paradox here, because they want to on the one hand go back to their Pacifist non-violent roots to say that they're really suspicious of the use of military power against a foreign nation. And at the other time, they want to applaud when something like this happens for their guy. It's very - it's contradictory. It's hard to, for you guys to sort that all out. But let me tell what I...

MARTIN: What a minute. What about the - there's no isolationism within the Republican Party? I'm sorry. I'm confused.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. And we put the...

MARTIN: Didn't we go to the same college and study history together? I'm sorry.

NAVARRETTE: I think those people should be put out where Ron Paul is and that's on the radical fringe of the party. I don't think that isolationism works for Republicans or Democrats. But to your point...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

NAVARRETTE: ...about use of military power, if this is, you know, if this is D-Day or this is World War II and you're going after someone like Adolph Hitler, I think that if you're protecting the world from genocide or mass murder, I think that use of force is very appropriate no matter who the president is.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

NAVARRETTE: And my only problem here is not that...


NAVARRETTE: ...Osama bin Laden met his end of that Gadhafi met his end but rather the tap dance that supporters of Obama have had to play to somehow be in favor of pacifism but then cheer when somebody gets knocked off.

MARTIN: I've never seen - Corey, correct me if I'm wrong, has this president ever presented himself as a pacifist?

EALONS: Absolutely not. I mean lets be very clear, this is the guy who got Osama bin Laden and made the very direct call to use the tactics that he did to take him out.

MARTIN: But more to the point, isn't this the person who used the Nobel Peace ceremony to...


MARTIN: ...articulate a doctrine for the use of force?

NAVARRETTE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And besides, just some – just, but, okay.

NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. That's right.

MARTIN: But I get your point, Ruben. I think I understand what you're trying to say.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. This is a...

MARTIN: If you're just...

NAVARRETTE: This is a quite a death toll for the Nobel Prize Peace winner.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. You're listening to our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're joined by Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Corey Ealons. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right everybody. Let's keep it moving 'cause we got it heated in here. The GOP presidential candidates were trying to take each other down in debate number eight. It was health care and immigration that got the candidates all fired up, Michel.

MARTIN: This is – I thought it was number nine? Am I – is it eight?

IFTIKHAR: I stopped counting.


MARTIN: I'm sorry. OK, I forgot.


MARTIN: Right, it could be 12.

IZRAEL: It was eight.

MARTIN: I don't know. But wait.

EALONS: You may have miscounted, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: I might have miscounted.

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: But...

NAVARRETTE: They all sound the same.

MARTIN: But for the people who watched it, though, this one did take it up a notch, I think in terms of the level of intensity. But this was one of the moments I think a lot of people were thinking about where Texas Governor Rick Perry went after former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal workers. This was an issue that surfaced when Mitt Romney ran in 2008 - about whether the landscaping crew that worked on his property contained people without proper documentation. Perry claimed that Romney knew his lawn care company used illegal labor. If you missed it, here's some of that exchange.

MITT ROMNEY: I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm afraid - I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that, because that just doesn't...

Governor RICK PERRY: Well, I'll tell you what the facts are.

ROMNEY: Rick, again - Rick, I'm speaking.

PERRY: You had the - your newspaper - the newspaper...

ROMNEY: I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

PERRY: It's time for you to tell the truth.

ROMNEY: You get 30 seconds...

PERRY: It's time for you to tell the truth, man.

ROMNEY: This is the way the rules work here, is that I get 60 seconds and then you get 30 seconds to respond. Right?

PERRY: No, but the American want the truth. And they want to hear you say that you knew you had illegals working at your...

ROMNEY: Anderson? Would you please – would you please wait? Are you just going to just keep talking? You going to let me finish with my - what I have to say?


IZRAEL: Wow. Throwing blows, Michel.


IZRAEL: It sounds like he went to the Ruben Navarrette school of debate.


MARTIN: Oh, exactly. Exactly.

IZRAEL: Right.

Go ahead. Go ahead, Ruben, you're first in. Go ahead, man.

NAVARRETTE: Well, the first thing we have to say is that as tired as I am and a lot of other people in America are of these people, obviously these people are just as tired, if not more, of each other.


NAVARRETTE: They have gotten on each other's last nerve. Because to travel around the country and to met up eight or nine times with a few more times to come, they do great on each other. And one of the things I think that was very important – I've never seen a debate like this before, because here's what, you've got to understand what happened here. This was really, first of all, it was a good night for President Obama. He needed a good night. He's got very bad poll numbers. He needed a good night. This was a very good night for him seeing these guys go at it. But they went at it on a very personal level. And they went at it against one person in particular.

As I wrote in my column today at CNN.com, they went after Mitt Romney on the idea of veracity and truth telling. Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich all made the point - four different people made the point - that Mitt Romney is liar, liar, pants on fire.


NAVARRETTE: And it all got driven home in a very serious way. That was the message that these guys were trying to send to Americans around the country - do not trust Mitt Romney.

MARTIN: But what about, but Arsalan, maybe I'll ask you this since the civil rights guy here, attorney, that the issue I think that really was surfaced here was around immigration, probably. I was kind of one of the hot button issues. And, of course, there was the whole liar, liar pants on fire personal aspect of it. But on the question of immigration, what was the message that was sent around Republican policy on immigration with this debate in your view?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think that, you know, first of all you have to look at it from the perspective of Romney being the frontrunner and Perry and everyone else, you know, trying to swing up at him. And so, obviously, the people who are not the front-runners are going to try to pander to certain right wing elements, you know, especially on immigration issues. Whereas, Romney, as the presumptive frontrunner, sort of has to take a more general election approach. And so I think that they're, you know, you're going to see a lot of - I don't think the rhetoric, right now, matters on immigration. I think essentially what's going to matter is what the rhetoric will be in the general election. Right now it's just, you know, they're just trying to swing at him.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. I mean OK, Corey, I'll go to you on this question.

EALONS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Because immigration was an issue in the news for President Obama as well because he – ICE released some numbers on...

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: ...the level of deportations.

EALONS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And it is a fact that the U.S. deported nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants or people without proper documentation last year. It's a record. And the ICE says the majority of them were convicted criminals. But there are other people, particularly within the Democratic Party, said this is nothing to be proud of and they don't believe that the majority of these were convicted criminals. They believed that they were people with such minor infractions that they shouldn't even be characterized as...


MARTIN: ...as such. So Corey, the question I, you know, I have for you is in terms of this week, just taking this week as a new cycle...

EALONS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...who do you think got the better of the argument on immigration - on the question of immigration?

EALONS: Well, I think, ultimately, the White House and President Obama did. And I know that really pains Ruben to hear that. But ultimately what does this president say: He's called for a balanced approach. He said that we need to be tough and we need to enforce our borders and make sure that people who are here in this country would try to come here illegally, aren't allowed to do so. And he also said we have to have a common sense immigration strategy that works and right now the one that we have is broken and needs to be fixed. The president can't do that alone. He needs to have partners in Congress on this issue, just like he needs to have partners in Congress on the jobs issue.

So during the debate on this week, the GOP said nothing. The candidate said nothing. They were vacuous as usual. The president definitely won the week on immigration.

MARTIN: And who is a Democrat.

NAVARRETTE: Corey's (unintelligible).

MARTIN: We just want to be sure that everybody...


MARTIN: ...knows that Corey is a Democrat. Just...

NAVARRETTE: You're kidding? No. No. Really? No, you're kidding.

MARTIN: ...just to be clear. I know you're shocked.


MARTIN: OK. We only have a minute left and Jimi, did you want to say something about this before we go to the World Series.

NAVARRETTE: Wait, Michel. Hold on. Michel. Well...

MARTIN: All right. Ruben, I'm sorry. We - Ruben. Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: Corey mentioned me direct. Corey mentioned me directly.


EALONS: We're going into debate rules now so there we go.

MARTIN: OK. All right.

NAVARRETTE: Corey doesn't understand that...

MARTIN: My name isn't Anderson.


NAVARRETTE: Corey doesn't understand...

MARTIN: I will come down.

NAVARRETTE: Corey doesn't understand this issue, unfortunately.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: And what he's missing about the issue doesn't understand is it doesn't really matter what Obama says but what he does. And what Obama has done is to port over a million people in three years by using programs like Secure Communities. All you need to do is turn into PBS's "Frontline" this week the show that they did called "Lost in Detention"...


NAVARRETTE: ...that blows the lid off the story.

MARTIN: All right. I think we've talked about that a number of times. OK, finally, I'm going to give somebody the last word here. Jimi, I'm going to give you the last word because Ruben hasn't been very nice and letting you into the conversation.


IZRAEL: It's okay. I mean...

MARTIN: Who's going to take the World Series? I'm going to let you decide. Who's taking it?

IZRAEL: Well, I don't know because baseball season is like my favorite season. I get so much writing done because there is never really anything interesting to watch on TV. So...

EALONS: My-my. My-my.



IZRAEL: I mean I'm with Cleveland.


IZRAEL: You know, so the sports in Cleveland is kind of sketchy.


IZRAEL: So what do you want from me? I've got a lot of writing done during baseball season.

MARTIN: All right. Arsalan says that he's going to help you out here.

IFTIKHAR: Listen...

IZRAEL: Thank you, A-Train. Go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: I spent seven years of my life in St. Louis, college and law school. My friends and well, she will kill me if I don't root for the Cardinals so got my toasted ravioli and my frozen custard and I think the Cardinals win in seven games.

EALONS: I'm with you. I'm with you. I'm with you.

MARTIN: OK. We'll leave it at that. All right, Corey's with you on that. OK. And Arsalan is a legal civil rights attorney. He is the author of the newly released book "Islamic Pacificism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era." He was here with us in Washington, D.C., along with Corey Ealons, senior vice president of the strategic communications firm VOX Global. He's also the former director of African-American media for the Obama administration. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for The Washington Post Writers' Group, Latino magazine and Pajamas Media. He was with us from San Diego. And Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Thanks everybody.


NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

EALONS: Take care, folks.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.


MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.