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Gadhafi's Mysterious Appearance; Gadhafi's Future; No-Fly Zone; Radical Islam; Radical Islam Spreading in U.S.?; Gadhafi Dilemma at the White House

Aired March 8, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight a bloody and bizarre day in Libya, one would have to call it advantage (ph) Gadhafi in terms of the fighting. Forces loyal to the Libyan dictator mounted vigorous new attacks on coastal cities in the west and the east, today those coastal cities critical to the anti-Gadhafi movement. Let's look at just a little bit of the fighting here in Ras Lanuf, this town under opposition control, but listen to this.




KING: You see anti-aircraft fire up into the sky. You see rebels on the street loading machine guns here, this in Ras Lanuf, the opposition forces trying to hold the city. Obviously you can hear jets flying over head, planes over head, anti-aircraft (INAUDIBLE) here. Vigorous attacks from the government back here in the east.

And the embattled dictator made an evening appearance and a bizarre appearance it was at a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying. We can show you where that hotel is right here. Here's the scene in Tripoli down town. Here's the hotel. Here's the front lobby. Gadhafi's loyalists literally, literally rolled out a red carpet here and for all the chaos and the surreal confusion, this appearance was without a doubt staged to put to rest rumors of negotiations to plan Colonel Gadhafi's departure.

Let's get the very latest now from CNN senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson who is in the capital of Tripoli and was right there in the hotel lobby when Colonel Gadhafi walked in. And Nic, you had to wait eight hours, but when he came in, what an arrival and what a surreal event.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very surreal and all the journalists that have been invited here to Libya by the government were essentially told to come over to the hotel. We're spread in two different hotels and all through the afternoon, journalists were arriving from the other hotels. And there was no doubt in anyone's mind this was an event that Mr. Gadhafi was turning up to.

The officials couldn't tell us exactly what was going to happen, but an expectation was created that all the journalists there would at least get some kind of press conference with Moammar Gadhafi, maybe able to ask a few questions. In the event when he came in pandemonium, cameras trying to get a better angle. He seemed confused about which direction to go in.

The security didn't know how to lead him through the crowds. He eventually got through and then taken away. He had a (INAUDIBLE) of cameras and a shield of bodyguard taken away behind a curtain for a solitary interview it appears with a Turkish news channel. Not clear why he chose the Turkish, but we do know his government is desperately looking for journalists from around the world to invite in, friends from other nations, not particularly Europeans or the United States looking for journalists from other nations, so trying to broaden his appeal, if you will. So he left through a back door. Nobody got to ask him questions as it were and that was it. After nine hours of waiting, everyone was left standing there empty-handed -- John.

KING: Empty-handed Nic, but still that appearance came after a day of rumors that somehow either tribal leaders or people close to Gadhafi might be negotiating a planned departure, if nothing else showing up there and keeping you all waiting seemed to be designed to send a signal I'm not going anywhere.

ROBERTSON: Oh entirely and that's been his message all along. And his officials have been telling us since daybreak when this story started to gather more legs, when rebel leaders woke up on the other side of the country and began to say that they heard this and that it was true and Gadhafi might step down and there was some kind of amnesty in the air for him.

Government officials here were telling us it was absolute rubbish and his language, his body language, his -- the message of arrival here. That's what it conveyed. It conveyed this is a man who feels that he's now on a roll that his forces are beginning to take back territory in the east and to the west of the capital. In Zawiya about 40 minutes drive away an oil refining town, that town coming further under the grip of his forces. We heard from a doctor there who said the medical clinics treating the rebels there, two of those medical clinics have been closed down, more civilian casualties, heavy bombardment in that town as well today -- John.

KING: And so Nic, as folks at the Obama White House and other governments around the world try to get a sense, is Gadhafi getting our message? Is he rational? Does he have people around him who are processing the threats of the international community and relaying them to them? It's hard if not impossible, is it not, even for a seasoned journalist like you to get a good sense of this when they seem to be in this very strange, almost a propaganda mode, but not a free and open exchange of questions and answers.

ROBERTSON: No, I mean it's almost impossible to get answers to those questions from Moammar Gadhafi tonight. But after he left, I did sit down with the deputy foreign minister and I said to him, OK, President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, they've talked. They've said the international community priority that Gadhafi steps down. What do you think? And he said this is an internal Libyan matter. This is not for Obama. Not for Cameron to make their minds up on this. And then went into the rhetoric that we've heard before that if Obama -- that Gadhafi is not a leader as such as President Obama might be. But he's merely a guide, a leader for the people, so again just knocking this down. And I asked him as well, what about the no-fly zone that might be imposed here. And he said this was -- if no-fly zone was imposed, this would be effectively declaring war on Libya because Libya is not misusing its air force.

He said that Libya keeps asking for international monasteries to come and check up on the situation. And the government here really just speaks it seems with one voice and that is Moammar Gadhafi's voice. Even if we didn't get in tonight, his foreign minister was really saying very much the same things that Gadhafi himself has been saying in the past week or so -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson for us in Tripoli. Nic stay safe. We're lucky to have Nic and his crew right there in the center of all this tracking it. Now the regime's use of air power in both the east and the west sent a defiant message to an international community that as Nic noted is divided now over whether to intervene with military power to ground Gadhafi's planes and helicopters.

President Obama discussed the possibility of a no-fly zone and other NATO military contingencies with the Prime Minister David Cameron today. But the administration remains reluctant to use force. And NATO won't even meet to discuss the idea until Thursday. That is of little comfort to opposition forces trying to hold these key oil and refinery towns along Libyan's northern coast like Ras Lanuf, Al-Brega, Bin Jawad (ph) and Benghazi.

Benghazi is where Arwa Damon is. She is in touch with the opposition leaders there. And Arwa let me just start with the opposition's take if you have the time and the ability to report and get it on this bizarre appearance by Colonel Gadhafi in Tripoli.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we haven't had a direct reaction from the opposition. It is quite late in the night, but this really just goes to underscore a very real fear amongst the opposition, his behavior that we saw at that press conference that did not happen, very erratic. They tend to describe him as being an irrational leader who does not flinch at inflicting brutal massacres upon his own people.

And they will be pointing to this behavior as being a clear cut example as to why the international community has to step in and have to step in now. There are very real fears and concerns that if and when a no-fly zone is eventually established it quite simply is going to be too late. The opposition is bracing itself for some sort of a revenge attack that they fully expect Colonel Gadhafi to carry out at any point in time.

And they fail to understand how it is that the international community and the United States appear in their perspective to be dragging their feet when it comes to making a sort of decision that could possibly if not bring about an end to this bloodshed at least at some point level the playing field. They do want to see that no-fly zone enforced.

Many of them also talking about the need for precision air strikes, of course that would have to be carried out by some sort of a foreign country. And they say that without that they're going to end up being the victims, even more victimized by this ruthless man while the international community sits back, watches, waits and basically tries to get through diplomatic red tape -- John.

KING: And it is clear, Arwa, they will have to wait at least several more days if not longer. And what do they say? And I'm showing our viewers some pictures we have seen on Libyan state television -- damage here -- this is again in the east. You see damage here.

Libyan State TV showing this, the government trying to say this is the result of government offensive to take back these towns. And you see pot marks in the buildings as well. We take that one down and we showed you a bit of this earlier in Ras Lanuf, the artillery fire, the anti-aircraft guns firing up. Arwa, what does the opposition say about its ability to stay in the fight in terms of ammunition, equipment and the like if it doesn't get international help?

DAMON: Well John that of course is going to become increasingly difficult. There is plenty of will to win. There is plenty of courage and passion amongst the opposition fighters. But there really isn't a military weaponry nor is there the experience that they would require to defeat the type of military that Colonel Gadhafi himself controls. And they're fully aware of that. They have established a military council that is trying to come up with some sort of a cohesive defensive strategy. But the truth is that their fighters are by and large young men, many of them teenagers who have not held a gun in their entire life.

We heard stories of these young fighters saying that they spent just a few hours training on a weapon and then they were sent out to the front lines. The longer this drags out, the more concerned the leadership grows, this newly formed national council and all of the opposition leaders grow that they will not be able to continue to hold this ground. They are willing to die for it. That is clear. But as to whether or not they're actually going to be able to push back, gain even more ground, that's going to become increasingly difficult unless the international community somehow convenes and steps in.

KING: Arwa Damon for us tonight and Arwa is here in Benghazi in the east still controlled by the opposition -- Arwa, thanks for your reporting. Arwa in the East -- we have Nic Robertson in Tripoli. Ben Wedeman out here as well as our reporters are on the ground tracking this story.

Now let's get some perspective from CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She of course was President Bush's homeland security adviser in the White House, now a member of the Department of Homeland Security's External Advisory Committee and last year she visited high ranking Libyan officials at the invitation of the government. And Fran, as someone who has sat across the table from Moammar Gadhafi, when you see the pictures that you saw today, the fist bumps -- pumping fists coming into that hotel lobby, clearly erratic, strange event but designed to send a message, no?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Look Gadhafi, what he said when this whole thing began was that he would die a martyr in Libya. And I think that that was actually the clearest statement he's made of the truth. And I don't think he has any intention of leaving. I don't think he has any intention of negotiating.

Look, to negotiate with him would require a whole bunch of things that are really hard. It would require an agreement not to prosecute him or anybody in his family. You'd have to find a place that was willing to accept him. There's not place in the region, not in the Arab world, not in North Africa that wants him and so you would have to find a place that was going to take him.

Look how hard it's been with the Guantanamo detainees. And then finally you'd have to free up some of his frozen money and assets so he could -- he and his family could support themselves. That's not going to happen, John, and frankly he doesn't want it. And so I think that you know the United States is going to have to define its position and take a clear position and be willing to act if we're going to help to protect the Libyan people.

KING: Well so -- and the last point is key. If we're going to have to protect the Libyan people, is that, and this is the question the president is facing right now, is that in the vital national security interest of the United States? Meaning, is that worth going to war over?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, John, look. I think the administration is right to be carefully weighing this. In the first instance what you would hope was that NATO as an international force could take on this mission. Look, we're not talking about the commitment of ground troops here. You have to take out the anti-aircraft --

KING: But you can't be sure about that though, right? If you take out their anti-aircraft guns and then he continues to fight on the ground with tanks, with conventional weapons, with mercenaries and once you've picked sides, if the bloodshed continues and the opposition loses, are you not then committed to back them up? Essentially the old Colin Powell rule, if we break it, aren't we obligated to fix it?

TOWNSEND: Well that's right, John, and I think that's why you're seeing such reticence on the part of the administration. But I will tell you, John, you know this is -- this is really hard from their perspective. They don't want to get involved in another commitment of ground forces. And what they'd like to see is an international force.

It's just that -- the United States are the people with the capability and we cannot stand by and have another Rwanda where we watch a leader of a country slaughter his own people or have it evolve into civil war. And so it is going to have to be a judgment about what is the vital interest. And there are regional players here who are also going to have to step up. KING: And when you watch Gadhafi, lastly, I mean obviously you say he doesn't want to negotiate. When you see those pictures and you see erratic behavior like this, is there anyone around him that the international community could have a rational conversation with or is that just forget it, put that aside and make your decision?

TOWNSEND: Well I don't think -- I don't think any of the sons are interlocutors (ph) that we'd care to be dealing with frankly or that they have sufficient sway over him. The two most important people are Mousa Coosa (ph), who is the foreign minister, who was the head of the intelligence service, and Abdullah Sanousi (ph), who's the current head of the intelligence service. Look, both of these guys are implicated in the Pan-Am 103 bombing that killed Americans, so these are not good people. They're not people you'd want to have home for dinner. But they are very influential. These are the guys that convinced Gadhafi to give up his weapons program and if there's a deal to be cut, these are the guys that could help do it.

KING: Fran Townsend, appreciate your insights -- Fran will be back with us later on a different issue.

Still to come, Muslims in America, a leading member of Congress says many are a threat to your security. Our interview with him and a California sheriff who says he's got it all wrong.

But next deciding whether to use military force is always tough for any president, factor in Gadhafi's erratic behavior, just what should President Obama do?


KING: More now on this remarkable day in Libya and the policy and political debates over whether the United States should use military force in this crisis. Joining me CNN senior political analyst David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

First, I just want an observation from each. We've all covered dramatic stories, but I'm not sure we've ever seen a day like this. You have a civil war playing out for eight hours. Reporters in Tripoli are waiting. They literally roll out a red carpet and Moammar Gadhafi, David Gergen, comes into the hotel pumping his fists. He did not speak to the international journalists as a group, but he certainly was sending a defiant message there. He knows the world is debating what to do.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well that's right. And I think -- also think we saw that he's a nut. He's a nut case. And that's why he's so unpredictable. But the problem is he has bigger guns and bigger planes than the other side.

KING: And Gloria, on that point, the other side is starting to complain to say we are outgunned.


KING: We are outmanned. We don't have the ammunition. We don't have the sophisticated weaponry. We need help. At the White House, though, they're still saying, we're not so sure about this.

BORGER: Well I was just speaking with some people inside the White House today about this and my phone conversation seemed -- from their side I seemed to sense a little bit more urgency. We have this NATO minister's conference coming up on Thursday. Our Defense Secretary Gates is going to be there. And it seemed to me that there's going to be a moment to announce some kind of NATO action, that might be it.

One interesting thing, John, is that we've been talking about a no-fly zone, which clearly the rebels want. And someone said to me today something interesting, which is that you don't have to have a no-fly zone over the entire country. You can have a no-fly zone over part of the country. And that may be a little bit more doable from NATO's point of view, maybe a little bit less expensive. But as one source said to me look, we are looking at a spectrum of pressure points. So it's very clear they know they're dealing with a lunatic. But they know at some point they're going to have to do something more.

KING: And as they debate within the administration and at the NATO Alliance, there's also a debate here in Washington, within the administration we're told by sources, but also in the Congress. Let's listen here -- a veteran Republican voice. Considered a thoughtful voice on foreign policy, Richard Lugar. I spoke to him last night, the Republican senator from Indiana and he said if you start a no-fly zone, you are essentially starting a war. Let's listen.


SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The American people really have to understand at this point that if we're prepared for more war, for more conflict, for more American boots on the ground, that's a huge commitment. And that requires I believe a declaration of war by the Congress of the United States, not an informal thought that somehow a no-fly zone with or without danger might be imposed.


KING: So Senator Lugar thinks military action is a bad idea still at this juncture, but listen here. Senator John Kerry, Democrat, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina of the Armed Services Committee, they think the administration does need to have more muscle.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The greater risk is to sit on the sidelines and not do things that you can do that would be seen in the future as a good thing to have done.


KING: So there's no clear cut unity here, David. Not only is the administration divided, maybe the NATO Alliance divided, the Congress seems to be divided, too.

GERGEN: And this -- this -- these kind of debates are going to rage in Washington until President Obama more clearly shows his hand. You know so far he said very firmly Gadhafi must go. Those people sort of assumed OK he sees a way to get that done. And now days and days have passed and Gadhafi is getting stronger, not weaker. So I do think it's up to the president -- maybe at this NATO ministerial on Thursday that Gloria mentioned.

But the other thing, John, now is what's new today is we're for the first time getting signals. They are conflicting. But we're getting definite signals that there are people around Gadhafi who are starting to want him to go and are looking for terms to have him go. And the point of trying to do something more muscular now is to send a signal on the part of NATO, a broad coalition of nations, Gadhafi and the team around you, your days are up, this game is over and you better make your peace with us now or you're going to die.

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: That has to be a clear signal.

KING: A clear signal but a risky signal, Gloria, because if you send all that firepower to the region to send that signal and then in three days, five days, 10 days, Gadhafi is still there don't you have to use it?

BORGER: Yes, and you have a problem, what if you send all that firepower and you still can't get the helicopters? And what if you send all that firepower and you end up shooting down an airplane or something that's flown by a rebel? We're not quite sure who these rebels are, by the way. People in the administration keep saying to me we don't know where they stand on universal rights.

We don't know where they stand on democracy. We don't know where they stand on economic rights. And so you know that's a -- that's a real problem for them. In Egypt it was a very different kind of revolution. You had peaceful demonstrators. You knew Mubarak. You knew the army because you trained half of the army. In a way it was a lot easier of course than Libya is. It's a very difficult and complex problem for them to resolve and they don't want to go it alone.

KING: In Washington when we have these debates we always talk about the quote, unquote "relevant committees in the Congress". When a president faces a big decision, you talk to the people in the relevant committees in the Congress. That's where we heard from Senators' Lugar, Graham, and Kerry. But in this debate and this crises we also have for better or worse, the beginning of presidential politics. Listen to Republican Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who says quite clearly during a stop in Iowa he thinks the president is being too timid.


TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: We have a situation where we have a confirmed terrorist, sociopath and killer, Moammar Gadhafi, mowing down his own people, who are trying to bring forward their view of liberty and freedom. And I think a no-fly zone would be a good thing for the United States to do.


KING: Healthy or hurtful, David that presidential politics are going to inject itself into this?

GERGEN: John, quite frankly I'm surprised it has taken this long. You know everything is political these days and I thought the Republicans would be all over him by now. I do think that Pawlenty is probably not going to be the last. There are going to be other candidates. They're going to come forward, but John you know this goes with the territory of being president. This -- the election is a long way off to be sure but politics are very much --

BORGER: You know one reason that they've held back is because Republicans aren't quite sure what to think. You showed Dick Lugar before, who is against a no-fly zone, very prominent Republican chairman. You showed Tim Pawlenty who said have a no-fly zone and I think what you see Republican candidates do, they're being, I think, sort of quiet on this. Unexpectedly quiet.

I think they're going to play the results here. You know, if today we had woken up and there was a deal cut and Gadhafi was gone and would still be tried by the international criminal court, then Barack Obama would have looked like a hero, right.

GERGEN: Well that's right. But they've got a theme that they're starting to develop about a president who is too passive, is too --

BORGER: Cautious --

GERGEN: Yes, he is too cautious --


GERGEN: -- prudent as you wrote in your -- prudent to the point of excess as I think you were suggesting on your blog on today, Gloria.

BORGER: Thanks for the plug.

GERGEN: But I think Republicans are going to be picking up on that, John. I imagine we're going to hear more of that -- of Pawlenty's kind of comments.

KING: I think you may be right although there's a risk in that, too.


KING: The reflex is to criticize the president. But they have a war wary American public that is opposed to Iraq, opposed to Afghanistan.


KING: That goes across Democratic and Republican stripes --

BORGER: Right.

KING: -- so the past decade weighs on this debate as well.

BORGER: Absolutely.

KING: David Gergen, Gloria Borger thanks for coming in today. And still to come here, gas prices up again today. And the debate, of course, about who is to blame, well, that's escalating, too. But next, Muslim Americans are furious at plans to hold congressional hearings to address the depth of radicalization here in the United States, but the powerful lawmaker leading those hearings shrugs off the criticism.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not want to wake up the day after it has happened and say I should have done something differently. I should have done the job.



KING: Big spotlight on Capitol Hill Thursday when the House Homeland Security Committee opens a controversial hearing on the risk of terrorism posed by the spread of radical Islam here in the United States within the Muslim community. Even before the gavel comes down, Muslim-Americans complain they're being singled out because of their religion. But Republican Committee Chairman Peter King told CNN today he rejects the notion he's being unfair.


REP. PETER KING (R), HOMELAND SECURITY CHAIRMAN: I have no choice. I have to hold these hearings. These hearings are absolutely essential. What I'm doing is taking the next logical step from what the administration has been saying. Eric Holder says he lies awake at night worrying about the growing radicalization of people in this country willing to take up arms against their government.


KING: Let's discuss the hearings and Chairman King's take on Muslims in America with Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca (ph), who will be the only law enforcement witness at those hearings on Thursday. With us again is CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash who interviewed Congressman King a bit earlier today.

Sheriff, I want to start with you because you're in the law enforcement community. You are trying to stop threats against your community including the threat of terrorism against your community. I want you to listen to a little bit more from Congressman King here because he says he has to have these hearings because people like you, people on the front lines across America are not getting the help you need from Muslim-Americans. Let's listen.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because there are lots of law enforcement officials who tell us at CNN that they have very good cooperation with the Muslim community and that they have helped in many investigations.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I would like to know where they are. The reason I say that is I listen to this, too. And they talk about the good community relations and how they have these meetings. I can tell you, in New York, which is the epicenter, we're in the eye of the storm when it comes to terrorism -- there's been no real cooperation coming from the Muslim-American community.


JOHN KING, HOST: Sheriff, what's the experience out there in the Los Angeles area? Are you getting help from the Muslim community, or are they the problem?

SHERIFF LEROY BACA, L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Well, we're getting a lot of help from the Muslim community in Los Angeles. The Muslim American community, shortly after 9/11, came together within two days and rallied, and were helpful at that point of confusion that the United States was experiencing.

Also, the community at the -- after the London bombings in 2005 form a Muslim-American homeland security congress to be a further outreach group within their own cultures and their own ethnic organizations. And we here in the Los Angeles have been fortunate to have a Muslim- American public affairs unit made up of Muslim deputy sheriffs that go to all the mosques and the various community gatherings to build public trust relationships and thereby have the ability to help each other in times of need.

KING: Have you -- have you stopped attacks, sir, because of this? Get to the specifics. Have you stopped attacks because of this operation?

BACA: Well, we're blessed -- we're blessed to not have any attacks at this point. But, remember, the 9/11 bombers and the aircraft that were used were coming towards Los Angeles. And we don't know if they had alternative plans had they not hit their targets. But, more importantly, what we're talking about here is an outreach system that has resulted in some data that we all have to reflect on.

In United States, since 9/11, there have been 77 attacks by extremists that are not Muslims in the United States that have been thwarted. And 41 have been with Muslims, internationally and nationally, they've been attempted in the United States. Seven out of the last 10 of those attacks were the results of Muslims informing as to what they knew about these extremists and therefore we're being helped.

KING: And I want to show some of those stats the sheriff just mentioned here. These are the cities we have the yellow dots on. We have the highest concentration, parts of the country with the highest concentration of Muslim.

Now, I wanted to show this up here. Since 9/11, if you go back to 2001, these are Muslim Americans, not overseas Muslims, but Muslim American terrorism suspects since 9/11. You see seven, 9, 16, 16 in 2007, 2, and then a spike in 2009.

And it's hard to get information from the government on this. But this is a study done at Duke University that says 29 percent of those cases, law enforcement received the tip from members of the Muslim- American community.

Fran Townsend, I want to go to you because you dealt with this in the Bush White House as the homeland security adviser after 9/11. Is Congressman King on the right track? Is this radicalization that needs to be explored publicly like this? Or this is a community that's trying to help? And might they be offended and turned away by the spotlight?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATL. SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: John, I wish I could tell you this is an either/or question, right? Both are true.

There's no question that radicalism is an issue, a real threat here in the United States. You have to look no further than the Fort Hood shooter, a Muslim-American who is radicalized by Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni cleric. And shot his fellow soldiers. And so, it is definitely a threat and an issue that must be looked at and must be examined very closely.

By the same token, there are Muslim Americans all around the country, in Los Angeles and all around the country, that have been helpful. Look at the parents of the individuals in northern Virginia, when they went to Pakistan, they were reported to the FBI by their parents.

And so, there are instances and examples where you can point to where Muslim Americans have really stepped up to help law enforcement identify the threats in their own communities.

KING: And, Dana, one of the criticisms is you hear Fran there make the case. This is not an either/or. One criticism is the Chairman King is not being balanced in using -- he's using his power to run the hearing. Sheriff Baca is being invited by the Democrats on that committee. Not by Chairman King.

How do other Republicans -- do they think this is the right thing to do or they're a little skittish?

BASH: Both. The leadership, at least publicly, is defending Chairman King, saying that he has the right and responsibility to hold this hearing. But there are definitely members of Congress who are a little skittish, who aren't sure that this is the right thing to do because of exactly what Fran just laid out, because you do have both sides to this coin.

As for Chairman King, I talked to him extensively today. He's really unapologetic. He says, John, that he knows this is not easy. He is certainly not making any friends in doing this. But he insists after we all actually watch the hearings and it's not just the anticipation and the sort of rage about and concern about the hearings that he says that people might be surprised.

We'll see if that's true. But he's insisted this is absolutely a part of his job as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to have this hearing and to talk to what he calls every day average Muslim- Americans and to see what's going on in their community.

KING: And I just want to remind people, he is from the Long Island area, Nassau County, outside of New York City. Nassau County itself has only a tiny, tiny, less than 1 percent of the population, Islamic population. You see other faiths represented much more greatly.

But, Sheriff Baca, to you, as we listen to Congressman King one more time in his interview with Dana earlier, he is motivated, he says, by his experience and his community's experience. And it was a horrific experience after 9/11. Let's listen.


BASH: You've been called a man obsessed -- obsessed with the Muslim radicalization. Are you obsessed?

KING: No. I am very focused. I lost so many people in my district on September 11th. And within a 30-mile radius of my home, probably 1,000 people, over 1,000 people murdered on September 11th.

I know the Muslim-American community of Long Island. I was very disappointed in them after September 11th when leader after leader was refusing to acknowledge that al Qaeda was involved. They were blaming the FBI, the CIA. They were blaming the Israelis, the Jews.

I never want to wake up the morning after another attack and say, if I had only done what I should have done, as Homeland Security Committee chairman, this wouldn't have happened.


KING: Sheriff, I don't think anybody in the position of responsibility wants to wake up the morning after any large tragic event and think they could do something differently. In your view with your experience, is the chairman obsessed and perhaps acting off base? Or is he -- does he have the right touch here in how he's doing this?

BACA: Well, I can't predetermine the motives of Congressman King. But I can say this, I think the hearings provide an opportunity for us to talk about a serious subject in the United States. It's 10 years since 9/11 as it comes up on the 2011 period. And I think that all of us need to realize that even Muslims were shocked and Muslims were killed as victims of the 9/11 attacks.

What I believe is that we have to go forward and update ourselves with all the effort that's being made by local law enforcement to reach out and bring public trust policing into the lives of Muslim Americans. I think we've done. I think that we're getting a tremendous amount of cooperation internationally and nationally.

And I believe we're more mature and better as a nation because of the Homeland Security Department also being a big supportive part of the outreach department. The FBI as well is doing a lot of things in Los Angeles with our various local law enforcement officials. So, we're all tied together at a joint regional intelligence center system. And we believe that we're better since 9/11.

BASH: And, John, just to add --

BACA: That we will also be vigilant and king of think about things.

BASH: John, just to add one note --

BACA: Think about things and deal with the things that Congressman King is talking about. You know, extremism, violent extremism is a reality in the United States. But the majority of it is not through the Muslim community. It's through other violent extremists as I indicated with the statistics.

BASH: John, just to ad one thing on that note. Congressman King told me something very interesting, which is that top law enforcement officials and even top officials at the White House have told him not only don't do this, but actually go ahead with this. That's what he claims. Yet, he is not -- we should underscore -- inviting any of them to the hearing to talk about some of his concerns about the lack of cooperation, he says, between law enforcement and the Muslim community.

KING: We will continue to develop this story throughout the week, including covering those hearings. Sheriff Baca will make his way to Washington. We'll stay in touch, sir.

Fran Townsend, appreciate your insights.

Dana Bash, as well, we'll stay in touch.

And ahead here: Republicans looking to cut federal spending today have some unusual allies. A top NPR official says the organization would be better off without federal funding. That story ahead and also much more on the crisis tonight in Libya.


KING: We're back. If you're joining us, here's some news you need to know right now.

The Senate is getting closer to showdown votes on spending cuts passed by the Republican House, and an alternative the Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, say will spare important and much-needed programs.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: National Endowment of the Humanities is a reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.


KING: I can tell you privately tonight, a lot of Democrats are not happy. Their leader chose that as an example. And the Republicans -- well, they loved it. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina says not impressed with Senator Reid's example of what's worth saving.


SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I love poetry and cowboys as much as anyone else. But we're looking at bankrupting our nation.


KING: Funding for National Public Radio also is in the House bill chopping block session.

Today, NPR suspended a top executive and says it is appalled by his comments about the Tea Party, comments secretly recorded by a controversial conservative activist James O'Keefe. Take a peek.


RON SCHILLER, NPR: Basically, they are -- they are -- they believe in sort of white, Middle America, gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.


KING: Mr. Schiller there not only criticizing the Tea Party, he said in his view, NPR would be better off in the long run without federal funding. The organization tonight says that does not represent the views of its current leadership.

When we come back, back to the crisis in Libya. What are the options for President Obama and the NATO alliance?


KING: President Obama spoke by phone today to the British Prime Minister David Cameron. The two leaders agreed that Moammar Gadhafi should step down, that the violence in Libya should stop immediately in Libya and that NATO will meet later this week to consider additional options -- possibly, possibly, a military intervention.

But we know the White House is very reluctant to impose a no-fly zone and take other military steps. So, where is the debate?

Let's check in tonight with our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry for the latest.

Ed, does that continued violence, does that push the administration, or are they trying to hold fast in saying let's let this play out without a military intervention? ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to hold fast, John. When you talk to them privately, they say that they can't be driven just by what's happening on the ground minute-to- minute. They're not going to watch cable television and decide what to do.

But the fact of the matter is, this is playing out live in real time. And as the White House takes its time, it's sort of becoming excruciating for them as all of this plays out in the public.

Two quick examples -- today aboard Air Force One, Jay Carney was asked whether or not there's now a perception that the White House is dragging its feet on this. And he was pressed: Do you support a no- fly zone and would it need the imprimatur of the U.N. Security Council to get it?

Jay Carney, quote, "I don't want to get ahead of myself and certainly not ahead of the president in speaking to the formula by which we could reach a decision." He doesn't want to explain how they're going to come about it.

Then, Secretary Clinton did an interview today with Sky News. The administration just released the transcript. She was asked directly, "Do you support a no-fly zone?" She said, "We're going to have to see what the international community, whether they support it."

"So, would you support it in theory?" She says, "I think it's very important that this not be a U.S.-led effort."

Sky News said, "Well, other countries do support it." And she said, "Right."

So, then, she was pressed, "In theory, the U.S. would support a no-fly zone?" Quote, "Well, we're going to support the efforts that are being made because we think that the people of Libya themselves have to be supportive."

If you can find an answer in there, good luck. The fact of the matter is -- the administration is very much under heavy pressure right now and you can see that play out right before your eyes.

KING: That Ed Henry is what we call buying time. Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent tonight on the pressures.

Now, why does the opposition say it needs help from the international community? Let's take a quick look at what they're doing.

Ninety percent of Gadhafi's weapons come about from Russia. Here's what the opposition is most worried about. The Libyan air force is using its French-made jets and its Soviet-made jets, as well as planes and helicopters to attack the opposition forces. That is one problem.

The opposition also says it is beginning to run out of weapons to deal with this. Gadhafi also has some tanks and armored personnel vehicles at his disposal. Those are being used against the rebels. So, what they want is help from the NATO alliance. I spoke to the challenges earlier with the veteran diplomat, Nick Burns, a former undersecretary of state who served for five years as the U.S. ambassador to NATO.


NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it's about as difficult as decisions come for both the NATO alliance and for the United States.

On one hand -- I mean, you can understand all these governments in Europe and the United States government would like to do something to help the rebel army, and to help alleviate human suffering in Libya from the hands of the Gadhafi regime. But it's complicated because there's no assurance that the imposition of even a no-fly zone would make a decisive difference in the battle.

Gadhafi has ground forces. He has artillery. He has a mercenary army. That's 95 percent of the fighting underway in Libya from one end of the country in the east, to the other in the west. So, will it make a decisive difference?

The other big question, John, that President Obama has to answer and other leaders have to answer -- is this of vital interest to the United States besides being an important interest? Because what seems to be vital for the U.S. these days in the Middle East is the fate of Egypt, the security of Saudi Arabia, certainly, what's happening in Yemen where the United States government says the number-one threat to our security is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen.

But do you go to war -- do you potentially get dragged into a third war in the greater Middle East in a place that you don't have vital interests? And that's a difficult decision for any president to make.

KING: Well, if you're not certain that it's a vital interest and that it is worth military intervention, then should they be more careful? Should they have been more careful, Nick, in the setup to this?

The president has a phone call with Prime Minister Cameron today and they say in a statement after that NATO will consider the possibility of military steps including a no-fly zone. And even though the NATO ambassador to the -- the current U.N. ambassador to NATO has said he doesn't think that will work. He has the same skeptical view you do.

So, if you don't think it will work and you're not sure it's the right thing because of vital U.S. interests, why talk about it publicly?

BURNS: Well, I think for two reasons, John.

First, it's the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective. Innocent people are dying because of this brutal and cynical regime in Libya.

And so, one of the issues that the international community, led by the U.S., has to reflect on is: can we help? Can we alleviate that suffering? Can we prevent more people from being killed?

And on a moral basis, humanitarian basis, leaders have to think about this, it has to be considered.

Secondly, what I really think is going on is that the Obama administration and the British and others, the French, are trying to intimidate Gadhafi. So, we're deploying a carrier battle group to the region. We're readying our military assets. We have naval and air forces in the region -- so Gadhafi knows that there's a possibility of military action.

It also has the advantage that if there is a true humanitarian disaster, our military forces are in place to actually go into Libya to extract people from harm if that's absolutely necessary.

But I think it's part of a psychological game that the United States and Europe are paying with Gadhafi because they'd sure like him to make a decision that he's going to leave Libya, along with his sons and along with his security apparatus, and allow the situation to return at least to some relative state of peace. I think that's where the United States is trying to accomplish here.

KING: But that's a dangerous psychological game, isn't it, Nick Burns? In the sense that Gadhafi has heard all this report. He has heard all these threats. And as we have this conversation today, he is still using his air power and his ground troops and his mercenaries, yes. And including his air power against opposition targets both east and west of Tripoli.

So, he knows the United States is threatening this. He knows the world community is threatening this and he keeps being defiant.

Don't we have to call his bluff if that continues?

BURNS: At some point, you might have to call his bluff. Right now, unfortunately, President Obama and the other leaders are faced with a series of really imperfect, highly imperfect and terrible choices.

What do you do? Because we do have history to reflect upon here, John. The history of Rwanda where in 1994, the international community came far too late and there was a genocide that killed nearly a million people. The history of Bosnia, we waited 4 1/2 years to intervene, 250,000 people died.

And so, there's a balance here. When do you use military force, go across a national border, become an actor in someone else's civil war to save people's lives? When do you show restraint in order not to be engulfed in that war itself?

These are the most difficult decisions that I've seen President Clinton make, President Bush make in the past and now President Obama is faced with a similar dilemma that his two predecessors had in the last two decades.

KING: Nick Burns, appreciate your insights as always.

BURNS: Thank you.


KING: Next, you know you're paying more at the pump. Is Libya to blame, or is the problem right here at home?



BARACK OBAMA (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know gas prices have gone down. It's a grand bargain now, $3.95 -- $3.95. On my way over, George Bush was on TV talking about his energy plan. Think about it -- where has George Bush been over the last eight years? Where was John McCain over the last 25?


KING: Pain at the pump always makes for pointed politics. That was candidates Obama in 2008.

Here's Republican Senator John Barrasso today.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: I think at a time when we need to be focused on jobs in this country, that we need to realize the amount of uncertainty in Middle East, there is now sticker shock at the pumps. And it is the policies of this administration that are the things that are keeping us from using -- to develop the energy security we need.


KING: Well, is it the policies of this administration as Senator Barrasso said?

Let's take a look. I assume he means crude production, oil production in the United States. It is true that crude production now is a little lower than it was early in the Bush administration -- about 300,000 barrels a day here in the United States lower. But if you look at this, crude production in the United States, domestic crude oil production at the end of the Bush administration -- well, under the Obama administration, it is higher than that now.

So, something to keep an eye on. Don't always trust the politicians when they're talking about pain at the pump. More on that tomorrow.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.