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Rumsfeld: Ambivalence on Qaddafi ouster harmful

Although the United States has taken military action in Libya to support rebel fighters and protect civilians, it is sending a harmful message in the region by not stating definitively the that regime of dictator Muammar Qaddafi will fall, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

"The continued ambiguity by the president and the administration about whether or not Qaddafi will ultimately be gone is harmful," Rumsfeld told "Early Show" anchor Chris Wragge Wednesday. "This is supposed to be a humanitarian effort ... As long as the people on the ground are ambiguous as to whether or not Qaddafi's going to stay or leave, more people will be killed."

U.S. leaders including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said that Qaddafi "must go," but the U.N.- and NATO-backed military effort in Libya does not have the specific goal of ousting the embattled leader.

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Rumsfeld said that the lack of clarity is discouraging Qaddafi loyalists in the Libyan military from defecting to the rebels and perhaps turning the tide of the six-week conflict.

"I think at some point, the United States and the coalition has to say to the people on the ground in Libya, that Qaddafi will not stay. Once that happens, all the forces will start moving away from Qaddafi, they'll start moving towards the rebels," he said. "As long as we keep saying, 'He may or may not leave," that's harmful."

But perhaps more important is the message the U.S. "ambivalence" sends to other countries in the Middle East experiencing democratic upheaval and tied to U.S. interests, said Rumsfeld, who led the U.S. into its nearly 10-year war in Iraq under President George W. Bush.

"What's really important, of course, in that part of the world, are Iran and Syria and Egypt and Saudi Arabia," Rumsfeld said, and the "signal that we're ambivalent about whether or not Qaddafi should go" is damaging American interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.

The message lacking from Mr. Obama's speech to the nation Monday night was "that the United states does have clarity of purpose, that the coalition does have clarity, and that -- that these leaders, who are so vicious and so harmful to our interests in the region are not -- that they're mortal," Rumsfeld said. "That they could be gone like Saddam can be gone."

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