Advancing a Free Society

The Mission is Creeping

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I do my share of complaining about the quality of journalism, so it’s only fair to praise them when they do what American journalists do best: keep the government honest.  Reuters and the New York Times have both discovered that even though the President claims his administration is still debating the issue, weeks ago he signed a classified intelligence finding authorizing arming the Libyan rebels.

The Russians and Chinese are already crying foul for our expansive interpretation of the UN Security Council Resolution.  Arming the rebels would be in direct violation of the UN Resolution, which calls for an arms embargo.  It could also cost us several coalition partners, who are committed to a humanitarian mission but didn’t sign up for becoming parties to a civil war.

There may be a good reason for the secret finding authorizing arming the Libyan rebels.  Perhaps it gave our intelligence professionals necessary legal protections in advance of their espionage.  Perhaps we needed to barter arms for information essential to our evaluation of the rebels’ abilities, loyalties, and cohesion.

Whatever the reason, the White House will now have to expend an inordinate amount of effort explaining itself.  Contortions by Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, suggest the White House is in for a bruising.  His initial line of defense was that the White House doesn’t comment on intelligence matters; but that was quickly made indefensible by the political damage to the President of having interviews showing him claiming no decision had been made about arming the rebels being shown concurrent with the breaking news of the intelligence finding.  Carney’s fall back position chummed the waters by assuring the press that no decision had been made.  That will surely set off a feeding frenzy of demands for the chronology, which even if it supports the President’s assertions, will distract from the White House’s message on Libya -- which is already confusing enough to be damaging to the President.

Even with the enormous benefit of coalition airstrikes, Libya’s rebels are being driven back by Gaddafi loyalists.  Rebel spokesman Colonel Ahmad Bani is now calling for coalition forces to intervene more forcefully.  To be blunt, the rebels are now asking us to fight a war they can’t win.  And it appears the Obama Administration is preparing to do so.

The President said our aim was to prevent mass slaughter of rebels, yet the “no fly zone” has now expanded to employ American AC-130 gunships to fire on loyalist ground forces.  The President described Libya’s rebels as innocent civilians mercilessly targeted by a brutal regime, yet now it turns out at least some of the rebel fighters fought against us in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The President promised a quick diminution of American involvement, yet yesterday as NATO took command of the operation, the U.S. conducted 32 airstrikes and the rest of coalition allies only 23.  The President promised Americans we would not put ground troops into Libya, yet U.S. special forces are on alert for deployment.  The President pledged he had not decided whether to arm the rebels, yet the President authorized arming them weeks ago.

President Obama is on dangerous ground, because he has not prepared Americans for this expansion of our war aims from protecting civilians to abetting an insurgency about which we still know little.  Questions about al Qaeda connections among the rebel fighters will fuel concern about even arming the rebels, much less fighting their war for them.  And it doesn’t help that Secretary of State Clinton informed Congress that the President has no intention of seeking Congressional support for these actions.  The President’s decisions are drawing us deeper into a war he acknowledged in his speech Monday night was more about our values than our interests and which he promised would be a strictly limited U.S. involvement.

(photo credit: U.S. Navy Imagery)