The Campaign Spot

Secret Aid to Libyan Rebels: What Could Go Wrong?

Also in the Morning Jolt, Obama’s sinking poll numbers and the president’s speech on energy prices, but here’s the section on the latest in Libya . . .

So, Can We Call the Libyan Rebels ‘Contras’ Now?

Er . . . yay? “President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday. Obama signed the order, known as a presidential ‘finding’, within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter. Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.”

At Outside the Beltway, Doug Mataconis finds three problems right off the bat: “First of all, this ‘secret’ order isn’t really a secret anymore, which makes one wonder who may have leaked it. There may be more dissension within the Administration over Libya than we’ve been led to believe. Second, this would seem to directly contradict the policy that the President announced in his speech on Monday. Third, any action to arm the rebels would seem to clearly violate the arms embargo established in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 (PDF), and strengthened in UNSCR 1973 (PDF).”

Richard Fernandez, writing at Pajamas Media: “The entire theme of the administration’s Libyan policy is ‘we don’t need no steenkin’ badges’. Not from the Congress, not even from the UN Security Council. For authority they can just write a little secret finding and as long as Washington insiders let him get away with it, it’s a done deal. Hillary can reinterpret the UN arms embargo to whatever she wants it to mean. Things are infinitely elastic, which is to say, they can do anything they want. It marks the final emergence of an incipient aristocracy from the cocoon of a Republic. It has no obligations to anyone. Not even to tell the truth to itself. There is probably nothing inherently wrong with the decision to remove the Duck of Death. But the process through which this decision was reached leaves much to be desired.”

The Lonely Conservative looks for the silver lining: “Well, at least the CIA declined comment. But who is leaking this information? We know it’s not Scooter Libby. In all seriousness, if we have covert operatives in unfriendly territory, I certainly don’t want to find out about it in a news report. Especially if they’re still in harm’s way. The report goes on to indicate that allies are openly talking about sending arms to the rebels. Again, we don’t really know who we’re arming. I’m all for seeing the end of Gaddafi, but should we really be arming jihadists? And, all of this is still being done without the consent of Congress or the American people.”

Oh, in related news, we’re witnessing the biggest retreat for a bunch of outgunned rebels since Hoth: “Libya’s foreign minister defected to Britain on Wednesday, dealing a blow to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government even as his forces pushed rebel forces into a panicked retreat and seized valuable towns they ceded just days ago under allied airstrikes. The government advance appeared to return control of eastern Libya’s most important oil regions to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, giving the isolated government, at least for the day, the east’s most valuable economic prize. The rout also put into sharp relief the rebels’ absence of discipline and tactical sense, confronting the United States with a conundrum: how to persuade Colonel Qaddafi to step down while supporting a rebel force that has been unable to hold on to military gains.”

At The Atlantic, Max Fisher looks down the road and sees the president facing a very, very difficult choice: “If the Western air strike campaign continues to fail in stopping Qaddafi’s forward march, President Obama, as well as European leaders, will be forced to choose between two similarly unattractive options. Either escalate Western involvement in the civil war, as many are urging him to do, and risk entangling the U.S., and possibly American lives, in a conflict with no clear outcome or end-point. Or decline to escalate, allowing Qaddafi to continue toward a victory, and toward the ‘house to house’ slaughter he so openly promised, in which the U.S. would appear complicit. Obama now owns this war, whether he wants to or not, and that means owning its outcome. On the one hand, a worst-case that could look a great like Afghanistan; on the other, Rwanda.”

What will Obama say when faced with this most high-stakes decision?

My money’s on, “Present.”

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