April 20, 2011

Confusing signs from DC - support for the Libyan opposition

In yet more confusing pronouncements from Washington, the Obama Administration notified Congress that it would begin providing $25 million in "non-lethal" aid to Libyan opposition forces. According to a U.S. State Department memorandum reported in the press, that aid will come in the form of "vehicles, fuel trucks, fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios.”

Confusion point number one
In the context of providing assistance to an armed opposition, there is really no such thing as "non-lethal" aid. Money is a fungible commodity, impossible to trace. If you provide money to a group with restrictions on how it can be spent, they will simply use your money for the purpose you have specified. They will then divert their own funds for weapons or things you have proscribed. If you provide them actual materiel, such as the Administration proposes, they will not have to procure those items with their own resources, freeing those funds to be used for weapons.

This is "diplo-speak." The Administration can claim it has not given weapons to the Libyan opposition. That said, all of the items will obviously support military operations. Does it then matter?

Confusion point number two
The Administration's memorandum justifies the aid as part of "efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya.” Portraying the proposed assistance package as humanitarian aid is disingenuous. Let's be up front and state that we are supporting the opposition. The materiel we are providing will be used by the opposition forces in combat against the pro-government forces. In essence, we're providing everything but the weapons.

Again, "diplo-speak." Efforts to protect citizens is merely a euphemism for providing support to opposition fighters.

Our allies are a bit more open, refreshingly so. The United Kingdom has announced that it will send military officers to train and advise opposition forces, including coordinating NATO air strikes. The European Union agreed to deploy an armed force to protect deliveries of humanitarian aid.

I fully support these efforts, but we must be aware of the "slippery slope" we have seen in other areas - Somalia comes to mind.

Confusion point number three
President Obama has repeatedly said that it is U.S. foreign policy that Libyan leader Mu'amar al-Qadhafi must step down. Recently, he has made the seemingly contradictory statement that the United States does not support regime change in Libya.

Which is it, Mr. President? Make no mistake about it. The only way Qadhafi will step down is via regime change, and it appears that violent removal is the only viable option.

How about some clarity?
One of President Obama's favorite and often used phrases is, "Let me be clear." Okay, here's an opportunity to be clear, a chance to clear up the confusion caused by hiding behind words and trite phrases.

How about this:

  • It is U.S. policy that Mu'amar al-Qadhafi must be removed from power, by force if necessary
  • The United States will provide weapons and training to the Libyan opposition
  • American intelligence and special operations forces will assist on the ground towards these objectives

There. Clear, concise and reflects the actual situation. Most Americans will support these efforts when you are honest about what we are trying to accomplish. Using "diplo-speak" and "politi-babble" only makes you look unwilling to stand up for the effort to which you have committed our resources. People read $25 million - they want to know what it is for.

You have the chance to look like a real leader here. Go for it.