Why Obama Is Right to Recognize Libya's Rebels

A survey of foreign-policy and defense experts shows a clear pattern of approval for the Administration's decision to support the opposition government

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National Journal's National Security Insiders strongly support the Obama administration's decision to formally recognize Libya's opposition government as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Most said they support funneling some of the billions of dollars in frozen regime funds to the rebels for whatever they need in the fight to overthrow Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi--although some cautioned against arming the rebels directly.

The Democracy ReportSecretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced recently that the U.S. decided to formally recognize Libya's Transitional National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Thirty-eight out of 54 respondents (70 percent) said this was the right decision, given the Obama administration's investment in the military operation and significant contact with the rebel government over the course of several months. "Now that the United States has committed to regime change in Libya, it makes little sense not to," one Insider said.

"Since the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Qaddafi for crimes against humanity, he can no longer be considered the legitimate head of state of Libya," another Insider said. "Moreover, the 33-member Transitional National Council has a broad base of support and backs political freedoms. Its legitimacy is further enhanced by the absence of competitive anti-Qaddafi resistance group." Or as another Insider said:  "We've recognized worse!"

Rebel leaders, who say they are in desperate need of supplies such as gasoline, food, and money for salaries to continue their fight against Qaddafi, have been pleading for access to the $34 billion in regime funds the U.S. froze in February. The insurgents have asked the U.S.--and their Western and Arab allies--for medium and heavy artillery to help them turn the tide of the war against Qaddafi. The ragtag group of rebel fighters has also urged the United States to provide military training to help them make key territorial gains before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

Now that the Washington has officially recognized the national council, 54 percent of Insiders said that the administration should unfreeze some of the funds for whatever supplies or weapons the rebels may need. "The money belongs to the Libyan people. Frankly speaking, who are we to withhold it or to tell them what they can and cannot do with it?" one Insider said.

Another 6 percent said the unfrozen funds should go specifically toward providing weapons, given that the U.S. has already allocated millions of dollars to refugee operations and tens of millions more in nonlethal assistance, such as vehicles, fuel trucks, ambulances, and medical equipment. Others disagreed, with 21 percent arguing that the rebels should only be able to use the Qaddafi-linked assets to stay afloat--but that the U.S. should not directly arm the insurgents.

"Humanitarian needs can be served without taking sides in the civil war," one Insider said.

Nineteen percent said that the U.S. should not unfreeze the Qaddafi-linked assets and cautioned against shifting the goal of the military operation from protecting civilians towards toppling Qaddafi. "Since we are not at 'declared' war with Libya, we don't have the legal basis to forfeit and distribute the money," one said.

Several Insiders said that the administration should play a watchdog role for the fledgling rebel authority. "The U.S. should maintain some control over their finances to guard against corruption and inappropriate expenditures until a democratic government is installed," one Insider said.

1. Did the Obama administration make the right decision to recognize Libya's Transitional National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people?

(54 votes)

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"Now that we are committed to an intervention, we must have a way to deal with an organized entity, especially if we intend to channel seized funds."

"Absolutely. The administration's policy was incoherent before it joined many of our key allies in recognizing the TNC. This was one of the more inexplicable and embarrassing examples of the administration's 'leadership from behind' on the democratic transition in the Middle East."


 "The U.S. government still has no idea who they are. Worst case is, we may soon confirm what I have been told confidentially that key players have strong AQ links. This whole thing has been so badly mismanaged that there are no good alternatives left!"

2. Should the U.S. release some of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's frozen funds to the rebels?

(52 votes)

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Yes: For Whatever They Need

"The money belongs to the Libyan people. Frankly speaking, who are we to withhold it or to tell them what they can and cannot do with it?"

"Certainly the administration should not persist in the fantasy of an immaculate victory by the TNC in Libya's civil war. So appropriate arms purchases should definitely be permitted (and facilitated)."

"The U.S. must now do what it takes to remove Qaddafi and establish new government."

"Since the TNC is the legitimate government, it deserves access to the financial resources it needs to build military capacity and bring the civil war to an early end. This will spare bloodshed and help Libya reunite sooner and begin developing new and more open governance. Moreover, by doing more of the fighting and dying, Libyans will gain greater confidence that they are principally responsible for ending oppression and bringing new freedoms to their country."

"If we don't, we had no business recognizing them in the first place."

Yes: For Nonlethal Aid Only 

"Humanitarian needs can be served without taking sides in the civil war."

No: Diplomatic Recognition Only

"Since we are not at 'declared' war with Libya, we don't have the legal basis to forfeit and distribute the money."

"We acted on March 19, 2011, in support of intervention in Libya without a clear objective or understanding of what is essentially a civil war."

"All money is fungible."

National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.

Presented by

Sara Sorcher a staff reporter (national security and foreign policy) for National Journal.

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