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.

Presented by

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

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