So it seems Obama's long hesitation about going into Libya was not so hesitant. He signed approval for covert action to arm the rebels weeks before the UN Resolution. It is not clear if anything has come of the directive - although it makes me wonder what the real truth was behind that WSJ story on Egypt's transfer of weapons - but it reveals the president to be at best vague last night and at worst deceptive. The US, we now know, has been on the ground actively aiding and abetting the rebels for weeks in targeting and attacking the Qaddafi forces. Was that secret operation entirely devoted to preventing a massacre in Benghazi? Count me suspicious. The Brits are even further up to their necks in this - another imperial intervention in a country Britain has no right whatever to meddle in. The empire in Africa is over, Mr Cameron. You're more than a century too late.

And when Obama says he rules out boots on the ground, it appears it depends whose boots we are talking about. Maybe the CIA agents wear shoes, rather than boots, in the desert - a Clintonian piece of bullshit that really needs to be called out:

While President Obama has insisted that no American ground troops join in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks and are part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help set back Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.

The C.I.A. presence comprises an unknown number of American officers who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and those who arrived more recently. In addition, current and former British officials said, dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British Tornado jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces, and missile installations, the officials said.

All of this is clearly outside the UN Resolution.

More to the point: if the US doesn't just direct, aid and train the rebels on the ground, but actually takes the next step of arming them, then we might as well give up any pretense that this president - BOOTSSeanGallup:Getty this president - is not involved in regime change by force of arms in yet another Muslim country. Libya will be Iraq II - even as Iraq I still continues. The man who campaigned against a dumb war will have launched an even dumber one.

To say that this is a betrayal of his candidacy and his supporters would be an understatement. It makes George Bush's request for a vote from Congress before committing the US to war in Iraq look like a model of democratic accountability. How dare this president commit this country to an open-ended involvement in a foreign country's civil war - in secret, with no real public debate and then presented as a fait accompli. The kind of trust a president needs - especially when entering a long, open-ended exercize of war and nation-building in a chaotic failed state - can be destroyed by this kind of flim-flam. And what on earth are we doing even contemplating such a scenario?

And now we are told there is a debate within the administration over whether to follow through on its preparation and actually arm the rebels. How can that be possible? If we are not there for regime change imposed by foreign powers, as the president has insisted, on what grounds is this even being discussed? Okay, we prevented a massacre; and we will continue to prevent massacres from the air so far as is possible under UN 1973. That is a noble, if risky endeavor.

But that emphatically must be where this war ends. No arms, no troops, and no more CIA shenanigans (God help us).

This secret shift to full-on entanglement is also, to my mind, a well-meant but ill-conceived undermining of the Arab Spring. Regime change by force of foreign arms is not a democratic revolution; it is the imposition by foreign powers of their agenda in the service of groups we do not know or understand - and will never know and never fully understand. It actually wrests power away from Libyans and gives it to Westerners, perpetuating a dependency the Arab spring has finally been able to break from. It is, to put it simply, messing with the momentum of history, the real balance of power in the region. And if this has been done covertly already, if the president has bypassed Congress, the American people, and the UN and has already secretly armed the rebels, then we need to get more than angry. To have a third war foisted on us - this time by by secretive fiat - requires serious protest from the president's core supporters more than anyone. This nascent war needs to be nipped firmly in the bud.

Have these people learned nothing? This is a dumb war, as someone once said. And it could wreck, derail and distract Obama's presidency.

(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty.)

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