Over the last few days, we’ve been hearing that President Obama – along with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy – are considering arming the anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya (Reuters via Yahoo); already, a presidential finding is in place to make it happen (Reuters).
About two weeks ago, I made the case for just this policy. I still consider it the best option: it makes the anti-Qaddafi forces more dependent upon us; it can be limited initially to keep them viable, but not triumphant, until we figure out who among them are our friends; by steering the military aid to our friends, once we’ve determined who they are, we can ensure Qaddafi is replaced by pro-American forces instead of pro-al Qaeda ones. The policy worked like a charm in Ethiopia, where over a decade an anti-American Marxist rebel group was turned into a pro-American force that won the civil war in 1991 and made Ethiopia one of our best allies on the African continent. It can work again here.
By contrast, the air campaign has been far more indiscriminate (pro-American and anti-American rebels are both helped) and continues to risk American personnel. This would be the case even if the air campaign was properly explained to the American people – which, to date, has not been the case.
What we need now is to set a benchmark for the air campaign, meet it, and withdraw our forces. Let Libyans willing to fight Qaddafi do so, with weapons from us targeted towards boosting the pro-American forces within the resistance. If they don’t exist, arm the resistance enough to keep Qaddafi busy, but not to win until it improves its opinion towards us.
There is still a chance to get this right. I hope the president takes it, even accidentally.
Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon