Commentary Magazine


Let’s Work Closely with the Rebels

The White House and Africa Command have insisted that we are not coordinating air strikes with the Libyan rebels. I suppose it all depends on the meaning of “coordinate.” The Los Angeles Times reveals:

Leaders of the opposition national council in rebel-controlled eastern Libya say they are making regular, secure contacts with allied military representatives in Europe  to help commanders identify targets for the U.S.-led air assault.

The contacts, conducted through the council’s civilian representatives in France  and elsewhere in Europe, are made by secure satellite telephone connections, according to spokesmen for the rebel leadership in its eastern base of Benghazi.

This is not the only channel for communication between the rebels and the coalition. The Times also notes that “CIA operatives and equipment were sent into rebel-held areas to monitor the opposition forces’ activity even before the air bombardment began.”

What apparently isn’t happening at the moment is direct military-to-military contacts between armed rebels and the coalition air forces, because there are not any American Special Forces or tactical air coordinators on the ground in Libya—at least that we’ve heard about. That needs to change, as I’ve said before.

I cannot fathom why Obama still clings to the fiction that we are only in Libya to impose a ceasefire and that this is unrelated to the ouster of Qaddafi, something that he has repeatedly called for. The result is that we do have some coordination with the rebels but not as much as we need to make them into a more cohesive and effecting fighting force.

One of the excuses we sometimes hear for this policy is that we don’t really know what the rebels are about. That may be true, although what we have heard so far is encouraging—as another L.A. Times story notes, “the U.S. intelligence community has found no organized presence of Al Qaeda  or its allies among the Libyan opposition.” Instead, the face of the opposition has been liberal professionals such as the expatriate economist who is the finance minister in the rebel government. No doubt there are other, less savory elements in the opposition, and there is much we don’t know about them. But the best way to find out—and to shape them in a more constructive and democratic direction—is to send more representatives to work with them.

Instead the administration seems to hope that Qaddafi will be toppled by some deus ex machine—a palace coup or the like. I hope so too. But hope isn’t a policy.