Top Line: U.S. Still Learning About Libya Opposition

Mar 22, 2011 1:50pm

The focus on Top Line, as in Washington, remained the U.S. military engagement in Libya

Steven Cook, a Middle East expert with the Council on Foreign relations, pointed out the lack of clear vision from the White House in launching the plan and, perhaps more alarming, the lack of knowledge the U.S. has about the rebels it is now supporting in Libya.  

"Well we don’t know too much about the rebellion. We have been putting some emphasis on the foreign minister of interior Abdul Fataunis but other than him we really don't know too much about this opposition. We have essentially intervened in a civil war. What we are trying to do through the implementation of the no-fly zone is essentially level the field so that the revolutionary forces will have somewhat of a fighting chance against Gadhafi's much superior military forces.”

Cook responded to Sen. John McCain’s suggestion on CBS this morning that a no-fly  zone could be insufficient to protect the rebel forces from Gadhafi. 

“There's always the danger that you're going to have that slippery slope. A no-fly zone becomes a no-drive zone and a no-drive zone becomes funneling weapons to the rebellion becomes having advisors on the ground and so on and so forth. The problem is we don't exactly know what the objective is. President Obama has said Gadhafi must go but at the same time our military objectives are not related to that broader political objective,” said Cook.

What’s more, the U.S. is now engaged against Gadhafi when there are other leaders in the region who are also taking up arms against their people. But while Gadhafi has had a tenuous relationship with the international community, Cook said leadership in Bahrain and Yemen have not.

“If you look at it the ruling family in Bahrain, President Ali Abdullah Sale in Yemen have been part of a broader American coalition. They have helped create a regional political order that has made it relatively less expensive and easier for Washington to achieve its objectives in the region despite the fact that Gadhafi was rehabilitated somewhat after the 2003 nuclear agreement. He's never been part of this broader coalition. And as a result, the fact that he has taken up arms against his own people makes it easier for the United States and the international community to take up military operations against him.”

“Why in Libya  but not Yemen,” Cook said, “The Yemenis killed 50 of their own people who were protesting peacefully on Friday. The Bahraini security forces cleared  Pearl Square. The ground zero for the protests that have been rocking Bahrain for the better part of the last four or five weeks. It is a difficult position without a very clear objective for the United States to stick to over time.”

Cook said  it is clear there “is a revolutionary bandwagon that's happening in the region.”

Could that spread further – even to places like Syria?

“My concern,” said Cook, “is that (Syrian President Bashar al Assad), who rules with an iron grip, who comes from a minority group… that dominate the military and security forces have has much more to lose than for example (than former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak) in Egypt or even (President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali) in Tunisia and will fight to the finish and you could find a very bloody situation in Syria. In addition to the fact that Syria looks a lot like its two neighbors Lebanon and Iraq. And that is a mixture of ethnic and sectarian differences that really could explode once you crack the lid on this regime.”

See the entire interview with Steven Cook HERE.


ABC’s White House correspondent Jake Tapper also appeared on Top Line. He talked about criticism the White House is hearing on the Libyan no-fly zone from Capitol Hill. Moderates, he said, seem supportive, but many Republicans, like Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and others have expressed concern that Congress was not consulted before the operation commenced.

Tapper said part of the problem for the White House in marshalling support is the fact that the President and so many of his advisers were a hemisphere away, on a trade trip to Latin America, when the international enforcement coalition started its operation.

Finally, switching gears to domestic politics, Tapper offered this assessment when asked if President Obama’s advisers worry about a challenge from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who announced Monday that he is exploring a Presidential bid

“No,” said Tapper.

See the entire interview with Jake Tapper HERE.

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus