According to a Reuters report, a few weeks ago, President Obama “signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.” It is unclear to what extent such covert support has actually taken place, as White House officials have quickly moved to inject ambiguity to the matter, claiming that no decision has been made on whether to carry out the order. However, if history is any guide, and given the fact that the CIA has already met with rebels on the ground, it seems likely that covert U.S. support of Libyan rebels is already underway.
“It’s almost a certitude that at least part” of the Libyan opposition includes members of al-Qaeda, said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and adviser to President Obama. Riedel said that anti-Gaddafi elements in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi have had “very close associations with al-Qaeda” dating back years.
“I would hope that we now have a good sense of the opposition in Libya and can say that this is 2 percent, not 20 percent,” Riedel said. “If we don’t, then we are running the risk of helping to bring to power a regime that could be very dangerous.”
Leaving aside for a moment the odd fact that the U.S. now officially provides an al-Qaeda affiliate with the material wherewithal to carry out acts of violence and possibly overthrow the government of a North African country, another issue is well worth noting.
The United States code designates material support for terrorism a serious offense. The question of whether or not the U.S. is in violation of its own laws and is obligated to prosecute its own leadership is highly unlikely to get much play in the media and will certainly be left out of Obama’s next softball Katie Couric interview. But, to me, this is the central question regarding our support for the rebels and regime change in Libya.
The truth is that the U.S. has historically shown little if any respect for the law when conducting foreign policy, while demanding that others dutifully obey it. At the height of the Iraq war, when reports were coming out constantly of Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents fighting against U.S. troops, politicians and pundits were infuriated at such brazen criminality. That Iran was funneling support to Iraq insurgents to hinder U.S. operations there was a grave insult, threat, and breach of law. Bush went so far as to authorize US military commanders in Iraq to “confront Tehran’s murderous activities”.
Yet, to this same crowd, it was perfectly acceptable for the U.S. to provide funding, training, and arms to the mujahedeen insurgents in Afghanistan to fight against Soviet troops. There is no discernable difference between the two cases. In both cases, a military invaded and occupied another country and was then faced with resistance which was aggressively supported by a third party. Only in one of them, though, according to the dominant narrative, was the covert support to insurgents wrong and illegal. If they do it, it is terrorism; if we do it, it’s principled foreign policy conducted for the always-sacrosanct National Security Interest.
Then there’s Libya itself. When the Reagan administration authorized air strikes in Libya in 1986, it was ostensibly in response to Gaddafi’s support for terrorism, particularly the bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin. At this point in history, Libya was on the list of state sponsors of terrorism and Gaddafi was consistently called out by Reagan as the “Mad Dog of the Middle East” and for his “well-documented” “record of subversion and aggression” and “sanctioned acts of terror in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as the Western hemisphere.” And here, two and a half decades later (and five years after Libya was taken off the U.S. terrorist list), the Obama administration has authorized the funding of terrorist subversives in Libya with links to al Qaeda aiming to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Are we not now turning around and engaging in exactly the type of activity which would qualify another state for inclusion on the list of sponsors of terrorism?