Barbara Ferguson

Posted by Barbara Ferguson on March 16, 2011 in News Clips

WASHINGTON: Following President Barack Obama’s announcement that diplomat Chris Stevens — the number two official at the US Embassy in Tripoli until it was suspended when fighting began last month — had been appointed as the special US representative to Libya’s rebel leaders, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held out on the possibility of economic and political aid to the Libyan resistance at a meeting with one of their leaders in Paris, US officials said.

It was the highest-level talks she has had with the opposition, and officials present said that late Monday she went beyond offering humanitarian aid but stopped short of promising military help for an opposition rapidly losing ground to Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.

The chief US diplomat met with Mahmoud Jibril, who handles foreign affairs for Libya’s Transitional National Council, while in Paris for a Group of Eight meeting.

Clinton’s talks with Jibril marked a step-up in contacts. In Washington last week she met Ali Aujali, the Libyan ambassador to Washington who has defected to the opposition. Aujali has also met both State Department and Treasury Department US officials.

Gene Cretz, the US ambassador to Libya, recently met opposition figures in Cairo and also took part in Monday's talks with Jibril in Paris.

A senior US official said Jibril told Clinton his group aimed to include Libyans from both the eastern and western parts of Libya, but to ensure their safety would not name those in the west, where Qaddafi has a stronger power base.

Jibril also asked the chief US diplomat for combat material, in an apparent appeal for weapons to fight Qaddafi's forces, that are regaining lost ground and marching eastward.

Clinton, the official said, replied she would consider it, but made no commitments.

Reactions to the Obama administration’s reined-in reaction have, predictably, drawn both harsh criticism and praise in D.C.

David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, and now an editorialist for CNN, publicly criticized the president for “dragging his feet on Libya.”

Dr. Ali Alyami, a Saudi expatriate and observer of Middle East affairs, told Arab News that he had never witnessed more support by most Americans for any of the US’ foreign involvement in any issue than for President Obama during the uprising against the autocratic Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. “Most Americans felt proud of their president and country for standing by people who are willing to risk their lives for their freedom,” he said.
But Alyami is critical of the US position on Libya. “Then came the Libyan uprising against Libyan leader Qaddafi; one of the 21st century's biggest psychopaths who is not only loathed by his terrorized people, but by most Arab peoples for his autocracies.”

Alyami criticized the president and his administration for what he sees as a missed opportunity in their indecision.

James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, is equally as adamant about not going into Libya: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made clear the difficulties of intervention and the White House understands that US involvement could backfire… We are no longer the white knight on the charger  — George Bush shot the horse and ruined the reputation of the knight,” he told Arab News.

 “Given this, we are left with few options and the one chosen by the Administration — tightening the noose around the regime, is the best of the options available right now. The problem with those crying for US involvement is that they were the same crowd that led us into Iraq and provided all the arguments as to why it was needed and how it work, etc. Their credibility has been found wanting.”

Amb. Quincy Lumsden, a retired State Department Arabist and former Ambassador to the UAE, also spoke of the battle taking place in Washington between the White House and the neo-cons.

“I believe that the president does not want to get involved in Libya,” he told Arab News.

 Pat Buchanan, a conservative political commentator, agrees with both Zogby and Lumsden. “Before the United States plunges into a third war in the Middle East, let us think this one through, as we did not the last two.
“What would be the purpose of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya? According to advocates, to keep Qaddafi from using his air force to attack civilians. But what if Qaddafi uses tanks to crush the rebellion, as Nikita Khrushchev did in Hungary and the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square?”

It is clear that political observers remain adamant in their ability to see either side of this conflict. “Do we want to take the chance of replacing Qaddafi with a Mediterranean Somalia? Tribal leaders, fighting each other, inspired by Islamic ideology -- all just 300 miles from the coast of Sicily? We could have 300,000 refugees showing up on the NATO side of the Mediterranean. Better stick with the devil we know. The bloodletting cannot last much longer, stability will return soon,” David Frum recently wrote in a CNN editorial.

“An active Obama preference for Qaddafi's survival makes sense of the administration's otherwise baffling inaction,” Frum said.

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