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National Security Insiders: To Arm or Not to Arm? National Security Insiders: To Arm or Not to Arm?

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National Security Insiders: To Arm or Not to Arm?

Taking a backseat in Libya mission won't hurt credibility.


Libyan anti-regime protesters in Benghazi. Debate continues over whether to free up funds for the rebels to buy weapons and supplies.(PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The Washington debate over whether to arm and fund Libyan rebels is divided and heated, whatever the talk inside the Obama administration. National Journal's insiders took the question of whether to give the rebels billions in frozen Qaddafi-connected funds and came up vastly polarized: 31 respondents said they wouldn't support funneling the money to the anti-government fighters; 28 said they would. And despite some criticism of the U.S. decision to take a supporting role in the Libyan endeavor, two-thirds of Insiders said that the stance wouldn't damage U.S. credibility abroad.

When the United States froze about $34 billion of Qaddafi's assets in February, it was the largest sanction of its kind in American history. Now the battle between forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and rebels seeking his ouster looks set for an uneasy stalemate. Even after establishing a no-fly zone, the rebels want Western governments to free up those funds for much-needed weapons and supplies. Unlike France, which has already recognized the Libyan opposition and is considering ways to funnel the rebels money, the Obama administration has done little more other than say that all options remain on the table.


David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told National Journal recently that officials are considering “what can and should be done with the frozen assets" and that “there isn’t any serious consideration being given to turning over the $34 billion to the [Libyan opposition].”

The 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent split on the issue among 59 National Journal's National Security Insiders could shed some light on the debate presumably taking place within the administration. One Insider said that more must be known about the rebel leadership before funds can be distributed: "Treating the money as a slush fund and giving it to a weak, unknown rebel group would only compound the error of engaging in Libya in the first place," the Insider said.

Yet another Insider called the decision to arm the rebels "a no-brainer." So far, U.S. involvement and support has been "hesitant, flat-footed, and possibly ineffective toward what should be our goal to remove this madman--and unrepentant murderer of Americans--from power," the Insider said. "This seems the least we can do in a 'least possible effort' campaign to assist the Libyan rebels."


The United States has faced criticism for its supporting role in the military operation since it transferred the lead to NATO allies. Yet 38 Insiders (64 percent) said that taking a backseat to NATO-- or, specifically, France-- would not hurt U.S. credibility abroad.

"Encouraging France, the UK, and NATO to play the lead role was smart.  It shows foreign skeptics that America does not seek to dominate everywhere," said one Insider. "It strengthens domestic U.S. support for a vigorous foreign policy by showing that allies are stepping up to their security responsibilities."

Twenty Insiders (34 percent) said that the strategy would harm U.S. credibility overseas. "It's yet another example of how the U.S. leads hesitantly, rather than decisively," which undermines "our status and stature, further eroding our power and influence," one Insider said. Another said, "The USA is the lead nation of NATO. There is no transferring of a lead from the USA to NATO, and then having the USA fail to lead.  Not done. Mr President: In for a dime, in for a dollar. Git 'er done!"

Should the U.S. give the Libyan rebels access to Muammar el-Qaddafi’s frozen funds?

(59 votes)

  • Yes  47.5%
  • No  52.5%

Yes: "Now that the tactical situation appears to be approaching a stalemate, the rebels need to take the time and effort to organize, equip, and train their force. They need funds to accomplish these tasks."

No: "Far too little is known about the rebels to justify bestowing this form of de facto recognition."

Will taking a backseat to NATO (and to France) in the Libya mission hurt U.S. credibility abroad?

(46 votes)

  • Yes  34%
  • No  64%
  • Volunteered  2%

Yes: "The Obama administration simply is not thinking clearly. Having come this far, they can’t afford to allow the rebels to be defeated. Nor does it make sense to enter into an 11-year-long stalemate like we had with Saddam Hussein."

No: "We have been seen as leading international efforts without strong international support, in a time where U.S. power is balanced by China, Russia, the E.U., and others. Looking for joint operations, and international support, for military intervention makes sense, particularly in a case that is not especially significant for U.S. strategic interests."

National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include:

Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.

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