National Security Adviser Tom Donilon announced on Thursday that the United States is seeking to stay in close contact with the rebel leaders trying to topple Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi and will be dispatching aid missions into the war-torn country.
“We’ll soon be sending disaster-assistance relief teams into eastern Libya,” Donilon told reporters during a lengthy conference call. Preparing for that, he said, the United States has been “in direct contact with the opposition through a variety of channels.”
Donilon stressed that the aid teams “are not going in in any way, shape, or form as military operations” and would enter the country only with the assent of “local entities who now are in de facto control.”
One area that meets that standard is Benghazi in eastern Libya, which is now under rebel control.
Donilon defended the administration’s actions since Libya erupted in violence. He cast President Obama's response as reacting not just to Libya but to the broader turmoil gripping so much of the Middle East, stressing that the United States now has “historic opportunities” in the region.
Because the United States did not operate unilaterally and ensured that the international community “spoke with one voice,” Donilon said, the community has effectively isolated Qaddafi. “This has not just been the West engaged in the isolation of Col. Qaddafi," he added. "He really is an isolated person in Tripoli.”
History, he said, is not on Qaddafi’s side. But that assessment seemed to put Donilon at odds with National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who earlier told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Qaddafi is likely to “prevail” over “the longer term” because of his military resources.
Clapper's prediction seemed to undercut U.S. policy and enraged many Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has called for Clapper’s resignation and termed today’s testimony “the last straw.”
But Donilon defended the testimony, saying that it was a “static analysis,” looking only narrowly at the strengths of each side.
He said that Clapper was only offering a “flat-out resources analysis” of Qadhafi's military backing. Donilon also said that Obama is “very happy” with Clapper’s performance.