Confusing U.S. role in Libya

Confusing U.S. role in Libya

April 26th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 28, 2011. Photographer: Dennis Brack/Pool via Bloomberg

The progression of U.S. involvement in Libya's civil war is troubling on many levels. It's certainly not that the United States wants Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to stay in power. Far from it. He is a dictator. No freedom-loving nation would regret his departure.

But Libya has not posed any imminent threat to the United States. So however awful Gadhafi is, it was not justified for our country to get involved in military action to support rebels who are opposing him.

Unfortunately, we have gotten involved anyhow.

First, President Barack Obama relied on a U.N. resolution to justify U.S. participation in strikes against forces controlled by Gadhafi. But the president failed to get a constitutionally required declaration of war by the Congress of the United States.

Then, the administration said the United States was handing over the mission to NATO and pulling back to a supporting role, with further U.S. air strikes only if there were a formal request by NATO and approval of that request by Washington.

That seemed like good news. But the Pentagon later confirmed that U.S. jets continued to conduct air strikes in Libya - even without NATO having made any such request after it supposedly took control of operations. U.S. officials said those strikes were permissible because they were defensive rather than offensive in nature. But the Obama administration did not clearly make such a distinction earlier when it said it was basically turning over the work in Libya to NATO.

It is also reported that CIA officers are on the ground in Libya, advising the rebel forces.

Now, disturbingly, the United States has further expanded its role in Libya. It has begun flying armed drones over the country in hopes that the drones can strike pro-Gadhafi forces at fairly close range.

And while so far the president has said U.S. ground troops will not enter Libya, a top U.S. military commander, Army Gen. Carter Ham, recently said during a Senate hearing that "there might be some consideration of that."

That would be a horrible idea! We do not yet know the nature and intentions of the rebels in Libya. Obviously we hope they would promote freedom and representative government, but there are alarming indications of at least some al-Qaida terrorist influence in the rebels' ranks.

So, with Gadhafi's forces appearing at least to be holding their own and maybe advancing against the rebels despite U.S. and NATO strikes, will the president expand U.S. involvement in Libya still further?

It is past time for Obama to make very clear what he thinks the U.S. role in Libya should be.

It would be terribly unwise for the United States to send ground troops into the midst of Libya's civil war. Nor should the president engage in further U.S. air attacks in Libya short of a necessity to protect clearly spelled out U.S. interests.

In any event, there should be no other U.S. military involvement in Libya without a declaration of war by Congress. There fortunately has been no justification for that so far.