By Rujuta Gandhi
The recent protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa are both fascinating and alarming due to the vastness and rapid escalation of the situation, specifically in Libya where Gaddafi’s leadership has repressed civilians who today fight for an end to his 41-year dictatorship. His harsh response to what began as peaceful protests has developed into a strategy of scorched earth.
Furthermore, Gaddafi is suspected of shifting allies. According to government officials, he has undoubtedly called on aid from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The goal to replace Gaddafi should hence be a priority in the region. But such allegations have not been confirmed. In fact, Admiral James Stavridis, Commander of NATO’s forces, believes that only insufficient details insinuate significant terrorist presence in Libya.
Out of this conflict in Libya and other recent revolutions has risen the question of what role the U.S. should play in the region as a global superpower. A plan to oust leader Muammar Gaddafi while preventing a potential coup by terrorist organizations seems a step in the right direction. While arranging anti-Gaddafi plans, the Obama administration should discontinue arming rebel groups as weapons may be used against the US, its allies, and bystanders. With over 140 groups, 30 of which are politically active, it is difficult to determine which groups should be given arms.
CIA agents are said to be on-ground in Libya to assess which rebels to arm, what their needs are, and what their leadership structure resembles. However, the CIA has allegedly supplied weapons to rebel groups with Obama’s consent. Both the White House and the CIA have not commented on the matter.
Observing history allows one to draw parallels between arming opposition groups and negative, unintended consequences. When the U.S. armed the mujahedeen against the Soviet Union, they were unaware that several of these rebels would later join al-Qaeda. Similarly, U.S. armed support of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet resulted in his arrest for mass murder and torture, in which many were innocent civilians.
Thus far, the U.S. has only taken diplomatic measures to ameliorate the situation and form a credible stance; it has provided nonlethal humanitarian aid and closed the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. While the US observes the situation, France, Italy, and Qatar have already announced support for rebels. The Obama administration needs to declare a solid policy.
Although Obama does not want to lead countries in Libya, he must utilize the U.S.’s soft power and announce support for the rebel factions. In doing so, the U.S. can provide logistical support to the rebels today, rather than arming them.
If the administration supports the rebels while allowing NATO or various countries to engage in hard power, the U.S. may be seen in a more positive light in the region’s new future.