Pentagon civilian leaders and the military brass see nothing but trouble looming as the Obama administration takes one step after another into the Libyan morass. The next step appears to be arming the Libyan rebels, a move that would inevitably entail pressures to send U.S. trainers and even more potent arms—and a move that Defense Secretary Robert Gates flat-out rejected in testimony before Congress on Thursday. “What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control, and some organization,” Gates said. As for providing weapons, that is “not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I'm concerned, somebody else can do that.”
Military officials also have slim sympathy in general for those who advocate U.S. combat operations for humanitarian missions, when other nations and other means should be leading such efforts. And with surging demands to cut the Pentagon budget, Pentagon brass aren't thrilled with the more than $500 million tab for the extra operations over Libya. Despite these concerns, Pentagon leaders have been saluting in public, hoping their private warnings will be sufficient to prevent deeper involvement.
White House officials find Pentagon alarms misplaced. One insisted Thursday that "by Saturday we will have handed off fully to partners." By that, officials mean that U.S. jet fighters won't be flying combat operations over Libya. That task will fall entirely to NATO partners such as Britain, Canada, France, Norway, and Denmark with still ill-defined flights by the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.