from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Give Us the Tools....

March 2, 2011

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Rebel soldiers teach civilian volunteers at a school in Benghazi on March 2, 2011.
Rebel soldiers teach civilian volunteers at a school in Benghazi on March 2, 2011. (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters)

"Give us the tools and we will finish the job," Winston Churchill said in a famous speech broadcast by the BBC in 1941. Yesterday, a leader of the opposition to the Qaddafi regime in Libya told the Washington Post that "providing military equipment" would help his forces.

That seems obvious. There is now a war under way in Libya, between the Qaddafi regime and most of the population. The United States has very clearly said that Qaddafi must go, as has the so-called "international community." The problem is that Qaddafi does not agree, and he is making a fight of it. He is no doubt well aware that what awaits him if the regime falls is prosecution and perhaps execution, not some form of peaceful and wealthy exile.

There is great reluctance to engage in any form of direct military intervention, and the reluctance is understandable--though I favor establishment of a no-fly zone. For one thing, direct intervention would rob the Libyan people of what the Egyptians and Tunisians have gained by removing dictatorial regimes without foreign intervention: a sense of  control of their nation’s destiny. But allowing Qaddafi to win this war, stay in power, and wreak vengeance against all his enemies is simply unacceptable, so it would be sensible to ask what might be done to help Libyans fight back.

Sending them not only humanitarian materials--which is already being done, but should be increased--but also arms seems logical. Not troops, not American or other foreign "boots on the ground," but the tools they need to fight back against Qaddafi, his sons, and their well-equipped brigades. If even that is too much for the United States government to stomach, could we at least press the Saudis (who have long hated Qaddafi) or Egyptians or other Arabs to supply the anti-Qaddafi forces?

The Obama administration has finally taken sides here, and the United States cannot now allow itself to be defeated by Qaddafi. Arranging directly or indirectly for the supply of some weapons to the opposition will not only provide it with critical practical assistance but also give it a huge morale boost. Such assistance would also help push more of the still-loyal Qaddafi supporters and more of those still sitting on the fence to break with him. Given the reports today of how resistant the Pentagon is to direct intervention, including a no-fly zone, perhaps the supply of arms would gather some support at DOD as a better alternative. The American position cannot, in any event, be strong rhetorical support for the opposition combined with absolute inaction. Our words must have meaning and must be the precursor to action.

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