The sources said the biggest supporters of a lead U.S. role in the NATO
mission have been Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations, Susan Rice, and National Security Council member Samantha
Power. They said the three officials have been lobbying for direct U.S. help
to the Libyan rebels for an advance on Tripoli despite their links to Al
Qaida and Hizbullah.
"We have not made that decision [on military aid to the rebels], but
we've not certainly ruled that out," Ms. Rice said on March 29.
In contrast, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community want a
rapid U.S. withdrawal from the NATO mission. The sources said the military
and intelligence community were warning that Washington must leave Libya
before "it turns messy."
On Oct. 29, U.S. European Command chief Adm. James Stavridis, in an
assessment disputed by the administration, said Libyan rebels were believed
linked to Al Qaida and Hizbullah. Stavridis said U.S. intelligence has still
not formed a complete picture of the rebel movement.
"We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential Al Qaida,
Hizbullah," Stavridis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "We've
seen different things. But at this point I don't have detail sufficient to
say there is a significant Al Qaida presence or any other terrorist
National Security Advisor Tom Donlion and Defense Secretary Robert Gates
have led the opposition to a major U.S. role in Libya. The two have asserted
that such a mission would stretch U.S. sources and lead to another long-term
"The UN-backed action is limited to preventing Gadhafi from
slaughtering his own people," Gates said.
Analyst Josh Rogin said Ms. Power has persuaded Obama that his foreign
policy, particularly in the Middle East, would be endangered unless the
United States acts against Gadhafi. Ms. Power has been a leading proponent
of an international campaign to establish a Palestinian state in the West
Bank regardless of Israel's consent.
"The president has argued our interests and our values cannot be
separated," Ms. Power said on March 28. "These values have caused the people
of Libya to risk their lives on the street."
For his part, Obama said the United States has moved from a combat to
support role in the NATO mission. The president said this marked the
beginning of a U.S. exit strategy from Libya.
"We'll still be in a support role, we'll still be providing jamming, and
intelligence and other assets that are unique to us," Obama said. "But this
is an international effort that's designed to accomplish the goals that were
set out in the Security Council resolution."
But even Obama supporters in Congress have expressed concern that
Washington could be embroiled in a long-term mission while the rest of NATO
quietly withdraws. Both Democrats and Republicans have also demanded that
the administration define its mission in Libya as well as exit strategy. On
March 30, senior administration officials were scheduled to brief Congress
"Many questions remain about U.S. short, medium, and long term goals,"
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. "I
will continue to press for more answers from the administration on the U.S.
political and military objectives going forward, the nature and extent of
U.S. involvement, the potential implications for vital U.S. interests, and
what would constitute the completion of the mission."