The Egyptian government is refusing to allow adequate construction of shelters for migrants and refugees fleeing the violence in Libya, according to U.S. government officials and experts.
Over 200,000 people have fled east into Egypt since the outbreak of war in Libya and another 240,000 have poured over the western Libyan border into Tunisia, but the two governments are treating their new visitors quite differently. In Tunisia, the new government has worked aggressively to house the temporary refugees and speed their path to their next destination. In Egypt, the military-led government has left thousands of people to suffer in horrid conditions.
"The government of Tunisia, I have to say, has been fantastic in terms of the hospitality they have provided to these large number of people that have come across their border," said Reuben Brigety, deputy assistant secretary of State at the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. "In Egypt, it's a very different situation."
There are "transit camps" on both borders to aid refugees and migrant workers fleeing Libya get back to their home countries. But at a State Department briefing today, Brigety voiced frustration that Egypt isn't moving quickly enough to combat this crisis. "We've been working with the Egyptian government to make sure people have sufficient access to shelter, but frankly it has taken some time to get those shelters built and to have those people cared for appropriately," said Brigety. "We have continued to ask the government of Egypt to be strong partners in this regard and we continue to work with them to ensure that happens."
Aid organizations have been even more explicit in their criticism of the Egyptian government's handling of the refugee flow from Libya.
"Egypt's ruling government has significantly blocked [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] from providing adequate assistance for all people currently stranded at its border and must immediately reverse this position," Refugees International stated in an April 13 report, following the visit of its officials to the Tunisia-Libya and Egypt-Libya borders. "On the border, many people are forced to live under quite inhumane conditions."
The Egyptian government has directed humanitarian organizations to set up shop in Salloum, a small town near the Libyan border, but has resisted setting up housing to ensure that the migrants and refugees live in sanitary conditions due to concerns it might encourage migrants to stay there longer, the Refugees International report stated.
"Shelter at the site is simply inadequate. Most families are being temporarily housed in the Egyptian border arrival and departure halls. The rest of the population - mainly male migrants - has been forced to sleep outdoors in makeshift shelters made of blankets, wooden posts and suitcases, exposed to low nighttime temperatures," the report stated.
The United States is heavily involved in organizing a long-term solution to the refugee crisis, which depends on moving the refugees and migrants to third party countries. UNHCR and international organizations have evacuated 117,000 third party nationals from Libya to their home countries, and is continuing at a rate of about 5,000 per day, Brigety said.
"This is one of the largest international humanitarian airlifts in history," said Mark Bartolini, director of the office of foreign disaster assistance at USAID.
Bartolini said that conditions in and around Benghazi are "stable" and there aren't significant humanitarian needs in eastern Libya, so a large amount of the food aid allocated for Libya is being "prepositioned" and stored around Libya and the region just in case food supply lines are disrupted sometime in the future.
Today, a huge shipment of food supplies arrived in Alexandria under the auspices of the World Food Program (WFP), including 560 metric tons of vegetable oil and 270 metric tons of pinto beans.
The United States has committed $47 million in humanitarian assistance to deal with the situation in Libya. This support includes $13 million to support the air evacuation, $10 million to the WFP, $7 million to UNHCR to support the refugee camps, $7 million to the Red Cross, and $10 million to other non-governmental organizations.
The international community has pledged nearly $44 million just for evacuation operations, slightly more than one-third of the total $120 million required, according to Refugees International.
"There will need to be firm increases to support our activities going forward," Bartolini said.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed.
The State Department's congressional notification about the aid funds, first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Times, stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC) as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in cities such as Misrata.
"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition - is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on this morning.
"There's an urgent situation here and they need our help," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday.
But as of today, six days after the State Department notified Congress it planned to give the aid, the White House has still not signed off and none of the aid has begun its journey to the rebels, despite that intense fighting is ongoing.
"Yesterday's announcement of the 25 million in drawdown assistance was not fully cooked. That still needs to head to the White House, be confirmed or ratified by the president, and then we can begin implementing it," Toner explained at Thursday afternoon's State Department briefing.
So what's the hold up? National Security Staff spokesperson Tommy Vietor declined to comment on why the White House was holding up the funds or when a decision would be made.
Meanwhile, a State Department official said that the State Department's top official in Libya Chris Stevens continues to work with the NTC to figure out what they need and whether the U.S. can provide specific items of assistance.
If the aid is approved by the White House, Libya rebels could be soon wearing U.S. military uniforms, although without the U.S. flag stitched on them.
"Many places around the world people wear old NYC police uniforms, they won't be the current uniforms, they have old stocks," the official said.
The U.S. and other countries are readying further measures to increase pressure on Qaddafi through further sanctions on the regime's oil business and tighter enforcement of existing sanctions, the official said.
When asked if the U.S. was considering military advisors to Libya, as the British and French are doing now, the official said, "No."
The leader of Libya's National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, was supposed to be in Washington today and tomorrow to meet with administration officials and senators, but was forced to postpone his trip at the last minute due to a cancelled flight.
"Dr Jibril's commercial flight to the United States was cancelled and he is unable to attend the meeting. We hope to reschedule in the near future," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement. Jibril was scheduled to have coffee with SFRC members today.
Jibril was also set to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, some Pentagon officials, and give a speech Friday at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. He was not scheduled to meet with any White House or National Security Council senior officials. On its website, CSIS said that Jibril plans to reschedule his trip to Washington for early May.
Jibril had been in Doha attending the first formal meeting of the Libya Contact Group, a broad array of international diplomats working to coordinate between the Libyan opposition and the rest of the world.
He was scheduled to leave for Washington from Bahrain on Wednesday evening, arriving early Thursday morning, but his flight was cancelled due to technical difficulties. Was there any other reason Jibril didn't come to Washington?
"We take it on face value that his travel complications were the reason for the cancellation and we hope to reschedule this important event," said H. Andrew Schwartz, senior vice president for external relations at CSIS.
But the missed opportunity to meet with American officials, lawmakers, and the D.C. foreign policy community comes at a crucial time for the Libyan opposition. The NATO allies are bitterly divided over how far the military intervention in Libya should go. France and the UK support expanding the air mission but not arming the rebels. Italy supports arming the rebels. Germany is opposed to both measures.
Meanwhile, Qaddafi forces are shelling the port and sniping innocent people in the city of Misrata and showing no signs of yielding to the pressure brought on by NATO airstrikes and international sanctions
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Berlin today dealing with this very issue. The NATO allies are divided on whether to increase the pace and scope of the airstrikes, whether to arm the rebels and whether to allow the rebels to use a portion of the billions of dollars from Qaddafi's coffers that is currently frozen in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"We are a sharing the same goal which is to see the end of the Qadhafi regime in Libya. And we are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realized," she said just before her meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said on Wednesday that U.S. planes are still flying attack missions over Libya despite the handing over of control to NATO last week. The Obama administration pledged to reduce the U.S. role to providing support.
In his speech to the nation March 18, President Obama said, "The United States will play a supporting role -- including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications."
The Senate probably won't be debating the Libya war anytime soon. Top senators on both sides of the aisle are still negotiating over language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya, while the budget battle pushes the intervention to the back burner.
Congress was upset with President Barack Obama last month for committing U.S. forces to the international military intervention in Libya without seeking congressional consent or even really telling Congress about it in advance. But now, almost a month after the attack began, the appetite in the Senate for holding a full-fledged Libya debate on the floor, much less passing a resolution, just isn't there.
"I don't know if there will be time" to debate a resolution before senators leave town for a two-week recess next week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Kerry said he was still working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that expresses support for Obama's policy and that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MA) has also had input. But the three of them just can't seem to get together on the final language.
"We've got the language resolved except for two words," Kerry said. He didn't say what those two words are, but several senate sources mentioned "regime change."
Regime change was the focus of the draft resolution circulated by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last week. Cornyn's draft is the marker inside the GOP caucus -- but because it outwardly calls for regime change in Libya, it goes farther than the White House's policy and therefore can't be signed onto by the administration's top supporters on Libya, which include Levin and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Like Cornyn, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also wants the Senate to officially endorse regime change, a step Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adamantly opposes.
We're told by multiple GOP senate aides that ultimately, a majority of the GOP caucus could go along with removing the phrase "regime change" from the resolution, but there's still no consensus. Meanwhile, there are also several senators who are just flat out opposed to the Libya war, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and SFRC ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
In a Tuesday interview, Lugar told The Cable that he still had not received any clarity from the administration on the objectives, goals, or costs of the Libya war, which he said is just as important as resolving the issue of congressional authorization for the war.
"There's been no plan, no metrics for success, no budget as to how much will be spent during the conflict nor post conflict," Lugar said. "I think these are all important things and we'll continue to call for it."
The Senate voted late Tuesday afternoon to delay any debate on the Libya war until after the ongoing budget debate. And if the government shuts down on Friday, that debate could be delayed much longer.
Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) forced the Senate to take a vote on his non-binding amendment expressing the Senate's opposition to the Obama administration's decision to go to war in Libya. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn't want a Libya debate to halt progress on the small business bill that was on the floor, so he convened a vote to table the Ryan amendment. Reid's vote to table the amendment passed overwhelmingly, 90-10. Ten GOP senators actually voted against delaying a vote on Paul amendment, signaling that they are firmly opposed to the president's Libya policy or at least want the debate to happen now.
In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Paul said that he considered the vote to table his amendment as tantamount to a vote on the war itself.
"It's exactly the same thing," said Paul. "It's either you want to consider it or you don't want to consider it. Obviously if you vote to table it you disagree with the resolution. The implication isn't very subtle. We won't get a direct vote because [the Senate leaders] don't want to take the vote, so you get an indirect vote."
Paul's amendment essentially calls on senators to approve or disapprove then-candidate Obama's 2007 statement to the Boston Globe, in which he asserted, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
"It embarrasses [Senate leaders] because it uses the president's exact language," Paul said. "But it divides our caucus too. Half of our caucus believes in no limitation on war-making...and I strongly disagree with that. Either you believe there needs to be Congressional authority for war or you don't."
The ten GOP senators who voted against tabling the Paul amendment were Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Paul himself.
One senior Republican who is adamantly opposed to the Libya war but did not vote for the Paul amendment was Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN). In an interview with The Cable, Lugar said that the budget debate was preventing the Senate from taking up the Libya debate.
"We're so consumed with the budget debate, whether the government is going to close down, there's almost no audience in the caucus for the time being," he said. "In terms of an effective parliamentary gesture, this is preempted for the foreseeable future."
Lugar said Paul has a good point about congressional authorization but noted that several senators, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), John Kerry (D-MA), and John Cornyn (R-TX), are working on ideas on how to express Congress' view on the Libya war.
Lugar said Congressional confusion about its right to authorize the war is a separate issue from lawmakers' demands that the administration present clear objectives for the Libya intervention and detail a plan for the mission going forward.
"This has been going on for weeks. We are moving along day after day spending money... everyone assumes that we know in the back of our minds that Qaddafi must go but that is not the stated objective, nor is there really any plan whatsoever as to what will be done in the aftermath," Lugar said. "Literally, the drift continues."
In an interview with The Cable, Cornyn said he agreed with the plan to delay the Senate Libya debate for now because the Senate needed to move on more pressing business.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable in an interview that the Libya resolution was discussed at the GOP caucus lunch meeting on Tuesday, but there were still several ideas being tossed around.
"The worst thing would be if we take up a resolution and it fails," Graham said, adding that he wants the final language to explicitly call for regime change in Libya. "We're going to have to sit down and see where our Democratic colleagues are at."
The U.S. Treasury Department announced on Monday that it was lifting sanctions against Musa Kusa, the former Libyan foreign minister who defected from Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime and fled to London last week.
Kusa was sanctioned as part of Executive Order 13566, which included the freezing of all assets belonging to senior Libyan government officials. Since Kusa is no longer a senior Libyan government official, his name will be immediately taken off the Treasury's Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List and his funds in international banks will now be unfrozen, the Treasury Department said on Monday.
A White House spokesman quickly sent the Treasury Department's release to reporters. David Cohen, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, wrote on Monday that Kusa's defection showed that sanctions can work, although he didn't directly claim that Kusa made his decision based on the sanctions alone.
"One of the intended purposes of sanctions against senior officials in the Libyan government was to motivate individuals within the Qaddafi regime to make the right decision and disassociate themselves from Qaddafi and his government. And today's announcement shows the ability of sanctions to advance our national security and foreign policy goals and objectives," wrote Cohen.
"Sanctions are a powerful tool that we have at our disposal to apply pressure against individuals to influence their decision-making calculus ... Koussa's defection and the subsequent lifting of sanctions against him should encourage others within the Libyan government to make similar decisions to abandon the Qadhafi regime."
Thirteen Libyan government officials remain on the SDN list and more sanctions are on the way, Cohen added.
Since the Libyan crisis began, Kusa has been a major target of the U.S. government due to both his proximity to Qaddafi as a trusted advisor, and his close connections to officials in foreign countries. He was the main interlocutor between the Qaddafi regime and the State Department for weeks at the beginning of the Libyan uprising and often spoke on the phone with Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
The defections are crucial to the White House's strategy of ousting Qaddafi, as it seeks to scale down the U.S. military role in the Libyan intervention.
Last week, President Obama told ABC News, "I think what we're seeing is that the circle around Qaddafi understands that the noose is tightening, that their days are probably numbered, and they are going to have to think through what their next steps are."
The Libyan rebels' representative in Washington, Ali Aujali, called on the United States to stay at the fore of the international effort to oust Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and to give the opposition leadership weapons and access to billions in frozen Libyan assets.
"The United States is the major player in this crisis. We want the administration and we want your support to keep the role of the United States alive. We want American to be involved," Aujali said at the Center for American Progress on Monday. Aujali previously served as Qaddafi's ambassador to Washington before joining the opposition in February. "For the United States to continue to be a major player in this crisis, this is very important."
He said he understood the domestic considerations in the United States, but insisted that the Obama administration still had a huge role to play in supporting the armed resistance to Qaddafi and continuing aid to Libya's civilian population.
"It will change a lot the image of the United States in the Arab and Muslim world. People will see Americans not only go because they have interests, they go to support freedom, they go to support people who are willing to die for their cause," he said. "This is a great achievement for American foreign policy."
Aujali called on the Obama administration to recognize the National Transitional Council, which is based in Benghazi, as Italy did today. He also called on the international community to give the council access to assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen as part of U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.
"If we don't have access to the money, that's a serious problem," he said.
The Libyan opposition has been in contact with the State Department and the Treasury Department to press their case for control of the funds, Aujali said. "It may just be a matter of time, but time means more killing of the Libya people, more suffering, shortages of food and water... We have to move fast if we want to save the Libyan people from this massacre."
Aujali said that he had met with several lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and others.
Aujali's basic demands mirrored those in his March 31 op-ed in the Washington Post. "If you want the opposition to achieve victory on the ground then we need to help them. They need training, they need armament, they need political support."
He claimed that the Qaddafi regime is collapsing from the inside, and made clear that the Libya people will never strike any deal with Qaddafi that would keep any member of his family in power, as his son Seif al-Islam has reportedly suggested. Aujali also denied reports that there are deep divisions within the opposition.
"There is not a split among the council or among the military leadership at all," he said.
Overall, Aujali's message was that the Libyan rebels will never stop fighting until the entire Qaddafi family is gone from power and, while the no-fly zone is helpful, the international community must not stop there.
"If Qaddafi stays behind, not only will the Libyans be victimized. All of us will be victims. It is time for us now to get rid of this man. It's time for us to give Libyans a chance to rule themselves," he said. "The Libyans have the right to dream. And they are prepared to die."
A war of words has erupted over the war in Libya between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's newest and most vocal Republican, Marco Rubio (R-FL).
The dispute started on Wednesday, when Rubio sent a letter to Reid regarding the forthcoming Senate resolution supporting President Barack Obama's decision to use force in Libya. In that letter, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged that any Libya resolution should include a clear statement that removing Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi from power is in the U.S. national interest, and that the Senate should authorize Obama to do so. Rubio also said the United States should recognize the Benghazi-based Interim Transitional National Council that represents the Libyan opposition, a step already taken by the French.
"As long as Qaddafi remains in power, he will be in a position to terrorize his own people and potentially the rest of the world," Rubio wrote. "The world is a better place when America is willing to lead. And American leadership is required now more than ever."
Of course, regime change is explicitly not covered in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the international intervention in Libya, and Obama made it clear in his March 28 speech that he would not use military force to oust Qaddafi.
But Reid spokesman Jon Summers decided to go a few steps further than Obama in an interview with the Washington Post, when he said that Rubio "seems oblivious to the troops' lives his plan would put on the line."
"Moreover, he seems to have forgotten that the Libyan people have made it clear they don't want foreign boots on the ground," Summers said.
Rubio couldn't just let that go, and he fired off a response letter to Reid on Thursday, which stated, "My concern for the well-being of our troops is no less than yours. I am saddened you would suggest otherwise."
Reid's office said in the interview that Rubio's "rash suggestions could commit our troops irrevocably to a regime change and nation-building effort that could take months or years and cost billions of taxpayer dollars."
Rubio responded that the United States has already gone too far to stop now and the current mission to protect civilians is impossible as long as Qaddafi remains in power.
"The reality is that the U.S. has attacked a brutal dictator with a long history of brazen support for terrorism against Americans," Rubio said. "If he survives this international effort against him and remains in power, he will be emboldened and angry, and he will once again act against America's interests."
These two arguments could very well frame the debate when the Senate eventually takes up a resolution to express Congress's support for the war in Libya. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are working on a draft now.
McCain said he wants to make sure the resolution is made up of "language that can receive an overwhelming vote in the Senate. It would not be a good signal, otherwise."
Responding to reports President Barack Obama secretly authorized covert action to support the Libyan rebels, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that actually arming the Libyan rebels would require his approval and he hasn't given it.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration's top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.
"I've never seen an uneasiness amongst their national security cabinet members as I have seen on this. It's kind of odd," said Rogers. He declined to say which cabinet members were supporting arming the rebels and which were opposed, but he said it was obvious that they disagreed.
"Everything from body language to the way they are addressing members of Congress, it's very clear that there's lots of tension inside that Cabinet right now. This to me is why it's so important for the president to lead on this," said Rogers. "I think [Obama's] reluctant on this, at best. And there are differences of opinion and you can tell that something just isn't right there."
Rogers wouldn't confirm or deny the report that Obama issued what's known as a "presidential finding" authorizing the intelligence community to begin broadly supporting the Libyan rebels, because such findings are sensitive and classified. But he said that if Obama wanted to arm the rebels, the president would need Rogers' support, which he doesn't yet have.
"Any covert action that happens would have to get the sign off of the intelligence chairmen, by statute. You won't get a sign off from me," Rogers said referring to National Security Act 47. "I still think arming the rebels is a horrible idea. We don't know who they are, we only know who they are against but we don't really who they are for. We don't have a good picture of who's really in charge."
Rogers said that the issues of providing covert support and actually arming the rebels are separate issues.
"There is a public debate about arming the rebels... that somehow got intertwined and it probably shouldn't have."
But Rogers has no objections to putting CIA operatives on the ground to gather information on who the rebels are. National Journal reported late Wednesday that about a dozen CIA officers are now on the ground in Libya doing just that.
"That should be happening anyway, through public means, through intelligence, all of that should be happening," he said. "The agencies are by statute and by law allowed to go overseas to collect information, that means any country."
The intelligence committees do need to be notified about major intelligence operations, either before or immediately after in exigent circumstances, a committee staffer said.
Rogers said he was concerned about al Qaeda's involvement with the Libya opposition.
"The number 3 guy in al Qaeda right now is Libyan. They have put a fair number of fighters into Iraq from Libya. So it is a place where al Qaeda is, [but] that doesn't mean this is an al Qaeda effort."
He also said that the Libyan regime, led by Col. Muammar al Qaddafi, still possesses stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
"The administration missed a big opportunity when they didn't talk about chemical weapons stockpiles. I've seen it personally with these eyeballs. Their biological weapons program, we think we got it all but we're not sure," said Rogers. I worry a lot about who is safeguarding that material. We believe right now it is in the hands of the regime."
"Mustard gas in the hands of bad guy, you don't have to have a large scale event to have that be an incredibly dangerous terrorist weapon. And there are other things that he has as well."
The White House issued a statement late Thursday from Press Secretary Jay Carney that the Obama administration was not arming the rebels as of now.
"No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," the statement read.
Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi could return to his role as a supporter of international terrorism if he remains in power, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said on Tuesday.
Levin is one of the strongest supporters of President Barack Obama's decision to intervene militarily in Libya, and has noted that he agrees with the mission limits that constrain action to protecting Libyan civilians. But when speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, he acknowledged that the mission's goal is a ceasefire, which could leave Qaddafi in a position to kill citizens in areas under his control, or resume attacks in other countries. Qaddafi's regime has been implicated in a 1986 attack on a German disco and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
"As long as he's in power, I'm concerned that he could support acts of international terror. That's why it's important to get him out of there," Levin said. "What happens if he [bombs] an airliner? He did that before, what's to stop him from doing that again? Obviously, nothing's stopping him."
But Levin echoed Obama's argument that an expansion of the mission in Libya to topple Qaddafi or arm the rebels could crack the coalition and destroy the international agreement that both Levin and Obama saw as crucial to justify the intervention. But he was skeptical that the economic measures being implemented against Qaddafi would force him to step down.
"If he survives, then the question has to be considered if the international community takes this action again in the future," Levin said.
The question of what to do about Qaddafi will be at the top of senators' minds when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates come to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a classified briefing on Libya, which all senators are invited to attend. On Thursday, the House and Senate are planning to hold public hearings on Libya. Clinton and Gates have been asked to testify but have not yet been confirmed.
Many senators, including Levin, will also want to know whether or not the administration supports arming the rebels. "I think there are a lot of pros and cons on that, they need to be weighed," Levin said, noting that he's still conflicted on the issue.
While the international intervention in Libya is supposed to be limited to stopping a humanitarian catastrophe in the country, Levin said that it was also having the effect of supporting the rebel advance.
"If you stop [Qaddafi's] attack on civilians you are in effect weakening his grip on power," he said.
While he said he thought Obama's Monday night address to the nation on Libya was excellent, Levin added that he doesn't yet see an "Obama doctrine" on foreign policy or military intervention.
"I think there is something that I would call the hallmarks of his policy," he said. "I don't know whether it rises to the dignity of a doctrine yet."
Levin also said he was condsidering introducing a senate resolution to express support for the Libya intervention but had not yet had a chance to speak about it with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
UPDATE: Tuesday afternoon the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will testify on Thursday, but not Clinton.
In his Monday evening address to the nation, President Barack Obama spelled out the justifications for military intervention in Libya and the structure of the mission going forward. But he chose not to address several lingering questions about the implementation of the policy that lawmakers and reporters have been clamoring for.
"We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi -- a city nearly the size of Charlotte -- could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world," Obama said. "It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen."
The president emphasized that the American role in the mission would be transitioning to a NATO lead and he made clear that military mission stops short of the goal of ousting Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, though he reiterated that he will continue to seek Qaddafi's exit through non-military means.. NATO will take over all aspects of the mission command and control on Wednesday.
"So for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, I want to be clear: the United States of America has done what we said we would do," Obama said. "That is not to say that our work is complete."
Most senior Republicans reacted to the speech by claiming there was a lack of clarity as to the objective of the mission and the timeframe. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Obama on Fox News for not clearly calling for regime change. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said through a spokesman that the speech "failed to provide Americans much clarity."
Obama didn't directly address the congressional uproar over his decision not to seek legislative approval or at least consult more widely before authorizing the intervention. He also didn't go into the weeds on the issues of the rules of engagement, how the international coalition identifies combatants, and whether or not the United States is going to arm the rebels.
All of the questions were on the minds of reporters at Monday afternoon's operational briefing at the Pentagon. The briefer, Director of the Joint Staff VAMD William Gourtney revealed several new details about what the coalition is actually doing in Libya to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
"The situation on the ground may be changing, but in the air we keep flying and in the sea we keep patrolling," Gourtney said, explaining that the rebels' recent gains haven't changed the military mission.
"We are not in direct of support of the opposition... and we are not coordinating with the opposition," Gourtney said.
But he also said that A-10 Thunderbolt and AC-130 gunship aircraft had been added to the mix of planes flying sorties over Libya. These planes are often used to provide close air support for ground troops, but Gourtney insisted they were chosen because they carry the correct munitions, not to be used for close air support.
At the same time, he admitted that the coalition had an expansive target list that includes lines of communication, command and control structures, supply lines, ammunition dumps, and storage facilities.
"Maybe it's easier to ask what you're not going after," one reporter at the briefing joked.
Gourtney said that U.S. planes were now flying less than half of the sorties, although they still fly more missions than any other single country by far. The U.S. military is also responsible for 80 percent of the refueling, 75 percent of the surveillance, and 100 percent of the electronic warfare.
These details complicated his message of the day, which is that the U.S. is removing itself as the lead player in the intervention. Gourtney also said the mission would benefit from greater contact with the rebels.
"We'd like a better understanding of the opposition," he said. "We don't have it."
President Barack Obama has touted his emphasis on multilateralism in the U.S. military intervention in Libya, but, for political, operational, and legal reasons, Obama's "coalition of the willing" is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.
The Cable compiled a chart listing all the countries that contributed at least some military assets to the five major military operations in which the United States participated in a coalition during the last 20 years: the 1991 Gulf War (32 countries participating), the 1995 Bosnia mission (24 countries), the 1999 Kosovo mission (19 countries), the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan (48 countries), and the 2003 invasion of Iraq (40 countries), at the height of the size of each coalition. As of today, only 15 countries, including the United States, have committed to providing a military contribution to the Libya war.
Experts quickly point out that all of these military interventions happened in different contexts. However, they added that the reason Obama's Libya war coalition has less international involvement than all the others was also due to his administration's behavior in the lead-up to the war, its approach to multilateralism, the speed with which it was put together, and the justifications for the war itself.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the administration's effort to build the coalition was hampered by its stated desire to hand off the leadership of the Libya intervention to NATO.
"[I]f you [focus on the handoff], you don't deserve a lot of credit for leadership," he said. "Obama in his deference to [getting out of the lead] has not only wanted other countries to do as much as they could, he has essentially forgone his responsibility to build the coalition."
The Libya mission is, by definition, smaller in scale than Iraq or Afghanistan; and a no-fly zone doesn't require as many countries as a full-on invasion, O'Hanlon pointed out. However, the relatively few Arab countries contributing military assets could pose a problem for the mission's legitimacy.
Operation Odyssey Dawn now has three Muslim countries with actual military contributions --Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE. "The limits of Arab support are palpable and could be a growing concern in the days and weeks ahead," O'Hanlon said.
While the Libya intervention was endorsed by the Arab League, the endorsement doesn't actually require any Arab countries to contribute materially to the effort, said David Bosco, assistant professor at American University and author of FP's blog The Multilateralist.
Obama put a priority on "formal multilateralism," as opposed to "operational multilateralism," concentrating on getting international political bodies to endorse the Libya attack before he focused on getting individual countries to pledge actual military contributions, Bosco said. That's why the administration, primarily the State Department, is working the phones now to ask countries such as the UAE to chip in a few planes here and there.
"At a certain point the administration is going to have to decide whether just to say this is a coalition of willing countries," said Bosco. "That's not the end of the world."
Bosco also said Obama was practicing "a la carte multilateralism" by trumpeting the endorsement of certain regional international organizations, such as the Arab League, while dismissing the opinions of other groups, such as the African Union, which strongly opposed the intervention.
"There's a legitimacy shopping exercise that's going on here," Bosco said.
Wayne White, a former senior State Department intelligence official now with the Middle East Institute, noted that another problem with the Obama administration's efforts to build a coalition was its own apparent lack of enthusiasm about the war. It was keenly aware of the war-weary U.S. populace, concerned about the burden of its strategic commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unsure how this would play out in an extremely competitive and divisive election next year, White said.
"They were profoundly conflicted internally whether to do this, let alone to lead, which is quite unique," he said.
Obama administration officials have argued that the speed of international action on Libya was much faster than any previous intervention, and that the process was driven by the need to avert a potentially imminent humanitarian disaster.
"I know that the nightly news cannot cover a humanitarian crisis that thankfully did not happen, but it is important to remember that many, many Libyans are safer today because the international community took action," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
Two senior administration officials held a late evening conference call with reporters Thursday night to explain how NATO agreed to take over military operations in Libya and why the U.S. and NATO leadership seem to be giving totally conflicting messages on whether NATO is taking over political control of the war as well:
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) was a fierce advocate for military intervention in Libya right up until the Obama administration decided to attack the country, after which she became one of the war's fiercest critics.
"The United States and all responsible nations should show in both word and deed that we condemn the Libyan regime's actions and that we will not tolerate such blatant disregard for human life and basic freedoms," she said in a Feb. 22 press release, shortly after protests broke out across the country.
"Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone, a comprehensive arms embargo, a travel ban on regime officials, immediate suspension of all contracts and assistance which benefit the regime, and the imposition of restrictions on foreign investment in Libya, including in Libya's oil sector," she said in another press release four days later.
On March 15, President Barack Obama decided to support military intervention in Libya, and successfully pressed for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone as well as any additional measures necessary to protect civilians. The resolution passed 10-0 on March 17; the following day, the attacks on Libya's air defenses began, setting the stage for the no-fly zone.
On March 19, Ros-Lehtinen criticized the intervention in an interview with CBS Miami.
"The bottom line is you've gotta ask what is the U.S. security interest in getting involved in Libya," said Ros-Lehtinen. "Because there's unrest everywhere. Today it's Libya, tomorrow it will be somewhere else."
Two days later, she told Reuters, "Deferring to the United Nations and calling on our military personnel to enforce the 'writ of the international community' sets a dangerous precedent."
Ros-Lehtinen's office said that she was upset with the Obama administration for its handling of the drive toward war in Libya, not the basic idea of a no-fly zone that she had supported.
"Suggesting a no-fly zone as part of a range of options is not an endorsement of military action without a clearly defined mission and plan, without congressional consultation, and without a clear explanation of the national security interests at stake," her spokesman Brad Goehner told The Cable. "This is the president's policy, and he needs to explain it to the American people and to Congress."
Ros-Lehtinen has backed up her demand for an explanation of the administration's policy by calling for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify before her committee.
Still, her public statements call into question the pledge she made in a March 18 interview with Congressional Quarterly to support the administration's Libya approach.
"Whatever the president decides, I will support what the president wants to do. I'm not going to Monday-morning-quarterback him," she said.
Congress may hold a vote on President Barack Obama's decision to attack Libya when lawmakers return from recess next week, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Durbin, along with Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon as part of the White House's damage control effort following the widespread and bipartisan criticism over of the lack of congressional consultation before the intervention in Libya, and the lack of clarity over the mission's goals.
"None of us can say with any certainty what will happen when we return, but under the War Powers Act, any senator can ask under privilege of the Senate to call this question, as to whether or not we will support these actions taken by the president," Durbin said. "I think it's consistent with our constitutional responsibility to take up that question," through a vote
Asked by The Cable how Congress plans to pay for the Libya intervention, the costs of which are approaching $1 billion, Durbin said, "I haven't heard anything on that score yet."
The War Powers Resolution of 1973, which Durbin said provides for a vote, allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.
The law also stipulates that if both chambers of Congress pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the president must comply. If such a resolution is introduced, it must be reported out of that chamber's foreign relations committee within 15 days. After that it automatically becomes the pending business of that chamber and must be voted on within 3 days.
"There may be some people who will try to end the [Libya] effort, if they try they won't come anywhere near success in the Senate," Levin said. "The reason I think the president will gain bipartisan support for his action is because he's proceeded in a way which is cautious, thoughtful. He has put the ducks in a row before deciding to put the United States in the lead for a short period of time."
Durbin and Levin each made one of the two arguments the White House has used for why the military intervention in Libya was justified -- that the intervention was necessary to halt a humanitarian crisis in Libya, and that it was needed to support the democratic revolution in the Arab world.
"The short term military goal had to be taken very, very quickly or there would have been a slaughter in Benghazi, which has been avoided," Levin said.
"The United States is trying to make sure our position is consistent with our national values," Durbin said.The senators also defended the White House's consultations with Congress, referring to a March 17 classified briefing at the Capitol, which occurred while the administration was already pressing for intervention at the United Nations, and a March 18 briefing at the White House, only 90 minutes before the plan to attack was announced.
The Senate will have its first chance to press the administration on the Libya war on Tuesday, when Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs.
Levin acknowledged that while the major military operations to establish the no-fly zone may end soon, the U.S. military commitment to the overall mission is open ended. Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead also said Tuesday he did not know exactly what the transition of command would mean for U.S. military involvement.
"Involvement in terms of being the lead in establishing the no-fly zone will be very short. Involvement in terms of supporting the continuation of the no-fly zone I think will be ongoing," Levin said.
The U.S. military does not know when it will hand off control of the intervention in Libya to an international coalition, or whether a transfer of power will allow it to reduce its role in the war, according to the Navy's top military officer.
Adm. Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, said that he has received no guidance on the path ahead for command and control of the no-fly zone, no-drive zone, no-sail zone, arms embargo enforcement, and any other missions currently being managed by U.S. Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham, who is in Germany. NATO has been battling internally over whether to take command, while the French government's latest proposal is to set up a "political steering committee" made of Western and Arab foreign ministers.
Diplomatic sources told The Cable that the United States has communicated to its European partners that it wants to hand off command of the Libya war by the end of this week. But the White House hasn't said whether it supports the French plan. Meanwhile, the Navy, which is conducting the bulk of the operations, has no idea what the transfer of control will look like, or when it might take place.
"We are very mindful of the transition to another command and control lead or structure," Roughead told a meeting of the Defense Writers Group, a set of reporters who interview senior officials over greasy eggs and bacon. "There are a lot of political aspects to it.... Obviously I'm interested in the transition to a different command and control structure."
"Do you have any clarity at all on what the follow-up transition command structure is going to be?" Wired's Spencer Ackerman asked Roughead.
"They're still working that," Roughead said, adding that he doesn't believe the absence of a future command structure has a negative impact on the ongoing operations. He said previous models of international command and control don't apply.
Roughead also said there's no guarantee that U.S. military forces would be able to decrease their presence or activities when the transition takes place. In other words, the U.S. military might give up control, but still be doing most of the work.
"We have to look at what the design is going to be... and then you'll make your force structure decisions based on that," Roughead said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a quick handover of control in a Tuesday interview with ABC News.
"It will be days. Whether it's by Saturday or not depends upon the evaluation made by our military commanders along with our allies and partners," she said.
Asked who the mission will be handed over to, Clinton said, "That is still being worked out."
Clinton also left open the possibility that Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi could stay in power even after the military mission in Libya is complete, as President Obama did in a Tuesday interview with NBC.
"Now obviously, if we want to see a stable, peaceful, hopefully someday democratic Libya, it is highly unlikely that can be accomplished if he stays in power as he is," Clinton said.
"It may sound like I'm trying to minimize it and I'm not... when you look at the expenses of what we in the Navy incurred, given the fact that the forces were already there, those costs are sunk for me," he said. "The Growlers [U.S. navy electronic jamming warplanes] we brought in were being flown in Iraq anyway."
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's briefing by spokesman Mark Toner:
Following two days of intensive discussions in Brussels, NATO has agreed to support -- but not command -- operations in Libya. Meanwhile, France has proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to actually run the war. But does the Obama administration support that idea?
"NATO has now decided to launch an operation to enforce the arms embargo against Libya," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement from Brussels on Tuesday evening. He said U.S. Admiral James Stavridis was activating NATO ships and aircraft to "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries."
NATO has also "completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone" that will be brought into force "if needed, in a clearly defined manner," to support the effort to protect the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen didn't say whether NATO would perform the command-and-control function of the no-fly zone, something that Turkey has objected to because the "all necessary measures" language of Security Council Resolution 1973 includes the bombing of Libya. France objected to NATO being in command of the war operations on a day-to-day basis and has now proposed a new "political steering committee," made up of foreign ministers from the United States, European, and Arab states, to oversee the war.
A French diplomat told The Cable that the details of the proposal would be worked out over the next few days. "It was always understood that there would be two stages of operations. The one that started on Saturday and a second phase in which NATO would play a role," the French diplomat said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé announced on Tuesday that the British are in agreement with the proposal but the French government has not said anything about the position of the Obama administration.
So is the Obama administration on board? White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to a request for comment on the French proposal. Obama spoke with Sarkozy Tuesday and "the two Presidents agreed on the means of using NATO's command structures to support the coalition," the French government said in a read out.
It's not clear how the French steering committee would be in operational control of the war, but the proposal includes that the committee would be in charge of the "strategic decisions" involving military action, the diplomat said.
If enacted, the proposal would allow President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to transfer leadership of the war out of American hands within "a matter of days," as he said Monday.
The French position is that the steering committee idea would allow NATO to bring its military capabilities to bear without putting an exclusively Western label on the military intervention. Qaddafi has called the campaign a "colonial crusade" by western nations.
"The only constraint is that we need to keep the Arabs involved," the French diplomat said. "In order to do that we need to use NATO capabilities and we need to [provide so that] Arab countries stay involved."
The NATO meetings on Monday were contentious. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the meeting, albeit for very different reasons. France was upset at Rasmussen for openly criticizing France in the meeting and questioning their reliability as an ally. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.
"We do not want to be sucked into a position of eventually seeing German soldiers fighting in Libya," Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.
"There was confusion yesterday but we are safely now going in the right direction," the French diplomat reported.
Our sources also report that Washington has made it clear that they want to see the transfer of leadership for the Libya mission leave U.S. hands by the end of the week. Whether the Obama administration and the Defense Department are comfortable with a French led international steering committee making decisions about the actions of U.S. military forces remains to be seen.
President Barack Obama spoke on Monday evening with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that NATO should have a command and control role in the Libya war, according to a White House read out of the phone call. But today in Brussels, the French government said it doesn't agree.
"The President and the Prime Minister reaffirmed their support for the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, in order to protect the Libyan people," the White House said. "The leaders agreed that this will require a broad-based international effort, including Arab states, to implement and enforce the UN resolutions, based on national contributions and enabled by NATO's unique multinational command and control capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness."
The Turkish government has been very clear that it does not support NATO-led enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya if the mission goes beyond the U.N.-sanctioned objective of protecting Libyan civilians.
"We do not want Libya to become a second Iraq.... A civilization in Iraq collapsed within eight years. More than a million people were killed there," Turkey's daily Hürriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Monday on the way back from Saudi Arabia. "We will not participate with our fighting forces. It is impossible for us to think that our fighters would drop bombs over the Libyan people."
Turkey laid out its position at Tuesday's NATO meeting in Brussels. The Turks are still upset they were not invited to the Paris planning meeting on March 19, the day the air strikes began. Turkey has also taken over as the protecting power of the U.S. in Tripoli, meaning they would be in charge of direct interactions with the Libyan government and responsible for the abandoned U.S. embassy, their government announced on Monday.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday that France now opposes NATO taking over the Libya mission. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the Monday meeting in Brussels over disagreements about NATO's role, albeit for very different reasons. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.
The confusion is causing problems for the rest of the coalition as well. Norway said Tuesday it was "suspending" its promise to use F-16 fighter jets in combat in Libya until the command structure issue was worked out, even though its jets had already arrived at the staging base in Italy.
All of this puts into question the viability of Obama's pledge on Monday that the U.S. will transfer command of the military mission in Libya in "a matter of days."
Adding to the questions over the endgame, Obama and Erdogan also "underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country, by installing a democratic system that respects the people's will," the White House said.
The head of U.S. Africa Command, charged with running the operation in Libya, said that the international coalition in Libya will not help the rebels' military units, only civilians targeted by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces -- assuming they can tell the difference between the two.
"We do not provide close air support for the opposition forces. We protect civilians," Gen. Carter Ham, the top military official in charge of the operation, told reporters in a conference call on Monday. The problem is, there is no official communication with the rebel forces on the ground and there is no good way to distinguish the rebel fighters engaged against the government forces from civilians fighting to protect themselves, he said.
"Many in the opposition truly are civilians...trying to protect their civilian business, lives, and families," said Ham. "There are also those in the opposition that have armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Those parts of the opposition are no longer covered under that ‘protect civilians' clause" of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention.
"It's a very problematic situation," Ham admitted. "Sometimes these are situations that brief better at the headquarters than in the cockpit of an aircraft."
So how are pilots in the air supposed to tell the difference? If the opposition groups seem to be organized and fighting, the airplanes imposing the no-fly zone are instructed not to help them.
"Where they see a clear situation where civilians are threatened, they have... intervened," said Ham. "When it's unclear that it's civilians that are being attacked, the air crews are instructed to be very cautious."
"We have no authority and no mission to support the opposition forces in what they might do," he added.
What's more, the coalition forces won't attack Qaddafi's forces if they are battling rebel groups, only if they are attacking "civilians," Ham explained. If the Qaddafi forces seem to be preparing to attack civilians, they can be attacked; but if they seem to be backing away, they won't be targeted.
"What we look for, to the degree that we can, is to discern intent," said Ham. "There's no simple answer."
One thing that the coalition is clear about is that there is no mission to find or kill Qaddafi himself.
"I have no mission to attack that person, and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that," Ham said.
He acknowledged that the limited scope of the mission in Libya could result in a stalemate, which would achieve the objective of protecting civilians but allow Qaddafi to remain in power.
"I have a very discreet military mission, so I could see accomplishing the military mission and the current leader would remain the current leader," Ham said. "I don't think anyone would say that is ideal."
He said the United States was looking to transfer leadership of the mission to an international organization or structure within a few days. U.S. planes flew about half of the 60 sorties above Libyan airspace on Sunday and are expected to fly less than half of the sorties Monday.
The attack on one of Qaddafi's compounds over the weekend targeted a command and control building inside the compound, and did not represent a widening of the mission to attack Qaddafi's core military infrastructure, Ham said.
President Obama laid out the rationale for military action against Libya Friday afternoon, arguing that the coming attacks would be limited to protecting the Libyan people and preventing the violence there from destabilizing the region.
Obama repeatedly emphasized that the military intervention will be led by Europe and the Arab states, based on the U.N. Security Council resolution passed 10-0 Thursday evening.
"Muammar Qaddafi has a choice," Obama said. "The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya."
"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action," Obama said.
Many in Washington have called for Obama to spell out exactly why military intervention in Libya is related to U.S. core national interests, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), who came out against attacking Libya Thursday. Obama directly addressed this point in his remarks.
"Now, here's why this matters to us," he said. "Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris on Saturday to meet with her European and Arab counterparts to coordinate enforcement of the resolution, Obama said. The resolution also strengthens the arms embargo on the Libyan regime. British, French, and Arab League leaders have agreed to take the leadership role in enforcing the resolution, Obama added.
The military action will explicitly not be used to drive Qaddafi from power, the president said.
"The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya," said Obama.
In remarks Friday morning, Clinton indicated that more may have to be done beyond the no-fly zone and no-drive zone currently being set up over Libya. "While this resolution is an important step, it is only that -- an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis," she said.
Qaddafi's foreign minister Musa Kusa Friday declared a cease fire and a halt to all military operations, but Clinton rejected that declaration. "We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words. We would have to see actions on the ground. And that is not yet at all clear," she said.
At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?
The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.
"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.
But Obama's stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention - instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.
"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."
Inside the administration, senior officials were lined up on both sides. Pushing for military intervention was a group of NSC staffers including Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia. .
On the other side of the ledger were some Obama administration officials who were reportedly wary of the second- and third-degree effects of committing to a lengthy military mission in Libya. These officials included National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was also opposed to attacking Libya and had said as much in several public statements.
Not all of these officials were in Tuesday night's meeting.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called into the meeting over the phone, a State Department official confirmed. She was traveling in the region to get a first-hand look at how the new U.S. Middle East strategy is being received across the Arab world. Denied a visit with Egyptian youth leaders on the same day she strolled through Tahir Square, Clinton may have been concerned that the United States was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab youth at the heart of the revolution.
When Clinton met with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday, she didn't lay out whether the United States had a favored response to the unfolding crisis in Libya, leaving her European counterparts completely puzzled. She met Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris but declined to respond positively to his request for assistance. This all gave the impression that Clinton was resisting intervention. In fact, she supported intervention, State Department official said, but had to wait until the Tuesday night meeting so that she didn't get out ahead of U.S. policy.
At the end of the Tuesday night meeting, Obama gave U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice instructions to go the U.N. Security Council and push for a resolution that would give the international community authority to use force. Her instructions were to get a resolution that would give the international community broad authority to achieve Qaddafi's removal, including the use of force beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Speaking before the U.N. Security Council following Thursday's 10-0 vote, Rice made the humanitarian argument that force was needed in Libya to prevent civilian suffering.
"Colonel Qaddafi and those who still stand by him continue to grossly and systematically abuse the most fundamental human rights of Libya's people," Rice said. "On March 12, the League of Arab States called on the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone and take other measures to protect civilians. Today's resolution is a powerful response to that call-and to the urgent needs on the ground."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), "a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community's failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."
"Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community's determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government," he said.
Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America's core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P -- over the objections of Donilon and Gates.
Congress was not broadly consulted on the decision to intervene in Libya, except in a Thursday afternoon classified briefing where administration officials explained the diplomatic and military plan. Rice was already deep in negotiations in New York.
Obama's Tuesday night decision to push for armed intervention was not only a defining moment in his ever-evolving foreign policy, but also may have marked the end of the alliance between Clinton and Gates -- an alliance that has successfully influenced administration foreign policy decisions dating back to the 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.
"Gates is clearly not on board with what's going on and now the Defense Department may have an entirely another war on its hands that he's not into," said Clemons. "Clinton won the bureaucratic battle to use DOD resources to achieve what's essentially the State Department's objective... and Obama let it happen."
UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Vice President Joseph Biden pushed for the imposition of a no fly zone in Libya. Friday afternoon, a senior White House official told The Cable that, in fact, Biden shared the same concerns of Gates, Donilon and McDonough and that those concerns have been addressed by the policy announced by the president.
Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lashed out at the Obama administration's Libya policy on Thursday, saying that the United States looked weak and naïve in hoping that the U.N. Security Council would act to protect the Libyan people.
"The United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, highlighting that Britain, France, the Arab League, and the Libyan opposition are all calling on the United States to support stronger measures to stop Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's assault on rebels and civilians.
"The president has specifically said that Qaddafi must go but has done nothing since then except for having general debates about it for a week and a half or two," Rubio said. "Congressional leadership has strongly called for a no-fly zone and nothing has happened."
The stance of Rubio, the committee's newest Republican, it exactly opposite of the committee's top Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said at the same hearing that a no fly zone was not a good idea and would require a Congressional declaration of war.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns emphasized that the United States was pushing for stronger action at the Security Council, with new resolution coming as early as today. He said the United States was "leading the effort," along with France and Britain, to get authorization for a number of military actions -- short of boots on the ground.
But Rubio was extremely skeptical that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would endorse military intervention in Libya.
"To say that we're pressing the United Nations and that's energetic action is to basically say... that the United States may feel strongly about something but we're not doing anything that the Chinese and Russians don't agree to," said Libya.
Burns said the measures would be more effective with international support.
"But Russia and China don't care about this stuff, they're never going to get involved in these things, and they don't care if Muammar Qaddafi is trying to massacre people," Rubio said. "So if Russia doesn't care and China doesn't care and we care but won't do anything about it, who's it up to, the French?"
Burns said he didn't share Rubio's assessment that the U.N. Security Council won't be able to come up with a new resolution.
"When is that resolution going to happen, after the bloodbath?" Rubio shot back.
Burns predicted a resolution could come as early as today.
But Rubio wasn't done. He asked Burns how China and Russia would respond if America shows it doesn't "have the guts" to act on behalf of opposition groups. He also asked Burns about the U.S. message to Libyan opposition fighters, who are clamoring for U.S. support while the United Nations deliberates.
"Our message to them is, ‘you guys go ahead and do this stuff and if we ever get the Russians and the Chinese to come around, we may or may not join you?'" Rubio wondered.
Rubio then pressed Burns to describe the administration's backup plan, in the event that the United Nations can't agree on a resolution.
"We have lots of ideas about what we might do, we just don't assume it's going to fail," Burns said.
"Are there any ideas you can share with us?" Rubio demanded.
"We'll continue to step up economic pressure and sanctions," Burns suggested.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meetings in Paris with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday left her European interlocutors with more questions than answers about the Obama administration's stance on intervention in Libya.
Inside the foreign ministers' meeting, a loud and contentious debate erupted about whether to move forward with stronger action to halt Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's campaign against the Libyan rebels and the violence being perpetrated against civilians. Britain and France argued for immediate action while Germany and Russia opposed such a move, according to two European diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.
Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration's position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.
"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.
Clinton's unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.
"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."
On the same day, Clinton had a short meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which Sarkozy pressed Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya. She declined Sarkozy's request, according to a government source familiar with the meeting.
Sarkozy told Clinton that "we need action now" and she responded to him, "there are difficulties," the source said, explaining that Clinton was referring to China and Russia's opposition to intervention at the United Nations. Sarkozy replied that the United States should at least try to overcome the difficulties by leading a strong push at the U.N., but Clinton simply repeated, "There are difficulties."
One diplomat, who supports stronger action in Libya, contended that the United States' lack of clarity on this issue is only strengthening those who oppose action.
"The risk we run is to look weak because we've asked him to leave and we aren't taking any action to support our rhetoric and that has consequences on the ground and in the region," said the European diplomat.
British and French frustration with the lack of international will to intervene in Libya is growing. British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday that Arab sentiment was, "if you don't show your support for the Libyan people and for democracy at this time, you are saying you will intervene only when it's about your security, but you won't help when it's about our democracy."
France sent letters on Wednesday to all the members of the U.N. Security Council, which is discussing a Lebanon-sponsored resolution to implement a no-fly zone, calling on them to support the resolution, as has been requested by the Arab League.
"Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya. It is now a matter of days, if not hours. The worst would be that the appeal of the League of the Arab States and the Security Council decisions be overruled by the force of arms," the letter stated.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe wrote on his blog, "It is not enough to proclaim, as did almost all of the major democracies that ‘Qaddafi must go.' We must give ourselves the means to effectively assist those who took up arms against his dictatorship."
In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday in Cairo, Clinton pointed to the U.N. Security Council as the proper venue for any decision to be made and she pushed back at the contention by the British and the French that the U.S. was dragging its feet.
"I don't think that is fair. I think, based on my conversations in Paris with the G-8 ministers, which, of course, included those two countries, I think we all agree that given the Arab League statement, it was time to move to the Security Council to see what was possible," Clinton said. I don't want to prejudge it because countries are still very concerned about it. And I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something. But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done and can be passed."
"It won't do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it," Clinton added.
Clinton met with Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris as well, but declined to make any promises on specific actions to support the Libyan opposition.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) also doubled down on his call for a no-fly zone over Libya in a speech on Wednesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines as this quest for democracy is met with violence," he said. "The Arab League's call for a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya is an unprecedented signal that the old rules of impunity for autocratic leaders no longer stand... The world needs to respond immediately to avert a humanitarian disaster."
And Clinton's former top aide Anne-Marie Slaughter accused the Obama administration of prioritizing oil over the human rights of the people of Libya.
"U.S. is defining ‘vital strategic interest' in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us," she wrote on Wednesday on her Twitter page.
Former senior State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, who has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration's response to the crisis in Libya, today accused the U.S. government of prioritizing oil over human rights.
"U.S. is defining ‘vital strategic interest' in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us," she wrote on Wednesday on her Twitter page.
She didn't specifically mention Libya, but her criticism echoes what she sees as the failure of the international community to support popular revolutions in the Arab world.
The G8 foreign ministers met in Paris on Monday to discuss the crisis in Libya, but failed to agree to move forward on a no-fly zone. France and Britain pushed hard for more forceful action, Germany and Russia pushed hard against intervention, while the United States declined to take either side, according to a European official who was briefed on the meeting.
Afterward, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Arab sentiment was, "if you don't show your support for the Libyan people and for democracy at this time, you are saying you will intervene only when it's about your security, but you won't help when it's about our democracy".
Slaughter, who had kept her personal opinions private during her approximately two years inside the Obama administration, has been increasingly vocal about her concerns regarding the U.S. government's approach to Libya ever since she left her post as the State Department's director of policy planning in January. She used one of her first tweets to call for international intervention in Libya back on Feb. 24, going further than the U.S. position on a no fly zone at the time.a
"The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters. In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted. #Libya," she wrote.
By invoking Rwanda, Slaughter compared the situation in Libya to the 1994 bloodshed that saw 800,000 Rwandans murdered in about 100 days -- a clear case of genocide. Likewise in 1999, NATO bombed the Serbian capital of Belgrade following that government's actions in Kosovo, although a U.N. court in 2001 decided the situation did not technically constitute genocide.
Then on March 13, she penned an op-ed in the New York Times titled "Fiddling While Libya Burns," which sought to rebut various arguments against imposing a no fly zone over Libya. "President Obama says the noose is tightening around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In fact, it is tightening around the Libyan rebels, as Colonel Qaddafi makes the most of the world's dithering and steadily retakes rebel-held towns," Slaughter wrote. "Any use of force must be carefully and fully debated, but that debate has now been had. It's been raging for a week, during which almost every Arab country has come on board calling for a no-flight zone and Colonel Qaddafi continues to gain ground. It is time to act."
Republican proposals for cutting the international affairs budget would harm the U.S. ability to respond to the political changes and humanitarian crises throughout the Arab world, according to two top officials dealing with the issue.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit the region since the tide of revolutions swept across the Arab world in January. She will also visit Tunisia and meet with leaders of the Libyan opposition. One senior official from State and one from USAID who just returned from the region are warning that now is the wrong time to slash funding for diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and refugee assistance, as House Republicans are proposing.
"We have, around the world, ongoing humanitarian responses to protracted situations, situations that are not emergency but are protracted and require our engagement, and we have emergency situations, and we have accounts for both. And it is the future funding of both of those accounts that are so seriously imperiled by some of these proposals," said Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Eric Schwartz at a Monday press conference.
The U.S. government has sent teams to the Tunisian and Egyptian borders of Libya to asses humanitarian needs and help coordinate the response. 140,000 migrant workers have streamed across the Libyan border with Tunisia, and about 110,000 people have headed east into Egypt, Schwartz said. The United States has also chartered flights to bring these migrants back to their homes, flying workers to third countries .
"We will do what is necessary," Schwartz said, explaining that $47 million has already been devoted to the effort. He said that, for now, State will come up with the money to support urgent needs, but the GOP spending plan would cut PRM's $2 billion budget in half for the rest of fiscal 2011. The legislation "would impact both these emergency accounts which have been put to use in this crisis as well as our regular accounts which also have been put to use in this crisis," Schwartz said.
On March 12, Schwartz co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he said that he was "deeply concerned by the prospect of U.S. humanitarian aid reductions of historic and devastating proportions."
On Capitol Hill, the negotiations about the remainder of the fiscal 2011 budget are a long way from over, and it is clear that Congress will have to pass yet another short-term extension when the current continuing resolution expires March 18. Negotiations over the fiscal 2012 budget have not yet begun.
In the meantime, several lawmakers are putting forth ideas for ways to speed some extra money to the region to support U.S. democracy promotion efforts.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) supports the creation of a "Middle East stability fund" that would appropriate money at the levels of the full fiscal 2011 request for Arab countries and Israel, in addition to the full year continuing resolution whenever it goes through.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) proposed an $80 million enterprise fund for Egypt and Tunisia last week, which would encourage economic development and foreign investment in those countries. His idea is supported by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
"These new enterprise funds will allow us to do what the people of Egypt and Tunisia are calling for - and that's to provide investment capital so their entrepreneurs and private businesses, so that their economies can stabilize, can prosper," said Kerry.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee on Thursday that he believed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi and his regime would prevail in their struggle against opposition forces, that China and Russia pose the greatest threat to the United States, and that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program.
"I just think from a standpoint of attrition that over time, I mean, this is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail," Clapper said to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) at Thursday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The comments so surprised Lieberman that he asked Clapper to confirm them.
"You said you were concerned or thought that in the long run the regime might actually prevail because of its superiority in logistics, weaponry, and the rest. Did I hear you correctly?" Lieberman said.
"Yes, sir," Clapper responded.
Both Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Ronald Burgess said they believed the opposition could not displace Qaddafi.
"He's in this for the, as he said, long haul," said Burgess. "So right now he seems to have staying power unless some other dynamic changes at this time."
Later in the hearing, when Sen. James Manchin (D-WV) asked Clapper what two countries presented the greatest "mortal threat" to the United States, Clapper said China and Russia.
Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) interrupted to say he was "taken aback," and that he would have picked North Korea and Iran. Clapper said that China and Russia have the greatest capability but he could not judge their intent. "By that measure, the U.S. represents the biggest threat" to China and Russia, Levin shot back.
Clapper also said at the hearing he has high confidence in his assessment that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program and the intelligence community does not know if it ever will.
After the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for Clapper to be fired, telling Fox News, "Three strikes and you're out." Graham was referring to Clapper's past gaffes, such as when the director of national intelligence appeared to be unaware of a London terror plot in an interview with ABC News and another gaffe when Clapper said the Muslim Brotherhood was "mostly secular."
The White House immediately went into damage control mode, with Jay Carney trying to clarify Clapper's statements and saying that President Obama has "full faith and confidence," in his ability to continue in his post.
National Security Council Tom Donilon told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that Clapper was looking at a snapshot of the situation without properly considering everything the international community was doing now to isolate Qaddafi.
"A static, unidimensional analysis does not take into account steps that can be taken in cooperation with the opposition going forward here," Donilon said. "I would just caution that a dynamic in a multidimensional analysis is more appropriate in the circumstance."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional panel on Thursday morning that the State Department is "suspending our relationship with the existing Libyan embassy" in Washington. Her announcement is only the latest episode in the saga of what is now, essentially, two competing Libyan diplomatic posts in Washington.
On one side of town is Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali's residence, nestled in the luxurious Kalorama neighborhood where dozens of foreign envoys retire when they go home from a day's work. There was a big celebration at the residence on Feb. 25, when Aujali denounced Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and with the help of some embassy staff replaced Libya's green Qaddafi-era flag with the red, green, and black pre-Qaddafi flag, which the Libyan opposition has adopted as its standard.
On the other side of town, behind a non-descript door marked "Libyan Liaison Office" inside the Watergate office complex, is the actual Libyan embassy -- a relic of the pre-2006 era when the United States and Libya did not have formal diplomatic relations.
Aujali claimed that the embassy was "under my control" in an interview with Foreign Policy last week. But his assistant, Katie White, told The Cable at that point that Aujali was "working from home" that week and hadn't been to the actual embassy office in a while. White said that the embassy's second in command was running the embassy office, a man named Mr. Fatih, who doesn't speak English. (The spelling of his name cannot be confirmed.)
But Fatih hasn't renounced Qaddafi, so is the embassy office still loyal to the regime? White wouldn't say. So your humble Cable guy went there today to find out.
The Libyan embassy office, which is guarded by uniformed secret service guards and armed private security, shows no indications that there has been any change in Libya whatsoever. A large picture of Qaddafi hangs on the wall in between the green regime flag and the flag of the United States. A stack of copies of Qaddafi's manifesto, known as The Green Book, sits on the table. Embassy officers file in and out, as if going about their regular business.
Eventually, an embassy staffer came past. Gracious but uncomfortable, she said that Fatih was out of the office for a few days on "personal business." Asked who was in charge of the embassy, Aujali or Fatih, she responded, "It's very confusing, even to us."
"It's like a classroom, if the professor is away the assistant is in charge," she continued, trying to explain that both Ali and Fatih were still involved in the embassy's management. But didn't the fact that one of them had rejected Qaddafi and one had not affect how the post functions? So who was in charge of the Libyan embassy and its staff?
"Honestly, I don't want to know," she said.
The State Department has only added to the confusion over who represents Libya in Washington. After Aujali denounced Qaddafi, the State Department initially transferred recognition to whoever was left at the Qaddafi-loyal embassy office.
On March 1, the same day protesters unsuccessfully struggled to physically tear down the Qaddafi flag from the embassy office, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Aujali "no longer represents Libya's interests in the United States."
Two days later, The Cable reported that the State Department had changed its mind and now considered Aujali as Libya's "chief of mission" in Washington and, as such, would deal with him directly. Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa had sent the State Department a fax telling them not to deal with Aujali, but State decided to ignore the communiqué because they were not able "verify its authenticity," a State Department official told The Cable.
That explanation was viewed by the State Department press corps as being too clever by half. Couldn't State just call Musa and confirm the fax? Was there really a suspicion that the fax could have been a fake? State was able to avoid that question: Musa stopped returning their calls.
But on March 7, Crowley confirmed that Kusa had called Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman on March 4 to talk about the situation in Libya. As for the status of the Libyan embassy in Washington, it never came up.
"Musa Kusa called to say hello, and he did not bring up the status of the ambassador. Neither did the Assistant Secretary Feltman. So our review is ongoing," Crowley said.
The "review" is an illustration of the balancing act the State Department has been playing as it tries to reach out to the Libyan opposition -- while still maintaining its relationship with the Qaddafi government.
Particularly following France's decision today to recognize the anti-Qaddafi movement as the "legitimate representative of the Libyan people," the Obama administration is under pressure to engage the opposition. Clinton will meet with Libyan opposition leaders when she travels to Egypt and Tunisia later this month.
But if the Libyan embassy in Washington is no longer able to talk to the State Department, what should they do? "We expect them to end operating as the embassy of Libya," Clinton said this morning.
What that means for Ali, Fatih, White, and all the other embassy staff caught up in this mess is just as unclear as the future of Libya itself.
Though the Obama administration hasn't yet decided whether or how to aid the Libyan opposition, the White House is working to stop the flow of mercenaries fighting for Qaddafi entering the country from countries surrounding Libya like Chad and Niger.
"We've been working to ensure there isn't a flow of people into Libya," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs, on a Wednesday conference call with non-governmental groups. The call was off the record, but a recording was provided to The Cable.
Power didn't go into detail about whether or not the administration believes that Qaddafi is still trying to import mercenaries and she didn't going into detail about what the U.S. was doing to stop the flow of people into Libya.
Power was responding to a question about what the White House was doing to make sure violence in Libya didn't spill over into other countries, such as Sudan. She responded that the White House was monitoring the flow of migrant workers as well as those who might be coming to Libya to fight in the conflict.
"There's always danger of flows in both directions that we're very much on the lookout for," she said.
There are still thousands of migrant workers trapped in Libya and non-governmental organization leaders on the call were also concerned that the flow of goods through Libya to its neighbors might also be disrupted.
Power also said that the administration was increasingly reaching out to opposition groups in Libya, with the goal of setting up reliable communications to better understand the situation on the ground.
"Our contacts with the Libya opposition are expanding," she said, but added that the opposition leaders the White House was speaking with were having problems setting up reliable ways to keep in touch.
That's complicating the administration's drive to provide assistance to civilians trying to leave Libya and also to prevent potential fighters who are trying to get in, Power said.
"We are looking at ways to make sure that message is out there but it's a very challenging problem right now," she said.
The administration has been stepping up its assistance to migrant workers who want to leave Libya, sending Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg to Tunisia and Egypt this week.
They are meeting with government officials, international organizations, and nongovernmental organization representatives, according to the State Department, and the American officials will have role in deciding how to disperse the $30 million that the United States has allocated for humanitarian assistance to the victims of the crisis in Libya.
Ambassador Gene Cretz, the same U.S. diplomat who was forced to leave Libya after WikiLeaks released cables signed by him referring to Qaddafi's "voluptuous" blonde nurse, met with Libyan opposition leaders in Rome and Cairo this week, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the administration's internal debate over whether to take more aggressive steps to aid the Libyan opposition continues. President Barack Obama and White House staff continue to say that all options remain on the table, while the Defense Department and the State Department continue to express logistical and legal justifications for why actions such as arming the rebels or imposing a no fly zone might not be a good idea.
On Tuesday, the White House sent out a read out of Obama's call with British Prime Minister David Cameron that maintained planning was going forward on several options for intervention in Libya.
"The President and the Prime Minister agreed to press forward with planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo, and a no fly zone," the readout said.
Earlier that day, senior U.S. defense officials warned senators that the no-fly zone would be a full-combat operation, requiring extensive commitments of manpower and resources. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that a no-fly zone means "you would be entering into combat operations there."
"The first element, I believe, of entering into a no-fly zone is likely combat operations on Libya. And so I think in talking about a no-fly zone, there are some precursor steps that have to be taken," said Roughead, "And then it's also the issue of what are the forces that would be used, where are they postured, what are the basing, the over-flight issues. I think all of those have to be sorted through. We've done no-fly zones before, and there is a significant infrastructure that backs them up, whether it's naval or land-based."
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) also struck back on Tuesday at the State Department's claim that arming the Libyan opposition would be "illegal" under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970.
"The President has consistently and correctly said that ‘all options are on the table' in Libya. If the State Department's statement today is correct, however, it means one of the most effective options to help the Libyan people has been taken off the table. We urge the Administration to clarify its position on this important issue," the senators said in a statement.
The U.S. intelligence community has been behind events throughout the Arab world for over a month and producing deficient work, the Senate's top leader on intelligence issues complained to the head of the CIA.
"Our intelligence, and I see it all, is way behind the times. It is inadequate. And this is a very serious problem," Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Feinstein criticized the U.S. government's intelligence products in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, saying that the intelligence community has given her "nothing that we didn't read in the newspapers" since January.
"The only one where there was good intelligence was Tunisia," she said, "but really no intelligence on any of the others, whether it was Yemen, or Bahrain, or Egypt... nothing."
Feinstein said she recently raised her unhappiness over the intelligence community's work directly with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who promised to produce better information for lawmakers.
"It's going to be improved. Mr. Panetta is aware of this and is going to take action," she explained.
She attributed the shoddy work product to a lack of human intelligence assets on the ground in the Middle East as well as the intelligence community's failure to maximize the use of open source information, including social networks, which Feinstein said accounts for an increasing amount of raw intelligence.
"I'm not a big computer person but I just went up on one of these sites and all I had to do was look," Feinstein said.
Feinstein said that she has not spoken about the issue with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Feinstein also joined the growing chorus of senior Democratic senators who oppose any type of military intervention in Libya, including arming rebel groups or imposing a no-fly zone.
"This is a civil war. It is not Qaddafi invading another country. I think [arming the rebels] is an act of war and particularly the no-fly zone is [an act of war]," she said.
The U.S. government shouldn't set a precedent for intervening in Arab civil wars, Feinstein said. She said that such a step could lead to more interventions by the U.S. military, which is already strained by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Saudis -- Do you put a no fly zone up there if this happens there? Bahrain -- Do you put a no-fly zone up there? We've got our hands full," she said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has repeatedly called on the administration to work with allies to set up a no-fly zone over Libya. But Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) is also against the idea for now.
"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before that option can be exercised," Levin told The Cable. "Not only what is the mission, what are the risks, but also who are the supporters of it. If there is no support in the Arab and Muslim world or neighboring countries, what it could result in would be a very negative outcome."
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), an Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee member and former secretary of the Navy, also said on Tuesday that armed intervention in Libya on behalf of the rebels was not wise at this time.
"We all know that military commitments, however small, are easily begun and in this region particularly very difficult to end," said Webb. "I am of the opinion that it's not a good idea to give weapons and military support to people who you don't know."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.