Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Middle East Strange Things of the Day

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hinted that the United States and Britain might arm the Libyan rebels. Don't you think it's important to know who these people are before arming them and putting them in power? U.S. officials are basically admitting that they simply don't know the political composition of the opposition so how can they be given full backing?

Oh, right, that's just what they did in Egypt.

Now it is being reported that two weeks ago President Obama authorized covert operations on the ground in support of the rebels. Consider this scenario: The rebels attack and perhaps capture a pro-Qadhafi town (Sirte, for example), levelling it in the process, and killing civilians either through indifference to casualties or murder of those considered tribal enemies and supporters of the dictatorship.

How would this compare to a mission defined as protecting civilians?

At the same time, though, the use of covert operations makes sense and the CIA will be able to get a better picture of the rebels. But the CIA has been the U.S. government institution that seems to believe that if an Islamist isn't in al-Qaida then he's moderate. So the quality of the reporting is a concern. And what if operatives are worried about the rebels but are ignored or overruled by the White House?

I hope we get some good leaks on what they are finding out in Libya.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the “target dates for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on permanent status issues and completing the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building program are fast-approaching.”

What target dates? This notion that the conflict must be settled right away (or else what? Egypt and Tunisia will have revolutions? Libya will have a civil war? Iran will launch a campaign to get nuclear weapons? Hamas will take over the Gaza Strip?) on the Palestinian Authority's terms is absurd.

And since when did the PA's claim that it would be ready for a state in two years become internationally accepted as the framework for global action?

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