Should we arm the Libyan rebels?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in London yesterday that, "[W]e don't know as much as we would like to know" about the Libyan rebels. In fact, we know even less than that. How many are ex-Gaddafi thugs? How many are genuine democrats?

How many are al-Qaeda or Muslim Brotherhood (or Hezb'allah) terrorists?

Apparently, it doesn't matter. Whoever they are, they are likely to start receiving weapons from the United States.

New York Times:

On a day when Libyan forces counterattacked, fears about the rebels surfaced publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when the military commander of NATO, Adm. James G. Stavridis, told a Senate hearing that there were "flickers" in intelligence reports about the presence of Qaeda and Hezbollah members among the anti-Qaddafi forces. No full picture of the opposition has emerged, Admiral Stavridis said. While eastern Libya was the center of Islamist protests in the late 1990s, it is unclear how many groups retain ties to Al Qaeda.

The French government, which has led the international charge against Colonel Qaddafi, has placed mounting pressure on the United States to provide greater assistance to the rebels. The question of how best to support the opposition dominated an international conference about Libya on Tuesday in London.

While Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration had not yet decided whether to actually transfer arms, she reiterated that the United States had a right to do so, despite an arms embargo on Libya, because of the United Nations Security Council's broad resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians.

In a reflection of the seriousness of the administration's debate, Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he was keeping his options open on arming the rebels. "I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," Mr. Obama told NBC News.

In the end, the choice will be to get rid of Gaddafi or let him stay. And the only way he is going to leave is feet first. This means boots on the ground and the question that will confront the US and NATO is do we want those boots to be American or do we want the rebels to do their own fighting.

Obviously, the latter is far preferable, which means we will indeed, arm the rebels with the kinds of weapons that will even up the fight; tanks, artillery, and probably anti-aircraft weapons. Whether any or all of those weapons will end up in the hands of terrorists, will be a crap shoot.

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