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Sen. Webb: US Shouldn’t Arm Unknown Rebels

By Hiram Reisner   |   Friday, 04 Mar 2011 07:14 AM

Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb warns the United States needs to identify players in Libya’s civil strife, “before we literally pull the trigger,” to avoid a repeat of mistaken opposition support like what happened when the Shah of Iran was replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini.

webb, libya, rebels, arm“This is a region that is known for divisions within divisions, and you can’t even take the Egyptian template … and apply it to the situation that we see in Libya,” Webb Thursday said on CNN. “In Egypt, we had long relationships with people we were talking to who were inside the opposition movement, we had good talks with military people, there was a stability in our relationship.”

Webb said he asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday, when she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if the United States knew who comprised the Libyan opposition, and “she basically said: We don’t know these people.”

“So, we’re in a situation where we’ve got a long history in this region of making mistakes in supporting opposition movements – or in tilting one way or another – when the results come out in a way we really wouldn’t like to see them,” Webb said.

“So, who would we be giving arms to in Libya? There are so many different factions that are in this opposition movement,” he continued. “Since we don’t know them, what we need to do is work hard with other countries … who do know them, so we can get a better picture of what is going on there.”

CNN anchor John King noted while the United States waits to get a better picture of the situation, people are dying in Libya, and he asked Webb at what point does legitimate caution and diplomacy begin to look like indecision.

“I think in this region, you’ve got to be really careful when you make a decision,” Webb said. “I was Secretary of the Navy during the Iran-Iraq war in 1987, when the Reagan administration tilted toward Iraq, with very unfortunate circumstances four years later, when we went to war against Iraq.

“So you have to be extremely careful when you take action, particularly when you are providing military aid to opposition movements that you don’t even know,” he added. “I think it’s appropriate for us to offer humanitarian assistance, to keep working with other countries, and other elements, to get a better picture of what’s really going on inside Libya.”

King asked whether Webb would do anything different than the administration has done.

“It seems to me there has been a little bit of disagreement – or at least strong discussion – within the administration, about what to do, but I think Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates has had the right position, when it comes to the potential use of the military in Libya, and we’ve got to slow down a little bit here.

“This is a very precarious situation in Libya,” he said. “If the opposition movement were to come forward with an opposition government that our State Department would feel comfortable with, it would be different. But at the moment, we need to be careful before we literally pull the trigger.”

Webb said there were several historical examples that epitomize U.S. support of opposition movements that have led to even more dire situations.

“One of the most graphic examples of where we got a little bit ahead of ourselves was when we traded the Shah of Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini,” he noted. “And so I think people who are saying we should use military force – or [support] an opposition movement – simply because we don’t like the present leadership in Libya, need to ask themselves: Who are you giving the weapons to?”

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