President Barack Obama has signed a presidential directive authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to conduct secret operations to support rebels in Libya, according to government sources.
Government officials told Reuters on Wednesday that the president had signed a presidential “finding” within the last two or three weeks. The order is a necessary legal step to conduct secret CIA operations, but does not mean that such operations will actually occur.
In response to the report, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying he would not comment on intelligence matters.
Alright, I understand that anytime the President of the United States authorizes covert operations in a foreign country (especially doing so before having obtained a UN resolution imposing a No Fly Zone there), it will necessarily raise concerns on the left. And I suppose that it should, although I find it beyond irritating that a guy like Andrew Sullivan – who cheered on George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq – now wants to be the moral and legal arbiter of U.S. foreign policy. (I also find Sullivan’s sneering reference to Libya as “another chaotic Muslim country” to have a certain, I don’t know, bigoted overtone – much like opponents of the Iraq war who suggested Iraqis were somehow incapable of democracy; or the supporters of the Iraq war who viewed all Muslims, from al Qaeda to Hamas to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, as completely interchangeable. But I digress.)
Anyway, here’s the thing. This, unfortunately, is exactly what every president has done with the CIA, since its inception in the late 1940s. The CIA was on the ground in Vietnam long before the United States was at war there; meddled in the affairs of Guatemala dating back to the 1950s; was neck deep in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état that secured the brutal reign of Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi; aided the Chilean military in the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power; worked with El Salvadoran death squads for decades; established secret prisons in Eastern Europe to detain and interrogate detainees in the “war on terror” … and on and on and on. I’m not suggesting that any of that was right – it most definitely wasn’t – but note that for decades the CIA was, in almost every instance, on the side of brutal dictators who were oppressing their own people.
And don’t forget that with or without the CIA’s assistance, past American presidents tacitly supported Pol Pot in Cambodia after Vietnam overthrew him in 1978 (later Pres. Reagan doubled down on America’s covert support for Pol Pot, leading to years of civil war there); supported the Shah throughout his dictatorial reign despite his horrific record of human rights abuses; supported the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, many, if not most, of whom formerly worked under the dictator Somoza; and only grudgingly (and ineffectively) came to oppose Apartheid in South Africa in the 198os.
So when I hear that Pres. Obama wants to support a popular revolution against a brutal dictator like Muammar Gaddafi, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not outraged. Maybe we shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, covertly support one side or another in a civil war; and if Congress has a problem with it, Congress can make it illegal to support the Libyan rebels just like Congress made it illegal to support the Contras in Nicaragua.
In the mean time, though, this at least President is siding with the people rather than the tyrant in Libya. Given our dismal history of supporting the Shah of Iran and Pinochet and Somoza and Pol Pot and Apartheid in South Africa … I’d say that’s a step in the right direction.
© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.