Who Are the Libyan Rebels?
US, UK , Britain Take Sides in Libyan Civil War: Do They Know with Whom They Are Siding?
Despite continued choruses of "this is not about regime change", the American, British and French involvement in Libya is indeed about unseating Muammar Gaddafi. There's no other clearly definable victory condition in a bombing campaign like this, especially when US President Barack Obama has repeated, many times, "Gaddafi must go".
For the the American and British governments, this is as personal as it gets: Muammar Gaddafi ordered the Lockerbie bombing, which killed hundreds of British and American citizens. For France's Nicolas Sarkozy, it's a chance to pander to the far right, which encroaches on his political base.
So, basically, western forces have taken sides in a civil war, and we are right to question their wisdom. The US does not have a strong track record of choosing allies in the Middle East wisely: Washington backed the Taliban against the Soviets, and now are stuck in a quagmire of occupation in a region that historically defies foreign powers. The less said about the Iran-Iraq war, during which the US supplied both sides with weapons, the better.
We also trained and supported a certain Osama bin Laden, and we all know how that turned out. So, in light of this, who, exactly, are the Libyan rebels? We don't know. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris mid-March, and so must know a bit more than we do, but she's not talking. France has already recognized the rebels as Libya's government.
We know that Jibril served as justice minister under Gaddafi until he resigned during the anti-government protests, and he promised that, should Gaddafi be ousted, the rebels would set up a transitional government.
Fair enough, but people promise a lot of things when they want American military backing, don't they? To what extent does Jibril even speak for the anti-government forces? We see no evidence of their being an organized force. There also appears to be a disconnect between why the rebels think we're there, and why we're actually there. We aren't there to provide air support to rebel forces (ostensibly we're just protecting civilians), but it's increasingly clear that we are not planning to leave once Gaddafi's ability to strike from the air is disabled. See above, re: regime change.
While nobody here is going to defend Muammar Gaddafi, and his time has definitely come to step down, we've also just taken sides in a civil war, and we don't actually know too much about the side we chose. This is a mistake that western powers have made repeatedly in the recent past, and we have to recognize that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a policy that tends to end badly.
"We don't have the comfort level with the rebels," said the National Security Network's Joel Rubin, a former State Department official. "We certainly know some things about them, had meetings. It's not as if there's complete blindness. But I don't think at this stage the comfort level is there for that kind of close coordination."