Libyan Oppo Leader: Trust Us (and Arm Us, Too)

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“We need to arm the Libyan people to finish this regime.” That was the assessment of Ali Aujali, a former Libyan Ambassador to the United States who has defected from the Gaddafi regime and now represents the country’s “Transitional National Council.” Appearing today at the Center for American Progress, Aujali pleaded for sustained American assistance in the battle to depose the tyrant of Tripoli.

But Aujali wasn’t particularly reassuring about a critical question now facing American policymakers weighing the next steps for Libya: Is the ragtag opposition truly capable of overthrowing Gaddafi without a western military escalation? The opposition’s ranks, particularly its military fighters, increasingly seem disorganized and divided, with tragicomic shades of a North African Keystone Kops operation.

Not to worry, Aujali insisted; talk of divisions within the resistance are overblown. “I don’t give these differences big concern, to be honest,” he said. And to the extent there are such rifts, Aujali argued, they’re a refreshing sign of political freedom. “For the first time since 1969 there are differences between Libyan leaders that come out in the press,” he said.

And as for talk that Islamic radicals might be helping to guide the rebellion, “Nobody can claim that al Qaeda is behind this, or extremists are behind this,” Aujali said. “Libya is a very moderate society.” Any radicals moved to join the fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, he argued, would be captured or dead.

It all sounded nice. It also happened to be what Aujali surely knew his American audience needs to hear if its going to grant extended support to his rebel allies. But Aujali’s assertions were backed up with little evidence or deeper reasoning. His message amounted to, “Trust me.”

One thing was clear, though: His determination to fight. Aujali rejected out of hand any peace proposal that would allow Gaddafi to remain in the country, or allow his sons to take control. And asked about a Libya divided between east and west, he was firm. “No Libyan will accept that,” Aujali said. “This is not an option. This is not even on the table…. The Libyans, they will fight until they get rid of Gaddafi… We are one country and we will die for that.”

To that end, Aujali pleaded for the U.S. to facilitate training and a supply of weapons for the rebel forces, and to give the opposition access to the $30 billion in Libyan assets we froze in February. (Just no foreign troops on Libyan soil, he said.)

“If we just have the no fly zone, [it] will not deal with Gaddafi’s forces, and I think this crisis will take a long time,” he said. That much, at least, seems all too plausible.