Reid: U.S. should hold off arming Libya rebels

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Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid no CBS' "Face the Nation," April 3, 2011.
CBS

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday he didn't think it was currently necessary for the United States to arm rebels in Libya, arguing that leadership of the opposition group in Libya had yet to coalesce, and that the U.S. might be better served to let other countries provide such assistance.

"I spoke to the president yesterday about this, President Obama, and I think at this stage we really don't know who the leaders of this rebel group is," Reid said on Sunday morning in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"We have others, as [Defense] Secretary Gates has said, that can do it more easily than we can," Reid told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "So I think at this stage let's just wait and see."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, countered the U.S. should indeed be assisting the rebels - by arming them with missiles - and criticized the Obama administration's handling of the situation in Libya.

"If you had missiles given to the rebels in Libya they could fight the tanks in addition to air power, but this strategy that President Obama has come up with, I think, is not going to defeat a determine enemy," he told Schieffer.

"I think it's time to directly go after Qaddafi," he said.

Graham also argued that the U.S. should continue to strike at Qaddafi's regime through an air campaign.

"We should be taking the fight to Tripoli," he said. "You don't need ground troops, but we should take the air campaign to Tripoli to go after Qaddafi's inner circle. They live like kings. Go after them and their propaganda machine. The way to end this war is to have Qaddafi's inner circle to crack.

"The strategy should be to help the rebels help them themselves," Graham added.

Reid emphasized that it was up to the Libyan people to determine the fate of the country's political future.

"The people of Libya are going to decide and I think fairly quickly, whether that's days or weeks," Reid said. "Days or weeks as to whether they will be ruled by a terrorist, a war criminal - Qaddafi - or whether they're going to have a society that's civilized. I think they've already cast their lot. They want a civilized society."

Graham, however, argued that arming the Libyan people was the necessary next step to helping the Libyan people help themselves.

"I'm ready to look at arming them to help themselves," he said. "We need American air power back into the site. We need to take the fight to Tripoli. Go after his inner circle. That's the way to end this war decisively and quickly. The strategy we have is going to lead to a stalemate. It needs to change. Help the rebels, take the fight to Tripoli. Get this thing over with. Qaddafi must go."