March 31st, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #801 'Arming the rebels'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: As of this writing, President Obama is leaving the door open to the idea of supplying the Libyan rebels with arms. So I am supplying him with yet another letter.

Dear Mr. President,

Here is a rule of thumb that I have gleaned from a parade of late night movies: Never hand a gun to the other guy unless you are absolutely certain he is your friend. Not a bad thing to keep in mind as you and your team debate the idea of opening up the great American arms funnel for the opposition forces in Libya.

Let’s run some pluses and minuses.

Plus: If you give them some top flight weapons, they will have more ability to stand their ground against Gadhafi’s better armed military.
Minus: If they don’t really know how to use them, you’re going to have to include training, and that will mean U.S. troops on the ground in Libya.

Plus: If the rebels win, they will be beholden to the United States and presumably an ally as they take control of the country.
Minus: If they lose, all those great weapons will fall into the hands of Gadhafi, and… uh…he’ll shoot them at us if we try to intercede again.

Plus: If we support the rebels through the whole process, they will be grateful.
Minus: If we give them big weapons and then get cold feet, backing away from the training and support they need to produce victory, even if they survive, they will resent our lack of commitment. They will feel as if we egged them on, but ran away when the going got tough. Did you see “Charlie Wilson’s War”? Such arrangements don’t end well for us.

Plus: They are fighting an old enemy whom we would like to see booted out of office.
Minus: We don’t really know who “they” are yet - their real goals, their true allegiances. So we can’t really say if the guns we give them today will remain in friendly hands tomorrow.

Like I said, the decision is up to you. But my dad told me years ago that you should never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot. Same goes for giving guns away. Be careful about handing one to anyone, unless you have a pretty good idea which way he is going to point it. Call if you get a moment. Busy day, but I’ll make time to talk.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Ed

    President Obama may be risking his presidency, but Libyans, our pilots and many others (including CNN reporters and NY Times reporters) are risking their lives. It is time to honor those who risk with the reward of a quick victory. Don't you listen to your old friend Colin Powell? Get in, win, get out! Over-whelming force. High risk – high reward!

    March 31, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  2. Bruce Thompson

    It's 2011 and the U.S. spends several times the amount on Defence than the next closest country. Wouldn't you think that by now, the U.S. would have developed weapons with embedded digital technology that they could provide the opposition forces at times like these and then remotely disable so they can't be used againt the U.S. or it's allies in the future?

    Just a thought.


    March 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  3. Christopher

    Tom's letter on 'arming the rebels' makes a lot of sense but does the coalition have time to sit and discuss such matters other than those that require urgent attention? Libyans are fighting their war and since it's for a just cause,we are supporting them.They need to be supported through the whole process and arming and training the Libyans has become absolutely necessary.This is no time for CIA to go and check who the rebels are.They were Libyans who started the protests and in their struggle against Qaddafi they are still Libyans.Whether we like it or not,they are relying on us now and expect us to deliver the goods.

    March 31, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  4. CPT Robin Lee, J.D.

    Ye Gadzooks! It seems I've ignited a firestorm of ideas on how to arm the Libyan Rebels. Between CNN and Fox News, there's nonstop chat on the media re: such an idea. Good will hunting, Charlie Wilson...wherever you are. And thanks for the help repelling Russians in Afghan. Now let's do it again in Libya. "From the halls of Motezuma to the shores of Tripoli". Semper Fi.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  5. Salem S

    As we are seeing in Misrata ,Gaddafi forces,mostly merceranies and paid criminals,have and use heavy weapons against every body in the city.They have kicked people out of their homes and looted them.They postioned themselves in high rise apartment builidings and shooting any one and any thing that moves.

    The revoloitionaries in Misrata are defending themselves against Gaddafi onslought with few weapons and lack weapons that would take on tanks and heavy armored vhicles.yes,they should be armed ,Gaddafi aleardy committing ongoing massacer in Misrata.He cut water,electricity and communications.His thugs are taking from their homes to no one know where.They prevent people from collecting dead people from the streets for burial.They dig graves of people who were killed by the regime and take them away.

    Libyans have suffered more than enough at the hands of Gaddafi,his family,and his paid mrecs,thugs,and criminals.

    March 31, 2011 at 1:10 pm |