“Occasionally other countries lack the will,” he said, “but this is not about capacity.”
Biden said U.S. resources were better spent trying to guide Egypt’s transition toward democracy. He denied that U.S. public reluctance to become deeply involved in another conflict in the Muslim world had anything to do with Obama’s decisions.
“This is about our strategic interest and it is not based upon a situation of what can the traffic bear politically at home,” Biden said. “The traffic can bear politically more in Libya,” he said, because “everybody knows [Gaddafi] is a bad guy.”
But as the situation in Libya has continued without resolution, popular disapproval of the president’s handling of the situation has shot up 15 percentage points, from 34 to 49, since mid-March, shining a light on the political risks Obama faces on the issue amid a host of domestic problems, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Among political independents, disapproval jumped to 51 percent.
Fifty-six percent of those polled said they agreed the United States should participate in the NATO-led international coalition; most of those said they wanted the level of U.S. participation to remain “about the same.” Most of those who supported participation appeared to agree with Biden’s assessment of Gaddafi, with 58 percent saying the goal of the operation ought to be getting rid of him.
France and Italy have recognized the opposition Transition National Council (TNC) as Libya’s legitimate government, and Britain, France and Italy have had civilian and military personnel on the ground at rebel headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi for some time. But the new teams being sent were described as professionals capable of training rebel officers and organizing a more efficient command network for the ground war. Each country is expected to field at least 10 advisers.
France has also agreed to escalate the airstrikes being carried out by NATO. French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil in Paris on Wednesday.
Although NATO is in command of the U.N.-authorized operation in Libya, different countries have agreed to different missions. Only six NATO members — France, Britain, Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Norway — are participating in the airstrikes against Libyan government forces on the ground. Others — along with non-NATO nations, including some Arab countries — are contributing aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya but have declined to participate in strikes. A third group is enforcing an arms embargo with air and sea patrols outside Libyan territory.
Those sending advisers or other assistance to the rebel forces are doing so as individual nations, in coordination with but outside the NATO command structure.
The three sending trainers have publicly ruled out sending ground forces. “The rebels themselves are afraid of being accused by other Arab countries of having allowed ‘crusaders’ on their land,” said an Italian official who was not authorized to discuss the issue on the record.
Qatar, one of several Arab countries whose planes are participating in the no-fly-zone enforcement, is also reportedly providing military equipment directly to the rebels, including weapons. “They’re sort of freelancing . . . throwing in money in a lot of different and odd ways,” including helping to finance a satellite television station to counter Gaddafi’s control of domestic media, said a senior congressional aide briefed on the operations.
Obama administration officials said their comfort level with the rebel council had grown in recent weeks, after high-level meetings with its leaders and direct contact by a U.S. diplomatic mission sent to Benghazi.
“Whether there are people in Libya who may have more extremist or nefarious agendas, that is something we watch very carefully,” the senior administration official said in reference to suggestions of possible al-Qaeda involvement. “We don’t believe that the organized opposition, represented by the TNC, reflects that agenda.”
Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.