EACH TIME he addresses the war in Libya, President Obama seems to contradict himself. After a meeting Wednesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the president was supportive of Mr. Cameron’s declaration that “the president and I agree that we should be turning up the heat in Libya.” “The more effective the coalition is in rallying all the resources that are available to it,” Mr. Obama said, the more “we’re going to be able to achieve our mission in a timely fashion.”
Yet Mr. Obama apparently remains unwilling to rally American resources that are readily available and that Britain and France have repeatedly requested. The allies have asked for the resumption of strike operations by U.S. warplanes that Mr. Obama pulled from the fight in early April. But immediately after acknowledging that more resources are needed, Mr. Obama talked down the prospect of “additional U.S. capabilities,” saying “there are going to be some inherent limitations to our airstrike operations.” He added: “There may be a false perception that there are a whole bunch of secret super-effective air assets that are in a warehouse that could just be pulled out and that would somehow immediately solve the situation in Libya. That’s not the case.”
In fact no one we know of is making that claim — much less Mr. Cameron or French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose appeals for help Mr. Obama is ignoring. What the allies are seeking is no secret: eight or so U.S. AC-130 and A-10 planes, weapons that exist only in the American arsenal and that are ideal for the close ground-support operations that are much needed in Libya. In the past few days, NATO forces have stepped up attacks against the headquarters of Moammar Gaddafi in Tripoli, but if the war is to be won, rebel forces need to begin capturing more of the ground held by the regime. For that, close air support is needed — which is why France and Britain are now dispatching attack helicopters to the theater.
The United States is already flying about a quarter of the air missions in Libya, including refueling and intelligence sorties, and U.S. drones have been striking some targets on the ground. Mr. Obama may be correct in his assessment that “we have built enough momentum that as long as we sustain the course that we’re on,” Mr. Gaddafi will ultimately be forced from power. But the strain on British and French forces is growing, and the president appears to have no substantial reason to deny the allies’ request, other than to prove the ideological point that the United States need not lead every NATO military intervention. That point has been made. Now it is time to do what can be done to speed the end of Libya’s war.