The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

White House approves $25 million for Libyan rebels

The White House finally approved the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libya rebels that the State Department had notified Congress about on April 15. The White House released a memo late Tuesday from President Obama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates officially authorizing them to "drawdown" up to ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The White House finally approved the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libya rebels that the State Department had notified Congress about on April 15.

The White House released a memo late Tuesday from President Obama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates officially authorizing them to "drawdown" up to $25 million of "non lethal aid and services" to give to the Libyan Transitional National Council "to support efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya."

The State Department's Congressional notification about the aid funds stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the TNC as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in cities such as Misrata.

The White House finally approved the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libya rebels that the State Department had notified Congress about on April 15.

The White House released a memo late Tuesday from President Obama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates officially authorizing them to "drawdown" up to $25 million of "non lethal aid and services" to give to the Libyan Transitional National Council "to support efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya."

The State Department’s Congressional notification about the aid funds stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" — all items identified by the TNC as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces in cities such as Misrata.

Clinton trumpted the aid as direct support to the rebel army when she "announced" it April 21, a day after the Washington Times first revealed the State Department’s plan.

"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition – is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Clinton said.

So what was the hold up? State Department spokesman Mark Toner said April 21 that the request, despite being approved by Clinton and sent to Congress, was not fully "cooked" and had not received White House approval.

Our sources tell a different story. Multiple sources said that the list of items and logistics for delivering the goods hadn’t been worked out. The U.S. military doesn’t actually land on Libya shores under the current operations scheme, so the goods have to be routed through third party carriers, which is costly. The heavier the items (trucks, for example), the costlier the delivery.

$25 million doesn’t really go that far when delivery costs are accounted for, so the final shipment is likely to contain less military vehicles and more lightweight goods, such as medical equipment and blankets, our sources said. There’s a realization that even then, the $25 million won’t be enough to meet the needs of the Libyan rebels and the people they are protecting.

Separately, the U.S. government is sending millions of dollars in aid to Libya in the form of food, aid to international organizations, and money to help airlift migrants and refuges back to their homes.

State Department Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan was asked about the delay in the approval of the funds at a Tuesday briefing. "Is there a problem?" he was asked. "Not that I’m aware of," he responded.

The Cable asked Sullivan if the reasons for the delay were the logistics but he said he didn’t know. We also asked him if $25 million was really enough to help the rebel army.

"Do we need to put more than $25 million into Libya, this is something that we’re constantly assessing," Sullivan said. "And obviously, the conversations that are happening in the run-up to the Rome Contact Group meeting about this temporary financial mechanism will involve consideration of what the United States has on offer in respect to assistance, and we’re looking at that and will continue to do so."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.