Libyan Rebels no Bargain for U.S.; Congress May Clip Wings of Hawk Hillary; President to Use War in Green Energy Pitch; Open Mic Snares Schumer; Poll Problems Deepen for Obama

Obama May Arm Rebels Even As Questions Grow

"I'm not ruling it out. But I'm also not ruling it in."

-- President Obama talking to NBC News about arming rebel forces in the Libyan war.

The Libyan rebels are turning out to be no bargain as partners for the U.S. in the war against Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces.

Leaving aside the mounting concerns about the presence of jihadis who killed Americans in Iraq, al Qaeda members and other unsavory sorts inside the rebel ranks, the group has been unable to regain the initiative in the war despite massive air support from the United States and a handful of coalition partners.

Some 850 air-strike missions by coalition pilots and 214 attacks by guided missiles have hammered Qaddafi’s forces, but the Rebels again fell back again as they were driving toward Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, en route to the capital, Tripoli.

Part of the problem is that it is harder for allied forces to provide air support when the rebels are attacking a city. Bombing runs against locations occupied by civilians hardly seems in keeping with a U.N. mandate to defend civilian populations.

Another problem may be that rebel forces, which a month ago seemed poised to drive Qaddafi from power, were so badly degraded by the regime’s counterattack that they are no longer able to mount an effective offensive. Certainly hopes that popular support for the rebellion would grow have so for proven unfounded.

This is a civil, and, increasingly, sectarian, war. There is little hope that tribes who have long hated each other and taken turns oppressing each other will greet as liberators the truckloads of rebels trying to advance on their homelands. That they come with U.S. F-15s screaming overhead doesn’t likely much endear them to the would-be citizens of their new regime either.

Pro-war outlets in the U.S. may call the rebels “pro-democracy forces,” but the Libyans locked in their closets in Sirte likely see the rebels as “them” and not us.

One of the reasons the Cyrenaican region now in revolt against Qaddafi was one of the prime recruiting areas for al Qaeda in seeking foreign fighters to kill Americans in Iraq was how deeply the hatred for Qaddafi and his ruling tribe burned in the region.

A king from the now-rebel tribes ruled the country before Qaddafi knocked him off 42 years ago. Cyrenacia had been a rather moderate place – traders, many Christians, very much of the Levant. But Qaddafi oppressed them, often brutally, for fear that they would try to retake the throne (some in the rebel ranks have called for a return to the monarchy).

Al Qaeda exploited this resentment and found willing recruits in the region. That led Qaddafi to join the West in fighting al Qaeda and Islamists in general. His help in ratting out al Qaeda was one of the primary reasons cited when the Bush administration restored diplomatic ties with Qaddafi in 2005.

Anyway, Adm. James Stavridis, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's supreme allied commander in Europe, told members of the Senate that U.S. intelligence found “flickers” of al Qaeda inside the rebel ranks. Aside from the fact that those chaps tend to want to kill us, they also make poor conventional fighters.

Al Qaeda is good at attacking civilians or planting bombs and then hiding, but in a ground war, they look pretty useless.

The weakness of the rebel forces deeply complicates the situation for President Obama. Obama has clung to the notion of not using military power to depose Qaddafi and suggested that the colonel’s undoing will come at the hands of Libyans.

But, if Obama doesn’t want to end up with a long, bloody fight he may have to pump up the attacks further still – helicopter gunships, more A-10 Warthogs, more ground forces to coordinate with the rebels etc. But the idea of American pilots strafing positions where civilians are holed up may be simply too repellant to the president. It would, as he said Monday, splinter the already limited coalition that has joined the U.S. effort.

The other idea on the table is to start dumping arms on the rebels, but it would have to be some pretty serious stuff – field artillery, missiles, etc. – to make any differences. A few cases of Kalashnikovs aren’t going to turn the tide.

Whatever the case, as week two of America’s involvement in the war approaches, the administration’ promises of a conflict measured in “days, not weeks” is fading fast.

Clinton Heads to Congress to Defend Her War

“In Washington, President Barack Obama rightly says that Qaddafi ‘must go,’ but the mission itself is described as one with the objective of protecting civilians from massacre. Even in straight or quasi-technical military speak, this is incoherent. If the words command and control have any meaning, they surely identify the slobbering monarch who has commanded and controlled Libyans for far too long.”

-- Christopher Hitchens, writing at Slate.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her wing man, Defense Secretary Robert Gates head to the Hill today for classified briefings, two questions await her: what’s the plan and what’s your excuse for not consulting Congress.

The War Powers Act gives presidents 60 days to undertake military adventures before Congress must say yea or nay. Congress could take deliberate action before then to affirm or reject the war, but it will have to act by May 21.

In his speech Monday, President Obama made a lengthy defense of his decision to enter the war and an explanation for how this attack differs from the one on Iraq that he opposed as a candidate. Obama made only passing reference to Congress, certainly not enough to placate the peeved members of both parties.

Pro-war Democrats have touted today’s command performance by Clinton and Gates as evidence that the administration is rectifying its previously dismissive approach to Congress.

But even longtime foreign policy backers of the president, like Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are fed up.

“Neither the U.N. Security Council Resolution, nor the briefings provided by the Administration to members of Congress are a substitute for a declaration of war or other deliberate Congressional authorization,” said Lugar in a statement responding to Obama’s war speech.

The anger over Obama’s end-around on Congress will put lawmakers in an even unhappier mood over the mounting questions about the president’s plan.

Clinton has been touting the liberal inclinations of the former Pitt professor who claims the title of prime minister of the Libyan Republic, but there is little confidence on the Hill that the rebels are reliable partners.

Thus, Obama’s stated policy of bombing in the name of for humanity and then waiting for a coup will find slim support from members of Congress.

Watch closely the reaction of key figures, especially in the Republican caucuses to the briefings. While they may not leak, any changes in their attitudes will tell us how the briefing went.

With the war going unevenly, no exit strategy in place and costs rapidly increasing, lawmakers may start speaking out more and more.

And since Clinton was one of the most vocal proponents of the war, she may be the target of some of that grousing.

Obama to Use Libya War to Rip Oil Industry, Tout Green Energy

“Government-imposed obstacles come in many forms: Excessive taxation; Excessive regulation; Barriers to trade; Excessive spending. All of these things create uncertainty. For a private sector business operator, uncertainty means you don't invest. You don't create jobs.”

-- From the prepared remarks of House Speaker John Boehner to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

President Obama will announce a plan today that he says would reduce foreign oil dependence by a third and lower the price of gasoline over the next 10 years.

Obama is expected to start his remarks at Georgetown University on the subject of the Libyan war and then pivot to his long-stalled energy agenda. One assumes that the pivot will be based on how the Libya war proves the need for U.S. energy independence.

The U.S. doesn’t really get any oil from Libya. It mostly goes to Europe, but as pro-war Democrats like Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts have pointed out, the U.S. wouldn’t be fighting in Libya if it weren’t for the country’s massive oil reserves.

Obama’s plan will include a Democratic proposal to force oil companies to make use of their existing offshore drilling leases or have them stripped away. The oil companies would already be exploiting those leases if it were profitable to do so, so the president plans to add an economic incentive in the form of a penalty for failing to drill.

The Obama plan will also include proposals to increase the use of natural gas (a controversial subject as Appalachian states debate the way to extract their large gas reserves safely) and to encourage people to buy more electric cars. One suggestion already on the table is a $7,500 tax credit designed to spur sales of General Motors’ volt.

Obama will have to walk a fine line on nuclear power and can be expected to at most call for maintaining the current nuclear grid as Japan’s radioactive plight continues to worsen.

But the heart of the president’s plan will likely be the same energy proposal he has been selling since he was a candidate when he described his victory in the Democratic primaries as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Republics will offer a rebuttal of sorts from House Speaker John Boehner who today will address the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Boehner will call for an end to regulatory uncertainty from the administration, and a prime example is the administration’s continuing crackdown on the coal industry and refusal to allow drilling in more profitable portions of the U.S. continental shelf.

Also today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely have a chance to offer an amendment that would strip the power of the EPA to enforce Obama’s standards on global warming.

Several Democrats are expected to vote for the plan, which would essentially neuter Obama’s ability to use higher energy prices to force utilities to shift to less efficient sources like solar and wind power.

Given the depth of concern over the Libya war and resistance inside his own party to a carbon crackdown, it is an odd political choice for Obama to use his war effort to sell a carbon crackdown. Obama has consistently tried to downplay the Libyan war since he brought the U.S. into it, but using it for an environmental policy package seems a little far-fetched.

Dems Caught Angling For Shutdown

“Okay, the main thrust basically is that we want to negotiate and we want to come up with a compromise but the Tea Party is pulling Boehner too far over to the right and so far over that there's no more fruitful negotiations, and the subtext of this is the only way we can avoid a shutdown is for Boehner to come up with a reasonable compromise and not just listen to what the Tea Party wants because the tea party wants to stick to HR1 with its draconian extreme, I always use the word extreme, that's what the caucus instructed me to do the other week, extreme cuts and all these riders, and Boehner's in a box. But if he supports the Tea Party there's going to inevitably [be] a shutdown.”

-- Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., passing along talking points to his fellow Democratic senators for a conference call with reporters, unaware that members of the press were already on the line.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says his party should be “quietly rooting” for a government shutdown because it will give them political leverage over Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Schumer missed the “quietly” part when he explained, with relish, the Democratic strategy for forcing a shutdown on April 8 and then using it to permanently divide the Republican House caucus. Schumer was explaining to his colleagues why one is to label the Republican plan to cut less than 4 percent from the projected $1.65 trillion deficit for the year as “extreme.”

Senate Democrats have talked much about a plan to cut about half of what Republicans want, but so far no bill has been forthcoming. Much has been said about a potential $20 billion cuts package, but nothing is known about its particulars.

Republicans suspect that there will be much accounting gimmickry to get to the number. But the purpose of the plan is to provide talking points during a shutdown, not win House approval.

Even so, Democrats will eventually have to put something on the table, and that, so far has proved difficult. Having decided to seek a shutdown takes some of the pressure off, but that won’t help much in convincing moderate Democrats in the Senate to go along with oddball accounting.

The Republican concern is that if the shutdown comes over this relatively small issue, there will be less of a chance to use the shutdown threat on larger proposals, like the president’s request to increase the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit and a budget for the next full fiscal year.

With those other demands waiting in the next few weeks, a shutdown on the small stuff might decrease leverage on large issues like borrowing and entitlement reform.

Democrats are looking for a swift strike – a forced shutdown, maximal blame for “radical” Republicans – and then calls for action and reasonable discourse.

Obama Skids to New Low in Q Poll

“42 percent”

-- President Obama’s job approval rating in a new Quinnipiac poll, the lowest ever.

President Obama is sliding precipitously in the polls as economic uncertainty, dissatisfaction with his handling of fiscal concerns and broad opposition to the Libya war reversed his post-midterm bounce and more.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Obama with his lowest-ever job approval rating at 42 percent and half of voters said Obama does not deserve to be reelected. Obama was tied with a hypothetical Republican nominee for 2012.

Obama’s job approval ratings last approached this level at the end of the acrimonious and unpopular drive for the president’s national health care law a year ago.

A 47 percent plurality opposed American involvement in the Libyan civil war compared to only 41 percent if favor. The numbers are nearly as bad as the 50 percent who oppose continuing to fight the war in Afghanistan.

Only 30 percent of voters overall and 23 percent of independents approved of the way Obama is handling the problem of deficit spending. Only 34 percent approved of his handling of the economy, down from a high of 40 percent in January.

This all bodes ill not just for the president’s reelection hopes but also for his ability to push forward on his agenda, including the new war, his troop surge in Afghanistan and the Democratic plan to force a government shutdown over Republican-backed spending cuts.

More worrying for Obama, though, should be a new Gallup poll out today that shows personal affection for the president in decline. Obama has always struggled with a gap between the esteem with which Americans viewed him and their rejection of his policies.

Now, the gap is closing as Americans grow less admiring of the president.

Only 52 percent said they viewed him as a strong ad decisive leader, down from 60 percent a year ago.

Also troubling for Obama, only 36 percent of respondents and 30- percent of independents said he has a clear plan for the country.

The Gallup poll found a consistently low 45 percent job approval rating for the president last week.

If the gap between Obama’s personal attributes and policies continues to shrink in the direction of the lower number, the president’s comeback will have been very brief indeed.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“He is trying to wage a half war and it won't succeed. It's either a full war or no war.”

-- Charles Krauthammer discussing President Obama’s handling of the Libyan war.