Among other unconfirmed reports out of Libya right now, one is that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has left the country for exile in Venezuela. Another is that Qaddafi's sons, Muatassem and Saif al-Islam, fought each other, with the former shooting the latter. It's hard to know much right now, since media coverage out of Libya has gone virtually black. Al Jazeera explains that its signal was disrupted from a building in southern Libya, which seems to be something of a niche industry for Qaddafi’s regime—for a few years the Libyans were found to be blocking a channel owned by exiled Syrian opposition figures, presumably at the request of the government in Damascus.
The news trickling out suggests that what started as a popular uprising has now turned into a pitched battle, with members of the Libyan army defecting and "liberating" Tripoli from forces loyal to Qaddafi. The longtime Arab press correspondent Adel Darwish tweets that “in Benghazi, protesters have captured some anti-aircraft guns, and some officers joined the protest.” In other words, it seems that there is now a military coup underway. That would certainly help explain why the regime has brought in foreignmercenaries to help keep the peace. And perhaps it is in sensing the shifting balance of power that has compelled some members of Libya’s diplomatic corps, like Tripoli’s ambassador to the Arab League, to switch sides.
Maybe it is fear of coming down on the wrong side of a coup that has left the Obama administration reluctant to criticize Qaddafi’s crackdown. When asked by a reporter if Qaddafi is a dictator, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley remained silent and looked for another question to answer,” Fox News reports. Nonetheless, the journalist persisted, finally prompting an answer from Crowley: "I don't think he came to office through a democratic process.”
This afternoon the State Department released a brief statement — “The United States is gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya,” etc.—but so far there is nothing from the White House. This is especially bizarre since an administration that in the course of a month has witnessed two Arab uprisings should presumably have some sort of working script by now to apply to events unfolding in Libya. So why is the Obama administration tongue-tied? After all, this is not a U.S. ally, but a regime that in 2009 won, and celebrated, the release of an intelligence officer responsible for the deaths of 190 American citizens over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland. Merely giving up a nuclear weapons program, as Qaddafi did in 2003, does not make a regime friendly to U.S. interests. Through his silence, Obama is giving the impression that the White House is standing with Qaddafi.