Wolf Blitzer delivers the most important breaking news and political, international, and national security stories of the day. Tune to The Situation Room weekdays 5-7pm ET on CNN.
Here’s a question I would ask outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearings to become Secretary of Defense.
“Director Panetta, U.S. taxpayers so far have spent about $1 billion to pay for the NATO military operation in Libya. At the same time, the U.S. has frozen about $33 billion in Libyan assets in the United States. Would you support keeping a running tab on what U.S. taxpayers are spending to liberate Libya and then deduct that amount from the frozen Libyan assets?”
Based on what other Obama Administration officials have told me, his answer would probably be a polite and diplomatic NO. These other officials have raised questions about international law and whether using any of those frozen funds would be legal even though the money, of course, is designed to save Libyan lives and free the country from Gadhafi’s rule.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told me recently he supports the idea. “Not only the United States should do this, NATO should do it, France should do it, the countries that are involved there on the ground and in the air.” Reid said, “Yes. The answer is yes.”
Other members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, also agree it makes sense, especially at a time when the U.S. is under enormous pressure to cut spending at home.
If the Obama administration were to support the Libyan frozen assets idea, it would probably raise questions about potentially recouping money from oil-rich Iraq to pay for U.S. military operations there. That’s in part why I suspect Panetta’s answer would be NO.