Flickers of Terror

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen will be on the Hill today at 5 pm to give senators a classified briefing on Libya. And the Senate leadership—Harry Reid on the Democratic side and Mitch McConnell on the Republican—both told their people to come bearing tough questions. And if that doesn’t work, Reid said, they might just have to resort to legislative measures. Most are wondering what the U.S. goals are in Libya and how Washington plans on getting out of the action.

Terrorism is also likely to be on the senators’ minds. The Senate Armed Services Committee heard from the U.S. NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis yesterday. Though he said the evidence was by no means overwhelming, he told lawmakers that intelligence is showing “flickers” of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah activity in the Libyan opposition. He stressed that “the intelligence that I'm receiving at this point makes me feel that the leadership that I'm seeing are responsible men and women.”

Meanwhile, popular upheaval is still roiling in MENA. In Syria, after two weeks’ worth of demonstrations, President Bashar al-Assad’s cabinet resigned. Eerily reminiscent of events already gone by, Clinton called for “the timely implementation of reforms that meet the demands that Syrians are presenting to their government, such as immediately eliminating Syria's state of emergency laws.” Peaceful transitions and democracy were the watchwords. Washington will be waiting to see if the president will actually turn his promises of change into reality. Up until now, Syrian forces have been cracking down harshly on protestors, with many deaths, prompting the chattering classes to wonder whether intervention is in Syria’s future as well.

Lawmakers are also pressing Clinton on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a letter sent to the secretary of state, 27 senators asked what action Washington was considering to help end “dangerous incitement” in the region. They cited the “Itamar massacre” in which Palestinians murdered an Israeli family of five. To quote the letter, “We urge you to redouble your efforts to impress upon the Palestinian leadership that continuing to condone incitement is not tolerable.”