Seriously folks, Victor Davis Hanson got me laughing so hard today that I almost coughed up a lung.
What struck me as so funny? His characterization of the left and
Lybia Libya. His article nails it.
Even liberal television and radio commentators cite ingenious reasons why an optional, preemptive American intervention in an oil-producing Arab country, without prior congressional approval or majority public support — and at a time of soaring deficits — is well worth supporting, in a sort of “my president, right or wrong,” fashion.
He calls that the “war mongering liberals” and claims it may presage a move by the left to pre-Vietnam days of “hawkish ‘best and brightest’”. Still laughing over that possibility.
Conservatives have complained that opposition — especially in the cases of then-senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden — to George W. Bush’s antiterrorism policies and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was more partisan than principled. Obama ended that debate by showing that not only can he embrace — or, on occasion, expand — the Bush-Cheney tribunals, preventive detentions, renditions, Predator attacks, intercepts and wiretaps, and Guantanamo Bay, but he can now preemptively attack an Arab oil-exporting country without fear of Hollywood, congressional cutoffs, MoveOn.org “General Betray Us”–type ads, Cindy Sheehan on the evening news, or Checkpoint-like novels. In short, Obama has ensured that the antiwar movement will never be quite the same.
Tell me you’re still not chuckling, huh? I mean check out that laundry list of, uh, accomplishments that Obama has “embrace[d]” or “expand[ed]” upon. It was that list that had the left in a high hover for almost 8 years when Bush was in office. Obama? Meh, not so much. It is absolutely telling that the “anti-war movement” now appears to have been about as principled as Jimmy Swaggart. Long on preaching, making signs and talking about high minded principles. But when their choice of a prez does the same or more … pretty much crickets. Remember the rumble about “preemptive” war? “War of choice”? “Dumb wars”? Done and done.
While there are some on the left that have been consistent in their positions, they’re few and far between.
So, is your irony meter pegging out yet? No? Try this – quote three:
The media serially blamed a supposedly lazy Ronald Reagan for napping during military operations abroad. George W. Bush was criticized for cutting brush at his Texas ranch while soldiers fought and died in Iraq. Obama rendered all such presidential criticism mere nitpicking when he started aerial bombardment in the midst of golfing, handicapping the NCAA basketball tournament, and taking his family to Rio de Janeiro.
Inconsistency? Not our media. Bad “optics” are only for the right. Of course they’re no worse than our President or the left in general. But the irony impairment of all those folks remains a serious condition.
After Bush’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, many war-weary Americans believed that we would never again get involved in a Middle East war. But now, with Obama’s preemptive bombing of Libya, giddy American interventionists are again eyeing Iran, Syria — and beyond!
I keep thinking back to Robert Gates at West Point this year and his line about how any president who gets us engaged in another war in the middle east needs to have his head examined.
Uh, I think it is about time, don’t you? Some may argue it is well past time.
I noted the other day that once Gadhafi’s forces figured out how to adapt to the coalition presence and tactics, they’d probably begin to swing the momentum back to their side. Why? Because they’re better trained and equipped than the “rebels”. According to AP that has already begun:
Gadhafi’s forces have adopted a new tactic in light of the pounding that airstrikes have given their tanks and armored vehicles, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. They’ve left some of those weapons behind in favor of a "gaggle" of "battle wagons": minivans, sedans and SUVs fitted with weapons, said the official, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss sensitive U.S. intelligence on the condition and capabilities of rebel and regime forces. Rebel fighters also said Gadhafi’s troops were increasingly using civilian vehicles in battle.
The change not only makes it harder to distinguish Gadhafi’s forces from the rebels, it also requires less logistical support, the official said.
This was both predictable and inevitable (the same thing happened in Kosovo).
Think about it – what is the hardest thing to distinguish? Whether or not a civilian vehicle is occupied by good guys or bad guys. Make your side pretty much identical from the air to the other side and it makes the job the coalition has undertaken much harder. That’s precisely what the Gadhafi troops have done.
AP also throws this out there:
The shift in momentum back to the government’s side is hardening a U.S. view that the poorly equipped opposition is probably incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention – either an all-out U.S.-led military assault on regime forces or a decision to arm the rebels.
I hear a lot of talk about the US (or others) arming the rebels and how that will make the difference. Nonsense. While not having the weaponry that the other side has is indeed a disadvantage, it isn’t the rebel alliance’s biggest problem. Their biggest problem is they’re an untrained and undisciplined rabble. And an untrained and undisciplined rabble confronting even marginally trained troops with at least a modicum of discipline are going to lose if all else is equal.
While weapons may help, they certainly won’t make the difference.
The battlefield setbacks are hardening a U.S. view that the opposition is probably incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.
I assume our “unique capabilities” will again be in demand as others “volunteer us” to be a part of the “intervention” that seems inevitable. Obviously Obama doesn’t want this going on for long but it appears that Gadhafi and his supporters have both the will and the means to defy Obama’s wish. That leaves the US with the specter of a long and drawn out civil war with the coalition ineffectively hanging out at 30,000 feet.
Finally, we find out today that the CIA is operating among the rebels. Given their huge history of success in these sorts of endeavors, that has to give you a warm fuzzy feeling, huh? And while I wouldn’t technically claim it violates Obama’s “no boots on the ground” pledge, it does stretch it a bit.
Frankly this sort of stuff is just funny as hell, in an ironic sort of way. The ever consistent left. Remember when any dissent, as long as it was the left dissenting and George Bush was the target, was the height of patriotism?
Yeah, not so much anymore. Check out this from Ed Schultz. Ed Schultz for heaven sake, talking about dissent and war:
ED SCHULTZ: Republicans are attacking the Commander-in-Chief during a time of war! . . . There should be no debate: we should be kicking [Gaddafi's] ass . . . Whose side are you on, Sarah: are you with the terrorists, Sarah, or are you with the President of the United States? . . . And I have to ask the question tonight: where is the patriotism from all of these war-hawks? Where’s the patriotism of the Republican party? . . . What about being a patriot? . . . So the question now for the doubters who are out and about: why don’t you support the president? . . . We’ve been talking about the lack of patriotism from prominent Republicans . . . Laura [Flanders] what about the patriotism?
Sometimes I have to wonder if these guys are like geese and just wake up in a new world everyday, because they apparently just don’t remember the Bush years at all or what they said during that time. And just as apparently they don’t seem to remember when they argued that dissent was as patriotic and American as apple pie. As I recall Ed Schultz was the voice of dissent about Iraq – in fact he liked to brag about that fact. Change each of the names above to “Ed Schultz” and it would be precisely what he whined about and pushed back against when he was the target of such nonsense.
But now, suddenly, because it fits his agenda apparently, he’s what I can only assume he’d have called a “chicken-hawk” a few years ago. And he’ll brook no dissent, by gosh. You’re simply “unpatriotic” if you disagree.
Ed Shultz – another irony impaired lefty blowhard with no integrity who has a memory as long as … well you pick the proper metaphor, but whatever you choose, it’s not very long at all. You can see the clip of him “leaning forward” on MSNBC here.
That’s essentially the role we’ve assumed according to President Obama. We have a “duty” to respond to a potential humanitarian crisis like that which was developing in Libya. Just not in Iran or Syria or, well, North Korea where the population is starving because of its government.
Let’s be clear about its application. John Dickerson of Slate lays it out pretty well:
The statement that had sounded like a bold doctrine — that what guides a U.S. decision to intervene is not just threats to our safety, but threats to ‘our interests and values’ — came with an asterisk that led to some fine print at the bottom of the speech: Offer valid only if it’s a relatively easy military mission and we have a lot of allies and we only share a limited amount of the burden."
So the people of Iran, Syria and North Korea and other “potential humanitarian crisis” hot spots which may bring difficulties in other areas need not apply.
As for the claim that we’re stepping back and letting others run the show? Pure artifice:
In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically. In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.
Lets look at a few facts about the matter:
The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO’s budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors – Britain and France – combined. A Canadian three-star general was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. His boss, the commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is an American admiral, and the admiral’s boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.
So, as usual from this administration, we get words that just don’t really mean what you think they mean when you get into the details of the claim. I know, you’re surprised. NATO is and has been run by the US since its inception and this operation will be no different regardless of who they put in a figurehead role.
Obama also claimed the mission was “narrowly focused on saving lives”. Pure nonsense to anyone who understand what has been deployed and what is being attacked:
Despite insistences that the operation is only to protect civilians, the airstrikes now are undeniably helping the rebels to advance. U.S. officials acknowledge that the effect of air attacks on Gadhafi’s forces – and on the supply and communications links that support them – is useful if not crucial to the rebels. "Clearly they’re achieving a benefit from the actions that we’re taking," Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs, said Monday.
The Pentagon has been turning to air power of a kind more useful than high-flying bombers in engaging Libyan ground forces. So far these have included low-flying Air Force AC-130 and A-10 attack aircraft, and the Pentagon is considering adding armed drones and helicopters.
AC-130s and A-10s are not aircraft used in the maintenance of no-fly zones. They’re killers. They hunt and kill vehicles and people. There’s some conjecture out there that their deployment requires boots on the ground to produce targets for them, but that’s not true. Both can operate independently without JTAC support on targets of opportunity.
The point, however is the introduction of those type aircraft have nothing to do with a no-fly zone and certainly nothing to do with a “narrowly focused mission” of protecting civilians. They’re there to kill the opposition – Gadhafi’s soldiers and overthrow the existing regime.
In essence, he’s saying “"If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter," and then supporting action to do just that hoping the Arab League won’t notice what is actually afoot.
There was a lot of hypocritical nonsense in the speech as well. The biggest barf line for me was this:
"Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."
Except for Iraq of course, where even with the well-know atrocities including images of slaughter, mass graves, rape rooms and reports of the regime feeding its citizens through wood chippers, he definitely wanted to turn a blind eye. And he has turned a blind eye on the atrocities in Iran perpetrated by that regime and is presently turning a blind eye on those in Syria.
Perhaps the president ought to go back and read his own book:
In his pre-presidential book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama said the U.S. will lack international legitimacy if it intervenes militarily "without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands."
He questioned: "Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur?"
Why indeed, Mr. President – why Libya and not Syria? So we go back to John Dickerson’s addendum to the Obama Doctrine which in essences says “if its easy and I can score some political points, I might do it – otherwise you’re on your own”.
So, perhaps understanding the hypocrisy of his position and how it must appear to the American people he said:
"It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs," he said. "But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right."
Again see the Dickerson corollary and substitute “what’s easy” for “what’s right”.
Finally, completely missing from the speech is the end state and exit strategy. We have no idea. This could go on for literally years. To this date it is estimated to have cost the US $600 million. And, as noted, we may claim to be in the backseat now, but the facts of the matter – the command structure of NATO – point to a entirely different reality.
This adventure – this war – despite his claims otherwise, is not one started because of a threat to any vital interests of the US. It is again a war that the president claims required our “unique capabilities” to prosecute.
That. Is. Not. A. Legitimate. Reason. To. Go. To. War.
The more we let our allies depend on our “unique capabilities” the less they’ll develop their own. Why do it when they can “volunteer” the US into doing it?
Just 47 percent of Americans support the U.S. airstrikes, while 36 percent don’t and 17 percent don’t know, according to the Pew poll.
The Gallup Poll found similar results, the lowest level of initial support for a U.S. military action in at least three decades, and the first time in 10 interventions dating to the 1983 invasion of Grenada that a majority of Americans didn’t support the action at the onset.
American’s aren’t fooled by this sort of nonsense anymore. They understand what is or isn’t in their own vital interests and they further recognize this action doesn’t rise to that level. Some, who support it, are calling it “pragmatic”. Others claim it is an eminently “centrist” approach to such problems. But some are also saying that every word in last night’s speech could have come from George Bush.
Bottom line: this is not a role that the US needs to play and certainly can’t afford to play. The world is full of inequities, violence and death. And despite his high sounding rhetoric last night, President Obama had turned a blind eye to plenty of it. The only time US troops should be deployed and committed to war, such as is now happening in Libya, should be when the vital interests of the US are at stake – a point the candidate Obama made many times prior to assuming the presidency.
Libya doesn’t meet that standard and Obama’s speech last night didn’t make any convincing arguments that it did. He once said, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Interestingly his first war as Commander in Chief is a “dumb war.”
You can this coming from a mile off:
As rebel forces backed by allied warplanes pushed toward one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s most crucial bastions of support, the American military warned on Monday that the insurgents’ rapid advances could quickly be reversed without continued coalition air support.
“The regime still vastly overmatches opposition forces militarily,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, the ranking American in the coalition operation, warned in an email message on Monday. “The regime possesses the capability to roll them back very quickly. Coalition air power is the major reason that has not happened.”
Uh, okay, I accept the fact that without the coalition attacking Gadhafi ground units, the “rebels” wouldn’t be able to “advance” or enjoy any gains whatsoever.
But wasn’t the ostensible reason for establishing the no-fly zone and the reason for the UN mission to protect civilians from being killed by their government? Hasn’t that been accomplished?
So why do we care if “rebel advances” might be “quickly…reversed”?
Unless, of course, the real purpose of the mission, under the flag of “protecting civilians” is to run Gadhafi out of power? And, one then assumes, install a different government (the “rebels” one supposes, of whom we know very little except they come from an area that was one of the major provider of jihadists to Iraq and Afghanistan and one of their leaders admits to having served there in that capacity).
Then and only then does a concern for the state of the “rebel” advance make any sense or have any meaning at all.
General Ham’s warning, however, offered a somber counterpoint and underscored the essential role of Western airstrikes, now focused mainly on Colonel Qaddafi’s ground troops, in reversing the rebels’ fortunes. It also framed anew the question of how the poorly equipped and disorganized rebel forces might fare against Colonel Qaddafi’s garrison in Surt, where air cover may be less useful.
Wait, wait … again, if the mission is the protection of civilians who cares how the “poorly equipped and disorganized rebel forces” might fare anywhere?
That only matters if there’s a mission in addition to the stated one, i.e. protecting civilians.
Oh, and what happens if the “rebels”, in their push into territory mostly deemed to be that of Gadhafi supporters, begin killing civilians? Do we hit the “rebels” then? Or are civilians only a concern when Gadhafi’s military kills them?
Some will argue that the UN resolution authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya. I assume the follow on argument is that the best way to “protect civilians” is to take sides and topple Gadhafi?
That’s certainly not how this war was described in the beginning – you know a “limited time, limited scope military action”? We were assured that it wouldn’t take long and it would only seek to keep the Libyan government from killing civilians.
Now we seem to be hinting around about the need for our airpower to support the cause of a rebellion that has the possibility – because they are so poorly equipped, untrained and disorganized – of lasting for months, if not years.
As you can tell, there are far more questions than apparent answers. I’m looking forward to Obama’s speech tonight. It should be an interesting affair. He’s got to communicate why he went to war, why UN sanctioning was sufficient for committing us to war, why he didn’t consult or seek Congressional approval, what the mission in Libya is and what the end state of that mission should be as well as an exit strategy.
Anyone want to bet how many of those questions will still remain unanswered after the speech?
I talked about it yesterday, but to reiterate, this is an action blessed by the UN and Arab League – and no one else. But there are those among our leadership who see it as a precedent to pretty much do whatever we want under the principle espoused by the UN – “Right to Protect” or R2P. This new “principle”, according to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, gives the UN the “right” to go after governments that are killing their own citizens. And not just with aircraft (something Sec. of State Clinton used to differentiate what was happening in Libya and Syria as an excuse not to move on Syria).
To illustrate my point, one only has to go to the Sunday shows for an example:
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said the events transpiring in Libya should send a strong message to the Syrian dictator.
“If he turns his weapons on his own people, he runs the risk,” Mr. Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“There is a precedent now. … We’re not going to allow Assad to slaughter his own people.”
Of course my first question is “who is ‘we’, Mr. Lieberman?”
In the case of Libya, certainly not the American people. They were never consulted (though their representatives). If ever there was a unilateral decision to go to war, this provides the example.
Secondly, this is precisely what the Neo-cons were accused of championing – and it now seems it has evolved as a policy of the Obama administration. The irony is incredible. Especially after we saw the same administration pretend like the slaughter of protesters in Iran by the government was something to essentially ignore.
And I can’t help but observe that this smacks of more than anything is international bullying. Pick on a weak country that displeases others for whatever reason, come up with a high sounding reason to intervene and go to war. Who you are backing and what they are or stand for isn’t as much of a priority as establishing the precedent of the “right” to act internationally without worrying about those pesky legal impediments such as Constitutions and such. But if the country is strong militarily or has supporters in the region (Syria and the Arab League), make excuses for not applying the same standard to them. That’s precisely what we’re seeing with Syria.
One of the laugh out loud reasons for not applying the same standard to Syria was Clinton’s contention that the Syrian dictator Assad is a “reformer”.
That had the Syrian protesters shaking their head in wonder.
Ammar Abdulhamid, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman in the West for the activists organizing the Syrian protests, said, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrong to refer to Syrian President Bashar Assad as a reformer on CBS News on Sunday.
“It was ridiculous to call Bashar Assad a reformer. She should not have done that,” he said.
I’m reminded of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recent speech at West Point where he said that any president who committed us to another war in the Middle East should have his head examined.
Frankly, I agree. The unfortunate thing is this “precedent” as Joe Lieberman correctly identifies it, sets us up to commit to an unlimited number of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – just so we manage to get a sanction of some sort of NGO or another in the process. We’re officially in the “others volunteering our military” business, the “world policeman’s league” with this action – and as I understood it that was something Democrats and left objected too strenuously.
What happened to that?
I took a day off from blogging yesterday, just to hang out with my 4 grandsons. It was well worth it. But I wasn’t with them the entire time and during that other time it gave me a bet of an opportunity to reflect on the decision to go to war with Libya. And, yes, I said war – no “kinetic military action” or “limited time, limited scope military action” nonsense from me. When you fire missiles into a sovereign country, regardless of how you feel about what that country’s government is doing, you commit an act of war.
I obviously don’t come from the “war never settles anything” crowd. I’ve made a study of war, spent 28 years serving in the military and understand the reality of and reasons for wars. And, yes, I believe – and history supports my belief – that sometimes war does settle some things, although not necessarily the way we’d prefer they be settled.
But to focus on Libya in particular, what I see here is probably one of the most dangerous precedents yet for committing our military and country too an action. It is dangerous for any number of reasons. But I’ll lay out the first by quoting Secretary of Defense Gates today:
Asked on NBC whether the mission in Libya was vital to U.S. interests, Gates said: “No, I don’t think it’s a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interests there and it’s a part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States.”
Whatever our “clear” interests there are, and Gates didn’t elaborate, they’re not “vital interests” for this nation. Or said another way, there is nothing going on in Libya that would threaten anything we’d consider to vital to our national interests, survival, etc. Nothing. So what follows is a bit of Gate’s word salad that attempts to rationalize the intervention there.
TAPPER: " Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?"
GATES: "No, no. It was not — it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest: … the engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake … [Y]ou had a potentially significantly destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk potentially the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt."
“Not a vital national interest”, “potentially significant”? Posed no “actual or imminent threat to the United States”.
The first and only reason for going to war should be a threat to our vital national interests. Otherwise we should have no interest in going to war.
One of the things that particularly peeved the left about the Iraq invasion was their claim that it did not serve our vital national interests. I can’t tell you how many times I heard them say “Iraq was never a threat to us”. And that was more true than not when we discovered the lack of WMDs eventually. Prior to that, and with the rise of terrorism, not to mention his overt and covert support of terrorism, most who supported the invasion felt that those elements (WMD, rise of terrorism, support of terrorism) and his grudge against the US did indeed make him a threat to our nation.
Obviously, he turned out to be more blow than go, but it doesn’t change the fact that there were indeed, at least initially, rational national security reasons that could be argued for taking him out.
There are none for Libya. None.
And don’t forget we had evidence that Saddam’s government was systematically killing people on a pretty large scale at the time as well. Reports of mass arrests, mass graves, rape rooms and feeding people through wood chippers were pretty commons. But that, in and of itself, was not enough of a reason, as far as the left was concerned, to intervene (remember, at the time we were enforcing a no-fly zone while these things were going on).
Given the pretext for going into Libya (for exactly that reason – i.e. the government is killing civilians), the invasion of Iraq stood on much firmer national security grounding.
And that’s really my point here – any action/war to which our military is committed should first meet the requirement of “compelling national interest” as in an immediate threat to the US either militarily or in other ways which will severely effect the country and its citizens.
Libya does not rise to that level.
Which brings me to my second point. The role of the UN in this and the lack of a Congressional role. Again, say what you like about Iraq, but anyone who calls it an “illegal war” does so out of pure spite because it simply isn’t true. The war was literally authorized by Congress when it told the Commander in Chief he had the power and authorization to use military force there. Now that may not satisfy some who demand that a declaration of war be issued, but for the rest of us who can reason, we understand that’s precisely what the AUMF was.
In the case of Libya, the authorization this administration used was that of an external body unanswerable to the Congress of the US or its people. I don’t recall the Constitution allowing that. While I understand the war powers act gives a president some discretion in committing the US military without immediate Congressional approval, I’m not sure this measures up (but that is an argument for another day) to even that. What I do know, though, is on the 61st day of this war, if Congress doesn’t authorize its continuance and the president refuses to end our involvement, it will become an illegal war.
More importantly though, I object strenuously to the use of the UN as a reason to commit our men and women to conflict. That is a decision for Congress and the President to work out first. If the UN goes along, or even if it doesn’t, is really irrelevant if Congress and the President decide – for compelling national interest – to commit us to a war. That is our process and it was not used this time by any stretch of the imagination. Telling Congress what is happening when it is happening isn’t at all the definition of “in consultation with Congress”.
Finally there’s the rationalization that’s going on about Libya and our reason for participating in attacking it. And it is simply amazing. It speaks to a completely arbitrary standard for such intervention.
“No,” Clinton said, when asked on the CBS “Face the Nation” program if the U.S. would intervene in Syria’s unrest. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces clashed with protesters in several cities yesterday after his promises of freedoms and pay increases failed to prevent dissent from spreading across the country.
Clinton said the elements that led to intervention in Libya — international condemnation, an Arab League call for action, a United Nations Security Council resolution — are “not going to happen” with Syria, in part because members of the U.S. Congress from both parties say they believe Assad is “a reformer.”
“What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities,” Clinton said, referring to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s attacks on the Libyan people, “than police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”
Is there a difference to the dead citizens in Syria, Ms. Clinton? Does it mean that as long as Assad – the “reformer” (good grief) – keeps his air power grounded, indiscriminate killing of civilians will be tolerated? Because that certainly is what that sound bite suggests. Oh, and a few lawmakers calling a murderous tyrant a “reformer” apparently carries a lot of weight.
So, what have we as a result?
We have the US military fighting at the behest of the UN. We have no vital national interest in the war. It appears to be the result of the application of an arbitrary standard. It was committed too without consulting Congress and on the 61st day without Congressional approval, it becomes an illegal war.
Does that all sound like something we should support and encourage?
One of the stated goals of this war on Libya has been to “avert a humanitarian crisis”. But the Washington Post seems to believe such a crisis is now being precipitated there:
Aid organizations scrambled Wednesday to prepare for large-scale relief operations in Libya, as fears grew of a potential humanitarian crisis in a key city besieged by government forces.
International military forces on Wednesday stepped up attacks on government troops in Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli. The airstrikes seemed to bring a temporary respite from the fighting that had raged for six days between forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi and rebels, as government tanks retreated from the city center.
But after nightfall, the tanks returned and resumed their attacks, according to a doctor at the city’s main hospital. “They are shelling everywhere,” he said by telephone.
Patients were being treated on the floor, medical supplies were falling short, fuel for the generator was running low, and water had been cut off, said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation by Libyan forces.
What I’d guess the coalition will learn eventually is you can’t stop what is going on in Libya from 30,000 feet, no matter how many coalition members and aircraft you use. He who is on the ground, and controls it, determines who can be on the ground with him.
Trying to sort “white from red” as one of the DoD briefers termed it (civilians = white/Gadhafi troops = red) is exceedingly hard, especially in an urban area. While it may be clear that the red guys are shooting up the place, they’re mixed in with the white meaning any strike against them has a very great possibility of killing a whole bunch of civilians.
U.S. and allied warplanes on Wednesday aimed their attacks on Gaddafi’s ground forces in Misurata and other key cities but were constrained by fears that strikes in heavily built-up areas could cause civilian deaths.
“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the coalition.
So that speaks to the limits of what the present plan (pure “no-fly zone”) can accomplish, especially considering the “no boots on the ground” promise by most of the coalition members, to include the US. Or so we’ve been told numerous times.
International aid organizations have been unable to deliver relief goods to Misurata and other contested towns. Asked whether the U.S. military might play a role in distributing emergency relief, one American official said, “All options are on the table.” He declined to comment further.
Oh. Wait. I thought that option was definitely off the table. Mission creep? Or maybe not, since no one has yet to be able to define the mission in any clear and understandable way. Not the goals of the UN resolution – the mission of the US military committed to the war in Libya.
The supposed mission is to “protect civilians from their own government”. And we’ve been told that the mission is not “regime change”. Except, maybe it is:
“As long as Gadhafi remains in power — unless he changes his approach provides the Libyan people the opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms by the Libyan government, and he steps down — there’s still going to be a potential threat to the Libyan people,” Obama told reporters at a news conference here, his final stop on a five-day tour of Latin America. “We will continue to support the efforts to protect the Libyan people, but we will not be in the lead.”
So … we’ll fly until and “unless he changes his approach provides the Libyan people the opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms by the Libyan government, and he steps down”?
Uh, hate to break it to everyone but that sounds like “regime change” to me. It also sounds like a pretty open ended commitment. The Hill is also confused about the rhetoric it is hearing. It too thinks it sounds like "regime change”.
Then there’s this:
“When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone,” Obama said. “It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in enforcing the arms embargo. That’s precisely what the other coalition partners are going to do.”
Great and wonderful I guess. But if the president thinks this is akin to Pilate washing his hands of Jesus and walking away, that’s not going to happen. While it is nice to see Europe step up, this is and always will be considered an action by the US on the “Arab street”.
And about mission creep? Well, consider this:
As the coalition military effort has unfolded in recent days, it has been unclear how closely it would coordinate with opposition or armed rebel forces in Libya. Obama did not rule out the possibility of arming the rebels.
“Obviously, we’re discussing with the coalition what steps can be taken. I think that our hope is that the first thing that happens once we have cleared this space is that the rebels are able to start discussing how they organize themselves, how they articulate their aspirations for the Libyan people and create a legitimate government,” the president told CNN.
Arming the rebels (which the administration admits they know almost nothing) would be picking sides. In a rebellion/civil war. Given the description of how the country breaks down tribally, we’d immediately alienate half the Libyans. And we’d then have manufactured a vested interest in seeing the future Libya shaped in our imagined image.
Any idea of how the “optics” of such a mission creep would be viewed by the rest of the ME? And it would apparently be creep since the commander on the scene does not think it is part of his mission:
Gen. Carter F. Ham, who is leading the U.S. effort in Libya, said today that the mission is "not to support opposition forces," but later added that the coalition will not support rebels if they take offensive action against Gadhafi’s regime, only if they are attacked.
Or perhaps they will per Obama not ruling out the possibility of arming the rebels, a very short step from supporting “opposition forces”. In fact it would be “supporting opposition forces” for anyone objectively viewing the situation.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says:
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to stop the assaults on those population centers and get the Gadhafi forces to stop their offensives there, their shellings of those civilian areas and their potential attacks on civilians in those areas; and then have a no-fly zone in place that can ensure that Qadhafi is not using any of his air assets or substantial military assets to launch offensives against his own people,” Rhodes said.
But their air assets really never were used very much or very effectively. Admiral Sam Locklear yesterday at a DoD briefing:
Qadhafi’s air force was never the epitome of potency, Locklear said Tuesday; before the alliance attacked last weekend, Libya had some old broken-down jets and a few dozen helicopters it used in its campaign against the rebel alliance. Almost all of those aircraft are now destroyed or weren’t operational in the first place, Locklear said, meaning they’re now a non-issue: "I am completely confident that the air force of Colonel Gadhafi will not have a negative impact on the coalition, and that … if there were anything that we didn’t see or that we [weren't] able to influence by our initial campaign, that we’d be able to manage that."
There are also reports coming in that the attacks in civilian areas have not been halted, but instead continue.
Last night, there was no sign the heavy Western bombardment had shifted the balance decisively in favour of the poorly armed anti-Gaddafi forces. Libyan government forces were fighting back last night on the eastern front line near the key city of Ajdabiya. The counter-attack followed the failure of rebel forces to take the city on Sunday despite air attacks having destroyed regime tanks and artillery. By yesterday evening, there were reports that the regime’s troops were moving south once again to threaten the route to Tobruk and the Egyptian border.
So now what? And a question that comes to mind – what if we arm the rebels and they begin to drive on Tripoli and in so doing, begin killing civilians? Show stopper? Do we intervene then too?
Finally the new coalition command structure appears to be one of compromise which may or not function well. NATO appears it will have a role because of its supposed superior “command and control capability”. But the French also want a lead roll and certainly the Arabs want a say so.
The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, told the French parliament yesterday that a compromise deal would see a "political steering group" of coalition foreign ministers plus the Arab League take over political direction of the air campaign.
And anyone who has made a study of war knows that such a structure (I hesitate to call it a command structure) is fraught with many downside possibilities, one of which is an inability to quickly make decisions, especially with the necessity to consult with a “political steering group” first. It will be more like war by committee. Yeah, nothing could go wrong with that, could it?
UPDATE: The UK’s Daily Mail provides a Libya update bullet list:
- Tensions with Britain as Gates rebukes UK government over suggestion Gaddafi could be assassinated
- French propose a new political ‘committee’ to oversee operations
- Germany pulls equipment out of NATO coalition over disagreement over campaign’s direction
- Italians accuse French of backing NATO in exchange for oil contracts
- No-fly zone called into question after first wave of strikes ‘neutralises’ Libyan military machine
- U.K. ministers say war could last ’30 years’
- Italy to ‘take back control’ of bases used by allies unless NATO leadership put in charge of the mission
- Russians tell U.S. to stop bombing in order to protect civilians – calls bombing a ‘crusade’
Looking good, no? You can read all about it at the link.
Ross Douthat, who I rarely quote, manages to nail it in terms of Libya and the left:
In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.
One minor correction, there is no – none, zip, nada – connection, not even a tenuous one, to American national security and the war on Libya. There may be afterward, if Gadhafi survives and decides he needs to find a way to strike back at the US in the “long war” he’s promised to wage. But going in? Nope – none.
The quote above fought with this other Douthat quote for top QotD honors:
But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.
And keep in mind that once the first Tomahawk flew, whether we call our participation limited and of short duration, we’re into it up to our hips as far as the Arab world is concerned. So whatever happens there which might turn the “Arab street” against the US yet again, any argument made by the administration that most of the mission has been conducted by others isn’t going to change a single mind.
Also keep in mind, as Douthat implies, that this “consensus war” depends on the committee who are conducting it staying together. Can’t have them deserting and then renouncing the Western powers committed to seeing this through – can we? Already the Arab League is a bity antsy.
Finally – watch for mission creep. The ostensible reason for this little foray is humanitarian. But then, so was Somalia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
I predict there will be boots on the ground, whether ours or others. It will become necessary if I have any read on Gadhafi at all. Why? Because he will precipitate a humanitarian crisis of some sort – on purpose.
Then what? What if he forces a “put up or shut up” moment?
Well the fair weather supporters will go home, that’s a given. And those who see a downside risk politically will go home. And I promise you the Arab members will say bye bye.
And who will that leave to deal with it?
The two quotes from Douthat are very instructive in understanding the liberal philosophy of war and why it is dangerously utopian, likely to fail and not at all in the best interests of this country, or any country, to pursue.
If you haven’t met your irony quotient for the day, here’s our present Secretary of State while a former Senator talking about the “civil war” in Iraq and how we should not take part in what is going on no matter the level of the violence:
“No one wants to sit by and see mass killing,” she added. “It’s going on every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity I can imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem — we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."
Of course that was then … apparently Libya is an international problem, not a Libyan problem, and we can save the Libyans from themselves, unlike the Iraqis.
Of course …