22 March 2011

Libya: Leadership That Is Too Little, Too Late, Too Loosey Goosey

credit: The Economist
Over the weekend, the United States went to war in the Maghreb. During the meanwhile, America's Commander in Chief and supposed Leader of the Free World seemingly went on vacation in Rio de Janeiro. President Obama announced America's involvement in a third simultaneous military operations in Muslim lands in a Saturday audio recording. Obama's first live remarks on the Libyan operations were during a pep rally appearance in Rio. Don't blame it on Rio but the lack of leadership and judgment coming from the White House.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who also served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe for the D-Day Invasion in World War II, once quipped: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." Several weeks ago, I anticipated giving President Obama plaudits for making a hard decision to go against the thrust of his party and act to protect America's vital national interests for unfettered oil production. But Obama dithered and did nothing. During the several weeks of the Libyan rebellion, the United States did not position ships off the coast of Libya. Diplomatic backchannels were cursory and unstable. NATO as a whole is unwilling to take on the Libyan operations. Italy could not be convinced to sponsor American air operations. Eventually, the United Nations gave preliminary support for a No Fly Zone, but Arab League support quickly evaporated along with cooperation with China and the Russian Federation. And in this country, there was no public engagement, national debate or early Congressional briefing.

The timing of this military action is timid and possibly too late. When the rebellion began, firm Superpower preparations might have toppled Qaddafi's regime. Instead, nothing was done until the UN voted for the No Fly Zone, as the Libyan rebellion was on its last stand in Benghazi. Despite the delay in acting, the Navy's 5th Fleet was not positioned to launch air sorties. Instead, the Navy needed to launch 112 cruise missiles at 20 coastal targets to gain air superiority at a cost of over $65 Million in one day.

When President Obama briefed Congress on our war efforts in Libya, the Commander in Chief seemed to think that American participation would be limited and only a matter of hours, if not days. But as Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was a four star General, observed: "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Our willing European allies, like France and the United Kingdom, took the lead in military maneuvers as they have longstanding connections in Libya and vested interests in keeping the oil flowing. It seems that President Obama planned to start the No Fly Zone and then have America bow out. NATO will not assume the helm for these operations, as France objected allegedly on behalf of the Arab League. It is dubious if other individual allied participants are going to assume the estimated $300 Million a week to maintain the Libyan No Fly Zone. It seems that the United States will have to continue shouldering that burden.

It is consistent with President Obama's weltanshaaung that America should not act as a superpower and we will let other nations take the lead. But in the end, America will still take the blame. On Sunday, British Cruise Missiles targeted Libyan Dictator Qaddafi's compound, reportedly killing one of Qaddafi's sons. While the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom may insist that we had nothing to do with those missiles, inevitably "The Great Satan" will be blamed.

What is the American objective in Libya? When the United Nations authorized the Libyan No-Fly Zone in Resolution 1973 it was intended to promote a ceasefire and "to use all means necessary short of foreign occupation to protect civilians." But Kenneth Pollack from the liberal Brookings Institute, observed that effective No Fly Zones have mission creep that leads to boots on the ground. So much for limited engagement. Initial rhetoric from the United Nations, the Arab League and participating military powers deny that the War is to topple the Qaddafi regime. But on March 3rd 2011, President Barack Hussein Obama announced that "It's time for Qaddafi to go." The White House has reiterated this US policy on Qaddafi regime change even as it insisted that our participation in Libyan military maneuvers is more limited. It seems as muddled as the President's tag line from the State of The Union on "Winning The Future"—WTF.

Then there is the way this War was started. It seems callous for the Commander in Chief to start a War as he is taking a foreign trip without significant accomplishments. The casual way of announcing military maneuvers on a Saturday audio event and making comments at a friendly Rio rally is unprecedented and frankly unpresidential. Congress can cluck about skirting the 1973 War Powers Act. Although that act of Legislative hubris may be unconstitutional, it was a rhetorical cudgel which liberals have used against Republican Commanders-In-Chief, so it ought to be equally applied to Obama. Now that the United States has inserted itself into a Civil War, what is the Obama Doctrine?

We are supposed to be helping civilians in Libya, but this broad definition includes rebel fighters. So we are involved in a civil war and favoring one side but not actually supporting it. On whom are we fecklessly bestowing favor? Aside from overthrowing Qaddafi, what are the objectives of these rebels? The documentary Iranium observes the close relations that Qaddafi has with the Revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran. So this could be a proxy Shia-Sunni skirmish. But do the Libyan rebels have jihadist objectives or ties to al-Qaeda? It would be most unfortunate if we are expending our limited precious capital, our reputations and not to speak of precious American blood for forces that may be arrayed against our interests and even our national existence. Inquiring minds want to know.

The left accused President George W. Bush of hastily hurling the US into War in Iraq, even though there was over a year of debate, UN resolutions and a coalition of the willing. What we have in Libya seems like it is too little, too late and loosey goosey.

Via: Economist

UPDATE 3/22/2011 18:00 EDT Despite the NATO veto by Turkey and French fickleness about a NATO operation on behalf of the Arab League, the Obama Administration may be successful in cobbling together a multi-national military operation to hand off No Fly Zone enforcement.  Reportedly President Obama is cutting short his foreign trip to facilitate these objective.

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