ChrisWeigant.com

Obama's Libyan Gamble

[ Posted Monday, March 21st, 2011 – 16:02 PDT ]

President Obama decided late last week to begin military action against Libya. By doing so, America has entered not a third but a fifth war in Muslim lands (people tend to brush aside our limited warfare in Pakistan and Yemen, but that doesn't mean they don't exist). I used to scoff at the Pentagon's insistence (during the budget fights under President Clinton) that they be able to wage two wars simultaneously, but fighting only two wars now seems a bit of a quaint notion. President Obama has made a rather large gamble on Libya, but if things go well it might just become a model for American involvement in other twenty-first century conflicts. That a mighty big "if" at this point, I fully realize. But whether the gamble pays off or not for America (and for Obama), it shouldn't deter us from at least examining what Obama seems to be attempting.

Right now, confusion reigns on the subject of Libya. I'll get to all of that in a moment, but to me the more interesting thing is Obama's attitude towards the entire affair. You can almost read the caption the White House would dearly love to attach to the photos of Obama from the past few days: "Obama, The Reluctant Warrior." The White House knew full well the effect photos of the Obamas in Rio would have, and they chose not to postpone the trip anyway. This is not the way America usually heads off to war, to put it mildly. We're supposed to get an Oval Office speech from our president, in somber tones, explaining why we're now bombing a foreign land. Obama has now broken this mold. I would speculate that this is intentional, because Obama is trying to pass this whole thing off as "no big deal, really."

Rather than selling a war as an existential threat to America, American democracy, freedom, the flag, Mom, and apple pie (as pretty much every president has done for decades), this is something new -- war as a nuisance. War as a fly to be swatted down quickly. Just a quick war, then we'll move right along to other things. And since this is a new tactic for a president to take, the storm of Beltway criticism is thundering louder, and getting closer.

Amongst the wider criticism of Obama (from both sides of the political aisle) on Libya, there seems to be a basic contradiction. Obama is being criticized for either "allowing other countries to take the lead" on the initial military action, or "going it alone, and calling it a coalition." So, at the same time, critics are saying (1) we're not doing enough, and (2) we're doing too much. Which doesn't even touch on the strangeness of Democrats calling for Obama's impeachment, or Republicans agreeing forcefully with Hillary Clinton. To say nothing of the sheer idiocy of members of Congress (of both parties) complaining that Obama's on vacation during the start of a war -- while Congress itself is on vacation during the start of a war. As I said, confusion is king these days.

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the rounds of the Sunday morning political shows yesterday, to lay out the Obama administration's plan for this war. Very few people in the media listened to what he said. The war plan for Libya -- if everything goes perfectly -- can be summed up as: "Lead the initial attack with cruise missiles. Spend a few days bombing command-and-control infrastructure, and generally kicking butt as we see fit. Take out as many Libyan Air Force assets as possible. Then turn the entire thing over to 'the coalition' and step back into a support role. Let the French, the British, and the Arabs (and anyone else who wants to join in) supply the warplanes and pilots to patrol the no-fly zone from this point onward, while American pilots fly the electronic jamming planes and intelligence aircraft necessary to provide the fighters with an accurate picture of what's going on."

That's the plan, in a nutshell. And this transfer of power -- Mullen couldn't say this enough, on every morning show which would have him -- is supposed to take place in "days, not weeks." Meaning this -- if the plan works -- could be the most limited war America's fought in a long time. President Obama is saying to the rest of the world:

"We heard your concerns, Britain and France. We heard your plea for a no-fly zone, Arab League. We helped get a strong resolution through the U.N. Security Council. We'll do the most technically-advanced fighting in the war, and clear the Libyan skies. But after that, we're going to turn it over to you, because we've just got too many other wars going on right now, so it's going to become your responsibility from that point on."

This is Obama's gamble. It is an interesting gamble for geopolitical reasons, because it could set a new model for American involvement in future conflicts of this type. Of course, it could spectacularly fail in any number of ways as well. What Obama is also gambling on is that if there is failure, it will happen long after we hand things off to other countries.

Ghaddafi could just hunker down and be a thorn in the world's side for years, as the situation in Libya becomes an endless stalemate. The rebels could still be defeated, albeit probably not as brutally as if the no-fly zone didn't exist. Foreign troops (although definitely not American troops, according to Obama) may eventually have to help the rebels out, if they have any hope of success. Ghaddafi could hit back using international terrorism (he's certainly done so before). There are a lot of chances for the whole thing to turn sour, it cannot be denied.

Which is why I'm not going to even guess at the chances that the Obama war plan is going to succeed or not -- because I feel it is way too early to tell. Although, if it does happen on schedule, this may become apparent very soon. Obama's nonchalance towards the entire Libyan situation is sending a message: "Really, this is no big deal -- we'll be in and out before you know it." This is part of his gamble, and may come back to haunt him in the same way all those "greeted as liberators" comments haunted the Bush administration, later on.

But to fully examine the picture, we have to at least consider the possibility that Obama's plan succeeds, to one degree or another. As well as what ramifications this would have on future conflicts for America. Up until recently, the Western World saw the United States as the unquestioned military leader in the their parts of the globe. This allowed Western countries to always let the United States bear the brunt of any military action. Europe, in particular, proved so ineffective in the wars in the former Yugoslavia (right in their backyard) that America eventually took the lead. But that was a while ago. More recently, N.A.T.O. was called on (in Afghanistan) to join in defense since one country in the alliance (America) had been attacked -- for the first time in its history. Going in to Iraq didn't have much of a coalition behind it, but the Afghanistan war did.

This time around, if you believe the facile media storyline, France and Britain were begging us to "do something" in Libya, before the rebel force was completely obliterated by Ghaddafi. The Arab League, too -- which was the stunning development that caused the U.N. resolution to pass, with even stronger language than expected. Obama, reluctantly (again, according to the media storyline, which I have no way of verifying), overrode his generals at the Pentagon who didn't want this mission, and listened to "the women" (yes, the media has already made this a girls-versus-boys playground fight... sigh), led by Hillary Clinton, who convinced him to act before the rebellion was crushed. The order was given, the cruise missiles flew.

No matter how the decision was made, we are where we are. The key question now is how soon we're going to hand this war over to someone else, according to the plan. Once the situation on the ground in Libya stabilizes (at least, with respect to creating the no-fly zone), Obama is going to tell the French, the Qataris, the British, the Saudis and all the rest of them: "OK, it's your war now. Your fighter planes must fly the missions to continue the no-fly zone. If any pilots get shot down, they are not going to be American pilots."

By doing so, the weight of the mission falls on other shoulders than America's. Which is fitting, since they were the ones clamoring for action in the first place. Between the European nations pledging support and the Arab nations, a sufficient number of planes could easily be mustered. If the no-fly zone mission turns into months or even years, then they (and not the United States) would bear the lion's share of the cost of keeping it going. If they backed out and gave up on the idea, it would reflect badly on them, and not so much on us. America would emerge as the country which lent its high-tech help to the initial phase of creating the no-fly zone, but then turned over the endgame to the countries who demanded action in the first place.

If it works out reasonably well, this could become a model for American involvement in future flareups. If a ruthless tyrant was massacring his own people, then regional military coalitions would be free to call for American action. America, as everyone knows, is very, very good at executing the initial phases of a war. Iraq proved that. But America, also as everyone should have figured out, is also not that good at getting out of such wars. Iraq -- once again -- proves this, too. But if our new model is to limit our major involvement to the opening phases of war, then the responsibility for solving these regional problems would fall to regional organizations with much bigger vested interests in the outcome than the United States.

Of course, this isn't a perfect answer because sometimes regional alliances strong enough to bear this responsibility simply don't exist. Obama's Libyan strategy has yet to play out, and it's impossible at this juncture to see what will happen next. Obama's gamble that America can join in the initial phase of a war and then extricate itself quickly is one of those ideas which sound really good on paper, before reality sinks in when they're actually attempted. Other presidents have had equally cheerful predictions about the length of American military involvement, which later proved to be embarrassingly shortsighted. But, I have to admit, that if the gamble pays off -- if America can prove to the rest of the world that it can lead when asked, but also relinquish control when we're no longer needed -- it could bear fruit in future conflicts of this nature. If it works, people might start speaking of Obama's gamble as the Obama Doctrine.

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

11 Comments on “Obama's Libyan Gamble”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    I would speculate that this is intentional, because Obama is trying to pass this whole thing off as "no big deal, really."

    I think that attitude is what has a lot of people concerned.

    Especially on the Left..

    War is SUPPOSED to be a big deal..

    If a president has the attitude towards war of, "Hooo hummm... Let's lob a few missiles at some scumbag and then check our NCAA brackets" then that is cause for concern, I would think.

    "Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided."
    -Kirk, STAR TREK, A Taste Of Armageddon

    Going in to Iraq didn't have much of a coalition behind it, but the Afghanistan war did.

    Actually, Bush had twice as many in his Iraq Coalition than Obama has in his Libya Coalition...

    Coalition Countries - Iraq - 2003

    Afghanistan,
    Albania
    Australia
    Azerbaijan
    Bulgaria
    Colombia
    Czech Republic
    Denmark
    El Salvador
    Eritrea
    Estonia
    Ethiopia
    Georgia
    Hungary
    Italy
    Japan
    South Korea
    Latvia
    Lithuania
    Macedonia
    Netherlands
    Nicaragua
    Philippines
    Poland
    Romania
    Slovakia
    Spain
    Turkey
    United Kingdom
    Uzbekistan
    [Source: US State Department]

    Coalition - Libya - 2011

    United States
    France
    United Kingdom
    Italy
    Canada
    Belgium
    Denmark
    Norway
    Qatar
    Spain
    Greece
    Germany
    Poland
    Jordan
    Morocco
    United Arab Emirate

    If it works, people might start speaking of Obama's gamble as the Obama Doctrine.

    If it doesn't work, people will still call it the Obama Doctrine, but with scorn rather than respect.. :D

    Frankly, I don't expect too much from it. As you point out, history is replete with examples of Presidents saying "It will be a quick in and out war, trust me." and then we're still there years later...

    If Obama can pull this off, it might just save his 2012 re-election campaign..

    But that's a big IF.. It's more likely that we actually will still be in Libya during the 2012 presidential election.

    If we are, *I* could beat Obama!!! :D

    Michale....

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    "Obama has now fired more cruise missiles than all other Nobel Peace prize winners combined."
    -Twitter message

    Whatever yer politics, ya gotta admit.

    THAT is funny as hell!! :D

    Michale.....

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    But that's a big IF.. It's more likely that we actually will still be in Libya during the 2012 presidential election.

    If we are, *I* could beat Obama!!! :D

    I'd vote for you, but the chances of someone as reason-based as yourself gaining the republican nomination are even lower than libya being an unmitigated success.

    ~joshua

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    I'd vote for you,

    Thank ya!! :D

    but the chances of someone as reason-based as yourself gaining the republican nomination are even lower than libya being an unmitigated success.

    Hehehehehehehe

    Very good point! :D

    Like David has always said, if us Weigantians could get together and actually run things, this country would be a LOT better off...

    Michale...

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Has something changed and I wasn't notified???

    Camp Lejeune Marines To Libya
    http://www.wcti12.com/news/27257042/detail.html

    I thought the administration stated explicitly that there would be no US boots on the ground...

    Did I miss a memo???

    Michale.....

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    If {President Bush} gives authorization to war... without Congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him!
    -Senator Joe Biden, 8 Dec 2007

    The President does not have the power to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
    -Senator Barack Obama, 20 Dec 2007

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adpa5kYUhCA

    I bet Biden and Obama would just love to take back those words, eh?? :D

    Michale.....

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale [1] -

    Where'd you get the Libyan coalition list? State Dept? I'm interested -- that's the best list I've seen, as the news media have ignored who is actually on board (past "France and Britain"). Let me know, or post a link, please.

    I agree, this is a big gamble for Obama politically (not to make light of how big a gamble it is militarily, that's a separate issue, just don't want to comingle the two). It is a mighty big "IF" -- I think we agree on that. Militarily, I was heartened to see them bomb some tanks, as without that sort of thing, the no-fly zone isn't going to do much (as I said when it was first proposed).

    I'm still taking a wait-and-see approach. Obama's got to hold a press conference SOON after he gets back, though.

    [2] -

    OK, that was funny, I have to admit.

    joshua [3] -

    Hoo boy... President Michale? Um, well, that certainly got MY attention...

    Michale [4] -

    Hey, I'd settle for Democrats hiring me to teach them how to stay on message...

    [5] -

    Haven't heard anything about this, I will certainly check that article out.

    [6] -

    That's a bet I wouldn't take, personally. I think you're right. Executive power always looks a lot better when sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, no matter who is in the chair -- that's the constant in this equation. Heh.

    -CW

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    There are 30 countries who have agreed to be part of the coalition for the immediate disarmament of Iraq. I'd have to say these are countries that we have gone to and said, "Do you want to be listed?" and they have said, "Yes."

    I'll read them to you alphabetically, so that we get the definitive list out on the record.

    They are: Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan.

    http://usinfo.org/wf-archive/2003/030318/epf202.htm

    I'm still taking a wait-and-see approach. Obama's got to hold a press conference SOON after he gets back, though.

    You would think that with all the planning, contemplation and brainstorming that allegedly took place, the Libya coalition would be a tad more organized.

    Haven't heard anything about this, I will certainly check that article out.

    I have read a couple more articles where Obama, once again, reiterated his "no US boots on Libyan soil" pledge..

    Which makes the Lejuene report all the more perplexing..

    Michale.....

  9. [9] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    No, no, the LIBYA list...?

    -CW

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @cw,

    don't get me wrong, i'm a center-left democrat, and the likelihood of the republican party putting forth someone i'd consider choosing for president is pretty slim. however, i'm no ideologue. on that cool day in hell when the republicans run a relative moderate who is openly willing to tax the uber-rich fairly (read michale's statements on that) - well, conservatives who say they'll do something tend to actually do it.

    @michale,
    just because i'd vote for you doesn't mean i think you're right. ;p

    ~joshua

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW,

    No, no, the LIBYA list...?

    Well, the original list came from FNC....

    But, knowing you wouldn't accept that w/o backup :D, I found this:

    Countries enforcing UN SC Resolution 1973:

    Belgium
    Canada
    Denmark
    France
    Greece
    Italy
    Netherlands
    Norway
    Qatar
    Romania
    Spain
    Turkey
    United Kingdom
    United States
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_military_intervention_in_Libya

    NYPoet,

    just because i'd vote for you doesn't mean i think you're right. ;p

    Oh, that's a given.. :D

    "The devil you know" and all that.. :D

    Michale.....

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