Let me begin with a moment of candor: I’d honestly be surprised if a majority of the American people even know that America is at war in Libya. I’d be far more surprised if any significant number of Americans know that our self-declared unitary executive has disregarded his legal requirement to secure approval from Congress in order to continue his war beyond the already-passed 60 day mark, which passed by a week ago.
That’s right: Obama’s “kinetic military action” in Libya (which you may or may not have heard of; he finally broke several weeks’ silence on the topic in the last few days) is now in its third month, with no end or clear goal in sight. This isn’t much of a surprise to anybody whose been paying attention, of course — save for the President and his inner circle, who apparently believed that a few Tomahawks and F-15E sorties would have a 42-year dictator running for the hills in abdication within mere days, and who seem stunned that the NATO airstrikes being carried out on behalf of…well, of the not-Qaddafi side haven’t yet resulted in an end to this civil war.
An upside to the war’s significantly longer duration could be the additional time afforded the Obama administration to plan and prepare for its aftermath – for example, who may come to power, what the fate of civilians may be in a post-Qaddafi state, and how future developments in Libya may affect America and its interests. Unfortunately, based on precedent (such as the ridiculous claim that preparing for this month’s bin Laden raid was too great a task to allow for the administration to even consider the operation’s aftermath), this can’t-walk-and-chew-gum administration is probably using their time for any purpose but that.
Though the United Nations mandate which President Obama is using as his legal authorization for his unexplained and indefinite war in Libya specifically authorized action solely for the protection of the north African nation’s civilian population, the coalition which the US is “leading from behind” has been hitting a wider array of military and government targets harder and harder in recent weeks, in an effort to end the virtual weeks-long stalemate between Qaddafi’s government forces and the rebels.
The attempt to force an outcome in a civil war taking place within a nation that currently holds no security or economic interests for the United States remains as illogical as it is far beyond the scope of action authorized by the UN resolution (the only argument against the latter is the potential claim that bombing Qaddafi and his army out of existence is the only way to ensure the safety of Libyan civilians – a claim that is ridiculous on its face, as civilians have been both threatened and harmed by both government and opposition people alike).
The simple fact, which Obama apparently remains unable to come to terms with, is that ground wars cannot be won, and ground cannot be gained, from the air alone. At best, air power is an unbiased tool for terrain denial, outside the rare effective decapitation strike that renders an enemy ineffective in films, on television, and in war novels far more often than it does in real life. That hasn’t stopped other NATO leaders from repeatedly requesting air assets that Obama, for some reason, is refusing to give them – particularly A-10 and AC-130 aircraft, which specialize in close air support, anti-armor/anti-personnel, and precision fire roles.
In a speech given yesterday alongside David Cameron, Obama used those requests to construct a straw man, saying, “There may be a false perception that there are a whole bunch of secret super-effective air assets that are in a warehouse that could just be pulled out and that would somehow immediately solve the situation in Libya. That’s not the case.” Naturally, nobody had suggested that it was the case.
As the battle slogged on in Libya, Obama requested that people show “patience and persistence” with developments there, declaring that “We will not relent until the people of Libya are protected and the shadow of tyranny is lifted.” Some – including David Cameron – seem to think that means Qaddafi must be out of power before the war can end, though it’s certainly not clear whether Obama believes that this is the case or not (his contradictory statements to that effect, and his refusal to use military power directly to remove Qaddafi, further muddle this message). It’s no wonder that the Washington Post‘s editorial board noted this week that “Each time he addresses the war in Libya, President Obama seems to contradict himself.”
The timeline is no exception. Nearly seventy days after unilaterally authorizing the U.S. military to take sides in another nation’s civil war, Obama is still claiming that “we’re going to be able to achieve our mission in a timely fashion” in Libya. Just what is that mission, Mr. President? And, as a follow-up, just what does “timely fashion” mean now, when and how will we know it’s complete, what happens after that, and have you taken into account the possible aftermath and effects of this civil war in which you’ve engaged us?
I’d rest easier if I had any confidence that the answer to those questions had been considered, if not finalized. Unfortunately, based on this administration’s own precedent, I highly doubt the questions themselves have even been thoroughly considered – let alone their answers.