Monday, April 4, 2011

The Libyan Intervention, or a Nation Bushed? Part II



Day 17 of the Libyan intervention and there are signs that it may succeed in spite of a bumpy ride. The rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) has a website up and is promoting what appears to be a representatively democratic agenda. There are also noises coming from inside MQ's camp that he maybe thinking it's getting close to "exit time". The TNC rejects any negotiation with MQ or his family, so there is a ways to go.

The rebel military force is starting to train its volunteers and in the field is advancing yet again on Brega. There are workable plans for Western support in training these volunteers which there seems to be no shortage of.

So, in all, reasons for optimism and hope that this may still succeed in a relatively short period of time. The goal of the intervention being the removal of MQ's control over Libya and a fresh start for the TNC and Libya in general. Three countries, Italy, France and Qatar have recognized the TNC as representing Libya. I have indicated my reasons for the intervention which have not changed in my mind. They are mostly the same as those mentioned by Nicholas Kristof here.

The center of gravity of this campaign remains MQ's political base, which is seemingly crumbling. We have seen significant figures defect over the last several days as well as members of his military forces deserting to the rebels. While most of the maneuvering has to be at this political level, the military actions on the ground play a very important role as well reflecting the continued support of the rebels by the Allies and denying MQ any chance of defeating the TNC on the ground. A military strategy of persistence is thus called for.

At the same time, and contrary to the goals of the intervention, the US is signaling that they are implementing a strategy of extrication, removing its aircraft from frontline missions and limiting itself to "supporting roles only" (AWACS and C3I, but not combat missions are mentioned). This latest news was a contradiction from the day before when it was said that A-10 and other groundattack aircraft would be on call if requested by NATO. The A-10 is perhaps the best aircraft suited for this type of mission.

I am not arguing that the US should take on the greatest share of the air missions or that we should commit more, but extrication at this point in time is a truly remarkable response, indicating an astonishing level of strategic confusion, of no sense at all of what military force is about. By all means allow the French, British and others to fly most of the sorties, but support these missions as well, especially since there are applicable and ready US forces in theater.

On my earlier thread, the initial part to this one, I posted:

First, it seems unquestioningly obvious at this point in time that the US is still somehow traumatized by what happened during the George W Bush administration, we see military intervention/the use of force in exclusively "Bushist" terms, as either supporting or countering Bush policies. That is policy decisions which have nothing to do with GWB are seen solely in his terms, whether supporting his policies or not. It seems that in retrospect we are very much in the George W Bush era and will continue to be for some time, which includes the simple fact that his policies were essentially a series of strategic disasters for this country. We seem to be unable to break the mindset that he has imposed on us. Which is that any additional use of military power is inherently corrupt and done for unsavory reasons and will end up in disaster, thus we have become a Nation, bushed. . .

This notion of a Nation Bushed, of course leads us to the simple fact that we are unable and unwilling to hold GWB or any members of his administration accountable for any of their corrupt and possibly criminal actions. Not to mention it has become politically impossible to put an end to either of his lost wars (Af-Pak or Iraq) . . . So despite the fact that Americans are scarred by GWB's corrupt polices we lack at the same time any will to confront that reality. Instead we simply abstract those feelings to cover any military action done as part of US policy.


I think this pretty much explains what we are doing. We are not only a nation bushed, we have a thoroughly bushed President, a hopelessly bushed pundit blathering class, and in many ways a bushed military.

Colonel Pat Lang seemingly agrees:

Most people in the US do not want to do anything to help the rebels in Libya. A variety of reasons for this are presented; money, unwillingness to inflict casualties deliberately or accidentally, indifference to MENA affairs except for Israel and oil, etc. In truth this is all about war weariness. The Bush Administration expended the emotional war making potential of the United States. The staffs can "roll up the maps" in the planning shops in the Pentagon. They will not be needed for a long time. One can say (tongue in cheek) that now is the time for Canada and Mexico to exercize whatever revanchist and irredentist inclinations toward the US that they may have. . .


This is a dangerous situation for our country and goes far beyond Libya. The Arab Spring of 2011 has shown the corrupt lie about what has been the cornerstone of US foreign policy since 9/11, that being the Global War on Terror (GWOT) or simply the war against Al Qaida. If any one had any doubts even at this late date, it should be clear now that for the last nine plus years we have been conducting a world-wide struggle against a willofthewhisp. Al Qaida is not so much an entity, as a label we conveniently put on the reactions to our own strategic mistakes, failures and disasters. The real motivation/driving force behind the democratic surge among the Arab peoples is the corrupt nature of the governments who have been our allies in the GWOT. Al Qaida is not the response, it has no influence on the Arab Spring, no presence at all, but in fact only shows up where we in fact create it.

It's time we realized what is at stake in Libya and also what is at stake with our continued strategy of self-defeating/self-serving delusions. Let the success of this intervention and the birth of democracy in Libya bring us to the realization of the mistakes made and the need for a radical correction in not only our foreign, but also domestic policies.

The Washington Rules have been in play for too long. Now is time to formulate a new foreign policy which not only corresponds to our interests and ideals, but also to our current and future reality.

Postscript:

I would like to first of all thank FDChief for being a worthy and brilliant interlocutor on first his own and then my two follow up threads in regards to the Libyan intervention. Also, everyone else as well for their comments and thoughts. It has been a difficult, and for me at least rewarding discussion, and I hope for you as well.

While acknowledging the validity of those arguments against mine, I wish here to attempt to put the Libyan intervention within a larger US political context which I think supports my view however limitedly.

I've compared Obama's actions in regard to Libya to his handling of his Health Care Reform plan (using Glenn Greenwald's argument). Let us consider another important policy, also defining, but in regards to our military and foreign policy.

The official Iraq withdrawal of the US military is set for the end of this year, so Obama says, so it is . . . But we can't forget the rest of the story - we don't really wish to leave Iraq for a whole variety of reasons including having to deal with the strategic consequences of Bush's war, leaving those bases we built and of course "losing" the oil.

Is there still a chance that Maliki might "request 17,000 US troops stay after the end of 2011"? Possibly, but why worry since we are planning . . .

. . . to more than double its [The US State Department] private security guards, up to as many as 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to aid civilians in distress, the officials said.


It's just like we never left. A new type of mercenary army? Ask anyone on the street about Iraq and they'll probably (over 60%) tell you - if they are American - that "we won" with whatever qualifications, a result of the "surge to victory" meme, and maybe even that we are no longer there. If you ask any person of any other nationality they will probably (over 60% easy) tell you that it was all a miserable bloody failure and that we're still there.

None of these three Obama policies (Health Care Reform, Iraq Withdrawal or the Libyan intervention) in question have anything to do with being straight with the American people, thinking or acting in the national interest or promoting and maintaining any national honor which we could agree on or even speak of. They are all about protecting and promoting the interests of the Washington Rules and those behind it . . .

In regards to the Arab Spring and this has been perhaps the defining element /question in regards to the Libyan intervention: Two Questions. What should our policy be? And where do we stand in regards to the Arab reform/revolutionary movement? It seems that we have decided. We are now with the reaction. Who in Washington would wish to deal with "Turkey times 5" (walrus's comment on this SST thread)?

William Pfaff seemingly agrees:

The worst outcome is, however, the one that seems most likely: a new American effort to manage the region through chosen political clients and favorites, in the self-deluding belief that this is “democratization” – the identical policy that has already given the region wars in or around Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the threat of war with Iran, and now the Libyan intervention. One must do better.


It makes you wonder in what way would Al Qaida be resuscitated? It would be part of the deal after all . . .

I don''t pity the Libyans, I envy them. Those I support are fighting for what they believe in, their potential deaths for their political and social communities have meaning (following Weber) in their people's eyes, middle class men with families are joining to learn how to fight and defend their people, their families. It's a bloody, mess but it is a bloody mess that they would rather be part of than see go against their interests, their common will for a better future. It is not about loot or plunder that motivates them, but the future of their children. Songs will be sung about them in the years to come . . . .

42 comments:

  1. Seydlitz,
    I'm off topic, maybe.
    Look at the pic of HRC, wow it's kinda scary.
    So scary that it's forced Obomba to stand off center in his little podium kingdom. The body language is strong in this pic.Too strong to pass by.
    Sorry, i had to add that.
    jim

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  2. Just a couple of notes;

    1. Gaddafi's people seem to be searching for an exit for him. That's a good sign.

    2. The rebel congeries can't take back Breiga, even with airpower overhead. That's a bad sign.

    3. Try and remember that Fidel Castro told us what a nice guy he would be if we'd just let him get that damn Batista out of the way. Of COURSE the TNC has a website with lots of nice things to say about "democracy". Let's not get all porny over them yet. One of the most infuriating things about the Bushed School of Foreign Policy was thinking with our optimist glands and not our heads. Right now the fucking rebels would say they will install the Queen of May if it'd help them avoid the traitor's gate. Let's try and be sensible and skeptical about this, even as we hope that they come through.

    4. Either we walk the walk, or we need to quit talking the talk. The U.S. forces are being pulled back because the President (who is, apparently, the only national authority for this mission) has said they would. That's not "...(an) astonishing level of strategic confusion, of no sense at all of what military force is about". That's a head of state doing what he told his citizens he'd do. You can argue with the strategy - and I would; it seems to violate the in-or-out criteria for military force - but you can't say it's confused. He's doing just what he said he would.

    "It's time we realized what is at stake in Libya and also what is at stake with our continued strategy of self-defeating/self-serving delusions. Let the success of this intervention and the birth of democracy in Libya bring us to the realization of the mistakes made and the need for a radical correction in not only our foreign, but also domestic policies."

    That's a ringing phrase, seydlitz. I like it. But reread it and you get the fatal contradiction there, right?

    The point is that there is a massive ignorance, disagreement, and confusion about "what is at stake" in Libya. A lot of that has to do with the polarization between the "fors", who insist on trying to make these TNC guys into Washington and Jefferson when I suspect that they're Ataturk, at best, and making this all about flowers and happy bunnies and the "hard-antis" who are all about dragging in Al Qaeda and scary A-rabs.

    It's also all about it being done as another damn executive/cabinet war being conducted with, at best, the mere information of the Congress and the People and neither their consultation nor their consent. That doesn't give anyone any incentive to either recognize failures or to correct those mistakes. It makes the American public passive riders (if they even care at all...) and the Congress grandstanding freeloaders (now THERE's a shock!) in the entire business.

    I sure hope for everyone's sake that ol' Daffy grabs a hat and that the TNC guys prove less shambolic than they look so far. But I am going to come flat out and tell you that Princess Peach could be ruling in Tripoli ten years from now and this intervention will not effect a change in the Washington Rules.

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  3. Oh, and just as an aside, go and read Lang's comments on the thread you linked to.

    The man's every reply - EVERY reply - to commentors who disagree with him is "You're just a pussy who doesn't want to fight the Bad Guy. You're ignorant. You're wrong. I'm right."

    I seem to remember how well I reacted to being called a traitor and a cheese-eating surrender monkey by the Busheviks when I suggested over at Intel Dump that invading post-Ottoman, Third World shitholes and expecting an peacefully enlightened parlimentary democracy to emerge was not really a rational expectation.

    Lang's attitude gives me the same response; that he's a smart, well-informed, arrogant, blinkered douchebag?

    Sorry, but there it is.

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  4. jim-

    Yea, that was why I picked it! Let's do a thought bubble competition (TBC): "What was Hillary thinking?"

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  5. FDChief-

    "That's a head of state doing what he told his citizens he'd do. . . "

    Well, that would be a first for this head of state . . . who hasn't shown much interest in keeping his promises damned the consequences. He's been savaged for exactly that by people like Glenn Greenwald and others for some time now.

    So why the mixed signals now? Do ya think it has anything to do with Big Bad Bob Gates talking about resigning? Ya know, the Bushevik he kept on to run the Defense Department? That's the way I see it, what a shambles . . .

    Thanks for the compliment on my ringing phrase, but that is very much the point. We have as much a problem groping our way forward there as we do at home . . .

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  6. FDChief-

    "I seem to remember how well I reacted to being called a traitor and a cheese-eating surrender monkey by the Busheviks when I suggested over at Intel Dump that invading post-Ottoman, Third World shitholes and expecting an peacefully enlightened parlimentary democracy to emerge was not really a rational expectation."

    Hey, you and me brother. I hadn't joined Intel Dump at that point but was active on the more political blogs, abuzz since defunct especially. I turned on Bush post-9/11 when they started the B-52s flying over Afghanistan and saw no point in overthrowing the Taliban. With Iraq I was against it from the start. Called the war lost in July 2003. There's still a good bit of my stuff over at sonshi.com and a bit with the cossacks . . . that is me prior to joining Intel Dump where we all met.

    But your point is Colonel Lang. I can't speak for him, but I respect his views. He has a good understanding of the military and the region in question. He's not the easiest person to get along with, but then neither am I or some of the others here. So ya take it as a whole, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak . . .

    I think of it the same as if we could actually meet some of the great captains of history or even have a chat with our own great-great-grandparents . . . we might be quite surprised with what they have to say.

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  7. TBC: "If your balls were only half as big as mine . . ."

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  8. Thing is, seydlitz, Obama either he plays by the book rules of public policy, where he pretty much does what he's told the public he's going to do, or he plays by the Washington Rules, where he does whatever he wants regardless of what he says he's doing.

    I won't argue that this is a mess, but I would argue that it's not because he's "vacillating", or because of Gates' interference. He has no real base of domestic support for this, and so he can't really just hang on forever hoping for something to happen; this is too high-profile and he will catch too much hate from the Right (which we've learned he fears and runs from) if he doesn't back down. So in this case he's practically forced to keep his word. I don't think its virtue on his part; it's simple calculation, which is something he's shown to care more about that ideals.

    And interesting that you mention Greenwald, because last Thursday he had an utterly scathing post on the entire question of Presidential war powers and the authority for this.(http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/03/31/executive_power/index.html)

    He quotes HRC: "...the White House would forge ahead with military action in Libya even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission." This is effectively the same argument that Cheney and Addington made back in the Contra days; that in warmaking the President is King, and that Congress cannot restrain that royal authority. Gah.

    One of my biggest gripes about this mess is the immense damage it does for the miniscule gains. In the larger geopolitical sense, who really cares who rules in Tripoli? But the domestic damage here in the U.S. is the bipartisan adoption of the Imperial mindset, and that is a very big hit. When one party was clearly the Party of Nuts, that was one thing. But now we have the realization of the Nader Traitors mantra; now both sides DO do it. No Democrat can ever complain again about a silly Republican warmaking adventure. Now this foolishness really IS the "Washington Rules"...

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  9. Hard to say what Qaddafi's intentions are. I wouldn't be surprised if he is as much in the dark as we are about them ;-)

    But it wouldn't surprise me if he's playing for time here. All he has to do is wait out the Western allies and he wins by default.

    I'm more interested these days in what's going on in Yemen, for starters its a lot closer to Saudi Arabia than Libya is.

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  10. Re: Lang: "He has a good understanding of the military and the region in question."

    He has the understanding of an O-6 with some decent experience in the region. He's not Lang of Fucking Arabia, forchrissakes, and the problem is that he simply refuses to deal with criticism of his work, much of which is germane and calls many of his assumptions into question.

    Anyone can make a prima facie case. Your work here is valuable as much for your willingness to engage with criticism as for the original scholarship. We disagree like crazy over this issue, but you have been a tremendously good advocate for your views (tho I still don't get your theme about how if this works it makes similar executive interventions LESS likely rather than more - ISTM exactly the other way around...). And a big part of that is dealing intelligently with peer review; as a scientist I appreciate that and expect it from truly well-informed sources. Anyone who just dismisses analysis of his conclusions is complacent or an egomaniac; I leave you to decide where Lang's place there is.

    With Lang, I read his posts and kind of nod and "hmmm..." until I get to his comment section, where all sorts of people raise issues, some clearly ridiculous, some extremely incisive, but both sorts get the Standard Lang Response; "you have no idea what you're talking about, nobody is smart enough to question me, you say "X" but you're really saying "Y" because you're just a fucking pussy not a brilliant realist foreign policy analyst like me."

    The more of that stuff I read, the more I think "If only Christ had been as confident about his judgement..." and tend to wander away to find someone with a little less assurance. Anyone that unwilling to debate his ideas really is always right (and you know how likely that is)...or likely to be disastrously wrong enough to make his ideas dangerous.

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  11. Pluto: I suspect that if the Euros are willing to be patient and stay on him he'll eventually do a Baby Doc. Here's hoping.

    The Yemeni rebellion seems to have stalled; it looked for a while like Saleh was in real trouble, but his troops appear willing to go all Tianenmen on the rebels. The U.S. is solidly behind him, as are the Saudis. You're right - if he goes down, I think that really WILL be a big deal. But I'm not sure it'll happen now.

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  12. Chief,

    I totally agree with you that Lang is not someone who takes criticism well. I don't much bother anymore trying to debate him anymore. What amazes me is how badly he misread the mood of the country. He laments "war weariness" but it's really not even that - ten years of war haven't affected Joe and Jane American enough to make them weary. Rather, as Clinton said, "it's the economy stupid." I don't think Americans are war-weary, but on a priority scale preventing one group of North Africans from killing another group is pretty low. Anyway, the domestic politics of this thing were pretty clear from the beginning, so the idea that we'd go all-in for regime change based on a "protecting civilians" mandate was never in the cards politically, which is what Pat Lang seemed to believe.

    I also agree with you that this intervention probably wasn't in the best interests of the US. But consider that things, from the US perspective at least, aren't looking too shabby at the moment. Right now we are almost completely support - that is something I honestly didn't think would happen. I had thought the shift of command to NATO wouldn't amount to much more than AFRICOM handing off the reins to EUCOM/NATO SAC. I thought we'd still be doing most of the work. Of course, if the Europeans screw this thing up (and the situation may not be "fixable" and therefore a screwing is inevitable), then we might be right back in there trying to clean it all up. Who knows. As it stands, though, we appear to be supporting our European allies which I don't have a problem with. The President was, I think, smart for taking us out of a combat role early for a number of reasons. Foremost, in my view, is that it prevents the overthrow of Qaddafi from becoming a question of national honor. It was that kind of trap that kept the NFZ's in Iraq going long after their due date and, IMO, it's what's keeping us in Afghanistan today.

    That said, I'm still not hopeful that this will end anytime soon, nor am I at all confident about what Libya will look like if/when MQ is out of the picture. There is a lot of uncertainty and I doubt anyone can reasonably predict how this will all play out.

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  13. Gentlemen-

    Well, on a shared blog I have to be open to criticism or I would be in a room talking to myself . . . and as always I enjoy reading ya'lls comments.

    First off, Greenwald has been scathing of his criticism of Obama since almost the beginning of his administration on a whole variety of issues: Libya's just one of many, nor is it even one of the important points imo. Compare what Greenwald says now to what he said about Obama and health care, how he on that issue deceived the people repeatedly, gave in on options early on, while claiming the opposite, was essentially a tool for big Pharma. Health Care Reform was meant to be the "showcase" of his first term. So where was his concern for keeping his promises then, on one of the really BIG issues? So in terms of doing what he'd promised, Obama doesn't have a very good record. So, why does he act soooo differently this time?

    Either the Washington Rules are in effect or he's keeping his promises to the American people, but the two are contradictory . . .

    I'm reading Gideon Rose's "How Wars End" which goes into how the US has ended every war since World War I. It's quite well written and even if you are well versed in the history of a particular period he comes up with something you didn't know. Anyway, in all the wars public opinion played a very important role, but not the same role. There is also a increasing tendency not to follow or adhere to public opinion, but to mold it.

    By the Iraq war we have a massive effort to package and sell the war before the fact which included some blatant lying to Congress (the famous "drones of death") as well as an interesting and artificial distinction between air activity and ground action. The actual Iraq campaign started in the Spring of 2002 with Operation Southern Focus (the air offensive) while the ground offensive didn't start until the Spring of the following year. In this case we unquestioningly allowed this distinction (an air offensive not being "war") to stand, yet see how it played this time around?

    The difference is of course there were powerful interests behind the Iraq war (and still are), whereas there are no powerful interests behind the Libyan intervention.

    Second, "A question of national honor"? What exactly would that be? Andy, how would you define it?

    Third, Pluto's right, Libya has been moved off the front pages, but will smolder on. But Obama's not going to be able to distance himself from the outcome, which the GOP will hang around his neck if it fails and quickly claim responsibility for if it succeeds. His actions and giving in to Gates make him look weak and indecisive, which imo he is.

    Fourth, the Libyan rebels are still in the field, at least holding their own. I agree with FDChief that they will most likely be unable to seize much but remaining in the field, while the real maneuvering takes place among MQ's political base, is a positive factor. With time and support they should become more proficient.

    Fifth, and finally, this TNC would be the start of the first Arab democratic government (Lebanon?), providing they follow their own program, which would be a step in the right direction. A direction that I would think the US would wish to be part of . . . and not trying to get away from.

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  14. We've asked the question: Why is the UN and the West only interested in fighting in Libya? Well, apparently the French have agreed with us.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/world/africa/06ivory.html

    I've heard rumors that the US is considering getting involved in Yemen (which I don't think will happen and would be an incredibly bad idea). I wonder if Syria is next?

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  15. "Second, 'A question of national honor'? What exactly would that be? Andy, how would you define it?"

    America not only doesn't want to lose, but doesn't want to be perceived as losing. In my judgment, the main reason we're still in Afghanistan after all these years in which the fundamental situation on the ground hasn't change much, is because we (or rather, our political class) is afraid of the post-withdrawal narrative. The same is true with Iraq when things there started to go to really go to shit in 2004. We were only able (politically) to begin withdrawing from Iraq once we had the perception of success on our side. Note too that the President has been careful not to upset the cart and ignored his "one brigade a month" promise in favor the plan Bush negotiated with the Iraqi's.

    Before the 2003 war, I think that same dynamic was what drove the NFZs there. Begun for humanitarian reasons their justification quickly morphed to other reasons. "Backing down" and ending the NFZ's would have been a "victory" for Saddam and a "humiliation" for the US.

    IMO the "trap" here in Libya is similar. We have the goal of regime change, but at the same time, we say we're not pursuing that goal militarily, that we're only interested in using the military to pursue humanitarian goals. Well, easier said than done and there are many people around the world who don't believe that it's possible to separate things so easily. With the US and, even moreso, Europe committed to overthrowing MQ, our credibility and "national honor" is on the line. As long as MQ remains in power the NFZ will persist. This is complicated by the fact that steps were taken to encourage MQ to stay - namely the ICC indictment against him and other measures. We are telling him he needs to leave the country, but where can he go? We've closed most of the doors on that option, so he's got little choice but stay to fight it out.

    So, we've constrained our options to the point where we have to hope a NFZ is sufficient and if MQ doesn't fall from it then we're left with a stalemate, de facto partition of Libya and an enduring, limited military commitment there.

    Finally, there is a huge difference between Presidential promises on the health care legislation and promises on Libya. Although it was called "Obamacare" the fact is that it was written by Congress. The President's power on health reform is limited by what Congress can pass, so his promises - like most domestic promises made by Presidential candidates - are only good so far as Congress agrees, and they often do not. Libya is a different matter and not comparable because the roles are reversed.

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  16. Just to give some historical perspective, I've been do some Lexis Nexis searches this morning and came across this from the London Guardian in the April 3, 1991 edition:

    There have been, and remain, many Western reasons why nothing can be done. They range from the petty (the need not to confuse simple, political triumphalism back home) to the practically intractable. A shrugging, benign Mr Bush will not budge. Iraq is a quagmire. How can he be dragged in? No UN authority allows rescue missions to the Kurds. Nor, we may bleakly hazard, will such authority be given. The United Nations ritually opposes outside initiatives within the borders of any member state. Will China, or the Soviet Union, or dozens more, vote to break that precedent? And the United States is rightly fearful of becoming enmeshed in the internal chaos of Middle East politics. It would not march on Baghdad to overthrow Saddam, because it could not choose a successor and withdraw. It cannot easily, even now, bomb the Republican Guards to a Kurdistan halt, because it cannot assume the responsibility either to impose and control a settlement between the Kurds and Baghdad or to contrive a regime that may henceforth embrace it. The quagmire is total: and Mr Bush has halted at the brink.

    Yet there is a point an emotional point at which all this comes to seem irrelevant. And that is the Kurdistan that Martin Woollacott describes today. His description leaves blood on the hands of the allies. The Kurds are dying, in their thousands, because they miscalculated: but the evidence for that miscalculation came straight from the Oval Office. They may have been naive: too trusting, too unsophisticated. But Western words led them to their destruction: Western words mouthing Western ideals about freedom and democracy. And Western acts the timing of the decision to stop fighting, late enough to encourage rebellion, too early to secure its success sealed their fate and the fate of thousands of unphotographed, unchronicled Shias in the South.

    Nothing Mr Bush (and Mr Major) can do now is right. They can only step into a mire. But they cannot, knowing all they know now, condone massacre upon massacre. It will be hard, going on impossible, to secure UN backing for intervention. But that effort on simple humanitarian grounds is inescapable: and will redefine what we mean by a new world order. With or without such sanction, however, the slaughter in the North has to be stopped. We have the means; though we may rue the ends. With any action, a new realm of intractabilities opens. But the guilt and shame of not acting is now too overwhelming to countenance.


    It's just one example of many.

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  17. Here's another one (Toronto Financial Post, June 7, 1991):

    British and U.S. policy toward Iraq is in a muddle. President George Bush and Prime Minister John Major have declared that United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq must remain in force until President Saddam Hussein is removed from power.

    The essence of the policy is to let Iraq stew in its misfortunes until one of (Saddam's) cronies is forced to overthrow him. Most people, including the Iraqis, are as keen as Bush and Major to see the Iraqi leader responsible for two gulf wars replaced as soon as possible, but the Anglo-American strategy looks wrongheaded on several counts....This policy is faulty not because of its aim - the overthrow of Saddam - but because it undermines the authority of the UN by stretching the wording of UN resolutions too far. Nor does it explain what alternative there is to a humiliating Anglo-American climb down if the Iraqi leader survives, as he has a habit of doing.

    There are already signs that his government is beginning to regain a measure of confidence after crushing the post-war uprisings in the Shia Muslim south and the Kurdish north of Iraq.


    The April 14th, 1991 WAPO lead article is also pretty good, but way too long to quote here.

    Point being - we've been in a similar situation before with similar policy constraints and actions that resulted in an enduring intervention and eventually OIF. A similar outcome in Libya is, of course, not certain, but the parallels are, IMO, strong enough that we should be wary.

    Seydlitz, you and Pat Lang were saying at the beginning of this thing that time was of the essence and that we needed to move quickly to topple MQ. That, obviously, hasn't happened. What's plan B?

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  18. seydlitz,
    My bubble for HRC in the photo is- IF I HAD TWO , I'D BE KING!
    jim

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  19. Andy-

    A pleasure as always . . .

    --"America not only doesn't want to lose, but doesn't want to be perceived as losing. In my judgment, the main reason we're still in Afghanistan after all these years in which the fundamental situation on the ground hasn't change much, is because we (or rather, our political class) is afraid of the post-withdrawal narrative."--

    I agree with this to a point. But, "National honor" would have to include a set of shared values, so what exactly would these values be? These of course uniting all Americans, not simply the military. Something more than simply "not losing", right?

    This explains the "surge to victory" narrative, but we are still essentially in Iraq with 47,000, and two more were killed just a couple of days ago. I find this whole attitude dysfunctional in so many ways . . . an example of our strategic confusion . . .

    --"So, we've constrained our options to the point where we have to hope a NFZ is sufficient and if MQ doesn't fall from it then we're left with a stalemate, de facto partition of Libya and an enduring, limited military commitment there."--

    Actually it was MQ's actions that brought in the ICC, just as they did the intervention . . . are you saying that the Alliance should have pressured the ICC to go light on MQ? How exactly would we do that?

    --"Finally, there is a huge difference between Presidential promises on the health care legislation and promises on Libya. Although it was called "Obamacare" the fact is that it was written by Congress. The President's power on health reform is limited by what Congress can pass, so his promises - like most domestic promises made by Presidential candidates - are only good so far as Congress agrees, and they often do not. Libya is a different matter and not comparable because the roles are reversed."--

    You didn't follow Greenwald's coverage of the Healthcare debate, did you? He pretty much trashed this whole civics book perspective . . . as he commented:

    "Obama administration officials have been content with the impression that they have allowed Congress to take the lead in negotiating and drafting the health care bill.

    But this image of the White House as passive observer is quite dubious. News reports and leaked documents strongly suggest that the administration secretly engineered a deal with the pharmaceutical industry whereby the White House would oppose efforts to negotiate for lower drug prices and drug importation — a clear violation of Obama’s campaign pledge. . . "

    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/obamas-health-care-mistake/

    There's more on this . . . simply check out his blog.

    ReplyDelete
  20. jim -

    Nothing wrong with smart, tough women. We honor it in historical figures and foreigners like Boadicea, QE1, Jeanne D'Arc, Benazir Bhutto, Golda Meir, and others. But we Americans tend to trash any of our own females who dare to be strong, shrewd and in a position of power. That says something about us, and it is not good.

    HRC would have made a better prez than the guy now in office. We would have been out of Iraq and Afghanistan by now. We would have added all children and young adults up to 18-yo to Medicare. And although that does not cover hundreds of millions between 18 and 65 it is still better than the gift that Obama-ji gave to the Health Insurance industry.

    Unfortunately, the lefty looseys forced us into the current mess. What is even worse is that now they want to saddle us with Nader or Kucinich or some other freak that will do their bidding and the hell with the country.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Andy-

    Your article from 1991 was greatly appreciated . . . actually it adds to my argument as I think you will see . . .

    First, we see the clear distinction between "limited war" and "unlimited war", or seeking to overthrow the enemy state and replace it with something else. There is a reason why we refer to this in strategic theory as "unlimited war". The 1991 Gulf War was a classic limited war which was successful.

    Second, it is also interesting that the humanitarian intervention in support of the Kurds in northern Iraq is actually a precedent for what we are attempting to do in Libya. The Kurdish NFZ is actually an example of a successful humanitarian intervention, right? They are still in place and have have been able to defend themselves in the long term, even against Saddam during 1991-2003 . . .

    That is something separate from Bush attempting his war of unlimited goals in Iraq in 2003 . . .

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  22. mike-

    "HRC would have made a better prez than the guy now in office. We would have been out of Iraq and Afghanistan by now."

    Amen brother. My TBC was meant with the greatest respect . . .

    ReplyDelete
  23. Andy-

    "What's plan B?"

    Plan B's been in effect since the French Plan A fell through . . .

    ReplyDelete
  24. Seydlitz,

    Thanks for the response!

    But, "National honor" would have to include a set of shared values, so what exactly would these values be? These of course uniting all Americans, not simply the military. Something more than simply "not losing", right?

    To be honest I don't really know, but politicians do have, I think, a very real fear of appearing weak even when they realize it's in the national interest to do so. Kennedy, for example, insisted that his quid-pro-quo with the Soviets which resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis be hidden from the public. Johnson knew Vietnam wasn't going to end well but couldn't bring himself to end it, in part because of domestic political concerns. This seems to be a long-standing American tradition.

    Also, yes, there still are a lot of troops in Iraq, but they are scheduled to be out by the end of this year if all goes according to plan which I hope it will.

    Actually it was MQ's actions that brought in the ICC, just as they did the intervention . . . are you saying that the Alliance should have pressured the ICC to go light on MQ? How exactly would we do that?

    I'm not making judgments, just pointing out that on one hand the coalition is actively encouraging and asking him to leave (flee the country) while on the other hand it is making it more difficult for him to actually do so. The choice he faces is to fight on or surrender to the ICC - for any dictator that choice is not really a choice at all. The alternative, allowing MQ to leave and "retire" somewhere is obviously problematic. Personally, I don't know what is the right call - is it better for MQ to go quietly into retirement somewhere and for everyone else to suffer the moral hazard of letting him escape justice in exchange for bloodlessly ending his rule, or is it better to have him pay for his crimes even if the cost will be many more Libyan lives?

    Second, it is also interesting that the humanitarian intervention in support of the Kurds in northern Iraq is actually a precedent for what we are attempting to do in Libya. The Kurdish NFZ is actually an example of a successful humanitarian intervention, right? They are still in place and have have been able to defend themselves in the long term, even against Saddam during 1991-2003 . . .

    Yes it was successful, but I would make two points: First, the success was not an enduring end-state, but was instead a condition characterized by a continuous intervention. As long as Saddam remained in power he was a threat to the Kurds, correct? The intervention could therefore end in one of three ways: Simply end it and throw the Kurds under the bus; provide the Kurds with the means to protect themselves (ie. enable a de facto partition of Iraq); or wait for/enable a different regime to come into power.

    cont....

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  25. ...

    Now, I'm not saying that OIF was preferable to enduring NFZ's in Iraq or de facto partition or throwing the Kurds under the bus - far from it - but the point is that these humanitarian interventions are typically a lot longer than advertised and their effects are not limited to humanitarian concerns, which brings me to my second point. You wrote:

    That is something separate from Bush attempting his war of unlimited goals in Iraq in 2003 . . .

    Agree, but the decade-long NFZ and sanctions regime was the historical canvas on which OIF was painted. Would Bush have been able to get Congress to authorize the Iraq invasion without that history? Would we have gone to war in Iraq in 2003 if the NFZ and sanctions had ended in 1998 or at any point during the 1990's? I don't think so. The reason (again, in my judgment) is that it is easier to escalate - both practically and politically - from a position of already having intervened. Escalation offers the promise (whether real or not) of settling a "stalemate" once and for all.

    Of course, it doesn't have to work out that way - there is also Bosnia which was another "limited" intervention which, again, is successful as long as the troops remain in place to keep the belligerents separated. How long will that be?

    Those are my concerns regarding this intervention - it is not likely to be "time-limited" as was originally claimed and there is a danger that an enduring intervention can lead to dangerous and ill-considered escalation. We can't predict how these interventions will change over time - will Libya it be like Bosnia/Kosovo or will it be like Iraq? Personally, I don't want to find out, nor do I want to see the US spend the next decade or two patrolling Libya's skies, nor do I want the US to be responsible for toppling MQ's regime and suffering the resulting consequences.

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  26. Andy-

    "Of course, it doesn't have to work out that way - there is also Bosnia which was another "limited" intervention which, again, is successful as long as the troops remain in place to keep the belligerents separated. How long will that be?"

    US troops left in 2004 as I'm sure you know. Perhaps the EU keeps a small number in country, but Bosnia is considered relatively stable.

    I understand your argument and find it persuasive, but what do you do when Kurdish or former Yugoslav or Libyan situations present themselves? I don't think that we can make these types of decisions before they happen, since as I've said each intervention comes with its own political context and contingencies. What will we do the next time round? It depends . . .

    What I fault Obama with is that he should not have switched strategies with the outcome still very much hanging in the balance after having committed the US to action. Perception is so important in regards to the actual center of gravity we are dealing with: MQ's political base. Obama is playing domestic politics and kicking the Brits, French and others in the teeth, which is exactly the same way he treats his own political base at home . . . However this turns out at this point imo, he looks weak and untrustworthy.

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  27. Seydlitz,

    I understand your argument and find it persuasive, but what do you do when Kurdish or former Yugoslav or Libyan situations present themselves?

    Well that's the rub, exacerbated by the fact that the US is perhaps the only country able to intervene in a timely manner in some cases. I agree that each case is different, but after 17 odd years of participating in these interventions (OSW, Bosnia & Kosovo), I'm skeptical enough that the bar is set pretty high for me personally. Obviously, reasonable people can disagree as to where to set the bar.

    What I fault Obama with is that he should not have switched strategies with the outcome still very much hanging in the balance after having committed the US to action.

    An alternative explanation is that one shouldn't intervene unless one is prepared to do so decisively. To me it was clear from the start that there wouldn't be political capital to do much beyond preventing Benghazi from being overrun.

    Perception is so important in regards to the actual center of gravity we are dealing with: MQ's political base. Obama is playing domestic politics and kicking the Brits, French and others in the teeth, which is exactly the same way he treats his own political base at home . . . However this turns out at this point imo, he looks weak and untrustworthy.

    I'm not sure that he's kicked them in the teeth - he promised to support the action but didn't he make it clear the US would only play a supporting role? Secondly, how he treats his political base only matters as far as partisan politics goes. He's the President for all Americans, not just his base.

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  28. And seydlitz, the other thing to factor in is that Obama is extraordinarily weak domestically on this. The only way it works is if it is completely, and I mean COMPLETELY painless (other than fiscally and, really, who still pretends to care about military expenditures anymore?) for the public.

    This is a complete black hole for 99.9% of the U.S. public. We are talking about it because we're policy and military nerds, but the rest of the country doesn't give 2/10ths of a picoshit. If Obama was even thinking about any more than he's doing now, i.e. risking a potential casualty, the massive indifference of the public gives him no base of support. His entire support for this comes from the liberal interventionists in his coterie. That's not much of a power base.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Seydlitz,
    How can you talk of limited/unlimited war with a straight face?
    Are you saying that throwing bombs in every direction is warfare? Bombing people willy nilly is not warfare -IT'S TERRORISM. STATE SPONSORED.
    JIM

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  30. Andy-

    The problem have with Obama is that he's not very reliable. He makes a declaration and then a few days later comes up with the details that make it not really a declaration at all.

    For instance he "turned on a dime" to support the intervention. Sends HRC up to the hill on 30 March to tell Congressfolks, "the White House would forge ahead with military action in Libya even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission." Tells them essentially "we'll keep ya'll informed, but we'll do whatever we want". Real hardnosed stuff, essentially the same attitude towards executive power as Bush II, implying a strategy of escalation actually which I would have supported (executive power questions aside).

    Several days later he's moving in the opposite direction, switching to a strategy not of persistence even, but extrication dumping it in NATO's lap. Telling the Libyans on both sides, "we're kinda there, but we're not".

    That's two 180° turns in less than two weeks on a very important policy issue, actually the most important policy issue the country can go into . . . it's all about domestic politics for this guy, we have no real foreign policy.

    Btw, I think I'll do a new thread on "national honor" the concept you brought up. Might be interesting . . .

    The latest Pfaff . . .

    http://www.williampfaff.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=513

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  31. jim-

    I'm a strategic theorist, how would I not say it with a straight face? It simply concerns the political purpose of a conflict. Limited war (actually all expeditionary wars for the invader are "limited") refers to wars of limited goals not requiring the overthrow of the enemy state/political leadership. An unlimited war requires the overthrow. This is part of war's "rational element" which subordinates all wars to political intercourse. The other elements are passion or "irrationality" and chance.

    As to terrorism, throughout history most terrorist campaigns have been state-sponsored . . .

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  32. "That's two 180° turns in less than two weeks on a very important policy issue, actually the most important policy issue the country can go into"

    I think this is where you're confusing importance with significance, seydlitz.

    For the Libyans, for the Europeans, for an abstract concept of U.S. foreign policy, the way this expedition is conducted is important...in a sense, a rather academic sense. You're right in that the way that Obama's team has sort of wobbled around suggests that there's no really deep commitment to any specifics here, whether geopolitical, military, or intellectual.

    But in terms of significance...well, the real bottom line is that all governance is domestic, in the end. A ruler that is successful in military adventures overseas but fails to maintain domestic support is a ruler that is deposed or is forced to rely on his military strength to hold onto power. So unless the success of the ruler's military adventures can be translated into domestic support, they're either useless or WORSE than useless if they end up costing money the ruler can't afford or alienating elements the ruler needs to stay in power.

    Because of our discussions here I've taken to asking people I work with; guys like the drillers, contractors, vendors, just your basic Joes and Janes, about this.

    Y'know what? About 70-80% literally couldn't give two shits. "Oh, yeah, that thing..." is the most common response. "Are we still doing that?" asked one of the secretaries.

    Of the people who DO know or care, about half to two-thirds are violently against it, either because they're "bushed" (distrustful of the idea of wading into another Arab nation with guns out) or because of some of the constitutional issues, or because they're red-meat Republicans and would hate it if the Kenyan usurper signed an executive order authorizing free beer and pizza.

    That leaves about 10% who agree that it's a good thing, and those mention none of the reasons you've given other than "Gaddafi is a nut and has to be stopped". So nothing about supporting allies, nothing about changing the Washington Rules, nothing about strategy or foreign policy.

    Yes, I know, the public is an ass. But the Kenyan Usurper is nothing if not a politician, and I think his actions reflect his utter, total need to keep the ass from bucking and kicking. Meaning this HAS to stay bloodless, it has to stay limited, and it has to stay below the horizon to the extent possible...

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  33. seydlitz,
    As a strategic comment re limited war.
    To use your term you said they are of limited goals.
    Shouldn't that read - limited realistic, achievable goals.?! Should they be off the cuff?
    I'm starting to understand this stuff.
    jim

    ReplyDelete
  34. jim: Shouldn't that read - limited realistic, achievable goals.

    Of course, but there also also bad or futile strategic goals, of which we have been treated to quite regularly!

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  35. jim-

    In Clausewitzian theory all wars consist of three dynamic elements which act as specific "codes of law" these being irrational passion, chance/uncertainty and the subordination to policy/politics. These are all "moral" aspects, the human side to conflict, since all wars have these in common. The material aspects on the other hand are what separate all wars, make them historically specific.

    So "limited" and "unlimited" war aims falls under the "laws" of the subordination to policy/politics which is the "rational element", but what makes this element rational is how it compares with the other two elements . . irrationality and chance. That means that something may be formally "rational" as in being state policy, but actually be an unsuitable goal for the military instrument, in fact be "irrational" as Al points out. Put another way, say I could have a plan to rob a bank. If you have ever seen the classic film "Asphalt Jungle" the distinction and interaction between the three elements is played out very well.

    Now limited and unlimited wars concern war aims. If we consider WWII as a whole series of specific wars, and not just one global conflict we see this clearly. The war between Nazi Germany and the USSR was an unlimited war for both sides, each attempting to overthrow the other. The war between the US and Japan was unlimited (after Pearl Harbor) for the US but limited for Japan since they did not mean to overthrow the US. Finland's war against the USSR was limited on both sides.

    In expeditionary wars, the war has by definition a limited character since the attacking power always has the option to simply pack up and sail home irregardless of his stated war aims, whereas the defending power does not.

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  36. seydlitz,
    I get it.
    My disconnect is that we are trying to use rationality to explain/justify criminal insanity on the part of US actions since 9-11.
    Wars are fought for a purpose, and i cannot see/understand the purpose of our actions since 01.
    US actions in Libya are a case in point. We can't even articulate a viable policy, or reason for a policy, but yet we release the bombs. Total insanity posing as strategy.
    I may not have fancy words and rhetoric to analyze this goat fuck, but i know shit when i smell it.
    jim

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  37. Wrap up of our HRC thought bubble competition:

    Nr. 1: TBC: "If your balls were only half as big as mine . . ."

    Nr. 2: "IF I HAD TWO , I'D BE KING!"

    Nr. 3: "Next time bring your own toothbrush!"

    Votes will be calculated and a winner named!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Seydlitz,
    I vote for no 2 b/c it's my entry, AND IT REFLECTS FEMININE STRATEGIC THOUGHTS.
    Is the prize a jock strap?
    jim

    ReplyDelete
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