A week ago on FDChief's Desert Rats post I commented:
This intervention is the opposite of Iraq, which I never supported. This one I do support. There is no need for any occupation and we can most likely do it mostly with air power and let the French, Italians or preferably allied Arabs send in a limited number of ground troops to mop up whatever the locals can't. Once MQ's gone, we drop it in the Libyans' lap and it's "see ya'll around" . . .
What is required is speed and right now MQ's on the run. Within a week he might be gone and we'll already be in the stand down phase . . .
I supported then and continue to support the Libyan intervention, in fact it is the first time in ten years that I do support US foreign policy in regards to the use of military force. I am also pleased with the way the situation on the ground is shaping up there. While it would be nice if we could gloat over the fall of MQ today, the fact that he is showing significant signs of wear at this point indicates that things could still fold up relatively quickly, this is the nature of the type of conflict we are involved in, consisting of sub-state groupings, or rather tribes and moral rather than material cohesion.
I also understand that my arguments have been very polemic in nature. I am not relying on strategic theory for this argument for the most part since while some concepts are useful in military planning (such as center of gravity) the overall application is retrospectively analytical, which means it can tell you what went wrong after the fact, but is a poor guide for what will happen in the future, the nature of war being simply too complex.
This post is intended to cover several specific aspects.
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.
Professor Juan Cole, who supports the Libyan intervention (in fact his blog is a good source of information on the campaign) dismisses any similarity with Bush's Iraq war. 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) and even those who would support an end find themselves supporting the status quo in order to "support the troops". 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.
Second, I would like to address the Libyan rebellion itself. It seems that President Obama "turned on a dime" in deciding on intervention in Libya. Both VP Biden and Sec of Defense Gates were against, while Sec of State Clinton was for intervention. The reason?
"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.
The opportunity for a new direction in US Middle East policy is well taken, this sends a "mixed signal" - as I commented on FDChief's Desert Rats post - to the various Arab autocrats now dealing with domestic protest. Essentially it tells them we can go the other way, and if you go beyond a certain point in using force, our support is unlikely, at the least.
So why intervene in Libya and not elsewhere? Continued turmoil in Libya destabilizes the entire Mediterranean and exposes our NATO Allies to the backlash of this instability. We have had a significant presence in the Med for a long time and stability in the region is of prime US interest. This in addition to the UNSC resolution, statements from the Arab League and requests directly for support from our ally France. Military intervention rests on specifics and not all cases bring the same result, to expect that would be to expect too much. What is required is a specific constellation of interests/events/contingencies which set the stage for a specific intervention to take place. To argue that we cannot intervene here because we have not intervened someplace else assumes that all conditions are exactly alike which is obviously not the case and precludes intervention at all.
While many rightfully have problems with military operations in support of "humanitarian goals", this intervention has been conducted also to prevent a bloodbath, or "Srbrenica on steroids" as it has been described. MQ's tanks were on the verge of turning Benghazi into a slaughter house with tens of thousands of people killed - a whole different level of repression and done with heavy weapons which we have yet to see even talked about elsewhere in the current Arab countries undergoing protest. The Rebels estimate that MQ has killed 8,000 in Tripoli alone in the areas he has retaken in the capital city. To have sat by and allowed this to happen - while the people in the rebel cities were begging for our help - would have been something I personally and I think many other Americans would not have tolerated. There are times when military intervention becomes a necessity.
So a political decision made "on the turn of a dime" and under tremendous time pressures required quick action. That the command arrangements were chaotic reflects this reality, along with the conflicting interests of the various Allies involved. The Turks for instance had a good relationship with MQ and were not happy about the prospect of France expanding her influence in the region. The Norwegians were willing to participate, but only under NATO command, whereas the French and the Arabs saw NATO has too implicated in the policy disaster of Afghanistan and saw a Franco-British command as preferable. While these conditions have influenced the command structure, the air operations have been adequate to support the main center of gravity which is taking place on the ground.
Third, and following on this, I would like to address the nature of this intervention. Our goal is the neutralization of MQ's regime. The best way to do this would be the removal - either voluntary of forced of MQ and his family. What comes next is not up to us and should be left to the various Libyan interest groups to decide for themselves. Concern about "what happens next" is part of our current "bushed" attitude. We could not positively influence to any significant degree what has happened in Af-Pak or Iraq, and in fact many of the outcomes there have been counter to our interests, so why should we suppose that we can or should enjoy this influence in Libya where our level of commitment is much less extensive? Instead our goals should reflect the purpose of this operation, that is to allow the Libyan people to decide their own future without the mortal threat of a tyrant using the weapons of war against his own people.
In my comments on the earlier thread, I mentioned that the French most likely had a plan of operations for this intervention and we should see how it works out. Surprisingly the French were assumed by many to be incompetent, which is simply another aspect of our "bushed" reality? It would fit that pattern.
The French have a long history of military intervention in Africa, have conducted at least 37 major military interventions there (not counting Algeria) since 1960. The vast majority of these have been successful in terms of supporting French national policy, that is they do know something about the use of the military instrument in support of policy, something that the US has been unable achieve consistently since 1965 (the Dominican Republic). The French are avid students of strategic theory and have their own school of Clausewitzian thought based on the approach of the great theorist Raymond Aron. It is also interesting to note that the most successful foreign commander in North Africa, that is in dealing with the North Africans with a combination of limited military action supported by well-thought out policy is a Frenchman, Marshall Lyautey who pacified Morocco for France from 1912-1925. His influence on French military thinking is great and his approach is still studied by thoughtful military officers, although perhaps not in the US.
The French are thus assumed competent in terms of linking military action to their policy objectives. They are aware of what a center gravity is and is not, and also of the limits and/or lack of applicability of the military instrument, which is why they did not support Bush's war in Iraq in 2003, but did support Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991. They also see this intervention as being all about MQ's political base and dissolving that. This, not the destruction of his military, is the center of gravity of French policy in this intervention imo. Success here will decide the success of the intervention and given the nature of tribal loyalties MQ's support could collapse rapidly given the right set of conditions.
Fourth, and finally, there seems to be a good bit of confusion over my claim that the president could reap "political capital" from a successful military intervention and then use this capital to make some necessary policy changes:
Obama has to win back his base. Ending both of Bush's wars would not only save needed funds, but end two strategic setbacks/disasters (however you wish to describe them). This could be possible given the prestige, political capital such a triumph would bring. This is after all how our republic is expected to function, the mass popular leader waging successful and righteous war in our name and claiming democratic support. This was afterall the message of 2003 when George W Bush went into Iraq.
Why so different now? Could it have anything to do with that big propaganda machine?
So you get a feel for our situation. Currently strategic paralysis, caused in part by two lost wars we're stuck in. We need to get out and to do that we need a shock, or metaphorically another throw of the international and domestic political dice. War does that. (my last comment on the Desert Rats thread)
This view is based on Weberian political theory. I am a strategic theorist after all so it should come as no surprise. Still a more extensive explanation is clearly necessary.
Max Weber sees all states as being based on the monopoly of legitimate violence within a specific territory. This is the basis of the state, everything else rests on this. Now, the key word here is "legitimate". If the people see the state (actually simply the administrative apparatus of rule) as legitimate they will accept this monopoly. As we see in Libya a significant number of its people - probably the majority - do not accept MQ's legitimacy and are acting accordingly and he is forced to use raw violence to subdue them. His lack of legitimacy in turn encourages intervention.
But what of the other end of the equation? Instead of little of no legitimacy, what of increasing legitimacy and what would that achieve?
As Randal Collins writes in his classic Weberian Sociological Theory:
"The most important factor is the interests of political leaders in stirring up domestic legitimacy through success in the external military competition with other states. Internal legitimation is the good to be sought though engaging in the prestige game in the international arena; the prize for the rulers of the 'Great Power' is paid in the coin of internal politics." page 162.
In other words political leaders gain prestige at home by conducting military action abroad. This is nothing new and as old as civilization and states themselves. Bush was well aware of it, but then today, our nation being "bushed" is unable to conceive it, instead see all such things as potential disasters no matter what the specifics?
To conclude this point then, a successful military action in the Libyan intervention (which is of very limited objectives as described above) would provide the president with domestic political capital which he could then use for domestic policy choices. The withdrawal from Af-Pak and Iraq are both domestic political decisions since the strategic rationale for both wars ended some time ago.
Part II is here . . .