Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The Known Unknowns of Libya
The Libyan war may be dumbest war we have ever stumbled into. It is a war where the Secretary of Defense has admitted we have no national interest, a war where we don't know on whose behalf we're fighting or why we're even there. A war that the White House did not bother to run by either congress or the American people, except after the fact. A war that appears to be fought at the behest England, France, their oil companies, and a motley collection of Libyan rebels ranging from former regime thugs to Al Qaeda. A week after launching it, the administration still can't get its own story straight as to why we're fighting it at all. According to Obama, he went in because he refused to wait for images of mass graves. Other things he refused to wait for were basic intelligence, stated objectives and congressional approval. It took us ten years to decide to remove Saddam, it didn't even take Obama ten days.
Was there any indication that there would be the implied genocide that comes with mass graves? Hardly. On Feb 22nd, Libyan diplomats began claiming in broken English that Gaddafi was committing 'genocide'. Since they had trouble with the language, it's an open question if they even knew what genocide was. And since Libya is an Arab-Muslim country and the civil war is fought between Arab Muslims, who exactly would Gaddafi be committing genocide against? The Tuaregs are the closest thing Libya has to a minority-- and they're fighting on his side. If there's a possible genocide here, it would be of the Tuareg people by the rebels if they win.
But if Obama was too afraid that there might someday emerge pictures of mass graves, why then did he oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein? Mass graves in Iraq are not hypothetical. And photos of them are available. Yet Obama who campaigned on his opposition to a war in which there were mass graves and in which every option had been exhausted after a decade-- now leaps into a war to avoid the possibility that he might ever have to look at photos of mass graves.
This isn't about Obama being too queasy to look at mass graves. If that were the case we would be invading North Korea, Sudan and the cartel run parts of Mexico. Gaddafi is not doing anything that half the Middle East isn't doing, and unlike our close ally Turkey, he's doing it without employing chemical weapons. We aren't in Libya because it's an extraordinary human rights situation, but because our decision making process has become a thorough and complete mess.
What kind of war is it, when a week after it begins, the NATO commander admits that he's examining the possibility that maybe we're actually fighting for Al-Qaeda. Our main enemy in that other war, which we're neglecting in order to begin a war on yet another front. The very minimal condition for any war should be to make sure that we aren't fighting on the same side as our enemies. The only condition lower than that would be to make sure we aren't pointing the guns at ourselves. A war where we can't do that is a very bad war indeed.
But don't worry. While we may not be sure who the rebels are yet, Obama has already proposed arming them. Or rather he's not ruling it out. Which is to say all options are on the table, except the reasoned and lawful ones.
Bad is the operating word in the UK, where RAF instructors are being rushed off to the front lines because of a shortage of Typhoon pilots, and with no aircraft carrier to deploy them from because it's been cut up for scrap, while the Royal Navy flagship is being put up for sale on the military version of eBay. If you're going to start a war, as Prime Minister Cameron has, you should be prepared for it.
But Libya isn't the kind of war you prepare for, it's the kind of war you stumble into. One bad idea mushrooming into another one. An error in judgement by world leaders escalating into a bombing campaign. The only thing missing is Peter Sellers trying to strangle himself. This is how liberals think all war happens, and so that's the kind of war they foisted on us.
European governments with Libyan oil contracts prematurely celebrating a rebel victory, only to see the rebel advance turn into a retreat, scrambling to save the situation by making sure that the rebels win. Before really figuring out who the rebels are. We are bombing Libya, not because of the specter of mass graves, but because key European leaders made a wrong guess about the outcome of a civil war and their political futures and energy supply hangs in the balance.
Despite our No Fly Zone, Gaddafi is still winning. Which means that now we have to get even deeper, to justify our original course of action. Now we may supply the rebels with arms and begin hitting Libyan armor. Then we'll have to start bombing armed camps. And if the rebels still can't pull it off, how many more steps will it take before we start sending the troops in?
The credibility of Obama and key European allies is on the line. The Arab League has already made sure to stake out positions on both sides of the fence. Russia is against it, except when they're sort of for it. China expects to benefit no matter what happens. It's probably the safest bet of any player in the game. Obama and Sarkozy have elections coming up, and they need a win. But their only possible Victory Condition is either Gaddafi getting on a plane or going in the ground. And the latter is clearly more likely to happen than the former.
It's not that Gaddafi is worth saving. He isn't. He isn't even worth the cost of a cruise missile. But it's doubtful that his replacements, most of whom either worked for him or think the Taliban didn't go far enough, will be any better. And what's worse is that we haven't done the due diligence to decide that one way or another. Our military people are just guessing. And they know that it doesn't matter. The politicians have committed themselves, which means that even if tomorrow Libya's rebel council were to appoint Osama bin Laden as its chief, some way would be found to rationalize and normalize the whole thing.
That's how the dominoes of stupidity work. Sarkozy and Cameron fall on Obama, he fingers his chin and tugs on his earlobes while pondering the NCAA draft picks. Samantha Power shows up eager for an opportunity to put her interventionist ideas to the test, with the promise of international support. Obama checks his calendar and decides that they can get it done while he's vacationing with his family in Rio. Imagine Will Smith filling in for Peter Sellers, and you get some idea of how ridiculous and poorly thought out this whole farce really is.
Libya isn't just an optional war, it's a war we began fighting before we even knew we were fighting it. It's a war that's being renamed even as it's being escalated. Odyssey Dawn sounds like an exotic perfume. What about Kinetic Military Action, it sounds like a feature for the latest video game. Anything but an honest admission that this is an undeclared war on behalf of the losing side in a civil war. The side we decided to choose before we even knew what that side was.
And that's the real crime here. The revelation of how little thought and concern went into this war. How the major players, stumbled into this thinking only of themselves. Sarkozy and Cameron dreaming of oil contracts, Samantha Power of forcing her interventionist vision on the world, and Obama, hoping a few billion spent on bombing Libya will help him in the polls. The criminal thoughtlessness behind Obama's decision to go to war-- mirrors the criminal thoughtlessness of his party in turning him into a viable candidate after a few months in the Senate.
The confused leaders of the ad hoc coalition all expect Gaddafi to do the reasonable thing, but that's how they got into trouble to begin with, when they assumed that Libya would be just like Egypt which would be just like Tunisia. But Gaddafi isn't Mubarak, he isn't even Saddam Hussein. What he is, is authentically crazy. Not the usual crazy that's so commonplace in the Arab world. This isn't Baghdad Minister of Information crazy, or GPS Shark crazy or any of the usual melange of conspiracy theories, cunning ploys and contradictory beliefs that are commonplace among regional leaders. No, this is actual insanity. That means it may be possible that Gaddafi will get on a plane tomorrow and fly to Malta and announce that he is resigning to build an entry portal to paradise. Or more likely he will just hang on to the bitter end, spending his fortune on arms and mercenaries. And we will spend ours firing cruise missiles at pickup trucks.
Which means this war may turn into Grenada or Iraq-- or anything in between. It may be resolved tomorrow or three years from now. There really is no way to know, because of how much we don't know. The tactical maxim that 'no plan of operations survives first contact with the enemy' is more relevant here than ever, because of the sheer ignorance and lack of planning that went into this war. Liberals mocked Rumsfeld's 'Known Unknowns' and 'Unknown Unknowns', and here they find themselves in a war filled with 'Unknown Unknowns', things that they didn't even know they needed to know. Like how wars really work.