Seriously – is there a one sentence answer? Because I think if we’re going to start bombing other countries, we as citizens should at least be afforded the luxury of some brevity from our elected officials – it’s actually a nice little baseline standard for using force – you have to be able to answer “Why are we doing this?” in a sentence, or we can’t move forward.
So what is the goal? Are we attempting to oust Qaddafi? No, according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but yes, according to the French. Are we protecting the Eastern rebels and allowing them to form their own government, and possibly their own country? No, and even if we were, the Libyans themselves may not be interested. Right now all we’ve got in terms of an agreed-upon objective is the nebulous notion of “protecting civilians” – which is all well and good, but begs the question – why are we are not similarly moved to protect civilians under fire in Bahrain or Yemen or anywhere else a totalitarian regime is cracking down? (is Robert Mugabe, for instance, that different from Muammar Qaddafi?)
So the goals are vague at best. What happens next? Well, check out this fun read from the NYT, which would lead even a foreign policy novice to ask “Why didn’t anybody ask these questions before we started lobbing cruise missiles all over the Mediterranean?” Here’s a snippet (bold is mine):
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the intention is to turn over command for the international force implementing a no-fly zone to NATO. “Let me explain how the coalition will work — it’s operating under U.S. command with the intention that this will transfer to NATO,” Mr. Cameron said. That would allow all NATO allies who wanted to participate to do so. “Clearly the mission would benefit from that and from using NATO’s tried-and-tested machinery in command and control,” he said.
But France objects to turning Libya into a NATO operation, arguing from the start that Arab countries do not want a NATO label on the mission. Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said in Brussels on Monday that “the Arab League does not wish the operation to be entirely placed under NATO responsibility. It isn’t NATO which has taken the initiative up to now.”
Mr. Juppé said that “today the United States is coordinating the interventions in close coordination with France and Britain. In a few days, if the United States pulls back from the operation, NATO is ready to come in with its support,” which he described as “its contribution to the planning and execution of operations.”
But France does not want NATO to have political control of the mission, he said. “It’s a coalition of countries leading the operation, so they are in political control of it, and Arab countries, North American and European countries are participating.”
Turkey is also reluctant to have NATO take charge, since it is the only Muslim member of the alliance, has opposed the use of force in Libya and was excluded from a Saturday planning meeting in Paris. But Turkey, which has kept lines open to the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, is likely to allow NATO to run the operation as long as it does not invade Libya with any ground forces or occupy the country.
Germany also wants no part of the Libyan operation, which it opposed.
And Italy, which has long had close ties with Libya, is threatening to rethink its position unless NATO takes over the operations, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in Brussels on Monday. Italy does not want to wage a war in Libya, and unless the mission came under the command of NATO, Italy would have to “reflect on the use of its bases,” he said. “If there were a multiplication in the number of command centers, which would be a mistake in itself, we will have to study a way for Italy to regain control of its bases,” he said.
Dear God. It’s like sitting in on a conference call gone off the rails. To recap – the Brits think NATO will take over shortly, France doesn’t want NATO to take over, Germany is already out altogether and Italy will bail if NATO doesn’t take over. All this sets aside that, from where I sit, a quick move from a UN “Protection” mission to a NATO military operation without getting so much as a nod from Congress is a pretty alarming bait-and-switch, one that has Dennis Kucinich throwing the “i” word around and George Will reminding us that Congress is probably fine with it, since it has shirked its war-declaring duties since July 1942.
If only we had some recent example of the extreme cost and commitment of moving forward with military action without a defined objective or endgame. Or a leader elected in large part because of his assertion that he understood those ramifications, as well as the danger of an overreaching executive, and would act accordingly.