We once again have American service men and women going in harm’s way. However, this time we are responding to a United Nations mandate. Muammar Qaddafi has again decided to show his rogue nature. A difference, though, is that several other nations have recognized the heinous nature of his conduct and called on united action to protect the Libyan people from their dictatorial leader. That UN mandate, however, also contains the foundation for confusion.
During most of my adult life, if the United States took military action we set the terms of battle and led from the front. This time we seem to be a reluctant participant. I can understand that reluctance, because frankly I’m also reluctant to say let’s go kick around another tin-pot dictator for freedom and democracy. The only characteristic of Libya that appears to me to be in our national interest is that Libya has oil. While many people hate to say that we fight for oil, unfortunately we sometimes use military force to protect economic interests, because the economy is a critical element of our national well-being. Nonetheless, I question whether we need Libyan oil so much that American blood must be spilled to resolve a civil war.
President Obama says that U.S. policy is to remove Qaddafi as the leader of Libya. However, our senior military leaders have said that they have no mission to end Qaddafi’s reign. The UN mandate does not require Qaddafi to be deposed. The president has made it clear that we are operating in support of the UN and not on our own. In fact, we’ll turn over the lead in the operation soon to some other country. I wonder who that will be and whether that means we will commit U.S. service men and women to fight under a foreign commander. That would be a change in policy.
It appears that we and our allies are supposed to perform a humanitarian mission of protecting the Libyan people by killing Qaddafi’s supporters. However, how will we know when we have killed enough? For example, let’s say that Qaddafi stops trying to kill the rebels. Do we stop killing his people? If we do, when do we stop monitoring the area and go home? If we leave and Qaddafi decides to attack again, do we go back? How do we impose our, or the UN’s, will on Qaddafi to prevent him from beginning military operations against the rebels once again? Who gets to say that we have completed the mission?
With no clear definition of success, I’m not sure how we will know that the mission is completed. Defining success removes flexibility in deciding on a course of action. With the UN involved, achieving agreement among the large number of member countries regarding the meaning of success is further complicated.
I also find it interesting that President Obama has committed military forces to combat without consulting Congress. I thought that issue was resolved with the War Powers Resolution, also known as Public Law 93-148. There was no need to protect U.S. citizens at this point. Immediate action was needed to react to the UN, but that also again relegates us to something of a second seat.
I’m surprised at how this has turned out, and who has objected and not objected to this turn of events. I am happy that other nations are helping, though the Arab League’s weak support when they called for Western help is a disappointment, even if not a surprise. Thank goodness for the French, and as always for the British. These two allies are showing that they can make a decision and get about the business at hand.
So this is an interesting time for sure. I pray that our service men and women and those of our allies stay safe. I also hope that the president can figure out our mission and objectives in measurable terms so that our military leaders at least know the things that they must do and when to risk lives. Getting service members killed when the end state is unknown is a waste of our most precious resource -- the lives of the men and women who are willing to pay that price to protect all of us.