Monday, March 21, 2011


Apparently we're at war with Libya. At least that's how it appears, as on Day One U.S. Navy ships and submarines fired more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan thug and international terrorist Moamar Qaddafi (however his name is spelled this week). Meanwhile, Marine Corps Harriers launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. That's because we haven't had big-deck carriers in the Mediterranean for a couple of years due to all that "rightsizing" that began under Bill Klinton and the GOP wimps in congress. Meanwhile, the Air Force has put B-2s, F-15s and F-16s overhead. That's in concert with other nations as diverse as France, Britain, Spain, and Qatar, with Paris providing msot of the leadership and muscle. (British participation is noteworthy considering the odiously shamelful episode when one of the 1988 Lockerbie bombers was returned to a 2009 hero's welcome in Tripoli in exchange for oil concessions.)

One thing is missing. Well, OK, several things are missing, but one really big thing: A MISSION STATEMENT. I.E., what is our goal in Libya beyond bombing the air defences?

Thus far the only statements that remotely answer that essential question have come from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and some spokespersons who allude to "protectingLibyan civilians." Well, if that's the goal, then We The People are entitled to ask, "Protecting civilians to what end, and for how long? And what other nations' civilians are we presumably bound to protect?" Since Barack Hussein Obama has stated that no American ground forces will be committed to Libyan soil, are we to conduct an air campaign indefinitely?

America has a long history of trouble with Libya, dating from the Barbary pirates of the early 1800s. In 1981 and 1986 the Navy clashed with Qaddafi when carrier based fighters downed four Libyan jets during exercizes along the notorious "Line of Death." In 1986 Navy and Air Force planes struck Libyan targets in retaliation for a terrorist bombing that killed Americans in Germany.

The current air offensive began with approval of the Arab League and a United Nations resolution supporting use of force against the Libyan government. However, barely had the Tomahawks left their launch cells than the head of the League began backpedaling, saying that the allied measures were excessive. A typical diplomtic double standard expressed in doublespeak: please help us solve the problem but don't solive it too violently.

If any multinational endeavor is doomed to fail, it's this one.

The operation is called Odyssey Dawn, which at least avoids the grandiose and often self-serving names of U.S. missions such as Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. The generic title of the Libyan op undoubtedly reflects the colalborative nature of the endeavor, especially since the Europeans have the lead.

Perhaps it's understandable that politicians like Obama and Clinton decided to remain nonspecific about America's objective in Libya. But that does not excuse the deafening silence from the military professionals responsible for executing the "plan." If there is a plan. Every one of the service chiefs attended war college at some point, presumably learning about the military-political-industrial complex, and presumably reading some geopolitical theory. The Prussian genral Karl von Clausewitz wrote the bible on military theory about 180 years ago, and On War has been required reading ever since. Clausewitz 101 begins at the beginning, which is a fine place to begin. Among his nine rules of war, the first is "Define the mission." Thus far the joint chiefs have flunked the course, and apparently they require remedial education.

Some essential topics are going unexamined in the media. How will a cobbled-together coalition of naval and air forces from multiple nations operate together with little or no prior training? How well do they communicate? What are the rules of engagement, and are they standardized? (Reportedly the French are free to whack Qaddafi while Americans are not.) And perhaps more importantly, what happens if the Libyans or anyone else comes out to play? Is a generic air/submarine defense adequate to the challenge? We don't know.

At home there's very little discussion about the legitimacy of the U.S. operation. The War Powers Act requires the president to notify congress within 48 hours of beginning military operations, with a 60-day grace period before further consultation. If Obama bothered to comply with the law, it seems a well kept secret, and the lack of a clear mission satement in Libya permits only two conclusions: either the administration and the military establishment are incompetent, or they fear that stating a specific goal could prove inconvenient or embarrassing. Therefore, the U.S. Government has decided to provide no yardstick because that would afford an objective measure of the extent of America's failure in the Libyan adventure.