Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama's Libya Lecture: claims vs. realities

Mr. Obama has spoken about why he committed US forces to a no-fly-zone-plus in Libya.  Transcript is here.  Among the more useful post-speech analyses, the AP fact-checker is well worth a look - as well as a reminder that when one can divorce Obama's words from how he delivers them, one might come away considerably less impressed.  And note especially the AP comment on BO's assertion that as of Wednesday, NATO will be taking the lead:

In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically. In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.

And the rapid advance of rebels in recent days strongly suggests they are not merely benefiting from military aid in a defensive crouch, but rather using the multinational force in some fashion - coordinated or not - to advance an offensive. . . .
As by far the pre-eminent player in NATO, and a nation historically reluctant to put its forces under operational foreign command, the United States will not be taking a back seat in the campaign even as its profile diminishes for public consumption.

NATO partners are bringing more into the fight. But the same "unique capabilities" that made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand. They include a range of attack aircraft, refueling tankers that can keep aircraft airborne for lengthy periods, surveillance aircraft that can detect when Libyans even try to get a plane airborne, and, as Obama said, planes loaded with electronic gear that can gather intelligence or jam enemy communications and radars.

The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO's budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors - Britain and France - combined. A Canadian three-star general was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. His boss, the commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is an American admiral, and the admiral's boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.

And as Marc Ambinder notes at National Journal, one could conclude that, quite simply, Obama committed US forces to the Libyan theater "because we could and our interests and values demanded it." This was, in fact, a chance for the US to ride to the rescue of the underdog - and for the US military to score some global-leadership points for an embattled commander-in-chief.  With US troops departing a still unsettled Iraq without a deck-of-the-USS Missouri kind of victory moment and being both hammered and accused of atrocities in Afghanistan, thwarting Qaddafi's drive on Benghazi serves to provide the military and the public a "let's feel good about ourselves" moment.  US/NATO intervention may indeed have saved hundreds of Libyans in Benghazi and elsewhere, and that in itself is a good thing.  But neither Obama nor anyone else on god's green earth knows how this is going to end, but unless the best of all possible scenarios shapes up (Qaddafi and his entire brood evaporate, and a Libyan George Washington + Thomas Jefferson emerges), it's difficult to envision an ending without (1) the US coming down squarely and openly on the side of the rebels, and (2) some Western military boots scraping the soil of the Libyan homeland. 

At which point, the Libyan war that Obama refuses to call a war, indeed becomes unequivocally a war, with all the expense and commitment of resources that war entails.

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