To put things in perspective, Muammar Gaddafi had a better week than Anthony Weiner. Perspective is in very short supply on President Obama’s “kinetic military action” in support of the NATO effort to forestall something to protect somebody and maybe accomplish that regime change thingy.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner offered a resolution on Obama’s Libya policy intended to assert influence upon the expiration of the War Powers Resolution limitation on presidential power to commit troops to combat without congressional authorization. The resolution Boehner offered — about which more in a moment — was so bowdlerized that it brought to mind the scene in Oliver when the hungry waif held out his porridge bowl to ask, “Please, sir, can I have some more?”
A few facts about our military commitment to the Libya op illustrate the problem. We are — again — engaged in a limited war to accomplish a stated mission that cannot be achieved without succeeding in another unstated mission which is larger and harder than our leadership is willing to pursue.
President Obama justified our intervention in the Libyan revolt on humanitarian grounds and said it would take weeks, not months. That was three months ago, and no end is in sight. He and the other NATO leaders have always said that success cannot be achieved without Gaddafi’s removal. And because neither Obama nor his partners — France’s Sarkozy and Britain’s Cameron — have admitted the dependency of one mission on the other, they have led us into the worst sort open-ended fuzzy-goaled “limited war,” in which American strategic interests in the Middle East were not implicated before it began.
According to a congressional source who had heard the Obama administration’s briefing on Libya last week, American forces form the backbone of the NATO task force.
We are operating, in support of the NATO mission, fighters, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), electronic warfare and aerial refueling aircraft, one destroyer and a number of drone aircraft. Our aircraft represent 24% of the total NATO force and have flown 27% of all sorties. (Our tanker guys, God bless ’em, are again pulling disproportionate duty, having flown over 75% of the refueling missions.)
All of this is at a cost of about $2 million a day. According to my source, the Pentagon puts the total cost of the Libya operation at $663.7 million as of mid-May. (That total seems far too low, considering we’ve fired about 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya so far, at a cost of about $1 million each.)
It’s fair to ask — now that our guys have been in action for over two months — just what are we getting for that investment? The answer is: nothing.
As I wrote when Obama commenced this charlie foxtrot, we have no interest in Gaddafi’s demise sufficient to justify the risk of American lives and the open-ended commitment of forces to the NATO operation.
It was less than three months ago when NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen assured the world that the NATO mission over Libya would only enforce the UN Resolution to “protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gaddafi regime.” He said, “NATO will implement all aspects of the UN Resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.” From that false premise, NATO has proceeded to half-heartedly attempt to kill Gaddafi, resulting in the deaths of some of his relatives and increasing his resolve to remain in power.
Last weekend, having failed to remove Gaddafi, NATO decided to commit attack helicopters to combat. That raises the ante considerably: helicopters are far more vulnerable to antiaircraft weapons than fast-moving jets. British Defense Minister Liam Fox denied that this was NATO’s “plan B,” saying that the deployment of attack helos was just “…a logical extension of what we had already been doing.”
Fox’s denial rings entirely hollow. Limited wars — fought with limited weapons employed under restrictions that deny the opportunity to strike a fatal blow at the enemy — always evolve in their objectives from limited success to accepted failure.
In their briefing to Congress, the Obama team cited four reasons to justify our continuing involvement. The four reasons boil down to these: that if we pull back from the Libya operation, our NATO allies may pull out of Afghanistan sooner than we’d like; that if we end our Libya commitment, other Middle Eastern dictators will believe they can outlast us; and that leaving Gaddafi in place would enable him to destabilize Egypt.
Obama’s worry about Afghanistan is only that NATO’s shrinking presence will lead to a crisis there that could make him look bad before the 2012 election. Britain — almost alone among the NATO nations in providing troops that actually fight in Afghanistan — may begin a quick pullout this year.
The President shouldn’t worry about encouraging terrorist dictators to wait us out. They’ve done it successfully in Iraq (Iran principally, and Syria as well) and in Afghanistan (Iran, and the ever-helpful Pakistanis). In a decade of war against terrorists, only one of their sponsors — the late and unlamented Saddam Hussein — has been persuaded to cease sponsoring terrorism.
As to Gaddafi’s ability to destabilize Egypt (which is doing so well in pursuit of democracy that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to take over), shouldn’t we have thought about that before NATO struck? The last time we took a shot at Gaddafi and didn’t kill him — President Reagan’s 1986 airstrike on Gaddafi’s compound — resulted in Gaddafi’s terrorist proxies blowing Pan Am 103 out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Shouldn’t Republicans be doing everything to push Obama to either pull out or prevent further Gaddafi-ordered terrorism by removing him forcibly? Yes, but that’s not what they did.
Any time Texas congressman Louie Gohmert and I find ourselves in agreement with Dennis Kucinich you know events have pushed us into a political twilight zone. But that’s what happened last week when two competing Libya resolutions came up in the House. (For those who don’t know those gentlemen, Gohmert is as clear-thinking a conservative as lives today, and Kucinich is his polar opposite.)
Kucinich’s resolution would have forced Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from the Libya operation unless he received congressional authorization. Speaker Boehner’s competing resolution merely chastised the president for not providing a compelling rationale for the Libya war and demanded that Obama answer questions on the commitment of forces and what they cost.
Kucinich’s resolution failed but 87 Republicans voted for it, including Gohmert and dozens of Republican freshmen. Boehner’s timid resolution passed.
In a floor speech, Gohmert said he preferred to do on Libya what the Democrats did in 1974: to cut off funding for the war. In a masterful understatement he said, “Unfortunately we have a president who cared more about what the Arab League and the UN thought than he did his own elected Congress…. We know from the rules of the House the president wouldn’t lie, but he sure is misrepresenting things.”
In 2007 — already campaigning for president — Obama condemned what he called our “open-ended commitments” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But now we have an open-ended commitment in Libya. We’re withdrawing from Iraq and Obama will begin withdrawal from Afghanistan next month. The principal sponsors of terrorism — Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan — remain untouched and undeterred. They are encouraged by our self-imposed quagmire of nation-building, in which Obama has compounded Bush’s mistake.
Republicans have to wake up and take on Obama’s policy on the war terrorist nations wage against us. Boehner’s Oliver resolution on Libya is precisely the wrong approach. It would be better for Republicans, and for the nation, if they took Obama on directly and tried to do what Gohmert prefers: set a date beyond which funding for the Libya operation will end. And make that date somewhere between July 4th and Labor Day.
If congressional Republicans won’t do it, the burden falls on the party’s presidential aspirants. Why are they silent? The leadership in war on which Republicans pride themselves is nowhere in sight.