In Libya, No End In Sight
Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
Libya is a mess. And not just on the Libyan side. Ever since American and European forces began carrying out a no-fly zone over the North African country on March 19, it has become clear that the countries involved—chiefly the U.S, Britain, and France—did a poor job of planning. No one seems to know the goal of the operation—and worse, no one knows when it will end.
Technically, Operation Odyssey Dawn was initiated to stop Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from harming his own citizens. But air and missile strikes have continued even after the coalition successfully pushed Gaddafi’s forces back from Benghazi, the second-largest city in Libya. After taking out Gaddafi’s air defenses, the coalition began bombing his forces on the ground. And on March 30, news reports stated that CIA operatives have been working on the ground, vetting and gathering intelligence on rebel forces. It was also announced by Reuters that, several weeks prior, President Obama signed a secret “finding” which authorizes the CIA to provide support to Libyan rebels. British special forces and intelligence officers are also working inside the country.
Clearly, the misson has escalated from a no-fly zone to a full-on intervention, and is going to last far longer than the Obama Administratin initially said it would last. But the end-goal of the operation still remains unclear. Coalition leaders have all expressed their desire that Gaddafi step down, so it is likely that the mission will continue until he does.
“There have been lots of options which have been discussed,” said Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on CBS’ “Face the Nation”. “But I think it’s very uncertain how this ends.”
Mullen had the tough job of appearing on Sunday news shows the day after the attacks began, nearly two weeks ago. While he repeatedly asserted that the mission is clearly defined and limited in scope, he never stated what, exactly, is the mission’s ultimate goal.
A week after Mullen hit the Sunday talk-show circuit, Defense Secretary Robert Gates did the same. Gates was trying to defend the Obama Administration, which has cone under fire for its failure to communicate what, exactly, the U.S. is trying to achieve in Libya. But Gates only bolstered public uncertainty.
When asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” about a timetable, he said, “I don’t think anyone has any idea.”
That’s not the kind of answer you want to hear from an Administration that has just involved its country in a third overseas conflict, especially since its ambiguity recalls the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As a country, we’ve become sensitive to any sort of military operation in the Middle East or the Maghreb.
“Nearly ten years of war have provided us with several key lessons-learned,” said Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, (R-CA), in a press statement on March 20. “Chief among them is that the American people must understand the scope and endgame objectives of military operations against another country.”
McKeon makes a fair point—we’ve learned a few lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan: if we don’t have a clear objective, we don’t have a clear benchmark for victory. And any promise that our involvement will be short-lived (President Obama has repeatedly stated the U.S. role in this conflict will be limited) has to be taken with a grain of salt.
“The worst thing you can do, like Afghanistan or Iraq, is say that this is going to be short, sweet and easy,” said Thomas Donnelly, director of the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, to the Washington Post. “That’s a possibility, even a probability [in Libya], but it’s not a certainty.”
While perhaps U.S. involvement in Libya won’t drag on for ten years, it has certainly lasted more than just the few days that the Obama Administration said it would. And it has reminded everyone that when we go into another country, we need a plan. No one wants another Iraq. We need to know what we’re doing, and most importantly, we need to know why.
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