"Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites". ----Thomas Jefferson
"Blessed are the people whose leaders can look destiny in the eye without flinching but also without attempting to play God". --Henry Kissinger
The cost of one Tomahawk missile $1.4 million dollars. There were 160 launched in the first week of the Libyan offensive. ---U.S. Department of Defense
Lightning Executive Decisions or Pre-existing Contingency Plans?
American's are still awed by the speed in which the Obama administration has dispatched U.S. forces to Libya. Recent news reports and have dealt with the topic of American apathy to the whole situation in Libya pointing out that many voters still don't know that once again: we are at war. Yet this seemingly frantic diplomacy and military action is not without method.
As far back as 2009 'think-tanks' and government intelligence officials have anticipated the need of the U.S. to increase its presence on the African continent. Unfortunately for the politicians and special interest groups, with two waning conflicts on two different continents the American public, traumatized by post 9-11 headlines, are hardly in the mood for another conflict.
In the name of human rights however, Obama can take pride in the fact that not since the Cold War has any President juggled so many intense conflicts in so many regions of the world at the same time. Ironically, after castigating the Republican party during the '08 elections over their 'hawkish', unilateral, and un-American policies, Obama has acted very much in line with his previous administration creating little distinction in his use of the Executive powers, or regard of Congressional and public opinion. His cabinet probably applauds him every morning over donuts and coffee. The American people however, remain unconvinced.
As the White House continues to emphasize its 'Non-active'/supportive role emphasizing that U.S. goals are "strictly humanitarian", the Associated Press recently reported that the CIA is actively working on Libyan soil to aid in building up the new rebel movement attempting to overthrow Qaddafi.
While these actions run counter to the administration's stated goals, and the UN mandate under which it acts, the fact that U.S. forces are attempting to organize an effort to remove the dictator has not escaped the U.S. Congress or American taxpayers as several polls demonstrate a confused and divided public generally opposed to the action in Libya called: Operation Odyssey Dawn.
According to one CNN report the start up costs alone run between 400-600 million dollars. To maintain the 'No-Fly Zone' costs between $30-100 million per week. The fuel for each plane costs $10,000 per hour, this zone is maintained 24 hours a day. In Iraq the No-Fly zone lasted for almost a decade, while the Libyan "no-fly zone" covers twice the land mass. This is only the tip of the iceberg as the Mediterranean is now home to over 11 U.S. battleships as well as an assortment of NATO forces. The idea that NATO will pull this off without U.S. aid is mere 'smoke and mirrors', an assertion which is hardly credible.
As it stands the U.S. cannot extricate itself at this point without great loss of prestige, and strategic influence. As NATO has few examples of winning a war without U.S. aid the proposition that NATO has the manpower, money or national will to invade Libya and topple Qaddafi on their own is weak. If for no other reason than rarely in history have Americans sent their sons to die under the command of a foreign nation. If we are there, we will run the war, publicly or not.
For the the public this action causes great concern and anxiety. Normally supportive of any action associated with the "war on terror", or "mum" on actions which are cloaked with catch phrases of "economic and global stability" , recent events have left the public stunned, confused and divided.
In the face of rising inflation and budget cuts, public opinion is hardly ripe for war. Plagued by budget deficits, rising energy costs, stagnant employment and waves of foreclosures the public has rejected these recent moves by the administration. By the numbers alone, the sheer cost of this military action has not resonated well with either the U.S. Congress or voters.
The American Public Is Not the Audience Anymore
In Obama's recent speech given March 28, he stated that the U.S. had a 'responsibility to act' due to the fact that potentially thousands of Libyans would be slaughtered by the military in an attempt to suppress political dissent. By his reasoning however one would be compelled to conclude that the U.S. should not single out Libya alone for military action as revolutions and corresponding violent state suppression is taking place throughout the middle east and in southern Africa.
So, who was he talking to? Apparently not American voters, as his administration, moving at lightning speed has demonstrated that the opinion of "global allies" and organizations trumps the opinions of the U.S. Congress and the voting public. When assertions regarding the need to protect civilians are made only in relation to oil producing countries, it inspires cynicism rather than patriotism.
Major news networks have reported that in Saudi Arabia mass demonstrations have been violently suppressed by the Saudi security forces. These forces have used the entire catalog of strong arm tactics against unarmed civilians including mass arrests, torture, killings and imprisonment. The Obama administration is silent.
Instead they furiously lobby for Saudi and Arab backing of the Libyan campaign. Ironically the Saudi's and other dictatorial regimes are quite aware that their positions are in jeopardy. With this in mind it is hard to grasp the administrations reasoning, as when it's all said and done many dictators in power may find their fates at the end of a palm fibre rope, therefore it is easy to see how self preservation will dictate the degree of participation (so far only Qatar has sent a token fleet of 5 jets to aid in the region].
In Palestine demonstrations against the Israeli military presence and a resulting violent crackdown go unmentioned by the administration. This story is being repeated almost verbatim across the middle eastern and African map: Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of sub-Saharan African nations have become daily scenes of public displays of discontent and violent governmental suppression.
This leads to some basic questions raised by one Congressional official in a letter to Obama. One of the questions raised was regarding the threshold for action in these other regions? Are we not also obligated to intervene in these far flung regions of the world, or does the UN decide for America which conflicts to engage in according to its whim?
A brief exerpt of the resolution is says a lot about whose interests will be served by this intervention and why we are there:
"Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favour to none against, with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation), the Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory — requesting them to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures" ----UN Security Resolution 1973
- The countries which favored action included:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (remember them??)
- Gabon (U.S. aid recipient)
- Lebanon (remember them??)
- Portugal (currently requesting an EU economic bailout)
- South Africa (remember them???)
- UK and U.S.
What makes this list interesting is that, outside of the U.K. not one major world power has come forward to openly support military action, including some our closest economic allies such as India, and Brazil. This highlights the statement made at a conference of the Center for Strategic and International Studies regarding the need for the U.S. to counter balance the growing influence of other world powers in the region.
"The United States faces a far more competitive environment in Africa than in previous decades, with “emerging powers”—most notably China, India, Brazil, and a number of smaller Asian states—making major political and economic plays, and with regional organizations, transnational influences, and African civil societies asserting themselves more and more in national affairs."
CSIS January 2010
Coincidentally the "emerging powers" named in their 2010 report are the same powers which have abstained on the UN council, and in whose interest declining U.S. economic/political clout serves. The UN vote underlines the fact that American's are once again being governed by the rules of a global game to ensure strategic dominance over growing economies, and major resources, ultimately serving the interests of a few very powerful interests within our government, while the public at large experiences a huge decline in public services, and simultaneous rise in commodities.
One is left to wonder exactly how much more of this we will take before popular uprisings in our own nation begin to fill world headlines? Recent events in Wisconsin and California signal greater discontent in months to come, as prices rise and patience wanes here at home. In the meantime however the administration is making a long term investment in another foreign country. [Newsflash: the Taliban are gearing up for a new spring offensive....]
An Obama Blitzkrieg??
The German term for "lightning war" Blitzkrieg was more than just a battlefield tactic. Often when one thinks of the term, images of black and white war footage come to mind. Blitzkrieg however was only one component of a larger theory that if an state acted with enough speed it could overwhelm the entire political playing field before the enemy had a chance to counter strike.
The military component used tanks. The political component used "pre-fabricated" governments consisting of local and foreign agents which it would install upon toppling the regime. And the domestic component included a constant barrage of propaganda intended to galvanize public support. Churned out by state sponsored media the German public was barraged with images and reports from the war-front touting the legitimacy of the German invasions. Consequently the Nazi's regime was subject to very little public discontent for their apparent illegal acts of aggression on foreign soil.
Similarly, the U.S. public is numb to war. And even less interested. A San Diego news reporter for KTSU [ref. 3/29/2011] randomly questioned people off the street regarding their opinions about events in Libya and U.S. involvement. After watching the clip one could draw two basic conclusions about public opinions in this matter: 'we can't tell you much about geography or geo-politics, but we certainly know we are not interested in another war'! [emphasis mine]
Unfortunately no one is listening. So I asked myself: can we win in Libya? And the answer that comes back is: No, because success has yet to be defined. In the face of an Ad Hoc strategy the Obama Administration almost admits that it is not prepared for what is happening in Libya. In fact preparation and planning seem to be, in the words of the Secretary of Defense Bob Gates "kind of on-the-fly".
The obvious lack of strategic planning becomes evident when one considers the speed in which the administration entered into this conflict making it any man's game. If I were an advisor to Mr. Obama I would explain to him that Libya will not be like Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact Libya will not be like any other war we have fought in the past decade, particularly because it is in Africa.
Watching the administration ratchet up public opinion for another regional conflict one cannot help but feel a sense of concern. Slowly but surely old euphemisms are pulled out of the closet dusted off: "war on terror", "Islamic extremists" and of course "Bin Laden/Al Qeada" imagery have all been used as they continue to inspire fear in a public largely detached from the problem and its causes. Our collective heads are in the sand.
Despite his convoluted reasoning over the past few weeks not only has Obama failed to provide convincing arguments to the Congress and American public regarding our commitments in the region, he has refused to explain how we will pay for this new adventure and even more importantly, how he plans to win it. While the implication is that the spoils of war will eventually find their way into U.S. and NATO coffers, we all know that the U.S. taxpayer, already under severe economic pressures, will be left to foot the bill and provide the soldiers.
Qaddafi is not another Saddam
While most American's could hardly explain the relevance of Libya to U.S. interests even fewer understand the logistics and demands of this undertaking. In a world where overthrowing "evil" dictators has become acceptable, the U.S. public has become somewhat apathetic to the consequences of being the global police.
This is not, however, without a degree of self interest. In a world where economies are interwoven and resources are rapidly dwindling, the stakes in Africa are very high. So too however, is the cost. Whether the administration has the will to endure a prolonged military engagement remains subject to debate. History however is not so vague.
Over the past few decades the U.S. has directly or indirectly removed several regimes, some criminal, other not, all of which we once did business, some more recent examples include: Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Idi Amin, Slobodon Milosovec, and Manuel Noriega.
Each of these conflicts were relatively brief, had specific goals and for the most part voter support. While some parallels can be drawn which indicate this conflict may be quick, there are some huge red flags which suggest that this conflict will go south. This includes statements by current and former defense officials.
This implies that the U.S. may be required to send in ground troops, build bases, create a government from scratch, and commit long term resources to the region. In the words of one CIA official a civil war in Africa is a "nightmare" scenario for U.S. forces as it differs greatly from past conflicts. Some examples of contrasts between the current Afghan and Iraqi conflicts are as follows:
- Unlike Saddam and Milosovec's regimes the Qaddaffi regime has not been worn down by years of internal civil war and conflict. The public is largely divided along tribal lines and his support base in his region remains largely intact. As his tribe holds the most vital economic, military and political structures removing Qaddafi alone will not turn the tide as the other members of his clan, many of who will be hunted down and tried for war crimes, have little incentive to lay down their arms.
- Unlike Iraq Libya is not financially broke. The Qaddafi regime has huge reserves of solid gold, precious stones and other hard currencies which it has, and will continue to use in hiring, paying off and recruiting mercenary armies to its cause; Weapons in this region are plentiful as are Mujahideen fighting in other local conflicts including: Somalia, Yemen, Egypt, Chad, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Several actors, tribes and governments in these regions have long histories of political alliances with Qaddafi, unlike Saddam who was hated by most of his neighbors, Qaddafi being an exception.
- Unlike Iraq, Libya is in Africa and is not geographically isolated. It is far more pourous, has a very long coastline and is larger than Texas and New Mexico put together. It has huge expanses of territory through which fighters can infiltrate and exfiltrate the country with little to no detection. Essentially Qaddafi is in his element.
- Unlike Saddam Qaddafi is not hated in the region. In spite of what Westerners may think of him Qaddafi has investments in the governments and economies of over 22 African nations. Qaddafi is seen in many respects as a hero and certainly in light of the huge Western alliance devoid of African or Arab support this theme will play out much in the same way as in the past: Christian invaders v. Muslim defenders, thus the call to Jihad will be made across a region where U.S. military has little recent experience, and even fewer past victories (think "Black Hawk Down");
- Unlike Iraq the Libyan economy has not been dismembered by over a decade of economic sanctions and in fact up to this recent popular revolution it has been considered one of the healthier and more stable economies in the African region (hence the reason America has not attempted to uproot the dictator until now); While Qaddafi will most likely hunker down, civil wars in this region have lasted some times for decades. Without U.S. troops on the ground it is very likely that Qaddafi will remain in power.
- Unlike Saddam Qaddafi and his regime have not been convicted as war criminals, arrested, or prosecuted in world court in spite of a long history of war crimes, allegations and widely held knowledge that they possession of weapons of mass destruction; Qaddafi's checkered history has not prevented the UN, EU and NATO countries from making him a member of world organizations, thus he is no more evil than a slew of other dictators with whom we do business. Demonizing him in the eyes of the West will not win over the African public, as is demonstrated by the African Union and Arab Union's unwillingness to participate in military operations, except on a token level.
- Unlike Iraqi oil, Libyan oil is extremely important to the EU economy (and therefore the global economy). In addition, Libya is a contributor to the overall global supply chain. An interruption of these flows has already sent reverberations throughout the global oil market;
- The Libyan rebels are not the Northern Alliance. Unlike the Norther Alliance which was already organized, had a defined leadership and command structure the rebels are disparate, unorganized and inexperienced. Recent history shows that the Afghan conflict was initially successful because we were able to organize, arm and support an already organized army, this was done with a relatively small group of Special Operations soldiers and the CIA. In contrast the Iraqi invasion was far more difficult exactly because there was no pre-existing and definable political opposition or corresponding military arm. In the case of Libya, the "rebels" did not exist prior to February. Even the most positive assessments find little hope in their winning without foreign military aid. Even if its a U.S. "private security" firm which does it.
Few countries in recent history have embarked on as many foreign conflicts as America. We accept this as a given and often find many reasons to defend, or validify our countries actions. This is not abnormal. What is abnormal however is when intelligent people recognize unintelligent behavior and rather than object to it, they ignore it.
Pre-War Nazi Germany was very similar. Considered a "modern democracy" in it's time, Germany boasted of some of the greatest minds. It was considered the height of European culture and no one would have anticipated that within years it would lay in smoldering ruins, decimated as a result of its leaders exercise of military might over sovereign nations throughout the world. Behavior which the regime and many citizens considered legal, just and proper. Ultimately the perpetrators of these acts were brought to some form of justice, however the people also paid the cost. Ethnic cleansing, economic chaos, political strife, cultural decay, invasion... this became the legacy of unmitigated power misused and uncensored.
Wars of aggression by any other name are still wars of aggression. President Obama who came to office on a popular "can't we all just get along" platform, has morphed into a "war hawk". While individuals like John McCain, Bush I&II, Newt Gengrich are all admitted war hawks, President Obama has become far more hawkish, but unlike his predecessors who anticipated and planned their invasion Obama was suckered into Libya within weeks on an Ad hoc strategy betting Qaddafi will fall within days. The arguments he has put forth ring of political finagling rather than candid and clear "open government" responsive to the public.
Worse than that, they don't match up with the reality in which a great deal of the American public see ourselves and the state of our country. Particularly the reality that our government is broke. Not withstanding the merits of Obama's arguments, one finds it difficult to reconcile the contradiction between cutting spending and starting wars. When a government claims that it is so broke it can scarcely pay to keep the lights on and important programs like FEMA, Social Security, Medicare, education, etc. are slashed we can only wonder where the money is coming from??? Maybe China?
So once again the public is left with a foreign conflict without end. Obama will come and go, as presidents eventually do, however the conflict in Libya will stain American history for decades to come. As we have allowed our military to be sent into harms way in a war which we were neither targeted, nor attacked. A war which could have been dealt with in the same manner as other equally culpable regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. A war that has made us less safe, and which the American people did not ask for, and do not support.
"This attack [on Libya] implies a setback in the current international order"..."The remedy is much worse than the illness. This business of saving lives by bombing is an inexplicable contradiction." -----IPS quoting Uruguayan President José Mujica