Saturday, March 26, 2011

a flawed intervention

I’ve been reading and thinking about the U.S. military actions in Libya and have some still tentative views. But I’ve been upset by enough commentary, I want to react in some way.

The Obama Administration deserves great credit for: [1] insisting that military action be clearly and explicitly authorized by the UN Security Council; [2] forming a coalition of the willing through an established, practiced military organization, NATO; [3] limiting its operations to the authorized mission of protecting civilians, despite the rhetorical calls for regime change; [4] consulting frequently with a large segment of congressional leadership; [5] following the precedent of earlier administrations of notifying Congress of the operations in a way consistent with the War Powers Act.

On the other hand, the administration can be faulted for: [1] adopting “regime change” language before it had decided what to do; [2] launching military operations before the important command and control and other precursor military arrangements had been determined; [3] relying on military actions which carry a high risk of leading to stalemate. [Steve Biddle’s commentary on this point is especially persuasive to me.] 
I disagree with the critics who say Congress needed to act beforehand to authorize the operation – though I would prefer if lawmakers now adopt some measure authorizing but limiting the use of force in ways consistent with the UNSC Resolution. The operation could end within the time limits prescribed by the War Powers Act, thus confirming its legality.

I disagree with those who demand unilateral American “leadership” in a matter where other nations have important stakes and capabilities to share the burden.

I disagree with those who complain about U.S. inconsistency in intervening in Libya but not elsewhere when dictators are killing their people. Governance is about choosing, even at the risk of painful trade-offs and inconsistencies. I am not fully persuaded, however, that Libya was about to experience “Srebrenica on steroids.” In fact, I fear that we may have far too little reliable information regarding conditions within Libya and especially among those most powerful in the opposition.

I’m willing to wait and see whether the President can articulate a rationale for this actions and whether the U.S. military can design a strategy consistent with that guidance. That need not be fully spelled out openly at this time, but it had better be thought through.

I wish I felt more confident about the operation and the strategy underpinning it, for the costs are significant and the risks to other U.S. policy interests high.

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