First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
This Tricky Business of War
Because we're asked to make no sacrifices, and the soldiers are all volunteers, we civilians seem to regard America's wars as if they were someone else's hobby, as if they weren't our business, as if our bullets and bombs were being launched out into empty space.
But all our wars have consequences, and they last. Because of President Bush's commitment to replacing evil regimes with democratically elected ones, the whole Muslim world saw Muslims voting and getting the leaders that they chose. I think the street rebellions, starting in Tunisia and moving on through Egypt to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, are the direct consequence of that.
The people aspire to democracy -- or at least to a regime that leaves them alone and isn't corrupt. But that doesn't mean that these street revolts won't lead to (a) massacre by the present regime or (b) a takeover by an even worse Islamist regime like the Taliban. The savage dictators of Islamism are already organized; the forces of democracy are not.
So I understand and even share the impulse to prevent a monster like Gaddafi from slaughtering his own people and reestablishing his regime even more vengefully and repressively than before. Our intervention is, arguably, a Good Thing.
A good thing, but badly, badly done. The time for intervention was in the first three days, before Gaddafi could get his military forces, mercenary or local, into line. And when we did intervene, it was chaotically, as if the experienced military leaders were not even asked for their advice, and all the decisions were being made by people who had no idea of what military forces can do or should be asked to do.
No war plan survives the first contact with the enemy -- but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan. We were surprised in Iraq by the ease of initial victory and by the ensuing insurgency, which was only strengthened by the dithering of our incompetent civilian leadership in-country.
But despite all the mistakes in the aftermath, our military entered Iraq with a clear and definite plan, with clearly defined objectives. Our military adapted to the shockingly fast evaporation of most of Saddam's forces, and then adapted again to the drastically revised mission when the insurgency began to take shape. They knew all along that the mission of nation-building would not be quick, and over time they learned how to respond effectively to the methods of the insurgents.
What is the goal in Libya? Regime change, obviously -- Gaddafi has to go! But we are also putting no boots on the ground. So ... who is going to keep order and prevent an Islamist group from replacing Gaddafi and reactivating his lapsed WMD programs? NATO?
We already know that few of our NATO allies have the power, the experience, or the will to sustain any kind of longterm military occupations -- their rules of engagement have made many of our "allies" worse than useless in Afghanistan, for instance.
It seems as if our President has exactly the same level of understanding of what the military is for and how to use it effectively as Clinton, another anti-war, anti-military president. Since they detest the military they have not studied military history. They think you just send in the bombers when other countries don't behave. This is ludicrously untrue.
The use of American force makes waves everywhere. Right now President Obama and the supposedly anti-war Left seem to think that as long as we're just bombing, and as long as our enemy is the evil Gaddafi, we're fine. But there's no such thing as "just bombing." Bombs land somewhere and they blow things up. But they don't occupy territory and they cause collateral damage and they can make us enemies.
On the other hand, American soldiers are generally such fine people, with such good judgment, that when they are on the ground they make friends for us. No, not our enemies -- they strike terror in our enemies' hearts. But the civilians, instead of being at risk of becoming collateral damage from faceless bombs, begin to see the Americans as their protectors and allies.
In the long run, that's what has worked in Iraq, and what worked in Afghanistan until an incompetent President announced our departure date and encouraged our enemies to wait us out.
Bombing alone "worked" in the Kosovo-Serbia thing, right? Wrong. Besides blowing up the Chinese embassy, the bombing did very little -- and nothing at all, for weeks. Serbian attacks on Kosovars actually stepped up for a time. And our goal wasn't regime change, it was to sever a portion of Serbia and make it independent. It was only because the Serbian government was still semi-rational that the bombing eventually accomplished something.
Maybe everything will work out fine in Libya. That would be nice. But what about the civilian revolt in Syria? That regime is every bit as evil and far more bloody-handed than Gaddafi's.
Back in 2002 I argued that it wasn't Iraq we needed to invade, it was Syria, a notorious sponsor of continuous terror operations against us and Israel. Since Saddam would definitely have entered a war between us and Syria, we would have toppled both regimes at once.
Imagine what recent years would have been like if Syria and Iraq had been liberated at once. Since Syria was the primary funnel of "foreign fighters" and weapons into Iraq, that source of support for insurgency wouldn't have existed. Syria wouldn't have spent the last decade supplying and supporting terrorist groups in Israel and Palestine. Lebanon would be a free country instead of a state half-ruled by terrorists.
But President Bush apparently only felt right about going to war against nations he could give ultimata. "Hand over Al-Qaeda or we'll topple you," he said to Afghanistan. "Let us see your WMDs or we'll topple you," he told Saddam. What could he tell Syria? We had known for years what they were doing. There was no ultimatum to issue. "You know what? We're sick of terrorism and you're one of the main sources of it. Get out of Damascus or die"?
That wasn't President Bush's style. Too bad -- we took out a vicious dictator in Iraq, it's true, but Syria, which was and is a far more active sponsor of terrorism, remained in business. And now once again we had a perfect opportunity to remove the evil Syrian regime, the most active sponsor of terror in the Arab world, and we ignore their massacre of rebels yet move against Gaddafi?
Here's the source of the semi-insane foreign policy decisions being muffed again and again by President Obama: He doesn't yet understand that he's President of the United States, and not just the richest member of an intellectual talking society consisting mostly of European snobs and idiots.
Look at how he embarked on this war. Before Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush went to Congress and made his case for war. In both cases he got resolutions authorizing the use of force, and however much Democrats might have pretended afterward that they opposed the war "all along," the support was bipartisan. Each such resolution was in fact, if not in wording, the declaration of war that the Constitution says that only Congress has the power to issue.
What did Obama do? He talked to some congressional leaders, yes, but asked for no legislative action. It's as if the Constitution doesn't exist with this man. Instead, he spent two long, miserable weeks -- the weeks when action would have been most effective -- and consulted with Europe.
What's wrong with this picture? Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that America goes to war when Europe agrees that it's a good idea. It's nice to have allies, but there's no requirement. More to the point, even if every other country in the world (except, presumably, our immediate enemies) agree and give permission for America to go to war, they do not have an ounce of authority. I've read the Constitution -- recently, in fact -- and I'm quite sure of that.
But President Obama has such envy of other world leaders -- he wants to install European health care in America; he wishes he were like the Chinese dictator and didn't have to worry about opposition parties -- that it doesn't occur to him to learn how to govern America, using the methods prescribed in the Constitution.
The funny thing is that he would easily have gotten congressional approval, if he had even bothered to ask. The Republicans and the handful of pro-defense Democrats would have given him full consent to take action in Libya. The only reasons he didn't ask were, presumably, that he didn't think he needed Congress, and it would have embarrassed anti-war Democrats to be forced to either vote for a war or against their President.
If the enterprise in Libya fails -- if Gaddafi stays in power, or if the successor regime is even worse -- will anyone blame NATO? Oh, please. They will blame America, because without America nothing would have happened. The blame always goes to us ... and it should.
War is a terrible business. Bombing is not more sanitary than sending in troops, it's less sanitary. It gets our hands dirty without giving our soldiers a chance to make things better and to change the perception of our intervention. It happens that some -- perhaps most -- of the rebels against Gaddafi are glad and grateful for our highly-limited help; but if things turn sour, the gladness and gratitude will be replaced by a memory of the futility of what we did.
And the fact that we're bombing in Libya and not in Syria, Yemen, or Bahrain will also be remembered. The oppressed people who made their play for democracy in those nations will draw their conclusions. Libya has oil; Syria and Yemen do not. Bahrain does -- but their corrupt regime is our ally and gets a pass. Does America stand as a defender of freedom in their eyes? Or as the oil-hungry behemoth that doesn't care about them?
Worst of all, in my opinion, is the sheer irresponsibility of using our military with no clear mission, no congressional or constitutional authorization, and with no recognition that Obama is far worse than President Bush, whom the Left criticized so savagely as a warmonger.
The Left accused Bush of rushing into war, when the opposite was true. Yet they sit silent now, when with far less authority and without any clear mission, Obama sends our bombers to blow things up -- and people, too -- in Libya, while ignoring the rebellion in Syria that is just as justified and long overdue, against a regime that has caused far more harm to us and our allies.
Does President Obama even have a foreign policy? Or does he have to check with Europe to find out what he should do? Because it's Europe, not America, that would sell their sister for oil, caring nothing about democracy in Arab countries. How did we get a European President? This man doesn't even understand who we are, as a people, and yet he acts in our name and we, not he, will bear the longterm consequences.
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