Home Mr. Obama's Libyan Adventure
Home Mr. Obama's Libyan Adventure

Mr. Obama's Libyan Adventure

It's a lot easier to start a war than it is to finish it, as Mr. Obama is learning on his Libyan adventure. That is why wars are generally entered into after some consideration of the situation on the ground. There is only one excuse for a rush to war-- and that is either an imminent threat or in response to an act of war. Such was the case after September 11, and yet even then the United States waited longer to begin bombing the Taliban-- than we did before bombing Gaddafi.

Obama rushed in when bombing Libya was popular, and now when it hasn't he's rushing out again. The US is ending combat operations almost as soon as it began them to avoid being associated with the failure of the Libyan intervention. Or rather to avoid associating Obama with its failure. Obama was happy to take credit for the fall of Mubarak until the Muslim Brotherhood stepped up to succeed him. He was happy to take credit for toppling Gaddafi until he realized that it wasn't going to happen without a full bore invasion. The Arab Revolt was cool, but now it isn't anymore. And Obama doesn't want to be associated with it anymore. Suddenly it's last year's Keffiyah lying in the trash.

Waiting is not a virtue in and of itself-- but planning is. That allows you to determine if the rebellion you are intervening to support only consists of a few hundred fighters-- some of whom are Al Qaeda. No general would have called for an assault before learning such simple facts and clarifying what the mission was to be. But the Summa Cum Anti-War grad of 2008, who has doubtless read Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky, and built a grass roots network based entirely on his opposition to the war, had spent too much time studying why war is wrong and not nearly enough time studying how wars are won.

A month ago the Arab League and European leaders were rushing to get on the right side of history. When the Libyan army, which had lost every war it ever fought, was pushed back by a few rebel attacks, the consensus was that Gaddafi was finished. Leading members of his own regime rushed to join the opposition. And the media triumphantly reported an inevitable rebel victory. There was just one problem. This time we were the ones getting our news about the war from 'Baghdad Bob'.

The Libyan army is probably the worst army in the Middle East. It may be the worst army in the world. The last time it fought a war was 1987 and it lost badly, even though it had tanks, jet planes and the African warlords it was fighting had Toyota pickup trucks. Despite 3 to 1 numerical superiority, Gaddafi's forces somehow managed to lose 7 men for every 1 they killed. And also lost nearly a 1,000 tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft to enemies who were driving Toyota pickup trucks. When you come equipped with top of the line Soviet equipment and lose it all in something called The Toyota War, your enemies have good reason not take you seriously.

With this in mind, it wasn't unreasonable to assume that the rebels could defeat Gaddafi. It was just unreasonable to assume that without knowing anything about the rebels.

On the last day of the Six Day War, Soviet citizens woke baffled to the news that the Israelis who had been on the edge of defeat for five days straight were suddenly threatening Cairo and storming through Jerusalem. It was inexplicable. But there was a simple explanation. They had been getting fed false information by the losing side in a war. And then reality caught up with them. Similarly, King Hussein jumped into the war because he believed reports that Egypt and Syria were on the verge of victory. Actually they were on the verge of defeat.

For weeks the media treated every Libyan rebel report as fact-based and every Gaddafi report as fiction. When the Libyan rebels began to lose, it was inexplicable. Our elites gaped like Baghdad Bob confronted with American troops. It wasn't supposed to happen, but it did. So the elites convinced themselves that it was just air power making the difference. If we could shut down Gaddafi's air force, then the rebels would win. And so we did that. The No Fly Zone is here. The Libyan air force is toast. So why are the rebels still losing?

They're losing because the No Fly Zone was built on an illusion. The Libyan air force was never a major factor in anything. In the 1980's, it lost to African fighters in Toyotas brandishing Stinger missiles. And the entire Libyan army is mostly useless too. Arabs make terrible soldiers, but good skirmishers. The entire history of the Arab-Israeli wars should amply testify to that. An Arab country with a thousand tanks and jets is no threat to anyone. But a thousand fighters can cause serious havoc. Even win a war.

This makes no sense to First Worlders who have grown on images of massive armies clashing on the battlefield. But this is not the modern world. The Libyan civil war is primitive even by Arab standards. It's a typical African civil war, complete with pickup trucks and swords. A battle is won when a dozen men die and the other side runs away.

Once the Libyan army stopped pretending it was a modern military force, and whoever is in the field began ignoring whatever crazy orders were being issued by Gaddafi and his loyalists, and just started fighting this the old fashioned way-- the tide began to turn. A modern army is a complex instrument. If you don't use it properly, then it's worse than useless. But turn a couple of thousand fighters loose with machine guns and some artillery, and manpower becomes the crucial factor. And this time the African fighters are on Gaddafi's side, while the rebels are Arabs from different factions who don't trust each other.

This is no longer a war between an army and guerrillas, but between militias, some of whom wear uniforms, most of whom don't. Gaddafi's men are handing out AK-47's to anyone willing to fight the rebels. We went in to protect civilians, but how do we do that when the civilians are massacring other civilians. Gaddafi is a butcher, the Arab rebels are violent racists. This is not a conflict between democracy and tyranny, but between tribes, clans and ethnicities. It is exactly the type of war we should have avoided like the plague because there is no up side to it. There is no right and wrong, just an explosion of tensions reined in by a tyrant, as every faction scrambles for power.

This is the dumb war we stumbled into with our new administration's smart power. We're tossing cruise missiles into a war being fought with pickup trucks. And we don't even quite know why we're here. Our intervention will drag out the conflict, perhaps indefinitely if we choose it. NATO forces may be enlisted to guard a few rebel strongholds, dividing Libya between the rebels and Gaddafi. And with Al Qaeda fighters pouring in to take advantage of our air strikes, that will make for a pretty picture.

Our unclear mission objectives mean that we've become a peacekeeping force with no goal or exit strategy. The Obama Administration is now warning Libyan rebels that if they kill civilians we will bomb them too. So not only are we at war with Gaddafi, we may now also be obligated to fight the rebels too. And how do we tell civilians from soldiers anyway. Once a weapon is picked up as loot, one body looks the same as any other. We could assume that all men are fighting men, but we went into Kosovo, because we treated Serbian executions of Muslim fighters as atrocities. Even though they were all men. If we apply the same rules to Libya, we'll have to start bombing everyone. Including ourselves.

This is what happens when you start a war without thinking it through.

Liberals have an ideological approach to war, as to all things. They are not concerned with whether a war can be won-- only whether it should be won. Either a war is right or it's not. If the war is not right, then it's also unwinnable. And if a war is right, then it is also winnable. Reality must comply with their ideology. That's how we came to have a 15 trillion dollar deficit to aid a 'recovery' in which families are struggling to put food on the table. And a democratic revolution in which the Islamists are set to take over. Reality meets ideology-- and their ideology crumbles every time.

From the 1860's, Democrats have been a party ideologically averse to war, and yet the party most likely to get into a war without really knowing what they're doing. JFK and LBJ got into Vietnam with tens of thousands of advisers and before they knew it there was a war on. The enthusiastic college students who came out for JFK, did their best to denounce Nixon for the war, but it was their man who had done it. The Vietnam War was a disaster for the simple reason that we lacked clear goals and tactics from the start. It was not a war we chose, but a war we stumbled into.

After World War II, liberal intellectuals fancied a new order in which military force would be used to enforce international law. Instead of wars, there would be police actions. And police actions are vague things. Euphemisms for war without its clarity. We know how to fight and win wars by applying force to achieve the destruction of enemy forces. But what is a police action. What are its goals? Implicitly it is to keep the peace. Not to win, but to stand as the Union Nation's towering beat cop on the block, waving our armed forces around like a billy club. 

This is why we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, because we defined the objective not as the defeat of the Axis of Evil, but as rebuilding the target countries into havens of peace and democracy. The vaguer the objectives, the harder it is to accomplish them.

Obama treated Libya like an adventure, announcing a war from sunny Brazil, and ignoring congress and the public, until they forcefully made their objections clear. The war turned goalless, confused and contradictory-- with military leaders saying one thing and political leaders saying another. The coalition is confused and at odds with each other, packed full of frightened European and Arab leaders who are afraid that the world is changing, but have no idea what to do about it. Now Obama is running away from the war that he started. And Mr. Obama's Libyan Adventure is what happens when liberal leaders start wars with no idea how to see them through.


  1. Don't expect anything great from this presidency.
    But doesn't the suit fit him nicely?

  2. Anonymous2/4/11

    I suspect that many of us wonder about the "R2P" concept which is being used to justify our actions; including 'volunteering' our military as Obama stated at the bidding of the UN. Bad idea all the way around.

  3. mindRider3/4/11

    America wanted to impeach Clinton for screwing Monica Lewinsky, shouldn't it impeach Obama for screwing all of the American people?

  4. I suppose the only good thing to come from his war games is that it will come back to haunt him at election time.

    This was the man who promised to bring our troop home and end our war in Iraq.

    Now he's started a war. Another issue to confront him with during debates, provided they use his Gamaliel Foundation tactics against him.

    And provided his opponent doesn't feel the need to walk on eggshells, or accused of being too mean, as the media accused McCain.

  5. "...A battle is won when a dozen men die and the other side runs away...

    A sentence applicable (with minor alterations) to 9/11 and the Victory Mosque?

    e.g. A battle is won, when 3000+ die and the rest of the "West" runs away.

    No, wait, make that even more pessimistic: A “war” is won when 3000+ die and the rest of the West runs away.

  6. This pathetic incursion into Libya may at least make western politicians think twice, before embarking on a similar adventure in the future.

    For this, we should be glad, as at least there were no significant deaths of civilized human beings.

  7. “This is no longer a war between an army and guerrillas, but between militias, some of whom wear uniforms, most of whom don't. Gaddafi's men are handing out AK-47's to anyone willing to fight the rebels. We went in to protect civilians, but how do we do that when the civilians are massacring other civilians.” I could have cited any other statement in Mr. Greenfield’s fine article here. Yes, the Gaddafi gang and the ‘rebel” gang are indistinguishable. As Greenfield points out: If our mission is to avoid “civilian” casualties, how can that be accomplished when the civilians are butchering each other?

    Let me just add one other observation: Obama’s Libyan adventure will not have as saccharine an ending like that shown in “West Side Story,” with members of the rival gangs bearing off the body of a slain pacifist to the tune of a doleful Sondheim melody. It will grow more and more vicious. And our liberal war hawks will blink in confusion, and stutter rationalizations.

    And, guess what? The U.S. is Officer Krupke!

  8. Really excellent analysis. Thanks.

    Today I read the Brits have sent in 600 marines to Libya to help with "humanitarian" aims. (The Times, paywall)

    Losing ones marbles is catching. But Cameron never had any balls to start with!

  9. mindrider, the problem is the ones who would impeach him are screwing America too.

    K.A. indeed, a lot will depend on who goes up against him

    Rita, unfortunately so

    HermitLion, that's assuming they learn from history. The only history seems to survive in the liberal retelling.

    Edward, not even Officer Krupke, the US Marines are. We're the system that sends him out to do a job he knows is hopeless. Next up we're sending in the social workers to get Muslims in touch with their inner child.

    Juniper, especially nuts considering the hard cuts being made. At least Obama is cutting his losses.

  10. Linked at my place:


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