Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later?

Compare and contrast David Brooks:
More important, the nations have not really defined what they hope to achieve.

Is the coalition trying to depose Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi? Are coalition forces trying to halt Qaddafi’s advances or weaken his government? Would the coalition allow Qaddafi to win so long as he didn’t massacre more civilians? Is it trying to create a partitioned Libya? Are we there to help the democratic tide across the region?
And Max Boot:
FOR weeks, I’ve argued that the United States and our allies should impose a no-fly zone over Libya and mount airstrikes to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s advance against the embattled rebels. Last week, the United Nations Security Council authorized precisely those actions. Over the weekend, missile strikes began.

I should be elated, right? Instead, I can’t stop worrying about everything that could go wrong.... The question is whether this will be enough to stop [Qaddafi's] attacks....

Will the rebels be able to root out Qaddafi loyalists? If not, are we prepared to use Western ground forces? So far President Obama has ruled out that option, which runs the danger of a protracted stalemate. Colonel Qaddafi could simply cling to power, while international support for the whole operation frays.

Even if Colonel Qaddafi steps down — an outcome that I believe we must now seek but that hasn’t been declared as a formal aim — the problems hardly end.
That is, even if you're an informed, ardent supporter of the intervention and would support it as a unilateral military venture, there is no reason to believe that that you'll have any sense of what happens next. As Tom Ricks recently stated,
As for the American military, let's knock off the muttering in the ranks about clear goals and exit strategies. Fellas, you need to understand this is not a football game but a soccer match. For the last 10 years, our generals have talked about the need to become adaptable, to live with ambiguity. Well, this is it. The international consensus changes every day, so our operations need to change with it. Such is the nature of war, as Clausewitz reminds us. Better Obama's cautious ambiguity than Bush's false clarity. Going into Iraq, scooping up the WMD, and getting out by September 2003 -- now that was a nice clear plan. And a dangerously foolish one, too.
Granted, Bush's approach could have been an "exit strategy" had he been prepared to admit on September 1, 2003 that his strategy was a complete failure, accept defeat and go home. But as Ricks suggests, I don't think many people would accept that as a good exit strategy.

I'm nowhere near as pollyannaish about war as Max Boot - the stuff that he worries about after wars start is stuff I believe should be addressed beforehand. Even granting that the strategy may have to change, or may turn out to have been misguided, I believe that absent extraordinary circumstances the U.S. should not enter a war of choice without a clear strategy. (For wars of choice, can such extraordinary circumstances ever arise?) If you can't form a coherent strategy for achieving your desired goals, you need to reconsider either your strategy or goals before committing to war.

At the same time, as Ricks suggests, no matter how well-constructed the strategy and plan for invasion and occupation, it's war. Some element of the best laid plan will turn out to have been wishful thinking and anticipating the end game will inevitably involve a lot of luck.

1 comment:

  1. I think Boot's review of Rumsfeld's biography highlights that weakness. Boot was happy to beat the drums of war then, as he is now, but takes no responsibility for what happens after the war starts. If he can be said to have learned anything from the Iraq War, perhaps it's that you do need to worry about how competently a war is conducted. He does not appear to have yet learned that it's okay and appropriate to worry about whether or not you should go to war at all.


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