My first reaction to the President Obama's speech is that he should have given it ten days ago. He didn't say anything tonight that he couldn't have said when he ordered combat operations to commence. Waiting for NATO to agree to take on the mission became a good reason for the White House to delay the Commander in Chief explaining his volte face to the nation. But it didn't actually mask the president not wanting to detract from his prior obligations in Latin America or give the appearance that Americans were running the show (even when Americans were running the show).
That slight of hand feeling pervaded the president's speech; I still don't know whether he thinks we have a national interest in Libya. In the past 36 hours, the Secretary of Defense has said we do not have a national interest in the war in Libya, the Secretary of State has said our national interest is our humanitarian interest and helping our allies who really do have national interests. In an effort to break the tie, the president described our national interests in the Libyan war as: preventing a stain on our conscience (from doing nothing), stopping Qaddafi's advance on Benghazi, preventing refugees destabilizing fragile governments in Egypt and Tunisia, showing other repressive regimes we not allow them to use force, and upholding the United Nations. Which sounds like he's siding with Secretary Gates' description but Secretary Clinton's prescription.
President Obama's checklist of why we acted consisted of: the scale of potential harm, America's unique ability to stop it, having an international mandate, and it was achievable without ground troops. The Obama Doctrine, as exposited in this speech appears to be "we care enough to prevent you from losing, but we don't care enough to help you win." That's fair enough as a risk-minimizing framework for United States foreign policy, but it is wildly at variance with the soaring language the president offered up about our commitment to freedom. And it doesn't provide very satisfying answers to what next in Libya or whether we will do this again.
I thought the comparisons to the Balkans and Iraq were both unfair. The complicated dissolution of Yugoslavia, the timing of its occurrence, and the lack of precedent made the degree of difficulty higher intervening in the Balkans (and, incidentally, the Clinton Administration delivered Germany). Iraq raises much weightier national interest arguments than the president acknowledged.
The president has taken an awful lot of credit for a pretty stingy commitment to advancing freedom -- which is not to say he should make every war of liberation an American war, just that I couldn't help wondering how it sounded to Iranian dissidents in prison since July of 2009 or voters in Ivory Coast where stolen elections are unresolved or in Darfur, wishing now for years that we cared enough to prevent militia raping and killing, to hear the President of the United States say so proudly "some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different."
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It is such a comfort to know in a world of change, some things can still be relied upon. Like the irritating behavior of France. President Nicolas Sarkozy is reported to have refused to approve NATO military plans for operations in Libya until leaders were assembled in Paris -- and then launched French aircraft sans coordination with allies.
Even with its false start, France did not get the honor of commencing operations. The United States, which the president tells us is not leading this operation, did. Of the 130 cruise missiles fired to commence operations, nearly all were American. American's flew half of the 80 air sorties yesterday. Sticker price to the American taxpayer: likely several billion dollars; it was over $100 million for the first day's missiles alone. The British are the only country that has invested enough in their own defense to have the ability to participate in the opening salvo of cruise missiles.
President Obama's plan is to have the U.S. do the initial work that had to be done fast to prevent Gaddafi overrunning Benghazi and that required precision and risk the U.S. military is uniquely proficient at, then transition the operation to command by countries that will be patrolling the skies over Libya for the indefinite future.
But there is still no agreement to whom command will be passed. British Prime Minister Cameron insists it must be NATO; Sarkozy insists not. The French defense spokesman now suggests all participating military forces should have the honor of serving under French national command. Turkish Defense Minister expressed mystification, saying "It does not seem quite possible for us to understand France's being so much at the forefront in this action." Italian Foreign Minister Frattini threatens Italy will not allow use of its bases unless it becomes a NATO operation. The French and German ambassadors walked out yesterday after criticism by the NATO Secretary General of France for unilateralism and Germany for not participating.
Turkey's Prime Minister has objected to using force against Qaddafi, and was excluded from the Paris meetings over the weekend. Yesterday the Turkish Foreign Minister said, "there is a certain procedure under international law for the formation of such coalitions. We do not believe that this procedure was sufficiently observed." It's a pretty safe bet that Turkey will veto a direct NATO role.
To their credit, the Administration was able to convince a Muslim country, Qatar, to send a token six airplanes. But they have not done appreciably better than the Bush Administration, which even without a UN Security Council resolution gathered 56 (mostly token) force contributing countries for the invasion of Iraq.
The State Department responded to questions about the dearth of Arab participation with "we believe we have Arab support...we need to let this process play out." Arab League Secretary General Amir Moussa called for a special meeting of the Arab League to discuss civilian casualties inflicted by our airstrikes. The German Foreign Minister has said the Arab League's criticism justifies Germany having abstained from supporting the U.N. resolution.
This is what comes from a lack of leadership by the United States. The medium powers squabble, and we do most of the work. Building a coalition requires a much more solid understanding of objectives, roles and responsibilities than President Obama launched this war having. The time of American leverage to work out these details was before we undertook the work France wanted to take credit for us doing and the Arab League was willing to support. Unfortunately, at that time the Obama administration remained opposed to the military operations they are now engaged in.
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Last night's U.N. Security Council resolution passed with no visible effort by the Obama administration. Britain, France and Lebanon drafted it and twisted arms to get it passed. Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy made the public case; their foreign ministers harangued the G-8 foreign ministers. Although Secretary Clinton herself spoke out in favor of multilateral action, when pressed by her G-8 colleagues to support the no fly zone, she was unwilling to take a position. When pressed by the President of France, she said "there are difficulties."
Meanwhile, President Obama leaves for spring break in Brazil without having consulted members of Congress or making a case to the American people that Libya's freedom is worth sacrifice by us. Our Commander in Chief cannot be intending to commit American military forces to intervene in Libya without being much more at the helm than this.
So a major international operation will begin, most likely under the leadership of the French or British. More power to them for being willing to undertake something difficult and dangerous in support of freedom. Hopefully the damage they do to Qaddafi's military will prevent him crushing the rebellion and lead to his overthrow.
Much could go wrong, though. In response to the U.N. resolution, Qaddafi has threatened retaliation against shipping in the Mediterranean. And he didn't hesitate to blow up an airliner or develop chemical weapons in the past. The resolution explicitly forbids an "occupation force," which means it will be constrained to air and perhaps sea operations. Gaddafi is a despot and we should expect him to be just as tenacious in refusing to capitulate as was Slobodan Milosevic; the air campaign may go on for some time, and countries enforcing the U.N. resolution may not be able to succeed by these limited means.
I hope our government has quietly provided assurances to our allies that we will assist them in every way, including providing satellite intelligence, persistent surveillance, communications support, and even combat search and rescue from U.S. forces nearby. We should want work to get done in the world even if our own government won't do it, and we should most certainly want our trusted allies to succeed in preventing violence the president termed "outrageous and unacceptable."
Stepping back and letting others do the work certainly isn't a bold or brave moment for American foreign policy, and it will have consequences that our government has been so stingy in support of the cause of freedom. But President Obama just isn't willing to bear much freight for other peoples' freedom. The only thing worse would be him committing our military forces to a fight he has little real interest in.
Little noticed amidst the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) support for a U.N. no-fly zone in Libya on March 13th was another endorsement for the use of military force: deployment of GCC military and police forces to Bahrain. The choice of Gulf governments to have as their first military operation the repression of peaceful advocacy for political change is ominous.
For the past two decades, American governments have encouraged the countries of the GCC to make good on the "cooperation" part of their organization. The overwhelming tendency of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar has instead been to criticize American policies in public while supporting them in private. Only with the alarming progress of Iran's nuclear programs has cooperation between GCC states advanced to include any significant military cooperation.
The GCC's Peninsula Shield Force was created to "deter, and respond to, military aggression against any of the GCC member countries." But the Bahraini government is not subject to military aggression -- it is under "attack" by its own citizens, peacefully protesting for political rights.
In fairness, the government of Bahrain has offered an expansion of political rights in response to the protests. But as autocrats from the Shah of Iran to Hosni Mubarak could attest, offers that would earlier have mollified reformers can embolden resistance once the invisible line from reform to revolution has been crossed.
The monarchies of the GCC states claim agitation for political change is the product of Iranian influence, an effort by to radicalize and destabilize their countries. And they may not be wrong about Iranian efforts: Shi'ia Iran has long sought to delegitimize those Sunni regimes, supported seizure of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia in 1979, infiltrated Iraq to foment anti-government violence, and openly supported destruction by Hamas and Hezbollah. But the GCC governments deceive themselves about the depth of popular support for political change in their countries.
It is not clear if Bahraini government initiatives have come too late for political change to be successful in defanging the revolution. But it is clear that even as they support international action to assist rebels in Libya, the autocrats of the Gulf Cooperation Council will cooperate to repress peaceful dissent in their own countries, and that will make their governments more brittle and unreliable as partners for the United States. It matters that GCC governments acted in concert, because it now aligns them all against peaceful political change. And they will be utilizing American and European military equipment and training to repress their own citizens. That really is a victory for Iran.
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Calls are now ranging far and wide for the United States to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the government from continuing to use air power to attack rebel forces fighting to unseat Muammar Qaddafi. In addition to our domestic debate, Libyan ministers until recently part of the Qaddafi government (including their former interior minister and deputy U.N. ambassador) are urgently calling for it, the Gulf Cooperation Council supported it, the British and French have drafted and are pushing a U.N. Security Council resolution, and the Arab League ambassador in Washington has even suggested that organization will endorse a no-fly zone within a week.
If the Obama administration decides a no-fly zone needs doing, it ought not to jump from there to the United States establishing and enforcing it. Instead of taking up the call to provide the military force, the United States should instead pull together a coalition to undertake the work, one in which we play a minor operational role but undertake to recruit, organize, and manage the force necessary to do the job successfully. Such a role is consistent with our interests and has the potential to share broadly the burden such operations entail.
The coalition build will be complicated by the unlikelihood of getting a U.N. Security Council mandate -- and there will be a certain irony in the Obama administration orchestrating a coalition of the willing after their condemnation of the practice in the George W. Bush administration. But it appears there will be plenty of countries willing to advocate the undertaking.
The administration should do more than have their support, it should have their participation. It ought to seek a formal mandate from the Arab League sanctioning the operation, which would be a first for that organization working with the U.S. and support the administration's National Security Strategy vision for strengthening multilateral institutions.
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The race is on to see which American politicians can argue most forcefully for the use of our military power to assist rebels fighting deranged Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Conservatives were early to the argument, eager to help people brave enough to fight for their freedom and understandably frustrated by President Obama's broad encomia lacking any practical assistance to emergent democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Senator John Kerry joined the fray over the weekend, showing the liberals' colors and trying to look worthy of being Secretary of Defense.
The Obama administration conveys its usual contradictory messages, most discouragingly explaining that the threat of force should deter Qaddafi as they backpedal from suggesting any actual use of that force. It is a mystery why the administration would believe an experienced manipulator like Qaddafi wouldn't make us prove it.
The administration compounded their errors by publicly tying any U.S. action to multilateral support they cannot realistically attain, and showing we could be blackmailed into inaction if U.S. diplomats were in country.
But I share Secretary Gates's hesitance to use military means to affect the battles in Libya, principally because I see no sign the president has anywhere near the commitment to solve this problem that would merit getting Libyan hopes up or putting American service members at risk.
been hoping Donald Rumsfeld's memoir would fall like the proverbial tree in the
forest, allowing conservatives to focus on the problems of today. But supportive coverage in the Wall Street Journal
suggests the former defense secretary's revisionist "slice of history" is
gaining credence and needs to be rebutted. Reading the Rumsfeld memoir was like
watching the 2003 documentary about Robert McNamara: Both men
are still so convinced they were superior that they are incapable of
understanding just how damaging they were. But there should be no doubt that
Donald Rumsfeld was the self-aggrandizing Iago to the president's Othello in
the Bush administration.
Rumsfeld criticizes the consensus-building approach of Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor, and he's right that the administration attempted to operate collegially long after it was apparent that wasn't working. Yet it never occurs to him that this could be one of his "unknown unknowns" and that the national security advisor was carrying out the president's instructions. And he neglects to acknowledge that approach was unsuccessful because he himself would repudiate agreements reached, even after meetings at which the president presided. No decision was ever final unless it was the position taken by Rumsfeld. The Executive Steering Group (ESG) on Iraq he maligns was established to supervise DOD implementation of agreed policies because the White House lost confidence that Rumsfeld would carry them out. Even in the ESG, DOD was routinely represented by people who claimed no knowledge of agreed policy or professed themselves powerless to implement it because Rumsfeld disagreed.
Beyond throwing sand in the gears of interagency cooperation, Rumsfeld just wasn't a very good secretary of defense. The secretary's paramount responsibility in wartime is to translate the president's political objectives into military plans. Bush's objectives for Iraq were clear: regime change, control of nuclear weapons. A military plan that bypasses Iraq's cities and has no dedicated plans or forces for WMD control is poorly aligned with those goals, and that was nobody's job but Donald Rumsfeld's. Rumsfeld spent his time challenging individual units assigned in the force flow -- work that majors should be doing -- instead of concentrating on the work that only the secretary can do.
By treating the
military leadership as an impediment rather than the chieftains of a very
successful organization, he unnecessarily alienated an important constituency
for any president, especially in wartime. Moreover, he incurred an enormous
amount of risk with the "rolling start" plan he spurred Centcom into adopting,
without giving the president a full appreciation for the costs and benefits of that
or other approaches. Military leaders typically want a wide margin of error in
campaign plans because they have a rich appreciation for how much can go
wrong, how many elements come into play in unexpected ways. In his
determination to show that agility had overcome quantity, Rumsfeld accepted an
enormous amount of risk to achieve the president's goals. When military leaders
tried to draw attention to the masked risk or increase force levels to reduce
it, they were excoriated. This does not just apply to the Iraq war, either:
Chief of staff of the Army, Eric Shinseki, was vilified by Rumsfeld as early as
August 2001 for questioning the intellectual honestly of the QDR that would
have cut two divisions from the Army.
And let us speak of command climate. Rumsfeld defends his constraints on the size of the force in Iraq by claiming the military didn't ask for more. That may well be true, but this was more than two years into Rumsfeld's tenure, in which he had promoted officers to top positions because they shared his vision of a transformation of warfare in which the judgment of ground combat officers was considered "industrial age thinking." After the punitive treatment of Shinseki and promotion to top positions of "pliant" (James Kitfield's term) generals, the military might be forgiven for thinking the civilian leadership didn't want to hear it. It is the civilians' prerogative to determine what resources to commit to wars, and the military believed they were operating within established constraints. That doesn't excuse military leaders not asking for what they needed to win the war, but it also doesn't exonerate Rumsfeld from creating an environment hostile to any disagreement with his well-known views.
His "snowflakes" -- the personal queries from the secretary that came in abundant blizzards -- were a terrible way to manage a large organization. They give staff the impression that the issue at hand is of paramount importance to the secretary, causing major diversions of resources. For example, in the month before the start of the Iraq war, Rumsfeld sent a snowflake to the director of war plans in the Joint Staff asking why we needed a Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP) -- a link in flow of plans that addresses apportionment of forces among competing demands. What the secretary was likely demanding, in his abrasive way, was an explanation of the function of the document. No one in either the civilian or military chain leading to Rumsfeld could give the J-7 any idea what the secretary actually wanted, so the staff had to divert attention from refining the Iraq war plans to build a 60-slide briefing justifying continued existence of the JSCP. Rumsfeld threw them out of his office when they came to deliver it, claiming to have no idea why they were wasting his time with the issue. Good executives establish clear priorities for an organization; Rumsfeld ran DOD with scattershot directives that kept everyone off balance.
His ability to cleverly redirect attention to the failures of others does not get Donald Rumsfeld off the hook for having served the president and the country poorly. Conservatives need to repudiate the profligacy of aspects of the Bush administration if we are to regain the public trust, and that is as true for the political and military capital Donald Rumsfeld squandered as it is of the deficit spending conservatives are already at work repairing.
Kori Schake is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and holds the distinguished chair in international security studies at the United States Military Academy.
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For an administration that claims there is no conflict between our interests and our values, the Obama administration has sure seemed to have a difficult time balancing U.S. interests in a stable Egypt with the U.S. values of a democratic Egypt.
The administration is in a legitimately tough position deciding how much support to continue giving an authoritarian government that has proved useful to us. But as the protests have worn on, the president, like Secretary Clinton, hit a better balance, calling on the Mubarak government to set in motion a transition to free elections. Vice President Biden was characteristically maladroit, claiming Mubarak was not a dictator and explaining that all the Egyptian protesters were seeking was "a little more opportunity." The Pentagon was characteristically calm and forward leaning, reaching out to the Egyptian defense establishment -- which is indistinguishable from the Egyptian government at its highest levels -- to urge professionalism and restraint.
The Egyptian military has already delivered on the only important near-term military request the United States is likely to make: not using force against the protesters. How might democratization in Egypt affect U.S.-Egyptian military cooperation? Short of an Iranian-style Islamic government overtly hostile to the United States, Mubarak's departure is unlikely to affect military cooperation with the United States. The United States does not actually rely on the Egyptian military for much militarily, and most of that which the United States does is very much in their interests to continue. But it could affect Egyptian-Israeli cooperation, with enormous consequences for the United States.
For military purposes, the United States relies on the Egyptian government in three main ways: 1) acting as a transit for U.S. military forces, 2) preventing Egypt from becoming a base for terrorist activity that would affect the United States, and 3) protecting Israel.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.