The Obama administration has received a lot of ribbing over its use of the euphemism "kinetic military action" -- inartful spin in an attempt to avoid describing the Libyan operation as a war. Many observers have suggested that this fussiness over language may betray the president's discomfort with the idea of war.
There may be something to that critique, but there is another perhaps more important way it is revealing. To a remarkable extent, this president has embraced the kinetic aspects of war. It is the non-kinetic aspects, and especially the overall strategic dimension that harnesses kinetic and non-kinetic lines of action into a coherent strategy, that the president has failed to use.
The clumsy spin may thus be betraying the administration's a-strategic approach to the wielding of military power.
If war and coercive diplomacy only involved kinetic military action, this would be one of our most bellicose of presidents. Look at the kinetic military action he has authorized:
Compared with his last two Democratic predecessors, Clinton and Carter, and measured only in kinetic military terms, this is dramatically more hawkish behavior.
The problem is that he has simultaneously hobbled this kinetic action with other measures that work at cross purposes (and that are more reminiscent of Clinton and Carter's approach):
The net result of this is that Obama's strategy is inordinately reliant on kinetic effects. Napoleon used to say that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. Obama's approach denies his team that psychological force multiplier.
So when the administration talks about kinetic military action, realize that this may simply be indicating that that is the only part of the strategy that has a good chance of succeeding. We should all hope that the impressive kinetic military action the president has authorized is sufficient to overcome the deficiencies in the non-kinetic aspects of the strategy.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
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.