As Don Rumsfeld so cleverly said, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Unfortunately the administration is floundering in the latter.
First the known knowns:
- Perhaps the best early military strategist, Sun Tzu, stressed having profound understanding of your enemy and allies and maneuvering in such a way that battle is unnecessary. This was extended in the post-Vietnam "Powell Doctrine": if you do need to go to war, bring overwhelming force. In his defense, Robert Gates understands these principles and cautioned against Libyan intervention without Congressional approval.
- Libya is a third-tier player in the broader Middle East, of little strategic importance to the United states. See my posting of March 3.
- Engagement in a foreign conflict may not require prior congressional approval, but the "advise and consent" function requires more than a letter postmarked from Rio. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have egos.
- Liberal Obama apologists in the media and the Democratic party can tie themselves in knots explaining why this is not like George Bush's war in Iraq, how great leadership can be from the back of the parade, and good intentions are more important than executable plans.
Second the known unknowns:
- We do not know the objectives - the UN resolution to protect the innocent with a no-fly zone; the correlary of stopping Khadafi''s ground attacks on rebel cities; Obama's strategy that "Khadafi must go" - which encouraged the rebels in the first place, but is not in the UN resolution and promises a very brief and limited engagement.
- We do not know the chain of command - with Obama's commitment to turn over leadership within a few days, NATO is the only realistic military option but that is opposed by France, Germany, Turkey, and Italy for various political reasons. France's suggestion of a "political steering committee" of US, European, and Arab foreign ministers is patently absurd - but Obama may well seize on it as a way to avoid responsibility.
- We have little idea who we are fighting for. Stratfor has a great analysis of the mistaken premise that throughtout the region there is a thirst for liberal democracy. (It is largely about tribal power.) In Libya there is neither a likelihood that the rebels can succeed without extensive military support nor a likelihood that they can govern in a way acceptable in the Park Avenue salons - whoever they are.
Third the unknown unknowns:
- What if Khadafi survives? Tons of mustard gas. Sons to continue on for decades. A world willing to buy oil from anybody. Decades of documented terrorist acts against Western and Arab states? A resurrected nuclear program? A "wounded bear" syndrome.
- What are the implications for the countries that matter - Iran, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia; for the lesser regional players; for our posture toward the rebellions spreading across the Arab world; for anybody else who is watching the decline of American power. Fortunately Bush got Khadafi to give up his nuclear program in the 2003, but what is the lesson for North Korea or other wannabe's.
There are reasons that Khadafi has been in power for 42 years, and they haven't changed. Unfortunately, what has changed is that we have a president who has not read Sun Tzu or spoken with Colin Powell. And one who believes that a speech wishing for a result is the same as making the commitments necessary to achieve it.
Here is Tim Pawlenty's video announcing the official start of his presidential campaign. Within the party he is not the first choice of many, but is offensive to few and may well be the leading "Anybody but Romney" candidate.
bill bowen - 3/25/11