Hesitation and Decapitation

Day 3 of Operation Odyssey Dawn is upon us.  Important tactical objectives have been achieved.  Fox News quotes Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, stating that Allied strikes have “been very effective in significantly degrading the regime’s air defense capability.”  This has left Qaddafi’s forces “under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion.”

They can join the club.  Three days into the operation, it’s unclear exactly who is, or will be, in charge of the Allied effort, or what its ultimate strategic objectives are.  It’s not even clear which foreign powers are still on board, if they ever truly were. 

The Arab League, which all but begged for Odyssey Dawn, went pale as the first bombs found their targets.  “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” squeaked Secretary General Amr Moussa, who was apparently under the impression that a “no-fly zone” involved French and British jets with flashing lights and wailing sirens pulling over Libyan pilots in mid-air and writing citations.  Monday morning Moussa changed his mind again, and said the Arab League remains “committed” to the war effort and has “no contradiction” with the U.N. Security Council resolution.  Good to know you’ve got our six, Arab League!

Is our objective the death or removal of Moammar Qaddafi?  The Pentagon says our coalition “will not be going after Qaddafi.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, says “We do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Qaddafi to leave.”  The American people are clearly not up for an open-ended security commitment or land war.  There have been strikes against Libyan targets not directly related to air defense, but it doesn’t seem like the Allies have deployed enough air power to utterly rout Qaddafi’s loyalists and mercenaries and give the rebels a cake walk back to Tripoli.  It’s hard to see any way Qaddafi will “leave” Libya, except posthumously.

I’m all in favor of serving Qaddafi a death sentence for his crimes against American civilians, but this seems like the wrong way to go about it.  Decapitation strikes are a difficult affair – even with all our advanced military hardware, have we ever really been able to pull one off? 

Moammar Qaddafi would have to rank among the more difficult cockroaches to exterminate this way, having already survived one attack during the Reagan Administration.  A successful decapitation strike would have required two things we’re not good at: the element of surprise, and a willingness to accept collateral damage.  In other words, blow him away while he’s modeling the latest silk draperies for his adoring crowd of bloodthirsty fanatics.  Once we finished filling out all the paperwork at the U.N., it was too late to have much chance of bagging a guy who had a strong incentive, plus billions of dollars and decades of time, to ensure he would never be taken out by an air strike.

Military operations rely upon focus and initiative.  The Obama Administration, whose titular head is currently kicking soccer balls and dodging the press in Brazil, gives no sense of focus.  “Coalitions” that have to duck under the table for consultations with certain members demonstrate little initiative.  Poor decision making and endless delays have already caused Odyssey Dawn to begin weeks after the simple establishment of a no-fly zone would have granted much hope of quickly accomplishing its strategic objectives… to say nothing of the horrific loss of life, which led the Allies to finally deploy military force in hopes of preventing an even more terrible slaughter. 

If we weren’t going to intervene at all, the President shouldn’t have spoken about tightening nooses and ending an illegitimate regime.  The current muddle is the result of setting foreign policy through a series of irritable gestures, as a President who has big plans for his own country tries to make foreign policy “distractions” go away… but can’t resist any invitation to speak as President Of The Earth. 

This Administration gives the terrible sense that it relies on achieving its nebulous goals with precisely the kind of swift and sharp operation that it is fundamentally incapable of mounting.  If you want to decapitate a serpent, you’ve got to move fast.