War and Determination

The latest euphemism for the war in Libya to be deployed by the Obama Administration is the hilariously Orwellian “kinetic military action.”  Like most tortured doublespeak, this doesn’t fit well on a bumper sticker.  “Kinetic military action is harmful to viable post-partum tissue masses and other elements of the biosphere” just doesn’t sound poetic.

The refusal to call war by its proper name is a predictable, but troubling, sign.  War always comes down to a test of will.  Military conflicts don’t end with every single member of the opposing force killed or captured, and all of their fortifications in ruins.  They end when the morale of either the enemy or his leadership collapses.

A humane republic like the United States always goes to war with certain disadvantages.  We’re not going to use the kind of brutal tactics that have proven effective at destroying enemy morale over the centuries.  Terrorism is entirely based on the use of the most despicable tactics to weaken the resolve of the targeted population.  Our way is the opposite, going to great lengths to avoid collateral damage, and battling enemy troops within the most restrictive rules of engagement any nation has ever imposed upon itself.

Democracy also brings an inherent weakness to our resolution in long-term conflicts.  War becomes an increasingly unpleasant affair as it drags on.  It’s not surprising that a populace which can vote itself out of a prolonged engagement will eventually choose to do so, when it doesn’t perceive a threat to its very survival.

It may be that Operation Odyssey Dawn will end swiftly, with the death or departure of Qaddafi and his tyranny.  Every aspect of the way President Obama has arranged the operation raises troubling implications for our future willingness to continue, if we don’t get lucky and bag the dictator soon.

The shaky multi-lateral alliance that Obama got dragged into is already collapsing, with Germany going as far as completely pulling out of NATO forces out of the area, to avoid being pulled into the Libyan conflict.  The Arab League nearly bolted when the first reports of collateral damage from Allied air strikes rolled in.  These multi-national alliances pose an inherent liability to long-term morale, as the members tend to have divergent goals, and varying levels of tolerance for pain or embarrassment.

The President’s failure to seek appropriate Congressional approval also compromises our national commitment to the effort.  Our military is charged with the defense of American interests, which are defined through robust debate among our representatives.  The U.S. military is not the royal army of a benevolent monarch.  Initiating combat, and then belatedly informing Congress it must support and pay for the operation, is not the way to cultivate a solid base of political support.

Worst of all, the apparent confusion among varying members of the Administration, and the dishonest way they have presented Odyssey Dawn to the electorate, is poisonous to our national morale.  No two members of the Administration – from the President, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to Defense Secretary Robert Gates – seem able to agree on our objectives.  They’ve been acting like guilty teenagers trying to distract their parents from looking in their closets, not steely-eyed war leaders speaking in unison.

The President was enjoying a junket through South America when the operation began, giving the inexcusable impression that he was dealing with a minor annoyance, not launching a life-and-death struggle that would put American troops in harm’s way.  He has a track record of prevarication and incompetence, and is prone to vanish from the Oval Office for long stretches of time.  His behavior with respect to Libya does not raise a glorious banner the American people can rally behind.

Wars only end when one side decides to stop fighting, and submit to the enemy’s will.  There are many techniques for making continued resistance seem impossible, or present submission as a reasonable alternative.  Conversely, there are ways to keep the public’s commitment to a war effort high, even as the inevitable reversals and tragedies occur, and the early sound of trumpets fades into the dreary drumbeat of a prolonged operation.  One thing is certain: nobody ever won a war by refusing to admit they were in one.