Boots On the Ground

In his address to the nation Monday night, President Obama claimed to have “accomplished” his objectives in Libya “consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations.  I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners.”

That “pledge” is no longer operative, as President Obama authorized “covert operations to aid the effort in Libya where rebels are in full retreat despite air support from U.S. and allied forces,” according to ABC News.

Having taken exception with Jim Geraghty of National Review yesterday, let me today salute his wit by quoting one of his Twitter messages: “To honor the administration’s ‘no boots on the ground’ statements, all covert U.S. personnel in Libya will work barefoot.”

One of the major tasks for these covert ground forces would be arming the Libyan opposition, something the Administration is still dithering over.  Republican Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee doesn’t much care for this idea, saying “we don’t have to look very far back in history to find examples of the unintended consequences of passing out advanced weapons to a group of fighters we don’t know as well as we should have.”  

President Obama has not discussed the character of the Libyan opposition with the American people at all – not a single word of Monday night’s address was devoted to the topic.  However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assures us “we’re picking up information.”  We already know some prominent rebel leaders have taken arms against us on behalf of the Taliban, with one of them actually captured and held by U.S. forces on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and the American commander of NATO forces says the opposition contains “flickers” of al-Qaeda, so we’ll have to make sure the weapons we hand out are protected by the latest anti-flicker technology. 

If the decision to arm the rebels is made, it won’t be a matter of driving Undercover Parcel Service trucks up to their strongholds and getting some signatures before handing out guns and ammo rolled up in bubble wrap.  The covert forces will have to train the opposition, which means the Taliban can look forward to getting some excellent first-hand information on American weapons and tactics.

Meanwhile, even as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) floated the idea of holding a Senate vote to officially authorize the use of force Libya, a defiant and belligerent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told lawmakers “Obama has no plans to seek an endorsement from Congress,” as reported by the Politico.  Writers Jonathan Allen and Meredith Shiner say the “dynamic was very clear: the administration doesn’t much care what Congress thinks about the actions it’s taken so far.”

Why is the Administration giving the cold shoulder to Rubio’s idea for an authorization vote?  One reason might be that Rubio wants the resolution to “also state that removing Muammar Qaddafi from power is in our national interest and therefore should authorize the President to accomplish this goal.”  The President doesn’t want any firm goals he could be accused of failing to meet.

A day behind schedule, NATO today fulfilled one of the President’s statements from Monday, and “decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians.”  Interesting phrasing, that.  I’ve heard various news sound bytes this morning actually declaring the American role in enforcing Libyan no-fly zones is “over,” but nothing of the kind has occurred.  NATO has assumed command, or in the President’s words, “taken responsibility,” but American pilots still fill the skies, and soon American troops will be on the ground – over and above the forward observers we already knew had to be there.

Coupled with the Administration’s dead silence on the brutal crackdowns in Syria and Iran, and escalating Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, these developments have finally brought the “Obama Doctrine” into focus: avoid clear goals to remove the possibility of “failure,” avoid congressional involvement that could put Republican representatives into positions of authority over the mission, avoid taking “responsibility” for anything, think no further than the 2012 elections… and above all, avoid confronting Iran or its proxies.