Sunday, March 20, 2011
Libya, a Jolly Short War
There’s nothing like a war to either make or break a President. There’s a reason the writers of the Constitution also made the President the Commander-in-Chief because war needs a centralized authority to direct the military. A goodly number of the nation’s presidents were former leaders in war, starting with General George Washington, progressing forward to General Ike Eisenhower.
Few nations have the record of its people being extraordinarily resistant to engaging in combat unless provoked than America. Woodrow Wilson was elected with the slogan “He kept us out of the war” and then, after the Germans had the bad judgment to sink the ocean liner Lusitania, America sent “Black Jack” Pershing to put a finish to World War One.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, having made a thorough botch of the Great Depression, was propelled into war by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Until then, Americans wanted nothing to do with another “European war” or the one being waged in Asia. FDR had the good luck to be guided by Gen. George C. Marshall.
Time and time again, U.S. Presidents have had to engage in war and almost always under circumstances that involved a large part of the population being opposed to it. There is something about “modern” wars that means we end up staying on far too long after we’ve dropped the bombs, let lose the artillery, and sent in the Marines and infantry.
Like the Romans of old, Americans do not like protracted wars and, worse, they tend to weaken a nation or an empire. The irony for the Romans is that, as often as not, they were invited by the host nation to keep the peace. Indeed, that’s how the term “Pax Romana” came about. And just as often the locals got tired of the Romans and revolted against them.
It is common knowledge that it’s easy to get into a war, but hard to end one. We are in Afghanistan, not because we started a war with Osama bin Laden, but because he had declared war against the U.S. in 1996, tried to blow up the Twin Towers in 1993, and then waited until 2001 to do it again. George Bush’s response was to bomb the hell out of Tora Bora in Afghanistan and, initially, to drive the Taliban out of there.
Then, on the theory that democracy could be exported to Iraq and because Saddam Hussein was going to make trouble so long as he drew breath, Bush junior decided to invade, perhaps having drawn the lesson from Bush senior’s decision to leave Saddam in power after the first Gulf War, one he later regretted.
In Afghanistan, “mission creep” set in and Bush stayed on. Now President Obama has stayed on. The United States of America has been an occupying force in Afghanistan longer than the former Soviet Union. That does not suggest a good outcome to me because one of the taunts of the Pashtun tribal members is “You have the watches, but we have the time.”
So let it be said, Obama has probably made the one and only really good decision of his presidency. He has made it clear that no American troops will be among the “boots on the ground” when it comes to ridding Libya of Gaddafi. At a time when the U.S. military is in Afghanistan and Iraq, albeit with timetables to leave, we can quite literally ill afford a third war in the Middle East.
If we have to defend the Saudi oil fields—which we may have to do—the Saudis can afford to pick up the bill and had better be handed one. Meanwhile, their military are busy helping put down protests in nearby Bahrain. The prospect that there will be all manner of protests throughout the Arab region of the world is now guaranteed.
The one in Egypt ended remarkably well with a bare minimum of dead Egyptians. The Tunisian overthrow of its dictator went swiftly and smoothly. Dare I remind the reader that both nations were led by men who were U.S. allies? Things are a tad shaky for another longtime ally, King Abdullah of Jordan, who has the evil Syrians as neighbors and a huge Palestinian population.
Flying well under the radar of U.S. media, on March 15, Israeli commandos intercepted a ship from the Turkish port of Mercin that was headed to Egypt’s Alexandria, loaded with weapons for Hamas in the Gaza. The ship had initially departed from Syria en route to a stop at a Turkish port. Turkey used to be an ally of Israel. (See YouTube IDF video) Formerly Egypt would never have allowed Hamas to get weapons. Also under-reported were the estimated fifty rockets fired into Israel from Gaza on March 19. The Israelis responded with a quick, lethal air strike.
You don’t have to be a CIA analyst to conclude the weapons were all made in Iran or at least transferred from there initially. Or that Israel will face another war at some point. If they nuke targets in Iran, it should be over fairly quickly, but they will still be facing Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south.
Like the Romans, the U.S. needs to extricate itself as much as possible from the Middle East unless its vital interests are threatened there. By which I mean, unless we have to defend Iraq’s, Saudi Arabia’s, Bahrain’s, Kuwait’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ oil fields. Defending the region’s only Western democracy, Israel, is also a good idea.
For the same reason that President Obama elected to let the British and French take the lead in Libya, we have ample firepower from the skies and from offshore naval forces to do much of the damage that may be required in what is likely to be a jolly good, but limited military operation in Libya and likely future conflicts.
There isn’t a single military figure among any of the potential candidates in the next election. What we need in the years immediately ahead may well be a President Petraeus.
© Alan Caruba, 2011