In arguing whether we should be involved in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, I decline to engage in second-guessing inasmuch as decisions of that magnitude are obviously above my pay grade. Nevertheless, one may question the president's decision to put forces in harm's way without asking Congress for approval, as did his predecessor. President Obama has said he would have voted against the Iraq deployment.
Nor will I fault his declining the recommendations of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen who opposed the action against Libya. The duties of the secretary and the chairman are those of advising and carrying out the orders of the president who, as commander in chief, is responsible for the decision.
Nevertheless, as not only a student of warfare but also as one who has been involved in the planning and execution of military operations, I am troubled with the manner in which this one is being prosecuted. Not only was it too little and too late, it also violated at least three of the nine principles of war — objective, unity of command and simplicity.
The first principle of war requires a clearly defined mission, one that directs a decisive and attainable mission understood by all participants. The second principle applicable to this offensive is unity of command, placing all forces under a single commander with the authority to direct all forces in a unity of effort to achieve a unified purpose. The third principle, simplicity, requires clear and uncomplicated plans directed by simple and easy-to-understand orders to minimize confusion.
Arguably, establishment of the no-fly zone entailed the best of intentions; however, there has yet to be a clearly defined mission or objective. Are we there to protect the civilian population against Gadhafi's minions, to assist the rebels, to oust Gadhafi or merely to make a humanitarian statement? If removal of the dictator is not the objective, what will be the signal for victory?
As to unity of command, this is reminiscent of a re-enactment of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first" routine. Initially, the U.S. was nominally in charge of this coalition's effort, approved by the Arab League and the United Nations to provide the bulk of the combat power. The president stated that responsibility will end in a "few days," to be passed off to someone: NATO, Europeans or a coalition thereof.
Initially expressing reluctance for the task, NATO, after some obvious arm-twisting, agreed to command the no-fly zone, hardly a difficult undertaking since what is left of Libya's air force would not threaten Lower Slobbovia. This leaves, for now at least, the U.S. doing the heavy lifting, i.e., leading the attacks on Gadhafi's ground forces, installations and weaponry. Sadly, Turkey and Arab League member states refuse to take an active role.
The only saving grace in this foolish "waging of war by political committee" derives from the fact that Gadhafi and his tinpot dictatorship pose no threat other than to his own country. NATO has no desire to assume the leadership; France does not wish to be subordinate to NATO; Germany has pulled its warships out of the coalition; and Italy commands little respect from the rest. The contribution from the Arab League remains iffy to nonexistent.
Obama has made no secret of his belief in global consensus in foreign policy in a world in which America is obliged to operate in concert with the other world powers — "no" to unilateralism. And in deference to his conception of the world's unfavorable notion toward "American imperialism," his course in foreign policy is to be the "unBush" in deferring to a perceived global public opinion.
That may come to pass in some future administration, but it is hardly prudent in today's world. The United States remains the only world power participating in Operation Odyssey Dawn with the command and control apparatus to coordinate the efforts of weapons systems, tactics, logistics and the combat power to enforce a decision. Additionally, contrary to a popularly published theme from our detractors, the rest of the free world still looks to U.S. leadership in times of crisis.
Consequently, if participation in Odyssey Dawn is not in our national interest, we should have opted out. However, inasmuch as we elected to accept the United Nations' mandate to intervene on behalf of the Arab League, the U.S. is now obligated to do that job and do it right the first time. It would be not only an evasion of responsibility but also an embarrassment to the United States to put other than our very best foot forward.
Finally, when can we expect the mainstream media to resurrect the previously popular Colin Powell quote "If you break it, you buy it"? Does anyone smell a double standard?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.