THE RIGHT WORD
By Kelly Sloan
For the record, now that the battle is joined, the president's actions in Libya deserve the support of the American people.
American forces are now in harm's way; few could argue with anything approaching sanity that the target of our fury deserves anything but, and a retraction at this point would only dangerously reiterate America's newly earned reputation for equivocation and indecision.
That said, any high-stakes endeavor is rightly subject to deep scrutiny, and the stakes do not get much higher than foreign policy, involving the commitment of U.S. forces, in a region as volatile and strategically central to American and western interests as the Middle East.
Fortunately, scrutiny of the operation is far from lacking. By now, public opinion on the recently initiated war in Libya closely resembles the foreign policy that is applied to that part of the world: widely scattered, inconsistent, and defiantly resistant to being taxonomized.
Legitimate claims are made by both pro- and anti-interventionists. Some conservatives question whether international interventions of this sort are compatible with small government. Many question the feasibility of a third military theater opening up on pure practical grounds; others site cost concerns. Many take issue with the lack of congressional participation.
Concerns linger as well about just who is in charge. Are U.S. forces subordinate to coalition commanders? Is America leading the effort, or simply along for the ride, carrying the biggest guns?
Of even greater concern are the questions surrounding the aims and parameters of the mission; any idea of just who we are supposed to be bombing in support of; how far we are willing to go in that support.
Most of these questions would have been answered well ahead of time had an effective foreign policy been in place. A policy that is guided by a set of overarching principles, and that spells out clear U.S. objectives, in light of American security and economic concerns and cultural and historic realities of the region. One that, under the rudder of such guidance, would allow flexibility when required, rigidity when appropriate, but always with a principled, doctrine-defined objective as the polar star.
The addled masses occupying the foreign affairs and national security offices in the current White House seem to have the flexibility part down, as U.S. positions on the Middle East change with greater frequency than Charlie Sheen's psychiatric symptoms; but lacking direction, such flexibility is not diplomatic adroitness — it is sheer bewilderment.
At nearly any point in recent American military history, when given a clear, attainable and well-defined objective, American forces prevail, often with stunning success; when the missions are more ambiguous, the results are as well.
In the individual battles of the Vietnam war, when American units were ordered to take hill X, or village Y, or eradicate the Viet Cong following the Tet Offensive, they did just that. However, there was no clear national strategy; the result was American withdrawal, followed two years later by a communist takeover of South Vietnam and subsequent bloodletting.
Years later, when President Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada, he assigned a clear objective; the result was a rapid and successful mission. Same story with Panama.
In Desert Storm, though doubts linger as to whether or not that mission itself was sufficient, the mission given was direct and defined, and completed in good order.
Somalia, on the other hand, lacked a clearly defined mission, and ended in awkward confusion. Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo dragged on for tragic years while the U.N., and later U.S.-led NATO troops, bumbled around with little direction, beyond constantly changing rules of engagement.
What about Afghanistan and Iraq Round II? The startling successes of the initial operations — removal of the Taliban and Saddam governments, respectively — were preceded by clear, measurably achievable aims. After that, when objectives began to be obfuscated by dubious calls for nation building — rather than say a clear directive to occupy the countries and maintain order until a government can be established — the trouble started. Then when the Surge restored some clear direction, American fighting forces prevailed again.
There just might be a lesson in there somewhere.
This article first appeared in the Grand Junction Free Press, March 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.