Saturday, March 26, 2011

For the Win

Some common sense on the Libya War:

You go to war with the president you have. This isn’t the one we conservatives preferred. We have a good chance to remove him in 2012. We should work to do so. But first let’s remove Qaddafi, help get Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen right, and—who knows?—despite our reluctant president, push the administration to have the backs of those fighting for regime change in Syria and Iran.

The modern left expects the United States to lose its wars. Some on the left often seem to be rooting for American defeat. We argued in this space last week that at their best, today’s conservatives—and the Republican party that is their vehicle—constitute the party of freedom. They are also the party of victory. So Republicans should vote for victory in Congress, as conservatives argue for victory in the public square. After all, if we prevail in Libya—and in Afghanistan and Iraq—the victory will be America’s.

Whatever else, we should all want America to win this war. I'd rather have had the Europeans take the lead militarily without us (they have the assets to do the job, even if not as well as we can) early in the crisis, with our support directed at arming, training, organizing, and advising the rebel army (through special forces, CIA operators, and private military contractor companies) whether it would be a short revolt or a long civil war, but we're past that point of getting my ideal war. We have the war we are in, and I want to win even though my wise counsel has not been heeded.

On our current course, I think we'd have to be lucky to win, but we might. Khaddafi might crack, key officers might crack. Rank and file troops and mercenaries might crack. I can't rule out the possibility that even a raggedy rebel advance with a semi-mob towards the loyalist heartland while visible coalition air power is overhead could shatter loyalist morale. We've only been involved for a week, after all. Even our limited efforts could have a decisive effect, given the weak hand Khaddafi holds. But the way to bet is to assume that the loyalists recover from the latest setbacks and manage to hold the line at Sirte.

Nor is it too late to introduce special forces, CIA operators, and military contractor companies on the side of the rebels to call in air strikes, organize and train rebel units, put heavy equipment into the fight from whatever armories the rebels have captured, and even introduce new weapons. Egypt has over 800 T-54s and T-55s in storage, for example. Slap a hundred of those into shape and quietly ship them to the rebels who can claim they got them out of storage within Libya. Those multi-cell rocket launchers that can be put on pickup truck beds would be useful to send. And ammo, too, if there isn't enough inside Libya already. These foreigners could also plan the rebel military campaign and organize logistics.

Crack the Sirte defenses, and the rebels might be able to advance west and relieve the siege of Misrata. Then? Who knows? But that is a future issue. I still think a reinforced division of European troops (with an American Marine Expeditionary Unit or Army task force in support) could capture Tripoli and end this civil war's semi-conventional phase.

We have national interests in this fight, even though I think the Europeans have more immediate interests (oil and refugees) as well as the capabilities to handle it. One, just by taking sides we have an interest in making sure Khaddafi is defeated. His survival in the face of our cruise missiles will be a victory for him and likely lead him to return to his terrorism ways.

Aside from that, by defeating Khaddafi we will increase our street cred by finally taking out an old enemy who killed Americans with terrorism. The message that we don't forget and will get you eventually is a good one to send.

Third, it would have been wrong to have allowed Libya to be a firewall to halt the wave of Arab revolts aspiring to freedom from autocrats and despots. However uncertain the post-revolution situations will develop, knocking down the dictators is a good and necessary first step to a long term better future for Arabs and for eventually gutting the environment that cultivates and supports jihadi ideology. Don't get hung up on how bad actors, like jihadis, could exploit this chaos. Use that worry to make sure we stay involved to shape the post-revolution so that jihadis lose and democrats win.

So to fellow conservatives, I understand the desire to point out how opposing Iraq as immoral and evil while supporting the Libya campaign is hypocritical. I've enjoyed that aspect of the last week. But I think I've been clear--and all of us should be clear--that I want America's military to win for America. And if President Obama gets credit? Well, let's just be happy he's grown in office.

In case I haven't been clear, I'll say it now loud and clear: I support President Obama in winning the Libya War.

We've started to take Tripoli. Take Tripoli.

UPDATE: Mad Minerva has my six.