Friday, October 21, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Got Him

Khaddafi is dead and liberals are taking a victory lap, crowing that their man is the victor. Secretary of State Clinton was happy:

"We came, we saw, he died," she joked when told of news reports of Qaddafi's death by an aide in between formal interviews.

Ah, Veni, vidi, victory! But hey, at least nobody stretched a banner behind her with that inscription.

Fine. America won. President Obama gets the credit. We were at war and I wanted to win. But I'm a Neanderthal American who has to wear gloves lest my knuckles get scraped up on those fancy sidewalks.

But what's the Left's excuse? Does the death of Khaddafi really justify the war that on the Left's terms was a war for oil against a Moslem nation which was done without Congressional authorization using a UN resolution twisted out of recognition from protecting people to justifying regime change, and which ignored the War Powers Resolution with the simple means of simply defining our intervention as not a war?

I mean, maybe the Left wants to revisit Iraq, where we had the declaration of war plus a regime change law from the previous administration and we had the UN resolutions going back a decade to back our regime change.

And regardless of whether the war was right, it was won. That helps the President:

The death of Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi Thursday has sharpened the contrast between President Barack Obama’s recent successes on the foreign policy front and the scattershot criticism offered by his Republican challengers.

Qadhafi’s death came seven months after Obama and European leaders launched a military campaign, eventually headed up by NATO, aimed at preventing the Libyan leader from massacring his own people. The NATO effort eventually became closely integrated with rebel forces in Libya and carried out thousands of air strikes aimed at protecting them from Qadhafi’s regime and his loyalists.

Republican presidential hopefuls have criticized Obama from all sides of the Libya issue — arguing that he acted too slowly and deferred to U.S. allies, that he ramped up the effort without adequate explanation, and that he shouldn’t have acted at all.

But the death of the Qadhafi, following the triumph of rebel forces in overthrowing his government, allowed Obama to declare success in a statement in the Rose Garden. “Today, we can definitively say that the Qadhafi regime has come to an end,” he said, adding that “we achieved our objectives.”

That surely helps President Obama domestically in the short run. But if victory in Desert Storm failed to propel George H. W. Bush to reelection, which came complete with a victory parade, does anyone really think that leading from behind in the Libya War will help him next year? Leading from behind automatically limits the amount of credit that can be claimed. But President Obama said Khaddafi had to go, and Khaddafi is gone. That alone is a victory. Preventing Libya from being a firewall against the Arab Spring is a victory. And gaining Libya as an ally is a future victory that we could yet achieve. Getting one more Arab democracy to develop could be another. I'm quite happy that we won--and could win more if we don't walk away. I give credit to the President for this opportunity.

Look, I'm not trying to nitpick here. Just offer some analysis. I thought we should let the Europeans handle this. It is in their backyard and if they didn't want to help in Iraq and didn't want to help much in Afghanistan because they didn't want to join us, fine--let them pick up the slack in Libya. So I didn't complain that we didn't take the lead in the war. We're busy, as I've said. I didn't even complain that we started strong and then faded, after providing the heavy initial air and missile punch against Khaddafi's air defenses that our allies couldn't carry out.

But there are questions. As a knuckle-dragger, I'm perfectly happy that we could help topple a dictator without a single American (or NATO or coalition) casualty. It was in our interest to take Khaddafi out and we did. Great.

But for those who defend this war as an example of responsibility to protect (R2P), our intervention was less than optimal. If I'm in a house held hostage, I don't want the police to surround my house and spend six months lobbing in tear gas grenades and letting snipers have a go at the hostage takers while I'm tied up in the back room. I want the SWAT team to come in fast. Or maybe it would be best if the police don't show up and I count on the criminals to take what they want and then just leave without harming me. Either of the latter two give me higher chances of survival than the long bombardment.

Proponents of R2P need to explain why the very heavy casualty count of Libyans because we refused to intervene decisively early on is the way you protect people. The simple fact is that far more Libyans died in the stretched out war over six months than would have died if we had either stayed out and let Khaddafi crush the rebellion or if we had quickly sent in a division of Western troops to seize Tripoli.

And for those who want wars only clearly in our vital interest, going to war over Libya is a problem. We had interests in Libya. Our allies had more. Until President Obama put our prestige on the line by saying that the fate of Khaddafi was our objective, we didn't have enough vital interest to directly intervene, in my opinion (not while we are at war in Afghanistan and still heavily committed in Iraq). Again, we could have let the Europeans take full responsibility with only logistics help (like we provided the British in the Falklands War).

And while the war worked out, I do believe that the long time it took to win left us vulnerable to outside events that could have saved Khaddafi and led to NATO's defeat. NATO was close to abandoning the war. Give an enemy time and they might take advantage of it.

For domestic doves and constitutional types, it should also be disturbing that there was no Congressional authorization to use force--not even retroactively if you insist President Obama had to act fast (although he did take the time to get Arab League and UN approval). Nor was the War Powers Resolution obeyed. I think that legislation is unconstitutional, but for doves and the administration, it is the Holy Grail of preventing evil warmongering presidents from taking us to war on their own initiative as commander-in-chief of the military.

Finally, for those who love the sainted international community, this war has to cause you problems. Note that I said we got "approval" for the war. Actually, we didn't. What we did is trick the Arab League into asking for a "no-fly zone" over Libya's cities to keep Khaddafi from bombing civilians. Then we got a UN Security Council resolution, using the Arab League request as leverage, authorizing NATO to bomb Khaddafi's forces to protect civilians. Then we expanded the bombing campaign to regime change and then armed and trained rebels who then came to use the NATO air forces as their air support to break the Khaddafi regime after more than half a year. Heck, I can draw some satisfaction from tricking two international bodies into giving us pieces of paper that we found loopholes in to win a war, but I have those knuckle issues, as I've mentioned.

We ended up at war. As an American I wanted to win. We won. I'm happy. Give President Obama credit for the win, on our behalf. But given all the problems with the victory, don't go thinking this is a template for victory in future conflicts. That just isn't so for any single war. And it goes double for this one.

Oh, and don't mistake accomplishing the mission of toppling the dictator as meaning that every mission is accomplished. I never assumed that in Iraq after we announced the end of major combat operations, no matter what the Left wants to charge.

UPDATE: Syrians are encouraged by the death of Khaddafi. That's good. I just hope they don't count on a similar air campaign to help.