“We rushed into this [Libya] without a plan,” David Barno, a retired Army general who once commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the Los Angeles Times. “Now we’re out in the middle, going in circles.”
U.S. officials concede to the Times that some of their assumptions before they intervened in the Libyan conflict may have been “faulty.” Among them was (a) the notion that air power alone would degrade Muammar Qaddafi’s military to the point where he would be forced to halt his attacks and (b) the U.S. could leave the airstrikes primarily to warplanes from Britain, France, and other European countries.
“By the U.S. taking a back-seat role, it has a psychological effect on the mission,” said Dan Fata, a former Defense Department official who was responsible for overseeing NATO issues during the George W. Bush administration. “If I’m Qaddafi, I’m thinking I can probably wait the Europeans out.”
That would be a reasonable surmise.
If the United States had acted quickly and forcefully in the early days of the uprising, it’s quite likely that Qaddafi could have been removed from power, which would have been a good thing. But President Obama delayed, sent conflicting signals and then decided to intervene only at the 11th hour. That was bad enough; that Obama did so in a way that was irresolute and radiated weakness made things worse. And now we are where we are.
Obama himself has conceded we now “have a stalemate on the ground militarily.” But the president assures us that Qaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He’s “becoming more and more isolated,” which I’m sure troubles Qaddafi to no end. “The “noose is tightening,” the president assures us (it’s been tightening for more than a month now). And Obama’s expectation is that “if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably” — a dubious claim — “then I think over the long term, Qaddafi will go and we will be successful.”
Over the long term, Qaddafi will go — because like all of us, in the long term Qaddafi will die. But whether this intervention will be deemed to be successful is another matter entirely. If we do have a satisfactory outcome in Libya — which looks increasingly unlikely at this juncture — then the credit will go to the French and the British, not to us.
Mr. Obama has mishandled this situation in almost every way imaginable — and right now, Qaddafi is humbling America and NATO, both of which look impotent. It turns out a community organizer leaves something to be desired as commander-in-chief.