Rick does a fine job of highlighting the Obama administration’s use of phrases like “kinetic military action, particularly on the front end” in lieu of the word “war.” But this silly semantic game, which serves to obfuscate rather than to clarify, reveals two things that are, I think, disturbing.
The first is that confused language is often a manifestation of confused thoughts, and that’s certainly what we have with the Obama administration’s strategy (I used the word loosely) in Libya.
The bombing has begun but don’t think for a moment we’re in a war; it’s a front-loaded kinetic action. The president says the stated policy of the U.S. is to remove Muammar Qadaffi from power — but he also says that the purpose of the military intervention isn’t to remove Qadaffi from power. Never the twain shall meet. We’re told a coaltion is running the war, yet the coalition members themselves have no idea who’s in charge. Some want a unified NATO command while others do not. Basic questions are still unresolved. It’s therefore no wonder that the architects of a muddled and confusing military strategy would use language that is muddled and confusing to describe it.
Second, the president, having committed the U.S. to the conflict in Libya, is deeply ambivalent about it. He’s in, but only partially in, and boy does he want out. He’s like a guy who felt obligated to propose to a woman and regreted it the minute the words had passed his lips.
In this Libyan conflict, Mr. Obama went looking for an exit strategy the moment he found himself on the on-ramp. The animating goal isn’t success; it’s disengagement. Right now what Barack Obama wants above all is for the United States to take a back seat in this conflict, to follow rather than to lead, to do as little as possible as soon as possible. Perhaps the reason he doesn’t want to address the nation is he doesn’t really know what to say to it, because he really doesn’t know what to do.
It’s possible that the Qadaffi regime is fragile enough that it will fall with the slightest push. Or not. But the president has certainly made a hash of things so far. I said at the outset of this administration that it would find that governing is harder than campaiging. But it need not be this much harder.