If you are not crystal clear about what the U.S. military is now doing and not doing in Libya — and what the firm U.S. policy objectives are and are not — don’t be too hard on yourself.
You are in good company.
“I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States, there is no mission, and there are no guidelines for success,” said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lugar’s concerns are shared by a number of the capital’s senior policy leaders, who seem to have this unsettling feeling that they’ve seen this movie before. On “PBS NewsHour” on Monday, two respected former national security advisers discussed their concerns and came to different conclusions.
Brent Scowcroft, who advised Republican Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, said, “Everywhere that there are people killed, the United States needs to intervene? How about Zimbabwe, Yemen or Bahrain? Do we follow the same thing, that we’re going to protect the protesters at any cost?”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who advised Democratic President Jimmy Carter, replied, “Well, obviously, if you can’t intervene everywhere, you don’t conclude that you interfere nowhere. You have to make a judgment.”
They agreed the no-fly-zone action had not been properly thought through. But, Brzezinski said, “If we now stop and disengage, it will be a calamity for us and for the region, and even for the Arab League.”
It was the Arab League’s unprecedented call for world intervention within an Arab neighbor state that convinced President Barack Obama to agree to push with NATO allies and get the United Nations Security Council’s approval for action to save Libyans from their leader.
But the Obama administration failed to explain just how a Libyan no-fly zone can achieve the international community’s goals — if Gadhafi stays in power. After all, Saddam Hussein stayed in power in Iraq long after a no-fly zone was instituted there by President George W. Bush.
Republican William Cohen, who was defense secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton, is yet another former official who is concerned about the way yet another administration has mission-crept into yet another war. He ominously observed on CNN: “Once you’re in, the chances are you are going to be in for a lot longer than you anticipated or wanted.”
Martin Schram writes political analysis for the Scripps Howard News Service.