The finest strategic thinker of the 20th century, Britain’s Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, wrote the object of war is achieving political goals, not military victory. Politicians keep forgetting Fuller’s dictum. The last examples of wars without defined political objectives were Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Welcome a fourth: Libya. US foreign policy is becoming permanently militarized. The Secretary of State and senior diplomats jet around the globe making speeches, but real state business is increasingly done by the defense secretary and the Pentagon’s senior generals. Yet even in America’s latest little war, some generals and admirals are nervous over exactly what their nation is trying to achieve by bombing tiny Libya at an initial cost of over $100 million daily – and rising fast. Even some Republican Party Rambos are nervous and confused. Everyone here wants to lynch Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi – called not long ago by President George Bush a “valued ally in the war against terror.” But thoughtful Republicans are asking, where is this all going? They are blasting President Barack Obama for not laying out a political strategy over Libya, and an exit plan.
These are, of course, the very same Republicans who supported Bush’s open-ended wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have to date cost $1.6 trillion, much of it borrowed money. Now, Washington is in deep confusion over who will take command of what Russia’s Vladimir Putin termed a new “medieval crusade.u201D
President Obama, who tries to think before shooting, fears the US will get stuck into yet another conflict in the Muslim world. But he is being pressured to war by some Republicans, the pro-war media, and concerns over 2012 elections. Small, bloodless wars are always vote-boosters at election time.
Obama has been trying to get NATO to front for the Libyan war, even though the US supplies most of the alliance’s airpower and high tech muscle. However, NATO has so far been reluctant to lead the mission, with key members Turkey and Germany refusing to join the attack. So the White House proposed France lead the war. But to Republicans, France is even more wicked and evil than Libya. Christian fundamentalists, who make up about 44% of core Republican voters, regard France as a Sodom of sin and godless anti-Americanism. More important, France is deeply unpopular because it has been insubordinate since the 1950’s, refusing, until the election of neoconservative Nicholas Sarkozy, to obey America’s direction. After France refused to back the US attack on Iraq, the US Congressional dining room changed the name of French fried potatoes to “Freedom Fries.” That showed the dastardly French. The suggestion that France lead the Libya war was greeted by southern and Texas Republicans with patriotic outrage and fury. President Obama quickly backed down, as is his tendency when meeting strong opposition. France, for its part, was in full war mode. President Sarkozy just had the shock of his life recently when a poll for next year’s election showed the hard right National Front’s new leader, Marine LePen, two points ahead of him. Soon after, Gadaffi’s son Saif claimed in a Euronews interview that he had documented proof that Libya had secretly helped finance Sarkozy’s last election. Meanwhile, a huge potential scandal over kickbacks from the sale of French submarines to Pakistan is beginning to threaten Sarkozy. Nothing like a jolly crusade against a demonized Arab leaders to draw attention away from domestic sleaze and bad polls. It’s also a great way to showcase the fine, new Rafale fighter, which France has been trying to sell to the Gulf Arabs. The first air kill of the war was scored by a Rafale – against a 30-year-old Libyan trainer aircraft. Back in Washington, the White House has shown no clear war strategy, no idea of what to do politically in Libya, and can’t even properly explain why the US is in Libya, a nation of no strategic interest to the United States. Worse, the US double standard in condemning Libya and Syria for shooting civilians while turning a blind eye to bloody events in Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan is infuriating the Muslim world. Libya has become something of a curse for Washington.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.