While Libya War Grows, Obama Team Denies Itís a War
2011-03-24 0:00

By Spencer Ackerman | Wired.com



Itís one thing to say that the U.S. is right to take action against Moammar Gadhafi. Itís quite another to insist that itís not even a war. And itís simply dishonest to do so while escalating the war.

But thatís the spin from the Obama White House. While the president travelled through Latin America, his aides told sympathetic audiences in Washington that Operation Odyssey Dawn ďis a limited humanitarian intervention, not war,Ē in the words of White House Mideast troubleshooter Dennis Ross. A letter to Congress notifying lawmakers that Odyssey Dawn was in effect studiously avoided the word ďwar,Ē preferring the more anodyne ďmilitary effortsĒ ó which are ďdiscreteĒ and ďlimited in their nature, duration, and scope.Ē

Rossí remarks are outright deceptive. And it fits a pattern with President Obama: escalating U.S. military commitments while portraying them as essentially finite and limited.

For one thing, the fight is intensifying, not dropping off. On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition flew 60 sorties over Libya; Monday it flew nearly 80; on Wednesday it flew 175. At this moment, American pilots are bombing and shooting at Gadhafiís armor and artillery units on the outskirts of Libyan cities. Off the shores of Libya, a bevy of Navy ships and subs have launched over 160 Tomahawk missiles.

Nor can NATO agree on a command structure that will get the U.S. out of the lead of the war. Obama might want to hand off command responsibility to a different, multinational entity, in order to keep the scope of the U.S. commitment limited. He just lacks a plan to do so.

Itís true that not every application of military force is a war. Reasonable people can disagree, but when Saddam Husseinís removal of weapons inspectors in 1998 prompted four days of U.S. and British bombs and missile strikes, that didnít quite rise to the level of a whole new war. By contrast, the concerted, open-ended multinational application of naval and air power to enforce a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing ďall necessary measuresĒ to forcibly change the political behavior of a head of state ó thatís something that Carl von Clausewitz would recognize in an instant. Call it smart, call it stupid, but please donít call it anything besides war.

And despite what Ross may say, nothing about a ďhumanitarian interventionĒ renders it rigorously distinct from a war when the chief means of intervention are military. NATO, for instance, bombed Slobodan Milosevic for 78 days, all for the humanitarian purpose of saving Kosovo from him. Approve or disapprove, but Operation Applied Force was quite certainly a war.

Itís obvious why the Obama team wants to spin the Libya war as anything but a war. It doesnít want to rely on Congress to declare war (not strictly necessary, at least yet, since the War Powers Act empowers the president to conduct war for 60 days without congressional action). War with Gadhafi garners anemic public approval ratings.

And to be up front about calling it a war would risk unraveling Obamaís contention that the war should be limited. Itís reasonable to ask whether the explicit goal of the war, now that itís underway, should be to overthrow Gadhafi; which might require arming the opposition; or even devoting ground troops ó all steps Obama wants to avoid. But those are arguments for caution about starting a war with Libya, not for pretending that the one the White House has ordered doesnít exist.

This is getting to be a habit for Obama. First he expanded the scope of the U.S. counterterrorism efforts to Pakistan and Yemen, places that at least arguably exceed the 2001 congressional mandate for military action. Then he rejected congressional offers to openly debate a reauthorization of the war. When Obama ordered a 30,000-troop surge into Afghanistan ó atop his earlier increase of 21,000 troops ó he vowed the escalation would end this July. But only minimal numbers of troops will come home this year, and his senior aides are talking about an indefinite stay by at least some U.S. forces after 2014. (Indeed, at a dinner on Tuesday night, White House ďwar czarĒ Doug Lute said that would serve as an ďinsurance policyĒ against Afghanistan going down the tubes.)

If Obamaís aim is to conduct limited wars, heís not doing it very well. And heís certainly not coming clean to the public about what heís doing. Somewhere, George W. Bush is smirking with vindication.

Article from: wired.com



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