I've Seen This Movie Before - It's Called Kosovo
Posted by Michael Cohen
Just watching Obama speak and I can't help but note the eerie similarities to what is being done on Libya - and the NATO war in Kosovo. Obama described a situation in which US and UN objectives in Libya are "well-defined" and focused around "protecting civilians."
Indeed Obama said "we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya." Forgive me for saying, but this doesn't make any sense
How can the use of force by an international coalition protect civilians if we aren't willing to put troops on the ground? In short, our objective are not well-defined; they are actually defined quite narrowly and are dangerously constricted. We are only willing to use force insofar as it keeps our ground troops out of harm's way. That goal, quite rationally, is being prioritized over the protection of civilians in Libya. But of course this creates a troubling mismatch between tactics and strategy.
And this is literally the exact scenario that happened in Kosovo. We threatened the use of airpower unless Milosevic stopped the ethnic cleansing of Kosovars; Milosevic upped the ante and began massacring innocents; we ramped up the air war in Serbia all the while holding steadfast to our commitment not to put troops on the ground.
In the end of course Milosevic backed down; but does anyone feel the same confidence about Gaddafi being cowed by air strikes? Milosevic could surrender Kosovo and maintain power (indeed in the near-term he did). I'm not so sure Gaddafi can back down and survive. And what if things really go to hell and the country collapses into ethnic and tribal conflict? Then what? Still no ground troops?
This barely feels like a strategy; it's more an temporary measure to stop Gaddafi from reconquering Benghazi, which is well and good. But now that we are on the record saying that we will protect civilians where does that commitment end? If the airstrikes don't work will we sit back and watch, remaining steadfast in our commitment to no ground troops, as Gaddafi massacres his people?
It seems that concerns over the politics of intervention - and the obvious fear of getting involved in a quagmire - is restricting our palette of military options, which means that the objectives laid out by Obama today will be extremely hard to realize, if at all.