It's a lot easier to start a war than it is to finish it, as Mr. Obama is learning on his Libyan adventure. That is why wars are generally entered into after some consideration of the situation on the ground. There is only one excuse for a rush to war-- and that is either an imminent threat or in response to an act of war. Such was the case after September 11, and yet even then the United States waited longer to begin bombing the Taliban-- than we did before bombing Gaddafi.
Waiting is not a virtue in and of itself-- but planning is. That allows you to determine if the rebellion you are intervening to support only consists of a few hundred fighters-- some of whom are Al Qaeda. No general would have called for an assault before learning such simple facts and clarifying what the mission was to be. But the Summa Cum Anti-War grad of 2008, who has doubtless read Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky, and built a grass roots network based entirely on his opposition to the war, had spent too much time studying why war is wrong and not nearly enough time studying how wars are won.
A month ago the Arab League and European leaders were rushing to get on the right side of history. When the Libyan army, which had lost every war it ever fought, was pushed back by a few rebel attacks, the consensus was that Gaddafi was finished. Leading members of his own regime rushed to join the opposition. And the media triumphantly reported an inevitable rebel victory. There was just one problem. This time we were the ones getting our news about the war from 'Baghdad Bob'.
The Libyan army is probably the worst army in the Middle East. It may be the worst army in the world. The last time it fought a war was 1987 and it lost badly, even though it had tanks, jet planes and the African warlords it was fighting had Toyota pickup trucks. Despite 3 to 1 numerical superiority, Gaddafi's forces somehow managed to lose 7 men for every 1 they killed. And also lost nearly a 1,000 tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft to enemies who were driving Toyota pickup trucks. When you come equipped with top of the line Soviet equipment and lose it all in something called The Toyota War, your enemies have good reason not take you seriously.
With this in mind, it wasn't unreasonable to assume that the rebels could defeat Gaddafi. It was just unreasonable to assume that without knowing anything about the rebels.
On the last day of the Six Day War, Soviet citizens woke baffled to the news that the Israelis who had been on the edge of defeat for five days straight were suddenly threatening Cairo and storming through Jerusalem. It was inexplicable. But there was a simple explanation. They had been getting fed false information by the losing side in a war. And then reality caught up with them. Similarly, King Hussein jumped into the war because he believed reports that Egypt and Syria were on the verge of victory. Actually they were on the verge of defeat.
For weeks the media treated every Libyan rebel report as fact-based and every Gaddafi report as fiction. When the Libyan rebels began to lose, it was inexplicable. Our elites gaped like Baghdad Bob confronted with American troops. It wasn't supposed to happen, but it did. So the elites convinced themselves that it was just air power making the difference. If we could shut down Gaddafi's air force, then the rebels would win. And so we did that. The No Fly Zone is here. The Libyan air force is toast. So why are the rebels still losing?
This makes no sense to First Worlders who have grown on images of massive armies clashing on the battlefield. But this is not the modern world. The Libyan civil war is primitive even by Arab standards. It's a typical African civil war, complete with pickup trucks and swords. A battle is won when a dozen men die and the other side runs away.
Once the Libyan army stopped pretending it was a modern military force, and whoever is in the field began ignoring whatever crazy orders were being issued by Gaddafi and his loyalists, and just started fighting this the old fashioned way-- the tide began to turn. A modern army is a complex instrument. If you don't use it properly, then it's worse than useless. But turn a couple of thousand fighters loose with machine guns and some artillery, and manpower becomes the crucial factor. And this time the African fighters are on Gaddafi's side, while the rebels are Arabs from different factions who don't trust each other.
This is no longer a war between an army and guerrillas, but between militias, some of whom wear uniforms, most of whom don't. Gaddafi's men are handing out AK-47's to anyone willing to fight the rebels. We went in to protect civilians, but how do we do that when the civilians are massacring other civilians. Gaddafi is a butcher, the Arab rebels are violent racists. This is not a conflict between democracy and tyranny, but between tribes, clans and ethnicities. It is exactly the type of war we should have avoided like the plague because there is no up side to it. There is no right and wrong, just an explosion of tensions reined in by a tyrant, as every faction scrambles for power.
This is the dumb war we stumbled into with our new administration's smart power. We're tossing cruise missiles into a war being fought with pickup trucks. And we don't even quite know why we're here. Our intervention will drag out the conflict, perhaps indefinitely if we choose it. NATO forces may be enlisted to guard a few rebel strongholds, dividing Libya between the rebels and Gaddafi. And with Al Qaeda fighters pouring in to take advantage of our air strikes, that will make for a pretty picture.
Our unclear mission objectives mean that we've become a peacekeeping force with no goal or exit strategy. The Obama Administration is now warning Libyan rebels that if they kill civilians we will bomb them too. So not only are we at war with Gaddafi, we may now also be obligated to fight the rebels too. And how do we tell civilians from soldiers anyway. Once a weapon is picked up as loot, one body looks the same as any other. We could assume that all men are fighting men, but we went into Kosovo, because we treated Serbian executions of Muslim fighters as atrocities. Even though they were all men. If we apply the same rules to Libya, we'll have to start bombing everyone. Including ourselves.
This is what happens when you start a war without thinking it through.
Liberals have an ideological approach to war, as to all things. They are not concerned with whether a war can be won-- only whether it should be won. Either a war is right or it's not. If the war is not right, then it's also unwinnable. And if a war is right, then it is also winnable. Reality must comply with their ideology. That's how we came to have a 15 trillion dollar deficit to aid a 'recovery' in which families are struggling to put food on the table. And a democratic revolution in which the Islamists are set to take over. Reality meets ideology-- and their ideology crumbles every time.
From the 1860's, Democrats have been a party ideologically averse to war, and yet the party most likely to get into a war without really knowing what they're doing. JFK and LBJ got into Vietnam with tens of thousands of advisers and before they knew it there was a war on. The enthusiastic college students who came out for JFK, did their best to denounce Nixon for the war, but it was their man who had done it. The Vietnam War was a disaster for the simple reason that we lacked clear goals and tactics from the start. It was not a war we chose, but a war we stumbled into.
This is why we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, because we defined the objective not as the defeat of the Axis of Evil, but as rebuilding the target countries into havens of peace and democracy. The vaguer the objectives, the harder it is to accomplish them.
Obama treated Libya like an adventure, announcing a war from sunny Brazil, and ignoring congress and the public, until they forcefully made their objections clear. The war turned goalless, confused and contradictory-- with military leaders saying one thing and political leaders saying another. The coalition is confused and at odds with each other, packed full of frightened European and Arab leaders who are afraid that the world is changing, but have no idea what to do about it. Now Obama is running away from the war that he started. And Mr. Obama's Libyan Adventure is what happens when liberal leaders start wars with no idea how to see them through.