The truly amazing thing about the “no fly zone” policy adopted over the last few days by the United States and the United Nations is not that it will be imposed on Gaddafi’s Libya, but rather that it was done with virtually no domestic debate, no Congressional action and little effort to bring the American public along.
I know it has become a political non-issue, a quaint detail of American history, but Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall have the power…to declare war…”
Make no mistake we are going to war with Libya. The American policeman is walking the Middle East beat, again.
Moreover we are headed into another open-ended, frightfully expensive engagement with scarcely any attempt to define the short, let alone long-term objectives. Set aside for the moment the legitimate debate over whether the “no fly zone” strategy actually works. Might it be appropriate for the president and the Congress to define, in a good deal more detail, just what we hope to accomplish by engaging in a shooting war in Libya.
American anti-terrorism experts are already warning that Gaddafi is entirely capable of retaliating with some non-conventional response – read terror attack – while we spend an estimated $100 to $300 million a week to try and use air power to enforce order on the ground in Libya. It’s estimated that the initial attack on Libya’s command and control capabilities could cost a billion dollars.
Meanwhile, the Congress is virtually paralyzed in a budget debate that may well shut down the federal government in three weeks. We’ll spend millions to enforce a UN resolution on Libya with no debate, while the Congress runs the government by continuing resolution and bogs down in a completely partisan argument over funding laughably small budget lines for National Public Radio and the National Weather Service.
While the Obama Administration can claim an international consensus to use force against Gaddafi’s military, only one guess is required in the game who will pay most of the cost. The world’s greatest deliberative body – the U.S. Senate, where foreign policy used to be a regular concern – can find plenty of time for posturing over who is responsible for the budget deadlock, but couldn’t find even 15 minutes to debate whether the country ought to send more brave, young Americans into another desert war.
We can all lament the disaster of the Libyan nut job waging war on his own people, but since we’ve equipped Arab air forces from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Jordan, why not let the vaunted Arab League deal with one of their own? Have we no leverage over the King of Jordan or the princes of Arabia? The most sensible voice in the administration, soon to be gone Defense Secretary Robert Gates, may have made his concerns about the “no fly” strategy know too early, while the rest of the administration struggled to figure out a response.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Gates said earlier in March, “a no fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.” He called it a “big operation in a big country” and warned of the unknown unintended consequences of yet more American military engagement in a Middle Eastern country.
We are left to hope that in a week or two no American carrier pilot is sitting in Gaddafi’s custody after being shot down attempting to enforce a no fly zone with no defined objective, no end date and no obvious concern about the human and financial cost…to the United States.
The United States time and again undertakes military action with the expectation that it will be short, painless and sanitary and that the outcome will be entirely to our liking. Funny thing: our wars never seems to work out the way we envision them.