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Right Turn
Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 03/21/2011

A commander in chief’s job isn’t merely to start a war

The commander in chief not only makes the decision to send Americans into harm’s way but defines the purpose of the military endeavor, rallies the country, brings Congress on board and makes sure that the enemy understands that we will not falter.Obama did only the first in the Libya action.

As for the purpose, as I noted Sunday, we are not quite sure what it is. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this exchange on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Admiral, as you understand your mission, not the U.N. resolution, but your orders from the president, have we given up on regime change, ousting Qaddafi from power?

MULLEN: This particular military mission is very focused on ensuring that he can’t kill his civilians and that we are able to support humanitarian efforts.

And then specifically for us, we are currently in the lead to move to a support role over the next few days, and I don’t know exactly when that is going to occur, in terms of the coalition taking the leadership here positions of the operation. . . .

WALLACE: You say in there, a couple of times, you used a caveat in saying this is the mission for now. Are you saying that it is possible that the mission may change and that they become taking out Qaddafi?

MULLEN: Well, I wouldn’t speculate on what the missions will be in the future.

And we are on track to do that. I think to know where this is going long-term from my perspective on the military, from the military perspective, it is not -- I haven’t been given a mission beyond the one that I just described.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you, however, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, does it make sense to leave Qaddafi in power, even if it is just in Tripoli, where he can create an enormous amount of trouble for the world?

MULLEN: Well, I think he clearly has been isolated internationally. He has had the Arab League, his own peers, if you will, or colleagues vote very strongly against him. We have got an arms embargo that is more effective than the one that has been put in place in 1970.

Speaking on the same program as Mullen, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) issued the sort of firm, declarative sentences you would like the administration to be making:

WALLACE: So, I just want to make clear I understand -- are you saying that the problem is the definition of the mission or the fact that we’re letting the French and the British take the lead?

GRAHAM: The definition of the mission, we used to relish leading the free world. Now, it’s almost like leading the free leader is an inconvenience. I want to be a good partner. I want the Arab world, young Arabs and young Iranians, see us as a strong, effective partner for their hope and dreams of being free. And I think the president caveated this way too much, it’s almost like it’s a nuisance.

This is a great opportunity to replace a tyrannical dictator who is not a legitimate leader, who is an international crook. And we should seize the moment and talk about replacing him, not talking about how limited we will be.

He can hope this is Obama’s view as well. But we don’t really know that it is. Moreover, Mullen was even more definitive on Meet the Press:

MR. GREGORY: But isn’t it a legitimate--it’s not just a diplomatic question, it’s a military question. If the goals do not prevent Gadhafi from going, what do we do? There’s the prospect of Gadhafi holed up in Tripoli, a divided Libya. This is not a sustainable strategy.

ADM. MULLEN: This is--certainly the goals of this campaign right now again are limited, and it isn’t, it isn’t about seeing him go. It’s about supporting the United Nations resolution, which talked to limiting or eliminating the--his ability to kill his own people, as well as support the humanitarian effort.

MR. GREGORY: So the mission can be accomplished and Gadhafi can remain in power?

ADM. MULLEN: That’s certainly, potentially, one outcome.

This is not reassuring for those who would find it utterly unacceptable to engage the U.S. military, only to have Gaddafi survive.

The president was no help in clarifying matters. In fact, Obama went out of his way, out of the country in fact, to talk about other things on Sunday. He was talking to a business roundtable to Brazil, joking, “My only regret is that we missed the party by coming a few weeks after Carnival.” And he then proceeded to talk about biofuels and Brazil’s economic development. Not a peep about the war. Likewise, all he said during a speech in Rio de Janeiro was, “We’ve seen the people of Libya take a courageous stand against a regime determined to brutalize its own citizens.”

That’s it. So, to the satisfaction of his critics, Obama finally ordered military action. But then he has failed to fulfill the equally important roles of articulating our mission, working with Congress and ensuring that Gaddafi understands we mean to complete the mission. But first he’d have to make clear what that mission is.

By  |  08:30 AM ET, 03/21/2011

 
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