As military operations over Libya enter their second week, President Obama has some explaining to do.
First, it is important to note that initial air and sea strikes have accomplished their primary objective. Coalition ships and warplanes have shielded civilians from Col. Moammar Gaddafi’s wrath, effectively preventing another widespread slaughter on the African continent. Our men and women in uniform obstructed an imminent path that could have led to another Darfur or Rwanda. For that, they should be proud.
But I have concerns about the White House’s plan. The president’s strategy seems to consist of two mutually exclusive parts. The first is to protect Libya’s civilians from the fury of a terrorist dictator. This was authorized under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 and is the responsibility of coalition militaries. The president has, however, also stated that Gaddafi must be removed from power. That is a political consideration. Such a mismatch is a strategy for stalemate.
I am skeptical of a military-led humanitarian mission that appears to be open-ended, generous with American resources, and could at some point be placed under a knotted international chain of command.
Sound strategic planning mandates that military actions are used to support clearly delineated objectives. But the president has been murky about how our nation’s military mission supports his desired Libyan end state.
Now that the Libyan citizens in Benghazi have been protected, what is our next step? How long will American forces remain engaged in North Africa? When will the purported transfer of command occur and who will assume the burden of command for Operation Odyssey Dawn? I intend to ask these and other questions next Thursday when the House Armed Services Committee holds a public hearing with the Defense Department on this operation.
History has demonstrated that air power can be an inadequate tool in dislodging an entrenched enemy. If Gaddafi does not face imminent defeat or refuses to abdicate, will our shrinking fleet of military aircraft be expected to support a decade-long mission like the one in Iraq in the 1990s?
The president himself said that military action has been the most successful when it has been authorized by the legislative branch of our government. So I find it strange that he consulted the United Nations before consulting Congress. Details from the Pentagon and White House have been sparse.
I do not wish to undermine the commander in chief’s decision or his leadership while our fighting men and women are in harm’s way. I do, however, expect an explanation of the nature of this threat and how U.S. interests will be advanced through force of arms.
The writer, a Republican from California, is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.